A Day in the Life, Part 2

I typically start my day with a light, nutritious breakfast. When I worked in the afternoon and evening, I would cook first thing in the morning and have a big hearty breakfast and start prepping ingredients for cooking lunch. Now that I work a more standard 9-5 day, I don’t have time in the morning to do that any cooking. But I make my coffee and blend up a green smoothie. It’s easy to prep while the coffee brews and I feed the bunny, and easy to sip while I do my makeup and get dressed. I’ve tried having oatmeal or a sandwich instead, but it’s too messy while I’m rushing around and too heavy in my gut for the two mile walk to work. This week’s smoothies have been more purple than green – steamed beets, banana, blueberries or cherries, flax seeds, and almond milk.

For lunch, I do my best to cook something on the weekend to pack up for at least the first part of the week. Later in the week I will pack up other dinner leftovers. Worst case scenario, I take dry oatmeal with raisins or other fruit and nuts, or sometimes a savory version with peas and greens. This week we’re going out of town on Thursday, so I only need three meals, and I also need to use up some stuff in the fridge. I made tofu scramble with peppers, mushrooms, and peas for Sunday morning breakfast, then packed up the leftovers with some millet. There wasn’t a ton of scramble left, so I stretched it  out with extra peas and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds for each serving. I also packed up a side of raw broccoli and hummus. I have celery and cucumbers to take on the other two days.

Three little bowls: pre-millet, but post-sriracha.

Three little bowls: pre-millet, but post-sriracha.

My dinners can be a little scattered. My manfriend usually gets home much later than I do, so we don’t always have dinner together. That’s just one more reason I try to cram a lot of nutritious food into the first part of the day! After walking home in the heat, I want a snack right when I walk in the door. Depending on my mood, I might have a bowl of popcorn, some chips and salsa, or even just fruit. If I’m really hungry, I eat some leftovers or a bowl of oatmeal. I’ll cook something light later on if we’re hungry, although I do make it a point to cook a proper dinner for two at least once a week.

Today I picked up some whole-wheat pasta and cans of beans at the store on my way home. It’s going to be in the 90’s this week, so I don’t want to have to cook beans from scratch! I have an easy formula for weeknight dinners: whole grain + bean + vegetables. Tonight I went with whole-wheat elbow macaroni, chickpeas, tomatoes, and broccoli. Here’s a “recipe” for tonight’s dinner (I’m using that term loosely, since actual recipes usually include measurements and stuff.)

Pasta With Raw Tomatoes and Broccoli

Ingredients:

Whole grain pasta of your choice (maybe half a pound?)

1 can chickpeas, drained

Small head broccoli, chopped

3 or more cloves garlic, minced

Tomatoes (I used small yellow plum tomatoes and a big red beefsteak), diced

  1. Combine the garlic and tomatoes in a bowl with some salt and pepper. Let them sit while you prep everything else.
  2. Cook the pasta according to package directions. During the last 2-3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli. When it’s done cooking, ladle off some pasta water and add it to the tomato-garlic mixture (this warms the tomatoes and makes it easier to toss). Drain the pasta.

    Sometimes there is pasta in the pasta water.

    Sometimes there is pasta in the pasta water.

  3. Toss the chickpeas, pasta and broccoli, and the tomatoes in a big bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add some fresh basil or parsley if you have it! (I didn’t.) Gobble it up!
Not gonna lie: I ate a lot of this.

Not gonna lie: I ate a lot of this.

I followed dinner with a tiny bit of dark chocolate. And that’s my day, folks! I recorded a good one for you, just to be clear. There are plenty that involve eating chips on my way home from work because my job is depressing sometimes, and others that feature wine and take-out Thai food, but I always strive for one like this. Aside from my after-work tortilla chips and salsa, it was pretty low on processed foods, including cooking oil. I’m always amazed at how many calories oil adds to a dish! Every time I cut it out, I drop a few pounds. If you want to learn more about why oil is not great for you, check out Forks Over Knives. The film is eye-opening and they have some super recipes on the website. Anyway, my point as always is that with a little planning, a healthy diet isn’t that hard.

