Thursday, July 29, 2010

Banana Walnut Muffins

Here I am, posting from sunny California ... just kidding.  It's my blog, posting all by itself.  I thought perhaps you'd miss me while I'm gone.

We're out of muffins again, which are a good go-to breakfast, both for me and for Ian (I've been trying to eat mostly fruit or yogurt, but sometimes I just want carb).  A few weeks ago a friend mentioned that she makes muffins every Saturday with her boys, and recommended Mark Bittman's recipe.  The wonderful thing about Bittman is that he gives you lots of ideas for tinkering, so that you can end up with something that suits your tastes without risking the potential disaster of a complete baking experiment.  I wanted whole grain, or at least mostly whole grain, and fruit.

I had some bananas in the freezer (for those of you who don't know this, something magical seems to happen to the chemical structure of frozen ripe bananas--skin on--that turns them into pure sugar, and defrosted slightly, they become a breeze to mash or whir into a smoothie ... just run them under warm water to slip them out of their skins), and I like the fact that if I use bananas in a recipe, I don't need to use as much sweetener or oil. 

We came up with these, which have just the right balance of sweetness and whole grain heartiness.  I tossed in some nuts for extra protein, and they were a nice complement to the wheat bran.  I think next time I use this recipe I might also add 1/4 c. or so of Greek yogurt, just to increase the moistness and size of the crumb a little bit.  If you try this, let me know how it works.

Bittman recommends that you serve these warm, and so do I.

Banana Walnut Muffins

3/4 c. all purpose flour1 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. wheat bran
1/2 t. salt3 t. baking powder
1/4 c. honey or maple syrup
3 T. light olive oil
1 egg (vegans can use EnerG egg replacer or 1 T. flax seeds ground, mixed with 3 T. water)
1 c. very ripe banana, mashed
1/4 c milk of your choice (rice, soy, etc ... plus more if needed)
1/2 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375.

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl; separately, in a medium bowl, mix together wet ingredients.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.  Combine the ingredients so that the dry ones are just moistened; the batter should be lumpy and somewhat thick, but you can add a little milk if you need to.

Spoon into muffin cups or a greased/oiled muffin pan and bake 20-30 minutes, until the tops are just beginning to brown and toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool 5 minutes and remove from the pan.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Random Thoughts on CSAs, Superfood, and Travel: Bolivian Cabbage and Potatoes

I'm trying to decide what I think about our CSA experiment this summer.  On the one hand, it's been lovely to have a box of organic veggies delivered to me each week.  On the other hand, I'm realizing just how nice it is to decide what I want to have for breakfast and lunch and dinner, rather than having someone else decide for me.  And while I like being really in touch with the growing season (something that I have done anyway over the past few years because of our of garden), trying to make use of great quantities of the same vegetable for three weeks running gets to be a challenge.  This week we got more cabbage in our share, but this time, also an entire box of tomatoes, and another three pounds of potatoes. The potatoes will keep, but everything else won't.  Since we're leaving for vacation this week, I decided that we needed to use all of these things simultaneously, and this is what came up when I asked Google what to do.

It's not terribly beautiful, and I probably wouldn't serve it to company, but it's a good way to use up cabbage, and it tastes a little less like cabbage than cabbage usually does.  Thank you, Bolivia.  Turns out that as we look for cultures with fewer chronic health problems, South America is attractive for its vast biodiversity and native foods with impressive health benefits (think quinoa and acai).  Chile peppers are native to the Amazon jungle in Bolivia, and capsaicin, the compound that gives peppers their heat, also has anti-inflammatory properties. Capsaicin is used in creams and ointments to alleviate arthritis symptoms and chronic pain, and any anti-inflammatory will prevent clots from forming, and in turn help prevent strokes and heart disease.  Pretty cool, eh?  So the lesson here: don't omit the peppers.

