Monday, January 31, 2011

I'm Still Here: Curried Cauliflower and Bean Soup

We are no longer picking up our phone too quickly, and our answering machine now says, "You have reached the L. residence. The status of the baby is ... NOT DELIVERED. Please try your call again later."

I'm only technically due today, but everyone seems to have expected Bean to make her arrival already. (I. was a week and a half "late," if you call it that.) Even our parents, who really ought to know better how this works ... news flash, folks: it's not like they give you a firm time and date ... this is more like the "furniture delivery" or "washing machine repair" window. It's probably a good thing that I didn't take off from work earlier, though now I guess I will add work colleagues to the list of people who will be inquiring about baby arrival until the baby actually arrives. Though I know that everyone means well, part of me just wants to be left alone until I have something to share, and would prefer that no one have any expectations at all.

That said, I'm trying to stay calm when I start to feel tightening, knowing that this could really happen at any moment now.  It's been good practice to try and channel my energies into Hypnobirthing techniques, and I hope I can actually practice them when the time comes and I'm really in labor.

In the meantime, life goes on, and I'm still cooking and doing laundry and grocery shopping and answering the slew of email that arrives in my work inbox.  If there is a place where pregnant women get to put their feet up and eat bonbons all day, I think I missed that memo.  (I did not, however, go to work today ... I took a nice long walk, bought myself and the boys a treat to celebrate the beginning of my maternity leave, picked up a few things at the grocery store, and listened to my Hypnobirthing CD, which I was supposed to be doing during the day for the last six weeks.)

One thing I cooked this weekend was this soup, on the recommendation of a colleague with extremely good taste (once upon a time we used to go out for adult meals together on a semi-regular basis).  I was glad I got the chance to eat it (because one never knows these days whether the meals I've cooked for the week will be eaten by me or by my mother, if she manages to get here to stay with I. when I'm in the hospital); I like that the beans give it some extra protein, in addition to thickening it, and the overall flavor is good.  The one thing I'm not sure about is the curry.  I've never been a huge fan of generic curry powder, and I wonder if it would work with, say, garam masala ... I know that would change the flavor, but it would be an interesting swap.  (See Penzeys for a quick primer on some alternative curry blends; they're my go-to spice supplier of choice ... maybe some day I'll do a Penzeys giveaway here).  Still, it's tasty, it's easy, and you may even have all of the ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator.  The original recipe says to add the curry powder at the end; my experience with curry powder is that one usually adds it during the saute step, in order to toast it a bit with the veggies.  I've reflected that change here.

Curried Cauliflower and Bean Soup

1 large red onion, peeled, rough chopped (about 3 cups)
1 T. olive oil
1/2 head cauliflower, broken into florets (about 5 cups)
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 T. curry powder
1/2 t. salt
1 can (15.5 oz) garbanzo beans, drained (you could probably use just about any white beans)

Add onion and oil to stockpot on medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, 10-12 min, until onion begins to brown.  Add curry powder and stir for a minute or so until lightly toasted and fragrant.

Add cauliflower and stock to pot; cover. Increase heat to medium high. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook 25-30 min until veggies are soft.

Add salt and beans. Remove pot from heat. Puree soup carefully with handheld blender until smooth. Heat on low 4-5 min. Portion into heated bowls; garnish to taste (yogurt, toasted pine nuts or almonds, snipped chives, cilantro ... you get the idea).
Pin It

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snowbound: A Bar By Any Other Name

Though we haven't been exactly snowbound these past few days, it sure has felt like it.  This storm, on top of two snow days last week, made it feel like we are being punished for bad behavior.  The snow started early on Tuesday morning, let up for a while on Tuesday afternoon, and returned with a vengeance on Tuesday evening into Wednesday, dumping a grand total of about 2 feet of snow on our little town.  I guess we were due; we missed the brunt of the last few storms, and it was our turn to shovel.  I spent a good deal of the morning on Tuesday shoveling (or really, pushing aside the snow, which was powdery at the time) so that I could get out for my doctor's visit.  I had originally planned to visit RunningMama for lunch, who is staying not too far from my neck of the woods for her retrieval (go visit her blog and give her some support ... she's holed up in a strange town, without local friends and loved ones to offer support), but the snow was just coming too fast: by mid-day, my son's school had called an early dismissal, my midwife appointment had gotten moved up, and cars were beginning to get stranded.  Mother Nature conspired against us.

Today, we spent most of the morning getting shoveled out ... and the afternoon recovering.

There's more snow on the way for this weekend and next week, though thankfully right now the forecast says "showers"; I keep dreading going into labor when roads are impassable.  I'm headed back in to work tomorrow for a meeting, and then I think I'm done with that commute for a while; I find myself wanting to take a nap at around 2pm, and even though I haven't been doing that at home, either, my office desk is definitely not conducive to nap-taking.  (As an aside, though, I seem to be getting the same volume of email that I normally do, and find myself wondering, what happens if I just don't respond to it?  Who will these people contact to get their questions answered/problems solved?  When do I get to stop putting out fires?)

