Vegan feast

Once in a while we decide that it’s time to have a feast. The genesis for this idea came from my older brother. On his birthday, he makes food for people he cares about. His feasts are bigger and more elaborate than ours, from what I’ve heard. It’s an excellent idea, though, and since both Xander and I love to cook, it’s a lot of fun for us.

Our latest feast was in June. We had four adults and one other child at the table, so eight people all together. Xander took pictures of almost all the food. He made the majority of it.

Here is the menu, with pictures as available:
Hors d’oeuvres – Artichokes with Tri-Color Dip

P1020404
The dips were a pesto with pine nuts, a beet dip, and a nut-based dip. All of them were quite good.

Soupe – Bloody Mary Soup with Cashew Horseradish Sauce
P1020405
This was a nonalcoholic cold soup. The flavors were strong and unexpected; Xander described it as a cold tomato soup, which it was, but it really did taste like a Bloody Mary. The cashew horseradish sauce was quite tasty.

Entree – Portobello Mushrooms, Bell Peppers, and Asparagus with Peanut Sauce
P1020406
This was really tasty. We love having a good farmer’s market here every Saturday, and the asparagus was perfect. The peanut sauce was good enough that some of it went home with the guests!

Trou Normand – Pickled Ginger and Green Tea
P1020407
Xander made the pickled ginger. This was a very nice palate cleanser.

Salade – Assorted Hand Rolls
P1020408
This was my dish. I timed it a little bit badly; you can’t make hand rolls in advance or the nori gets soggy, but I’m not very fast at them. Luckily no one was starving to death. The fillings were avocado with cashews, cucumbers with peanuts, and fried plantains with macadamia nuts. Xander fried the plantains, since I am still not a fan of frying things.

Plat Principale – Injera with Black Eyed Peas and Greens
We didn’t get a picture of this one. Xander has been experimenting with injera for about a month and it was very, very good. We always get a lot of greens with our CSA box, so this was a nice way to share them with people. Katja isn’t big on cooked greens but everyone else seemed to enjoy them.

Fruits et Noix – A Selection of Candied Nuts and Fruits
P1020409
Xander found plums at the farmer’s market that were wonderfully juicy. The strawberries were quite good, too. There were two kind of candied nuts, one more traditional and one that had some heat to it.

Dessert et Cafe – Almond Milk Ice Cream and Black Tea
No picture for this one. Xander made the ice cream, which had ground-up bits of almond adding a very interesting texture, and the tea was strong.

The company was delightful, the food was good, we had a great time making all of it, and everyone left quite full. Definitely a good night!




Relationship with food

I do not go on diets. They aren’t healthy for me. Not so much physically, but mentally. When I was dieting, I got extremely obsessive about counting every single calorie, and my well-being was predicated on the number the scale showed every morning. Worse than that, though, was that I would get frustrated and angry. If I ate a few too many calories in a day, I’d decide it didn’t matter and eat more because I was so angry about having to be so careful. I don’t want to be obsessed, and I’m not pleasant when I’m angry. I did not like who I became while I was trying to diet.

That being said, I have lost seven pounds in the past six weeks.

I am not dieting, at least not the way I think of dieting. I do not pay attention to calories. I am trying to change how I approach food and exercise, and I am not getting angry or obsessive.

Michael Pollan, an author of several books about the relationships that people have with food, came up with this: “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” I add to that “exercise more” and you get my whole approach to eating at the moment.

In general we do not eat a lot of meat. Maybe once a week we will have dinner with meat, and we try to have fish fairly regularly, but meat is not a huge part of our diet. Also, we do not eat out very often, and when we shop, it is from the outside edge of the supermarket, not the inside rows with all of the processed food. This is not a moral decision, mind you, and we will not lecture anyone on how they should eat. We both like to cook and eat, and the processed foods take much of the fun out of it. We do buy some canned goods, but not even a lot of those. We have canisters of different kinds of flour, many types of dried beans, a few kinds of rice, and various other odds and ends that we have purchased for various recipes. In other words, the “real food” and “mostly plants” parts are not very difficult for me. We already do that.

“Not too much”, on the other hand, can be a significant challenge. I like food. I like eating good food. Portion control is not my strong suit. I mostly need one meal a day with some snacking the rest of the day, which I only recently learned. I am switching from having that main meal be lunch to having it be dinner because I think it is important to have dinner together. It is something that was very important to both of us growing up, and we would like to give that to our child, too. Considering how difficult it will be to set new habits with a new baby, we are working on setting that habit now. That did not work if I had already eaten my main meal for the day, however, so I am shifting to adapt. I eat fruit and popcorn throughout the day, but not too much. I am less hungry now, which makes it easier, and eating more slowly keeps me from eating too much. Also, if I want two eggs, I’ll have one instead. I end up pleasantly full, and the next time I think about two eggs I remember being content with one. It is getting easier.