I miss international travel (as you can probably tell from the kinds of things I cook, I'm an adventurous eater, and I love experiencing culture through food), but I'm looking forward to this trip; we're headed to San Francisco and Carmel for a few days (any bloggers out there who want to meet up for coffee?).  Ian spontaneously told us one night that he wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and it so happens that I went to graduate school in southern California, and haven't been back there since ... so it seemed like a good excuse to see some friends on that coast, too, before I get too large to travel (OK, here I go, adding the obligatory "if" ... because I still can't hold on to certainty).  Ian also wants to go to Russia, and Japan, and Greece, and Thailand, and Australia.  Those places, unfortunately, will have to wait.

Here's hoping that if you can't indulge in a little getaway this summer, that you will at least explore the flavors of some place you've never been before, and imagine yourself there.

Bolivian Cabbage and Potatoes

8 c. shredded cabbage (1 small head)
1 1/2 lb.Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1" chunks
2 T. tomato paste
1 t. sugar (or honey or other unprocessed sugar)
2 T. virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 yellow, orange or red bell pepper, chopped
5 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1-2 jalapeños , finely diced
2 T. lime juice
1 c. coarsely chopped cilantro or parsley
sliced vegan sausage, if you have some

Cook potatoes in boiling water 5-7 minutes or until tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Dissolve tomato paste and sugar in cooking water and set aside.

Heat oil in large pan, dutch oven or wok. Add onion, bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes. (We added some sliced, homemade vegan sausage.) Stir in tomatoes, jalapeño and tomato paste mixture. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cabbage and potatoes. Cook 5-6 minutes or until cabbage is wilted and potatoes are heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lime juice and cilantro and serve.
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Friday, July 23, 2010

Tropical Breezes: Mango Cupcakes Stuffed with Coconut Cream

Thanks, everyone, for your comments on my last post.  It turns out everything is OK; I went to the doctor's office this afternoon, and though I had to wait an hour and a half to hear it (and got stopped by the police for lapsed registration on the way, as I was stuck in standstill traffic on the way to the appointment, late because Ian had been having a meltdown ... talk about the perfect storm of events designed to drive any sane person mad), the heartbeat was just fine.  It seems I can go back to worrying about other things, for the time being, anyway.

I would have posted this earlier, but as soon as I got back, I had to finish up these little morsels for a housewarming I was supposed to go to tonight.  After visiting the Petit Cafe/Stuffed Cupcake the other day (by the way? anyone living in Nutley is welcome to pick some up and come visit), I felt like I needed to get my cupcake groove back on.  This blog is, after all, half baked, right?  I thought I'd give my own stuffed cupcakes a whirl.

It's supposed to be over 100 degrees here tomorrow, and I wanted something tropical, summery, and light.  Suddenly it hit me: mango cupcakes.  Coconut cream filling.  A fluffy vanilla buttercream (sort of ... but not as heavy as buttercream).  Tropical paradise in cupcake form.

Custard has never been my forte, but the ones at the Petit Cafe were so good that I had to try.  I browsed through a few recipes, and settled on one that I could modify a bit.  I was worried that it wasn't thickening fast enough at the end, but once I put it in the ice bath, it set beautifully (so beautifully, in fact, that I had to eat some).  I had a lot of custard left over, so if you're going to do this, plan accordingly.  I might even halve the recipe if I were to do it again.

I wound up doing mango buttercream because the cupcakes weren't mango-ey enough for me, but they got devoured pretty quickly.  There's one left for Ian, and if he's kind, perhaps I can get a picture of the inside to post here before he eats it (they were an architectural triumph).  While I'm not sure they were even half as good as the ones at the Petit Cafe/Stuffed Cupcake, they were definitely different, and they made an impression.

Mango Cupcakes

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. cornstarch
3/4 t. baking powder
3/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. canola oil (or any lightly flavored vegetable oil)
3/4 c. granulated sugar
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. to 1 t. mango extract (optional, but recommended)
3/4 c. pureed mango
1/2 c. unsweetened plain soy milk (or other milk of your choice)1 t. apple cider vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Whisk the soy milk and vinegar in a measuring cup and set aside a few minutes to curdle.  Beat together the soy milk mixture, oil, sugar, and extract(s) in a large bowl. Add in the pureed mango and combine thoroughly. Sift in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix only until no large lumps remain.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full, and bake for 20-24 minutes till done (you can stick a toothpick in the center and it should come out clean). Leave in muffin tins for 3-5 minutes after taking out of the oven, so the cakes can set, and then take out of the tins and place on a cooling rack to cool completely before filling and frosting.