These dessert bars go by a number of different names, but the end result is the same.  I made them, really, for RunningMama, and was sorry that I couldn't bring them in person this time around ... she sounded like she could use a pick-me-up, and I've had a can of sweetened condensed milk in my pantry for a while that's been wanting to be used. You can vary the nuts, add more or less chips, use half butterscotch or peanut butter chips, or whatever your little heart craves.  You've probably made these a billion times before; it's not like they're anything special.  But they are tasty.   This bar, by any name, tastes just as sweet.  Hang in there, RunningMama ... it'll be spring soon enough, and in the meantime, I hope that your dreams are as sweet and as real as these.

Magic Cookie Bars (also known as 7 Layer Bars, or Dream Bars)

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs (I used amaranth grahams, which are high in fiber, low in fat)
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 small can sweetened condensed milk
1 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
1 c. chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet)
1 1/2 c. flaked coconut (I used unsweetened ... it's better for you, and these cookies are plenty sweet without that sickly sweet sugar in the coconut)
Preheat oven to 350. Mix together graham cracker crumbs with melted butter, and spread into a 13x9" pan.  Next place the chopped nuts over the crumbs, and spread the chocolate chips over the nuts. Add the coconut over all, and pour the milk evenly over the top.  (I actually did the reverse, because I like seeing the chocolate chips, but you can do whatever you need to, as long as you get all of the ingredients on there.)

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly brown on top. Cool at least 20 minutes then cut into desired sized bars (I made 24).
Pin It

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Heart Sutra

Gate gate pāragate pārasamgate bodhi svāhā.

My yoga teacher began class with this chant this week, which means (more or less) "gone, gone, gone beyond, utterly gone beyond, enlightened, so be it."  The Heart Sutra invites us to become more than what we are, more than ourselves, to go beyond what we know, and find that in that going beyond, there are no more expectations, no fears; we are free to simply experience what our new selves offer.  By letting go, by going beyond our mere selves, we can experience wonder.

I'm about to "go beyond" what I know of life, and enter into an entirely new experience, certainly by having another child, and possibly by changing my career.  I could have expectations.  It's hard not to.  Sometimes I feel like I'm hard-wired that way.  But, the mantra suggests, it's better to allow myself to simply grow into this new person that I will be, to immerse myself in these new waters, and to experience this life fully.

A friend gave us some baby clothes, which I washed and organized in the baby's room tonight.  It starting to look like a little girl's closet now.   Am I starting to get anxious about the birth?  Yes ... and I'm trying my best to focus on all of those blessings and good wishes that were showered down on us just a few posts ago.  Going beyond what I know, taking a leap of faith, with confidence.

It's sort of an interesting coincidence that I was just "tagged" by two fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger award; versatility, after all, is about going beyond what you know.  Athena from A Field of Dreams gave me one of these, and Lauren from Lauren vs. the World gave me the other.   Thank you both for your kind words and recognition!  The rules of the award are that you link back to the bloggers who gave you the award, share 7 things about yourself, and then award 15 recently discovered great bloggers.  This sounds vaguely chain-mail-like to me, not to mention that I think there are lots of amazing women out there (and I gave the same award recently to some of the bloggers I follow), so I'm going to break the rules and do something different: I'm going to link back to some things about me, but then I'd like you to choose one of my followers at random to give the award to.  I reached 60 followers today (hooray!), so you have lots to choose from. :)  You can tell them that the award is on my site for them to pick up.

I wish I had a recipe for you today, but we've been eating some boring things: more lentil and spinach soup (a different recipe than the previous one I posted, but similar nonetheless), curried ground turkey and peas, a crockpot mulligatawny that disappointed us.  I'm considering making some magic cookie bars tomorrow, after my ob/gyn appointment, so I'll post some tantalizing pictures if I do.  In the meantime, I hope that there are good smells coming from your kitchens, and that you do something small this week to go beyond yourself and your small corner of the universe.
Pin It

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Showers, and Fish (or Vegetable) Chowder

First thing's first: don't eat vast quantities of wonton soup when you're pregnant, no matter how much you might think your body wants it.  The eight pounds I gained in a recent post?  All but half a pound gone by my appointment this past Wednesday.  I'm chalking it up to water retention, due to too much salt.  Of course, I celebrated by having an enormous piece of cheesecake (apologetically thinking about those of you who have gotten pregnant and have to deal with GD).  And JeCaThRe's right; it's all well within the range of "normal," and I need to stop obsessing.

