Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Difference, Kids, and Argentinean Beef Cook Up

When I was growing up, I was a frequent flyer at my local library.  Though I read wide and deep, there were a few books I remember checking out again and again, like a chain-reader: Louisa May Alcott, Girl of Old Boston ... Free Stuff for Kids ... and Many Friends Cooking.

Many Friends Cooking was published by UNICEF as a "hey, look how much fun other cultures can be" educational tool for kids, back when we thought intolerance could be overcome by international cuisine immersion.  Though we are now a little more willing to admit that food and "cultural dress-up day" isn't the answer to getting kids to appreciate and embrace diversity, I still like the book; it gets kids to think about sampling new, non-threatening but different foods and making that experience fun.

When my son was about two, I started to hunt for Many Friends Cooking, wanting to pass on to him my love of cooking and international foods and stories from around the globe.  I found a used copy online, along with its companion Many Hands Cooking, and every once in a while we pull them out and cook something together; most of the recipes are extremely kid-friendly, so much so that a child can take the lead in the kitchen.  I hope that I can teach both of my kids that difference isn't insurmountable; that we can learn each others' languages; that we can work alongside one another in the kitchen and in many places; that we can be friends.

This recipe isn't all that "different" from a traditional stew you'd find in the U.S., but its origin is Argentinean (hence the meat ... which is apparently what the cowboys eat). You can veganize it by omitting the meat and tossing in some beans after sauteeing the onions and pepper.  It's a perfect dish for the chilly nights that are starting to become more the norm now here.

Beef (or Bean!) Cook-Up

2 lbs. stew meat, 1" cubes (or equivalent beans of your choice)
1 large onion, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
6 potatoes, 1/2" cubes
3 ears corn, 1" rounds (1 c. canned)
3 T. vegetable oil
4 c. broth
1 bay leaf
1 T. oregano
salt and pepper to taste
4 peaches or apples, sliced

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat and brown meat on all sides.  Remove it to a plate.

Add onions and green pepper to the pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Return beef to the pan and add the tomatoes, potatoes, and seasonings.  Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook 1 1/2 hours.

Add corn and fruit to the stew and cook 5 minutes longer.  Enjoy!
Pin It

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Compassion: Gluten Free Carrot Cake

Imagine the most honored guest you could think of was coming to dinner.  What kinds of preparations would you make?  What would you serve?  How would you make that guest feel comfortable and at home?

Now: imagine that you are the honored guest.

When was the last time you treated yourself that way?

I'm not talking about hedonism here.  I know the six bags of candy you bought for Halloween are calling your name.  That's not compassion; that's the kind of thing that gives you a hangover the next day.  I'm talking about being kind to yourself, making yourself comfortable.

In yoga class last week, we chanted the Tibetan Buddhist mantra "Om Tāre Tuttāre Ture Svāhā": a call to Tara, who is considered to be both symbol of light and life, and provider of compassion.  Devotees also believe that she can grant wishes, eliminate suffering of all kinds and bring happiness.  When called upon, she instantaneously saves us from eight specific calamities. The First Dalai Lama interprets them as representative of corresponding dangers as follows: 1) lions and pride 2) wild elephants and delusions 3) forest fires and hatred 4) snakes and envy 5) robbers and fanatical views 6) prisons and avarice 7) floods and lust 8) demons and doubt.

I don't know about you, but I could use saving from wild elephants.

The mantra is really more of a heart opener, though, than anything else.  To ask for compassion for ourselves, and to call ourselves to the work of compassion.  My teacher asked us to imagine the heart as a box that can hold everything: all of our worries, all of our struggles, all of the nagging thoughts that won't go away.  All we need to do is give those things to the heart, and the heart will take care of them, giving us comfort.

In my case, I think this means I shouldn't beat myself up for imperfection.  For yelling at my daughter, in one of my more unattractive moments today, to "go the F to sleep" (have I mentioned that she's a horrible napper?  Yeah, that didn't work so well).  For not landing a job, despite the resumes and cover letters that continue to go out.  For a host of other things.

It's funny; I don't usually get upset about imperfection in the kitchen.  I might stress over something in the process, but once it's done, if it's not right, I either eat it anyway or throw it in the trash.  (Yes, I realize that this is wasteful.  Trust me ... things don't often get trashed.)  Sometimes when cupcakes sink, I confess: I just put more frosting on them, and no one knows the difference.