When you're ready to fill them, poke a hole in the top with your pinky and move it around inside a bit to make a small cave.  Pipe in the custard, and top with frosting.

Coconut Custard Filling

4 large egg yolks (you can use egg substitute)
3 c. coconut milk
2/3 c. sugar
5 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. salt 
1/2 to 1 t. coconut extract (or vanilla if you don't have coconut)

Prepare an ice bath and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and set aside.  

In a saucepan whisk together coconut milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt. bring to a simmer and cook for about 3 mins, whisking constantly. Whisk a quarter of the hot milk mix into egg yolks and then whisk in remaining mixture. Strain into a clean saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 4 mins, whisking constantly until custard is thick (it will be less thick than the coconut milk mixture was in the saucepan; don't worry about that).  Stir in the extract.
Transfer to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto surface.  Set in ice bath until completely chilled - about 45 mins.

Mango Frosting

6 T. butter
4 T. vegan shortening (Earth Balance)
1/3 c. mango puree
1/4 c. cubed fresh very ripe (mushy) mango
1/2 t. vanilla
2 c. powdered sugar
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Thursday, July 22, 2010


I hate this place.

While I was running today, I tripped and fell.  I panicked, breathed deeply as much as possible trying to calm myself down.  I told my abdomen it was fine, and walked as calmly as I could (which was not really calmly at all) back to the office.

I'd fallen on my side, not on my stomach or back ... and I know that falling doesn't necessarily cause miscarriage, but tonight I'm feeling achy in my lower back, and I can't help but worry ... I have felt that achy feeling before.  S. is away on business, and I am alone.

What has loss done to me, to my sense of confidence in my own body?

I hate this place.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Growing Things: Zuccanoes and a Bean

This morning, when I was running, something strange happened.  I started talking to my abdomen.  You see, last night I ate an entire pint of ice cream before going to bed, and I felt I needed to inform my abdomen that we wouldn't be doing that again, that a pint of ice cream all at once wasn't good for it.  I knew, really, that I was talking to the Bean.

This is a real shift for me.  I have been in a state of denial for 12 weeks now, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to lose yet another pregnancy.  I haven't wanted to connect, I guess; it's easier to cope with loss if you don't connect, right?  As I caught myself talking to my abdomen, one voice in my head said, "danger ... don't do that to yourself.  You're just setting yourself up for disappointment"  Another voice said, "woman, you are PREGNANT.  Accept it."

While I know that giving birth to a living child is far from guaranteed me, the fact that I even heard the second voice is probably a good sign, even if it's a little scary.

Things continue to grow all around me (after all, I do live in the Garden State), and I pulled two of my own zucchini out of the garden this week (to spite my husband who said they wouldn't grow), so along with the CSA haul, we had enough for zuccanoes (pronounced ZOO-canoes, in case you were wondering).   These are basically stuffed zucchini, but they're much more fun if you think of them as small boats.  Certainly, my son thought so.  I had tried to come up with a creative addition for paddles, but they got brought to the table before I could do anything about it.  And though you might look at the ingredients and think, "ew" (and granted, the Moosewood folks were still a bunch of hippies in 1977), I assure you, the flavors all come together and it's hard to stop yourself from having yet another.  In my case, another and another.  I'm feeling a little ravenous.

Zuccanoes (adapted from the Moosewood Cookbood)

3 medium zucchini
1 c. cooked soybeans or brown rice
1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 T. sunflower seeds
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. cottage cheese
1/4 c. wheat germ
3 T. tamari (or soy sauce)
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
dash Worcestershire sauce
dash Tabasco (I omit this)

Slice zucchini (or summer squash) in half lengthwise. Scoop out insides, leaving 1/4″ rim so so canoe stays intact. Saute in butter until the liquid is gone: chopped zucchini innards, mushrooms, onion, garlic, sunflower seeds and season to taste with rosemary, basil, and thyme.
Beat 3 eggs. Mix with cottage cheese, wheat germ, tamari, Tabasco, Worcestershire, grated cheese, soybeans or brown rice. Add the sauteed vegetables.

