Usually I am paid to cook, but today (my day off!), I cooked for MYSELF. It always feels so good to do, and I have to admit, I do not do it enough these days. Sure, I make simple things, but I do not spend the day making things without recipes like I used to. It is so nice to be freed from pages of measurements, and it took me a bit to notice how awesome that freedom of creativity truly is. The intuitive chef has not left the building…
Cooking Day Off began by making my mom brunch. We received a phone call in the morning saying my grandfather went to the hospital, so I went to out to do some errands in case my Mom would be going up to be with him. I have only a bicycle, and it is hard to schlep things like gallons of soymilk, eggs, GINORMOUS jugs of vinegar (for daily egg poaching, of course), and loaves of bread that might be smashed. When I got back home, she had not had breakfast yet, so she asked me if the Donnegal Diner was open for business. It sure was!
Next, I set forth to deal with a classic Kitchen Manager fail: pulling product from the cold storage without specific plan or timeline for use. I had this ground venison that I grabbed out of the freezer several days ago, thinking I would make something to use as a wrap filling, or a topping for creamy polenta. On Thursday, my knees hurt so bad after paid cooking (bike accident, running in crappy shoes – now replaced), that all I wanted to do was buy something. I do not feel like that very often, but took the opportunity to enjoy some tandoori chicken from Saffron. I ate leftovers of that for lunch at work on Friday, and then ended up poaching an egg to eat after getting home at 8:30PM, with very sore knees. Saturday and Sunday are the days I wake up at 5 AM to cycle and arrive at
work, er, paid cooking within 15 minutes of 7AM, when my cooking shift begins. I did that until 5:30, then until 4 on Sunday. By Sunday evening I was Very Tired, and had my second poached egg in a wrap for dinner. I LOVE these eggs, by the way. My fantastic co-worker Amy has chickens, and so on Tuesdays she brings in a dozen for me. They are multicolored and a adorable, and taste SO GOOD.
This left me with the going-bad venison in my fridge, a sweet potato and squash that will not cut up or roast themselves, several increasingly brown bananas, and a day off ahead of 6 days not off (paid cooking). This means it would be smart to do some classic kitchen girl planning – a fantastic opportunity!
I sat for a moment creating my plan of execution: I would get the vegetables roasting, and then deal with the venison, which I wanted to make into something to be frozen and eaten on future busy days… what to do with it? Should I make kofta patties? Should I throw together some kind of chili to freeze? ………TACOS!!! While roasting vegetables, I would make taco filling. Which then reminded me of the glut of CSA bell peppers I’d noticed earlier while the Diner was open. I could make a surplus of onion/bell pepper mixture to combine with the venison, and also freeze some of that to use in something else later. The bananas would obviously become banana bread, the last project, which I could throw in the oven and do other awesome Pro Bono Cooking Day Off activities such as: taking a nice long shower, doing/putting away laundry, cleaning up bedroom, looking up ideas for carving the pumpkins I bought today, and forcing myself not to work out so my knees will for sure feel awesome over the next six days.
I will simply post a slide show of what I made, and mention a few things about process/ingredients used/etc.
- I decided to dice the veggies pretty small, add in some onion, garlic, and Pink Lady apple! I decided to make this cold sandwich wrap filling slightly “Asian” (pardon my awful umbrella term there), so I just chopped it all up, tossed the mixture with olive oil, salt, pepper, a bit of sesame oil, rice vinegar, white miso, and some curry powder. Set the oven at 400, then popped in the 13×9 metal pan until everything looked done – checking it periodically and stirring to ensure even cooking.
- I also decided to cook the venison separate from the peppers and onions for a couple reasons. One, I do not use venison often, an was unsure of its fat content. I did not want to have the vegetables be totally soaked in fat while cooking, and if I did that, I could drain the meat in a colander to remove excess oil. I also would be cooking too much of the onion and peppers on purpose, so cooking them separately would mean I could remove as much as I’d like to freeze, and then add in the rest to the meat.
