Sunday, February 28, 2010

home is where the happy is

I have a confession to make: I am not all that excited about going back to work tomorrow.

I had such a nice weekend; it was really, truly enjoyable. Why ruin it by starting a new week? Is Monday really that necessary?

Yesterday, I woke up to - you guessed it - more snow! What an excellent start to the weekend! Actually, sleeping until I decided to get up was the excellent start, but snow was a terrific way to keep the fun going. It didn't accumulate at all, but it was gorgeous floating around in the air. I enjoyed some coffee and breakfast, and after a satisfying lunch, it was time to go food shopping. I'll spare you the boring details, but after that chore was conquered, I went to my Saturday job and found myself wishing I could make it my only job. It really is fulfilling, but I am basing that on the way it feels to see two girls I've been teaching for 8 years or so and recognize how far they've come. I remember how completely frustrating the first year of lessons can be and how some people just can't/won't learn. I did teach "full-time" for a while and depending on it for my complete income really extinguished any flame of passion I might have had for it at that time, so I'll let it go at that.

Returning home to a fully stocked fridge and cupboards, I decided to kick off my new menu by cooking up some Spanish Veggie Stew with Spanish Rice, both from The Accidental Vegan.

It was something of an exercise in patience. I have nearly given up on brown rice. When I was at Whole Foods last week, I picked up some short-grain brown rice, stupidly thinking that it would cook slightly faster than long-grain brown rice. NOPE. After the first hour of boiling, I lost track of how long it took. I'm not convinced that it was actually done when I served it, but I was done boiling it. I started it well before I started simmering the stew, and it was still going for a while after the stew was very fully cooked.

I will probably make this again, but without brown rice of any length.

Tonight, I made Seitan Cacciatore, also from TAV. It is so easy and so tasty and works well with [much faster cooking] Basmati rice. I also threw together a couple of salads. I don't have a whole lot to say about this, other than how good this is and how you should eat it, too.

Earlier today, we had two fun visits: my parents came into the city and took us out for my birthday brunch (yes, a month and a half late - how awful a daughter am I?), and Mister had a playdate with an old friend. By playdate, I mean that the two of them hung out in the midst of Mister's mess, oohing and aahing over dusty bits of audio gear I still don't understand, while I poked through Hi-Fructose and Clean Eating magazines.

If I've never mentioned this before, my parents are awesome. Despite their inclination to think I'm a little off, they continually humor my whims and courageously take those opportunities to open their minds and try something new. Instead of going to our standard brunch spot, I tricked my loving parents into taking us to MiLah Vegetarian. Once there, I was amused, impressed, and proud. It was amusing watching everyone, including Mister, pore over the menu. I was impressed with my father for ordering Tofu Benedict and proud of him for actually eating it all! I got the Tofu Benedict as well, which came with braised kale, roasted tomatoes, and sweet potato home-fries. It was very good.

I am very much in love with the menu and would love to return multiple times for both brunch and dinner so I can try everything...convincing Mister to go with me could prove difficult, though. It seemed to me that everyone's food was very good and I was also very happy with the coffee and the fruit plate. Mister's grudge is with the staff, and although they were friendly, I am somewhat in agreement with him. It seemed like everyone on staff today was a teenager or college kid...resulting in Mister not getting his "bacon" and getting sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes, which makes for a sad Mister.

In any case, I got my birthday presents! They're all wonderful! I got some kitchen toys: a vegetable peeler that you wear on your finger - I can't wait to see how that works - and a vegetable "peeler" that juliennes the veggies. That will save me SO MUCH TIME. It only got better from there:

That's right, a whole box full of tasty treats for me! That's a nice little picture, isn't it? Funny story, though - my mother gave me the Larabars because she couldn't stand the one she tried. I tried to explain that you have to give it a few bites, but she wasn't having it. More for me!

She saved the best for last, though. I am thrilled to introduce you to....another cookbook!

I had this on my Christmas Wish List, because I can never collect enough recipes that can be prepared quickly. I mean, seriously - I don't start cooking dinner until 8:30 at the very earliest on work nights.

I''ll leave you with a little tangent from that: My sister was born on Christmas Eve. Don't feel bad for her. She has never gotten a Christmas-Birthday present to my knowledge, specifically because everyone expects that she always gets Christmas-Birthday presents and they feel badly about that. It never happens. She makes out like a bandit. On the other hand, I was born 3 weeks after Christmas...which apparently makes it completely acceptable to give me Christmas-Birthday presents because that probably never happens. Nope, sorry - it happens every year. My parents have never done this to me, but I have grown accustomed to missing those great after-Christmas sales and the reason is this: I give them (at their request) a "Christmas list" every year, and have been doing so since I was a child and still thought I was writing to Santa. From that list, my mother takes advantage of the after-Christmas sales and the wealth of ideas provided to get my birthday presents as well. So every year, I have to wait for three weeks until my birthday (this year a little longer, but it was my own fault) to find out if there is anything on that list that I really wanted but didn't get and now have to buy myself.

The point of all this? Nothing really - I just had a great weekend and I don't want it to end!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

wintertime, and the livin' is easy

Having "wasted" my day off enjoying myself yesterday, I made the only thing for dinner that I had the ingredients left to make: Kedgeree from The Accidental Vegan. I have made kedgeree (kitcheree) before - it's fairly common in vegetarian cookbooks with any kind of international flair. From what I can tell, it is the result of Great Britain's colonization of India. Ordinarily, it is a kind of pilaf, a mixture of lentils and rice (complete protein!) with some herbs and spices mixed in so it's not completely bland. Not exactly main course material...until this kedgeree.

Look at it, all chock full of vegetables! I would dare say that the kale and carrots outnumber the rice and lentils! Having recently noticed how awful brown rice smells, I must admit, I wasn't all that excited about its prominent presence in this dish, but the subtle spices and hearty sauteed kale, balanced by the sweetness of the carrots really gave this kedgeree a pleasant mild flavor. I substituted kalamata olives for the mushrooms in the recipe because Mister hates mushrooms (I'm not a fan myself) and we both love olives. It took some time to prep, but I'll definitely do it again.

After dinner, we needed more cookies, so I whipped up a batch of Banana-Maple Oatmeal Cookies from Susan V at FatFree Vegan Kitchen. They were delightful and very easy to make...even easier to eat! Mister and I ate over half of them last night - it's amazing how much easier it is to overindulge when something is labeled as low-fat.

Oh! It's time for a flashback - watch the screen:

The year is *mumbleahem* and my dear friend, Courtney, and I are around 21-22 years old. In a moment of what can only be described as a complete lack of good taste, we decide to rent "Spice World" and have a girls' night in. Our snacks of choice? Mini York Peppermint Patties. Why? Because they're low in fat. Go ahead and completely ignore that they're made of sugar and therefore contain a decent number of calories, times however many we each ate. We sure did.
You can also ignore our beverage of choice - Snugglers - instant hot cocoa (surely low-cal) with a generous "shot" of peppermint schnapps.