Stuff the canoes generously. If you have leftover stuffing, put it into a small dish or some aluminum foil and bake alongside the canoes.  Sprinkle with paprika (if you want to ... I omit this) and bake 40 min. at 350.
Serve topped with extra grated cheese or sour cream if you like; I didn't think it was necessary.
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Monday, July 19, 2010

On the 12th Week of Pregnancy: Okonomiyaki

Well, it appears that I have a healthy baby tucked away inside of my body.  We saw the profile of a little head today, and ten fingers (attached to a hand that waved at us), and ten toes (attached to little feet that crossed and uncrossed and kicked at the probe), and a beautiful spine.  Heart beating away at 156bpm.  Everything seemed to be measuring well.  Turns out I lost a pound, which is amazing, considering what I ate last week (including stuffed cupcakes from this place, which I think may just be the best cupcakes I have eaten in my life ... sorry, Butterlane!), and that I'm feeling porky. It's all good news.  But for some reason, even though the ultrasound was definitely rolling across my abdomen, it was like I was peering into someone else's body.  When I wrote to a friend earlier tonight, I wondered, when am I going to believe that I'm really pregnant?  To talk in the definite future rather than in dependent clauses? 

I am finding, though, that I'm paying a little bit more attention to my protein intake this week.  If I were a good vegetarian, I'd be eating lots of beans and lentils and tofu.  But I'm not a good almost-vegetarian, and my protein intake lately, on the days I'm not eating meat (which is most days, now), has been mostly from dairy (milk, cheese, etc.), and whole grains.  I planned a few more egg and bean-centered meals this week, though, and was trying to figure out what to do with the third weekly installment of cabbage sent by our CSA this week (I couldn't imagine another curry, and S. doesn't like slaw) when I happened across some recipes for okonomiyaki.  Mmm, cabbage turned into an egg-and-flour pancake, with smoky meat-like substance on top.  Now here was something I could get behind.

The problem is, beyond the base of cabbage, and the addition of flour and eggs, no one seems to agree on exactly how to make okonomiyaki, and the people who seem to have the most expertise also have access to Asian grocery stores (sadly, our closest Asian market is about 45 minutes away).  So I went for a slightly less "authentic" version, figuring that it was bound to taste good anyway, given the ingredients.

It goes something like this:

Okonomiyaki, Osaka style

cabbage, 1 head.  shredded into oblivion with the magic Cuisinart.
onion, 1 small. shredded into the cabbage as above.
other random finely chopped or shredded veggies (corn, bell pepper, etc.)
random small bits of non-veggies (optional: shrimp, etc.)
random small bits of bacon (vegetarian or non, your choice ... also optional, but it makes a BIG difference)
flour, about 1/2 c. for every 1 cup of shredded veggies and non-veggies
baking powder, a scant 1/2 t. or so, depending on how much flour you have
salt, just a bit
eggs, about 1 for every 1 c. of shredded veggies and non-veggies

Heat a nonstick skillet or griddle on medium heat (add some oil if you need to, so that things don't stick).

Mix together veggies and non-veggies (that is, everything except the bacon).  Stir in flour and baking powder to coat well.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs; when thoroughly mixed, stir them into the vegetable-flour mixture.  You should have a dough/batter that is fairly stiff, made up mostly of vegetables.

Pour some batter onto your griddle.  Add bacon-like substance (if using) to the top of the pancake, and let the whole thing cook for about five minutes.  Flip over so that the bacon side cooks next, another five minutes or so.  Serve with any condiments you like; we used mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce, which seem to be the most traditional.  The sauce tastes a bit like barbecue, which goes well with the smoky "bacon" flavor.

