Thursday, April 17, 2014

Are We There Yet?

This is a constant thought running through my head over the last few days. Last week I was feeling so strong in my rice and beans resolve, but I must admit that as this week goes on I am seriously waining. I bet you all could use a break from all these pictures of beans too, right? I am on the count down, how many more rice and bean meals am I cooking this week, runs through my head each day as I plan for that evening's dinner. I am glad we stuck with it, to be so mindful of what and how we eat is always a good practice. I do hope it will become a tradition we take on each year throughout Lent and in preparation for Easter celebration. Our lives have become so fast paced and somewhat semiconscious, I love changing something so routine as dinner in order to refocus our presence with each other and the food we put into our bodies. There is something about the idea of commonality or solidarity with what most folks subsist on in the rest of the world that is very thought provoking and a very striking reminder of how lucky we are for the immense amount of choice we are afforded in our lives. All that said, I have started daydreaming and scheming of what to cook once the week ends... This dish may well be the very first non rice and bean dinner we have. And this... Oh and these spring veggies look so delicious don't they. And of course there is a sweet treat on my list. One of many temptations has been all the talk and posts online about folks' Passover plans for Seder Dinner, I was particularly struck by this one. What a beautiful and profound tradition, I would very much love to experience this someday.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Keeping It Real...

Lest everyone think it's always peaches and pie around here, I'll dispel that right here and right now. The long and short of it all is that my lovely chicken's have dug up, eaten, and decapitated all that I have spent the last few weeks planting in our backyard garden. All those peas... gone, lettuce sprouts... gone, radish starts... gone, and the poor arugula didn't stand a chance to their prolific digging. The last few beets from fall have had all their lovely crimson leaves methodically munched, the mint and dill I had started with hopes of mojito afternoons and herb fortified salads this summer were dug up and left for dead. I did replant both the latter with care in great hopes they will find a way to resurrect themselves, fingers crossed. Oh yes, I may have uttered a very long string of choice words under my breath as I discovered the full extent of their carnage this weekend. This was the first year I actually planned and plotted what, how, and when to plant in our little garden. I drafted a site plan on graph paper, researched optimal times for planting each and every type of seed I intended to grow, and had even managed to plan and execute some succession planting as to extend the season of some of our favorite items. Best laid plans... I have started replanting lettuce, peas and radishes, nursed that very droopy mint plant back to health (she looked much perkier today), and by sheer luck was just today offered two kale starts by a friend so I planted them with care in the arugula patch that is no more. And just because we loved that key lime tart so much the first time around, I made another one Sunday afternoon. I mean if you are going to spend a day replanting, you might as well end the day enjoying a slice (or two) of something tasty.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mindful Monday...

“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.” ― Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lunch Made A Bit Easier

My kids pack their own lunches for school every day, and they have been doing so for the last 5 years. Initially it started from my own frustration over how crazy I was feeling in the mornings trying to send them off with a good breakfast in their bellies, get lunches made and everyone out the door on time with all the necessary books/homework/sports gear etc... needed for the day. So I threw my hands up and surrendered. I will be honest here and tell you all how very hard it was for me at first to let go of the micro-managing and directing as to what the girls should be packing and get past my own hang ups regarding packaged and prepared foods. I knew simplicity would be the key to success with my two, so yes I started buying baby carrots, individual yogurts, juice boxes, and Amy's frozen burritos (one per kid per week). My standing request is that they make sure to pack a good protein source and two fresh foods (one of which needs to be of the veggie sort). How that looks to each of them is very different. My oldest is really about no frills and convenience so she packs an apple every day along with either baby carrots or sliced cucumbers (snap peas if we have any), and leftovers which have been packed up the night before during dinner cleanup. My youngest needs more protein so she prefers to have cubed up smoked salmon or rolls of sliced turkey (she will on occasion also take leftovers), a double serving of any of the following - cut up red peppers, cucumbers, carrots, snap peas or tomatoes and some sort of nut and dried fruit combo. On occasion one or both of the girls will make a sandwich but it is definetly not a go-to for either of them. I chalk that up to the nature of my gluten free cooking, bread has all but fallen off their radar. Last year, seeing that packaged leftovers were trending high I started making some planned leftovers for their lunches like curried chicken salad, fried rice heavy on the meat and veg, and once in a while pesto pasta salad with peas and mozzarella cheese. Recently my oldest came home from an overnight with a friend and was raving about this new food she'd had there - tabouli. That sounded like the perfect opportunity to sneak some variety into the lunch rotation to me. So, true to my nature I took the idea and put my own twist on this traditional dish, starting with making it gluten free. I cooked up a bit of quinoa (a food I have yet to be successful getting my family to embrace) and tossed it with ribbons of kale, sliced kalamata olives, chopped tomatoes, slivered almonds, feta cubes and dressed it with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. I am sure a bit of red onion would be great in this too but with the plan being to send it for lunches I figured I'd do all involved a favor and leave those out. This is a quick dish to whip up that will keep anyone happily in grab-and-go lunches for the week. So if you have the heart to step out of the beautiful sunshine today offers, I strongly suggest making up a big bowl for this, I promise you will be so glad you did come tomorrow. My next hope is to get the girls thinking this way and to work on making up a big batch of this themselves for the week. Baby steps...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Coconut Milk Saves The Day