That happened here, because I was making gluten free cupcakes as a surprise for my neighbor's birthday, and didn't have gluten free flour with xanthan gum in it.  But they only sank a little, and they were pretty awesome anyway: moist, warm, sweet without being cloying.  So what if the cream cheese frosting isn't centered? 
Gluten Free Carrot Cake

2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups light olive oil OR your favorite vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour mix (see notes)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts
3 cups freshly grated carrots
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups gluten-free powdered sugar (See note)

Preheat oven to 350 F

Use two round 9-inch cake pans, one 9x13 pan or 36 muffin cups for this recipe. If using round cake pans, lightly grease and place a circle of parchment in the bottom of the pan for easy removal. Use paper lining cups if making cupcakes.

Cream sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl with an electric beater or stand mixer. Add oil and vanilla and beat just until smooth.

In a separate bowl combine gluten-free flour mix, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat until blended.

Stir in grated carrots and nuts. Pour the batter into prepared pans.

Bake in preheated oven for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. For muffins, reduce baking time to 30-35 minutes or until they pass the toothpick test. Cool on a wire rack.

While cake or muffins are cooling prepare the frosting: place butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat on high until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth and creamy.  Frost when cake is completely cooled.


Most powdered sugar products are made with granular sugar processed with cornstarch or tapioca starch. However, when buying powdered sugar, read labels carefully to be sure that the product you are considering is not made with wheat starch.

You can use Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Mix in this recipe with good results. It contains xanthan gum, eliminating the need to add more gum to this recipe. Use your favorite gluten-free flour mix in this recipe and add 1 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum to the recipe if the mix you're using doesn't contain one of these baking gums.
Pin It

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kicking Ass and Taking Names: Cancer, Loss, and Oat Fudge Minis

So it turns out that my college roommate has lymphoma.  She's in her late 30s, has a kid in elementary school, skateboards for fun, wears pigtails and badass shoes.  Not the sort of chick you'd imagine would wake up some day and find out she has cancer.

She made a FB announcement about this the other day, asking us all to put our "grown up pants on," assuring us that her GI said it was "very treatable with chemo," and her wall was immediately filled with people posting support and love and offering to bake brownies (not exactly the kind of brownie I bake here at aHBL.)

I am confident that my friend will kick cancer's ass.  Because that's just the kind of person she is.  She is one amazing, resilient, determined woman ... and that doesn't even begin to describe her.  I'm going to think positive thoughts, send her all of my good energy, and cheer her on through the suck that is going to be chemo.

My friend's announcement was yet another reminder of how vulnerable we are, how everything we know can turn on a dime, how precious this gift called life really is.  I've had a lot of reminders lately, it seems: my friend my age who needed a heart transplant, friends with sick kids, and now this.  Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something?

Yesterday was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a day that thousands of people all over the world light candles in remembrance of lives that never had the chance to be lived, and in solidarity with people who never imagined they would lose a child.  I've written about my own losses here, but yesterday I was thinking about so many other women and men I've met who felt alone, adrift, silenced.  Unlike cancer, pregnancy and infant loss tends to be invisible, or at the very least taboo.  But it needs to be something we can talk about, not so that we can "get over" it, but so that we can learn to live with it.  To support each other, to be there, to bear witness.

No matter whether you're pro-life or pro-choice, no matter when you think life begins, no matter whether you know someone with cancer or have been lucky enough to avoid that happening to your loved ones, I ask you to take one moment today and marvel at the fact that You. Are. Alive.  To realize that the odds against you, specifically you, being born, are actually pretty friggin' incredible.  To give thanks for that gift, and to decide that you're going to do something with it.  And to ask that one of the things you do with that gift is offer compassion to families and individuals who grieve and struggle and hope.

I made these the other day as a healthier-than-usual treat.  They're full of fiber and protein, are a little lower on the glycemic index than your standard cookie, contain antioxidants and other immunity-boosters, and give you energy.  They're the kind of thing my college roommate made in our makeshift kitchen; she's probably long since forgotten, but I remember her experimental "healthy" cookies fondly.  Here's to kicking ass and taking names, my friend.

Oat Fudge Minis

1 medium banana
2 T. coconut oil (you could use canola or an oil of choice…but this stuff is more buttery)
1/4 c. egg whites (or 1 egg, or applesauce)
4 T. agave (more if you like it sweeter)
1/4 t. salt (salt joins the liquids because it dissolves)
1 1/2 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. spelt flour
1/2 c. oat bran
1/4 c. ground flax seeds
1/3 c. mini dark chocolate chips (or more)

Preheat oven to 350.

Mash banana and add other liquid ingredients into banana mixture. Add dry ingredients, one quarter cup at a time, mixing until well blended. Line mini muffin pan with liners (or grease it) and spoon 1 tablespoon into each cup. Press chocolate chips into each mini and cover each mini with remaining oat mixture. Press a few more chocolate chips into each one and bake for approximately 15 minutes.

