The last few months in food

While I’ve stuck to my resolution to try at least four new recipes each month, I’ve done a terrible job of sharing them here. Since I have neither the inclination nor the data to figure out everything new that we’ve cooked since, oh, April, here are some highlights:

The Best Lentil Salad Ever – My New Roots
YOU GUYS, we ate this one to death over a couple of weeks of Sunday night picnics followed by several weekdays of lunches. The ingredient list is long, but that’s because the dressing is complex and wonderful and only improves the next day. If you are open to the possibility of a lentil-based salad, get you to the kitchen (and maybe the spice aisle to stock up) and make this right now.

Secret Ingredient Frozen Hot Chocolate – My New Roots
Let’s get this out of the way: the secret ingredient is frozen cauliflower. But I assure you that you won’t taste it at all. Really. This was delicious, especially with a dollop of coconut cream. If you’re less strict about refined sugars or dairy products, I bet you could doctor this up to be sincerely wonderful while still containing sneaky vegetables/fiber.

Roasted Cauliflower Tacos with Chipotle Romesco – Minimalist Baker
This romesco will blow the socks off your Taco Tuesday. This recipe requires relatively little effort unless you are like me and think that making tortillas from scratch is a reasonable thing to do on a weeknight with a broken finger.

Quinoa Cauliflower Tabbouleh – In Pursuit of More
Oh hello, another grain salad obsession. The combination of herbs, fruit, nuts, and a citrusy dressing is perfect for summer.

Vegan Banana Cake – Imagelicious
$1 bags of bananas from Open Produce sometime mean that we make a spontaneous cake. This was simple and delicious and will likely be revisited for the toddler’s birthday in a few weeks. I omitted the walnuts because: why.

Spring Cabbage Wraps with Couscous, Za’atar, and Spicy Tahini Dressing – My New Roots
The toddler likes saying “couscous”. I like that this took about 20 minutes to put together WITH the toddler from start to finish, including making the couscous, the spice mix, and the dressing. The red cabbage we used was a little too tough, but otherwise, this was a winner.

Red Earth Beet Burger – Harvest & Honey
I’ve been fumbling around trying to find a recipe for homemade veggie burgers that I really like. We had leftover beets and lentils from the Beet Party (see below), so I used this recipe as a guide. Good stuff.  This burger recipe from Blue Apron was somewhat less successful.

Fairy Tale Eggplant and Mozzarella Pizza with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes and Summer Squash – Blue Apron
We had two really solid pizzas in our Blue Apron boxes this summer. The flavor of this eggplant was really superb. This pizza was also nice.

Sundown Carrot and Grilled Corn Salad – My New Roots
One of many solid picnic dishes from this summer, especially with in season Midwest corn.

Watermelon Fattoush – Blue Apron
Another great picnic dish, though unfortunately this yielded a ton but didn’t keep all that well.

Beet Party – My New Roots
Another solid picnic dish, though I made all kinds of substitutions with what we had on hand. The recipe is vegan, but crumbed feta is an excellent addition for non vegans.

Poke-Inspired Beet Bowl – My New Roots
We eat fish, so I can tell you that this is not a substitute for actual poke, but it was a nice weeknight dinner. I like composed bowls of things, even if they require a bit more prep up front, in part because everyone can take as much of the things they actually want.

Summer Tian with Chermoula – Harvest & Honey
While I didn’t make exactly this, I made something extremely similar to this, and while it was gorgeous, it was also hard to serve.

Sweet & Savory Korean Rice Cakes – Blue Apron
This was interesting! I didn’t know what to expect from the Korean rice cakes, so it was a nice opportunity to try an ingredient we never would have worked with on our own.

Cod & Tomatillo Salsa with Summer Squash & Sweet Potato Hash – Blue Apron
While we eat fish, we rarely buy it, so this was a nice treat – an easy fish dish complemented by a really nice vegetable hash. N doesn’t tend to like sweet potatoes, but he liked these!

Sesame Soba Noodles with Gai Lan, Mushrooms, & Ginger Lime Peanuts – Blue Apron
A nice stir fry, but nothing to write home about. This dish sort of exemplifies my dissatisfaction with Blue Apron – the meals are generally good, but definitely not worth the $10 per-portion cost.

Blueberry Cardamom Chia Pudding – My New Roots
This was nice, but the volume did not work with our Vitamix. Alas.

Chilled Hiyashi Chuka Ramen – Blue Apron
This Blue Apron meal was a solid dud. The noodles were stuck together. The eggs popped while boiling. My attempt to make sesame mushrooms with $1 bag produce only sort of worked.

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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.