Okonomiyaki sauce

1/4 c. ketchup
1 1/2 T. worcestershire sauce
1/4 t. dijon mustard
2 T. rice wine
1 t. soy sauce

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat until bubbly. Simmer about 30 seconds more, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Alternatively, you could eat them with ketchup, which is a lot less trouble, and which is what our three year old did.

Now, before you start asking about that bottle in the background, let me set the record straight: no, I am not drinking.  It's my husband's beer ... he tells me that beer is the ideal accompaniment to okonomiyaki.  This doesn't surprise me, given that most Japanese meals seem to go well with beer.  This particular label describes our little family well, don't you think?  It's a specialty of the Magic Hat Brewing Company in Burlington, Vermont, where S. grew up.

Those of you who are not pregnant, please go have a round, with your okonomiyaki, for us who cannot indulge.  Banzai!
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Friday, July 16, 2010

Tabbouleh, or What the Groundhog Doesn't Eat

Tending one's own garden involves a precarious balance of socialism (sharing with the critters who, after all, relinquish their acreage for our plots, and know good stuff when they see it) and knowing when to declare war.  Today, it's war.

The groundhog that lives under our barn ate our kale. I almost caught the bugger when I went out to check on the zucchini and beans ... he was scampering away, so full he almost couldn't fit under the fence he squeezed through on the way in.  I could tell he was panicking, and I growled at him (OK, I should have gone for the hoe; so maybe seeing a fat unidentifiable creature in my garden was a little scary for me, too).  My neighbor, an 85 year old farmer and war veteran, asked me (once he stopped snickering at me for growling, of course) what it was, and when I told him, he cocked his brow and said he was going to set his trap.  I hope he gets him ... our entire kale crop and a few tomatoes is too much for one night's dinner.  A few beans, OK.  A grape tomato or two?  Sure.  He should have known better than to be so greedy.

Thankfully, the groundhog doesn't seem to like the parsley.  We have a forest of it this year, too, so I've been making tabbouleh.  I still seem to be pregnant (this continues to surprise me, and I confess I'm a little bit--make that a lot--anxious about my upcoming 12 week scan on Monday, considering that the last time I lost a pregnancy, it was right before this appointment), and the Bean (that's what I've been calling it too, Cristen) seems to like fresh but salty things; this definitely qualifies.  Make sure that the tomato is ripe, and that you chop the herbs into oblivion.  You'll be laughing at the groundhogs, who don't know what they're missing.

Garden Fresh Tabbouleh

1/3 c. bulghur wheat
1 1/2 c. hot water
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
8-12 leaves of mint, finely chopped
2-3 scallions, finely chopped
1 tomato, diced
1 T. olive oil
3 T. lemon juice
1/2 t. salt

Soak the bulghur in hot water for 20 minutes or more until softened.  Drain well and squeeze out excess water.  Add parsley, mint, scallions, tomato, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.  Toss the ingredients together until they're well mixed.  Enjoy!
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Monday, July 12, 2010

The Feel Good Vegetable: Roasted Beet Salad

There was not a single shred of lettuce in our CSA box this week.  Cabbage, chard, but no lettuce.  This makes me ridiculously, inexplicably happy.  Now, I can finally start making the sorts of summer salads that Mark Bittman writes about.

I remember making this one back at our old apartment in Princeton.  Why I decided to purchase and roast beets, I'm not sure, because my only contact with beets as a child was the pickled kind that my mother used to get in a jar, and they were not exactly my favorite; they fell into the same category as red cabbage.  But something changed the first time I roasted them.  Perhaps I discovered the aphrodesiac properties of beets (S. and I still joke about this sometimes and ask if the other one of us has been eating beets; apparently, the juice is a rich source of boron, which plays an important role in the production of human sex hormones.  The lore about beets goes back to ancient Roman times, but Field Marshal Montgomery is reputed to have exhorted his troops to 'take favours in the beetroot fields', a euphemism for visiting prostitutes.  Who knew, right?).  Or maybe I just realized that they could taste good without all of that vinegar.