~*~ end flashback movie ~*~

Since I didn't feel like chasing myself around the streets of Philadelphia, had the wind picked me up and carried me away, I shirked my Domestic Goddess duties yesterday and did not go food shopping. We needed to finish up our big box of spring mix baby greens before they get all wilty and gross anyway, so tonight's dinner was a simple soup and salad:

I'm taking taking a page from Mama Pea's book and photographing every salad I eat - I understand why she does it - they're all beautiful!

I reheated the Potato Corn Chowder from the other night and made a pretty little salad of spring mix, sprouts, carrots, cranberries, broccoli, and olives. Quick-cooking dinners are perfect for Friday nights, even if I didn't actually spend my usual half hour looking for parking when I got home from The Week From Hell at work. It feels good to arrive at the weekend, especially since I took Sunday off.

If you are in need of celebratory libations on this fine weekend, let me add that Smirnoff's Grand Cosmopolitan is very easy to drink. Cheers!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

in the bleak midwinter

Actually, we are slightly more than two-thirds through "winter", but this has been a serious winter so far and anyone who has paid attention for the last decade or so that I've been paying attention knows it doesn't actually get [consistently] warm in Philadelphia until May.

It's snowing again. Honestly, it never gets old - I am as happy looking out my window today as I was during the first snowfall in December. I just think it's beautiful, especially in the city where you can watch the flakes dance and swirl in the halo of the street lamps before they lay a velvet carpet on untrod sidewalks.

Today was a great day to just sit inside and be cozy and lazy, so it is very fortunate that it just happened to be my day off from work. I was supposed to do productive things like get my taxes done and go grocery shopping, but why ruin a beautiful day? I'll admit, I pretty well wussed out because of the wind advisory from the National Weather Service making me afraid to drive to my taxes appointment, and when I saw metal signs wiggling around on their posts, it didn't exactly entice me to step outside my door and join the others who were fighting the wind for their scarves. Besides, I work hard enough to justify a day of watching Amy Lee be perfect while mourning that more than three years have passed without a new release from Evanescence.

So I made myself a nice snowy day lunch - leftover French Lentil Soup with a substantial and tasty salad (spring mix, sprouts, broccoli, carrots, kalamata olives).

That was actually last night's dinner - lentil soup and a mega salad with broccoli, spring mix baby greens, mixed sprouts, kalamata olives, and dried cranberries in lieu of clementine segments. I figured that the 3 I ate as a snack at work probably covered my citrus requirement for the day.

I am so impressed with how pretty salads can be if you take five minutes to construct one that doesn't require dressing. I think it's the dressing that messes up the pretty. By the way, for the more observant among you, I did not try to eat my salad with a spoon - that was for the soup. There is actually a fork beside it, it just didn't make it into the picture. And yes, I know the spoon goes on the right and the fork goes on the left, but I wasn't throwing a dinner party, I was just having dinner alone while checking out some amazing artwork in a magazine shared with me by a colleague. He and a friend thought this painting looked like me:

Anyway, with the help of Smirnoff's Grand Cosmopolitan, I constructed this week's menu after my little dinner last night. At the time, I had every intention of shopping for the necessary ingredients today, but when you see the snow blowing from left to right, rather than merely floating peacefully downward, you might not be overly enthusiastic about going to a grocery store where you get to fight the frenzied omg-it's-snowing-I'll-never-eat-again mobs. I know I wasn't.

1. Kedgeree from The Accidental Vegan because I still haven't made it. That's tonight's dinner.

2. Spanish Veggie Stew with Spanish Rice also from The Accidental Vegan because it looked interesting. I actually almost turned past it, but something made me flip the page back.

3. Seitan Cacciatore also from TAV. I made this before, full of trepidation because it borders on warping a traditional recipe, but it came out so well I was craving it again.

4. Cajun Red Beans and Rice also from TAV. I don't know why I'm so attracted to Cajun Beans and Rice recipes, but I still haven't found what I'm looking for. (hee hee - you're going to have that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day...)

5. Pomegranate Saute on Cinnamon Bulghur from my little holographic gold book of chicken scratch.

6. Spicy Stir-Fry with Clementine, Asparagus, and Tofu from Vegetarian Times: Fast & Easy. I was hellbent on including a tofu-based recipe in my menu because I accidentally bought a tub of tofu a couple of weeks ago that needs to be used up ASAP. I also happen to have half a bag of clementines left, so all I actually need to buy for this recipe is the asparagus!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

you learn something new every day (if you pay attention)

Today I learned what an incredible difference organic dried basil makes. It smells noticeably better than "regular" dried basil. The flakes are larger and greener, making it look not quite as dried as the grey-leaf variety (I don't think they do that on purpose, though). The difference in taste, though, was absolutely astonishing. You really wouldn't think that a dried herb being organic would make that big of a difference. You would be wrong.

Yesterday, I learned that Angst Loves Salads as much as he loves plain old spinach. As I have probably made clear in several posts in the past 7 weeks, I am in full-on NeedFreshThings mode. As a result of that and my recent Salad Fails (thanks, Wawa), I have reverted to what I know: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. That would be less insulting and more accurate, though, if it was:

If you want something done your way, go to Burger King or do it yourself.

Since we're not a big BK family, you can see where this is going. When I set the salads down on the table tonight and returned to the stove to get the soup, I turned around to find Angst sitting in my chair (with impeccable posture), getting dangerously close to my salad. When we eat, he just begs pitifully. We've shared a variety of the mixed greens with him and he seems to enjoy them all, though he is apparently of the opinion that some greens must age, so he'll leave them on the kitchen floor and walk away, but come back in a few minutes acting like it's Christmas and eat them all up.

Anyway, on Sunday night, I made the simply titled Lo Mein from The Accidental Vegan.
I must admit, when I looked at my bowl-o-noodles, I thought it was going to be really bland. I almost brought the tamari to the table in case we needed a little more flavor. I completely underestimated the funny little chinese noodles' ability to soak up the tasty pan sauce after I sauteed the veggies - it was extremely flavorful! I haven't included zucchini in a stir-fry in quite a while, but I was happy with how it came out. Since I have gotten into the habit of assembling our salads while dinner is simmering or doing something else that does not require the constant attention that a stir-fry demands, I just skipped the salads on Sunday.

On Monday, I made Red Lentil Artichoke Stew from The Vegan Table. I also made rice to serve it on top of, but the rice didn't finish cooking until we had finished eating, so it turns out I'm just ahead of the game for the Kedgeree I will make for our final dinner on this menu.
I kind of lost my enthusiasm for this dish in the week it took me to cook it, but once I had the first forkful in my mouth, I gave myself a figurative pat on the back for being able to see from the recipe that this would be a tasty chance to take. It was a delightful main course to follow my beautiful salad:
I dare you to make a prettier one.

Tonight, I made the Potato Corn Chowder from The Accidental Vegan. I've made this a few times before and it never fails to make me warm and happy inside. I am also currently infatuated with the combination of the chilled salad with a soul-warming bowl of steamy soup. I didn't bother with the clementines in our salads tonight, but I liberally sprinkled them with dried cranberries, chopped red pepper, and sliced olives. I think I could probably eat an entire bowl of greens and kalamata olives - the bitterness of some of the darker greens, as well as the sparkle of some of the peppery greens are really enhanced by the salty, yet wine-like flavor of these purple treasures.

