Category Archives: Fruits and Veggies

Gluten Free Trial

In the past year I’ve had two surgeries, the second of which laid me up for two months with absolutely no exercise allowed.  These two months happened to oh-so-conveniently coincide with Thanksgiving and Christmas, the marathon eating season for this particular food enthusiast.  I ate pretty much whatever I wanted with abandon and, even now 3.5 months later, I am paying for it to the tune of 15-20 pounds of excess weight.

Needless to say, I’m trying to lose weight, but I’m also on a constant journey to change to a healthier lifestyle without giving up delicious food that delights me.  This doesn’t mean that I’m trying to live life eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints every night and deluding myself that I can still lose weight. This means that I’m trying to find new foods that actually satisfy my taste buds but aren’t going to ruin my waistline, my heart, my pancreas and my brain.  I’m trying to have it all, essentially.  Yeah, you guessed it – I’m a millennial.  But an OLD and GRUMPY one who does not like being compared to the characters on Girls.  Just a warning.

Frankly, I am not generally a “well” person , especially for a 30-year-old.  I never feel good.  If I’m not suffering from embarrassing gas attacks due to gallstones, it’s a migraine, a sore shoulder, heart palpitations, acid reflux, general fatigue.  It’s sort of pathetic.  But I’ve been aggressively seeking medical attention to figure this out, and currently I’m tackling my migraines, which I’ve been suffering from for 12 years!

After undergoing lots of treatment including physical therapy and a sleep study, my doctor is able to conclude two things: my migraines occur when I’m stressed, when I tend to clench my right shoulder which is pinching my occipital nerve, and that I am mildly narcoleptic.  You read that right – narcoleptic.  My headache specialist kindly termed it as “a sleepy brain.”  It is oddly satisfying to know my love of sleeping late is not due to laziness, but the term narcolepsy definitely wasn’t what I was expecting…

We talked about a lot of different pills I could try to reduce stress or stimulate my brain, but I told her I’d really like to try to reduce stress manually instead and she was in full support of that.  So she suggested I try 3 things in the meantime: a magnesium lotion, more exercise, and a gluten-free diet.  Sigh.  Thank god I’ve had my gallbladder removed so I can still eat cheese.

And that is the beginning of a journey I have vowed to embark upon: going gluten-free for a solid month.  I know there’s a lot of debate about this in the news and in medical communities and I don’t necessarily believe in it.  But see the paragraph above – I never feel good.  If this could help me join the land of adult humans who function correctly then, what the hell, I’ll try it.  Geez, I’m so mature at 30!

My goal is to do this for a month and record how I am feeling.  Then introduce gluten-type foods into my diet when I am occasionally indulging (there’s no way I’m giving up cookies for good, people!) and see how that affects me.  And the increase in exercise.  Like WHOA increasing my exercise.  But that’s a year-long goal I’ve been doing pretty good with – my goal is to be able to keep up, speed-wise, with my boyfriend who has been running 5 miles a day for the past 5 years by December 31, 2015.  We’ll see. 😉

Anyways, this month is also a very stressful one for me, so I think it’s a great time to test if removing gluten from my diet has a positive effect on me – I predict a lot of right shoulder clenching.  I’m an event planner and I am on the core team planning a 1,200-person conference at the beginning of May, followed by an 800-person conference in the beginning of June.  It will be hard to fit my exercise in, though I’ll be doing my darndest, and I’ll be travelling, likely lacking optimal sleep, and working a lot of long days where food can often be an afterthought – grabbing a roll off the buffet before they close it down and running off to the next thing.  Well, rolls aren’t exactly an option for me, are they?  I hope this will present lots of opportunities to talk about my successes and failures in gluten-free eating when in these kinds of situations.

Because of the busy month, I won’t be updating this blog every day, but I will try to post on social media every day with any interesting tidbits I may have.  You can follow me on Facebook, InstagramTwitter, and Google+.

My very first substitution attempt: replacing the breadcrumbs in this favorite Alton Brown roasted broccoli recipe with slivered almonds.  Dare I say – I think it actually tastes better.  I also added some smoked paprika, which makes everything awesome.  This won’t be so hard… right?

Let’s see what all the fuss is about, shall we?

 

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GUEST POST: My CSA Year, or, How I Learned to Tolerate Cabbage

The dead of winter may cause cravings for the fresh produce bounties of spring and summer.  Community Supported Agriculture farms know this, which is why the time is ripe (get it?!) to consider signing up for a CSA box.

Friend of Amateur Hour and all-around awesome person Lili Daniel details her experience with a CSA in a DINK (dual-income, no kids) household.

You can find more of Lili’s musing at http://ellegolightly.tumblr.com.