Either way, this particular salad highlights the sweetness of summer beets (which, admittedly, look like tomatoes in these pictures; they're an heirloom variety, and there are streaks of yellow and orange in them that make them look quite lovely).  It would be ideal if you could get some crisp pears to use here, because part of the appeal of the salad is the tension between sweet and spice, and between crunch and melt, but you are likely to have a hard time finding such a thing at this time of year, so just do the best you can.  And if you suddenly start feeling really good, you'll know why.

Roasted Beet Salad

2  beets (about 3/4 pound)
1  c. diced Asian pear or ripe pear
1/4  c. diced celery
2  T. chopped pistachios
3  T. fresh lemon juice
1  T. honey
1/2  t. brown sugar (optional, depending on how sweet your beets are)
1/4  t. black pepper
Dash of salt
Dash of ground red pepper
2  curly leaf lettuce leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°.
Leave root and 1 inch of stem on beets; scrub with a brush. Place beets in a small baking dish. Bake at 425° for 50 minutes or until tender. Cool. Trim off beet roots; rub off skins. Dice beets.
Combine beets, pear, celery, and pistachios in a medium bowl.
Combine juice and next 5 ingredients (juice through red pepper), stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle over beet mixture, tossing gently to coat.
Serve at room temperature or chilled on lettuce leaves, if desired.
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer in a Bowl: New Wave Salad

It rained Saturday for the first time in what seems like weeks.  The tomatoes, the beans, and the hydrangeas perked up at the strange sight of water falling from the sky. Unfortunately, the rain put a damper on our outdoor plans for the day, but we we've been feeling spendy (a term we use on the rare occasions when we are feeling like spending money), and we have a long list of things to put right in the house before January, if we're actually going to have another child (yes, I'm still in denial, despite the fact that I can no longer trace my six-pack abs), so we went couch-shopping instead.

Our house is mostly furnished with a hodge-podge of garage sale finds, hand-me-downs, and graduate student furniture.  What's currently in our living room, depending on the piece, was bought on the cheap, is between 12 and 15 years old, and has been moved across the country (or at least up and down the East Coast) several times.  Needless to say, it's fraying around the edges, losing its piping, and in general has seen better days.  And while wise people might not buy adult furniture when the prospect of baby poop and spit-up is on the horizon, I think we were feeling like it's time for change.

Testing out every couch in three showrooms within driving distance with a three year old in tow, though, is tiring work, and it was looking like we were going to end up coming home with little dinner prep time to spare.  Luckily, I'd started the components for this salad, so all we had to do was toss and eat.

I remember the first time I ever tasted this salad.  It was the first year we were living in this house, and we'd planted a real garden, filled with parsley and basil and green beans and tomatoes.  I can't even remember how I found this recipe any more, but the first bite I took was like a revelation; I felt like the garden had just leapt into my mouth.  Even though I'm not a huge pasta fan, every year since, I wait impatiently for the week when the beans and tomatoes and basil and parsley are out together.  And huzzah!  There's no lettuce in it!

I've been picking green beans from our own garden diligently all week in preparation, knowing that I had a big bunch of basil from the CSA waiting to be used, and a veritable parsley forest in our garden (there's a tabbouleh recipe coming soon).  Unfortunately, our tomatoes weren't ripening yet (save three little grape tomatoes we ate like candy this weekend, right off the vine), but I bought some from the Dvoor Farmer's Market that were just as good.   Don't skimp on the Parmesan; it's important to use the good stuff here.  We don't bother with the olives any more, but you could, if that sort of thing appeals to you.  If you're going to make it in advance, you can mix the beans and loose basil and parsley together, and mix the pasta and tomatoes together, but keep the rest of the dressing separate until you're ready to serve it because the beans will "cook" further in the acidity of the vinegar, and you're going for crisp, bright, and crunchy.