January Eats

One of my resolutions was to try four new recipes each month. Here’s what I tried:

1. 1 Pot Kale Sweet Potato Curry – Minimalist Baker
We used to eat a lot of curry, but after two bouts of food poisoning from curry in two years (once at home, once at a restaurant in Antwerp), it’s been out of rotation for awhile. We had everything on hand, though, so I tentatively suggested this for dinner last week, and oh, I’m so glad I did. I substituted butternut squash for the sweet potato and served it over quinoa – and we ate the entire thing. The toddler finished his and asked (repeatedly) for more cubes. N liked it enough that he suggested we make it again two days later. It was equally good over brown rice, and with twice as much curry as I initially used. We’ll definitely be making this again.

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2. Coconut Lentils – Budget Bytes I kicked off the year with a very strict diet after the indulgent holiday season – a week or so of no animal products, grains, artificial sweeteners, or alcohol. I like doing this from time to time in order to reset my habits (and my cravings) – I also find that it helps me get back in the swing of meal planning and cooking, very necessary steps especially when I eat at least one meal per day away from home. I made a big batch of these lentils for a week’s worth of lunches on a Sunday night. My kitchen smelled heavenly – but unfortunately they were really bland on their own, and by day two, I felt sad eating my bowl of porridge. I will make these again, but not as a main dish.

3. The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread – My New Roots I am madly in love with the My New Roots cookbook, and was excited to try this grain-free “bread”. It’s loaded with nuts and seeds and fiber – all good things, right? Except that it came out of the pan sticky, dense, and not really sliceable – and then sat in our bellies like a brick, which is what it also resembled. The LCLOB was apparently the recipe that launched the MNR blog into the stratosphere – but I would assert that it is neither life-changing, nor a loaf, nor really bread. The toddler liked it, but we stuck the rest in the fridge to feed to the squirrels.

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4. Spicy Spaghetti Squash with Black Beans
This was another serendipitous recipe that used up a lot of things that we had on hand. We didn’t go for the full in-the-squash presentation – not terribly practical when you’re serving three – but no one seemed to mind. This is another definite rerun.

Spicy spaghetti squash

5. Indian Spiced Cauliflower Soup – Smitten Kitchen
I love cauliflower, and we all love Indian food, but I have to say that the strictly vegan version of this recipe was a little eh. The toddler and I had yogurt in ours which improved the flavor, but something was still off. Maybe it was too watery? We liked it enough to try it again, but not immediately.

6. Really, though, the big winner this month was the smoothie bowl, especially now that we have a fabulous (refurbished) Vitamix to do our bidding.

1/3/17 Green smoothie bowl 1/4/17 Pumpkin pie smoothie bowl

1/5/17 Eating the rainbow smoothie bowl 1/9/17 Froyo smoothie bowl

2017 Resolutions

1. Eliminate credit card debt.

Debt elimination has been a rolling goal for the last few years. I keep saying that this feels realistic, and then it keeps not happening. Last year I knocked out my student loan. This year the credit card debt has got to go.

2. Take action every week.

We all need to do all of the small and large things we can do to keep our country (or state or city or neighborhood) moving forward. I was stuck in terrible gridlock this morning (20 minutes to travel 20 miles), so I used the time to make (hands’ free!) calls to elected officials about House Republicans’ attempts to hobble the Office of Congressional Ethics.

3. Finish Brain Pickings book club list.

Along with a couple of friends, I’m making a book club out of the 2016 favorites list from Brain Pickings. First up: Hidden Figures.

4. Incorporate professional development into my schedule.

Attending a couple of conferences each year isn’t enough. I need to find ways to stretch and grow professionally every week.

5. Finish weaning.

I’m not in a hurry to do this – I’ve always said that I’ll be guided by the toddler’s needs and development – but it’s time to start the process.

6. PR at any distance.

I came really close to knocking out both a 5K and half PR in last year’s Illinois races. If I can make strength training and speedwork happen, I think this is feasible.

7. More regular visits with family.

It did my heart good to see the toddler interacting with his grandparents and cousins over the holidays and during our visit to Belgium in the fall. While we don’t expect to get to Belgium this year, we can get out to Rockford (and Michigan and Iowa) more often.

8. At least two blog posts/month.

This seems pretty straight forward.

9. Try at least four new recipes/month.

This should be relatively easy as well.

10. Make time for monthly dates.

This is hard but important, especially with a toddler! But we need to make it happen.

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?

I’m A Cleanse Quitter

quitter
Photo by hellojenuine

So hey, I quit the cleanse. I’m officially a quitter. And I’m OK with that.

When I quit smoking in 2005, it actually wasn’t that difficult. I was sick as hell for two weeks at the end of the semester, and I figured that if I’d gone that long without smoking (or doing much of anything aside from lying on the couch and watching TV from Netflix), I could stick it out through the holidays. And once I’d made it that long, I was done. I’ll have a cigarette now and then, but I’ve stayed quit.

I reached a similar turning point in this whole cleanse business yesterday. In week two, I added back beans, soy, and seafood. I made several delicious meals. And I felt terrible. Like, really terrible. Canceling plans, not going to yoga, lying on the floor with a heating pad terrible.

Part of this was to be expected. After all, part of cleansing is ridding your body of the bad stuff that has accumulated. But after a week, give or take, of that, I’m ready to throw in the towel. I’m OK with making inconvenient changes. I’m not up for electing to do things that make me very uncomfortable. I mean, other than distance running, but at least in that case, I feel great before feeling really uncomfortable.

So today I’m calling it quits and starting to reintroduce dairy, eggs, meat, and whole grains. I’m going to keep eating hella veg. I’m going to do my best to continue avoiding sugar and processed foods since hello, that’s a good idea anyway. I’m glad I tried it, and am equally glad to be done.

Some thoughts in parting:

  • I’m surprised that the WLAP didn’t include any guidelines on caloric intake. I would wager that most people need more than 200 calories of juice to get started in the morning, especially if you’re used to eating a full breakfast. I struggled the first few days because the recommended meals were so light – if the menu was followed explicitly and with no snacks, you’d be taking in less than 1000 calories.
  • I’m also surprised that the WLAP didn’t emphasize – or even mention – fermented foods, which are very good for you for a variety of reasons. I strongly suspect that one of the reasons I had digestive problems was that I generally have (plain, unsweetened Greek) yogurt every day, and eliminating it from my diet meant eliminating my primary source of beneficial bacteria for 2+ weeks.
  • I am newly infatuated with tahini, miso paste, and Marcona almonds.
  • I have a newfound respect for vegans and other friends with dietary restrictions. It’s really, really hard, and you guys are awesome for making it work by choice or by necessity.
  • Here is some green juice:
    Day 7: Green juice

On Cleansing

May is all about getting my shit in order after six months of chaos. Between job hunting, moving, moving, teaching, job hunting, leaving my job, moving, moving, starting a new job, and other things that I will talk about eventually, my day-to-day life has lost all sense of order. An important part of fixing this is getting my diet in order – and getting my ass back in the kitchen after months and months and months of not cooking.

The Whole Living Action Plan seemed like a good way to kill a few birds with one stone: get my food stuff under control, eliminate foods that might be causing me trouble anyway, and help my body bounce back from a few months of abuse. I started on Monday, and will continue with it for two more weeks.

Biscuits & Gravy
Everything in this photo is forbidden. Including the silverware.

Week One (right now): no dairy, eggs, meat, seafood, animal fats, beans, soy, grains, gluten, processed food or beverages, or added sugar. I’m also not supposed to be having caffeine or alcohol, oops, so I’m enjoying the latter in moderation, and the former at the normal rate of consumption.
Week Two: add back seafood, beans, lentils and soy.
Week Three: eggs and gluten-free grains, yum.

Some observations thus far:

  • Juicing is fun! And noisy! And messy! This week’s breakfasts are all about juice, and I’m very thankful for Steph‘s loan of her beast of a juicer. I’ve had carrot-grapefruit, beet-carrot-apple, and carrot-grapefruit-ginger. Tomorrow’s juice might involve mangoes.
  • Monday night I was so grumpy and hungry that I nearly started crying at Home Depot while trying to find the right bolts to mount my new Illinois license plates.
  • Man, I really don’t like drinking water. And I really need to drink a lot of water or else I get headachey and dizzy and my contacts start behaving weirdly.
  • The monstrous headaches from Tuesday and Wednesday have finally subsided – only to be replaced by terrible abdominal cramping, which may be due to the cleanse, or may be due to the questionable avocado I ate Wednesday night after walking my bike 3 miles home after getting a flat on my first ride out of my neighborhood.
  • When I weighed myself yesterday morning, the scale claimed that I’d lost 7 pounds since Sunday. That isn’t actually physically possible, and is a good lesson in why you shouldn’t weigh yourself every day. Today showed a much more reasonable 4 pounds, most of which is probably water weight from pre and post-race carbs.
  • If you eat a lot of beets, your pee might turn pink. Apparently this is less common than I realized.
  • I appreciate that the meals were built around produce that is readily available in the winter – citrus, root veg, and dark greens – though I think the menu would be more fun in the summer.
  • I feel like a giant pain whenever I try to order something at a restaurant. Next week should be easier.
  • Running has been OK but not great. I had to walk a little on Wednesday, but was fine this morning. I couldn’t do this while training, which is another reason it’s perfect for May.

Foods I have been craving like nobody’s business:

  • Ice cream, but that’s pretty normal.
  • Cheeseburgers.
  • Pizza, especially after reading this post.

Five days (almost) down, sixteen to go. And then maybe I need to see a man about one of those burgers at Kuma’s Corner.