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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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.

the whole enchilada

This month is almost over, and frankly, I’m glad to see it go. Sure there have been bright spots, like completing two more triathlons, going to some great live shows, and starting a half-marathon plan. Threatening the sunny surface of things, however, August has bred more than its share of saturnine moods.

August and everything after, the Counting Crows once crooned. I’ll take the everything after, thanks.

So why am I so glum then, in a time of sunshine, heat, and ripening tomato plants? Saying goodbye to many good friends, finishing an intense academic year, and feeling hurled into the job market might have something to do with it. Those are the surface explanations, anyway.

Apparently I can thank the god Saturn for times like these. I’m not a big astrology or mythology follower, but I do find those old systems of understanding intriguing. I’m not afraid to explore their wisdom every now and again.

As Thomas More writes in “Care of the Soul,” melancholy was once associated with the Roman god Saturn. We tend to shun, medicate, and fear depression in the modern world; More reminds us that we can instead “develop a positive respect for its place in the soul’s cycles.”

So rather than pining for happier days, I’ve decided to let Saturn in. Besides, he wasn’t only the god of sadness, but of reflection and wisdom as well. He was identified with the metal lead, giving weight and density to life. He was also the reaper, god of the harvest. For that I’ll jump on board his yellow rings.

When two good friends of ours left last week for Connecticut, I closed the chapter of our year-long neighborly friendship in the same way that I opened it: with a meal from Veganomicon. It seemed fitting, as the book was a gift from said friend, and we had welcomed them to Syracuse with a moussaka from its pages.

For this meal, I chose the potato and kale enchiladas, a hearty-looking baked dish with a homemade roasted chili tomato sauce. It seemed like a dish that would bring cheer to our last meal together for a long time.

Dotted with sour cream (tasty, but decidedly un-vegan), the enchiladas squished under our forks with soft potatoes and wilted bright kale. Filling the dining room with the aromas of roasted chili and garlic, they were a satisfying centerpiece to conversation.

And somehow, while reflecting on simple food, I’ve almost managed to forget about my down-ish days. Soon I’ll trade Saturn for September, and all of this being will fold into more doing. The crisp, fresh fall is not so far off. Until it arrives, I’m content to wait. As long as I have good food to stand faithfully by.

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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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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.