someone’s in this kitchen

Web journalism comes with equal doses of surprise, commotion, and amusement. There are ups and downs. We may shepherd stories along for months on end, but they’re still lovingly tended. They may not be earth-shattering, but they still contribute good things to the world.

On the flip side, there’s that screen, glowing in my face day after day and making this fresh-air loving soul feel a little empty now and again.

When the hum of machines gives me a headache and the incessant chatter on the internet overwhelms me, where do I turn for solace? The internet of course. From the Economist’s technology blog (via Andrew Sullivan) this bit of pro-technology is brilliant. Especially for this recovering Luddite.

All German terms for radio are derived from a single verb: funken, to spark. I’ve been trying to understand the continued appeal of radio when there are so many different and more convenient ways to get news and music, and I think it has to do with the idea that we know, when we listen to the radio, that someone, somewhere is alive. Es funkt. There is a spark at the other end, a fire on the hilltop.

A blog, done right, provides this proof the same way radio does. You hear a voice, which means that someone is actually sitting in a booth somewhere talking down the signal to you. And if they take your calls, or read your emails, then they’re listening, too. I think blogs and radio are more than the sum of the information or entertainment they provide; they’re a source of human comfort.

This week I got an email reminding me that people do read this blog, and even trust the voice behind it. It was titled “Help! Dolmas tanking!” A woman in California had tried my dolmas recipe, and, having substituting brown rice, found herself with uncooked, unappetizing rolls. She emailed me in a panic, and we had an amusing back-and-forth over the course of the day about cooking, expectations, and rice. I suggested she turn her failed dolmas into a success by dumping them in a pot with some sauteed onion and broth to make dolma soup. She took my advice and deemed her creation Ruined Dolma Soup. The point of the story is only to say that the above quote rings true. The internet doesn’t always alienate.

Last night’s dinner was one of those spontaneous successes, born of exhaustion from a brick workout (bike + run) and dictated by the contents of my fridge.  Cooking this way is freeing, as I’ve said before, and always faster than I imagine it will be. I head home night after night (hoping I’ll be motivated to get the ingredients together for some recipe I’ve had bookmarked for months) only to stumble lazily into a version of a loner’s feast: toast with sardines, cheese and crackers, yogurt and granola, kimchi and a fried egg, a simple salad, a square of dark chocolate.

I love those rare night when I get home early enough to create something actually resembling an entree. While I boiled up some linguine (left by a dear housemate who just left for Texas), I sauteed two minced cloves of garlic in olive oil. I threw in some thawed broccoli florets and let them cook a bit. Then I realized I needed protein, so opened up the cupboard and grabbed what I thought was a can of chickpeas. When I opened it, cannelini beans stared back at me. No matter. I dug my fingers right into the can and plopped them in the pan with the broccoli, adding two huge handfuls of raw spinach and a bit of chicken broth to the mix. I let the greens wilt, sprinkled on some chili flakes and salt and pepper, and then poured the whole sloppy mixture over the linguine and finished it with Parmesan. I’m lucky I had these random pictures on hand, because my camera was nowhere in sight.

This recipe is nothing special … not even worth typing out in regular recipe form. But it sort of restored my confidence in a kitchen that’s become a stranger to me in this 7 am to 8 pm life. I am so glad I remembered the fire in my kitchen (and in my stomach) for good, honest food.

Here’s the leftovers I ate today in the sun, camera in tow.

grainy waldorf salad

While crunching my way toward lunch at the gym today, I was interrupted by a tentative voice.

“Can I ask you a question?” said a slim woman stretched out beside me on the mat, a second-year student at the oldest. “Sure!” I responded, anticipating a question about form or my Lululemon tank top, as has happened before. “How many days a week do you work out?”

She proceeded to disclose her desire for more muscle definition, and I advised away until I the “you’re boring me” cloud came over her expression. Not that I’m any expert, I just love talking about this stuff. Plus, I have a few fellow nuts in my life who exacerbate the tendency to preach the gospel of health and fitness.

This little salad I whipped up from fridge remnants is for you, dear. It’s got protein and all the post-crunch crunch you need to get you through your afternoon.

I don’t usually post on things I throw together on everyday afternoons. Just because I’m a food blogger does not license me to share every morsel chewed and swallowed.  My readers have better things to do than hear about Finn Crisps spread with peanut butter, sardines straight from the tin, and numerous kefir smoothies. (Ok, that last one did get a post, but only because I’m evangelical about kefir!)

But sometimes random is best, as I’ve written about before. Random is beautiful, and when you start with good, wholesome ingredients, you really can’t go wrong.