As I gear up for 2015 and reflect back on all the ups and downs of 2014, I realize that in the past twelve months, I crossed a massive to-do off my food related bucket list.  I got incredibly adventurous with my diet.  I ate local and supported small business and farms.  And I learned a lot about freezing food, preserving produce, and stretching leftovers into lunches and new meals.

How did I achieve all this?  By necessity – I bought a half-share of a CSA.

Now, all of the readers of this fine blog are inevitably foodies, but in case you live where this is not the cultural phenomenon it’s become in yuppie New Jersey, CSA stands for community supported (or shared) agriculture.  What it means, basically, is that a farm is offering shares like stock options to local people who want to support it.  The people who buy those shares are then called “members” of the CSA, and on a regular basis – usually once a week – the farm prepares a box of produce for each member.  The members of the CSA then go to a pickup place, often the farm, to get the box.

The biggest question mark with a CSA is that not only do you only get things that are in season and presently being grown by the farm, you do not get to choose what’s in your particular box in most cases.  (My CSA did offer an option of going to the farm and “choosing” your produce, but even that only involved a choice of two veggies and the rest of the box that the membership received that week.)  So if you don’t like a certain veggie, and your farm is having a boon of that crop this season, looks like you have to find a way to love it or sell it on the black market.

I’m kidding, unless there IS a black market for vegetables, in which case I’ll sell a kidney to get some heirloom tomatoes right now.

My journey being a CSA member began in April, when I got my tax refund check and frantically emailed a local farm (of which there are many – this is the Garden State, after all) to see if there were still shares available.  Note to all: if you want to join a CSA, believe it or not, the dead of winter is the time to buy a share.  People become loyal to certain farms and space becomes very limited.  Luckily, there were still a handful of slots available, and I bit the bullet and sent them over $399 of my hard-earned tax refund.

This is another big thing to keep in mind with a CSA – it’s not cheap!  Which makes sense, because you get months of produce that are prepaid, but don’t do this if you’re not going to eat all or most of the things you receive.  A full share of my farm was $750, and it was one of the cheaper ones in the area.  That was recommended for a family of 4-5 or two families to split, so I figured the half share, at $399 for the season, was more than enough for me and my veggie-loathing fiance.  When you broke down the price for what they anticipated to provide each week, it came to $15 a box, which was the amount I usually spend on produce in the grocery store anyway.  So I viewed it as an investment.  Especially considering that the farm anticipated its season going from May through October.  All those months of summer veggies PLUS the bounty of squash during the fall??  Sign me up.  Literally.

But the question I’m sure most of you ACTUALLY want to know: how was the produce?

IMG_0750The season started in late May with beautiful strawberries, fresh herbs, and greens.  Greens as far as the eye could see.  Unique greens that I never would have purchased – baby bok choy, lacinato kale, that lovely purple-tipped soft lettuce that comes in salad packs.  I am a fan of salad greens with a lot of taste but not a ton of crunch, so this was a good first week to pull me in and keep me hooked.  Summer continued with more strawberries, including a delightful pick-your-own session at the farm that yielded so many that I chopped and froze at least a quart.  I also got blueberries, tomatoes, carrots, and an absolute plethora of unique greens.  So many delicious fresh salads were consumed.

When the peak of summer hit, in late June or early July, the zucchini started coming – and continued coming.  I love zucchini, but I unfortunately did not find a way to prepare it that my fiance did not hate, so I had a lot of veggie stir-fry lunches at home.  A real lot.  An embarrassing amount.  Also included at this time were green beans, broccoli (although the crop had suffered from the harsh winter, so it was not a lot of broccoli), cauliflower, more salad greens and herbs, radicchio, leeks, radishes, cabbage, and spinach.  Turns out I don’t love radishes, but the fiance actually does, so at least they got eaten.

Late summer brought much more summer squash, along with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, scallions, massive eggplants, more cabbage, the beginnings of beets and root vegetables, snap beans, and bell peppers that I could eat like an apple.  This was my favorite time of the whole season.  My box every week was overflowing with vibrant, tasty things, and I felt slightly overwhelmed just unpacking it each week.

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That is the box from one week, taking up the vast majority of my counter.  On the side there, partially in frame, is a whole watermelon that was sitting outside the box for every single member.  This happened multiple times during the summer.  An entire watermelon.  The mighty struggle to get to my car with my half share box and a watermelon precariously balanced on top was, probably, the stuff of which YouTube celebrity is made.