I'm going back to work tomorrow, provided I don't go into labor overnight.  There are still some loose ends I am trying to tie up.  I've scheduled one meeting on both Monday and Tuesday, and have left myself open for the rest of the week, with the exception of an all day meeting on Friday, which I will attend for everyone's amusement if I still haven't given birth.  I am definitely having "practice labor" this time around (my hynobirthing instructor says we shouldn't be using the words "contractions"), which is a little bit freaky; last night, I was lying on the couch, trying to decide whether to worry about the tightness I was feeling, and decided to go to sleep, figuring I'd wake up if I were really in labor.  I did wake up, but by then the feeling had subsided.

My work shower was nice: a light lunch, (purchased) cupcakes, people mingling.  The only really uncomfortable part of it for me was opening gifts: I already feel like we have enough stuff, and even though there were some things we needed and got (case in point: why were the bottles from 4 years ago not BPA free?!), I don't like having to open gifts in front of people, especially if I'm the only one doing so.

My virtual shower, on the other hand, was amazing.  :)  Thank you to everyone who attended ("latecomers" included--though that's the beautiful thing about a virtual shower: you can't be late!), and to JeCaThRe, who is not only an incredibly creative human being, but one of the most thoughtful, generous, wonderful people I know.  My love to you all.

I. had another snow day on Friday, and there's vague talk of yet another storm system here on Tuesday into Wednesday.  Part of me is wondering if we should demand partial tuition refunds from I.'s day care for all of the school closings this year; another part of me is wondering if Mother Nature is trying to ensure that Bean is born in a blizzard, just to make it memorable.

Though I'm feeling less and less like cooking these days, soups and stews are still my meal of choice, and this one is good for wintry days.  I've offered some options to make it vegetarian.  Miso is salty enough (and every so slightly fishy tasting to me) to stand in for clam juice/dashi, and you can toss in beans rather than fish.  If you're living in the Northern Hemisphere, stay warm ... and if you're living in the Southern, please soak up some sun on our behalf.

(Fish) Chowder

2 1/2 c. frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed and divided
8 (vegetarian) bacon slices, chopped
3 c. chopped onion
1 1/2 c. finely chopped celery
1 1/2 c. finely chopped carrot
1 c. finely chopped shallots
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 T. chopped fresh thyme
1 T. paprika
3 T. butter
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 c. whole milk
1 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 (8-oz) bottles clam juice (or dashi or miso soup broth)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, 1/2" cubes (about 4 cups)
2 lbs. firm white fish fillets, bite-sized pieces (use large white beans for a vegetarian version)

Place 1 cup corn in a food processor or blender, and process until smooth. Set aside.

Cook bacon in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon, re-serving 1 tablespoon drippings in pan; set bacon aside. Add onion and next 4 ingredients (through garlic) to drippings in pan; saute 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in parsley, thyme, and paprika. Remove vegetable mixture from pan; set aside.

Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in the flour. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes or until browned. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk. Add vegetable mixture, salt, and next 4 ingredients (through potatoes); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until potatoes are almost tender. Stir in fish (beans), pureed corn, and remaining 1 1/2 cups corn kernels; cover and cook 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Discard bay leaves. Top with bacon.
Pin It

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Speechless (Almost): Blondies for the Guests at my Virtual Shower

The other day, I was whining about never being thrown a shower by friends, about feeling less than enthusiastic about a well-intentioned work shower that was going to be thrown for me in the middle of a politically messy leave-taking.  JeCaThRe, who is one of my few IRL friends who reads my blog, decided to throw me a virtual shower at her own blog (Bread, Wine, Salt), and invite all of the people who read and comment here (or simply who lurk here) to offer their gifts and best wishes for the anticipated arrival of our little one.

JeCaThRe tells the story of our friendship a little bit differently than I do, of course: we agree that I was originally college friends with her husband, but we part ways on the point where she talks about how she admired me and friended me on my blog ... I had, longer than she had known, admired her blog, her smart and honest and unapologetic writing, her faith, her strength through her own perinatal loss, her leadership, her compassion, her wide ranging knowledge about so many things (and eagerness to learn about three times that much; I feel sometimes like I read her Cliff notes so that my brain doesn't leak out my ear).  We agree again, though, that over the past five years, the friendship has become ours as our sons, born around the same time, have also gotten to know each other, and as much as I am still her husband's friend, too, she's right; in the unlikely event of divorce, she'd get custody of me.  ;)

