November 26, 2013
On Sundays, we make brunch from the fresh eggs and produce I bring home from my local farmers’ market on the San Francisco Peninsula. Some of the farmers use hoop houses to protect their crops from the chill, enabling them to extend their growing season into November for sweet peppers, hot chiles, summer squash, green beans, and tomatoes. What a gift!
Here is last Sunday’s menu:
- Scrambled eggs with crème fraîche (recipe follows) served on toast
- Sautéed sweet peppers, hot chiles, fennel bulb, and garlic to top the eggs
- Swiss chard as a side dish, cooked with fresh tomato or rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes and seasoned with pickled jalapeños or your favorite vinegar
- Sliced Fuyu persimmons and kiwi for dessert
Scrambled eggs with crème fraîche
Adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s YouTube video
- large eggs
- crusty bread, sliced
- extra-virgin olive oil
- crème fraîche or sour cream
- salt and pepper
- herbes de Provence (optional)
- green onion (green part only), thinly sliced
- Break eggs into a cold saucepan and add a chunk of butter. Begin toasting bread.
- Put pan on medium heat and stir continuously with a spatula, alternating a few seconds on the heat and a few seconds off the heat until the eggs begin to solidify. Remove from heat and stir in crème fraîche.
- Meanwhile, put toast on plates and drizzle with oil.
- Season eggs with salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence if you like and fold in green onions. Spoon eggs on toast and serve with the rest of the menu.
November 3, 2013
Composting—the process of breaking down our kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and food-tainted paper into humus for the garden to improve soil structure and provide nutrients for plants—is almost a religion here in Northern California. That’s probably because composting is good for Mother Earth while it reduces the roughly 10 million tons of compostable organic materials that end up in California’s landfills each year.
Several years ago, I went to a class offered by my county. I bought a compost-making bin and started the process. I was excited as I filled the bin with my garden and vegetable cuttings. I followed the dos and don’ts—the proportion of green material to brown material, turning it all, and wetting it. I waited and waited … and … [drum roll] … nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. I was disheartened.
Then somehow I heard about another process:
- Select a spot in your garden at least 5 feet long where you want to plant in a few months or where you want to store your compost trove.
- Dig a hole on the edge of the area you’ve selected.
- Dump in food waste and chop it a bit with the shovel.
- Cover with soil.
- The next time, dig a hole next to the hole you dug previously.
- Dump in food waste and chop it a bit with the shovel.
- Cover with soil.
- Repeat until you reach the opposite edge of the area you’ve selected.
- Return to the spot where you dug your first hole and dig again in that spot, following the same procedure.
Every week, I followed the steps dutifully. When I returned to the spot where I dug my first hole and dug again, I found the most amazing transformation: The carrot tops, eggshells, melon seeds, kale stems, coffee grounds, teabags, and so on had disappeared like magic and in their place was rich, dark, loamy humus. My jaw dropped. This is exactly what I was hoping for and what motivates me to bury my kitchen evidence in my backyard to this day. May you too be amazed.
October 29, 2013
As you might know, I enjoy cooking easy one-dish meals baked in my toaster oven (previous posts include Casserole Season Is Here and Crazy Mixed-Up Casseroles). What I love about this preparation process is that all of the active time is up front, and I can relax or do something else while the dish is cooking.
With autumn in the air, I’ve been drawn to whole-wheat lasagna noodles. My noodle creations are simple because I add uncooked, regular (not no-boil) lasagna noodles to my casseroles. As long as I add a small amount of liquid (wine, broth, vinegar, water, etc.) or choose vegetables that give off juices (tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach or other greens, etc.), the noodles cook just fine with the rest of the ingredients.
My recent creations with layers of wide whole-wheat lasagna noodles:
- Slices of potato, onion, shallot, cauliflower, and mushrooms; sunflower seeds; plenty of black pepper, ground chipotle chiles, and fresh parsley; with shaved Manchego cheese on top
- Chopped green onions, zucchini, green pitted olives, sweet peppers, jalapeño chiles, golden beets, home-canned tomatoes with their juice, and fresh mozzarella on top
My usual process:
- Slice and layer vegetables by type between the noodles -OR- chop vegetables into similar size pieces, mix together in a big bowl, and layer with the noodles.
- Add flavorings: pitted olives, capers, seeds, nuts, chiles, fresh and/or dried herbs, ground spices, and so on.
- Make the top layer either noodles or potato slices.
- Cover and bake at 375 for 35–45 minutes. Test with a fork to see if ingredients are soft. If not, return covered for 15 minutes and check again. If soft, uncover.
