Category Archives: Food

bring to a boil

Worries go down better with soup.
~ Jewish proverb

Since the election, I’ve been attending our nearby UU church more regularly. (It’s helping.) The Girl also has been getting more involved with the teen youth group. For both of us, being among people who believe in the principles of acceptance, love, justice, equality, dignity and peace is providing some much needed sustenance during this tumultuous time.

On Sunday, The Girl and I helped out with a soup sale to raise money to support the youth group’s activities. That’s a picture of their efforts above: nearly a dozen slow cookers and stock pots simmering with Moroccan Chickpea Spinach soup, Potato Corn Chowder, a lentil soup and (our contribution) a gluten-free vegetarian Pasta e Fagioli.

The symbolism of many single ingredients commingled together to make this selection of delicious soups–ones based on ethnic flavors that are centuries old and that have been consumed by people throughout history and generations and under tyrants and dictators of their own–resonated with me on a weekend when the Celebrity President extinguished the lamp and slammed our country’s once-golden but now tarnished door on innocent people who had gone through the arduous legal process to come to America. Not to mention people living here legally and who happened to have the misfortune to be traveling home from visiting family or burying loved ones when they learned they were no longer welcome in the place they call home.

As I ate a nourishing bowl of vegetable soup and watched the teens serving the congregants steaming bowls of pasta, broth, chicken and beans, I thought of the analogy of the United States being a melting pot.  The teens are a composite of different life experiences and personal histories, of genders and of ethnic backgrounds. They themselves are a collective melting pot.

Barbara Mikulski, the former Senator from Maryland, once said that America isn’t a melting pot but a sizzling cauldron. She said those words in a speech about immigration in 1970. Almost half a century later, her words seem especially apt.

The funds the teens raised from their soup sale will support their participation in several activities–events for them to understand others’ stories and perspectives and to participate in social justice volunteer efforts to make our community stronger. Ingredients for a sizzling cauldron of a society at its boiling point and one where these kids are among our best hope and sustenance for the years ahead.

 

 

Weekend Cooking: A Year of Food

 

I’m working on several Year In Review type posts and thought it would be fun to recap my Weekend Cooking posts and other highlights of 2016 in food.  If anything, it’s a way to remind me that there were some good things about this year (but not much).

Early in the year came the news that my favorite childhood bakery, Geiger’s in Northeast Philadelphia, was closing its doors. If there was ever a year that needed Geigers’ creme filled powdered doughnuts, 2016 was it. (Not that I could eat them anymore, but still.)

Both kids took a required cooking class in school (can I say how delighted I am that our school district requires this?) which led to them making some simple dinners on their own when they were unhappy with what I prepared. As a bonus, this class also gave me two nights off from making dinner, thanks to them having to plan and prepare a meal as a homework assignment.

Summer was all about the bounty of the farmer’s market (until the season ended in October), discovering the ease of overnight oats, and creating a gluten free bread salad. I gave quinoa a second chance and now, I can’t get enough of it (especially cold).  This Quinoa Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, Black Beans and Feta was perfect as a work lunch during the summer.

A friend from afar sent an incredibly generous food gift which we’re still enjoying and our next door neighbor shared his tomatoes with us.  Our backyard blueberry bushes produced enough berries for a Watermelon-Feta-Berry salad perfect for the Fourth of July and a Berry Banana Smoothie.  I tried to trim our food budget by identifying some possible homemade pantry items, like the Slow-Cooker Vegetable Broth I make occasionally — especially in fall for soups and sauteing vegetables.

Our financial situation this year prevented us from enjoying Pittsburgh’s dining scene as much as I would have liked, but I did have the chance to try two new (to me) establishments. After a Listen to Your Mother rehearsal this spring, our cast had a delicious dinner at Church Brew Works.  In the summer, a former coworker and I enjoyed drinks and appetizers at Sienna Mercato.

Given all the dreadful news that 2016 held, you’d think my wine consumption would have been off the charts this year. It wasn’t, but when I did imbibe, my electric wine opener proved essential — like when we returned from visiting family in Philly for several days only to find a broken refrigerator leaking all over the kitchen with hundreds of dollars of rotten food inside.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with family in Philly, complete with second helpings of gratitude and enough pie to make up for our scary Thanksgiving of 2015.  

