Monday, August 31, 2009

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Today was my first day back at work after two weeks vacation. It was difficult getting back on a structured schedule. I was really enjoying getting up whenever I wanted and then doing whatever I wanted for the whole day. I have no problem occupying myself for hours upon hours of time. Of course, the "doing whatever I want" part typically requires some money, even if it is just buying a double shot soy latte to sip while I sit in the sun in Davis Square reading my book, or getting some veggies at the farmers market to try some new recipes. There are also the larger expenses, like paying rent to have a place to put my bed so I can sleep till whenever I want, or purchasing plane tickets to have an adventure in Oregon. Because of this, I'm not anticipating being deliberately unemployed at any time in my near future, but I have begun daydreaming of ways to have something other than a five day work week and be financially stable.

More on that at another time. Right now I'm still trying to relish in all the little spontaneous things I was able to do during my unstructured time. One day, it was disgustingly hot and humid. I was too hot to ride my bike or run, and there's not really any good place close by to go for a swim. So, I decided for an urban method of cooling off: going to the movie theatre. I'm sure this used to be much more popular before central air conditioning was commonplace, but since we don't have this modern creature comfort, and I don't get to the movies enough, it was a good excuse to do just that.

I saw Jules and Julia. It's about an almost 30 woman, feeling a little lost and like her career is meaningless, so she takes on a self-imposed challenge to cook all 500 recipes in Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking over the span of a year, and to keep a blog recording her experiences. At the same time, it tells the story of how Julia Child got her start in cooking. It was a cute movie. It made me cry a lot, but it wasn't sad. I just seem to cry at almost anything these days. It did resonate with me in several ways (e.g. cooking blog) and I had just booked a trip to Paris the day before so it was fun watching the scenes of Julia living in the City of Lights.

It made me wonder when exactly I started to enjoy cooking, and what it is I like about it. There was no particular turning point. It's not something I had a love or talent for at a young age, and I'm still not a very good cook. But I do enjoy it. I like chopping - I find it relaxing. I like the creative aspect, rummaging around in the cupboards and fridge to find some things to toss together for a tasty meal. Mostly, I like being healthy, and doing this by eating fresh unprocessed foods as much as possible.

I've come a long way from my start of being a vegetarian over 20 years ago. In the beginning, I really had no idea what I was doing and was pretty much just a carbivore and even the carbs I ate weren't good choices. I didn't look or feel very healthy. I remember one meal I used to make a lot: chopped up potatoes, cooked in the microwave, white minute rice, and iceberg lettuce salad, all with fat free ranch dressing on it. Ewwwwwww. This was in the no fat craze days. Eventually I started realizing that my blood sugar was all whacked out and this wasn't the best way to eat. Then, I got some cookbooks and would follow everything step by step, afraid to veer from the directions. Over time, I learned better what went with what, figured out some good sources of protein, started experimenting, and tried to eliminate things like high fructose corn syrup from my diet.

Anyway, here I am today eating whole grains and beans pretty much every day and still learning a lot. That's another thing I enjoy- no matter how much you cook, there's always more foods and ways of cooking to explore. Here's a new quinoa recipe I made the other day. It's got adzuki beans in it, which I like to eat because they're even higher in iron than black beans and chickpeas (my other favorites). This recipe is simple and light, good for a summer's day. I think you could add some feta for a heartier type salad.

Quinoa Tabbouleh
1 cup quinoa, rinsed in a sieve
2 cups water
salt
2 medium ripe yellow tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 can adzuki beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch parsley chopped (leaves only)
3 tblsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tblspns fresh lemon juice
fresh ground pepper

1. Boil the water in a medium saucepan. Add quinoa and some salt, cover reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed.
2. Place the cooked quinoa in a large bowl to cool. Add tomatoes, onions, beans, parsley and cilantro.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, some salt, pepper, and lemon juice combine with salad. Chill for an hour then serve.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer sautee with Israeli Couscous

I'm just not a morning person. Maybe that's why it feels to me like morning people outnumber non-morning people by at least 2:1. They seem to be everywhere, all perky and showing up to 9:00 meetings having already accomplished several other things. It's not that I want to sleep into late morning or early afternoon and waste half the day away. Getting up at 7:00-7:30 is fine by me. I just don't want to be required to have to actually DO anything taxing at that hour. I wish I could be one of these people who gets up at 5:00, leaps out of bed and onto their bike or into their running sneakers and gets their workout done for the day. But, I'm just not. Every once in a while, I get up and run or ride when I really want to get a workout in and know I can't do it in the evening, but there is no leaping involved. It takes everything I have to drag myself out of bed after pressing "snooze" a couple of times. When I was swimming regularly a couple of times a week, I did that in the morning, mostly because it was too much of a pain to deal with wet chlorinated hair in the evenings. In order to get that started, I actually had to plan to meet a friend who I didn't know very well at the time, so didn't want to not show and have her be upset with me.

