Dining Solo

I have been anything but solo these days.

In fact, the past couple of weeks have been busier than usual. I’m feeling that itching from the inside of my soul, the one that says: it’s quiet time.

While I am a terribly social being, I need time to be home alone. It’s like my Miracle Grow.Without time alone I end up looking like sad, sad tomato plants. Yellow and withered at the edges, drooping, and begging for someone to just feed me already.

Colby and I (finally) arrived home today after an overnight trip to Portland to 1. pick up my wedding dress, 2. visit my aunt, uncle and cousin, and 3. welcome my parents home from Okinawa. It was a great trip, but by the time we hit 295 north I was done. Too much interaction, too much talking, not enough sleeping. I made a deal with Colby as we pulled into Bangor. “Ok”, I said, “We have chores to do, but how about we take an hour when we get home?”. He thought it was a great deal. And so we took an hour. He began watching Supernatural (his show du jour), and I settled in on the porch to read. Then I fell asleep, so we took another hour. I was enjoying the silence so much that I decided to let him continue while I cleaned up the house and unpacked. Another hour. I called him down for supper. I sent him back upstairs. Another hour.

I just let my kid watch four hours of television. And you know what? He’s still up there.

Mom’s gotta do what mom’s gotta do.

On the solo note though, what I MOST enjoy about being home alone is preparing a meal for myself. This post reminded me of just how important that time, and that meal, is.

This started as a way for me to deal with a transition night (when Colby would go with his father). I would pour a glass of wine and get cooking. It was meditative and purposeful and when I was done: delightful.

Back then it was always the same meal. Good angel hair (yes, there is a difference), scallops or shrimp in a garlic, butter, and white wine sauce. Fresh parsley. Ice water, wine, something sweet for dessert.

I’ve moved on now, but nothing brings me as much comfort as that old, faithful meal.

Winter Panzanella
Winter Panzanella

Some new meals:

Winter – small batch soups, grilled sandwiches, pastas

Summer – goat cheese and fresh tomatoes on hearty bread, new salads

Anytime – fruit, crackers and cheese; veggies, hummus and cheese

 

Do you cook for yourself? What do you make? It’s time to expand my meals for one file.

 

Goodnight, Friends. I need to peel my kiddo off the television now. xoxo.

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Hungry and Harried?

Make this!

Today was so gorgeous I knew I wouldn’t want to spend much time in the kitchen. Because I picked this super easy meal (a Bittman inspired chili-type dish), I had time to play ball with Colby, hang multiple loads of laundry on the line, and clean the yard (we look a little less like a junkyard now).

Here’s the recipe:

Place a few glugs of o.o. in a large pan. Add 1 lb 90% lean ground beef (at 90% lean you don’t need to drain the grease- I’m a lazzzy cook). Cook on med high. Drain two 15 oz cans of chickpeas, reserving one cup of liquid. Add chickpeas and stir. Once the chickpeas start popping (10 or so minutes), add 1 tsp good chili powder and 2 tsp cumin. note: this is always too spicy for me but I forget to fix it the next time around. I guess what I’m saying is: season to taste. Add a few cloves minced garlic. Stir around and add the reserved liquid. Scrape off all the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan. Once the liquid is no longer too liquid-y, take off heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I serve this with roasted garlic bread slices which I toast and butter. Today I put a handful of baby kale in the bottom of each of our bowls and spooned the chili (not sure what the hell else you’d call this. “Looks like dog food but tastes real good”?) on top of it. The heat steamed the kale just enough. Even Colby liked it.

20 minutes start to finish.

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Dinner and a Rant

First, dinner.

Confession: I was so hungry, I moved straight from grill to table. This means no time for pictures. I assure you, the asparagus was green, chicken glazed and grilled, the corn – crisp and juicy.

Today felt so much like summer that we relaxed into a summer evening schedule (even though it’s a school night). We each went our summer evening ways: I ran, Colby hit baseballs then ran, and Matt worked on the property. While Colby ran, I sat on a rock nursing a beer and talking with Matt. Supper was super easy and ready in 20 minutes start to finish.

Sesame Chicken with grilled vegetables

1 lb thin chicken breast, tamari, dark sesame oil, tin foil

seasonal veg (2 servings veg to each 1 serving of meant) – we had corn and asparagus

dessert – every day is special enough for dessert

Directions: place chicken breast (if breasts are thick – believe me, mine are not – pound or slice them so that all pieces are approximately the same size) in a 9 x 12 pan with 2-3 good tablespoons of tamari. Swish around then add appx 1 tablespoon of sesame oil (the darker the better). Let sit while grill heats.

Put water on to boil. Shuck and wash corn. Cook until just tender, but still crisp.