Among the many piles of food-related books and cookbooks I checked out from the library, I reviewed these:

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Whiskey, Etc., short (short) stories, by Sherrie Flick

Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Stop Pain, and Reverse the Path to Diabetes, by Richard P. Jacoby, DPM and Racquel Baldelomar

Carb Conscious Vegetarian
by Robin Robertson

In regard to the last two, I made some lifestyle changes related to my doctor giving me six months to lower my cholesterol and triglycerides, and this year I became one of those people who track every calorie and carb with My Fitness Pal.  I need to get back on track with MFP but at this point, maybe that’s something best saved for 2017.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads (who, as a coincidence, has a similar retrospective post up today) and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

Second Helpings

Before this tumultuous year, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas were already emotionally-charged holidays for me and The Husband.  A lifetime ago, we got engaged during Thanksgiving week. After years of infertility, our twins were born on Thanksgiving Day in a scenario straight out of a Hallmark movie:  twins, Thanksgiving Day, the most incredible gift you could ever imagine.

And then, exactly one year ago today on Thanksgiving Day 2015, The Husband collapsed in the middle of dinner. We hadn’t even brought out the pie. I found him barely conscious in the bathroom and performed CPR right there on the floor. Dessert was replaced by a rush of paramedics, police, tears and two hospitals before 10 p.m.

Thankfully, he survived this unexpected (and somewhat still unexplained) event; it goes without saying that this year — not to mention the rest of our lives — would have been extremely different if he hadn’t.  Grateful is an understatement. In the face of some significant losses and challenges, we still have each other. That counts for something (a lot, actually).

Nonetheless, there was a push-pull effect to this particular Thanksgiving.  Stay home or spend the holiday with family in Philly?  Part of me felt like sheltering in place after the past 17 days since the election. The appeal and comfort of home far outweighed the prospect of politically-charged dinnertime conversations awaiting us on the opposite side of the state.

At the same time, I didn’t want to be home with the ghosts of last Thanksgiving sitting at the table.

We decided to do a quick trip to Philly — less than 48 hours in duration, with 12 of those spent driving. Some close relatives have had medical scares in the past month, and this would be an opportunity to spend some time with them. As if we needed any reminding, life doesn’t come with guarantees. Take nothing and no one for granted.

At a rest stop in the middle of Tr*mpland, we instructed the children that there were only two acceptable topics of conversation for this visit (and probably every other visit thereafter):  The Weather and How Is School Going?.

“What if [insert name of relative who likely voted differently than us] asks us about the election?” The Girl asked, a bit worriedly.

“You say, ‘on the advice of counsel, I decline to answer the question,'” The Husband replied, prompting a discussion of the Fifth Amendment, because that’s how we roll.

As it turned out, everyone behaved themselves as best as possible. No politics were discussed. Instead, we celebrated the kids’ birthdays (and a nephew’s) with both sets of grandparents. My sister-in-law made a delicious dinner. The cousins had a chance to hang out and laugh and reconnect with each other, reminiscent of the kind of holidays The Husband and I remember as children with our own cousins. It was the first Thanksgiving our extended family spent together in six years.

And best of all?

Everyone had more than enough pie.

thanksgiving-dessert-table-2016

 

Weekend Cooking: Season’s End

farmers-market-10-29-2016It’s the last day of the farmers market season and because she isn’t able to pick up her weekly CSA share, my generous coworker has gifted me with her box of produce. She’s done this before and I’m always grateful. I have a pretty strict limit on our family’s food budget these days and this will help stretch that.

I step out of the office and into the kind of bright blue, crisp autumn Friday where the weather almost seems out of sync with the end of the farmers market season. Not quite yet, the day seems to say. Still, the chill is a harbinger of the cold that awaits us; in the gray of a Pittsburgh winter to come, this same mid-50 degree afternoon will be balmy enough to seduce a few hardy students to shed their Pitt and Carnegie Mellon sweats in favor of beach attire to sunbathe on Schenley Plaza.