As fall settled in, the watermelon and peppers were ushered out in favor of sweet potatoes, shallots, beets, cherry tomatoes, and heartier greens like collards and the return of kale.  I knew it had actually become fall when I got the email that outside my box would be a pumpkin.  Then a spaghetti squash (far and away the best squash!)  Then acorn squash – and I was implored to take two of them.  It was a Squash 101 seminar, in the best of ways.  I was still, inexplicably, receiving cabbage, which I was direly sick of at this point, but I was also receiving bagged spring mix and arugula which were insanely delicious.  I had no idea arugula was a fall harvest but I was incredibly glad for it.  It’s by far my favorite salad green and it was worth the wait.

The season didn’t tail off until the week before Thanksgiving, thanks to the relatively mild fall.  By November, the tomatoes had finally ended (they continued far later into the season than I had anticipated), but sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts had made an appearance, as well as the return of a lot of early season crops like carrots and cauliflower and leeks.  I was legitimately sad picking up my last box, except when I opened it and saw one final head of cabbage.  I wanted to yell, Austin Powers-style at it, “WHY WON’T YOU DIE?”

So what did I learn from my CSA season?  Well, first off, it was definitely worth the monetary investment.  According to my calculation, my $399 investment bought me 26 weeks of CSA boxes, or a solid half of the year.  That breaks down to $15.35 a box, which was absolutely worth it.  It gave me a glowing do-gooder feeling to have spent a chunk of my money on a local farm.  My grocery bill was reduced significantly over the course of the season, mainly because I wouldn’t buy veggies for sides with dinner or for my lunches – I’d use what the box had provided that week.

That brings me to my biggest lesson: I learned SO much about vegetables. I was well-versed in arugula salads and roasted Brussels sprouts and sauteed green beans, but I’d never cooked a collard green or a leek in my life before I got this box.  Now, I still think fondly about the roasted leek soup I made on a whim back in September, and I miss my easy lunches of braised collards with turkey sausage and a fried egg on top.  By necessity, I found a billion ways to make cabbage, including as the cups on lettuce wrap-style fajitas, cut into steaks and grilled (don’t knock it until you try it, it’s surprisingly good), and shredded fine into a thousand different slaws.  And it wasn’t until the end of the year, on what was probably my 670th head of cabbage, that I got sick of it.  That’s impressive.  I learned about garlic scapes, and swiss chard, and so many other vegetables that I don’t even remember them all.  I made so much new delicious food.

I also got the hang of prepping veggies ahead of time, also by necessity.  Beets and root veggies?  Chop ‘em, toss with oil, throw on pan, roast!  Ready for lunches.  Carrots and peppers?  Wash ahead of time, peel carrots, chop and throw into containers for snacks!  I ended up making time on the Saturdays after I got the box (or Sunday, if things were busy) to deal in some way with all the veggies I’d just received.

In the interest of presenting the full spectrum of CSA emotions, however, there were a few drawbacks.  The prepwork for my box took up a lot of time, and I frequently would spend 2-3 hours on a Saturday chopping and roasting and washing (there’s a LOT of washing to do with organic farm produce) and then subsequently washing the knives and salad spinner and cutting boards.  I could have amortized this over the week, but I found that the less work I have to do on a Tuesday night to make my Wednesday lunch, the better.  Along those lines, the half share was still a lot for two people, and we threw out more than I’d care to admit.  Especially in the winter, when a potato can go from “fine” to “dear God get it away from me it’s developing a brain” seemly in ten minutes.  And that was with sharing our unwanted veggies and giving away two of our weekly boxes – and altogether forgetting a late-season box on a Saturday morning, which was maddening.  Fresh organic stuff just goes bad more quickly.  Better for your body, worse for your fridge.

Furthermore, while I liked the variety and the mystery, it was at times annoying that I would just feel like some roasted green beans but instead I had salad greens for the eighth week straight.  Or tomatoes.  I never thought I’d get sick of tomatoes, but after the summer of receiving about three pounds of tomatoes a week, and being the only person in my household that eats them… I needed a breather.  There were definitely times where I said to myself, “I know for a fact that ____ is in season and I really wish I had some of that right now instead of MORE CABBAGE.”  You are at the mercy of your farm, and their luck in growing crops this year, so you take what you get and like it and don’t complain.

Overall, I’m still on the fence about whether or not I’ll become a member of my farm again this year.  I felt great about making an investment in local agriculture and eating fresh Jersey vegetables all year, but I felt guilty and weird about eventually coming to hate swiss chard and throwing out entire bags of vegetables that we just didn’t have time to eat.  It might be better, for my household with two people (one of whom is an incredibly picky eater), to just make a habit of going to the farmer’s market every Saturday and getting a couple of seasonal items instead of getting a cornucopia delivered once a week.

My 2014, though, was definitely enhanced by my CSA.  And until I decide about 2015, you can find me here, wrapped in a blanket scarf at my desk and waiting patiently for collard greens to come back into season.  My sincere thanks to Bonnie for letting me share my story, and for having a fabulous blog that has inspired many a veggie-laden dinner for my CSA bounty!

