Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Green Smoothies

Each year at Christmas, I find myself both delighted by people's generosity in gift-giving and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of "stuff"that comes in and out of my house. Living in a fairly small apartment, it's always a challenge to find space for new things. This year, I was motivated to purge post-Christmas for various reasons.
On New Year's Day, we had our usual Chili Ride party and needed to clean and prep the night before. While trying to find the surface of my dining room table, I had an enormous mail pile to contend with (I've written an entire blog post on this daunting task in the past.) My first instinct was to hide it in the "organizational basket" I have stored under my desk. However, much to my dismay this was filled to the brim, probably from preparing for the party the year before. So, I had no other choice but to tackle this ginormostack of catalogs, bills, magazines and solicitations. One by one, I chose between the shredder, the recycling bin or the filing cabinet.
  I know, you're envious of my rockin' New Year's Eve. It's important to know that I had an adult beverage while completing this task. Admittedly it was one of the most, if not THE most blase New Year's Eve I've ever had. It was less exciting than even an ordinary week night. But that's OK. We had a fun party the next day and Kathy, Janet and I had a nice, albeit chilly ride together in 17 degree temps with a pit stop at Ride Studio Cafe for a mocha latte. 
Shortly after 2014 rang in, I was scheduled to attend two different clothing swaps. The clothing swap has now become a regular occurrence amongst my girl crowd.  It's a nice way to give some of your things a second lease on life and to maybe get something new yourself without have to shop or spend money. Anything not taken goes to charity. On MLK Day, I used the holiday from work to do a deep clean of my closet and bureau in preparation for the swaps. So here, my decision points were: 1st clothing swap; second clothing swap; straight to Goodwill; straight to the garbage.
The pile was enormous and I found the experience was a bit unpleasant.  It made me frustrated as I weeded through so many things that I had barely worn. I questioned my buying habits. While I don't consider myself a shopper as it's not something I often enjoy, I clearly had purchased many things over the last several years that were not put to good use. I felt wasteful and a cog in the consumer wheel that is embedded in our culture. I pictured my things in one of the garbage heaps that Wall-e, the main character in my favorite Pixar film, would have compacted into a neat cube of trash. I wondered how I could be more efficient yet have the clothes I need for all aspects of my life and in all seasons. I have no answers, but I know that each time I go through this, especially when moving, for a while I become much more judicious in my purchases and ask, "If I moved cross country, would I want to take this with me? How important is it?" (Not that I have ever moved cross country, but I've imagined it about 1 million times. Oh, Portland, please save yourself for me. I may be there someday.)
The third thing I've purged thus far this year is my habitual breakfast. For many many years now, my typical breakfast has been either granola and yogurt with some fruit, or oatmeal with a banana and peanut butter mixed in. For some time now, I've been thinking about reforming my breakfast to be a little more nutritional and a bit less carb focused. I'm not trying to eradicate carbs from my life, but to reduce them some. I could have been doing worse and been eating Lucky Charms and a bagel with cream cheese each day, but I could be doing better.
Several years ago, I asked my parents for a very expensive juicer as a Christmas gift. I tried it a handful of times, but I quickly learned juicing was not for me. I didn't find it at all satisfying as a breakfast and I found it a giant pain to clean the appliance after each use. So there the juicer sat and sat, week after week, month after month taking up very precious counter space.
During our trip to Portland this summer I had a "green smoothie" most every day. I found them very tasty and liked getting a blast of kale or spinach to start my day. When I returned I looked into getting a nice blender that could blend the greens enough to make them drinkable. The one that everyone raved about was the Vitamix, but it came with a hefty price tag of over $500. Would it join the Land of Unused Expensive Appliances on my teeny counter? I couldn't bear the thought of it. Months went by as I continued to ponder this, when a co-worker told me about the Ninja - same wattage but much less expensive. I found myself a coupon for Bed, Bath and Beyond and purchased my Ninja BL820 that day.
Also, we ended up posting my Breville juicer for sale on Twitter and it sold the same day! The timing was impeccable being ripe for New Year Resolutions. I was able to put that money towards my blender and free up the counter. 
The outcome? I've used it almost every day for the last three weeks, since I set it up. Now, I'm not a nutritionist and I can't vouch for this being the healthier way to go. As a matter of fact, I worry that if I'm not careful I'll be eating a 900 calorie breakfast. And, it turns out that one of my favorite combinations has oatmeal in it. But I'm enjoying it and getting some greens into my breakfast most days.
Here are a couple of my favorite combinations. Quantities are estimated since I have never measured a thing. So far I haven't been able to go wrong. No combination has tasted bad to me.

