slaw salad

I’m not sure anymore whether Syracuse feels like home. In any case, it’s good to have my own jug of milk and a fruit bowl with peaches in it. Life on the road teaches the joy in simple things. Natural peanut butter. Homemade granola. Kefir smoothies. Iced lattes that don’t cost $4.

Missouri and Colorado were good to me. Stacking up the archives with their own memories. Creeks and campfires, peaks and rough roads. Glancing back through pictures, they feel like different lives.

I haven’t hit the cutting board with the kind of excitement I was expecting. Trying to create 8 decent multimedia pieces in 2 weeks is eating up more of my time than I have to, well, eat. The work is rewarding, but tedious. The final push is here, Friday’s deadline looms like with giant jaws.

On Thursday our team was exiled from our cozy lab by the new masters class. It was a beautiful day for bonding, so we dragged our office chair-imprinted bottoms to the park for some lunch and a strange sport called wiffle ball. (It’s a conspiracy: Canadians do not excel at wiffle ball.)

I was instructed to make “a delicious salad” by our faithful event planner, and so (as any disenchanted foodie who’s been wrenched from her Henckels for too long would do), I consulted my mother. She came through faithfully, and so for all those requesting the recipe, here it rests.

It’s not really salad, with its torn leaves and chunks of veggies. It’s not really ‘slaw either, at least in the southern sense. In fact, I think it was inspired by a salad at some insipid restaurant chain, but no one needs to know that, right? Besides, any cabbaged loved by your own two hands maketh a far happier bowl of ‘slaw. At least in my home, wherever that may be.

The thing I love best about this salad is that you don’t have to follow the recipe. I bought all the ingredients on Thursday, and I’ve made it twice since the initial picnic debut, with different amounts. It doesn’t matter if you use more red cabbage one day and more Napa the next. Feel free to omit and substitute as you wish, whether it be using chopped up snap peas instead of the carrots, or leaving out the bean sprouts.  Use all the the cabbage heads to make a bowl for a large crowd. Top it with BBQ’d tofu or chicken strips, or roll it up in a wrap.

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the chi of kimchi

If only there was something yummy and exotic that made itself. Something you could just quickly cut up, stir, and plop in a container, only to turn out 5 days later in a delicious new guise.

Wait! There is! It’s called kimchi, and for its tart and tangy goodness we can thank the Koreans.

I’m seeing Korean food turn up everywhere. On the pages of Bon Appetit, on food blogs, and even in the New York Times. It’s even gone fusion, with a Twittering taco truck that brings mobile eats to its loyal followers. Kimchi is so important that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute even developed space kimch. Why? To accompany the first Korean astronaut to the Russian space ship, Soyuz, of course.

I can’t remember when I first tasted kimchi, but it wasn’t too long ago. I then started buying some locally-made stuff, available at the Central New York Regional Farmer’s Market, in all sorts of shades and styles. Being the fermentation freak that I am, my next thought was  “OK, my turn.”  Anyone who’s been to my apartment has seen the various fermenting things lying around my house. And before you run away scared, know that each one of them is darn delicious.

Food that is fast, easy, healthy and given to leftovers is manna for me right now. Finishing up my masters leaves little time for poring over new recipes (sad face #1), therapeutic vegetable chopping (sad face #2), and Zen-like-stove-top stirring (sad face #3). To this sorry state came my new friend kimchi.

The fabulous ferment did not only arrive to a dire, time-crunched situation, but to a household with a brand-new mandolin. Picked up for a steal of a deal on Amazon with Christmas money, this Japanese slider-knife is a miracle in a drawer. With this little beauty and a far superior recipe, my second batch of kimchi turned out much better than my clunky, over-garlicked first batch.

What, you may ask, is kimchi? It’s a Korean side dish with an inimitable taste, yet a Korean proverb reads, “if you have rice and kimchi, you have a meal.” To me, it’s crunchy ribbons of daikon and carrot folding over each other between layers of ruffled Napa cabbage. It’s chilies melding with garlic and ginger, and crisp veggies fermented to perfection. Served at room temperate over fried rice or a plate of egg rolls, or just eaten out of a jar, kimchi is a great snack full of healthy probiotics.

Best of all, the do-it-yourself kind pretty much does it itself. Just make sure you don’t spill it all over your gym bag.

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ramen makeover for one

Tonight is Masters Eve. With two orientations behind me and a year of work ahead, I thought I’d mark the occasion with an “ode to the student life” post. I bring you the quintessential Ramen noodle–with better hair and make-up, or at least nutritional profile.

I ate a lot of meals alone during the month of June. In order to help pad the marital pockets, my hubby and I embraced a mutual separation over the course of last month to go off and make some money. My journey took me to a rural area of New York State where I house and pet sat for three weeks. Having a nicely stocked kitchen and a 24-hour farm stand five minutes up the road helped combat any lurking loneliness.