Also, from what I gather, in order to be a morning person, one has to go to bed earlier. It seems many people I know are actually going to bed at the same time Todd and I are sitting down to dinner at 10:00. I know this is bad for me and probably contributes to the fact that I often don't sleep well and rarely feel rested when I get up in the morning. But, it's really hard to break the cycle, especially when you live with another non-morning person, and even more so when they are unemployed and have no structured schedule to abide by. I could try to get to work earlier, so I could leave earlier, get my workout done earlier, so I could eat earlier and get to bed. But the fact is, I'm just more alert and productive in the evenings. I can literally feel myself perk up at about 4:00 in the afternoon at my desk, and that's about when I'm really ready to get going. I also feel a lot better running or riding in the evenings vs. doing it in the morning since I'm not feeling very alert at that point.

Summer has really finally arrived here in the northeast and it's darn hot. Since I've been trying to turn the stove on as little as possible and keep dinners simple, you'd think that would move our dinner time back a little, but it really hasn't. This is one dish I made last week that I really liked.

Summer Sautee with Israeli Couscous
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 tspn and 1 tblsn olive oil
1 1/4 cups water
1 tspn salt
1 tspn oregano
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small summer squash, sliced
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 cup frozen peas, rinsed
1/4 cup more fresh basil chopped
1 small bunch fresh spinach chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
goat cheese to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the tspn of oil in a small saucepan. Add couscous and toast until light brown, about 5 minutes. Be sure to stir often. Add water, salt and oregano. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn down to a simmer. It takes about 10-12 minutes to cook.
2. In sautee pan, heat the tblsn of oil. Add onion and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add squash and zucchini. Cook for about 10 minutes, then add peas. After a couple of minutes add spinach, tomato, and basil. Cook for a few more minutes then turn off heat and sprinkle goat cheese, salt and pepper. Put couscous in bowls and pour veggie sautee over it to serve.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Succulent Summer Squash Sautee

Dear Driver,

When you come upon me on the road, you do not need to pull all the way over the yellow line completely into the other lane into on-coming traffic to avoid me. Not moving over at all is also not a good option. When I can almost feel your car door on my thigh (or your horse trailer as another example), this is unnerving. Moving over just a couple of feet is plenty of room. Giving me the finger, throwing something or yelling at me when I am as far over to the right as I can possibly be, is totally unproductive, upsetting and unsafe. I am not another cyclist you may have been aggravated by in the past for doing something they shouldn't have. And, if you have anger issues and/or an ego which leads you to believe I do not have a right to be on the road, that is not my problem. Find another way to release your anger (like exercise), and/or get over yourself. It's really scary to be out there sometimes amongst ornery drivers in very large vehicles.

I am not saying that every cyclist is on their best behavior out there. I know they're not. Many ride side by side on roads that are not wide enough or quiet enough to be doing so. Some ride over in the middle of the lane, for no apparent reason. Some may run a stop sign or a stop light into traffic causing cars to have to slow when they shouldn't need to. But, I do believe these are the exceptions. There are a lot of us out there who are just following the rules and being safe as we try to: stay fit; do something we are passionate about; train so we can compete; see the places we live out in the open instead of out a car window; be social and have fun. We are not trying to piss you off. Is it really that bad if you have to slow down a little bit? I urge all of you who have ever uttered an angry word or had a negative thought towards a cyclist to get out there on a bike. At the very least, you may put yourself in our shoes for a bit, and have some compassion. Or, you never know, you may actually like it, catch the fever, and become one of us.

Terrifyingly yours,
Cyclist

In the couple of trips I have taken this summer, I have expected to encounter drivers who are more cyclist friendly. Not the case. In Vermont over Memorial Day weekend, I was appalled by drivers (and I definitely notice a theme of men in big pick-up trucks) yelling, giving the finger, and being generally obnoxious gunning their engines to get by us. On the Cape this past week people seemed obliging when it came to stopping for cyclists on the bike path, but didn't seem to know what to do when approaching us on the road. They were either veering way too far into the other lane or not giving us any room at all.