The coconut oil is good for you. They're sweetened naturally. They have lots of antioxidants, if you’re using dark chocolate, and lots of fiber. Spelt and oats contain protein.  All excellent for ass-kicking.
Pin It

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Slow Food: Vegetable Biryani

I know you've all been wondering ... where are the new posts from AHBL in my reader?

There have been a lot of reasons for my silence, but basically they come down to: repeat performances in the kitchen (lack of blog fodder), not much news to report (lack of blog fodder), feeling like I can't come up with interesting things to say (i.e. lack of blog fodder), too much time spent commenting on other people's blogs (and therefore less attention paid to my own blog), making baby food (not exactly blog fodder), and sick kid (anti-blog fodder).  Oh yeah, and I actually finished reading a book cover to cover for the first time in a loooong time--and it wasn't even Goodnight Moon.

I also went to yoga this week for the first time in a few weeks (for more various reasons, including an out of town husband and a milk-demanding infant who had no regard for yoga schedules two weeks ago).  It was good to be back; I really missed my teacher, and even though switching nights and times means that there will be chaos to get me out of the house on Thursdays in order to get to class on time, I'm willing to accept the fallout.  As an added bonus, it's a mixed-level class, so there were some new asanas and more challenging variations--something I've been wanting anyway.

I love the way my teacher talks through the class, blending mythology with philosophy with contemporary life experience, sometimes reading to us, all the time adjusting our asanas, getting us to notice our own bodies.  Her voice and the music and the movement through asana are all part of the seamless experience of her class.  She makes teaching yoga look effortless.

If you're anything like me, you sometimes like to make simple things appear complicated.  We end up looking good, we think, if it seems like we had to put more time and effort into something than it really cost us.  But the real trick is to make something complicated and time-consuming appear easy.

One thing my teacher talked about this week is the balance between exertion and release in yoga: while we work to go deeper into our asanas, we also need to figure out what we can release--what muscles, what parts of our bodies, we are not using.  And this got me thinking that maybe the secret to making something look effortless is to let go a little.  Not necessarily not-caring, or even aspiring to mediocrity, but knowing how to work efficiently in order to achieve our goals.  (For those Christians out there, that understanding is sort of like the Serenity Prayer: knowing what we need to accept, and what we need the courage to change.)  I was running downhill today, thinking that while running downhill appears easy, there's quite a lot of effort that goes into making sure I don't fall flat on my face.  It's a matter of figuring out what I need to tighten (muscles somewhere around my midsection), and what I can surrender to gravity.  Once I get it right, it's almost like flying.

Biryani is a complicated dish that looks basically like a casserole, but it takes time and care to prepare, and for that reason, is actually one of the most popular menu items in Indian weddings.  Don't be daunted by the long list of ingredients: most of them are spices anyway (and if you really can't find things like garam masala, just use the equivalent of good curry powder for all of the spices in the biryani section).  And maybe while you're making it, you can let go of something that's not really as important as you thought it was, after all.

Spiced Rice: Base for Biryani
(this is good even on its own)

1 1/2 T. vegetable oil
2 med. onions, quartered and thinly sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cardamom pods
4 cloves
2 allspice berries
1 1/2 c. basmati rice
3 1/2 to 4 c. water
3/4 t. turmeric or a pinch of saffron
1/3 c. raisins

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, allspice.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and slightly golden, about 15 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 1/2 c. water, turmeric, and raisins.  Cover and cook, gently bubbling (not boiling) 20-25 minutes.  If the water boils out, add a little extra.

Vegetable Biryani

2 1/2 t. garam masala
1 1/2 t. turmeric
1 1/2 t. cumin
1 1/4 t. coriander
2 t. sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1" piece ginger, minced
1 1/2 t. salt
1 c. plain (Greek) yogurt
1 1/2 c. peeled butternut squash or sweet potato, 1" cubes
2 c. cauliflower or broccoli, bite sized
1 1/4 c. sliced green beans
3/4 c. fresh or frozen peas
1 c. cooked brown lentils, chickpeas, or kidney beans
2 bay leaves, broken in half
1/2 c. water
3 T. toasted almonds for garnish

In a large bowl, combine spices through yogurt.  Add vegetables and let stand 30-60 minutes.

Lightly grease a 2 1/2 to 3 quart baking dish and set aside.  Prepare rice.

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large saucepan over medium low heat, cook vegetable spice mixture, stirring often, about 5 minutes.  Be careful that the yogurt doesn't burn!

Spread half the rice in the bottom of the prepared baking dish and top with beans/lentils.  Cover with all of the vegetables.  Layer remaining rice over vegetables.  Insert broken bay leaves into rice.

Pour water into the baking dish.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake 50-60 minutes, until vegetables are tender.  Garnish with toasted almonds.
Pin It
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...