The piece I added, “exercise more”, is another habit I need to form. I decided that I would spend the summer exercising in ways that did not require me to spend money to do them. That means running, for the most part. I am not doing Zumba, swimming, or belly dancing at the moment. I hurt my shoulder earlier this year and running does not make it worse, which is good; it is most of the way healed at this point. I do best when I exercise in the morning. I get up and climb into running clothes almost before I am awake. If I wait until I have fully woken up, I will often talk myself out of it. I had the same problem with swimming, so I know this problem. Once I am dressed, though, I feel like I might as well go and get it done. My running clothes are always on the floor next to the bed and I can put them on in the dark, so I do not have any excuse for not going running.

I do not count calories. I am tracking my weight on the Wii, but only the simple test because that way I don’t get commentary on whether or not I’m doing well enough. There are days that I eat too much, like last night – we went out to dinner. With this approach, though, I don’t care. It’s okay to have gone up a little bit in weight over a day as long as the general trend continues downwards.

I’m trying to build these habits so that once we have a child the habits will be sustainable. I would like to lose weight, but I refuse, at this point in my life, to spend the energy to obsess about it or to let it affect my moods. I need to be stable and happy as much as possible. There is enough other stress in my life; why add to it? This lets me adjust my eating and my approach to food and exercise without the guilt that comes with diets or goals or any of that.

I’m changing my relationship with food, and so far it is going pretty well. Guilt-free weight loss without weird chemicals! I’m actually having fun, which I never thought I would say in any way associated with losing weight.




Comfort food

Stew sounded good tonight, but we didn’t have anything that seemed perfect to go into a stew, so I decided to skip perfection and just see what came out.

We have friends who hunt, and periodically we trade fresh bread for fresh meat. Some of it ends up in the freezer because we can’t finish all of it at once. One of the packages was elk stew meat, already chopped up into small-ish chunks. That seemed like a good place to start.

We always have stock of one sort or another, so I found beef stock and added that to my idea. Potatoes and carrots, which we generally have, were next, so I peeled the carrots, washed the potatoes, and chopped them. I found a can of stewed tomatoes and chopped those up, too. Oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, bay, and a few cloves of garlic went in, as did salt and pepper. I decided I wanted more tomato once everything was cooked, so I added in some tomato paste, both as thickener and to get more of a tomato base.

It’s good. It isn’t amazing, but it suits my needs right now. I needed comfort food, and tomato soup is something that generally helps my state of mind. This is more like stew, but it fits. I remember, when I was little, when it rained we would get to go outside and play in the rain. When we came in, we’d dry off and climb into warm clothes, and by the time we came back up there would be tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches waiting for us. I don’t know how many times it happened, but that’s a memory that is comforting on many levels. I wanted a piece of that memory tonight. I didn’t want an exact replica, since I was not in the mood for grilled cheese, but the stew helped.

Sometimes food helps ground me. It reminds me of simple pleasures. Cooking something and then eating what I have cooked makes me happy, too. It is more satisfying than buying soup in a can or at a restaurant. I can spice it exactly to my taste, make as much or as little as I want, and add random things as they strike my fancy. I am still not used to throwing food together without a recipe, but I had fun tonight, and the results were quite good. I have lunch for a few days, too.




Rain

This week’s Indie Ink Writing Challenge was a good one for me; I love this subject.

I challenged The Onion, who did a nice job on her challenge, and my challenge this week comes from Jan. “Rain. What does it do to you? Write about a memory or a story that involves some powerful emotions and rain.” I amended it slightly because there isn’t one specific story to tell, but there are several small vignettes.


When it is raining outside, when it is pouring down and thundering through the sky, I sleep better than any other night. Even if it is just a light rain, the water pattering on the roof and the windows lulls me to sleep and holds me there all night until I wake, rested. I don’t always sleep very well, so when the rain comes it is a boon.

I sometimes sit outside and watch the rain fall on the plants that need it so much here. There is little rain, so it feels like the plants expand to catch all they can when it does come. I’m probably anthropomorphizing, but I can live with that.

I grew up in a place where it rained fairly often. It was generally a warm rain, so, when we were very little, our mother would let us go outside in almost no clothes and play in the puddles in the backyard. I would turn my face up and catch rain on my tongue, feeling it sliding over my face and into my hair. When we came inside, she would dry us off, tell us to get dressed, and sometimes, if we were lucky, she would make tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I still love that as a meal.

I used to ride to school in the rain. I would take off my glasses and just go, everything in my backpack bagged so it wouldn’t get wet, no worries. I felt free, speeding down hills and meandering up them. I could ignore the traffic more easily because of the sound of the rain. I would get to school soggy and dripping, but the pool had warm showers after swimming practice anyway, so by the time I went to class I was warm and happy.

When I separated my shoulder and was impatient for it to heal, the rain would calm me enough that I could sit and read for hours. Some days I would pace, wanting to be moving more than I could, but rainy days I could settle and be glad that my arm had a chance to heal without more damage.

Rain brings me peace. Rain helps me remember spring, something in short supply in the desert. Rain keeps me from feeling lost and alone. Hot chocolate or cider when the day outside is dark and dripping feels cozy and comforting. Sometimes, on very bad days (of which there have been a few lately), a hard rain will come to the desert, and I will go out and stand under our huge maple tree, letting the rain pour down from the sky and pound all of my pain into the ground. I can feel my muscles relax as the water soaks me to the skin. I need the rain to be happy, I think, and sometimes I miss it a lot living here. Someday I will go back to a rainy place and I will remember more of why I love it.




Panettone is better than I though

I’ve had panettone before, years ago. I’ve had two types. One had too much fruit and was gummy and rather odd. The other was dry and unappetizing. I had heard people talk about how wonderful it was, but I never quite understood.

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to be online when @FreshPanettone asked for food writers/bloggers who might be interested in reviewing his panettone. I am not exactly a food blogger, although I am working on it, so I responded. Nick Ignazzi was kind enough to send me a panettone to review. I opened it with a certain amount of trepidation due to the earlier not-terribly-good experiences. This is what I saw when I opened the box (with Nick Ignazzi’s approval, I used one of his photos because none of mine came out well):

Definitely a good beginning!

I took a deep breath. An almost floral scent mixed with fruit and a little bit of yeast wafted up. This already was an improvement over the others that I had tried.

I cut a small piece for me and one for Xander. We both enjoyed it. It is definitely bread with fruit in it, and the bread itself is a little sweet. It wasn’t dry at all, despite its travel time, and it was quite good without any additions. We each had another piece.

I took the panettone to work with me the next day. While it was very good, three pounds of panettone was too much for two people. I gave pieces to several people and they all liked it very much. One even asked for a card because she had decided what she was going to get her family for Christmas this year. I was quite amused by that!

The next place I took it, later that night, was to belly dancing practice. They each ate a piece and declared it good, too. Both the dancers and the work people who tried it would have been very happy to tell me whatever they felt about it, since I’ve tested food on them before. The responses to food experiments have mostly been positive, but if they don’t like it, they’ll tell me, and they’ll make suggestions. This, however, was all positive, which was interesting partly because of the wide variety of tastes these people enjoy.

I had about a quarter of the panettone left. I wanted to do something interesting with it rather than just eating it, so I did what I do with many leftover bread products and I made bread pudding. There wasn’t a whole lot left, so I used a small loaf pan. Eggs, milk, vanilla, a little bit of sugar, and chopped up panettone all got mixed, soaked for a while, and then cooked. I like bread pudding in general. It is one of my favorite things. This was even better than usual; the taste of the fruit permeated the bread pudding and enhanced the texture.

I was worried that I would not be able to write a good review of this, since I had not had good experiences in the past. I decided that I would write whatever was true, good or bad, and I wouldn’t worry about it. I got a free panettone and it ended up being good enough that I will probably send a few to people I think will enjoy it, too. It’s a pretty, nicely scented, good tasting food. Presentation and taste combined is always good.




Thin pancakes

While I was growing up, we went running every morning. We were home schooled, and running was, I guess, a version of physical education. I never much liked it, not being very fast, but it was our routine. On weekends, Saturday mornings if I remember correctly, we’d go running and then we’d have pancakes for breakfast. We had a choice of thin pancakes or thick pancakes, and we got a say in which kind we had.

Thick pancakes were standard buttermilk pancakes. They were good, but they were not my favorites. They were thick enough that they ended up a little dry, at least to me. The thin pancakes were a little bit sweet, enough that I could eat them by themselves with no syrup or jam. They could be rolled up, which I liked, too. The thin pancakes always got my vote.

I don’t have pictures this time, but they are very good and easy to make, and the recipe doubles well. This is one of my comfort foods, a recipe that makes me happy and reminds me of good memories with my family.

Thin Pancakes

Ingredients:
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
pinch of salt

Put everything into a blender and blend until smooth. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender, then blend again. Cook in a lightly greased or nonstick skillet over medium heat.




Molasses cookies

I’m going to start working on the food part of this blog. I love food, cooking, and eating, and we have some really neat and somewhat unexpected recipes from various places. I have no idea how to take good food pictures, but it’s worth a shot.

The first recipe comes with a story, as many of them probably will. Food and stories are very wrapped up in each other in my life. This started when Xander and I started combining our books and talking about cookbooks when he moved in many years ago. I grew up with a couple of standard cookbooks – Easy Basics for Good Cooking (I use the pie crust recipe every time I make pie), Better Homes and Gardens, and The Joy of Cooking. Xander grew up with the Settlement Cookbook. We were talking about the differences between older and newer versions of the cookbooks, especially since I keep an older version of Better Homes and Gardens specifically for a coffee cake recipe I loved growing up. I’ll get to that in another post, I’m sure. Xander said he would like an older version of the Settlement Cookbook, since the one he had was newer thant the one he grew up with.

I thought that sounded like an interesting thing to track down, so I went wandering online. I did find the version he wanted, but I also found a much older version, printed in 1901. I figured that was good, too, and when it showed up I discovered I was right.

First of all, on flipping through I found a section on invalid cookery. Invalid is one of those words, like POLISH, that you can pronouce two different ways, and most of that depends on context. It took me just a minute of reading recipes to discover that my interpretation (not-valid cookery) was wrong – it was a section on cooking for sick people, or invalids. That made much more sense. It is full of recipes for things like albumenized milk (milk mixed with egg whites), beef essence (warm a piece of beef slightly, then squeeze out the juices and give it to the invalid to drink), and wine soup (wine, sugar, egg yolks, and croutons). I’m not sure I’d eat any of it. Another amusing bit was that it has ads for various things like holeproof hosiery and  a company specializing in French dry cleaning.

The cookbook was printed before there were consistent thermostats on ovens, so it calls for cool ovens, warm ovens, and hot ovens. I’ll give you what I’ve found to work best in terms of temperature.

In looking at the recipes, I noticed that the cookies seemed different than those I was used to. The proportions were not the same, and I couldn’t tell exactly how they would come out. The recipe for molasses cookies sounded quite interesting, so I made a batch. They immediately became one of my favorite cookies ever. They are not cookies in the same sense we think of them nowadays, more like little cakes. They are tender and I really like the taste. They aren’t nearly as sweet as most cookies I’ve had in my life, since molasses is the only sweetener. I looked in the newer versions of The Settlement Cookbook (the subtitle, by the ways, is “The way to a man’s heart”. I always thought it was directly through the sternum rather than through the stomach, but I’m sure I’m being too literal about that. Heh.) and the recipe for molasses cookies was nowhere to be found. I don’t know who to ask about copyright, so if anyone has a problem with this, please tell me.

One very nice thing is that there aren’t any eggs, so there’s no issue with licking the spoon once you’re done mixing the batter.

Today I decided it was time to resurrect the recipe for a larger audience than those of us who peruse old cookbooks. With no further ado, here it is with my edits in parenthesis:

Soft molasses cookies
from the 1901 printing of The Settlement Cookbook

Ingredients:

1 cup molasses
1 3/4 teaspoons soda (this is baking soda)
1 cup sour milk (buttermilk, or a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar plus enough milk to make a cup)
2 teaspoons ginger (dried, powdered)
1/2 cup melted butter or other fat (I used butter)
1 teaspoon salt
Flour. (I used 3 cups of flour and it worked well, but this is a somewhat adjustable part of the recipe, as you will see)

(Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit – this isn’t mentioned)

Add soda to molasses and beat thoroughly, add milk, shortening (the melted butter), ginger, salt, and flour. Use enough flour to make mixture drop easily from spoon. (I used enough to make a slightly stiff dough.) Let stand several hours (refrigerate!) to chill. Toss one-half of the mixture on a slightly floured board (the dough will be sticky), roll lightly to 1/4 inch thickness. Shape with round cutter (I used the lid to a mason jar, since I don’t have cookie cutters, and we ended up with 28 cookies), first dipped in flour. Bake on a buttered sheet. (I’ve found that 15 minutes brings them out perfectly.)

I attempted to take pictures of the cookies, but I am not a food photographer, obviously. Here is the finished product. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!




A rambling we will go

I’ve tried to write for several days and I just can’t come up with anything specific to write about. There are a lot of little things, but nothing that I can really craft a reasonable post out of, so I’m just going to ramble for a bit.

We got to spend an hour or so with a very tiny baby, less than a week old. I like babies. They can be loud and exhausting and all of that, but I love the feeling of that weight settled in my arms, watching those eyes that are just learning to focus following my face. I like little kids, too, and school age kids. Once you get to the teenage years, I’m not quite as fond of them as a group. Part of that may be that most of them are taller than I am and generally somewhat obnoxious. It’s good that Xander actually likes that age.

I miss Daniel. I know I always will, but sometimes it’s harder than others. I still love him fiercely, but there isn’t anywhere for that feeling to go. I am learning to let myself be sad and miss him, let it wash over me, and then keep on with the rest of life. I have his picture on my computer screen at work. I write a lot of postcards to various people, and I used to write postcards to him every week. I still find myself composing postcards for him in my head before catching myself and remembering that there’s nowhere to send them. There is an undercurrent of sadness in my life now, even when everything is going well. It isn’t changing my life in a bad way, just reminding me that there is no guarantee that I’ll be here tomorrow. I’m trying to live better in small ways because of it.

On a completely different note, Disney has put out a fishing pole with princesses on it. The first glance I got of it, I thought Ariel was one of the princesses featured. That would have made me laugh much too hard. A mermaid whose best friend is a fish on a fishing pole. Apparently, though, it was Belle, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. I suppose that’s at least more politically correct. Not nearly as funny, unfortunately.

The puppy will be visiting again later this month, so I should have more amusing training stories.

We’ve decided to have a traditional Jewish Christmas dinner, so we’re going to go out for Chinese food. My favorite Chinese restaurant will be open, too, so that’s a bonus.

Overheard in a hardware store last week:
Female employee: “I have it, sir, it’s fine. I can handle it.”
Male customer: “But it’s so long!”
I couldn’t help snickering.

I’m kind of coasting right now. There are several things on the horizon that could have huge effects on our life, but nothing is happening right now. I’m getting up early and exercising, being careful of what I eat despite a lot of temptation at work, trying to remember to write now and then, and trying to learn a few pieces of music for a present I’m making for some kids I know. I’m trying not to spend much money. Life is pretty good right now overall. I spent some time last weekend making pumpkin soup and it came out very well, which is perfect since soup is pretty much my favorite food in winter. There’s nothing quite like tucking in with a hot bowl of soup when the weather is below freezing. I am reminded of a children’s book – “In January it’s so nice while slipping on the sliding ice to sip hot chicken soup with rice.” That’s from a Maurice Sendak book, “Chicken Soup with Rice”, which I remember reading when I was little and got a copy of (along with its companion books) a year or so ago. It still makes me smile.

I think this is enough of a ramble for the day. I hope you find something to smile about, something silly, something that brings that spark of joy, and that you stop for just a moment to savor it.




Fresh food

We are part of the Great Basin Food Co-op and we get baskets from the Great Basin Basket Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). We have been getting the lite vegetable basket option and the fruit basket this year, and we sometimes have enough food that we’re not sure we can finish it in a week.

I wish I were good at food photography so I could show you what we got. A huge bunch of glossy, dark grapes. Plums with deep red flesh, sweet enough that I don’t mind the bitter skin. Nectarines that dribble down my chin when I take a bite. A watermelon, possibly red, possibly yellow; I haven’t opened it yet. Cantaloupes. Green beans, basil, squash, corn, and various other foods. We can come up with ideas for each food, but if we don’t combine some of them, we’ll never finish them by next week or even the week after.

I worry when there isn’t enough food in the house. I’m not sure why, since we always had enough food growing up, but it’s a worry. With the baskets, though, I don’t worry, don’t have to think about it. The question in the morning isn’t “What can I take for lunch” so much as “How many of these wonderful foods can I fit into my lunch today?”

It’s a very good problem to have, and the fruits and vegetables, picked this morning, lie in the fridge or in their bags, beautiful and tasty. I am drawn to them. Tomorrow I will take grapes and cherry tomatoes and eat them all morning, reveling in the sweetness and tartness of each. If I feel at all stressed, I will close my eyes briefly and bite into intense flavor, enjoying the sensations. If I can’t regain my composure after a bite of good food, I’ll take a deep breath and at least pretend that everything’s all right.

It’s easier to pretend that I’m fine when there is such beauty and succulent tastes in my life.