Green Almond Butter Smoothie
2 cups of kale or spinach
1-2 tblspns of almond butter
1/2 cup almond milk
up to a tblspn flaxseed meal
1/2 tspn cinnamon
a couple of drops of vanilla
a half or whole frozen or fresh banana
a small handful of blueberries or a short pour of pomegranate juice (optional)

Oatmeal Smoothie
1/2 cup oats
1-2 tblspns almond butter
1/2 cup almond milk
1 cup kale or spinach
1/2 to whole fresh or frozen banana
1/2 tspn cinnamon
a couple drops vanilla
pomegranate juice works well here too

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Buffalo Baked Tofu

I finally belong to a book club that actually meets regularly and discusses the book that most, if not all, the people in attendance have read. I'd made a few attempts at book clubs before, but they never lasted long, for one reason or another. This group, we call ourselves simply, The Good Book Club, meets about every 4-6 weeks and we have a regular crew of about 8 women, and a few others that come from time to time. We actually do discuss the book, and we eat dinner together. This typically takes place on Sunday evenings, although we mix it up once in a while, and we take most of the summer off, but may get together just to hang out or see a movie. I like this group more and more each time we meet and we've had a pretty good streak of books. Some that stand out in my mind: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller; The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery; A State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. In full disclosure, I never finished this last one because I was finishing up my yoga certification at the time, but what I read I liked. It's a true story of a serial killer during the 1893 World Fair and includes lots of interesting detail about the history of architecture in Chicago and other cities at the time.
I do hope our momentum of both books and building friendships continues into 2014. The next book we will discuss is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I saw her Ted Talk and liked what she had to say, and have been wanting to read the book. We are also pairing our next meeting with a clothing swap.
As for our next book, I'm a little bit behind schedule on reading it and also having a less than pleasant time walking Zuree multiple times a day in the single digit temperatures we've been having. Given this situation, I decided to make the best of the walking and also meet my deadline by listening to my reading assignment via audiobook. I loaded it onto my phone and now have 10 hours of listening enjoyment to accompany me while Zuree stops, smells, and meanders. Given my average walk is 30 to 45 minutes, and I walk her three times on the weekend and twice during the week (the dog walker gets the third shift), I will have the book completed in no more than 20 walks, or a little over a week! Perfect. This book would have taken me a lot longer than that to read. It's very interesting, but definitely not like a novel that I would get lost in or wouldn't be able to put down.  So all is well in our polar vortex and both dog and mama are happy.
In the winter I crave lots of warming foods, like curries and similarly spicy things. I've made this buffalo baked tofu several time and like the texture and flavor quite a lot. I like the texture even better as leftovers, cold. I often have it on top of a salad or as a snack. I have found that buying fresh, locally made tofu makes a big difference, but I know of only one place to get it around here, so don't always have it on hand. 