Prep asparagus or other veg. For asparagus, wash, snap ends, and arrange in grill pan or in tin foil, lightly spray with olive oil and salt and pepper liberally.

This is about time to take the corn off. It should be almost done, but not quite. Take the pot off the heat and push it back on the stove. Let it sit and finish cooking while you work on the grill.

Place a large sheet of prepped (cooking spray) tin foil on the grill. Place chicken and asparagus on the foil. Drink a beer. Swat flies. Read two paragraphs in a book that may or may not piss you off.

Colby picking end-of-the-season carrots.
Colby picking end-of-the-season carrots.

Now, the rant.

I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I’ve been so excited to read this. I started seeds and we’ve planted and there are tender green shoots coming up everywhere. I totally wanted to spend my afternoons looking at my garden and reading this book. But while I was cooking, I read this:

I am not sure how so many Americans came to believe only our wealthy are capable of honoring a food aesthetic. . . Cooking good food is mostly a matter of having the palate and the skill . . . The main barrier standing between ourselves and a local – food culture is not price, but attitude (31).

What the fuck.

How many Americans know what “food aesthetic” even means?

For someone who seems to be railing against the perception of money as the gateway to food culture, that is an elitist and offensive collection of statements. And stupid.  And I’m only 31 pages in. I want to ask Kingsolver a few questions:

Do you know how expensive and time consuming it is to plant and raise a garden? Have you ever received food stamps? Was your first trip to a farmer’s market subsidized by WIC vouchers? Mine was. Have you ever had to create a meal for your family using dried or canned beans, canned tomatoes that you know are steeped in hormone disrupting chemicals? Generic, non-organic grains and cheese that did not come from organic milk? I have. That non-organic, processed and preserved meal was the staple of my young adult life (which also coincided with my parenting life). It contained complete proteins (I looked it up in Diet for a Small Planet), two servings of vegetables and complex carbohydrates. I am an American, I am a mother. And I’m really pissed off.

I value every fucking tomato that comes out of my garden because I know the investment. I know who started the seeds, be it me or my closest nursery. I water the plants. I talk to them. We weed and get bug bitten and apply compost. When we eat that tomato, I am proud. But when I have to buy a cheap tomato at the store because it is a year when I don’t have the time or money to grow my own, I will not feel guilty. Barbara – take a recipe for beans and rice and vegetables. Do the price comparison between fresh vegetables and frozen, organic rice and generic (at my local grocery it is at least a full dollar). Calculate the comparative TIME investment for dried beans vs. canned.

I feel like I’ve made it – in life- because I actually have the luxury of planting and tending a garden. TIME to prepare a careful meal for my family? A luxury that I have not always had. Enough money to buy the hormone-free chicken and local beef? You wanna bet that’s a luxury AND a sacrifice.

Sigh. I get it, I do. I want to know my farmer. I want to know where my food comes from. I want the best for my family and for me. I love Kingsolver’s fiction and I admire her passion, but she is missing the point.

When we eliminate time and money from the equation and make this a problem of culture (“palate and skill”, “attitude”), we are making a grave mistake. This is the culinary version of the bootstraps fallacy. Know what many working parents (and single working poor) don’t have? Time and money. Unchallenged, arguments like this are more harmful than a factory farmed tomato. They undermine our efforts at equality, tolerance, and human citizenship.

As angry as I am, and I’m angry because this argument cuts to the core of all I value, I will continue to read. I respect Kingsolver’s skill and passion, and I hope I find a glimpse beyond her 100 acre backyard and carefully crafted factoids.

I’m going to eat an Oreo.

Brussels Sprouts and Shenanigans

Winter Panzanella
Winter Panzanella

It’s Sunday night, but contrary to our usual Sunday schedule, today went pretty well. Colby and I went to early mass, out to lunch, and then I dropped him off at his friend’s house for a bit. I sent myself directly to Starbucks to drink tea and grade like a fiend. In less then three hours I was able to grade approximately 120 assignments and make a comprehensive grocery list.

Matt has been a total BUTTHOLE. I get to say that because, well, I’m the one at the keyboard. But he really, really was and I was really, really pissed. We’re on the tail end of our first (horrific) home improvement project and while on most days we really are quite amicable, this has brought out the worst in both of us. I’ve made a point to be out of the house for the past couple of days so he could finish up his end without interference from me and also so he can’t be mad at me for sitting on my ass while I do work (that honestly, must be done while I am sitting on my ass). But I digress.

By the time Colby and I returned with groceries Matt was nice and apologetic which immediately translates into “everyone leave mama alone in the kitchen so she can drink a vigorous glass of wine while she cooks.”

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Jam jar or wine glass? You be the judge.