- At the last minute I decided to cook the bell peppers and onions with some minced garlic and a can of stewed tomatoes. I thought that would be a nice addition to whatever I make with the frozen remainder, and make the tacos taste better. The venison turned out not to be as fatty as I expected, and was frankly a bit dry, so I thought the tomatoes would add some moisture in a nice way.
- For the banana bread, I did use a recipe. I have enjoyed Simply Recipes for many years, and realised it had been ages since cooking anything based on her work. My only tweak was in adding about 1/3 cup of greek yogurt to the mix. I think adding some dairy to cookies and quick breads tends to be a good idea.
- After cooking the mixture of roasted vegetables in the refrigerator, I added greek yogurt and some nayonnaise, salt and pepper, dijon mustard, chopped grapes, and a bit more rice vinegar. It is really just a creamy vegetable salad that can be eaten on its own, or in a wrap like I do. It’s just easy and only seems to taste better after a few days. I love the combination of sweet and savory, so omit the grapes and apples if you like, or add in some bacon or tempeh or hard boiled eggs. This is one of those concept recipes I love with infinite potential for flavoring. It’s just so easy and nutritious – a nice change to make something en masse that is not soup for busy days.
It has been some weeks since I updated my Edible Plants series. I am currently listening to the book Farm City: An Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. She lives in Oakland, CA and is able to construct a fantastic urban garden, well ultimately farmstead really, on an abandoned lot next to her house – she calls it her “squat garden.” The writing is humorous and she manages to raise critical issues surrounding the food movement as it pertains to urban people within the larger context of history, industrial agriculture, and the myriad of “fad” or “trendy” takes on how we ought to feed ourselves without a soap box or liturgical ranting style that I felt Gabrielle Hamilton’s writing tended to smack of. I appreciate the humility and genuine nature of her style where she seems to be merely chronicling her own journey and process through making her vision a reality, and making sense of why she is doing it.
This pertains to the Edible Plant Series because one of the cool things I learned from this book (which is littered with facts about the origins of vegetables, the history of animal husbandry, the history and modern place for the “back to the earth” movement), is that carrots are native to Afghanistan! I definitely never would have come up with that if you asked me where I thought they started off there. Another tip towards my discussing carrots today is that my mom ran into our farmer, Dennis, who provides our CSA share. His farm is called Blue Dog Greens (make sure to check out his website, and if you live in the area, consider getting veggies from him – they are SO good!) form which we will begin receiving produce as of June 1! He said that he has had a wonderful growing season, and that his carrots are going to be fantastic. And, if the carrots I have had from him in the past don’t live up to these, we are going to be in for a real treat – they are SO GOOD.
Carrots began their culinary journey in Asia around 5,000 years ago. They did not start out orange! They were typically purple, but other colors existed as well. Bitter in nature, they were first used medicinally, but, as with most plants that are domesticated, the roots became larger and sweeter with time. Apparently, they were considere to be an aphrodisiac 😉
Greeks hated carrots, but the Romans loved them because their culture tended to be more accepting of robust flavors. Eating them cooked and raw, the early Roman cookbook Apicius even includes them in its pages. In the 12th century AD, Moors brought the roots to continental Europe where they spread to Great Britain and were cultivated there before coming to the New World. The orange color has resulted from selective breeding, and tended to be more appealing to the eye. This resulted in carrots becoming widely accepted as something for people to eat.
The Dutch are actually responsible for this change from purple to orange where they were used New World mutant seeds to steer the carrot towards sweetness rather than its typically bitter nature. Yellow carrots (the mutants) were crossed with ye old purple ones, and resulted in orange carrots! They are rumoured to have been adopted by The House of Orange under William I as the national vegetable in honor of the fight for independence from Spain.
Carrots are, thus, delineated into two categories – the original and bitter Eastern variety, and the new Western, under which there are a few general classifications.
- Chantenay carrots are typically shorter and wider with a very thick top and blunt bottom. They tend to be used in canned goods or other processed and pre cooked creations.
