April Eats

April was a blur, and when I sat down to make notes in my cookbook last night, I felt a little dejected because I didn’t remember cooking that much. But flipping through Naturally Nourished, I realized that I actually did make quite a number of new recipes despite being crazy busy.

April’s list is in chronological order because my brain doesn’t have the capacity to rank things right now. All recipes from Naturally Nourished unless otherwise noted.

1 and 2. Smoked Lentil Tacos with homemade tortillas – Isabelle Eats
These tacos were a big time winner in our vegan-mostly household. I increased the recipe by 50% thinking it would give us some leftovers for lunches, so we ended up with a crazy amount of lentils – enough for dinner for 3, 3 days’ worth of lunches (in Mason jar salads), and 2 cups for the freezer. I didn’t make any of the accouterments recommended in the recipe, opting for store-made pineapple salsa from Mariano’s (which was just OK).

This was also my first attempt at homemade tortillas. As you can see, they weren’t the prettiest, but they were way easier than expected. (We won’t talk about the second attempt.)

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3. Grilled Eggplant and Mushrooms with Saucy Almond Butter Noodles
Except that we roasted the eggplant and mushrooms along with a large amount of broccoli for the toddler, and used whole wheat linguini (instead of rice noodles) because that’s what we had on hand, and sometimes I just can’t justify $3+ for a single ingredient for a recipe I haven’t tried before.

The combination of an interesting vegetable + noodles + a creamy sauce is basically always a winner, though for eggplant and almond butter, I expect we’ll fall back on this Minimalist Baker recipe.

4. Snappy Spring Salad with Lemon-Mint Date Sauce
The recipe linked above isn’t exactly the same as in the book, but it’s close enough – particularly the dressing. This was fast, simple, and refreshing. I expect we’ll be making similar salads all summer.

5. Grilled Caesar Salad with Tempeh and Chickpea Croutons
So when you read “grilled Caesar”, I’m guessing you thought “grilled ______ Caesar”, as in whatever is ON the Caesar was grilled, not the salad itself. Well, you’d be wrong – and you probably understand why N was super skeptical when I told him what was for dinner. I asked him to trust me, and cited as evidence of the concept a really wonderful grilled salad I’d previously enjoyed at Jolly Pumpkin. (When oh when are you coming to Chicago, JP?!)

This salad was a revelation. I baked a block of tempeh to round it out into a full meal, but you could just as easily add your protein of choice. Another one for the summertime roster.

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6. Fantastic Falafel Waffles
I keep trying to make healthier takes on falafel at home, and they keep not working. Ironically, so does Sarah Britton. I don’t know whether it was the recipe or my waffle maker, but these quite simply did not waffle. I ended up frying them – and tossing my waffle iron after one too many recipe fails. They were good, probably better than the previous attempt, but I think I’ll leave falafel to the pros from now on.

7 and 8. Rainbow Hummus Bowl with Simple Mint Pea Dip
I don’t know that I would call this a recipe, per se, but I like the idea of the Rainbow Hummus Bowl – a bunch of crunchy veggies served on top of, rather than underneath, the dressing or sauce. After a run but before an afternoon excursion, I blended up a batch of Simple Mint Pea dip, then spread a generous layer across the bottom of our prettier plates, topping each plate with several different kinds of veggies. We spread the rest of the pea dip on crackers. It was all delicious.

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9. Cool It Noodle Salad with Radishes and Peas
(Another close enough link above.) I had the ratio of noodles-to-veggies all wrong, but that was sort of what I wanted, though I’ll (at least try) to get it right next time. A good amount of crunch, but with a fresh dressing.

10. North African Sun-Dried Tomato Soup
And then there was a solid 10 days where work was stupidly busy, and we were in and out of town, and by the time I surfaced, it was the end of the month, and the nice weather had disappeared, and our apartment had been rented out, and a recipe put on the list earlier in the month seemed just right. I didn’t want to spend $7 on a jar of harissa (see above re: single ingredients), so used the last of the cayenne and paprika in our cabinet. We were out of couscous, so I substituted a handful of slivered almonds in the topping, inspired by romesco sauce. The soup was flavorful and spicy, but the topping – olives, lemon zest, parsley, and the almonds – really stole the show. (Please note that the chickpeas weren’t organized in any way – they popped to the surface like this all on their own.)

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So, not a bad month of cooking after all – and more than enough new recipes to carry me through May, since our ability to cook will be limited by the fact that we’re moving to a new apartment at the end of the month.

I will miss the wonderful natural light in the kitchen, but have gotten inspired by all of the minimalist kitchens in the IKEA catalog, and am excited to see how we can do more with less – in the kitchen, and in general.