So I turned on my own music and poured a glass a wine and got down to business with a bag full of brussels sprouts after I made as many ‘balls in a bag’ jokes as I could. What I ended up with was a loose approximation of Smitten Kitchen’s take on Michael Chiarello’s Winter Panzanella. Smitten’s adaptation is great, but I made a few tweaks myself. In lieu of spending an hour cutting squash, I bought a pre-cut bag and halved the pieces that needed to be smaller. I used a pound of brussels sprouts instead of a 1/2 pound and was quite glad that I did. The recipe called for them to be quickly cooked in salted water, but I chose to roast them in a 400 degree oven. Water in my salad grosses me out. I’m on my second glass of wine so I guess I’ll get that recipe up for you tomorrow. But really, try this. You all know how much and how frequently I love my chickpea panzanella and this is my new way to fill that void during the Maine winter (when I cannot stand to eat anything cold).

Look Dad! I finally ate my brussels sprouts!
Look Dad! I finally ate my brussels sprouts!
I thought this was my sexy apron, but no one agrees with me. Seriously.
I thought this was my sexy apron, but no one agrees with me. Seriously.
Colby says "next time - no vinegar based dressing"
Colby says “next time – no vinegar based dressing”
Matt says "next time - add beets and cook everything more." It's not my fault the man likes his vegetables overcooked, I'm just not going to do it for him.
Matt says “next time – add beets and cook everything more.” It’s not my fault the man likes his vegetables overcooked, I’m just not going to do it for him.

And the after-dinner shenanigans. Oy. That project I was talking about? The stairs and upstairs hallway are covered in polyurethane and  someone  left the radio on upstairs. We had to put Colby through the drop vent to turn it off . . .

He goes up-
He goes up-
-and drops down his Santa given potato chips for safe keeping -
-and drops down his Santa given potato chips for safe keeping –
-he comes down-
-he comes down-
-and he lands. And is hit on the head by a briefcase that followed him down.
-and he lands. And is hit on the head by a briefcase that followed him down.

Only here. Only on a Sunday. Eat your vegetables, friends. I’ve gotta go. Downton Abbey is on in 7 minutes!

Roasted chickpea panzanella – or the perfect salad.

You know you want some.

Inspired by Catherine Newman’s chicktons, I set out to make a quick, tasty, wholesome supper for both Colby and myself.  It was a total win, and I assure you that all experiments in my kitchen do not end up as wins.

From Newman’s recipe, I omitted the garlic powder (didn’t have any) and used onion powder instead. I used her stove top method instead of the oven, though I’m tempted to try the oven for a crunchier, snackier snack. Yum. Wanting a one-bowl meal, I cubed up a few day-old slices of this delicious roasted garlic rustic loaf we get at our local grocery. Colby stirred them around a hot cast iron skillet with some olive oil until he got bored. Then we took them off direct heat to finish cooking on their own. In ten years when he regains his attention span I’ll charge him to cook this meal on his own. Until then, it’s a family affair.
Roasted Chickpea Panzanella

(serves two, but can be easily adjusted for more)

1 can organic chickpeas (props to you if you cook your own)

salt and pepper

good olive oil

garlic or onion powder or spices of your choice

Rinse and dry chickpeas (spread over dish towel or paper towel while heating OO). Heat OO in dutch oven, cast iron pan, or heavy-bottomed pan. Add chickpeas – let them hang out a bit before you start stirring them around. Liberally salt and pepper. Toss around the pan a good while till they look crispy and crunchy. Add more salt if needed (kosher or coarse is a good addition). Spread in single layer on paper towel to cool.
Meanwhile, add more OO to pot. Dice a few slices of good, day-old bread and add to hot oil. Toss around till desired crustiness. Take off heat and leave on stove.

Prepare two large bowls. Add whatever fresh, clean produce you have. We went with broccoli, lettuce, a huge tomato a cucumber and a bunch of green onions. Divide bread and chickpeas between the bowls (depending on taste you may have some leftover chickpeas to snack on). Throw a sprinkle of feta or a few crumbles of goat cheese on. Scour the refrigerator for anything that looks good.

Now, on the topic of dressing. This really doesn’t need any, but will accept whatever you put on it, which is a good quality in a salad for family eating, I think. My favorite, though, is to drizzle the salad with a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Colby is happy to drown it in Wishbone Italian dressing.

Make it. Love it. Catch your kids sneaking leftover roasted chickpeas after they tell you repeatedly that they HATE chickpeas. And hippie food.

Table for two? Right this way. Don’t mind the dog hair!

Let summer begin! The new issue of Sparrow magazine is up and I’m a contributor!

“Little piece of spinach! You can’t escape me! Hahaha!”

Once again, I delve into topics both budgetary and gastronomical. Check it out here:

http://www.sparrowmagazine.com/issue04/budget-gourmet-clean-eating-on-a-dirty-budget/

Are you feeding your family (or self) on a budget? How do you do it? What do you eat? Do tell!