- Add shredded cheese (or breadcrumbs for vegan) and return to oven until browned, about 10 minutes.
- Let cool 10 minutes or so before serving.
She walks by my house year-round, rain or shine, wearing a long, black woolen coat usually with its hood up. She wears a backpack and carries a shopping bag and a duffel bag. She is pretty, with long hair, probably in her late 30s, and dressed usually in a skirt. She is always alone.
I hear her coming because she suddenly shouts words and sometimes phrases that I can hear through closed windows. Maybe she has Tourette Syndrome or some other neurological disorder?
If I’m down the street and walking toward her, she crosses the street. I’ve seen her sitting at a table at the library with all of her bags. When I try to make eye contact, she looks down and away.
Today, she was pacing back and forth in the library’s parking lot wearing her characteristic black coat and hood and incongruously holding a couple of shirts on hangers covered in plastic from the dry cleaner. I was sitting and waiting for the library to open when I noticed her duffel and shopping bags under the bench opposite me.
When she quickly walked by me to pick up her bags, I said, “Hello.” She did not look at me or speak. But as she passed, she moved her hand laterally toward me in what I believe was some kind of acknowledgment, but I’m not sure if it was positive or negative. Then she hurriedly picked up her bags and left. I impulsively called after her, “It’s okay,” but I’m not sure what I meant or if she heard me.
Seeing her so isolated makes me sad. I wonder how she navigates the world. I try to imagine her story, what her life is like, and what she is feeling. Maybe she wants to be left alone.
If the opportunity arises, I will most likely say “hello” again to cautiously acknowledge her while holding her right to privacy. It just seems worth it to me to try.
October 21, 2013
It’s been about six months since I decided to stop eating sugar. What made me do that?
My body seemed to be telling me it didn’t like sugar. A cookie would leave a sour-metallic aftertaste. A divine dessert at a restaurant or at a friend’s home would bring an overwhelming fatigue that made it difficult to keep my eyes open (and continuous yawning wasn’t fun either). I thought, Why not avoid sugar and see what happens?
I am very grateful that I am not naturally drawn to sweets. I enjoy making and eating savory dishes. So this new eating plan has been only a slight shift, not the big transition it might be for a sugar lover.
I found that although sugar is viewed as a special treat, it is enjoyed often because it comes in a lot of different guises and is in so many of the foods we buy (I’ve been reading a lot of food nutrition labels). I also had not considered that sugar is the way we celebrate and acknowledge special occasions (I don’t see a bowl of fruit replacing birthday cake anytime soon).
I sometimes feel a twinge when others are enjoying their sweets, but I remind myself that I would not be happy with how my body reacts and why I started this challenge in the first place. So the bottom line is that not eating sugar is working for me.
But not eating cheese … now that would be a whole other thing …
October 12, 2013
Driving makes me question everyone and everything. Why are there so many cars on the road? Why are they fixing the street now? Why didn’t they let me know they were turning? Why did they cut me off? Why are they driving so slowly? Why are they driving so fast? Why did they stop?
When I’m behind the wheel, I’m aware that others affect me directly and personally. Vehicles in motion are inherently dangerous, and accidents can cause injury. No wonder I think that ”they” are all out to make my journey one big irritation. Who said driving is fun?
I’m not alone. From talking with others, I’ve learned that most people think their fellow drivers are unaware, stupid, and maybe even crazy. Road rage is alive and well.
For my own health and happiness, I don’t want to feel so agitated. How can I stay calm while driving?
I don’t have any control over what other drivers do. Unfortunately, I do have control over how I react. I say “unfortunately” because it takes effort to become conscious of my feelings and then try to convert the negatives into positives.
Here’s my plan:
- Take three deep breaths when I first get into my car before I start the engine.
- Take three deep breaths whenever I recognize a reaction to another driver.
- Remember when I am reacting that I most likely have done to other drivers exactly what that awful driver did to me.
October 7, 2013
Here I mix the smoky, spicy, sweet, and sour seasoning goodness of dried chiles, raisins, and balsamic vinegar with chopped red cabbage and onions. Cooked low and slow and topped with feta cheese, this tangy, velvety dish warms you no matter what the temperature is outside.
I used dried chipotle chiles, but try the canned chipotles if you like. Any large, mild dried chile can be substituted for the chile negro or pasilla.
Serve on its own as a side dish or over whole-wheat pasta or whole grains as a main. To make it vegan, omit the feta.