You can find more of Lili’s musing at http://ellegolightly.tumblr.com.

Caesar Crusted Chicken with Roasted Romaine

If you make a recipe 4 weeks in a row, it’s time to share it with the world.

James and I have been really into roasting for the past few months.  We’re a busy couple of kids and looking to maximize our time, so roasting can come in handy: you prep the ingredients, put them in the oven and then you have time to clean up and set the table and all that good stuff.  Plus, roasting makes food taste delicious!

So when I came upon this recipe on Bon Appetit, I was rather intrigued and it did not disappoint.  First of all, it taught me that I don’t always need to  go through the flour-egg-breading process – this recipe has you mix together a breading and pat it on top of the chicken before it goes into the oven.  That’s it.

Secondly, grilling hearts of romaine has been trendy for years now but I’ve never tried it – mainly because I don’t have a grill.  I was delighted to see that you can roast romaine at a high heat for the same effect.  It’s incredibly easy, very quick and tastes amazing – it completely changes the romaine into an entirely new experience:  crunchy but with the satisfying flavors of a sauteed green.

The original recipe uses a lot of flavors you’d find it a Caesar salad (hence the name) including anchovies – but I’ve omitted them.  They really gross me out.  If you’re into them, go ahead and give them a try.  (The recipe added them to the romaine after it was baked.)

Caesar Crusted Chicken with Roasted Romaine

Ingredients:

  • 4 – 7 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano, plus extra for romaine
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs, plus extra for romaine
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons dried herbs de provence (parsley and thyme also worked well for us)
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 hearts of romaine (more, depending on your appetite – I can eat a whole romaine heart by myself)
  • garlic olive oil for drizzling
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF
  2. Mix together cheese, bread crumbs, olive oil, herbs de provence, and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper (remember, parmigiano is quite salty itself.)
  3. Arrange chicken breasts on a baking sheet.  Take a handful of breading and pat gently on top of the chicken breasts to ensure adhesion
  4. Bake chicken breasts for about 20 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165ºF
  5. Meanwhile, cut your romaine heads in half and arrange on a baking sheet
  6. Drizzle with garlic olive oil, sprinkle with bread crumbs, parmigiano, salt and pepper
  7. Bake romaine halves for 5 minutes.
  8. Squeeze lemon juice onto both chicken and romaine.  Enjoy!

Procedure with Pictures and Anecdotes

Cranking your oven up to 450ºF is the key to the speed of this recipe.  You want to keep an eye on your chicken, especially the first time you make the recipe.  I recommend checking the temperature every 5 minutes after you pass the first 10 minutes of cooking.  The temperature can go from under-cooked to overcooked very quickly.

I know in Buttermilk-Brined Chicken I said that I hated washing the garlic press and avoided using it, but I’ve come around.  We have a new garlic press that doesn’t take nearly as much effort for me to use and that won me over.  Also, this amazing little gadget that came with it – a silicone garlic peeler.  Usually I would smash a knife into the garlic clove to break it free of its skin, but this is so much more fun!  Insert the garlic cloves into the silicone tube, press down firmly and roll them on the counter.  Within seconds, perfectly peeled garlic gloves.  Washing it only takes a rinse with water – I totally recommend it!

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Patting the breading onto the chicken doesn’t seem instinctive, but its helped along by the fact that the breading is a little wet, from the olive oil and the fat in the cheese.  It helps stick together nicely.  As you can see in the pictures below, I cup my hand with the mixture, get my hand right next to the chicken breast and then quickly flip my hand over onto the chicken to coat.  Some of the breadcrumbs will fall off and that’s just fine.

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Cutting the romaine isn’t intuitive either.  The first time I tried it, I cut from the stem end of the heart, but I found starting in the middle actually worked better somehow.  The last time I made the recipe, I actually cut the stems off of the romaine once they were in the pan.  It’s easier to eat that way and, as long as you have some tongs to transport them from pan to plate, it shouldn’t cause any problems.

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I have found that reheating the romaine doesn’t work out great.  But since it takes so little time, I cook the romaine from scratch when reheating the chicken for leftovers.

And now some pictures of the finished product.  Look at how gorgeous the breading becomes!

DSC_0091DSC_0098The lemon is definitely makes the dish – do not leave it out!  I like using wedges because it’s easy – my juicer is kind of a production.  Also, looks very classy for a weeknight…

Hail Caesar!

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(For extra credit, we tried combining this chicken with our favorite stand-by recipe Roasted Chicken with Apples.  The results were delectable !  If you become obsessed with this recipe like me, give that rendition a whirl.)