To your health!

Tips for Being Broke Between Holidays

By now you’ve eaten your Thanksgiving leftovers and you’re plotting what to make for Christmas and New Year’s parties and if you’re me, a birthday party and a late-January Tupperware party.  And if you’re anything like me, you’re also shopping for gifts and feeling overwhelmed at the cost of everything and trying very hard not to forget to eat in the weeks between holidays.  And wondering why holiday foods must always include nuts when nuts are so expensive?  And booze is expensive, and fresh fruits are expensive, and oops I ate oatmeal for two meals today and coffee for the third, and what am I going to serve when I have guests from New York, and will they want to eat out, and how many days do I need to take off work for this, and dammit I forgot about that check and overdrew and WHY IS MY KITCHEN SO DIRTY???

You can see I am giving myself an ulcer and should probably lay off the coffee.  However, in a moment of (coffee-induced) clarity at work yesterday, I started making lists during my downtime.  I mentally inventoried what I have in my pantry, added a few cheap things from the local grocery store, and planned my meals for the week.  Here’s what I’ve got, then I’ll show you what I came up with:

Pantry:

red lentils, black beans, kidney beans, white beans

one can butter beans, three cans tomato paste

whole grain penne and couscous

wheat berries and wild rice

oatmeal

dried fruits (prunes, raisins, apricots)

pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, tahini

nutritional yeast

flour, sugar, etc

Fridge/Freezer:

leftover baked sweet potato

few slices Ezekial Bread

half bag frozen spinach

half bag frozen corn

leftover tropical fruit from Mom’s Tupperware party

extra firm tofu

couple carrots

3 pierogies

onions, garlic, ginger

That’s what I’ve got, and since I can’t currently afford a big Trader Joe’s run to replace the thousand things I’m out of (brown rice, nuts, peanut butter, frozen everything, etc), I need to make it last until I do a big pre-party shop.  So I made a little list and hit up the local grocery (the one with the non-rotten produce) for a few extras.  I got beets, 4 broccoli crowns, almond milk, 2 grapefruits, and bananas all for under $15.  I should have gotten more onions too, but I can go back for just that when I run out.  I figure I can make red lentil soup with the leftover sweet potato, cook all the beets at once to add to my smoothies with the leftover fruits, and roast some of the broccoli and use the rest in a stir-fry with the tofu and carrots, as well as having steamed spinach with garlic.  One meal a day is oatmeal (lately this is my dinner at work) with raisins and seeds.  The tomato paste can be turned into simple pasta sauce.  I can easily make a black bean and corn chili as well.  Of course, I also have plenty of baking ingredients too, in case I want to make a quick soda bread or muffins.  Plus pierogies when I need a dose of quick comfort food!

See, when life gives you lemons, you just have to zest them into some muffins and use the juice to flavor kombucha.  I was feeling very impoverished this past week, but with some careful planning I can still have delicious healthful meals.  I’ll also be able to save a little now so I can splurge later in the month.  I’m thinking hard about how to keep my birthday party low-cost.  Right now, that might mean a potluck with me making just light finger foods: hummus and crudite, stuffed mushrooms, chips and salsa.  I’m having dreams of mulled wine and cider, but we’ll see what happens.

In other news, I am having a Tupperware party in January which will be my debut as a Tupperware consultant!  I’ve been needing a second job for a while, and this seems to fit the bill.  Flexible hours, much of the sales being done online, party planning, food demos, and wholesale products.  I’ll post details about the business when I know more so that you my beloved readers can be some of my first customers!

In other news:  Please let me know what you want to see here!  I’ve been feeling uninspired for months now, which I have realized is because my kitchen is usually dirty.  That’s the disadvantage of living with lots of people.  Anyway, I’m staying away from posting about complicated celebration foods too much; there are a million other wonderful blogs for that.  I lean towards focusing on things that are easy and cheap to make during this awkward December holiday limbo.  Was there anything I mentioned above that caught your eye?  

PS  – I’m now on Twitter!  @thepennyparsnip  I don’t have it all figured out just yet, but I will!

Emptying the Cupboards

Dear friends, I have not had the time to do much writing in a while and I think it’s fair for you know why, since I hope that the reason will eventually lead to better content.

In a few short weeks I am leaving Brooklyn, my beloved home of nine years, for Pittsburgh, the city of my birth.  My reasons are many and diverse, but I’m hoping that I’ll find a stronger sense of community there as well as much much lower rent.  Brooklyn has been good to me.  I’m eternally grateful to so many people I have met over the years, all of the friends, teachers, children, and employers – many of whom have become like family to me.  All of you have taught me so much and made me into the woman I am today.  I will miss you.

So now that I’ve got the heartfelt sappy stuff out of the way, let’s talk about food!  For the past month I’ve been slowly stuffing things into boxes and trying to use up the contents of my freezer and pantry.  I successfully emptied the liquor cabinet by throwing a party, but I didn’t realize just how much real food I had been stockpiling.  I’ve still got a lot to eat (or give away) in the next five days before I abandon my apartment.  There are even things I can’t eat!  Namely a box of frozen salmon patties and some frozen raspberries. 

 It’s been a real adventure in eating finding ways to combine these things!  There have been grain pilafs with a variety of frozen veggies, soups and stews, innovative pasta sauces, oddly colored smoothies, and countless bowls of grits (why do I have so much cornmeal???).  Today I came up with a particularly good pot of glop stew that I’d like to share with you.

Quinoa Chili Glop  Stew

Ingredients:

1 big onion, diced

a few cloves of garlic, minced

1 big can of crushed tomatoes

2 cans of beans, drained and rinsed (I used kidney and black beans)

4 or 5 carrots, chopped

1 or 2 cups quinoa (or in my case, however much was in that jar (I didn’t measure))

cumin, chili powder, oregano, crushed red pepper, whatever spices you like in chili

1.  Saute the onions and garlic in a little water or broth until they are soft. Add the cumin and chili powder and saute a minute more.  Dump in the tomatoes and one can of water.  Cover and bring to a simmer.

2.  After about 10 minutes of simmering, add the carrots, quinoa, and beans and cook covered until most of the water is absorbed by the quinoa and the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes

3.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more water if necessary.  

There you have my lunch for the rest of the week!  Good stuffed into corn tortillas with some sliced avocado and hot sauce.  Who knows what I’ll do with it once I’ve run out of tortillas!

Pumpkin Pie Breakfast Bar Experiment

I know it’s the wrong time of year, since it’s almost Spring, but I had a giant can in the cabinet leftover from pumpkin muffin making season.  And anyway, I can think of at least one person (you know who you are) who would argue that it’s always the right time of year for pumpkin.  So last week I felt like baking a pie, and pumpkin seemed the logical choice based on the contents of my pantry.  Then I had leftover pumpkin puree, and I needed a filling breakfast to eat on the train while on my way to a babysitting job at the ungodly hour of 7am.  Thus I created the shockingly delicious and filling Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Bowl, involving raw rolled oats, pumpkin, soy yogurt, raisins, cinnamon and nuts all placed in a plastic container the night before and stirred together into a cold orange slurry while riding the G train.

Someone recently suggested more snacky things on the blog (sorry Ray, I failed to come up with a chip alternative), so I took my remaining cup of pumpkin puree and got to work on a breakfast cookie.  It’s not quite perfect, but I like it and I am excited that there’s a lot of room for fun variations.  You may prefer something a little sweeter.  If so, I suggest adding a few tablespoons of maple syrup or honey in step 3.  A more natural route to sweetness might be to grind a few dates with the nuts, but you’ll have to try it and let me know how that turns out.  Also keep in mind that the browner the banana, the sweeter it will be.

Ingredients:

1/2 c nuts of your choice (I used walnuts)

2 c rolled oats

1/4 c ground flax seed

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp each: nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger

1 c pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix! the only ingredient should be pumpkin)

1 large ripe banana

1/2 c plant milk (I used almond)

1/2 c raisins

1 c rolled oats

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9″x13″ pan, including up the sides.  You could try a smaller pan for thicker bars, but I can’t guarantee the results.

2. In a food processor fitted with the S blade, pulse the nuts until they are slightly chopped.  Add 2 cups oats, flax, soda, and spices and pulse until just combined, but not so much that the oats and nuts get powdery.

3.  Add the pumpkin, banana, and milk.  Pulse until well-combined.

4.  Add the raisins and remaining cup of oats.  Pulse a few times, then finish mixing by hand.  The batter will be quite thick by now.

5.  Spread the batter evenly in the pan.  Bake for 25 minutes, until lightly browned and pulling away from the edge of the pan.  Turn it half way through the cooking time for even baking.

6.  Let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then cut into squares and carefully remove them from the pan to cool on a wire rack.

So what kind of variations could we make?  I’m thinking of a peanut butter and banana bar next, with either blueberries or chocolate chips.  Who else has ideas?

Stretching

Spent too much over the holidays?  Budget shot from too many nights out, plane/train/bus tickets, and gifts for your family and friends?  Yeah, me too.  All will be well when I get paid tomorrow, but in the meantime, I need to make the most of what I’ve got in the pantry.  (Improv Soup, anyone?)

Upon my return to the city over the weekend, I whipped up a red lentil and sweet potato soup with some curry and other spiced.  As I recall, there’s not much in it besides onion, carrots, celery, 2 big sweet potatoes, and half a pound of red lentils.  It’s tasty, but I can make it last longer by doing a few key things:

Adding brown rice (I get it on the cheap at Trader Joe’s for $1.09/lb)

Adding more vegetables (frozen spinach and others are often less than $2/lb)

Adding a can of tomatoes (watch for sales and buy a whole lot!)

I was planning on doing all of these things until I discovered that I am out of canned tomatoes.  Fortunately I had a couple cans of pumpkin, which is a natural addition to sweet potatoes and spices.  I’ve also added cooked brown rice, some frozen green beans, and a 10oz package of frozen spinach.  For more seasoning, I threw in some more spices (fennel, mustard, cumin), minced fresh ginger, and a just starting to shrivel jalapeno.  Some salt too.

Throw it all in a big pot (except for the rice, which you should save for the end so it doesn’t suck up all the broth) and simmer until it tastes good, adjusting the seasonings as it cooks. The only thing I’d change about my soup is that it could use another onion.  What’s really important though, is that I turned three servings of soup into ten.  I’ll eat like a queen until my paycheck clears!

Almost any dish can be stretched into soup this way.  I have a few servings of Wheat Berry Salad that could probably stand the same treatment if necessary.  Just add water, onion/carrot/celery, and some beans or canned tomatoes, simmer, and voila!  Soup.  Even if you’re not broke, it’s a great way to use up leftovers that you’ve grown weary of.

 

Leftovers

I made much more tomato salad than I could eat this week.  Also, I felt that it was less-than-great after being in the fridge for a few days.  Refrigeration does funny things to good tomatoes!  My mother always told me it was a sin to waste food, so obviously I had to do something with it.  Thus, pasta sauce.  You’re on your own for amounts, but I would guess I had a little less than 2 cups of leftover salad and added about 1/4 cup of sun-dried tomatoes.

Easy Leftover Marinara

Ingredients:

leftover tomato salad, or any tomatoes you have lying around that are getting too soft

garlic, crushed

sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

fresh basil, roughly torn

Salt and pepper to taste

1.  This is easy: combine all ingredients but the basil in a small sauce pan and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Add the basil and serve over your favorite whole-grain pasta.