The dried cranberries were also tasty, but to make the same claim as above would be like saying, "Wow, this gummy bear sure makes my coffee taste better!"

Speaking of coffee, I had a realization last night: the best part of waking up each day is my oatmeal. My happiness is amplified by the drinking of coffee, but after the coffee, it's more or less downhill from there. Take a shower, beautify, drive an hour to work, spend 8.5ish hours trying to be subtle about pulling my hair out, drive an hour home from work and then loop around my neighborhood several times (up to 45 minutes on top of my commute home, depending on the day) looking for parking, then cook dinner, etc. I guess it starts to pick up a bit there, since I enjoy cooking and the subsequent eating of dinner with my dear hubby.

Anyway, as a result of my revelation, I am consciously trying to enjoy more of my day. My astounding ability to be grumpy must be fought off before it takes over - that was one of the reasons I did Operation Gratitude Attitude in the fall: I wanted to make a habit of finding the silver lining. I may have to revive it in some fashion, perhaps in a new-and-improved form for Lent. In the mean time, if you'd like to read through OGA Part 1, feel free to click on the tag below.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

bad, good, better

I believe I mentioned that my Valentine's Day plans were put on hold due to appropriately red drops of water dripping from my bedroom ceiling? Moreso, that our attempt to go out to dinner was delayed by the lack of response from our unmotivated maintenance men? When we finally heard from them(on Saturday night, after our second call), the best they could tell us was that a roofer was coming out on Monday, but on Tuesday, we still had some dripping. When we called again to get a status update, we were told that apparently the roofer was frightened of the snow, but the latest our rotting ceiling would be defended from more melting snow was Friday. That is where tonight's tale begins.

I returned home from a rather busy day at work on Friday and fortunately, found parking with much greater ease than I did on Fat Tuesday. By the way, I don't think we should have Mardi Gras anymore until people start observing Lent again. That's not fair - some people do make sacrifices and life changes during this time of repentance - Kate Moss is going meatless on Mondays! Anyway, when I came home, Mister greeted me with a hug, a kiss, and these words:

"I have good news, bad news, and great news!"
Good news: whoever needed to work on the roof did so and now there's no more leak.
Bad news: there is also no water in our pipes.
Great news (in Mister's world): no water = no cooking = Chinese take-out

I have to hand it to him - if I had been home before he took the initiative to get the Chinese food, I probably would have chosen something else, so kudos to him for being slick and ordering it before I got home. I was chopsticks deep in broccoli when I heard the horrific sound of glugGLUGglugrumblerumble and then a slow dripping sound as the water restored itself to us and the toilet started filling up. This is one more thing I love about my husband: he is absolutely brilliant. He thinks of things other [normal] mere mortals would not think of - like flushing the toilet after we lost water so he would hear it filling up when we got it back. Well played, love.

So, today, the good news is that we still have water where we're supposed to and we don't have water where it doesn't belong. The bad news is that the snow taking up multiple parking spots still hasn't melted. The better news is that I rekindled a grand old flame tonight when I made my dear Isa's French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme. I had forgotten just how amazing that soup is, despite the three posts I've already devoted to that very subject. In addition to this very earthy, savory, and downright meaty vegan soup, I made two of the prettiest salads I think I've ever made - and I've been pretty impressed with some of my salads.
Mixed organic greens from Earthbound Farm, mixed organic sprouts (clover, onion, alfalfa), half of a clementine orange, red bell pepper, and kalamata olives. The greens were fresh tasting and varied in flavor and boldness, the sprouts were nutty in flavor and a little crunchier than I expected. The clementine is perfectly ripe and the olives are almost overpoweringly salty. Odd combination, but a good salad, all things considered.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

would you like some seeds with that?

A little while back, I was singing the praises of Wawa. Wawa, for those of you who do not live in Pennsylvania, Delaware, parts of New Jersey, and possibly the most northeast part of Maryland, is a convenience store. It is actually a very popular convenience store in these parts, because it is generally much, much better than the best 7-11 or other such establishments. I would like to take a moment to share a list of all the awesome things about Wawa:
  • there are normally at least 3 within a five-minute drive from anywhere
  • they have really awesome coffee and an impressive selection of flavored non-dairy creamers
  • they have a milkshake blender (I've never used it, but I've watched children and I think it must be the coolest thing in their day)
  • they have "healthy" food, in the form of Luna bars and other such nonsense
  • some locations have very low-priced but high-quality gas
  • there is an impressive selection of hot food, even if most of it contains meat
  • the Wawa where I went to college also carried individual-sized Pizza Hut pizzas
  • they are open 24 hours
  • their frozen cappuccinos are the only blended coffee drink (including Starbucks) that doesn't make me sick to my stomach
  • they have a make-your-own sandwich bar (well, you choose your selections from a touchscreen computer and then a washed and gloved employee makes your sandwich)
  • they have amazing soft pretzels (another big deal in the Philadelphia area)
  • there is a truly impressive array of fresh prepared foods, such as wraps, hoagies, salads, fruit cups (I got sliced mango yesterday, but there's also grapes, sliced apples, and mixes), whole fruits, "protein platters" made up of an appropriately portioned multi-grain bagel, natural PB, a hardboiled egg, and a packet of almonds. The list goes on, but those are the things that stand out

Anyway, not too long ago, I extolled the virtues of my favorite Wawa feature: the build-a-salad feature. I fell in love at first bite with salads so magnificently constructed that they don't need dressing. They are also the perfect fit for my mid-winter fresh-raw cravings (I must be orthorexic!), which have officially begun, at almost exactly the same time as last year. Unfortunately, they were either a "limited time offer" or they were not as popular with everyone else. I went to a Wawa for lunch the other day and was utterly disappointed to find they did not have salads on their touchscreen order boxes, so I picked up a ready-to-go salad. It was just slightly better than awful - primarily the white, nutritionally useless parts of iceberg lettuce, some dried out "shredded" carrots, fair cherry tomatoes, "meh" diced bell peppers, and sorry looking chickpeas. There was also a terrifying sliced hardboiled egg that I removed upon opening it. Although this is how Wawa wants to represent it, it looked nothing like this:
It is the only prepared salad, though, that doesn't have meat on it. I don't understand the need to add meat to salad. Different strokes...

So, silly me, since I had never been to that particular Wawa before, I thought they just weren't offering that option. Yesterday, I had a hankering for a salad that wouldn't infect me with Swine Flu, so I went to my tried-and-true Wawa to get me a made-to-my-specifications salad. I was profoundly disappointed to find that the option had disappeared from the matter how many times I walked away from the touchscreen and came back (three times - the staff must have thought I was insane), so I grabbed the same garden salad from the prepared foods island and headed back to work.

If it's possible, this one was even more of a salad failure than the first one! I figure that to dice the bell peppers, they must have just thrown a whole one into a blender or something because I can't figure out how else there would be a 3:1 seed to pepper piece ratio. To put this in other words, my love affair with Wawa has been tainted.