I exchange a spaghetti squash for two onions, as I decide if our as-yet-to-be-determined weekly menu requires more than the butternut squash, apples, carrots, kale, lettuce, sweet peppers, garlic, and Italian parsley I’m carrying. (It doesn’t.)

I thank the woman behind the stall for a great season.

“Enjoy your winter,” she says, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

I wish her the same and I leave, savoring the crunch of the leaves as I go.

Winter, you can wait. I’m not ready.

Not quite yet.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

Weekend Cooking: Slow-Cooker Vegetable Broth

vegetable-broth-crockpot-2

Autumn arrived this week, welcoming in another season of delicious soup. Starting on Labor Day weekend and continuing into the fall, winter, and early spring, I usually make a pot of soup every Sunday.  To me, nothing says fall like having football on TV (which we do, all day on Sundays from 9 a.m. until the end of the night game) with soup simmering in the kitchen — preferably in my Crock-Pot.

Soups can be hit-or-miss with the kids (The Girl is definitely not a fan), but served with some kind of sandwich/burger and perhaps a salad, it’s an easy meal with something everyone in this family likes.

(If not, they can make a bowl of cereal.)

I decided to kick off this year’s soup season by making slow-cooked vegetable broth, which I tried for the first time last winter. (Like most of us, I kept telling myself I really needed to do this.).  I keep a gallon-sized bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer. Whenever I’m chopping vegetables, I place the bag in the sink next to me and toss in the tops of bell peppers, slivers of onion, tips of garlic cloves, stems of mushrooms, stalks of broccoli, even gnawed cobs from summer corn. Same with wilted vegetables or ones nearing (or just past) their prime.  It all goes right into the bag and makes for easier clean up.

When the bag gets full, I simply dump everything into the Crock-Pot, cover with water, season with salt, pepper, a bay leaf or two, and some basil, oregano, parsley, etc.  (This is a good way to use up a bit of dried herbs lingering in the jar.)

It usually looks something like this (there’s more spinach than usual since I happened to have a decent amount in the fridge that we hadn’t used during the week):

vegetable-broth-crockpot

In addition to the spinach, this contained zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, green beans, riced cauliflower, a broccoli stalk, onions, garlic and corn on the cob.

I set the Crock-Pot on low for about 9 hours and left it alone.  Then, I lined a colander with paper towels, set it over a medium-sized bowl, and strained the broth into the bowl, discarding the vegetables. (I suppose those of you who garden could use the vegetable scraps for compost.)

The result? About 6 cups of broth, more than you get in the ready-to-use boxes found in the grocery store. Although they’re not that expensive, making your own is a simple way to save a few dollars and with less sodium, etc.

vegetable-broth-crockpot-2

I kept several cups in the fridge for a minestrone that I made the next day and the rest was frozen in ice cube trays. I’ll use a cube or two in place of oil when sauteeing vegetables or in recipes that require a small amount of broth.

Do you make — or have you tried making — your own vegetable broth?  (Also, if you’re curious about the difference between broth and stock, as I was when titling this post, the latter is usually made with bones. I guess it’s possible, then, to have vegetable stock but not vegetarian stock.) 

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

sunday salon/currently… 9/18/2016

Sunday Salon bannerHaving a lazy Sunday today.  I had all good intentions of going the park for a walk/run this morning before the humidity became too oppressive but I woke up feeling blah. Nothing major, just a slight headache and minor stomach woes. It the sort of day where the weather can’t make up its mind: in the course of my writing this paragraph, it has been cloudy, then raining, and now it is brilliant sunshine.  (And 20 miles away at the Steelers game, it was a monsoon.)

Reading/Listening … 
My commute has been rather maddening recently, thanks to a ridiculous amount of construction going on in this town and the hell that is the (now indefinite) closure of the Liberty Bridge. Being that this is the City of Bridges with more than 400 of ’em, you would think one being shut down wouldn’t be a big deal, right? Not quite. This is a major bridge, traveled by 55,000 people each day. I’m not one of them, but if you need to go anywhere in the vicinity of the Liberty Bridge, you’re feeling the pain of some miserable drives. Such times are when and podcasts and audiobooks become your best friend.

being-mortal

This week I started and finished listening to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I thought this was an excellent narrative about the many ways our society approaches the end of life. As a physician, Gawande knows firsthand how medicine offers unprecedented possibilities for extending one’s life, no matter what the cost. But that cost can be physically, mentally, and financially significant, and our society still doesn’t have a strong enough support system and options that allow people to age in place.  As a result, the burden on people is tremendous. Gawande illustrates this by sharing the experiences of his patients and family members, and the result is a thoughtful reflection of how we treat the sick and the dying.