February Eats

1. Red Blanket Sauce – My New Roots
We both love mole, but the mole options in our neighborhood, while delicious, are definitely not vegan-friendly. This spicy, rich, and warming recipe is a step in the right direction. We had the sauce over Ayocote Negro beans served in a roasted acorn squash (for the adults) or over cubed butternut squash (for the shape-obsessed toddler). The acorn squash was logistically difficult, and the sauce could’ve used more heat, but everything was delicious and will definitely be revisited.

2. Broccoli Falafel – She Likes Food
For my birthday dinner at Dusek’s, I had broccoli three ways – one of which was as falafel. I tried to replicate this at home after consulting a bunch of recipes. It – well, it didn’t work. The falafels dissolved when I dropped them in oil. They dried out in the oven. They crumbled when served with lemon tahini, a simple tomato salad, and arugula. Oh well – they looked pretty.

Broccoli

3. Oat Milk – Oh She Glows
Our Vitamix has opened up a world of possibilities for making our own versions of things at home. We regularly buy non-dairy milk, but making our own almond milk didn’t seem like it would be cost effective. Making our own oat milk, however, totally is. Steel cut oats – even organic ones – are cheap when purchased in bulk, and while most recipes call for additional sweeteners, all you really need is filtered water. This recipe calls for multiple rounds of rinsing and straining, but that isn’t strictly necessary either, particularly if you have a nut bag.

4. Red Velvet Pancakes – Chocolate Covered Katie
We don’t make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day in our family, but since the toddler had cards and small gifts from other family members, I thought it might be nice to have a special breakfast treat. These pancakes were…OK. I was suspicious going in when both the fat and the sweetener were optional. I get it. She’s trying to make the pancakes “healthy”. I try to do that as well, and agree that often things are sweetened far beyond what’s strictly necessary. However, 2-3 tablespoons of optional ingredients in a baking recipe seems dicey when those ingredients aren’t mix-ins like dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, etc. So I included the fat (sunflower oil) and the sweetener (coconut sugar), because otherwise what’s the point of a special breakfast treat. In the pan, they behaved somewhere between pancakes (bubbling in the middle) and cake (cracking when moved). They came out really thin and really in need of maple syrup. Everyone enjoyed them, but I don’t think I’ll make them again.

5. Eggplant Cannelloni with Sunflower “Meta Feta”
This recipe came from Sarah Britton’s new cookbook, Naturally Nourished, which is lovely but so far not as universally successful as her first book (which I’ve raved about endlessly here and elsewhere). This recipe was equal parts wonderful and – eh. We loved the sauce. We loved the rolled eggplant. We did not love the sunflower “meta feta”.

Seriously, Sarah Britton, what GIVES with the sunflower seed obsession? It’s not rice. It’s not cheese. It’s nothing like rice or cheese. There are plenty of other things that you can use in place of rice and cheese. Stop trying to make sunflower seeds happen.

We’ll make this again, but we’ll either use cheese (for me and the toddler) or crumbled seasoned tofu (for all of us).

Eggplant cannelloni with sunflower

6. Portabella “Pizzas”
Another recipe from Naturally Nourished. We had leftover sauce from the eggplant dish, so we used that instead of the fresh sauce recommended in the recipe. I added a handful of kalamata olives since we had them on hand, and a bit of grated cheese for me and the toddler. These were delicious, albeit a little tricky to eat. We’ll definitely make them again.

The recipe called for six portabella mushroom caps and claimed to serve 4 (or maybe 6) as an entree. 2 caps each left us hungry for the rest of dinner. One cap each would make a wonderful appetizer, not a substantial dinner, even for a toddler.

Portabella

7. Quinoa with Black Beans and Radish Salsa
Another Naturally Nourished recipe, though with no pictures or links, in part because this was made on the screamiest night of screamy toddler screaming that has ever been screamed. It was simple, hearty, and delicious: quinoa tossed with black beans and oven-roasted carrots, topped with a fresh salsa of radishes and shallots. Both recipes were straight forward and easy, though the yield in the salsa was way off – somehow 1.5 cups radishes + other ingredients was supposed to yield 1 cup of salsa. Hmm.

8. Twinkle Twinkle Jeweled Rice
This is such a beautiful, time intensive dish from Naturally Nourished. I halved the recipe and it still made a huge amount of rice. The orange zest overwhelmed the other flavors, including of the fresh herbs, so I’ll use maybe 1/4 of what is recommended the next time. I used currants, cherries, and raisins for the fruit and almonds and pistachios for the nuts.

Twinkle Twinkle Jeweled Rice

9. Golden Curry Coconut Dal
Another no-photo, no link recipe from Naturally Nourished made on a super hungry night with an overtired toddler and overly hungry parents. N was famished and devoured almost the entire recipe. The toddler asked for more – twice! The recipe indicates that this scales up and freezes well, so I imagine this will go into the weekend batch cooking rotation.