Buffalo Baked Tofu
1 package of firm tofu
4 tblspns nutritional yeast
4 tblspns panko bread crumbs
6 tblspns hot wing sauce
2 tspns salt
1 tspn chili powder
pepper

1.  Press the tofu (do this ahead of time).  Place a couple of paper towels on a plate and put the brick of tofu down. put another paper towel on top of the tofu and another plate on top of that. Take a large can 64 oz can of tomatoes (or something similar) and put it on top of the plate. Put the whole contraption in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. A couple of hours would be better, but 30 minutes is just fine.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 and put a little oil into a baking dish. Remove the tofu and cut it into pieces about "1/4 thick and 3X3".
3. In one shallow bowl, pour the wing sauce. In another mix the bread crumbs, nutritional yeast, chili powder, salt and a little pepper.
4. Take each piece of tofu, and dredge it first in the wing sauce and then in the bread crumb mixture.
5. Bake for 30 minutes. The original recipe I used called for flipping the pieces halfway through but I found all the coating would come off, so I just leave it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Baked Mushroom Risotto

In a cooking class I took with Helen Rennie, we made this dish and I have made it at least five times since, probably more. I have made risotto many times the traditional stove top way and much prefer the way it comes out in the oven. I like the texture better. I also love mushrooms and this with the mushroom broth is quite good. Here is the link to Helen's post since she includes many other variations. I am partial to the mushroom version and want to have it easily accessible.

Helen's post on baked risotto:
http://www.beyondsalmon.com/2008/12/risotto-can-lazy-method-yield-better.html

Baked Mushroom Risotto

Stock
2 oz of dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups boiling water

Risotto
1/3 cup chopped shallots (about 2 medium)
2 tblsp olive oil
1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice (do not subsitute with another kind of rice)
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tblspns butter sliced into 4 pieces
2 tblspns freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese
1 lb of sliced and sauteed mushrooms (see recipe just prior to this one)
salt to taste

1. In a heat proof bowl, pour the boiling water onto the dried poricini mushrooms and let sit for at least 30 minutes. While that is sitting chop the shallots, measure the rice and start chopping mushrooms.
2. Preheat the oven to 400. Once the porcini mushrooms have sat for 30 minutes, drain them using a sieve and a paper towel lining the sieve. Put the liquid into a pan bringing it to a simmer.
3. Place a heavy bottom 3 qt pot with an oven safe lid on the stovetop and set it on medium low heat. Add the olive oil, shallots, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook the shallots, stirring occasionally until soft and translucent, but not browned. This should take 8-10 minutes. If they start to brown turn the heat lower.
4. Salt the stock to taste. I use at least a couple of teaspoons.
5. Raise the heat to medium and add the rice to the shallots. Cook, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes until the grains are shiny and translucent around the edges.
6.  Add the wine and stir constantly until it is absorbed, about 2-3 minutes.
7. Add 2 1/4 cups the hot stock and stir well. Once it comes to a simmer, cover it and immediately transfer it to the oven.  Cook for 18 minutes. Reserve any leftover stock in case you want to add more at the end.
8. While the risotto bakes, cook the mushrooms. You can use the recipe posted prior to this one or cook them any way you like. I've also added small pieces of the mushrooms used for the stock near the end of sauteeing them.
9. Remove the risotto uncover (USE AN OVEN MITT), and taste. Depending on your preference and how al dente or liquidy you like it, you can mess around with it here. If you want to cook it more on the stove top, add more stock (or water if you ran out) over medium heat stirring constantly until you like the consistency. I usually like it the way it is right out of the oven. Sometimes I add a little more stock, but don't cook it anymore. I just want a little more liquid.
10. Stir in mushrooms, butter and cheese. Adjust the salt and stir.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Perfect Mushrooms