Cooking
The Girl and I were out all day yesterday, so I made Salsa Chicken (from Make It Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea) in the crockpot for dinner. (Because nobody in this house can eat the same thing, The Husband had leftover burritos and rice, and I had a quinoa bowl with tomatoes, corn, black beans and feta.)

While that was cooking, I had a second crockpot going. I keep a bag in the freezer of vegetable odds and ends — tops of bell peppers and onions, gnawed corn cobs, broccoli stalks, ends of string beans, and veggies nearing the end of their prime. When the bag gets full, I dump everything into the crockpot, cover with water, toss in some garlic and spices (basil, oregano, salt, pepper) and simmer for the entire day.  It makes a vegetable broth with much less sodium than commercial brands. I typically freeze this into ice cubes and use the broth for sauteing. Tonight I made minestrone soup and was glad I had the required four cups of broth ready to go.

Writing
I applied for a writing fellowship this week. Might be a bit of a long shot, but one never knows. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Running
On Thursday I started Week 2 of Couch to 5K. So far, so good!  I keep promising a longer post about this, I know. Maybe later this week.

Weekend Cooking: Home Cooking (97/99)

Weekend Cooking - New

A few weeks ago, our Weekend Cooking host extraordinaire Beth Fish Reads posted about food items that we make at home versus those bought in the store.  I’m on a two-fold quest to pare down our grocery bill as much as possible while trying to eat (and serve the family) less processed foods.

As I write this, I have a vegetarian taco meat mixture in the crockpot (lentils and quinoa) that I’m hoping will be an occasional replacement for Beyond Meat, which our family loves but (like most meat substitutes) is pricey. The recipe also called for taco seasoning, something I don’t typically use, but this recipe seemed like one that might benefit from it. Fortunately, the cookbook I’m using had one with all the spices I had on hand.

When thinking about what I currently make from scratch, I realized the list isn’t very extensive:

Guacamole – Mine isn’t real guac (like Beth Fish’s recipe) but instead just smashed avocado and tomato sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt. Since I’m the only person in the house who eats it, this works fine.

Vegetable Broth/Stock – I started doing this last winter, saving up scraps of vegetables and freezing them in a big bag. It’s especially easy in the crockpot — just dump in your bag of frozen veggies, add enough water to cover them, toss in a bay leaf or two and maybe some parsley, and cook it on low for the whole day. I think I let mine simmer for at least eight hours. Making broth is on my agenda this weekend so I can get a head start on all the soups awaiting us this fall.  (I tend to make a big pot on Sundays in autumn. One of my favorite things about this season is football on TV and a crockpot simmering away in the kitchen.)

Chicken Tenders – For the same price (or less) than a box of chicken tenders, you can make your own. They’re also much less processed. I coat mine with egg and breadcrumbs (with some parmesan cheese sprinkled in) and try to make enough to have leftovers during the week. That never happens because the kids always devour them.

Marinara Sauce – I haven’t made marinara sauce for awhile, but I need to do so more often. This recipe for making marinara sauce in the crockpot was one that we really liked.

Muffins – I’m not much of a baker, but I do like homemade muffins. More importantly, the kids do, too. Banana Chocolate Chip seem to be popular and there was a pumpkin muffin several years ago that was well-received. Our oven hasn’t been preheating properly and I’ve been putting off getting it looked at, especially since we don’t use it much during the summer months.  I’ve seen some recipes where you can bake quick breads and such in the crockpot using a small loaf pan, but that makes me nervous.  If you’ve tried that with good results, let me know.

Other items I’d like to start making include hummus, pancakes and egg muffins. There are probably many others but those are all I can think of right now. What about you?  What do you make from scratch versus buying at the store?

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #97 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.