tapas for one

Contrary to the do-it-yourself ethos I usually embrace on on this blog, over the next few weeks I’m going to feature some products that have won my urban 9 to 5 heart—one that is often too busy to sweat away over multiple-step bread, edible heirloom cookies, or even my favorite summer salad.

As much as I’ve cherished how resourceful it feels making certain breakfast staples yourself, over the past six months I’ve realize how thankful I am for the commercial luxuries of modern life. Processed foods might be evil, but I’ve come to appreciate the less-processed (but still packaged) ones among them for the respite they bring. Besides, after a long day, tough run, and hours spent applying for jobs, who has the time to slaughter a chicken?

First up: this Al Fresco Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage I picked up on a whim the other day, my nostrils full of the scents of summer barbecues. At only 160 calories and 7 grams of fat per link, these babies deliver 14 whole grams of lean protein—just what I needed after a tough 35-mile cycle this morning with my local riding group.

After postponing tonight’s dinner date to tomorrow, I faced a solo supper. And as another near-perfect weekend slipped away, filtered like evening light through the tree branches, I began to ponder the plate: Burritos with that frozen tempeh I needed to use? Salad with the lettuce I didn’t want to spoil? A new twist on the tomato-asparagus omelette I’d had for a post-bike brunch?

The answer was sausage.

My neighbors had been grilling all afternoon, and I wasn’t going to let them have the best of my cravings. I ripped open the package, doubtful as usual of this type of stuff, and popped a link under the broiler. Then I pulled out the brown lentil-and-white bean mix I’d cooked up last week, part of which were made into the hummus that exploded all over my bag after my unfortunate altercation with a taxicab. Inspired by a recent tapas brunch with Mark at the Bethesda Jaleo, I poured olive oil into a pan and sauteed a small onion and a clove of garlic with some sage. Then I dumped in a few spoonfuls of the legume mix, and stirred away, as if making hash browns. But it needed something green … the kale I’d just bought at Glut would do! In it went to wilt among the beans.

I took the black-tinged sausage out of the oven, piled some of the bean and kale mix on the side, and topped it with fresh lemon and some chili flakes. As soon as my meal’s potential started to waft towards me, I ran upstairs to grab my “lesser” camera. Just in case it was as good as it looked, I wanted a record. Luckily for fresh cracked pepper, it was.

The sausage was surprisingly healthy-tasting (I have friends who question me on whether something can taste health!), its maple-syrup sweetness not overbearing. As the sausage casing gave way with a yielding snap, I was reminded of why my vegetarianism will only ever be of the pseudo- variety. And since this article on vegan ultra-runner Scott Jurek came out, my athleticism no longer justifies my consumption of animal protein.

Regardless of why I gave in to the sausage (craving, taste, or whim), hopefully the shot of protein will help offset last week’s fatigue. What causes tiredness anyway? An unexpected bout of excitement that eventually must give way to everyday life? Sleep patterns? Boredom? Lack of iron or protein? All I know is that I can’t figure out why some weeks I feel like a slug in Savasana, and others like a caffeinated cheetah.

What a perfect weekend. Swimming, followed by yoga with a thunderstorm soundtrack. Running, yard parties, and a new bra. An impromptu Turkish picnic. A long ride, “chewy” coffee, and a conversation with a much-loved cousin. A slow afternoon eating Spanish tapas for one, and later sipping wine with wonderful housemates.

Whatever tomorrow brings, my arms are open.

(Stay tuned for the next “product placement” post, coming to a cracked-up blog near you.)

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Product: Al Fresco Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage

Ingredients: Skinless chicken meat, pure maple syrup, evaporated can syrup, evaporated cane juice, dried apples, salt, lemon juice, water, spices, natural pork casing.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 Link(85g)
Serving Per Container 4 LINKS
Amount Per Serving
Calories 160    Calories from Fat 60
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 11%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholestrol 60mg 20%
Sodium 480mg 20%
Total Carbohydrate 10g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Sugars 9g
Protein 14g
Vitamin A 0%     Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0%        Iron 6%
*Percent daily values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs:
Calories 2000 2500
Total Fat less than 65g 80g
Saturated Fat less than 20g 25g
Cholestrol less than 300mg 300mg
Sodium less than 2400mg 2400mg
Total Carbohydrate 300g 375g
Dietery Fiber 25g 30g
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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.

buttercup lentil soup

Squash is a rather deceiving name for the vegetable to which it refers. With pudgy approachability and even cuteness, the squash family is far from cushy. Take, for example, this buttercup. Looks delightful enough. With its little cap and almost folded-in appearance, it’s the grandmother of the fall harvest.

But set a knife to it and it sure puts up a fight. This hard fact is what led me to one of the most important realizations of my cooking life: squash need not be peeled before cooking. Nope. No matter what those recipes tell you, “squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped” need not require a follow-up cool down and protein shake.

The secret’s in roasting the squash first: Hack it up (or not, as some argue) throw it in the oven, and digging into that squishy soft squash-flesh will become one of your happiest soup making memories.

Lately I’ve been trying to venture out of my butternut rut. There are just so many other squashes to try: hubbard (not so impressed with my specimen), spaghetti, and acorn (one of my favorites to stuff), to name a few. I finally got around to this buttercup, whose dense, creamy flesh surprised me. I’ve also got two Delicatas on hand to try sometime this week.