- Danvers are conical and have a well defined tip. They are slightly longer than the Chantenay type and can tolerate heavier soils. Developed in the 19th century in Danvers, MA, they are now used for the most part in pureed baby food you buy at the grocery store.
- Imperator carrots are the kind we usually see sold in bags at the store. They are, on average, the third longest of the carrot varietals.
- Nantes are the shortest and are much sweeter than any other type.
They are related to parsnips, best grown in sandy soil and cooler temperatures. They flower after their second year of cultivation – they are biennials. Adding a sweet flavor to dishes when cooked, they are often used in stocks, soups, braises, and other things that are cooked slow and steady. As a side, they are fantastic if you steam or boil them and toss with butter or oil and some chopped herbs, salt and pepper. Carrots are a mainstay of cooking, appearing in the tried and true mirepoix – the base for so many traditional dishes in European cuisine – consisting of celery, carrots, and onion.
We all know carrots are supposedly great for the eyes. If you are focused on Beta Carotene, make sure to cook them for maximum benefits, as only 3% of beta carotene is released during digestion when consumed raw, and jumps to 39% when cooked! Beta Carotene is metabolized into Vitamin A. Eating too many will actually turn your skin orange – this is not a myth. Vitamin A is responsible for improving eyesight (a lack of it actually will negatively affect your night vision). During WWII in England pilots were encouraged to eat more carrots in order to improve their ability to shoot at enemy targets. Carrots are also known to help with improving digestion, fighting off intestinal parasites, and mitigating both tonsillitis and constipation.
Something else I would love to share with you is this piece I listened to earlier today on NPR’s show Being. They show’s host interviews chef Dan Barber in front of a live audience. He is a chef at the Blue Hill Farm restaurants in New York – they have two locations: one on Manhattan and another in the Hudson Valley on a farm. He is a visionary and smart person who happens to also be quite funny. I appreciate his take on food, and I like this particular piece as it focuses on ethical issues surrounding the local food movement. I felt like it was particularly timely given that I am listening to the previously mentioned book! As Susan and my Mom would say, a case of Mexican Wrestler Syndrome 🙂 I encourage you guys to listen to it and check out the restaurants when you’re on the East Coast. For good measure, I will toss out this recipe for his scrambled eggs recipe that I found!
I am taking pause at the moment. There is dough (butter browned, of course, a test splash of Kalamazoo Coffee Chiapas Altura from my Favorite Color mug, and no extra salt) in my great grandmother’s yellow bowl, spoons sticking out at odd angles. There is a batch already nearly done in the oven, and another tray ready to go in. These are thank you cookies for my neighbor who kindly fixed my bike’s brakes a few days ago. Earlier I decided that I want to do a weekly post about edible plants. I am involved with the Potluck Cookoff at 315 W. Walnut St. and am becoming re-immersed in people who wonder whether there will be rhubarb in two weeks, or need to make sure they cover their gardens when April snow is forecast.
I have tended a garden for years, grabbing up basil leaves and warm tomatoes for that morning’s breakfast, but all the plants were bought from a greenhouse. They tell you how much shade (or not shade) the variety will need, what is in season, and how long to expect it will be before harvest time. I know nothing about gardening. I am, now, in a position to learn a lot. My dear friend is our master gardener, and has now planted rows of peas, beets, greens, chard, radishes, and soon so much more. This is one of those chances where proximity, knowledge, friendship, and home all converge. I think I might be able to learn a thing or two about plants this year.
While cleaning out my closet, in which I found that retro journal a few weeks ago, I also found all my boxes of books. I organized them as such: Read. Unread. The book I plan to use as an aid for this project was given to me by my Aunt Ginny several years ago for Christmas when it became clear I was Supposed To Cook A Lot. It called Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. The book actually crept into my memory in the midst of my return to Michigan, while walking along side Aunt Ginny at the Botanic Gardens located next to Congress on the National Mall. I was so happy to see little signs with Black Bean Tree, and Curry Plant, Cilantro, all growing in one room and teaching toursits in jean shorts what food looks like in one of its earlier forms of consumption – before the burrito or Thai lunch special hits their lips.