When it got really bad I snuggled up beside the ice-cream maker. Oh Cuisinart, I’m afraid that you don’t love me as I love you! Yup, it made for some good company.

The problem with eating upwards of thirty meals alone in the span of three weeks is that you can’t possibly savor each and every morsel. Sometimes you’ve just gotta get the job done: food from fridge to bowl to mouth: Hello, Ramen. It’s been awhile.

But I could not respect my body and eat it from the packetquickly reconstituted and slathered with oily seasoning–at the same time. And so I proceeded to try adding vim and vigor to the Old Faithful of undergrad meal supplements. Ramen, meet your new friends vitamins A through D, iron, magnesium and calcium. I know they’re strangers, just give them a chance, ok?

And then, in the great realm of coincidences that is the Internet, days after discovering the possibilities in that shiny crunched up packet of dinner-for-one, Mark Bittman posted this story on how to cut food costs when you’re feeling crunched. There it was, first in a long list of great tips, instructions for revved-up Ramen. Common knowledge by now I suppose.

As one commenter notes on Bittman’s blog, Ramen noodles aren’t very good for you no matter how you slurp ’em. I must agree; there are countless other great noodles out there — refrigerated Udon, rice vermicelli, Chinese noodles, Japanese soba noodles — which are just as fast. Ramen is in fact kind of a rip-off if you think about it, excessively packaged to boot. But we had a cupboard full of it (which I will maintain that I did NOT bring to this marriage!) and I had fun transforming it into something new that I might never eat again.

Yet again, classes start tomorrow…

So if you find yourself lonely, hungry, uninspired and without a Cuisinart to cuddle, bring a pot of water or broth to a boil. Throw in some chopped vegetables (I had carrot, purple cabbage and kale) and cook until tender. Then add a package of miso paste (available at Japanese grocers and much better for you than the conventional seasoning), some chopped green onions, a splash of soy sauce, and a final drizzle of toasted sesame oil.

I was surprised at how satisfying my concoction ended up being. As I dined in a candle lit house all alone, the soup comforted me with plainness interrupted by vibrancy. I even managed to page through Saveur and Gourmet’s sophisticated temptations while I ate, emerging at the other end nourished by simplicity in the face of the refined.

gado-gado

While the red cabbage may not get points for being the most superficially alluring vegetable to grace the produce shelves as of late, inside it’s got something else going on. Past the skin of the red (or more accurately, purple) cabbage lies the intricate story of its growth. Past the clean edge of the knife is a cruciferous labyrinth that I wish for a moment I was small enough to walk.

Though usually associated with Eastern European dishes, red cabbage fares well in all sorts of international cuisine. I’ve seen it on Mexican menus, and in Asian concoctions like the Gado-Gado I will share with you today. Gado-Gado is dear to me. It reminds me of a certain roommate who introduced me to it years ago, and also of health. One blustery evening in Winnipeg I returned home from a vigorous workout to find this colorful dish waiting for me by candlelight.

It had everything: protein fiber, and too many vitamins and minerals to name. It nourished me fully, in body and spirit. With crunch, nuttiness, saltiness and sweetness shining through purple, orange, green and white, Gado-Gado is a little world on a plate.

According to various sources, gado-gado means either “fight fight,” “hodgepodge,” or “to mix together.” It’s fascinating how words breed meanings often different from the original; to mix, to argue. But let’s not get too wrapped up in specifics — we’ve got some hodgepodging to do. For Gado-Gado, in all its mystery, is really just salad with peanut dressing.

After the preparation, the layers unfold, starting with a base of Wehani rice and the illustrious cabbage:

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sandwiches, sweeping the clouds away

Sometimes I miss watching Sesame Street. I don’t even know if it’s on anymore, or what name it’s going by now, or what they’re teaching kids these days. I feel so out of the loop.

Maybe what I miss is waking up on a Saturday morning with nothing but cartoons on the agenda. Maybe it’s that unapologetic and unproductive laziness we’re so discouraged from as adults. I miss the time when play was serious business and games my most prized accomplishments. Sometimes my nostalgia points its compass squarely in the direction of childhood.

Today was one of those drifty days. I felt a pervasive lack of direction, the clouds of limbo thickening around me. Today was a day I ached to be too busy, and then chided myself for this wish. I made a mental note to be evermore grateful for a full schedule. Today was a day that reminded me of the exquisite balance needed to live a healthy life. Rest and involvement in equal measure, calm and momentum in an intricate dance.

As I thought about youth and adulthood, playing and working, being and doing, my thoughts naturally led to peanut butter. (But it could be the influence of Peanut Butter Planet, a cookbook I recently picked up at the library.) If there’s one thing that’s inseperable from childhood, it’s peanut butter. Yet in adulthood, as I strive to eat less meat and still get all the nutrients I need, peanut butter has risen to new heights in my protein cache. It’s convenient, bursting with fiber, protein and unsaturated fats while being almost endless in versatility.