I have arrived! I know I have really made it in this world. Do you know how I know? Because I just joined a gym that provides towel service.  You have no idea how happy this makes me. It doesn't even matter to me that the towels are glorified facecloths and that I need to use five of them during my typical morning swim routine.  Not having to schlep a towel around town just makes for an overall better gym experience. While I've long made it a point to try to stay active and fit, I have not always made it a point to belong to a gym. It's just not my thing. I like to run and ride because I like to be outside. So to do these things indoors is not motivating to me and just walking into a gym can sometimes instantly envelope me in a feeling of sadness. But, I do like swimming indoors and I have to get a weight routine going for all those things that you have to think about in middle aged life. So for the last 3 years I've contemplated joining the Boston Sports Club in Waltham. They have a very nice facility and pool, but that comes with a hefty price tag. I couldn't justify it. But, this Fall as the weather started to turn cold, I knew I needed something to shake up my routine for the winter, so I just went ahead and did it.
The couple of other times I belonged to a gym with a pool, they did not have towel service, or any other kind of service for that matter. Forgot your shampoo or soap? Sorry! You'll have to go without that day. This place even has an iron & ironing board and mouthwash and hair dryers.  I go in the morning on my way to work, so all these little things make it a whole lot easier to do. I haven't forgotten my underwear or shoes yet, and I don't believe they have remedies for that. I'm sure one of these days I'm going to be walking around work in skirt with running sneakers on. I just hope that's a day that I don't have to leave my desk much.
Another thing that makes me happy recently are these mushrooms. I found them on Helen Rennie's blog, Beyond Salmon, after a class I took with her. It appears she got this recipe from Julia Child. The original use for these was for a baked risotto recipe that I will blog next, but now I eat them often as a side dish because they are so delicious.
Helen talks a bit on her post about washing mushrooms. I've always been very careful to just wash them with a damp cloth which can be pretty tedious. She used to do the same to be sure the mushrooms didn't absorb too much water but now she has changed her ways. It's ok to wash them as long as you dry them a bit after. Here is the link to her post. I still want to have the recipe on my own blog because it's easier for me to find, but definitely take a look at her post.
http://www.beyondsalmon.com/2008/05/technique-of-week-how-to-cook-mushrooms.html

Sauteed Mushrooms

3 tblsp olive oil or butter or a combination of both
1 lb sliced mushrooms (baby bellas, cremini or portabella work good. White is also fine, but I found them more watery and didn't like as much)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tspn fresh lemon juice
2 tblspns madeira, port or red/white wine. (I've always used dry white wine, but I bet red would be great0

1.  Heat a heavy bottomed large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil/ butter and wait for it to heat up. Add mushrooms, wine. lemon juice and salt. Stir and cover. Let cook for about 8 minutes, until the mushrooms release all their juices.
2. Uncover. Raise heat and boil until all the liquid is evaporated.
3. Turn down heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are browned. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Rice and Beans with Coconut Milk

Last year I went to Philadelphia for dinner. My train ride was about 10 hours round trip and my total time in Philly was slightly longer than that. I had a friend who was going to be there for a visit from Colorado, so I figured that I might as well meet up with him while he was "in the neighborhood". I recall it was a very busy time at work and I had no business going away, but taking the train allowed me to work on my laptop so I could be productive and also get to take this little getaway. I've learned a few things about managing work stress in my days and one of those things is that I can't let work completely take over my life. In times when it gets super busy I used to forego almost all things fun so I could get my job done. But doesn't make for a very happy me. Now I'm more conscious of the benefits that taking a day off can have in the middle of a hectic period. It recharges me so I can be more productive and overall have a better attitude. Also, when I reflect back on my life, I'm not going to remember how busy I was and how much work I got done, but I will remember the time I met Claude for dinner in Philly. What I recall most distinctly about that trip was the rice we had at the sushi restaurant we went to for dinner. It was coconut rice and it was melt in your mouth delicious. I intended on trying to make it, but somehow have still not gotten around to it all these months later.