I am going to start on page 64 – Fruits: Citrus. Tonight I will decide about how I want to proceed with this, as there are so many varieties that I want to learn and tell everyone about, but then I would just be rewriting the book… The book actually starts out with a lot of background, history, and information about modern issues such as shipping, food availability, and how many mouths there are on this planet that all need something all the time. I think that this book, along with the Flavor Bible, would be good additions to anyone’s library beyond those shiny oversized food porn cookbooks/coffee table fodder.
This is also where I would like to give a general call to my readers to please get involved and comment – if you would like to share information you have about plants, gardening, and ingredients, I would love nothing more than to hear it. Pouring words from my brain through fingertips to your screen and the internet is all well and good, and that is the nature of the beast, but getting to know the people I see only as Site Statistics sure does make me curious about you guys. Maybe you would like to say hi? 🙂
(These cookies are, by the way, turning out well. And there are way too many, so I am glad I have a neighbor to share them with, otherwise I might have to do a little more walking than usual in the next few days.)
I have pushed the pause button on my audiobook, and I would like to tell you about it. Gabrielle Hamilton’s book Blood, Bones, & Butter was kindly reserved for me by my mom. I just threw it on the other day without even reading the back, and I have to say, I am loving it. It is hitting the spot given various things about life, etc. etc. so it is nice to feel less alone and perhaps shine someone else’s light down my own path – sure makes it all seem less scary when you can do that, doesn’t it? Well, I would highly recommend the book. It’s funny because Gabriella has ended up in many places that are so familiar to me, and I like that a lot. She makes food at a summer camp in the Berkshires, writes of getting supplies in Pittsfield, and now is attending grad school in Ann Arbor at U of M. While I do not pretend to be anything but a midwesterner, having just left the East Coast and returned back to the mitten makes me smile to hear her words about and observations of this part of the country’s contrast to her life in New York City. It is much appreciated. While I like to think I can hold my own at penthouse parties, to look at expensive dresses without blinking an eye, I am always going to be more myself in cut offs, grilling in a back yard with loud music blasting. I am still not a grown up. So yeah, check out this book.
I have not heard this sound in ages, and I thought all you PBS kids might appreciate these as an end to my book review post: &
When there are days like this you can just tell people about them, and then it is easier to remember how nice everybody you know is. When there are days like this, when it’s a little colder than you’d like it to be, then you can remember how it’s not even colder. Can we all help other work on not complaining so much, or putting negative spin onto small details, which then cast so many small shadows across our days. Before we truly realise how it became cloudy inside our heads and hearts, and it’s not just the weather that is colder than we would like. It is thoughts, it is not smiling enough, it is salty wet cheeks, it is forgetting how lucky, it is remembering the bad before the good, it is forgetting the good because of time spend remembering the bad, and it is definitely one of those days you make banana bread and banana muffins. Then you can give little parts of your day to others who help you remember that to be loved, you must love in return. And not just say about it, do about it. When I stirred the batter, I just might have added more than enough salt, but maybe that part of me needs to be added in for good measure. If I did not create this myself, and stir it in, then I must not be living. If I did not watch it dissolve, and remember how many times we stirred in the brown butter, if I stop doing what I love because sometimes it makes me even a little bit sadder, then how would I find so many new things to show you that I learned along the way?
Today I remembered why I know what to do when there are days like this, and I made something beautiful for my heart and yours; these are for you.
I have returned north… I remember what this time of year used to be like, before the daffodils arrive, and there is still sometimes that lovely wintery mix on occasion. This morning I awoke and there was sparkling frost in the shadows, and glistening water in the sunshine. Birds are definitely here, and I know that in a few weeks it will look like DC does already.
