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!