New Wave Salad (adapted from the New Basics cookbook)

1 1/2 c. fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
8 oz. pasta (your choice; we use whole wheat penne or shells)
1 1/2 c. red wine basil vinagrette (see below)
1 pound green beans, trimmed
6 ripe plum tomatoes, cut into 8-12 pieces
2 c. Calamata olives (optional)
2 T. fresh parsley
4 to 6 oz. Parmesan cheese

Red Wine Basil Vinaigrette

2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped
Combine garlic, mustard, vinegar and pepper in small bowl. Whisk well. Add oil in slow stream. Whisk constantly until vinaigrette has thickened slightly. Fold in 1/2 cup basil and 1/2 cup parsley parsley.

Arrange 1 1/2 cups basil leaves and roll them up lengthwise. Slice the stacks diagonally into slivers.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook at a rolling boil until just tender. Drain, rinse under cold water, drain again, and place in mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette and toss well. Set aside.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, and add the beans. Simmer until just tender, approx. 5-8 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, drain again and set aside.

Place the pasta in a tall glass serving bowl. Cover with the tomatoes, and then the green beans. Cover the beans with the olives and remaining (1 1/2 cups) slivered basil. Sprinkle with the (2 T.) parsley, and pour the remaining 1 cup vinaigrette over the salad.

Scrape the Parmesan with a vegetable peeler or cheese server to make thin wide shavings. Place them on top of the salad. Toss well before serving.
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Kali, Cabbage, and Prawns

In case you haven't been following the weather in the Northeast, it's hot.  There was a line from Good Morning, Vietnam that has always stuck with me, and it seems to be particularly applicable here: "It's so damn hot you could fry an egg in your boxer shorts."

I went running nonetheless, the past two mornings.  It was hot and humid already, but I went slowly.  Towards the end of the run, somehow my pace coincided with the chant we learned in yoga class on Monday night:  Kali Durge namo namah (a call to a mother figure to nurture, support, and protect us--my teacher wisely says she likes the image of a fairy godmother, so we can leave our complicated relationships with our own mothers out of this).  An aside: my teacher has a knack for picking just the right intentions for class recently ... when I was trying to decide about teacher training, there was clarity.  When I discovered I was pregnant, there was acceptance and being present.  This week, after hearing about so many losses, and witnessing Rebecca's incredible grace in the aftermath of loss, there was mothering and nurturing.

As I ran, I found myself chanting in my head, thinking how fitting it was to be calling on a nurturing mother (or fairy godmother) to be helping me through the last stretch, the way Ian asks me to pick him up and carry him when he gets tired.  As I rounded the corner to my office, wouldn't you know it: the entire in-ground sprinkler system came on.

And you'd better believe I ran through it.

Both days.

On a more mundane note, it's probably not a bad idea to call on your fairy godmother at dinnertime, too, when it's a sweltering 100 degrees outside and you don't feel like cooking, or even warming something up from the night before.  Turns out Kali still has quite a presence in Bengali culture, so perhaps it was also not so much of a coincidence that I happened across this recipe when I was searching for things to do with the cabbage from our CSA this week.  Bengalis call this dish Bandhakopir Tarkari. It's a comforting, nurturing sort of dish that you can eat hot or cold (we opted for cold), and you could also add in some potatoes to make the dish more hearty, or substitute tempeh or seitan for the prawns; we were happy with it just the way it came out, though.

Here's hoping you're staying cool, and that your "fairy godmother," whatever form she might take, is taking care of you right now.

Bengali Cabbage and Prawns

1.5 t. oil
1 large bay leaf
1 t. whole cumin
1 medium cabbage, sliced into 1 cm wide strips
1 1/2 t. cumin powder
1 1/2 t. coriander powder
1 t. turmeric powder
1/2 t. chili powder
1 1/2 T. grated ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
2 whole slim green chilies (optional)
3/4 lb. ready-cooked shelled prawns or shrimp
1 c.of shelled fresh or frozen peas
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped roughly
Salt to taste

Wash the cabbage thoroughly in cold water. In a large pot, heat the oil on high heat.

When the oil is hot, add the bay leaf and cumin seeds. As they start sizzling, add in the shredded cabbage.
Stir fry the cabbage for two minutes and then add the turmeric, chili, cumin and coriander powders. Stir fry for another two minutes on high heat until the cabbage is well-coated with the masalas.