When I was messing around on the internet the other day looking for recipes, I came across Jamaican
Rice and Peas. It looked promising and reminded me of the Philly coconut rice so I decided to make it as part of that night's dinner. It was tasty and it will become a regular for me. It's nice to have some different rice and bean dishes to mix things up a bit since that is a staple dinner for me. From the comments I was reading, I gather that this isn't the traditional Jamaican rice and peas recipe, but rather a twist on that, so I don't feel comfortable calling it that. I'm not sure what else to call it, so I'm differentiating it by the use of coconut milk. If you don't like coconut, however, please don't be scared off. It's not a strong coconut flavor. The milk just sweetens it up a bit and makes it creamy and the mix of spices is fragrant, but not overpowering. Using the whole pepper gives it a very subtle flavor. Somewhere I read it described as the equivalent of using a bay leaf. I halved this recipe and still used the whole pepper and that was fine.

Rice and Beans with Coconut Milk

2 tblsp vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cups basmati rice
1 tspn salt
1 tspn grated ginger
1 cup of water
1 cup veggie broth
2 cups coconut milk
1 15 oz can pinto beans, kidney beans or pigeon peas
2 tspns dried thyme
1 habanero pepper whole (or a Scotch Bonnet Pepper if you can find it)

1. Heat oil on medium high heat in a medium pot. Saute for about 4-5 minutes until the edges begin to brown.
2. Add rice and garlic and stir almost continuously for 2-3 minutes so it doesn't stick to the pan.
3. Add coconut milk, broth, water, ginger and salt and stir. Add the beans and habanero pepper and then sprinkle the thyme all over the top. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat to low and cover.
4. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed. Then leave covered for about 10 minutes. Fluff rice, remove pepper and serve. You can squeeze some lime juice on the top too to brighten it up a bit.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sallie's Black Bean Salad

The few weeks leading up to my 2 week vacation were a bit intense and I found myself wondering if it was really worth it, also knowing that my return to work post-vacation would be similar. So as I sit here on the eve of said return, I want to record that it was, in fact, worth it. (Ask me again in 48 hours.) Two weeks vs just one week makes a really big difference in my ability to disconnect and settle into a different mode. My vacation was a great mix of everything I wanted it to be. I already mentioned in an earlier post I got to try new things. I had some time away and also some time at home to do things in the area. I visited with friends and family and met some new people. I got to linger, meander and ponder. I read a couple of books. I saw movies. I ate lots of good food (and some not so good for those of you who know the food poisoning story). I spent lots of time outdoors, biking, hiking, SUPing, walking, picnicking. I slept well. I cooked a bit. I wrote in my blog after a long hiatus.  Sure there were other things I wanted to get to and didn't, but that's OK. I feel satisfied and re-charged.

And while it feels like most of my summer whizzed by without much notice, I do have a few highlights I'd like to dwell on for a moment:
  • Attending the Robert Plant show at the Boston Pavilion with my cousin, one of her BFFs and one of my BFFs. The show way exceeded my expectations and it was great to be with people who enjoyed it as much as I did.
  • A four day bike trek in Massachusetts with Kathy discovering places in my home state I never knew existed with some other fun things to discover along the way (Turners Falls, Deerfield, Greenfield, many covered bridges, mischievous piggies, The People's Pint, cute country store with great sandwiches).
  • A super quick trip to Nantucket to visit Sallie and an exhilarating bike ride in the rain.
  • A day-trip to the Peabody Essex Museum, Gloucester and the area.

Sallie's black bean salad was a signature dish for Summer 2013 so it seems fitting to capture it here since I made it again tonight. It's cool and refreshing, perfect for hot, muggy, summer nights like tonight when you don't want to put the stove on. You could also add some feta if you were in the mood.

Black Bean Salad

Add more or less of the following according to your likes:

1 can black beans
1/2 bag frozen corn, defrosted
2-3 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 bunch scallions, chopped finely
1 avocado, diced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tspns cumin
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
The juice from one good sized lime

1. Mix all ingredients in a big bowl and blend well.

Pickled Eggs with Dill

Smith Rock, Oregon
You may have noticed that I like to have some variety in my life and to try new things here and there. I have my tried and true activities that I like to do consistently, but need a healthy infusion of new and different every so often to keep me going. As I reflect on my last two weeks of vacation and consider how enjoyable that time off was, a component of my "rating system" concerns whether I did anything new to me. Of course, I saw new places in Oregon that I hadn't been to before, Smith Rock being a highlight for me. But I did also try my hand at some new things: Stand up paddle boarding, riding a Brompton, and pickling eggs. My report is as follows.