Shut Up and Take My Money

Coffee at Ferry Plaza//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I’m not sure how I got on Blue Bottle‘s mailing list, but does it really matter?

Or, rather, is anyone at all surprised that I’m on Blue Bottle’s mailing list, given my inclination to wax poetic about their coffee (about which they already wax well beyond poetic) every time I have the opportunity to have it – in SF, straight from the pour-over bar or in the form of a perfect cappuccino or even from a waxed carton of New Orleans-style iced coffee, or in Brooklyn on a hot day, or at lab after randomly running into the proprietor on the other side of the country while standing in line at, you guessed it, Blue Bottle.

All of this being a preamble to the “well, obviously” moment when I mentioned to N that Blue Bottle had introduced coffee subscriptions that included a free 2 oz trial by mail.

Our wee packet of Bella Donovan beans arrived earlier this week and was tucked away for this morning, the first day of vacation, as perfect a summer day as we’re likely to have in Chicago, where over the last 10 days we’ve slipped from early spring into high summer weather with no regard for the dates on the calendar. The toddler was awake at 5am, our stroller run was middling, our trip to the park culminated in tears and tantrums, and the breakfast I’d looked forward to making all week was a disaster.

But the coffee was solid. I couldn’t tell you whether it was “warm, comforting, [or] familiar” because mine was mostly lukewarm by the time I had wrangled my over-tired child into dreamland, but it did feel awfully luxurious to have really good beans (instead of the $5/pound grocery store variety) in the grinder, and an actual bloom on the grounds when I used the pour-over, and a cup of coffee to look forward to for more than just reasons of survival.

Q1 Resolutions in Review

A new post in a new location! I moved my blog from my own domain to WordPress about a month ago, but this is the first actual post over here. Please update your feed readers, assuming you still use such a thing!

1. More letters.
I’m keeping up with my goal of one letter/week, but they’ve mostly been thank you notes. (I need to write more thank you notes as well.)

2. More books.
1/16 completed. Not great, but not too far behind.

3. More miles.
Running: 161/750 completed. I entered the Chicago marathon lottery in March, and am running the Illinois Half I-Challenge at the end of April. Running is feeling really good. I like my current training program, and my current running routes. I need to be more consistent about long runs, but the combination of winter and sickness has made this difficult.
Biking: 94/2000 completed. I just haven’t felt like riding lately. I’m not sure why that is.

4. More movies.
1/12 watched, but it was a big one! We took the baby to see Star Wars in the theater. He was unphased by the noise or explosions, but he definitely didn’t like the non-human creatures.

5. Less meat.
N is working on perfecting briami and the eggplant sauce from a favorite Italian restaurant. I’m playing with Persian food and crusty rice for bi bim bap. I don’t know that I’m eating less meat, but I am enjoying exploring vegetarian cooking.

6. Less debt.
We have a substantial amount of travel coming up in the next six months, including an extended trip to Belgium, so I don’t think that we’ll pay off all of my debt, but we’re making steady progress, which feels good.

7. Less complaining.
8. Less guilt and regret.
Works in progress, always.

November Around Here

Unseasonably beautiful weather makes for weekend days full of crunching leaves and golden light. I need to soak up as much warmth as my skin can handle in anticipation of the winter to come.

A sudden windfall in a month of austerity means getting out of debt within the year is now feasible. Being responsible sometimes feels very hard, but also very good.

And for the baby, now a toddler: first tentative steps and a confirmed first word: kitty, which is applied specifically to the cat (his one true love) and more generally to all beloved things. We took him to the zoo, where he correctly identified two kitties (the sand cat and the puma) and other kitty-like creatures (red pandas).

So much hurt and sadness and fear in the world. There are days when it’s all too much, and all I can do is crawl into bed and hold the sleeping baby – for then he is still a baby – to me and cry. But so much love and generosity as well.

Reading:
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantell, because the mini series was remarkable.
House of Light – Mary Oliver, because reading poetry to the toddler feels like a good use of our quiet mornings
Bedtime in the Meadow – Stephanie Shaw, because try as he might, the toddler hasn’t been able to destroy it, unlike all of his board books
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson, because she slays me, and her writing about pregnancy and gender and identity feels very relevant
A Thousand Mornings – Mary Oliver
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates, because I have learned more about race and privilege in the last six months than the whole rest of my life to date

Watching:
Fringe

Eating:
Spontaneous Persian food
Pie for days
Pasta with fennel, kale, and lemon
All the pears and apples

Drinking:
A second cup of coffee, as the toddler was up before 6 for a second day in a row

Doing:
139 miles to go to hit 1,500 on the bike for the year
Not enough running, but with good reason
Catching up on all the postcards I didn’t send during this year’s 31 Postcards
Babyproofing all the things

Planning:
A Thanksgiving menu (hint: it contains pie and a Vegducken)
An intranet communication plan
New hats for everyone
Eliminating my debt

August Around Here

The days slip together. Wake up early. Diapers and coffee and a ride to work. Meetings. Writing. Ride home, dinner, a story, nursing to sleep. An hour or two before bed. Repeat.