Tonight, I made Curried Udon Noodle Stir-Fry from Veganomicon. I know I've made it before, but I'm too lazy to dig through my posts to find the link. It's fun making the curry roux, and it comes together faster and easier than most rouxes (?) I've made. It's a good dish and I enjoy the taste and texture of udon noodles, but the sauce needs just a little something more. I'm thinking "soy sauce" is that something, because this is my issue: the curry powder smells so good when it's cooking, but then it's somewhat bland when you taste must need some kind of salty agent to enhance the flavors present in the scents.

Finally, since we went out for Valentine's day on Tuesday and had leftovers the night I was too pissy to cook (Monday?) this week's menu includes a few of last week's leftovers:

1. French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme from Veganomicon

2. Red Lentil Artichoke Stew
from The Vegan Table

3. Potato Corn Chowder from The Accidental Vegan. I really pondered this one for a few minutes because I feel like it makes the week soup-heavy again. I decided to go ahead when I realized that soup season will actually end in a couple of months and remembered how good and thick and hearty this soup is.

4. Lo Mein also from The Accidental Vegan. Veggie Lo Mein was one of the first things I learned how to cook when I became a vegetarian and it was really ad hoc. This is the first time I've actually bothered with a recipe, so we'll see how that comes out.

5. Kedgeree also from The Accidental Vegan. This is actually a very common middle-eastern dish of brown rice and lentils (a complete protein) with herbs and spices. I haven't been a fan of it as a main dish because there are no vegetables involved, unless you count the herbs - I don't. With this recipe, Devra apparently feels my pain, because she has included dark leafy greens (kale, my new love), carrots, and...fungus. Mister, as I've mentioned, is not a fan of mushrooms. I solicited advice from some friends on a substitute that would incorporate the earthiness and meatiness of the mushrooms and the suggestion I fell in love with was olives. Brilliant!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

tofu times two

Today was a suck, so we repeated last night's dinner, but that's okay because I never got to share last night! I made Two-Tofu Shepherd's Pie, my own creation. I took the best bits of every shepherd's pie recipe I've ever made and combined them into this tasty (and voluminous!) casserole. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:
the tasty filling: smoked & baked tofu, spinach, carrots, corn, and green beans in a tomato roux with garlic and lentils
my "special recipe" home-made mashed potatoes, complete with my secret ingredient!
after baking (and carving away our first helpings...)

I was so impressed with how the mashed potatoes could be so light and creamy, yet more or less hold the filling in place like glue. I think it's in the spreading technique - I used my hard plastic scraping spatula, intended for scraping down the sides of my food processor and I just take about 1/3 cup of potatoes at a time and smooth them over the filling.

I'll share the recipe with you with this note: this is labor-intensive and time consuming. It was our Valentine's dinner and I would definitely recommend keeping this in your weekend/special occasion file, because this is definitely too much work for a weeknight. It also results in a ton of pots-n-pans washing, but it's totally worth it - I was thrilled with how it came out.

Two-Tofu Shepherd's Pie
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground coriander*
black pepper to taste
1 c. chopped carrot (about 2 medium carrots)
1 c. frozen peas/green beans
1 c. frozen corn
1 c. frozen spinach
8 oz smoked tofu, cubed
8 oz baked tofu, cubed
1 cup dried lentils, cooked in 2 cups broth
14 oz tomato sauce
1/4 cup flour
3 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1" pieces
1/3 c coconut milk OR 1/4 c unsweetened soymilk + 1 Tbsp coconut creamer
1/4 c canola oil
1 tsp sea salt

Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with water to 1" above potatoes. Cover and bring to a boil: boil 20 minutes, until tender. Drain well, return to pot and mash until creamy with coconut milk, oil, and salt. Cover to keep warm.
Preheat oven to 375.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan. Saute garlic 1 minute, then add thyme, coriander, and black pepper. Add carrots, corn, peas, and spinach and stir well to combine. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 5-10 minutes, until carrots are tender. Add tofu cubes and saute 2-3 more minutes. Mix tomato sauce with flour and add to skillet. Stir and cook until the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Stir in cooked lentils and any liquid that was not absorbed and mix well. Remove from heat.
Pour filling into 9x13" baking dish, top with mashed potatoes. Smooth top of the potatoes with a spatula or the back of an oiled spoon.
Bake 20 minutes.
Allow to sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

*apparently we're having a coriander shortage in Philadelphia. At Whole Foods, they stock three or four different brands of herbs and spices and there was not a single dram of ground coriander to be found. At Superfresh, they stock two: McCormicks and McCormicks Gourmet - there was ONE bottle of organic ground coriander, which I bought, but it was apparently the only bottle of coriander in Philadelphia :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Yellow Tail: taste the rainbow

Maybe you've seen this, if you're in the habit of wandering around wine stores: Yellow Tail wines are color-coded. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it sure does make the specific wine I want easier to find. For example, it is much easier to spot RED far away than it is to read the words "Cabernet Sauvignon." On the other hand, color-coded things are generally marketed to people who are...well...perhaps less than gifted, intellectually speaking. So, it kind of feels like Wine For Complete Idiots, but it's also really convenient.

In any case, I thought I was being quite clever tonight, while ruminating aloud to my dear husband about the color-coded wine and its implications for my intelligence. I made a comment about wanting to "taste the rainbow" a la Skittles candy.

So far, I've tasted Yellow (Shiraz), Red (Cabernet), Fuschia (Shiraz-Grenache), and Blue (Cabernet-Merlot). I also had a glass of their Sparkling White at Greek Christmas this year and I was completely impressed with it. I've been a huge fan of Moet Chandon for years and though not exactly classy, Martini & Rossi Asti is fun to drink on St Patty's day with a drop of green food coloring. Honestly, though, Yellow Tail's sparkler may have unseated them for both class and affordability.

Rainbows left to taste include Orange (Merlot), Purple (Shiraz-Cabernet), Magenta (Pinot Noir), and though I'm not all that into whites (actually, I don't like them much at all), I may have to try their Riesling (Yellow) and possibly Green (Pinot Grigio).

The reason I want to "taste the rainbow" is two-fold. For one, they have some really unique wine blends, but more importantly, Yellow Tail makes vegan wine and I want to support them. Vegan wine, you say? It comes from grapes, what wouldn't be vegan, you say? Alarming, but true - most wines/alcohols are filtered using animal products - I'm going to share an excerpt from The Vegan Table that will probably make even meat-eating readers' stomachs turn, but it's easier to give it to you verbatim than to try to paraphrase:
Examples include gelatin (the boiled bones and tissue of slaughterhouse animals), isinglass (obtained from the swim bladders of fish), chitosan (derived from the exoskeleton of crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp), casein (from cow's milk), and egg albumen (from chickens).
Now, with those lovely thoughts and pictures floating around your brain, let's move on to dinner! I have to work tomorrow, and the restaurant I want to go to is closed for dinner on Sundays anyway, so we were going to go out for Valentines Day tonight. Unfortunately, the rust-colored drops of water suspended from our bedroom ceiling put a nix on those plans. Don't get me wrong - there's nothing we [or apparently our maintenance men] can do about the slow leak threatening my piano and Mister's side of the bed, other than wait for Monday when the roofer is coming to fix the hole in the roof. In case time-travel isn't your thing, Monday is about 36 hours away and at least two nights in aforementioned threatened bed. Mister and I are somewhat convinced that the roofer will find the hole close to the site where the inept maintenance men fixed our air conditioning this summer... What held us back was waiting for the maintenance guy to return our phone call until it was too late to go out, so we'll be headed out for our Valentine dinner on Monday, as long as I make it through the day at work...I'm sure I'll be full of fun stories that night.