This book also reminded me that peanut butter is (hold onto your celery) really just ground peanuts. I’m sorry to break it to you, but we’ve been had. This revelation isn’t new; I recall trying to make it with a bowl of peanuts, some water and a fork. Needless to say, what we eight-year-olds ended up with looked like something that hadn’t agreed with her cat’s palate.

We go through PB around here like the nuts are going extinct. And that’s when my fellow peanut butter monster remembered the food processor attachment that came with our hand blender. I tell you, forgetting about this piece de resistance has been my biggest kitchen blunder since getting hitched. Not charring stuff, not poisoning dinner guests, but realizing that I actually could have made ALL THOSE THINGS THAT CALLED FOR A FOOD PROCESSOR and didn’t. Just thinking about the pestos, dressings and ground-up things we’ve missed out on brings me deep sorrow, but boy am I ever going to make up for lost time.

3 cups of bulk roasted peanuts + 5 minutes with electrical magic wand = 14 ounces of peanut butter so smooth and airy I’m don’t think I’ll ever go back. Sorry Teddie. It’s not even about the savings, or eliminating the packaging and transportation. This pure peanuts-and-that’s-it goodness is enough to keep me on the Skippy boycotting bandwagon for at least a few more idealistic years.

And in hopes of bringing on my own “sunny day,” I whipped up this little open-faced sandwich on some new sprouted grain bread I’ve discovered. And even though I didn’t see even a feather of that old yellow friend of mine, the sun did come out to greet me, if only for a minute or two.

Sunny Day Sandwiches

serves 2, half the recipe for one person

Combine the following in a small bowl, and spread on whole-grain or sprouted bread:

½ cup natural peanut butter

¼ cup shredded carrot

2 Tbsp. sunflower or pumpkin seeds

2 Tbsp. raisins or craisins

2 tsp maple syrup

Homemade Peanut Butter

In a food processor, grind 2 cups of good-quality roasted peanuts at a time until they turn buttery. This may take about 2 minutes. For a crunchy version, grind up another cup of peanuts into small pieces and add them to the peanut butter. For an even higher fiber variety, use the peanuts with the reddish skins on them. Enjoy!

Spoony Sundays #2

Gooooood evening and welcome to the second edition of Spoony Sundays, where we forsake forks and knives for that most graceful of utensils. This week our tastebuds will be given quite a run around. First we’ll dip our spoons into the smoky-spicy soup pots of the south and then lift bowls overflowing with lip-puckering eastern infusions.

The first black bean soup I made was off the label on a can of (you guessed it) black beans. It was one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made— beans, corn, salsa, lime juice and some cumin. In spite of its delicate simplicity though, I eventually had to face the hard fact that my “I just moved out on my own” bean soup was lacking a little something something.

The kind of soup I was after is hearty and rugged, dark and a little bit dangerous. The kind I picture cowboys and frontiersmen rigging up over campfires and eating out of dented tin pots. I couldn’t find any recipes in the latest issue of American Cowboy, so I turned in the opposite direction: Food and Wine. (Like I always say, when the guys in boots let you down try the ones in kitchen clogs.)

F&W’s Mexican Black Bean Soup got an 8 out of 10 out of me. I’m beginning to see how you really need hefty meat stocks for true depth of flavour, but I just didn’t have a ham hock laying around for that kind of recipe. The blob of green on garnishing the soup is my improvised a cilantro-cream.

My second guest tonight is Mandarin Hot and Sour Soup from the Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates cookbook. By the way, if you have trouble coming up with menu plans for parties and special occasions, this is a great book. I can’t wait to try their chocolate-filled calimyrna figs (when such a specific craving next overtakes me).

But before I proceed with extolling the joys of recreating a slightly foreign favourite, I just have to introduce you to the woodear mushroom, or auricularia auricula-judae for short. There he is, making his debut appearance on my blog and in my life. Good to have you, auricula. You were a delight to work with, so slippery in my hands and on my little Asian spoon.

My first attempt at Hot and Sour soup — something I’ve only had the pleasure of enjoying at a Chinese restaurant — was gratifying even if for that reason alone. I also don’t own a mandoline, so julienned carrots came about via a slightly longer, zen-like process (old-fashioned chopping). I still ended up with some pretty nice looking carrot matchsticks — an evocative technical term if I ever heard one. The woodears and bamboo shoots came from our local Asian market.

Both of these soups are thick, simple to prepare, and use affordable ingredients. Both can be made vegetarian or even vegan, and both respond well to flashes of creativity and flourishes of genius. As some of you already have, please let me know if you try these out and how they work for you.

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