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Holy Guacamole

While we’re on the subject of the wonders of dried herbs and spices, it’s only fitting that I discuss our “secret ingredient” Guacamole.

When I realized that I couldn’t eat cheese, James and I started making A TON of guacamole and putting it on everything you’d eat with cheese, mostly sandwiches.  Turkey burgers, shredded pork, tacos – guacamole was a staple.

After making the recipe in many different ways, we found some tricks that not only made our guacamole easy to throw together, but balanced the flavors perfectly.  The one secret was garlic powder instead of minced garlic.  If you’re not going to heat minced or pressed garlic, it can be extremely potent and make your breath heinous – not just while you’re eating it, but for days.  Using garlic powder gives the flavor without any of the bite, and in powdered form it can distribute evenly throughout the dip.

Our other secret ingredient?  Jarred Jalapenos instead of fresh.  These last a really long time in the refrigerator and can come sliced and even diced, although I’ve had a hard time finding the diced ones lately.  The jarred jalapenos still have lots of heat but you don’t need to worry about touching them with your bare hands – the capsaicin has been muted by the liquid in which they’re packed.

I can count the number of times I’ve seen James truly angry on both hands.  He is, 99% of the time, the most calm, reasonable and kind person I have ever met.  But one of the times I experienced his anger was, fortunately, not at me but at a fresh jalapeno.  We were making guacamole while dog-sitting for my sister, and we bought all the ingredients to make dinner while we were there.  James bought a fresh jalapeno and scraped the seeds out with his fingers, “like Bobby Flay does.”  Then… he rubbed his eye.

This is what you’d call “a lesson learned the hard way.”  James was in terrible pain and I’d never experienced something like this before.  So I hopped from one foot to the other anxiously crying “Oh James, I don’t know what to do.”  And one of the few times I’ve ever heard him shout, James yelled “GOOGLE IT!!! GOOGLE IT!!!”

Fortunately and unfortunately, it’s a common problem but most of the advice online tells you how to prevent the burn, not how to cure it – there’s actually very few ways to cure a capsaicin burn besides time.  To cool the burning, you can ice the skin you rubbed with capsaicin, but it will not solve your problem.   We were advised to wash his hands with just soap (without water) before rinsing – the soap will adhere to the capsaicin molecules, whereas just water will actually spread them more easily.  For terrible cases like James, his hands were literally burning for 24 hours.  We had to soak his hands in milk the next day.

Therefore – pickled jalepenos are the norm in our household.  But not only are they safer, they add the right amount of heat to our perfectly balanced guacamole.  It’s party, season, y’all, so keep this recipe handy.  Oh – and you’re welcome.

Bonnie and James' Perfect Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/4 cup red onion (1/2 half small onion), diced
  • 1 TBL jarred jalapeño, diced finely
  • 1-2 TBL of lime juice, to taste (we use 2)
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Procedure:

  1. Core avocado and scoop flesh into a bowl
  2. Dice your onion and jalapeno and add to avocado
  3. Add lime juice, garlic powder, and salt
  4. Using a fork, press down on the flesh of the avocado to achieve the desired texture.  We like ours very smooth, but I know preferences vary.
  5. Mix together all ingredients and taste, adjusting seasoning to taste as needed.
  6. Serve immediately.

Procedure with pictures and anecdotes

Ah, avocados – how I love them, even though they are probably the most frustrating fruit to buy and store.  Here’s some tricks I learned in my cheese-less days…

Picking avocados: A ripe avocado’s skin will be black, not brown.  Pick up the avocado and squeeze gently – it should yield to the pressure, but not feel mushy.  A hard avocado will not be ripe for another few days.  Finally, you’ll see at the stem end of the avocado that there’s a small nub, almost like a button.  This can be easily flicked out with a finger – if it’s a nice light green (not yellow), you’re good to go!

Cutting avocados: On a cutting board and using a chef’s knife, slice the avocado lengthwise – once the knife hits large pit, rotate the avocado so that you’ve sliced the flesh in half all the way around the fruit.  Put down your knife and twist each side of the fruit in opposite directions – this will separate each half so you can scoop out the flesh.20141019_165853  I like to use the heel of my knife to take the pit out of the avocado.  Fold a thick dish towel over several times and hold in your outstretched hand so that your skin is completely covered.  Place the half of the avocado with the pit into your towel-covered hand.  Place the heel of your knife on the pit and, with a very focused, deliberate motion, lodge your knife heel into the pit.  YOU DO NOT NEED A STRONG “WHACK” – remember, your hand is on the other side of that towel!  (For a good, quick video of this – check out CHOW’s video here.)20141019_165934Once lodged, grip the knife blade from the dull side and twist the avocado and knife in opposite directions.  The pit should easily dislodge from the flesh of the avocado.  Press the pit gently downward, again from the dull side of the knife, to slide off the blade.