I changed my mind a few times tonight, trying to decide what to make [besides reservations]. At first, I thought I'd make the Two-Tofu Shepherd's Pie, but I decided it was actually too late to start something that labor-intensive, and most of the ingredients are pantry stuff anyway. Then I thought I would make Curried Udon Noodle Stir-Fry since it is the most fresh-vegetable-intense meal on the menu. What made me choose Garlic and Greens Soup was the simple fact that Mister finally made it down to the amazing Sarcone's before they ran out of bread (no later than 3 PM, but normally earlier) and we wanted to eat it up before it went stale. What to do with day-old crusty bread? Dip it in a brothy soup, of course!
I used kale as my green and there are actually three Yukon gold potatoes hiding in there with the whole head of garlic.

Amazing. I could drink Lake Tahoe.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding

Okay, that isn't completely accurate. I've been to a few states in the USA, I visited Canada briefly 20 years ago, and I went to Cancun (Mexico) with my sister-in-law 9 years ago. So I haven't been around the world, and I don't think my in-laws, AKA parents-of-my-nephews-and-nieces, are stupid, but sometimes it seems like the stupider people are the louder they speak, doesn't it?

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, but it has been bugging me for a few days and I need to share my inane discovery with someone. That Someone is You, lucky reader.

I was trying to get through the last of the Great Pile of Magazines that had gradually taken over a music stand I used to use as a cookbook holder. The majority of magazines living there were Health magazine. It was one of those "since you already subscribe to this magazine, we're going to give you an incredible deal to subscribe to this other magazine" kind of situations, and since there are two faces to my foodie nature, it filled the space left by the other publication. Those two faces, in case you were wondering, are the creative (and piggly) part of me that loves making (and eating) new dishes with a twist of something a little bizarre, and the nurturing side of me that shows love for myself and my husband (and anyone else I have the opportunity to cook for) by serving food that is not only tasty and attractive, but also full of nutrients and the things a body needs for fuel.

Anyway, I was reading through the News You Need feature in one of the editions, I came to this article: Orthorexia: The New Eating Disorder. The short article is both intriguing and utterly disgusting in its displayed ignorance of food lifestyles that are built around ethics and health. It is intriguing because only a few sentences in, I thought to myself, "they could be talking about me!" Primarily appearing in women over the age of 30 (ahem), orthorexia is an obsession with eating only healthy food and can be manifested in a vegan or raw food diet. I don't know if I would call myself obsessed and I certainly do not adhere to a vegan or raw food diet as strictly as I might prefer, but it is very important to me that I fuel my body with primarily good food. I prefer organic, but sometimes buy conventionally grown produce. I prefer seedy whole-grained breads, but I have been known to buy a loaf of finely-milled wheat bread. I yearn for salads, raw vegetable crudites, and fruit salads throughout the winter months, but I have no issue with making a meal completely from pantry items. I don't eat crap: no Twinkies, no Smuckers (read the label and be appalled), a rare Dorito or kettle-cooked potato chip, but no Little Debbie danishes or honeybuns for me and keep those Fritos where I can't smell them. I'm not perfect, but I try not to pollute my body. I'd rather get fat from protein and omega-rich peanut butter than a Snickers bar.

Regardless, the implication in this article or at least what I took away, is that people who restrict their diets as severely as a vegan or raw foodist would have an eating disorder. I think it's ludicrous that there would even be an eating disorder that starts with someone being committed to eating healthy food. It demonstrates to me just how off-kilter the paradigm of this country, in which 66% of the adult population is overweight, is. Ironically, people who follow a macrobiotic diet (which does include meat consumption, ordinarily) are not listed, yet I have a hard time thinking of a more restrictive diet.

You should know by now that when I say "I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this," it means I have been obsessing over the subject for days and need to babble until everything falls out of my brain. Which usually means I will spend more time on it than I intend. I just think it's straight-up retarded to label someone as having an eating disorder because they are vegan or a raw foodist. Rant done.

Today began The Great Dig-Out. I must give Philadelphia some props for their serious stance on snow removal - they had construction plows and dump trucks today! I don't know where they took the snow, but it's not on the/some streets anymore. It is still very much on the sidewalks - I think it's cute how some merchants figure that as long as there is a path through the snow, it doesn't necessarily have to be all the way down to the pavement. Apparently, there is nothing hazardous about carving a path of about 3 inches of compacted snow and ice that you will need a metal hoe and/or chisel to break through, because it's not melting until June. I slipped and slid my way to and from Whole Foods and Superfresh today because there was nothing else to turn into a meal here, unless you take me up on my offer to make a gourmet meal from kitty kibble.

First, I'll give you the menu, then a short and sweet dinner story:

1. Two-Tofu Shepherd's Pie

2. French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme from Veganomicon, because I can never get enough of this soup. Judging from the two and a half pounds of French lentils I got at WF today, apparently I also cannot get enough French lentils... oh, the shame of self-serve bulk containers.

3. Curried Udon Noodle Stir-Fry also from Veganomicon. I can't remember if I made this before or if the recipe just looked familiar because I know I should have made it before if I haven't.

4. Garlic and Greens Soup from The Vegan Table. After a week that was split 50/50 with soup and "solid" dinners, I tried to stay away from soup, but when I saw this recipe I just couldn't resist it. I mean, seriously - it calls for an entire head of garlic!

5. Red Lentil Artichoke Stew also from The Vegan Table. I have definitely not made this before and it looks both fun and different. Plus, we haven't had anything with red lentils for a while.

6. Orzo Pilaf with Roasted Red Peppers and Peas also from The Vegan Table. I intended to make this from the minute I pulled the book off the shelf. It's tasty and fast and you need that tonight.

So, I practiced my balance and grace by wandering around the frozen and barely salted tundra this afternoon/evening while Mister got some cardio in by digging out my car. Needless to say, we were both kind of starving, so rather than saving the fastest dinner on the menu for some night after work and cooking one of the longer and more labor-intensive meals on my day off, I made the Orzo Pilaf tonight. Don't you love my strategic menu-planning?

It is very photogenic and I think it is very tasty. It very much resembles risotto because orzo is rice-shaped pasta and I sauteed it with garlic before adding the full quart of broth. It lengthened the cooking time a bit, but the fully plumped orzo and creamy texture of the reduced stock was well worth it.

Mister wasn't as excited as I was. He agreed with me that it was very pretty and looks like Christmas, but I guess it was actually a little too close to real risotto for his liking. I love how he is starving before dinner and then pushes his food around and kind of picks at the peas until I ask him if he doesn't like dinner, to which he smiles and responds, "It's not my favorite." My answer to that is, "Pizza is your favorite." We pout at each other, then laugh and move on.