Lower the heat to medium, add the ginger and garlic, cover the pot and simmer until the cabbage is cooked. You shouldn’t need to add any water, but peek in there every once in a while just in case.

The cabbage will take a good 20 minutes to soften. About halfway through the cooking, stir in the peas, prawns and green chilies.

When the cabbage is moist and soft, take the lid off and mix in the fresh coriander.  Add salt to taste and enjoy hot or cold.
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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lighter Than Air: Chardakopita

After my last post, it's hard to figure out where to go.  But life does move on, no matter how absurd it may seem.  And so we continue to cook, and plan, and live with love and with intention. 

This week I told my yoga teacher that I would probably not be applying for teacher training.  I had originally intended to wait a little bit longer--at least until the 12 week scan--but I had to tell her that I was pregnant, because I was having trouble remembering what I should and shouldn't be doing any more, and what modifications I should be making when.  An anxious mind is not exactly conducive to producing a state of present-ness and focus on the body and breath during class.

She gasped, and said "congratulations!"  I'm sure it was not exactly a surprise, since when I'd gone to the informational meeting, I'd asked about becoming pregnant during training, mentioning vaguely that if my body cooperated, I needed to listen, since we'd "had some bad luck" before.  Though she seemed disappointed that I wasn't going to go through with it, she asked me which midwife practice I was working with, and recommended I talk with them about my yoga practice.  I was glad I told her, but I left the studio feeling a little like the water lilies we'd seen on our recent canoe ride at Lake Nockamixon: beautiful in bloom, closing for the night.

Later that night, she sent me an email, saying she felt like she hadn't given me enough information, asking whether I was having trouble conceiving or whether I'd miscarried with a regular yoga practice previously, and noting that if it were the latter, my midwife might suggest that I stop for the first trimester.  She also invited me to consider taking her Sadhana class that will be starting in September, which, though it wouldn't be like teacher training, would at least offer some yoga "off the mat." I explained my history, assuring her that I have no reason to believe in a connection between my practice and the losses, since I was practicing most regularly during my first (picture perfect) pregnancy, and told her that I had no intention of giving up my practice.  It turns out, she replied, that teacher training might not even run this fall (yet another thing out of my control!), but that if it did, perhaps (deep breath) she could help me through the first part of the training, and I could finish the second half later when the baby was older.

I had to re-read that sentence several times; I couldn't believe my eyes.  And while I'm not sure if it's really possible to fit it in now around work AND doctors' appointments AND home (actually, it sounds fairly insane), the possibility made me feel hopeful.

I came home from class to munch on this for dinner, which I'd made earlier in the day.  This is by no means the traditional Spanakopita; it swaps puff pastry for filo pastry (which lowers the fat content), but it's really quick and tasty. I substituted chard for the spinach, and the original recipe said you could also substitute kale or silverbeet.  You could probably even exchange a sliced leek for the onion. Using low-fat ricotta and reduced-fat puff pastry will cut the calories even further.  Whatever you decide to do, enjoy its lightness.  It's not every day that a vegetable will be an excuse to eat puff pastry.

Spinach and Ricotta Pie

7 oz. baby spinach leaves, or kale or chard with the center ribs discarded
2 tbs olive oil
1 medium brown onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill (or 1 t. dried)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 tbs chopped fresh mint
1.5 cups (300g) ricotta cheese
2 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry

Preheat oven to 400. 

Heat oil and saucepan and gently fry off the onion and garlic until onion is softened.  Steam or microwave or saute greens with onions and garlic until wilted (I did the latter and it worked fine). Cool and squeeze out excess liquid. If you are using silverbeet or kale, chop it coarsely.

Combine spinach, ricotta cheese, onion mix, rind and herbs in a bowl and mix to combine.

Oil two oven trays and heat in the oven for 5 minutes. If you have them, using pizza trays with the holes in the base will ensure a nice, crisp crust on the bottom.

Place one sheet of pastry on each tray and place half of the cheese mixture in the middle of each, leaving a 2" border. Fold the edges of the pastry over the mixture.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until pastry browns.
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