We traveled a bit this summer – a week in San Francisco, a weekend in Michigan. Lots of good food and long walks and sunshine. Not enough time in the water – ever.

Every week the baby is onto something new. Every week (day, morning) we scramble to move things out of reach. Some days the constant stream of babble seems to have meaning. Other days, it’s just noise.

Past mid-summer. Fall is in the air, almost. A neighborhood festival just about every weekend. The garden is growing. We are growing.

 

Reading:
 A few months ago, I remembered I could read on my phone. Since I don’t have a transit commute, this is the only way reading gets done around here.
The Argonauts
A Ball of Beasts
A Slow Archive
Every single news article about Neo closing.
Bloomberg’s coverage of Warren Buffet’s family’s long-time subsidies for IUD development
Grumpy Cat

Watching:
True Detective
Mr Robot
Wolf Hall

Eating:
Elotes and blueberries to infinity

Drinking:
Basil gimlets

Making: Thinking of making, rather:
Rice pudding
That sweater I intended to knit last year

Planning:
A trip to Belgium next year?

2014 Chicago Bucket List, part 2

I’m so far behind in blogging about my resolutions and other adventures from this year. We’re halfway into December and I have drafts from outings from February. So how about rolling up this very fun resolution into a miniseries?

The second installation in my miniseries about my 2014 Chicago bucket list adventures!

Chicago skyline
View from the Adler

Adler Planetarium: May’s Adler After Dark event was cosponsored by the Oriental Institute – a perfect excuse for us both to make our first visit! We learned about medical astrology and inverse moons and took funny photos of our bellies.

Hot Doug's
Doing Hot Doug’s right

Hot Doug’s: Chicago’s premiere encased meat emporium had been on my to-do list for years prior to the announcement that the owner planned to close up shop in October. My first thought was “I can go on my maternity leave!”. Fortunately, an earlier opportunity presented itself: since I was already missing half a day of work for an ultrasound, we decided to make a day of it and brave the Hot Doug’s line. It felt pretty ridiculous, but was worth it for extremely delicious sausages and fries.

Chicago Bucket List: Cubs game with Nicolas
View from Wrigley

#ChicagoBucketList: Cubs game with N, even though he's cheering for the Mets...
View at Wrigley

Cubs game with Nicolas: Despite living in Lakeview for 6ish years, Nicolas had never been to Wrigley Field or to a Cubs game – in fact, the Sox game in April was his first baseball game, period! We kept talking about how these all-American activities needed to be added to his citizenship dossier. Hot dogs, beer, and baseball on a perfect summer night were an excellent addition.

Drinks at a shitty Wrigleyville bar: After the baseball game, we knocked out a second bucket list item by walking down Clark to grab drinks and food at a random bar before Neo prom. We thankfully skipped the douchiest bars in Chicago.

Dim sum
Dim sum

Dim sum in Chinatown: The bucket list originally called for hot pot, but dim sum was on my mental list. We tried Moon Palace on the recommendation of another Chinatown diner who, after seeing us order pork buns at another restaurant, said we had to try the (off-menu?) steamed spinach buns at Moon Palace. They did not disappoint.

We stopped into Vosges yesterday and left with free truffles.
Truffles from Vosges

Vosges with Nicolas: I’ve been a fan of Vosges chocolate for years, and had been to the Lincoln Park shopfront a few times, but never with Nicolas. We stopped in while walking around Lincoln Park one afternoon and left with free truffles! My enormously pregnant belly probably helped.

Vegan Korean food with Karen! 36/#100daystobaby
Vegan Korean with Karen

Vegan Korean at Dragon Lady Lounge with Karen: Karen and I talked about checking out the monthly Korean buffet at Dragon Lady Lounge for two years before we had the right opportunity – the next-to-last buffet they would offer! We ate all the things, and all of them were delicious.

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Sailing on Lake Michigan

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Chicago skyline, golden hour

Sailing on Lake Michigan: We bought a deal for a two hour sailing adventure at the beginning of the summer, and cashed it in as one of our last pre-baby adventures on a lovely September night. We were supposed to share our outing with at least two other people, but they didn’t show up, so we had the boat to ourselves. We were treated to an exceptional sunset as we turned back to the city. It was perfect.

Pie at Hoosier Mama Pie Company: We made a strategic error in not eating before Nicolas’s naturalization ceremony, expecting to be in and out in an hour or so. Instead, it took three hours, and we emerged as a famished family of American citizens. We headed straight to Hoosier Mama and had pie for lunch. What’s more American than apple pie, after all?