My hope, though, is that someday he will learn to tell me the first time I make something that he doesn't care for it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

my brain: use it or lose it

It is Still snowing in Philadelphia. This is now officially the snowiest winter on record - all we needed from this snowfall (which started around 7 pm yesterday and is STILL going strong at 10 minutes to midnight today) was 9.5 inches, but current estimates put total accumulation at 14 inches in Philadelphia, more in outlying suburbs. That's 14 inches on top of the 28.5 we got over the weekend. I haven't seen a plow yet and while that is fortunate for my poor little snow-covered car and what remains of its paint, it doesn't exactly fill me with optimism about the condition of the streets I am supposed to drive on tomorrow to go to work. Even when the streets were plowed on Saturday night/Sunday morning, it was still a slippery mess.

Since there was already an inch of super-fast accumulation when I got home from work last night, it seemed appropriate that the last dinner on my menu was a soup dinner. I made the mistake of changing into warmer, comfier clothes and then sitting down before strapping on my apron and could barely muster the energy to make Turkish Spinach and Lentil Soup. Fortunately, I knew the majority of effort I needed to expend was on peeling garlic cloves, so I managed to convince myself to put about 5 minutes of work into what ended up being a very tasty and satisfying dinner.

One of the reasons I wasn't too enthused about it was because I had forgotten just how tasty this soup is! I think I owe a lot of the flavor to the new bouillon cubes I picked up at Whole Foods last week. I used to use Rapunzel bouillon cubes all the time - they are far more cost-effective and compact than boxed quarts of premade broth - but after I had two boxes of gross, rancid-looking, melty cubes, I ditched them in favor of the Swanson broth I've been using for at least six months. I picked up the vegan bouillon cubes with sea salt and they have the most amazing savory taste!

Now, I'll admit - I really did not think the snow was going to come down as heavily as it did. Granted, the National Weather Service had issued a Blizzard Warning and more or less implied that you would be risking life and limb to leave your home today, but I guess I just didn't believe them. I spent all day today looking out the windows and laughing because the snow was still coming down and it really did look like a blizzard. This seriously interfered with my plans to go food shopping, though, so I comforted myself with the knowledge that the crazy Chinese people who have a restaurant that is literally a 10 second walk from our front door were open today. However, by the time "dinner time" came around, neither Mister or I wanted to leave the comfort of our warm, snowless home.

I had been thinking the other day about my culinary adventures. I'm addicted to recipes, and even when I do something on my own, I approach it in the same manner I was taught to compose music: I write it out first, then "play" it. However, having spent the past several years learning how to cook, and at least the past year really paying attention to how ingredients work together to create certain tastes and/or textures, I had a revelation. Theoretically, I should be able to just grab some random ingredients and put them together in a way that results in something tasty (or at least edible). In culinary schools, this is known as the Basket Test. Students are given a "basket" of seemingly unconnected ingredients and must find a way to create something edible (and amazing) from them. Mister inadvertently presented me with that challenge tonight and I am thrilled with the results!

My "basket" was made up of a few half-empty bags of frozen vegetables, a couple of cans in the cupboard nearing their expiration date, and a few half-empty bags of various grains. I always take comfort in my extremely well-stocked herbs-n-spices collection, though, and I figure I could probably make a gourmet meal out of Angst's Meow Mix with their help, if I had to. Lucky for you, I was so excited with how tasty my invention was that I wrote it down and will share my first recipe of 2010 with you!
Naked Burritos
2 cups broth
1 cup Basmati rice
1 Tbsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp sea salt, or to taste
1 cup chopped carrot
1 cup frozen corn
2 cups frozen whole leaf spinach
14 oz vegetarian refried beans

Cook rice in broth on very low heat (covered) for 20-25 minutes, until all broth has been absorbed.
Meanwhile, heat oil on medium heat in a large saute pan. Saute garlic and carrots, covered, for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Lower heat to medium-low, stir in cumin, chili powder, and salt. Add corn and spinach, cover and cook 7-10 minutes, until heated through, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a smaller skillet, warm the refried beans with 1-2 Tbsp water. Stir and heat until steaming and smooth, adding another Tbsp of water if necessary.
To serve, lay a bed of rice at the bottom of a wide, shallow bowl. Spoon on 1/4 of the refried beans and top with the vegetable mixture.

You could use brown rice if you wanted, but you would need to increase your cooking time to about 45 minutes. Since I ran out of brown rice and since Mister was threatening to have more junkfood as an appetizer, I went with quicker-cooking white Basmati.

Of course, an all-day snowfest is a great excuse to make cookies, even if no one found and unearthed your car for you... so I whipped up a batch of Chocolate Agave Trailmixers from VCIYCJ. They are so good and SO rich. I like soymilk with cereal and as an ingredient in something, but I've never been able to just drink it plain. If you can, or if you drink another kind of milk, nondairy or straight from the cow's udder, you'll want a tall glass to go along with these chunky treasures. One of the add-ins are sweet-tart dried cherries and it never fails to astonish me how well the tartness of the fruit brings out the sweetness of the chocolate.
Enjoy! I know Mister and I did!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

harissa: the ultimate in snow removal

Okay, harissa may not be quite hot enough to melt the snow piled all over the sidewalks, street corners, and parking spots in my neighborhood, but it can make me sweat when it's only 20 degrees outside! I read somewhere that in North Africa (not exactly a cold climate), locals employ harissa the way Americans [over]use ketchup. It took me years to put ketchup on my fries, much to Mister's confusion and horror. I cannot even fathom dipping fries or vegetables or ANYTHING in a little pot of harissa - bad things happened when it didn't blend all the way into the broth tonight and I ended up with a significant amount in my mouth. Significant = Barely Visible Speck.

Anyway, let's back up to last night. After a snowy, frosty weekend and a slippery trek to my car, I managed to make it to work yesterday. It wasn't until I was putting a present for Angst (also known as food) in the backseat that I noticed the new beauty mark on my car. Remember how I was worried about the Dueling Backhoes crashing into my car or otherwise harming it? I'm trying to think of the perfect thank you gift for the City of Philadelphia right now - what's the best way to express this sentiment? "thank you for finally clearing the streets in my neighborhood. It's much easier to navigate my car through the half-plowed icy death since you helped me lighten it. I never realized how much the paint on the left side of my car weighed it down until you helped me get rid of it. Here's some flowers." Yes, the Abominable Snow Removers left me a scar in the form of a scratch from the middle of my back driver's side door, across my gas cap, up to my brake light, and it's all the way to the metal - no paint left at all. In fact, it's even indented.