Honestly, this virtual event has left me speechless (not easy to do for a former graduate student in English literature, even if I am sort of people-shy in real life).  Everyone offered their best wishes for a safe delivery, and said some incredibly supportive things about their confidence in my ability to handle the transition to a two-child household, about what they admire about me ... honestly, it left me glowing.  And there were gifts of the best kind: Melissa from You Found What in There, heroic BLM to a recently-arrived preemie, posted a virtual gift that moved me to tears: her girls will be offering up three acts of service in thanksgiving for the safe arrival of this baby.  Serenity, who is a mother and runner and amazing secondary IF survivor, offered up her recipe for penne in vodka sauce, to re-empower me in the kitchen when I come home: to bring me back to the place where I feel like I'm in control, even when everything feels like it's spiraling out of control (I so often feel much more Zen online, S., than I do IRL!).  InBetween, a university professor and IF/loss survivor now pregnant with her little girl, is going to deliver red velvet cupcakes made from my recipe to a woman down the street who is due just a few weeks after she is, to try to make friends, or at least to test the waters to begin finding her community of moms.  Rebecca, from The road less traveled, who is 9 weeks pregnant with a donor embryo after losing her own little miracle at 22 weeks this year, gave her recipe for chicken shawarma and blessings for the safe arrival of my little one.  Athena, from A Field of Dreams, left a post for Greek Honey Cookies, traditionally served to visitors to the newborn.  K. from Pull Up Your Potty Seat, who is 7.5 months pregnant with twins and still chasing a two year old little girl, left me an 8x10, that I'm uploading here for you all to admire.  TasIVFer, also now pregnant after a loss, and bravely taking her pregnancy one day and one breath at a time, came all the way from Tasmania with a table full of party food that she compares to me as she's gotten to know me online.  N brought a pea pesto and a wonderful link to a website for creative food ideas.  I can't even describe how amazing reading these posts has felt for me, and I hope that every one of these bloggers (and those of you who have attended my virtual shower in anonymity for so many reasons) knows how much they are loved, no matter how long they've been reading here, and how much I appreciate these incredible gifts.  I have never felt more celebrated and supported; sitting here, I'm somewhere between tears and a broad grin.  JeCaThRe, this is the best shower I could imagine having.

I didn't participate in ICLW this month, because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to be responsible about commenting: I didn't know if I'd have a newborn in my arms, or what I'd be doing this week.  But this virtual shower has reminded me, yet again, about the incredibly powerful effect of online community; many of these women have been with me from early on in this pregnancy, cheering me on and comforting me when I felt like no one else would understand.  They know that the answer to the question "So, are you excited?" is fraught with complication for me.  They get why I still have a hard time washing a Boppy cover, for example, and throwing away the gift receipt.  And from all over the world, they will be with me in spirit through these last days, through my labor, through tenuous days of new motherhood (provided that all goes well), and I hope long after that, as I look forward to celebrating their milestones, and I continue to navigate the role of parent, trying to figure out, each day, what I will do with my "one wild and precious life."

Thank you so much, to all of you, for being here, and being where you are, for all of us.

I baked a treat for the party, too: not cupcakes, as I'd originally promised, but buttery, nutty, chocolate-filled blondies.  As much as I love brownies, sometimes they're just too dark -- you're craving something brighter, lighter, with more variation in texture, sweet but complex: something the blogging world -- and this community in particular -- offers beautifully.


1 c. pecans or walnuts (4 ounces)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
12 T. unsalted butter, melted/cooled
1 1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 t. vanilla extract
1 c. chopped white chocolate, or 3 oz. each white chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on large rimmed baking sheet and bake until deep golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer nuts to cutting board to cool; chop coarsely and set aside.

While nuts toast, cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet (if using extra-wide foil, fold second sheet lengthwise to 12-inch width). Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.

Whisk melted butter and brown sugar together in medium bowl until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in chocolate and nuts and turn batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula.

Bake until top is shiny, cracked, and light golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes; do not overbake. Cool on wire rack to room temperature. Remove bars from pan by lifting foil overhang and transfer to cutting board. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
Pin It

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Removing Obstacles: Autumn Vegetable Stew with Wheatberries

Two weeks ago, after my yoga class began with a chant to Ganesha, I was going to write a post about removing obstacles (Ganesha is known as Remover of Obstacles).  I abandoned it because it was taking me too long to write, and because I was feeling too beleaguered by obstacles myself, but after my teacher came back to the theme again this week in class, I felt like it was too perfect a fit not to talk about here.

After our beginning-of-class chant, my teacher, in her infinite wisdom, commented that the obstacles rarely go away (e.g., a diagnosis of IF is not likely to change any time soon); rather, it's a matter of changing perspective on the obstacle by returning to the present, by stripping away the complications that make dealing with it more difficult, and being able to see how to approach the problem more clearly.   Yoga teaches us to recognize and acknowledge difficulty when we encounter it, and then realize simplicity by coming back to what is immediate: our breath, our bodies, the way we feel right this very instant.  This sort of makes sense to me: when I'm in an asana, sometimes if I breathe, I find that I can go deeper into the pose or become more balanced on the exhale.  I haven't removed the obstacle; by staying present, I've managed to work through it.

This isn't to say that we can make difficult things "easy," by any means -- but rather, simplify them, make them less complicated, by looking at them in the present tense.  According to this line of thought, when we're looking too far ahead into the future, worrying about too many things, the simple things begin to look more complicated than they actually are, and what could be clear becomes muddled; we lose the ability to focus and problem-solve.