I'm not really sure what the underlying issue is, but I think it's many. Some people simply don't understand the rules of the road and don't know what to do when they happen upon a cyclist. Others are just generally aggressive drivers and think anything that slows them down is an abomination that should be dealt with through rage or whatever actions they see fit. And some people just have it out for cyclists. My own personal explanation is some of these folks just feel guilty because they know they should be out exercising, but aren't, so they subconsciously take it out on us. That may sound crazy, but these are the things that go through my head when I'm out on the bike for hours by myself, trying to contemplate the behaviors I witness.

Anyhow, enough ranting. We had a few decent rides down the Cape. One was a 40ish mile loop from the house in Chatham, that wasn't fairly flat and not very scenic. Another was a mellow 30 mile ride out to Nickerson Park by way of bike path, and my favorite: a mountain bike ride at the Trail of Tears in Barnstable. I can't wait to get back there again.

We followed up our rides by some great meals. Kathy and I had brought down the wares of our farm shares and we were able to toss the ingredients together to create tasty dishes. This one was my favorite.

Summer Squash Sautee over Pasta
8 oz fusilli pasta
1 tblsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large or 2 smallish zucchini, sliced
1 small to medium summer squash
2-3 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine (I have also used some dried parsley and more basil when I didn't have fresh parsley on hand)
some hot red pepper flakes,
6 0r 8 sundried tomato strips, chopped
1/8 cup or more goat cheese
salt to taste
2-3 tblsp toasted pine nuts (optional, but really add some great flavor)

1. Cook pasta. When done, toss with olive oil and a little sea salt.
2. Heat olive oil in large sautee pan over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic and hot red pepper flakes (if using) for a few minutes. Add summer squash and zucchini. Cook 10-15 minutes, or until tender.
3. Add tomatoes, basil, parsley, salt and sundried tomato pesto (if using).
4. Turn off heat and sprinkle with goat cheese and pine nuts. Spoon onto bowl of pasta and serve.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thai Crunchy Veggie and Soba Noodle Salad

In Anne of Green Gables, the main character, Anne, considers those who she believes will be her lifelong friends to be "kindred spirits". To elaborate for my own personal definition of this term, those who I consider to be my kindred spirits are friends whom I feel a deeper connection with. By this, I mean friends who: I can talk to very easily about a myriad of things; be goofy and laugh a lot with; grow to understand my flaws, and I understand theirs; and, inspire me to be a better person. Often their very presence gives me a little lift, and I may even feel slightly elated after having spent time with them. They are the friendship equivalent of "soul mates" . While I have many longtime friends who I hope will be in my life for the long haul, there are only a few I would consider kindred spirits.

When I meet potential new friends, it's not uncommon to feel a special connection right away. I may walk away from the initial few meetings wanting more - wanting to find out more about this person, and start unpeeling the layers to find out more about who they are and what they are all about. Sometimes these acquaintances turn into long lasting friendships, and sometimes they do not.

As a sort of fun analogy, relationships with food can follow a similar pattern. I may discover a new grain or vegetable, get really excited about it and figure out new ways to use it, and spend a lot of time trying to "get to know it". Some of these things may end up in my permanent repertoire, while others slip by the wayside and I while I like it, it slips from the forefront of my mind.

Right now, I am in the beginning stages of a food relationship with kohlrabi. In the farm share that was donated to me for a couple of weeks, I got some of these odd looking turnip-type bulbs. I found they actually taste like broccoli stalks, and since this is my favorite part of broccoli, I was delighted. So far I've only eaten them raw in salads, but I am told they taste good sauteed. I've eaten them a bunch in the last week, and because I don't think they're that easy to find in the grocery store, I am guessing they will end up as a more of a "seasonal friend" and not one that I spend consistent time with year-round, but we shall see.

Kohlrabi is great just chopped up with some greens for a simple salad, and it worked really well in this noodle dish. I used a bottled Thai peanut sauce, but I do need to get around to making my own one of these days. I usually use the Whole Foods brand, but for this I used the House of Tsang brand. It has a spicier kick to it. Also, I've tried this with both soba noodles and udon noodles and liked the soba noodles best. Other veggies that would work well would be jicama, scallions, and maybe some cucumber.

Thai Crunchy Veggie and Noodle Salad
1 package of soba noodles
2 cups of a mix of red pepper, carrot and kohlrabi, cut into matchstick size pieces
1/2 cup frozen peas, rinsed in hot water
1/4-1/2 cup of Thai Peanut sauce

1. Cook noodles, and when finished rinse under cold water
2. Mix chopped up veggies, noodles, peas and peanut sauce. It can be served right away, but is best when chilled for at least a couple of hours.