So, I celebrated my great fortune by making The Mariners' Pepperpot Soup. It involved a great deal of chopping, which always helps when you are speechless with excitement about the new detail work on your car. It's a fun soup to make, although I always panic that it doesn't look chunky enough to satisfy Mister. It's fine, though, because what I can't see is that all the rice and a great many of the vegetables are hovering just below the shiny, spiced surface of the broth. It made for some fun picture-taking, though:
When I made the Chickpea Apple Curry the other night, I made extra rice and scooped out one cup to add to this soup. It held the shape of the measuring cup and when I added it to the pot, it just plopped into the center. I found the Rice Meatball pretty funny, so I snapped a picture.
look at how excited Angst is for pepper soup!
not really.

a rainbow of savory goodness

Keeping with my trend of alternating soup dinners with solid food, tonight I made Winter Vegetable Curry despite my strong desire to avoid chopping the head of cauliflower in my fridge. It had to happen sooner or later, though, so tonight was the night. Besides, in an obvious attempt to steal my affections from my husband, Old Man Winter is sending me another Imminent Death Snowstorm tomorrow night. According to The National Weather Service, we're expecting another 10-18 inches between tomorrow afternoon and then throughout the day Wednesday. Sounds like perfect weather for our final soup dinner!
I think it has actually been since last winter that I've made this tasty little curry. It is so good I spent at least half the time I was eating it thinking "you stupid - why don't you make this more often?" Then I remember how much it sucks to chop the whole head of cauliflower. There has to be an easier way to do this that I just don't know. If anyone out there has any ideas, I would love for you to leave me a comment with detailed instructions!
I've been intending to add harissa to about half of the dinners I made this past week, so I'm quite pleased that I actually remembered to stir it in to replace some of the curry paste in this recipe. The recipe calls for 3 Tablespoons of curry paste and 3 Tablespoons of mango chutney. I have discovered that neither Mister nor myself are big fans of mango chutney, so I substituted apricot preserves and that added a nice, surprising sweet bite here and there. In place of the curry paste, I did 2 heaping teaspoons of my now-beloved Frontier brand curry powder and 1 conservative Tablespoon of harissa. It was much hotter than it has been with just the curry powder (I'll admit, I'm a little afraid of curry paste), especially when I got an unmixed chunk of it in my mouth by way of a caulifloret.

The recipe, by Rachael Ray, is one of her [few] vegetarian 30-minute meals and once you've made a mess of the cauliflower...well, chopped it, it comes together very quickly. I'd say there's a total cooking time of almost 20 minutes. I cannot recommend this recipe enough - it tastes great, it's relatively easy to assemble, especially if you cheat and use frozen cauliflower or pre-cut cauliflower. If you go the pre-cut route, be sure to use the cauliflower the same day you buy it or buy it the day you intend to use it - it doesn't keep well. Happy chopping!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

curry, cookies, and cataclysm, oh my!

So.... 12-18 inches of snow ended up being 28.5 inches of snow when it finally stopped, sometime this afternoon. When I woke up today, the city was covered with snow up to your knees and it was still snowing and hard! Big, fluffy flakes danced chaotically outside the window, eventually descending to take their place with their peers along the streets and sidewalks of Philadelphia. To give you an idea of the accumulation plus drifts from the intense wind sweeping the snow hither and yon throughout the day, my car is black and my husband could not find it without using the key-fob to make it make noise.

I heated up some leftover "Spicy" Peanut Soup for lunch and tried to find it sufficient fuel to be productive on my snow day. I did call my students, just to be sure common sense had not eluded any of them and they weren't planning to hitch up the sled-dogs and come to their lessons. One mother answered the phone with, "You know you didn't have to call, right?" Then I began the process of eliminating the new pile of months-old magazines that built up, while doing two loads of laundry that desperately needed doing.

Ordinarily, my streets would never see a plow, but apparently the city made an exception considering the apocalyptic conditions outside. I'll tell you - they don't mess around when it comes to snow removal. I had the privilege of watching Dueling Backhoes dividing and conquering my neighborhood streets, all the while wondering how likely they were to inadvertently damage my car or make the digging out process even more difficult. Fortunately for me, Mister couldn't bear the thought of me breaking my poor twisted back trying to unearth my car, so he went out after dinner and did his best. I'm not sure how I feel about him coming back and saying "well, that's as dug out as it's going to get," but I'm glad I didn't have to do it.

So, dinner was Chickpea Apple Curry from my dear Martha Stewart. I always mess up the cayenne and render it almost impossible for me to eat so I thought this time I would substitute harissa for the cayenne. Unfortunately, I forgot that I thought that until after the whole melange was already simmering away, with its stingy pinch of cayenne. It came out alright though. Actually, since I didn't have any cumin, I substituted a teaspoon of curry powder and it really made a difference in the savory character of the curry - I may have to always make it this way! Mister was good-natured about the soygurt I mixed in. He compensated by adding hot sauce.
Since I was so very grateful to my dear hubby for finding and unearthing my car and since it was such fantastic baking weather, I decided to make Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.
I have been obsessed with making these cookies since they did a few preview recipes on The Post Punk Kitchen blog. I love snickerdoodles. I love chocolate. What could be better than chocolate snickerdoodles?

Mister and I would probably disagree on the answer to that. I think he's pretty happy about the cayenne pepper that makes up the Mexican part of the title. I, on the other hand, could definitely do without it. The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon and I said to myself, "oh HELL no." I cut the amount in half, and when I had gingerly sprinkled half of that 1/4 teaspoon into the batter, I couldn't make myself put the rest in. As I sit here typing, munching on my cookies, I am really glad I had the foresight and self-knowledge to cut the cayenne by 75% - I wouldn't have been able to eat them. With 1/8 of a teaspoon of cayenne in the entire batter, which made almost 2 dozen generously-sized cookies, my face is actually starting to color and I can feel the heat in my cheeks.

Aside from my mouth being all on fire, though, they're really good cookies!

oh the weather outside's delightful

And since we've no place to go (because it's midnight), let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I love snow. I have loved snow all my life and people keep telling me I'll hate it when I'm older, but I'm still waiting and I'm still loving it. It's so magical to look out of the window and it feels like you're inside of a giant snowglobe!

It's been snowing for hours and the streets, sidewalks, newspaper stands, and cars are all covered with inches of happy white snow. According to weather forecasts, in which we all know I have a ton of faith, when I wake up tomorrow, it will have eaten the entire city - twelve to eighteen inches!

What's funny about the amount of substantial snow we've gotten so far this winter is that the weather has been just frightful enough to prevent me from renewing my driver's license. The reason that's funny is because I had the exact same problem exactly sixteen years ago, when I was trying to GET my license. So now you know how old I am, if you are even mildly proficient in arithmetic. Anyway, hopefully it won't take me until May to renew my license like it did when I got it to begin with, exactly half my lifetime ago (that really weirds me out).

So, since it was really nice out yesterday and all cold and snowy today, it seems natural that I made Spicy Peanut Soup last night. As soon as I had the first broth-soaked crumb of bread in my mouth, I remembered the first time (only time) I made this soup. It is not even remotely spicy - and remember, I think black pepper packs some heat. I really don't know why it's called "Spicy" unless I'm using the wrong kind of chili powder and/or I didn't read the part that calls for massive amounts of cayenne or harissa. Actually, I had intended to stir in about a tablespoon of harissa but I forgot to.

Don't get me wrong - this is a very tasty soup and it is substantial enough to count as food in Mister's eyes. The finished product didn't take very pretty pictures, but the rainbow of finely chopped vegetables that went into it was too beautiful to neglect. You see there red peppers, orange carrots, yellow potatoes, and green celery, sauteed with garlic and chili powder. The quart of broth I added just barely covered that delicious pot of veggies. It was a chunky, satisfying, but definitely NOT spicy soup.