Sweet, sour, and smoky red cabbage
- dried chipotle chiles
- dried chile negro or pasilla chile
- dark raisins
- olive oil
- red onion, chopped into 1/2-in. dice
- red cabbage, cored and chopped into 1-in. dice
- balsamic vinegar
- chopped parsley
- feta cheese (optional)
- salt and pepper
- Stem, seed, and roughly chop chiles. Put chiles and raisins in a glass measuring cup and cover with boiling water to make the sauce. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and cabbage and cook until just softened.
- Add chile-raisin sauce to pan. Stir, cover, and turn down to low. Cook, checking occasionally, until onion and cabbage are very soft and sauce has cooked down, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, chopped parsley, and feta cheese, if using, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
October 6, 2013
I glanced at my watch—11:54. But it was early morning. That couldn’t be right! What time was it? Oh my, did I oversleep? Confused, I checked the clock radio—7:05. Obviously, my watch had stopped. I took a couple of deep breaths. Whew.
But where, when, and how would I get my watch fixed? That’s when it dawned on me that I had a choice. What would happen if I didn’t fix it? Why was I wearing a watch? Why was knowing the exact time important?
The only answer I could come up with was not wanting to be late. But I have clocks everywhere—in the kitchen, the home office, the bedroom, and the car. Why did I need one on my wrist too?
That was a few days ago. I feel unexpectedly calm and a bit liberated. Not having a watch has allowed me to almost feel time. I’m relying on my internal clock and the quality of the sun’s light when I guess what time it is and how long an activity has taken. Much more fun relying on my senses and nature’s signals.
And, of course, I can always confirm my suspicions with any passerby holding a phone.
October 1, 2013
I had so much fun turning cauliflower into couscous that I wondered what other vegetable might be good to whirl in a food processor. Broccoli came to mind when I spied Mollie Katzen’s “Mashed Broccoli” recipe as I was paging through her new vegetarian cookbook The Heart of the Plate.
According to many sources, including The World’s Healthiest Foods, broccoli is a super-food that we should eat at least once a week. But not everyone likes it or enjoys biting into a big green floret.
The beauty of my recipe is that the broccoli is steamed and then whirled in a food processor into mild-tasting bits that almost disappear when added to other dishes. That means you can covertly add broccoli to individual bowls of pasta (how about lightly green mac ‘n’ cheese?), chili, salads of all kinds, and so on. Or you can let it star: Mix it with brown rice, diced tofu or tempeh, prepared mustard, roasted sunflower seeds, and hot sauce for a vegan meal.
I have not tried making this recipe with uncooked broccoli because I prefer steamed broccoli’s sweetness, but try it with raw broccoli if you like.
Garlicky Broccoli Bits
- Fresh broccoli, cut into egg-size pieces
- Garlic cloves, sliced
- Salt and pepper
- Bring an inch of water to a rolling boil in a covered pot. Put the broccoli in one layer in a steamer basket. Set the garlic among the broccoli. Place the steamer basket in the pot. Steam, covered, for 4 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking liquid.
- When cool enough to touch, add broccoli, garlic, and some broccoli cooking liquid to a food processor. Whirl into tiny bits, adding more cooking liquid as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
September 23, 2013
The first person who thought of using a lettuce leaf as a food delivery system was very smart indeed. A few years ago at a neighborhood vegetarian restaurant, I enjoyed my first “lettuce cups” entrée—diced, seasoned, stir-fried veggies and tofu served with a handful of lettuce leaves. I was completely hooked. I love the contrasts: the warm, tasty vegetable and herb mixture wrapped in the crunchy, cool lettuce. And this is a very adaptable dish—a great way to use whatever veggies might be lurking in your fridge.
Lovely Lettuce Cups
- Olive oil
- Fresh ginger, minced
- A colorful assortment of vegetables (eggplant, mushrooms, carrots, shallots, summer squash, peppers, chiles, green beans, scallions, fennel bulb, celery, salad turnips, and so on), cut into 1/2-in. dice
- Tofu and/or seasoned tofu, cut into 1/2-in. dice
- Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), or pine nuts
- Cilantro, chopped
- Fresh basil or Thai basil leaves, chopped
- Toasted sesame oil
- Salt and pepper
- Lettuce leaves, preferably butter or romaine
- Cooked brown rice
- Hot sauce or fresh salsa
- Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Cook the ginger, stirring often, for 1 or 2 minutes.
- Add the vegetables and tofu and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Cover the pan as needed to allow the vegetables to steam so they cook evenly. If the pan gets dry before the vegetables are cooked the way you like, add a little water (to create the moisture, I cut in a small, soft tomato that needed to be used).
- When the vegetables are done, add seeds, cilantro, and basil. Drizzle sesame oil on top and stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Transfer mixture to a serving bowl and serve with lettuce leaves, hot sauce, and brown rice.