This exactly describes where I am, in this pregnancy, with my professional life, with everything.  I'm practically hyperopic ... I can't focus on things that are right in front of me, in the present tense, because I'm so worried about the immediate and not-so-immediate future: about how I will deal with a baby and still pay enough attention to my son (I imagine scenarios in which my husband spends lots of time away from me with my son [whose company I just love most of the time], thinking he's doing me a favor, and leaves me to feel completely alone with an infant), about how I will deal with coming back from maternity leave to a situation that will be very different from the one I left, about how we will manage financially and how I will manage psychologically and intellectually if my career will take a different turn.  I love going to yoga class because it helps me to leave all of this behind, or at least to put it where it belongs--in the future--and to concentrate on my breath, the way my body feels, the way that Bean is shifting and moving in my abdomen, the sound of the eternal Om playing during savasana.  Type-A personality aside, I can't do anything about some of these possible futures, because they haven't happened yet ... so trying to deal with them is not only a waste of psychic energy, but complicates what is happening right now.

Though I don't often cook wheatberries, I like this stew because of its satvic properties, and because it's so uncomplicated.  It's adaptable (like most Mark Bittman recipes) to the season, and to your tastes: substitute dried fruits, or summer vegetables like leeks and zucchini and tomatoes, or whatever you like.  There are no "obstacles" in the way of appreciating the tastes of the vegetables and grain: no heavy sauces, no overpowering spices.  While those things have their place, too (ayurvedic eating, like pretty much everything else in yoga, is about finding the balance that is right for you), this can be the base for any meal, and you'll leave the table feeling satisfied, but light enough to tackle the next challenge.

Autumn Vegetable Stew with Wheatberries

3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ lb. green beans, 1" slices (1 scant c. ... you could also use carrots)
1 acorn squash, peeled seeded and chopped
½ c. white wine or vegetable stock
2 c. cooked wheat berries
1 heaping c. kale
1 t. dried sage

Put the oil in a large saucepan or deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the squash (and carrots, if using those instead of green beans) and stir to coat with the oil. Stir in the wine.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring once or twice, until the squash is just starting to get tender, 20 minutes (if you're using green beans instead of carrots, add them after about 15 minutes and continue to cook the whole thing for 5 minutes more). Raise the heat a bit and stir in the wheat berries.

Cook, stirring frequently, until hot and bubbling, a minute or two. Stir in the kale, season again with salt and pepper, cover, and turn off the heat. After about 5 minutes, add the herb and fluff the stew gently with a fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve right away or at room temperature, drizzled with a little more olive oil if you like.
Pin It

Monday, January 17, 2011

The City of Illusions: Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash

This weekend we went to a birthday party for one of I.'s friends.  They'd hired a magician to entertain the kids, and honestly, even the adults were impressed: he wore short sleeves, so one couldn't say he was pulling things out of his sleeves, and there was little distraction and hand-waving to make the illusions obvious. Even as an adult, I confess that magic is still fun to watch.  How does he do that, you wonder?

As a child, one of my favorite books was The Phantom Tollbooth.  One of the chapters in the book finds the hero, Milo, in a forest where he comes upon the twin cities of Illusions and Reality.  Illusions, from far away, is the "loveliest city" Milo has ever seen, but, he learns, no one can really live there.  The real city in the forest is Reality, right in front of him: a seemingly invisible place where people walk quickly with their heads down, looking at their feet.  He's told that Reality was once as beautiful as Illusions, but people in Reality decided that things would be much more efficient if they went everywhere as fast as possible and didn't bother to stop and look at and appreciate things along the way. As a result, the city withered away.

I was reading this book to I. recently, a chapter at a time, and the mini-story about the two cities really made an impression ... perhaps because I. still looks around him much more than he looks at his feet.  We went for a walk today and at least ten times, he made me stop, and listen to the chimes, or look at a particular piece of ice, or notice something I've never seen before.  We picked icicles off of trees and brought them back for his snow fort; we looked at the colors of the snow. 

How many times have you walked down the street and thought, How long has that been there? You realize, or someone will tell you, that it's always been there ... or at least for the last twenty or thirty years.  You anesthetize yourself to a place with over-familiarity. And that's the battle in life, to keep yourself fresh to those things so that you're always aware.  Sometimes that means changing the norm so that you are faced with an unexpected taste, or sight, or experience.  Sometimes it means noticing how you always do things, so that you can think about why you do them that way (my husband, for example, makes a conscious effort every once in a while to brush his teeth in a different sequence than he always does).

I'm not sure what stuffed squash has to do with illusions or reality, but one of the reasons I like trying new recipes is because it keeps the dinner table fresh, especially when it's hard to see other things (like work, for example) differently.

Southwestern Stuffed Acorn Squash

3 acorn squash (3/4-1 pound each)
5 oz. bulk turkey sausage*
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper,chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. chili powder
1 t. ground cumin
2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed
1/2 t. salt
Several dashes hot red pepper sauce, to taste
1 c. shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

Cut squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and discard seeds. Place the squash cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a large skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder and cumin; cook for 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, beans, salt and hot sauce, scraping up any browned bits. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until the tomatoes are broken down, 10 to 12 minutes.

When the squash are tender, reduce oven temperature to 325°. Fill the squash halves with the turkey mixture. Top with cheese. Place on the baking sheet and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.

* You could make this vegetarian pretty easily by using twice the amount of black beans, or black beans and kidney beans, or black beans and pinto beans ... or even bulghur.  You get the idea.
Pin It

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hermits, of One Kind or Another

Strange as this may sound, I'm not exactly a social person by nature.  My husband and I joke that we married each other so we could be anti-social together.  So I feel a little awkward posting this, but here it is:
"A message from JeCaThRe at Bread, Wine, Salt:  I am organizing a virtual baby shower for Justine from A Half Baked Life. No trips to Babies-r-us [editorial remark: THANK GOODNESS], the post office or the airport are required. If Justine has amused, informed, comforted or enlightened you, or just made you hungry, join us as we help her welcome her little bean to the world.  See ."
I don't know what she has up her sleeve, but if it involves celebrating with the people I've gotten to know here in the blogosphere, I think I'll be OK.  Besides, JeCaThRe is a fabulously cool human being (who has just recently decided to pursue labor doula training!), and you should go read her blog anyway.

Here in the Real World, however, I'd like nothing better than to retreat.  My legs are swollen, my muscles hurt, I'm huge, and I'm feeling grumpy.  Today my assistant (whom I treat more as a colleague, I hope) broke down and told me that she really is not OK with the recent graduate office temp with no experience, whom she feels she is training, living in his own office space, with a bigger paycheck, while she has to sit at what is essentially a reception desk, without any privacy.  I understand her frustration, and would probably feel the same way in her shoes, so I went to bat for her, and was more or less told that this was the way it was going to be.  I felt powerless to address her concerns, and she, again understandably, was livid; I could see the wheels turning: I suspect she would love to leave the situation entirely.  I am praying that she doesn't quit while I'm on leave.

As much as I don't want to be home doing nothing for too long, waiting for the Bean to arrive, the idea of puttering around, not answering email (because it will still be coming, regardless of how clear I make it that I'm not in the office), not dealing with frustrating people and situations, is awfully appealing.  Just think of all the yoga classes I could attend.  The haircut I could get.  The reading I could do.  The naps I could take.

I made these cookies for the committee meeting I mentioned in a previous post; the group, which met last night despite the snow thanks to the stalwart souls who were willing to venture out, is always a reminder to me about the value of community and my responsibility to nuture it.  The group consists of about ten people, who care for our "church" fellowship by way of phone calls and congratulatory emails and rides and casseroles and everything in between, and honestly, everyone in that group inspires me to be a better version of myself. 

I've always appreciated the concept of tikkun olam from the Jewish tradition; one could become a hermit, but hiding away from the world is hardly the way to change it.

According to some people, hermit cookies, which originated in colonial New England, supposedly gained their name because the flavor of the cookie improves after being stowed away -- like a hermit -- for a few days.  Others say that the cookies were named because they look like a hermit's brown sack-cloth robe, even though the earliest recipes are for white and round cookies. Another possibility is that the Moravians, an ethno-religious group well-known for thin spice cookies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, were sometimes called "herrnhutter" in German or Dutch, and that might have sounded like "hermits" to an English-speaking cook.

However you slice them, they're good to eat alone, with a friend, or with an entire committee of people who are changing the world, one small act at a time.  Maybe, like they do, I'll improve after a few days of being stowed away.

Vegan Coffeehouse Hermits

1/2 c. canola oil
2 c. coffee, strong, black cooled to room temp
1/3 c. molasses
2/3 c. sugar, plus additional for sprinkling, if desired
2 1/4 to 3 c. flour (a combination of white and whole wheat is fine)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. ground ginger
finely ground black pepper, 1 generous pinch
1/2 t. salt
1 c. dark raisins (be generous)

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, coffee, molasses, and sugar until thick. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black pepper, and salt. Fold in the dry ingredients till almost completely moistened, then fold in the raisins till a soft dough forms (you may need to keep adding flour; it's OK if you do.  You don't want batter here; you really do want dough). Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. After dough is chilled lightly moisten hands and divide dough in half. Make it into two logs about 13 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide. Sprinkle the tops with sugar if you want; I didn't, and thought that they were quite tasty (my husband, who likes sweet things to be sweet, thinks that they should have been sweeter).