Today’s creation was good enough to share, at least for inspirations’ sake. The cup or so of quinoa I’d cooked to use in these muffins was sitting neglected beside my eggs. I had a two sticks of celery, a Macintosh apple that was looking to retire, and all kinds of other worthy additions hiding in my freezer and cupboards.

In went the chopped apple and celery. In went the dried cranberries and sunflower seeds. In went the red onion, salt, pepper, and drizzles of sherry vinegar. One bite revealed that no further tweaks were needed. I poured myself a glass of kombucha and settled into my writing.

So wherever you are, ab-girl, keep crunching. And squatting and lifting and curling. You’re already beautiful, but you deserve to be as strong and powerful as I know you can be.

kale chips

Remember these?

The leafy crunchy greens that had me  swooning in a Colorado mountain town are back. Say hello to kale chips: so much more than just a stand-in for those Doritos you’re trying to hide from view.

With my oven already roaring at 400° from two other dishes and a healthy bunch of lacinato kale in my fridge, I finally got around to try making these myself. Lacinato kale is different from the regular curly kale you often see in grocery stores. It’s sometimes called “dinosaur kale,” and like any self-respecting T-Rex, it holds up particularly well to heat.

What runner/triathlete out there doesn’t love a good salty snack? Maybe it’s all the salt we lose on those mammoth bike rides and speed drills. Maybe it’s just a good old fashioned craving. Whatever it is, it’s tasty and packed full of all those things your eyes gloss over when reading articles in Runner’s World and Clean Eating.

Things like beta carotene, vitamins K and C, calcium, and antioxidants. Those age-old nutrients that we’ve only recently decided to heroize into  “super foods,” “power foods” and “clean foods.”

Well kale is as mighty as they come, and it tastes great too. It’s nutty and not as heavily sulfurous as some of the other cruciferae specimens. It’s a dark mineral-green, which to me says “good for you” like coffee beans say “hello day.”

And crisped-up in a hot oven with just some good olive oil and salt, there is no better destiny for the wrinkled kale leaf. Paired with a cold beer and some sweet evening relaxation, these guys almost, almost, make me want to toss the tortilla chips sneering at me from behind my morning muesli.

But then I remember the salsa. Oh, the salsa. Too heavy for such dainty chips as these, and just not the right flavor match either. I can’t let the salsa down!

And so I don’t toss the tortillas — with their oil and calories and lack of antioxidants — because they’ll come in handy one day when I just don’t care about so-called Superfoods. But until that moment comes, I’ll take the Super, and all the taste that comes along with it.

Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale, washed, stemmed, and torn into chip-sized pieces

olive oil

your favorite salt

Preheat oven to 400. Toss the kale pieces in a big bowl with a few drizzles of olive oil. Sprinkle with a few pinches of salt (kosher, sea, Celtic, or harvested from the rocks of the coast, your choice). Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until the edges of some of the pieces have just begun to brown. Remove to the counter top to cool, and serve as a snack or appetizer.

Homemade Energy Bars V: Shot Blocks Redux

One of my favorite authors once wrote “how we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.” It’s one of those observations so plain it pricks you. Nothing terribly complicated or profound, but as true as the sun’s heat in July.

On a bike ride the other day, I saw it printed on the Unitarian Universalists’ church lawn sign. (Am I the only one who’s noticed that the more liberal the church, the better the church sign quotes?)

This week, I got my days back. And true to Annie Dillard’s sentiment, my life. It came suddenly, with the absence of 9 am starts, ominous deadlines, and open jaws of expectation. It came, bringing hours to write and cook and clean and shop for groceries.  It came with empty hours too, heavy with shoulds and if-onlys.

And so here I find myself in that precarious place between the fullness of life and its opposite. This past year has been manic, and looking back I’m sometimes surprised I survived. But rather than rolling gently off that year, I’ve crashed abruptly into this week.

This week — with its scaled-back workout schedule, pressing humidity, and loose ends — is like an irritating old friend. You love her but sometimes you just don’t know what to do with her.

Besides being void of routine, this week has also brought the dreaded taper, that bittersweet period before a big race when triathletes attempt to do something foreign to their very existence: rest. For most, this comes about as naturally as speaking Czech.

But with the advice of my tri friends ringing loudly in my ears (“5% undertrained is better than 3% overtrained”), I’m hanging out with my food processor instead of my running shoes. I decided it was time to bring you another snack packed with energy and natural goodness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of Clif shot blocks and GU gel as the next endurance athlete. But I also take pride in turning the earth’s bounty into sport fuel. Minus the citric acid, “natural flavor,” sunflower oil, and carnauba wax.

So here’s a humbler kind of shot block, one that looks suspiciously like a Christmas goodie. The chocolately goodness comes from minimally processed cocoa powder, delivered a shot of not only good-for-you flavanols, but magnesium and zinc too. And we all know how great almonds are for us.