Tonight, we had my old favorite Mediterranean Pasta with Artichoke Hearts, Olives, and Tomatoes. I can't tell if I did something wrong, since I haven't made it in many, many moons or if I've just gotten spoiled by the recipes I've indulged in for the past six months (can you believe that's how old my little blog is?), but I remembered it being much better than it was. It could be that tomatoes are completely out of season and that the large part of the dish's sweetness comes from those little grape tomatoes. It could be that I didn't let the artichokes soak up enough of the white wine vinegar. It could be that I neglected to sprinkle the sizzling veggies with kosher salt, since I felt the Kalamatas should provide enough umami. Whatever it is, this was not as exciting as I'd hoped it would be. It was fast, though, and that's what Mister and me and our exploding heads needed.

I think tomorrow will probably involve another soup recipe, but I have to see if I want to trudge many blocks through the snow back to Whole Foods/Italian Market (Spice Corner) because I never did get my cumin and paprika, and I'm not paying Superfresh $5 for two tablespoons of cumin. Thieves.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

there are two of us talking in circles and one of us who wants to leave

Truth be told, I've tried my best, but somewhere 'long the way I got caught up in all there was to offer, and the cost was so much more than I could bear.

It's a Sarah McLachlan kind of day. It feels like everything I want to say, she has already said and so much better than I could. If you are not presently acquainted with her wordsmithing, you will be much more so soon, but I would encourage you to buy/download (legally) an album or two so you can hear her passionate, angelic voice.

I realized recently that Sarah has been singing my heart for the better part of my life - I found her, with my sister's help, when I was a Junior in high school and it was the perfect time for me to meet her (figuratively speaking, of course, though by a still unbelievable coincidence, I actually dated her cousin briefly a few months before I met my husband). Looking back, I think I had a much better adolescence than many, but when I was stuck inside of it, it felt pretty dark at times.

There have been times in my life I have had to avoid her, lest she pull me further beneath the waves of my own self-pity. There have also been times that I have sought her out, finding solace in the knowledge that someone else could give perfect wording to my deepest sorrows. There have also been times, rare though they be, where I have been able to just listen to her and hear her eloquent lyrics and perfectly guided voice. The thing that kills me is that although I have used her voice as an example of various techniques when teaching my vocal students, as well as helping to hone my own technique in certain areas, I absolutely cannot tell just by listening to her whether she has been trained or is just naturally gifted and intelligent enough to develop her own skills.

Before I move on to more uplifting (or at least entertaining) subjects, like tonight's dinner or the menu I will shop for tomorrow, I want to share some of my favorite lyrics:

The ice is thin - come on, dive in. Underneath my lucid skin, the cold is lost, forgotten. (Ice from Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)

I feel just like I'm sinking and I claw for solid ground. I'm pulled down by the undertow. I never thought I could feel so low, and Oh, Darkness, I feel like letting go. (Full of Grace from Surfacing)

But we carry on our backs the burden time always reveals in the lonely light of morning, in the the wound that would not heal - it's the bitter taste of losing everything that I've held so dear (Fallen from Afterglow - also the lyrics that started this post)

The lyrics that make up the title of this post are from Circle on the Fumbling Towards Ecstasy album. They more or less sum up the two wretched interactions I had yesterday with a colleague who is apparently so insecure about her own position that my confidence in myself intimidates her. It has been well over 24 hours, 4 glasses of wine, and several bitch sessions since this happened and I am still upset about it. Unless the stars align against me (which has been known to happen), I won't see her again until Monday and I am genuinely hoping that by that time we are able to interact with each other in a positive and constructive way. I spent a lot of energy today trying to avoid her, only to find out that, like spiders (allegedly), she is just as frightened of me as I am of her, or more so. That's too bad - I don't want to be scary, but I've spent too much of my life letting people step on me to back down again. I should not be punished for believing in myself and my abilities.

So, there's my [confusing to everyone who isn't me] pep talk. On to dinner!

It's Wednesday, so no big dinner for me and Mister. I decided to do another "use it or lose it" dinner. I took one of the two leftover Tofurky Kielbasas, quartered it lengthwise, then pretty much cubed it. I sauteed it briefly in canola oil before adding the leftover Five-Spice Roasted potatoes from dinner the other night, and then I threw in a few handfuls of frozen whole leaf spinach. Protein, starch, and greens...Seems a pretty nutritionally balanced dinner for just grabbing random [dying] leftovers from the fridge, and it went well with the Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon I picked up on my way home from what was obviously a stellar day at work.

Tomorrow, I am off from work, so we get to play the fun game of trying to balance fun and productivity. I must go grocery shopping and do some laundry. I really ought to renew my drivers license. I really want to play my piano and do nothing. We'll see how much I get done. At any rate, to construct this "week's" menu, I raided a tiny tin treasure chest that I have neglected at least since the summer. I can't believe it's been that long, but I have just been so blissfully in love with my newest cookbooks, I haven't thought to look in my recipe box, despite the knowledge that it is where I store my favorite recipes.

1. Spicy Peanut Soup from a cookbook that does not seem to actually have a name...or at least not one that I bothered to record on the recipe card. It looks like fun and I'm on a serious (and probably waist-threatening) peanut butter kick right now. I know I've made it before, else it wouldn't have earned a spot in The Box, but it's been at least 6 months, probably more and I absolutely cannot remember it right now.

2. Winter Vegetable Curry by Rachael Ray. I love this recipe and I'm so mad at myself for tucking it away and forgetting about it so far this winter. This is one of the few RR recipes I can make, since it seems like most of her recipes include gratuitous amounts of fat and dead animals. Anyway, it's a really neat combination of hot and sweet and I may experiment a little and add some of my Big Tube of Harissa in place of the curry paste.

3. Mediterranean Pasta with Artichokes, Olives, and Tomatoes from my beloved Martha Stewart. This recipe is amazing - I could use up all of my A adjectives on this one (awesome, astonishing, etc). The artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes lend a sweetness that is tempered by the intense saltiness of the kalamata olives. This is absolutely one of my favorite pasta dishes ever.

4. Chickpea Apple Curry also from Martha dear. Every single time I make this, I forget how eager apples are to absorb spices and broth and I overdo the cayenne and render dinner almost beyond my ability to eat. This amuses Mister greatly, but I would rather turn up the thermostat than sweat through dinner because my mouth is flaming. It's even funnier when I think it's a good idea to make this in the summer. I think the last time I made this my lips actually swelled. By now, you are surely wondering why I think it's a good idea to make this again. I'm planning to swap out the cayenne for my Big Tube of Harissa - I've already shown I can handle that heat. I'm also planning to veganize the recipe by subbing Silk Yogurt - don't tell Mister; I don't plan to :)

5. The Mariner's Pepperpot Soup from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. I love this soup - it is so savory. I love the whole cookbook and am forever indebted to my mother-in-law. This was one of the cookbooks that led to my awakening knowledge that I could actually cook.

6. Turkish Spinach and Lentil Soup also from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. This soup is seriously substantial, and the leftovers grow as the lentils absorb more broth. It's really quite monstrous, but so hearty and tasty. There's also an irony in feeding my Greek husband Turkish food that amuses me beyond words.