Bake 24 to 26 minutes till edges are lightly browned and the logs feel firm. It's OK if they crack. Cool 15 minutes. Cut the logs into approximately 2 inch slices (or however you like them). Cool completely on wire racks.
Pin It

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Standing in Tadasana: Pearled Couscous Tagine

There's something about a snow day that makes us all slow down a little bit.  Even though the roads were pretty clear by the time I would normally have gone to work, I.'s school was closed, so one of us had to stay home, and there was nothing on my calendar that I couldn't postpone, so today it was my turn.  I was sort of glad; I'm feeling increasingly detached from work (even though I'm still sending and receiving plenty of email, and am wondering when that will slow down), and I was feeling pretty lazy this morning, anyway.

We spent the day playing with Legos, making "a craft" (I. took out his supplies and started gluing things together and making collages), sledding and playing in the snow with friends, cooking dinner for tomorrow night, watching a movie (which I fell asleep on, not that my son noticed!), and going to my midwife appointment, where I was told I gained eight pounds in the past week.


OK, so I've been eating cake and drinking honey-lemon water for my cold, and I stopped running last week, but really ... how does anyone gain eight pounds in a single week?  S.'s theory is that I've been eating salty foods (I've had an inexplicable craving for wonton soup) and am retaining water.  That could be partially true, given that my socks are tight around my legs these days.  My blood pressure is fine, so the midwife seemed unconcerned.  I don't look that much fatter.  My maternity clothes are feeling tight, though. And I am pretty horrified.  Also a little concerned (even if my midwife isn't), because sudden weight gains like that at the end of a pregnancy can't be good, can they?  Or am I being overanxious?  I mean, my midwife teaches midwivery; she'd know if something were wrong, right?

My mother called tonight, and wanted to know if there was any word on when the midwife thought the baby might arrive.  You'd think she'd know better, having birthed two children.  "But I'm just concerned that I'm far away and won't get there in time to take care of I.," she explained. (She lives an hour away.)  I asked her if I was born in an hour.  She said no.  I asked her if my brother was born in an hour.  She said no.  I then informed her that we had two backup people who were happy to take our 2 a.m. phone calls and would spring to action if she couldn't make it.  Part of me is wondering why we have asked her to come stay at all, when she won't do laundry, won't cook, and talks so much about herself that she rarely hears what I. says, and now needs to know the exact day and time of the baby's arrival in advance.

What does any of this have to do with tadasana?

Tadasana is the pose of the month at my yoga studio.  We rarely spend much time in tadasana; more often it's the place we begin as we move into other asanas.  But having a strong foundation, feeling ourselves well-grounded, like a mountain, is so important; without that grounding, we're unable to balance, to flow, to breathe.  Snow days remind us to stand still for a bit, to get firm grounding so that we can deal with the rest of the crap that might be coming our way.  Tadasana is also the way we feel the sky and the ground connect; we become the conduits between the heavens and the earth, reaching in both directions simultaneously, both rooted and aspiring to something greater.

The recipe today is a good snow-day dish.  Like tadasana, it has roots in the earth (carrots and other veggies), but the little pearls of couscous (be sure to get the pearled kind) remind me of snowballs, skyward bound.  I hope that I, too, can ground myself well enough to move onward and upward, for whatever comes next.

Pearled Couscous Tagine

2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1" piece ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ t. ground cumin
2 t. ground turmeric
Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1/3 c. chopped dried apricots, dates, or raisins
2 c. vegetable stock
1½ c. chopped ripe tomato (about 1 lb. whole, preferably peeled and seeded, or 1 15 oz. can, drained)
1 c. cooked or drained canned chickpeas
2 carrots, cut in bite-size chunks
½ head cauliflower, cut in bite-sized chunks
2 zucchini, cut in bite-sized chunks

Salt and black pepper
1 cup pearl couscous

Put the oil in a deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon; cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 2 minutes.

Add the dried fruit, tomato, stock, chickpeas, carrots, cauliflower, and zucchini, a large pinch of salt, and a good amount of pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook until the vegetables are just tender. (The dish can be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring it to a simmer before proceeding.)

Add the couscous and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. It should have a stewy consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot or store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days and then reheat.
Pin It

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Vegan Banana Bread

[PSA:] Did y'all know that it's International Blog Delurking Week? Knowing who my readers are gives me a chance to visit them and return the kindness.  There's just one day left, so please, delurk yourselves ... as Serenity puts it, please give me a "hi, there!" or "go to hell!" or "I've tried your recipes and you are a horrific cook!"  [end PSA.]

I started to write a lofty post about yoga class this week and Ganesha and overcoming obstacles, and honestly, it was taking me days, so I've abandoned that idea for now, and thought I'd just post something mundane, so no one starts wondering if I left the blogosphere to go into labor.