Some people do not like using the knife method, which is perfectly fair – you are definitely driving a knife towards your hand.  Hence the towel.  You can also use a spoon to scoop the pit from the flesh – the riper your avocado, the easier this will be.  Not the cleanest method, but certainly safer.

To get the avocado flesh out of the skin, I usually slice the flesh while it’s still in the skin.  Again, using the towel-to-protect-your-hand method: make lengthwise cuts in the flesh and then widthwise cuts in the flesh to make a grid.  Use a spoon to circle around the flesh in the skin and then scoop out.

Storing guacamole: This is a tough one, and there’s a lot of theories of how to keep guacamole from browning on the internet.  My favorite is to lay plastic wrap directly on top of the guacamole, after smoothing it into an even layer.  This keeps the guac from having a lot of contact with oxygen in the air, which causes the browning.  This works well for about 24-hours, but sometimes there will  be a very thin layer of brown on the top of the guac.  I usually scrape this off before eating.  I’ve noticed that the longer you try to keep it, the farther down the brown will extend.  However – it doesn’t last long enough in my house to be much of a problem.

Granulated garlic: Looks like this!20141019_172344Use it for a myriad of possibilities in the kitchen.

Juicing a lime: If you’re using freshly squeezed lime juice, and you have weak little baby hands like me, here’s a few tips:

  1. Roll the whole, un-sliced lime on your cutting board to break down some of the fibers.
  2. Once sliced in half, poke holes in the flesh of the lime to help release the juices.
  3. You can use a reamer, but I find limes so difficult that sometimes I use the fork as a reamer instead, squeezing the lime around the fork to release the juice.  It may help to re-pierce the lime in several spots as you try this.20141019_171746

Using a fork to squash avocado:20141019_171342Happy Guacamole!20141019_172433

 

Butler’s Orchard Pumpkin Festival

October 9th is James’ birthday and we’re in the midst of the annual multi-celebrations for this special day.  That’s what happens when you’re as beloved as this gentleman.

In addition to having friends over for dinner, James and I had decided to go on a food adventure – apple-picking, which neither of us have done.  Unfortunately, the orchard we had decided to visit had already harvested all their apples by this weekend but was hosting a “Pumpkin Festival” throughout October, where both pumpkins and red raspberries could still be picked.  Knowing that there would probably be a lot of families there, we decided to go anyways.   We’re both children at heart and often find ourselves at family-friendly places like museums and zoos because a) they’re mostly free here in D.C. (thank you, Smithsonian!) and b) we love to learn.  We also find ourselves having many philosophical conversations about parenting.  Since we have 3 new babies in our families combined, we talk about babies and families and parenting a lot.  I guess not the worst thing in the world for two young adults considering having our own family someday.  (James is turning 29 and I’m about to be 30.  Are we young adults anymore?  …Please do not answer this rhetorical question….)

When we arrived, and paid our $11 per person, we found that while this festival was probably a highlight of the Fall for most children, there was not much we could do.20141004_143434

We did enjoy some delightful Fair food: James had a hot dog with BBQ beef on top and a lemonade big enough to swim in.  I’m experiencing some pretty intense acid reflux from my gallbladder removal, so I enjoyed some delectable butternut squash and apple soup.  It was most likely made with chicken broth, which imparted a delectable savory-saltiness to counterbalance the sweetness.  I loved it!  There were tons of delicious treats to be had: apple cider donuts, caramel apples, soft serve ice cream, but alas, another sad fact of getting older is that we knew better than to spoil our appetites when we had pulled pork, mac and cheese and peanut butter layer cake waiting at home for us. 20141004_143152

We visited the petting zoo and enjoyed that quite a bit (we’re a little bit obsessed with the idea of having a pig as a pet.)20141004_145540After watching delighted children enjoy games and hayrides for a while, we exited the festival in search of the raspberry picking.

This was definitely our favorite part of the Butler’s Orchard experience.  James could remember a time when he went blueberry picking as a young child in the dead-heat of summer, but I had never done anything of the kind.  We boarded a wagon pulled by a tractor and went through a silly little “haunted” forest where there were some pretty hilarious displays of gravestones, ghosts and goblins.  The forest opened up to the raspberry fields.

You may have noted from other posts in this blog that I am trying to get more berries into my diet.  They’re low-calorie and their bright color suggests that they’re full of disease-fighting antioxidants.  Also they taste amazing!  So I try to eat them in my yogurt every morning.  A great way to start my day with fruit, too.

Raspberries are incredibly expensive, even in season, so I don’t eat as much as I’d like.  They also spoil very quickly at home, so they’re not very convenient, and therefore I hardly ever buy them.  However, they’re my favorite fruit, hands-down, and James said we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

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All raspberry bushes!