Big Love –

Heather

Clean vs. Dirty

Anyone who knows me is understandably worried about this post. Who knows what I’m writing about. Personal hygiene? Housekeeping? Cars? Sex? Nope. No need to call my mom. I’m talking food here people!

I’ve been hyper-conscious of what is around me, and what goes into me, since I was newly pregnant with my son. As a young mother, all I could think of were the bazillion and one ways I would irrevocably fuck him up over the next thirty years or so. All at once I knew very, very little about absolutely everything. The one thing I did know, though, was food. During my pregnancy I read, of course, every book I could find. Later on, I took a nutrition class with Katherine Musgrave, as an elective course while finishing my degree in English. That woman, I tell you, changed everything. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my degree. Hell, I wasn’t sure how the rent was going to get paid! What I did know was how to make meals that were cheap, calorically sufficient, healthy, and full of complete proteins a la Diet for a Small Planet.

That sense of purpose sustained me through some tumultuous years. Some of you know those years as your early twenties. Some of you know them as your first parenting years. I was riding two trains with one ass. Luckily, I’m flexible. All was good, at least on the dietary front, until I began a full-time teaching job. We quickly went from planning and experimenting in the kitchen (can you see us? Colby was the best batter stirrer of all time) to grabbing sandwiches and chips to eat while I graded papers at work (and Colby did his homework at a desk too big for his kindergartener frame). I lost twenty pounds by December of that year, and was so malnourished that my hair was falling out. At some later date I’ll talk about the implications here – and I’m talking political. But later. I eventually managed to gain the weight back, and because I’m an overachiever, I put on another fifteen that I would continue to lose and gain until…now.

My poor boyfriend has listened to me talk and talk and talk about how I feel like life just wasn’t jiving. I couldn’t articulate what was out of place, or what I could do about it. But I knew that all the different pieces of my life were not working together. I felt schizophrenic: like I just could not justify my mama-teacher-partner-friend-daughter-sibling-person selves. I’m still not sure how food did the trick, and I guess it was less trick than a re-alignment, but I’m feeling like someone has finally made a whole person out of the big-bucket-of-legos that I felt like. I took the Clean Food Challenge.

My friend and co-worker Emilee created a user-friendly cleanse, and named it the Clean Food Challenge, henceforth known as CFC. You can jump over to her blog to check out the specifics, but it is a pretty basic, and doable, whole-foods diet. For the CFC you spend one week eating none of the following: processed foods, dairy, alcohol, meat, gluten, and any other potential allergens. Because I was sure I was okay with eggs, I went with eggs. Sometimes I use hormone and additive free meats, but I was broke this time, so I didn’t. Anyway. What this boiled down to was one week of purposefully creating meals and thinking about them. My household is pretty diverse as far a nutritional needs go, so that added another issue. I just finished my third CFC, and feel like things are starting to get back in order. Colby remembered that he liked vegetables, in fact, he prefers spinach in his smoothies. My partner, Matthew, siphoned off nearly a 1/2 gallon of So Delicious coconut milk. Colby’s back in the kitchen with me (at will, anyway), and I no longer hide in the bathroom eating a sleeve of Chips Ahoy when I’ve had a crappy day. Not all is perfect, of course, and we will still have many nights of eating cereal for supper. Overall, though, this CFC has helped me start to bring the disparate areas of my life together. That, my friends, is a success.

On that note, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite new CFC recipes. Happy Sunday, all!

Pinto Beans and Rice

1, 1 lb. bag dried pinto beans
1 large can diced or crushed tomatoes (I used a bag of frozen, diced tomatoes leftover from last summer)
1 heaping tablespoon garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cumin
3 bay leaves (very important)
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 diced onion (optional)
sea salt
freshly ground pepper (lots!)

Optional: 1 small can of tomato sauce, stock instead of water,

1. Soak beans overnight. Most recipes have you cook the beans in the soaking water, but I find the beans easier to digest if you use fresh water to cook with.
2. Drain and rinse beans. Return to crock and cover with water (or stock) about two inches over the top of the beans.
3. Add all ingredients. Stir.
4. Cook on low all day. I get home around 4, give the beans a good stir, and cover until suppertime. If they look wet, turn it on high and vent the lid. If they look dry add a bit of water and turn crock pot to “warm” setting.
5. Serve with cornbread, corn tortillas (fresh or homemade), or as filling for tacos or burritos. I use this as a lunch or snack with some Garden of Eatin’ Sesame Blues and a spoonful of Sisters Salsa. Before my last CFC I would sit down with a plate of microwave nachos (read: chips, cheese, and sour cream) after school every day. With this version, I barely miss the cheese!