Last night my mom and I got late night burritos after I arrived. The plane was delayed, and I had a lovely conversation with a beauty product brand rep who has a soft spot for Meijer like I do. We ended up talking for most of the time the plane was in tarmac purgatory and the past due, yet extremely welcome flight. We talked about music, radio programs we like, and our grandfathers who were butchers in the grocery stores they owned. I like meeting nice people so much! So, anyway, we got burritos, and I used some of the leftover guacamole, salsa, and this bean dip from my last visit home that was still in the fridge. Oh, and my Clancy’s.. definitely had missed it. The travel sized bottle I brought home last night was a gift, and my mom had not yet mailed the three big bottles I bought back in February.
This was my breakfast today. I guess it is just more of the same – sometimes I feel boring when I post my breakfasts. But they make me happy, and, they say people don’t change, so it kind of makes sense that I will always love poached eggs and greek yogurt. I think that spring is a time to grasp onto the things and people you love in your life, and to manifest the changes or transformations we all make inside into expressions of beauty and nourishment for ourselves and communities. Some things you must leave behind, let fall to the ground, let the rain fall all spring, and see what might grow from it. I can see it happening now as I look outside and see the bare bushes and disintegrated leaves covering the empty flower beds. It is a monochromatic, dirty, mushy mess that is going to be beautiful if you just have the patience to know what you are really looking at.
So, I have resigned myself to posting my eggs for you all to see, and bearing in mind that there will always be new and exciting things to share soon enough. Which brings me to something you can look forward to seeing here soon! My dear friend Josh is a cook in Portland, Oregon. I want to visit there soon and make food with him! It makes me happy to see that cooking and music are touchstones for he and I. Those are definitely two things we have both decided will always remain the same. He works at the Arleta Library Bakery Cafe and has free creative range over their weekend brunch specials. He is going to send me some pictures (and hopefully some words, too) in the next few weeks for me to post – my first guest post!
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
— Virginia Woolf (A Room of One’s Own)
“My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.”
— Woody Allen
This morning it occurred to me, as I looked at the pack rat state of my Chrome browser (10 tabs open), it occurred to me that I may have a way to solve this bad habit – one of the many on the chopping block. Since I am busy this week, why not just share all the recipes I want to, but probably will never make, with you guys. It will help you see some of the blogs I read, and some of the recipes and techniques that stick out to me, and melt into my creative base as a cook. I have to go to the deli soon, so I am going to just make a simple list of links.
- Salad Dressing Index
- Index of Squash Recipes
- Chicken with Bell Peppers
- Artichokes & Cheesy Grits
- Green Eggs & Ham
- Shrimp & Grits
- Thin Mint Pancakes
- Raw Cookie Dough Milkshake (Kelly, this is for you!!)
- Homemade Lamb Gyros
- Turkey & Artichoke Saute (<3)
- Mushroom Stroganoff
- Bolognese Sauce (in French!)
- Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie
- Perfect Poached Egg (interesting technique I’d not seen before)
- Braised Sausages with Balsamic Grapes
- Ivory Lentil Salad with Strawberries & Buttermilk
- Breakfast Buttercups
- Vintage Brunch
I will be updating with my own creations this weekend – am planning a baking recipe, a new salad & dressing, entree, and a surprise 😉 I am so ready for spring, change, and for transitions to ease into routine and normalcy. Cooking feels like the most stable thing right now, it is my touchstone, yet it also is something meant to be shared. I hope you all will be cooking with friends and family this upcoming week. If you do, post your stories and what you made! I am very curious about who reads this – don’t be shy.
Pictures for a less barren post – this is what I have been doing to be creative since time has been allocated otherwise for now:
This is my first real off topic post here, though eventually I think there is potential for it to be very relevant: I have bought 2 plants. They do not produce food and are not edible, but I would like to begin a small indoor garden. First I need to see if I can keep these plants alive before I get my hopes up that I can properly tend to tomatoes and whatever else seems reasonable to grow indoors. Plans are good for morale on gray days like this one, and I decided a while back that if I was feeling crappy, wearing black, and listening to depressing music I should go ahead and cheer myself up with some plants. Today that’s exactly what happened:
If anyone has any suggestions on successful indoor gardening techniques, has any tips, or recommendations of plants I should try, please comment!