It was a fantastic experience!  I wish I had taken more pictures, but we were a little bit rushed because we were having company for dinner.  First of all, we were given absolutely no instruction on how to pick the raspberries.  You get on the wagon, they drop you off in the field and that’s it.  We noticed that some berries had turned black and shriveled, while others looked plump but were white.  We assumed that we should stay away from these.  We concentrated on the bright red ones like you’d find in the store.  When you pull the raspberry from the bush, it pops off without a problem, and there’s a small, snow-white core that stays on the bush.

I know now why these berries are so expensive.  You can see from the pictures that the raspberry bushes are huge (practically as tall as me), and very green, meaning there aren’t many raspberries on each bush.  We are picking at the end of the season but you really need to look for the berries – some bushes only had one or two ripe berries left.  James and I picked for about 15 minutes and had about 3/4 of a pound of raspberries to show for it.  The harvest must be incredibly time-consuming for big distributors like Driscolls, explaining why raspberries can sell for $4.50/8 oz.  I paid about $3.75 for my 3/4 lb., which was practically a steal!20141004_154022

It was a short-lived adventure, but one we’d love to try again.  Learning where your food comes from is an eye-opening experience that makes me appreciate the journey of my sustenance.  If you can, I suggest going out to discover one of your local farms and what activities they might offer.

 

Banana Oatmeal Muffins – “I’m crazy about fiber”

Two years ago, I moved to Washington, DC to be closer to James.  I got a new job at a company that had a few similarities to my old, beloved position at the Walnut Street Theatre: a casual office with almost all young people my age.  And yet the Walnut had become my home – I knew everyone and felt comfortable being 100% myself, letting my freak flag fly, unleashing my passion for my work and my love of theatre.  The Walnut staff was truly my family.  So when I moved to this new job, I was completely terrified to be in a new place and didn’t find making friends easy.  There was a lot of talk about getting drunk at parties, which is not my thing, and… there was no theatre.  Theatre folk are a special breed of loud and gregarious people and I felt lost without the flamboyant, boisterous personalities.  I was feeling pretty lonely.

One morning, in the office kitchen making instant oatmeal, a very nice co-worker tried to chat up the shy new girl.  “Makin’ oatmeal, Bonnie?”, he asked.  “Wow. So many people in this office eat oatmeal.  I can’t remember the last time I ate oatmeal.”20140814_202533

Bolstered by his kindness to reach out to me, I replied with honesty.  “Oh yeah, man.  I’m crazy about fiber.”

Which lead this very nice chap, who I have had many good interactions with since, to laugh awkwardly… and leave the room.  Great way to make friends, Bon.

Despite this, I’ve never been one to shy away from the subject of fiber and its immense health benefits.  Yes, yes, fine, fiber affects your bowel movements.  In a good way!  Like Taro Gomi famously told us “Everybody poops” and fiber can fix lots of unpleasant digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation.

But beyond that, fiber is like magic.  It can help to prevent lots of diseases like cancer and heart disease and keeps you fuller than white grains, so you eat less and maintain a healthy weight.  But my favorite thing about a lot of fiber-rich foods?  It tastes great.  I’ve been subbing out pasta and white rice for whole grains like farro & barley and I’m so much happier for it.  They’re full of fiber and lend an interesting flavor and texture to my dishes.  Not that I don’t love some white food now and again, but if fiber-rich food actually tastes better – why go without?20140825_120441

The biggest problem I’ve found is with baking.  Baking is an exact science and experimenting with baked goods can be hazardous for the amateur cook – you can end up making something inedible and waste a lot of hours and ingredients in the process.  Replacing white flour in a recipe pretty much changes everything about the chemistry and I’m still learning about how exactly baked goods work in the first place.

However, I knew the internet would have my back.  I scoured the internet for a banana bread (because I had several frozen bananas in my freezer) with a whole grain flour to try.  The best recipe I found, with absolutely no white flour at all, was on Honest Fare and utilized lots of ingredients I had on hand: rolled oats, yogurt, low-fat milk.  I adore banana bread and I adore oatmeal – put together, they must be heavenly!20140825_120540

I tried the recipe exactly as Gabi describes (well, without the addition of walnuts or raisins) and it turned out pretty great – but the muffins weren’t as moist as I would have liked.  I still spread a little butter on them to reach the mouthfeel I wanted, which defeated the purpose of a baked good that I could enjoy AND feel good about eating.

So I thought a lot about the ingredients and considered increasing the yogurt or the milk but, in the end, decided to up the bananas in the recipe from 2 to 5.  Why 5?  Because I had a container of 5 smashed up bananas in the freezer.