And so going back to my opening quote, I guess I spent part of my day conjuring up good and healthy things. My life, I hope, will follow suit.

Continue reading

tofu deli slices

Summer hit Syracuse last weekend with the impetuosity of a season long-forgotten. Blazing down during a Sunday bike ride, it left its pink hand print squarely between my shoulders. Yesterday it reached 30°C (87°F) and today the mercury is still up in the high 20°s (70°s). Our apartment, in good second-floor sun-drenched form, is responding as expected.

One of my favorite things about hot weather is eating cooler foods. Anything I can make without turning on my oven or standing over my stove gets my immediate approval. Coming in at a close second are things that can be cooked quickly or on low heat.

But first, a warning: I can’t promise you this will be the prettiest post. But food doesn’t always present us with the most photogenic subjects does it? In this case, tofu came out a little camera-shy, looking rather drab drenched in marinade. But once it was tucked into a toasted sourdough sandwich, it was reunited with greatness.

Tofu, which a wonderfully healthy source of natural soy protein (as opposed to all those junky bars, shakes, and factory-produced cereals), seems to have this way of sitting in my fridge too long. For some reason, I seem to have this horrible tendency to neglect it. But you know what? It deserves to be loved. And topped with avocado, sprouts, and fresh tomatoes, tofu-love comes easily. Even if you’ve been known to say a mean word or two about it.

And that’s where this tofu saver comes in. When I stopped buying deli meats, I missed the thick, juicy filler they gave my summer sandwiches. Egg salad and tuna got old fast. And so I hauled out the tofu, tapped it three times, and politely asked it to become something wonderfully sandwich-worthy. I’ve been making these slices ever since. And best of all, they last (almost) forever in the fridge.

Tofu Deli-Slices

Slice firm tofu in ¼ to ½ – inch slices.

Mix up a marinade: There’s almost no limit to what you can do here, just mix up any liquid things you think go together. In the past I’ve used brown sugar, soy sauce, worchestershire, even ketchup. You could use pesto, or a curry-coconut milk mixture, or any supermarket bottled peanut, Thai, or Indonesian sauce. I’m sure some salad dressings would do a great job, too. For a smoky taste, try a few dashes of liquid smoke, or BBQ sauce.

Marinate the slices in a plastic container or bowl for a few hours, overnight, or until it  starts calling your name.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Lay the slices out on a piece of parchment or foil, and bake until they become dry and leathery at the edges, and maybe start to brown slightly, usually over an hour. You can continue to bake them until they’re completely “meaty” all the way through, or leave them soft an squishy at the centers. Up to you.

Cool, and store in the refrigerator to use in sandwiches.

Homemade Energy Bars IV: Sunshine Bars

I could do the cucaracha right now. Problem is, I don’t really know what the cucaracha is. But if I did, I’d clutch these granola bars in my hands and shake them like marakas.

You see, I’ve been wishin’ and hopin’ and dreamin’ about creating the perfect home-made baked granola bars: toasty brown on the outside but with just the right chew factor that (some of) the bought ones have. I’ve managed with the chewy ones and the rolled ones and the fudgy ones, but the good old fashioned baked version has eluded me.

Part of the problem is pickyness. I’ve tried over 15 recipes, tweaking and re-tweaking. I’ve meticulously recorded every substitution and result. Most of the bars have turned out quite edible — something to be proud of even. But there’s always been one tiny problem. Too sticky. Too crispy. Too crumbly.

To add to my dismay, I desperately wanted crispy rice cereal in these elusive bars. Just a wee bit of that airy crunch you can hear in the back of your head when you chew. Whenever I’d add the sticky ingredients, those rice puffs would soak it all in and mush up like an abandoned bowl of Cheerios. I wasn’t about to make Rice Krispy squares, laden with butter and melted marshmallows. I wanted something good.

Eventually I gave up and bought some, just like normal people do. But after the 18th disappointing, too-sweet bar with a novel-length ingredients list, I went back to my oats and my coconut. I begged them to co-operate. I needed them to get me through the last two weeks of school without putting up a fight.

I guess I did something right. Sometimes I think ingredients, like people, just need to be loved. People talk to plants, horses, babies — why not craisins and pumpkin seeds?  As I wax poetic about something that was probably more luck than oat-whispering, I beseech you: Quaker and Kashi got nothing on homemade bars. Unless, of course, it takes you months to get them how you like them.

Good granola bars depend on the right proportion of ingredients, a sticky binder, and the right baking time and temperature. After many trials, I think I’ve found the right bar to usher me into a new season of triathlon training.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading