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.

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.

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

spiced bangladeshi mung beans and rice

I didn’t intend to post on this, but it begs to be shared. Born from the need to make lots of healthy food to sustain us through a busy week, it materialized one afternoon between work sessions. The recipe is from a former roommate, and it’s the kind of thing you’ll almost always have the ingredients for.

Usually when I think of mung beans, bean sprouts jump to mind. But this showcases them as the meaty, chewy legume they were born to be. OK, maybe beans don’t have destinies, but we can pretend. You can find them dried in Asian grocery stores, and all they need is a couple hours’ soak.

You start off by frying some fragrant spices in oil, add your beans and rice, top it with some water and set it to simmer. It’s that easy, and it all happens in one happy wok. It’s incredibly low-maintenance, great for a busy work day.

It’s hard to get sick of this (even after day 5) because you can dress it up in so many different ways. By adding sweet caramelized onions, a sliced hard boiled egg, and a side of yogurt, it becomes like an Indian curry—a platform for all sorts of tasty additions. You could make fried rice out of it one evening, and wrap it up in some flatbread with slices of baked tofu the next.

Sometimes a bowl of beans and rice, redolent of mild chai, can remind you that it’s good to be alive. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but it makes me appreciate the simple things.

Continue reading

butternut squash pasta

I’m starting to wonder if I should take vitamin D supplements. The past few days have been unusually sunny for Central New York, and I just can’t get enough. Unfortunately most of my day yesterday was spent indoors in front of glowing screens. At least someone was smart enough to invent windows.

Today was much better: A perfect latte, writing about food for my assignment at the paper, riding a sunny bus and listening to my latest podcasts from RadioLab and the Splendid Table. I just started riding buses again, and let me tell you, podcasts are my new best friend.

After a few hours at the paper, I put 6.6 fresh miles on my new Saucony’s. They’re a size bigger than my last two pairs, and wider too — all in hopes that I can keep my second toenail.

February is such a tease. Snow. Rain. Temperatures tempting my skirts out of hiding, then slamming me with another get-me-a-hot-chocolate-and-a-bath-now kind of evening. But it’s a short month, really. It must be hard to establish an identity for yourself with only 28 days (and sometimes 29). Even if you’re just a month, and don’t really have much of an identity to begin with.

After running there was coffee and baked things that I will soon post about. There was breathing and stretching and the shelving of worries. Days are getting ever-so-slightly longer, inching toward six p.m. It was one of those serene evenings where busyness seems like just another mental state and a downward dog can cure anything.

I returned to an apartment warm with the fragrance of nutmeg. The day couldn’t have gotten much better as it was, and there on my stove was a steaming skillet of fusili mortared together with pureed roasted squash. There were brussels sprouts our favorite way: dry-roasted in a sweet veneer of balsamic. There was a small glass of crimson wine winking back at the rich colors of the steaming food on my plate.

In that moment I was fine with the light having faded from the day. Because the good things of night—companionship, catching up, staying put—have their place too.

And so does peanut-butter chocolate ice cream at 10 p.m. That’s when the running really comes in handy.

Continue reading

when life gives you apples

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday saturated with the smell of fallen leaves baking in the sun, I went apple-picking. For for the first time. Ever. I know, I had a deprived, prairie childhood.

Sure I’ve plucked a few sour crab apples from the tree we had out back as kids. But that doesn’t count. This was good old-fashioned, eastern-style apple picking, right in the heart of the Empire state.

We debated the merits of Galas, Macs, and Cortlands. We ate fresh apple fritters, just out of their hot oil bath. We bought salty cheese curds and they squeaked against our teeth. We wandered the orchard in the feeble fall warmth.

Normally I don’t post photos of myself on here, but I got kind of a kick out of this one. It’s so posed, and I look so proud. With all the time I’ve spent in grocery stores in my lifetime, apples seem ubiquitous. Perfectly piled, row upon row, making ruby pyramids that greet you from the produce section.

Picking them from the tree is an entirely different thing. The apples, Empire in the case, appear like swollen purple grapes nestled in their spindly trees and pruned for prime production. You wrap your hand around one of the firm fruits, pull gently, and feel the snap of stem dislodged from its lifeblood. It’s such a simple gift of nature.

And when nature gives you apples, there’s just so much you can do. We ended up eating most of them raw, shined up on shirt sleeves, but I did managed to eek out a few containers of applesauce.

This stuff was a mainstay of our family’s dessert repertoire. Ladled out into bowls or over ice cream, the cinnamon-laced chunky brown applesauce was all the bedtime snack we needed. I’ve hated the baby food jarred stuff ever since; chunkiness and sauce go hand-in-hand in my world.

This year, the applesauce surprised me with its bright shade of pink. It must be those Empire apple skins, redder than a whole bushel full of blushing Republicans.

So many dear dear apples, straight from the tree into my pot. My childhood, slurped up from a silver spoon.

Continue reading

i say tomato

“August is the cruelest month,

breeding tomatoes out of the green land,

mixing hunger with desire,

stirring my stomach with red globes

filled with the sun’s rays.” — T.S. Eliot

Late August, a turning point. Summer teetering on its long legs, delirious with spent heat, drunk with ripeness, ready to fall. Unexpectedly warm days like memoirs of June flirt with September’s impinging chill. It’s my first full summer to fall transition here in central New York, and I don’t really know what to expect. My Canadian urge to wrap myself in sweaters at this time of year is consistently fought off by summer’s persistence.

A summer I am happy to enjoy so long as she keeps bringing me her ruby gifts.

Yesterday’s gift, an heirloom tomato. Or, as I saw on a sign at the market on Saturday, an example of “what tomatoes used to taste like” before they were domesticated and shipped thousands of miles still in their green skin. I can’t remember what cultivar exactly this one is, but it sprung from seeds saved by friends and generously passed on to me in the spring.

Heirlooms, often scarred and sometimes bulbous, make up for their “ugliness” in taste. Fleshy and meaty and with few watery bits, it seems like they were made for the Toasted Tomato Sandwich: Queen of August lunches.

This particular one wasn’t the ultimate, but I grew it myself, and that more than made up for what it lacked in taste.

There’s such pleasure in watching food happen right under your fingertips. Nurturing the seedlings and then transplanting them to the wider world of the garden. Tomato plants yield an almost overnight jungle, which in the face of other failed crops (radishes, beets and peas) provide much-needed satisfaction for rookie gardeners like myself. Witnessing their small buds break open in the early summer and then turn to green globes is a procession full of mouth-watering expectation. The red rewards are now just beginning to emerge.

They began like this, reaching for sunlight through a window:


As a child, the Toasted Tomato Sandwich (TTS) was synonymous with summer. Known in other households as the BLT, in ours the presence of bacon was a once in awhile treat. As ubiquitous in our home as Kraft dinner was in most, the TTS was usually served on the softest of white bread, either rye or my mother’s homemade. Sometimes smothered with Miracle Whip for a tangier bite than mayonnaise, the simple harmony of flavors was unmatched in our sandwich world. Bread, mayo, tomato, salt and pepper: Childhood summers suddenly tangible.

As I got older I experimented with whole leaves of basil, sprouts, different lettuces, and more grainy breads. But the taste of a soft white bread (in yesterday’s case, Panera’s sunflower loaf) caramelized slightly in the toaster, three thick slices of home-grown tomato, and the rare touch of crisp bacon was a taste I wished could’ve lasted all day long. Ever as satisfying, I was instantly transported to a sunny kitchen in small-town Manitoba:

As T.S. Eliot suggests, my stomach felt full of the sun’s rays indeed. And as we march steadily into fall, I hope the red globes — just beginning to peek through foliage in my garden — will help keep me sunny for weeks to come.

Homemade Energy Bars II: Walamee Balls

I really like making up names for the stuff I bake, kind of like Grandpa did. It’s not that any of them stick as well, but I try. I guess it kind of feels like branding, like I could develop a cute package and commercial to go along with them. But that would defeat the purpose, really.

With my my latest concoction in the energy snack series combining walnuts and sesame seeds, I came up with the name walamee balls, or bars, or just walamees. I think it sounds pleasantly Australian. Exotic, despite its everyday ingredients.

Many of you seemed to enjoy the Whole Grain Chews I posted a few weeks ago. So just for you, I quickly got to work on another seedy snack, similarly chewy but different in style. A sweet and nutty combination of raisins, dates, sesame seeds and walnuts, these little packages deliver a healthy hit of energy-boosting carbs and muscle-building protein in about 1.5 “round” inches. Throw them in your bike bag or backpack for when those blood sugar levels start to get low.

Making your own snacks–a food group we’ve wholly handed to big companies–can be incredibly satisfying. Not only do these snacks take minutes to prepare, you can practically do them in your sleep. They also save on packaging and transportation (yay Earth!) and are composed of whole, natural ingredients (yay Bodies!) So next time you’re cruising down the Power Bar aisle, don’t be fooled by the healthy bodies on the packaging. You deserve better.

So grab your food processor (or a friend’s or grandmother’s), some basic ingredients, and a couple of well-scrubbed kids, and get rolling! These handy snacks keep marvelously–on the counter or in the fridge where they’ll be even more refreshingly cool.

Continue reading

comfort food

Comfort food is hard to define—that is, until you really need it. Last night was one of those nights. For most, comfort food conjures up visions of fat, sugar, cream, or chocolate—the classic no-no’s of health. But to my delight, I have found that in the world of food, comfort goes by many other names.

Comfort food in the winter is easy: just turn up the heat and heartiness and you’re set. And chocolate is a no-brainer, rarely failing to deliver a brief flirtation with other worlds.

But what about in the heat of the summer, when the wind has whipped the sweat off your skin for an hour and forty-five minute’s bike ride, competing with the sun to brand you its own—what then is comfort food? When you’ve run around all afternoon under the (blessed) heat of the June sun, carting things in and out of your car which you repeatedly curse for being black—what then will bring you relief? When you get told that a U.S. border guard made a mistake with your documents, rendering your recent 3-hour trip North just to re-enter the country to change your visa 99% pointless? When everything just seems to pile up on one lone innocent Monday—what then is comfort food?

I don’t know what you say, but I say Tostadas. Not one to call the whole thing off and resort to toast for dinner, I pulled some little corn tortillas out of the freezer. Since moving to the US, I’ve discovered (not only the true meaning of comfort food) the true meaning of Mexican food. Down here they go way beyond the sloppy burritos and “I could make those at home” nachos peddled by Winnipeg’s Carlos and Murphy’s imposters. But best of all, down here I learned the art of the tostada: quite possibly the world’s fastest, healthiest, friendliest supper for one.

While my two corn tortillas browned away in the toaster over, I dumped a half a can of black beans in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. A squirt of hot sauce, a glug of Dinosaur BBQ sauce, and a little mashing-with-the-spatula later and they were ready. Then it went a little somethin’ like this: toasted tortilla, sprinkle of mozzarella, black bean mixture, chopped tomatoes, torn romaine, a glug of red salsa and one of Wegman’s salsa verde, some green onions and low-fat sour cream–voila! Or shall I say, Ola! I was in the kitchen for probably about 8 minutes. It would’ve taken me longer to find the phone number for Alto Cinco.

Since I couldn’t be bothered with the pictures tonight (#1 way to tell if you’re a compulsive food blogger: eating a meal without a camera nearby = relaxing) I have provided you with some shots of the more accessorized tostadas we made for my folks when they were here in April. For these we fried the tostadas, but tonight I learned that toasted are just as good and of course, healthier. Tostadas are forgiving. Top ‘em with anything that brings you comfort: Grilled shrimp, chicken, cabbage, Cadbury Mini Eggs.

At the end of my exasperating day was a yellow-brick road paved with sweet, crunchy, chewy, leafy food. How simple a remedy; how basic the desire for true pleasure in satiety. Now for the chocolate—thankfully I picked up 3 Lindt Chili bars at Target earlier today—and if a 3 for 5$ decent chocolate sale isn’t evidence that life balances itself out, I don’t know what is. And Mr. Border Patrolman can go stuff himself with Hershey’s.

Homemade Energy Bars I: Whole Grain Chews

There’s only one problem with getting into fitness: inevitable weakening in the face of the supplement craze. As I watch my fellow triathlon trainees squeezing gels into their mouths, it’s easy to give in to the notion that I need the stuff. I continually have to remind myself that real food should be enough for any body. Beyond the protein (powder) shakes that help me meet my protein requirements minus much meat, there’s no creatine, glutamine, ecdysterone, 5-HTP, or anything else I can’t pronounce or made up of more numbers than letters in this body.

This is why I have been combing blogs and books, and experimenting with combination after combination of natural ingredients to bring you a collection of the best homemade energy bars. This is why I will continue to experiment, posting the worthy results under this new series. I hope you appreciate the results: many craisins were harmed in the process.

Most of the popular commercial energy bars are chalk full of weird ingredients, and taste like chalk to boot. Exceptions are Larabars and most Clif Bars, which will cost you a (however chiseled) arm and a leg to consume regularly. Making a whole pan of your own is a matter of less than 5$ and 10 minutes in the kitchen. Stock up on oats, pressed barley, coconut, honey, peanut butter, nuts and dried fruits, and you’ll have everything you need on hand to whip up any number of my bars. Keep them on the counter for a week, or wrap ’em in foil and freeze them for that 3-week away hike.

I like to alternate recipes to keep me from getting bored. Some bars are baked, which tend to be lighter and crispier, while the unbaked ones resemble the chewy commercial type. The baked ones are more cookie-like, while the pressed ones tend to be sweeter and more intense.

The unbaked ones (like the recipe I am sharing today) need a lot more sticky binder than you’d expect to keep them from falling apart. Please don’t make the mistake I did and try to cut down on the peanut butter! If you’re worried about fat issues involved in 1 whole cup of peanut butter, cut the bars into small cubes…that’s all you need for a quick jolt on the trails anyway!

These bars are dense and satisfying, perfect mid- or post-workouts over an hour long. (Before a workout you’ll want to have some more complex, or slow-burn carbs for sustained energy.) They are sweetened with all-natural ingredients–honey, dried fruit, and natural peanut butter. Honey is made up of fructose and glucose and is a simple, or single-molecule sugar. This means that it enters your bloodstream quickly–translating to more energy bang for your buck.

Athletes take note: carbs (formerly known as sugar) are your friend and fuel. And heck, they’re a lot cheaper than filling up your car. Remember that it is also important to consume simple carbs after a workout, when your muscles are needing to restock their glycogen stores. (See this article for more information than you care to read here.)

All that aside, they’re just plain tasty and convenient. And they fit perfectly in laptop bags, glove compartments, and even dainty purses.

Continue reading