There are as many ways to prepare squash as there are to love it, but one of my favorites has to be soup. I know I could have just substituted this buttercup into any squash soup recipe, but instead decided to do an off-the-cuff version with whatever needed to be used.

And it was good. Very good. With bright tomato red, spinach green, and buttercup orange, this soup is fall’s palate in a bowl.

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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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give peas a chance

One of my fondest school days memories is a grade four geography project. Our teacher put us in teams and gave each team a country to research and report on. At the end of the unit, we put on a cultural fair for our parents and other classrooms. Each team hosted one of the booths set up around the perimeter of the classroom.

What country did I get assigned to? France. Trying to ignore pangs of jealousy for the kids on the African, Asian, and South American teams, we began to brainstorm. One thing on the list was which French food we would provide samples of. My vote for fries was quickly bulldozed by the safety issues of a deep fryer in an elementary classroom.

The next best thing? Pea soup. As if France wasn’t bad enough. Now nobody would come to our booth.

I was a naive child. In the end I was proud of us, decked out in berets. I was also proud of the booth we ran, with its red-and-white checkered tablecloth and café atmosphere.

But oh, the soup. I can’t remember whose mom made it, but it was silky-smooth and a bright crayon-green. Sweet, with a gulp of robust legumes. Fresher than chili but more satisfying than your average, pedestrian vegetable soup. Parents were passing up  chow mein and strudel for our soup.

I don’t know why, but I didn’t eat pea soup again until a few months ago at a friend’s house. It was one of those simple suppers — one I’d never think of making, but that delighted me with every slurp. Pea soup went back on the back burner.

And then I bought a cookbook that convinced me to try it for myself. With one success down, I decided to go for it. After all, the first day of spring passed on Friday with nary an offering from me—how could I be so ignorant? A new season, one of my favorite things, and a warmer, friendlier one at that.

To you spring, I offer this bowl of pea parmesan: surpassing my expectations with its richness, the heartiness of a passing winter and the freshness of new green.

Good thing seasons don’t eat soup, because I’m a selfish sparrow.

bracelet2*bracelet by Rachel Sudlow

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run for it green chili

On an afternoon last month that could have frozen a habanero, I sipped coffee with an old friend. She’s a loving and assiduous mother, and one of the most compassionate peopleI know. She’s one of those friends who makes you miss have friends near who know you like that. One of those friends who makes you wish coffee was free and decaf better-tasting and diamond-clear Winnipeg afternoons 3 hours longer.

One of those friends whose hunger for your company makes you feel like the most interesting person in the world.

It was almost January. The promise of a new year had filled us with hope — however negligible these flips of the calendar are. Gingerly, she placed her own goal onto the pile we’d amassed between our white mugs: she was going to start running. I was instructed not to tell the world; she wanted to do this in small, private steps, until she’d proven to herself that she could.

The other day we spoke again, this time over the phone. It had been a month, and unlike so many other hopeful new runners, she’d stuck with it. She’d joined a new runner’s group, and day after fridgid -30 day, melted those snowy roads with perseverance.

We caught up. We talked about things friends talk about: love, mornings, naps, looking ahead and looking back.  Oh yes, and running. I did my best to respond to her questions. Good shoes are indispensable. Everything’s better in the spring. Pain is normal, but also a red flag. You’re in control of your form, your stride, your attitude. Make sure to get enough protein.

I told her I would dedicate my next recipe to that last one, and here it is.

From a cookbook I picked up the other day (when I was supposed to be buying a textbook), this soup is the perfect chili-soup hybrid. It roils with the taste of crushed coriander and cumin seeds, punctuating this grey season with its four-fold green. Whether you choose the original or a vegetarian modification, this soup delivers protein in at least two delicious forms: with quinoa, beans, and chicken (if you choose) you athletes out there really can’t go wrong.

When friends are too far to measure out afternoons in coffee spoons, soup spoons are a worthy substitute.

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simply soba

When it comes to food, I am really quite easily satisfied.  I love anything healthy, seasonal, and simple. I am enticed by brown grains flecked with hues of green. The bold tang of garlic frequently meets up with gently wilted leaves in bowls on my table. And unlike my last post, this one will be purely service-oriented, hopefully generating nothing but raving comments from all ye who enter its savory embrace.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but is not garlic the most universally seasonal of the aromatic family? Kale too is a cold-weather green, with leathery hardiness unrivalled among greenery. Think of it as the biker of cabbage family. It almost got me wanting to listen to G n’ R while I cooked. Almost.

This dish is responsible for the 2 pound package of Japanese Soba Noodles waiting patiently in my cupboard. They are the buckwheat darlings of the glorious noodle kingdom —  slippery-soft, done in 3 minutes, and can be tossed with just about any legume, vegetable, spice or sauce. Try them in stir-fries or as a carrier for your next back-of-the-fridge mash-up. Eating buckwheat shouldn’t really feel as glorious as this, but it can. Oh yes, it can.

And thanks to the hubby, my new favorite garlic companion makes six cloves of garlic a breeze. Yep, six cloves. Instant garlic love. No more of this sticky ridiculousness.  If you’re lucky enough to find one, do yourself a favor

There’s nothing to this dish. Set some tofu to press in the fridge before you go out in the morning.  Cook up some noodles. Bread the tofu slabs and bake or fry.  Mix up the noodles and presto! You’ve got a robust,  hard-core winter dinner companion.

When Axel’s busy, this will more than do.

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