We've got about a week and a half on this rice and beans kick left to go and I am really feeling like the creative juices are starting to flow. Most of my concoctions to date have had a decidedly south-of-the-border flavor to them, so last night I wanted to take it in a totally different direction. I went with a Moroccan/Curry-esque theme. The idea of caramelized onions and chickpeas swimming in a pool of coconut milk over some steamy rice was really calling out to me. But it needed more, a vegetable of some sort, hmm... ah, yes cauliflower (yet another item that doesn't grace our plates often enough). It's amazing to me how many of the least favorite veggies I can get the girls to eat when put in a curry type dish, and I am always on the lookout for ways to get more veg in my family's diet. So I began by caramelizing a couple of chopped up onions and once these were close to done I added a head of cauliflower broken up into bite sized florets letting them soften up in the pan with the onions. Next came a couple minced cloves of garlic and one cup of chicken stock, to which I tossed in a half teaspoon each of cumin seed and garam marsala as well as a teaspoon of turmeric, salt and pepper. I let this hang out for a bit on low, allowing the flavors to get to know each other and become good friends, then I added a can and a half of coconut milk. I let it all simmer in the open pan to reduce the liquid a bit. Oh my, at this point the smells were wafting out of the kitchen and making us all hungry. This stayed simmering on the stovetop while we not-so-very patiently waited until the rice, that I inadvertently forgot to turn on, was ready to go. Last night's version of beans and rice was a much needed change of pace in the flavor department and was welcomed by all at the table, even our 11 year old guest. Anything with coconut milk is absolute comfort food in our home, why didn't I think of this sooner?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Makin' Yogurt

About 2 1/2 years ago I lucked into a milking gig. That's right, a milking gig. A friend has goats and I was completely intrigued by the idea of learning to milk the goats and turn that whole, fresh, raw milk into something wonderful for my family. So I asked my urban farmer friend if they ever needed any help/relief with milking duties. To my joy she said yes, and the visions of fresh chèvre and mozzarella started dancing through my head immediately. Not really knowing what I or they were in for I asked for a weekly milking rotation and truth be told it has really become my favorite morning of the week. Yes I have to get up a bit earlier than I otherwise would, yes I schlep myself and milking pot through the hood rain or shine, and yes I love every single minute of it. Honestly, I find that each week I linger longer and longer feeling so fortunate to be spending time with these beauties and their chicken friends. When I first started milking Maple, I'd get a solid quart each time which turned out to be the perfect amount to make a week's supply of yogurt. So I researched and tried a few methods of yogurt making until I settled on what works best in my kitchen. The method I've settled on is reliable yet a bit hodge podge. I start by heating the raw milk on my stove top to 185 degrees then immediately cooling the milk to 110 degrees. At that point I add a cup or so of plain cultured yogurt and whisk all together thoroughly. Once I've gotten rid of most of the yogurt clumps I pour this into jars and put them in an insulated cooler with a heating pad set to medium. The goal is to keep your yogurt mix at as close to 110 degrees as possible for about 8 hours. This is the method that has worked best for me as I do not have a fancy fancy yogurt maker. So each week I am able to turn out about a quart of home made yogurt which is just enough for smoothies, or a few bowls of berries and yogurt, and still having just enough for the next week's starter culture. Well, as of last week there is now another goat in milk on the farm so I am excited by the prospect of doubling my haul each week and maybe even having enough to experiment with some cheese making. We are big chèvre fans around here so I am hoping to start there. We will see, it's going to be a while before I can start milking Basil as her 2 sweet little kids deserve all her goodness for now. Soon enough they will be old enough to wean off a bit and share some of their mother's bounty with us. Now I am off to start looking for a new milking pail, my little pot isn't going to be big enough for the milk of two goats. Lehman's here I come...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rice And Beans Part II

Last night I was really winging it with our dinner's rice and bean dish, I was inspired by the flavors of my all time favorite taco served at Agua Verde. Said taco is constructed on a corn tortilla with yams, black beans and a creamy sauce of unknown origin but tasting so delicious to bring the whole dish together perfectly. I am happy to report that it came together as I had hoped and was a crowd pleaser. Tonight, as has been the case most nights this month, we are dining on leftovers. So with my trusty cast iron pan to reheat, (favored method in these parts as we are one of few American family kitchens sans microwave), a squeeze of lime and toss of cilantro leaves to freshen up flavors we will dine again on rice and beans.