The result was a little disconcerting because I needed to bake my muffins longer but was never able to insert a knife in the center of a muffin that came out clean.  Fortunately, this resulted in cooked-through but insanely moist muffins.  They did not seem to rise very much at all but the taste was delicious.  A baked good full of fiber that you can dig into for breakfast or a snack knowing you’re doing your body good: life is full of surprises.20140825_120504

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

  • Servings: 18 muffins
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Adapted from the recipe “Yogurt Banana Oat Muffins” on Honest Fare

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup plain, low fat yogurt (I used 2% Fage)
  • 1/2 cup low fat milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I used Turbinado sugar)
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 5 bananas, mashed
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oat flour (made from 1 and 1/2 cups ground rolled oats)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  2. Combine all of your wet ingredients, including rolled oats and sugar.  Let the rolled oats soak in the wet ingredients as you prepare the dry ingredients.
  3. Pour 2 cups of rolled oats into your food processor and pulse until they’ve reached a flour-like consistency, about 25 pulses – takes 60 seconds!
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the oat flour and the rest of the dry ingredients.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients and gently fold the mixture together to combine.
  6. Spray your muffin tins with nonstick spray (or similarly grease) and fill each muffin bowl 2/3 full with batter.
  7. Bake the muffins for 22 minutes.  At 11 minutes, rotate the trays 180° and switch the racks of the trays.  A toothpick will probably not come out dry when inserted into muffins – these puppies are moist!

UPDATE: On January 23, 2016, I made these muffins again with 1/4 cup sugar and thought they tasted just as good.  The extra bananas add quite a bit of sugar to the original recipe I adapted.  Also, once I had processed the oat flour, I threw in the walnuts for a few pulses so that the pieces would be smaller for these small muffins.  Worked like a charm!

Pictures and random annotations:

Frozen Bananas: Let’s talk about these bananas, shall we?

When I first made this recipe, I used two frozen bananas, as described in the original, still in their skins.  What an experience!  Although the bananas were perfectly safe and delicious, this process was super gross.

I put the bananas in the refrigerator to defrost and thankfully on the bottom shelf – when I picked them up they were limp and had leaked a brown substance all over the bottom of the fridge.  Gross.20140814_204238 20140814_204358

I cut the tip of banana off and squeezed the fruit into the bowl to combine with the other wet ingredients, along with all of the gross brown liquid that came out of them.

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The bananas will be brown on top, but that familiar cream/yellow on the bottom. Everything is edible.

When I tried this the second time, I used a container of five mashed up bananas that I had frozen.  I similarly defrosted them in the refrigerator overnight, but they were much easier to work with and incorporate into the batter.  I recommend mashing the bananas before you freeze them, but probably best to freeze them in 1-2 banana portions.

Ground oats:

Some illustration to show you just how you’ll want those oats to look.  Also see video for how long you should pulse.

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Combining ingredients:

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Wet ingredients on the left, dry ingredients on the right
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Combined!

Filling tins:20140825_102053 20140825_101641

MOIST muffins – see how the knife was never quite clean when inserted and removed.
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Protein, fiber, fruit!!

I’m not getting enough fruits and vegetables every day.  This is just a fact.  So I’m attempting to get a serving of fruit or veggies in with my breakfast, which is usually just carbs – cereal, or toast with peanut butter. Protein, yes.  Fruits, no.

I started mixing Fage yogurt (discovered in Greece, now obsessed) with blueberries & honey but realized I was missing out on fiber.  Blueberries have a lot of fiber for their size and texture, but I wanted a bigger punch in the morning.  Gotta get in 25 grams a day, so I gotta start strong!

I checked out the breakfast section of Trader Joe’s and found roasted flax seeds – I bought an enormous bag of flax seeds for under $4 and put two tablespoons in my yogurt this morning.  4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, plus Omega-3 Fatty Acids which are apparently really important for the body and our body cannot make them – so we must eat them!  I first discovered flax seeds in a multi-grain corn chip and they are really delicious – nutty, sort of like sesame seeds but… heartier, I want to say.  (I’m gonna get better at describing flavors, I promise.)  I’m very glad they are now living in my refrigerator.

As an addition to my yogurt, I consider them a BIG win.  I would actually say they brightened my yogurt, which isn’t usually a word I would use for seeds.  But where yogurt and blueberries can have very flat flavors, flax seed’s roasty flavor and crunch raised the game.  Healthy and delicious – now we’re talking, people.

I would have thought Flax Seeds would be very expensive, but not at my dear Trader Joe’s.  Seriously, have you not tried TJ’s yet?  What are you waiting for?  Unbelievable prices, interesting products, and they treat their employees so well that everyone who works there is going to make you smile.  You know you want that.