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) as I understand has been around for a while but just now catching on here with some vengeance in the Boston area. Most of the women I've mentioned it to have either tried it or expressed interest in trying it and most of the men seem confused by it and can't understand why one would want to do such a thing. "Why not just kayak?" seems to be a common question. This, however, is not based on a very large sampling, so I wouldn't consider this any kind of conclusive research. I've SUPed four times thus far, so I'm certainly not an expert, but I can tell you what I enjoy about it. First off, I'm kind of excited to have a water sport. I'm not a person who grew up spending a lot of time in the water, so when I wanted to try a tri in my 30s, I actually had to learn how to swim for real, not just doggy paddle style. Secondly, I find SUPing rhythmic and peaceful when doing it on the river. I know ocean SUPing will be a different experience and I look forward to seeing what that is like. Compared to kayaking, I like having my whole body free, and being able to use the lower half of my body as well. I will sometimes kneel on the board or lie down just to feel something different, or stop and do a couple of yoga poses, or jump in the water when it gets hot. Last, I also like that SUPing works my core and upper body since cycling and running is mostly focused on legs.

As for riding a Brompton, you could argue that it's not really new, since it is riding a bike and I have done that plenty of times before, but since I had never even so much as taken Todd's for a short spin, I felt a little nervous as we picked up our rented fold up bikes and got ready to head to Sunday Parkways in Portland. I still haven't gotten the hang of the folding and unfolding process and needed to think very carefully as I did it. And as we headed over to ride up and then down Mt. Tabor I was feeling nervous about how it would be ascending and descending on those little wheels. But, all was well and it was a fun and comfortable bike to ride around the city on. I took it to yoga one day and was extremely impressed with myself for getting there and back without getting lost. Portland is such a great city to ride a bike around with clear markings for where bikes should be at any point where it might otherwise get confusing.

And then, yesterday, I made an attempt at pickling eggs. I've never pickled or canned anything before but have always loved things prepared this way. When Kathy and I were on our 4 day bike trek via a Mass Bike tour a few weeks ago, we ate one night at a place called The People's Pint in Greenfield, MA. I loved everything about this place and will definitely make a trip back there. They had pickled eggs as a snack you could buy at the bar and I learned that this was, for a long time, a popular pub food. ? How did I get to this age and never eat a pickled egg? Not that I can remember, anyway. So, when we got back from Portland, I went straight to Tags Hardware, bought a case of pint sized Ball jars, looked up some recipes and boiled a dozen eggs. The hardest part is peeling the eggs, which I am exceedingly bad at, despite the many tips that have been given to me. I think I just may need to practice. The eggs need to pickle for at least a week and so I can't yet give you an accurate report, but I did want to record the recipe before I forget what I did. I just tried one even though it's only been 24 hours (I used the excuse that I was testing it so I could write this post, but really I'm just impatient.) So far it tastes like a hard boiled egg with just a hint of flavor, but at least it wasn't offensive. I'm looking forward to next Sunday and hoping for some good results. There are so many variations of ways to flavor them and if this goes well, next I will do some green beans.

Pickled Eggs with Dill

1 dozen hard boiled eggs, peeled
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup water
4 tspns salt
3 tblspns chopped fresh dill
a couple of shakes red hot chili pepper
1/4 tspn white pepper
1/2 tspn mustard seed
pinch of sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tspn dried onion flakes

1. Put all the pickling ingredients in a pan, bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Put eggs in jar(s), pour hot liquid over them. Screw on caps and refrigerate immediately.
3. Pickle for 1-2 weeks, then eat!