I feel strangely like I've been tying up loose ends lately, and letting go.  While I don't think I'm exactly nesting (the frenzy of baby-clothes-washing was more like a methodical weeding out of I.'s old clothes), I feel myself beginning to detach from the world.  This is true at work (more about that in my next post, perhaps), but also true at home: even the outreach group I coordinate at our fellowship is coming over this week to talk about our committee policy and catch up with each other before I disappear.  I'm expecting about twelve of them for coffee and dessert, so I decided to heat up the oven again.  (Actually, I'm sure they don't expect coffee and dessert, but it's the group of people who care for others when there are crises like deaths and illnesses in the family, and when happy events like births and adoptions make preparing dinner feel like an insurmountable task, so I feel like it's important to bake for them for a change, to let them know how much their work--their ministry--is appreciated.)  I decided on a banana bread and some coffeehouse hermits, and maybe some blondies, none of which put you back in that post-holiday gluttonous regretful stupor.

The thing I like about banana bread (besides the fact that it uses up old bananas that you've tossed in your freezer) is that it's so versatile; you can make it healthy or not so healthy, as the occasion demands.  I posted a banana bread recipe before here, but that one is essentially a bag of chocolate chips disguised as a banana bread.  This one is really more of a banana bread, and vegan, to boot. It's good for breakfast, or snack, or whenever you need to be able to eat with one hand.

Vegan Cinnamon Banana Bread

1 cup flour (I used half white, half whole-wheat; gluten free folks can use 1 c. Bob's gluten free flour and 1/2 t. agar agar or xanthan gum)
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon 
1/4 t. salt
3 overripe bananas, mashed
1/4 c. canola oil
1/3 c. agave nectar
1/3 c. unsweetened soy milk
2 t. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly oil an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom and sides of the loaf pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the baking flour with the baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, xanthan gum and salt. In another bowl (or in your blender), whisk the bananas with the oil, agave nectar, soy milk and vanilla. Add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the banana bread cool on a rack for 20 minutes before turning it out. Let cool completely before slicing.
Pin It

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Waiting Place: Lentil Mushroom Spinach Stew

Christmas and New Years' have been put away, the baby clothes and toys washed, the baby gear set up, and a few weeks' worth of meals frozen (chicken soup, lasagna, dal, african peanut stew, 10 bean soup, and a cornmeal-crusted pot pie); so now I'm back at work, in the Waiting Place.

(Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.  Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.  Thank you, Dr. Seuss.)

So far no one has said to me "what? you're still here?" which is refreshing; honestly, I don't know what I'd do right now if I were home all day.  Read some non-required reading, I guess.  Eat chocolate (I do plenty of that anyway).  Gain weight (check: doing that, too, courtesy of Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years' goodies).  Maybe get my hair cut?  But I still have a month or so to go until my EDD, and so I figured I could keep myself occupied by having somewhere to be each day.

They're throwing me a work shower on January 20.  I'm not sure if I'll still be at work then (babies have a knack for arriving when they feel like arriving, and while I. came late, it's anyone's guess what this one will do), but I appreciate the intention, nonetheless.  I told them we didn't need anything (really, we have more clothes for the 3-6 month size than this baby could ever wear out, and we've re-borrowed baby gear), and I feel awkward about accepting gifts when we've already had one child, but the truth is, it's sort of nice to celebrate the tail end of this pregnancy, and doing so is helping me to get ready mentally for the arrival of this baby.  They threw me a small work shower before I gave birth to my son, but ironically, I never had a shower to celebrate with friends; my mother didn't throw one (she didn't throw me a wedding shower, either--claimed she "didn't know how"), and I guess I just never had anyone else "take charge"; my friends are scattered all over the state, the country, the world.  This pregnancy has felt so long, partially because it's been so emotionally complicated for me, that a little hoopla might not be so bad.  As long as no one comments on the size of my abdomen.

Tomorrow I go to my ob/gyn, and from here on in I have weekly appointments.  Do you think they'll believe me if I tell them that this is what I've been eating, when I weigh in five pounds heavier than last time?  Yeah, I didn't think so, either.  Hey, pregnant women are entitled to the December Holidays weight gain, aren't we?

Lentil Mushroom Spinach Stew

1 T. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, large dice
2 medium carrots, large dice
1 medium celery stalk, large dice
1½ c. sliced mushrooms
1 c. flat brown lentils, rinsed
7-8 c. low-sodium vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
½ t. dried rosemary, crushed
½ t. dried oregano
½ t. dried basil
¼ t. crushed red pepper flakes
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
4 c. (packed) baby spinach
Sherry or sherry vinegar (optional)

In a medium soup pot, heat olive oil and sauté onion, carrots, celery, and mushrooms until onions are just tender, 3-5 minutes. Stir in lentils.  Add 7 cups broth, bay leaf, rosemary, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, and garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook on medium, covered, for about 20 minutes, until lentils are tender.

Remove bay leaf. Purée half of the mixture and return to pot. If desired, add remaining 1 cup stock to reach desired consistency. Stir in baby spinach leaves and cook for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Top each serving with a spoonful of sherry or sherry vinegar, if desired.
    Pin It
    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...