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!

Healthy Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes

Pancakes were always a big deal in my family. Every weekend, my dad would cook up heaps of homemade pancakes from his own recipe stored deep in his brain. My dad is an early riser, whereas my mom has always worked the evening shift at the hospital, so on Saturday mornings she slept in while Daddy took care of breakfast. Some of my best memories are of sitting around the kitchen table with my siblings, fighting over who got the next pancake.

Pancake!

Pancake!

Eventually though, all good things must come to an end. My dad took a new job driving a truck cross-country and wasn’t home on the weekends anymore. One of the first Saturdays without him, my little brother, who must have been about eight at the time, decided that cold cereal wasn’t gonna cut it. So we pulled our mom’s Fanny Farmer Cookbook off the shelf and looked up a recipe for pancakes. He did most of the work, although I guess I supervised the use of the stove and stuff. My most important job though, was to eat the pancakes however they turned out. Flipping pancakes is not necessarily easy if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s even harder when you are a little kid who has trouble reaching the back of the stove. Some of them were bad. Really bad. Burnt and raw all at once, somehow both over-mixed and with baking powder lumps, but I ate them!

We worked on pancake making for months, trying different recipes, convincing our dad to write his down as best he could, and after much experimentation (and many awful pancakes for me to eat) my brother came up with his own perfect formula. I went off to college with his recipe in hand and made pancakes for my friends more times than I can remember. As the years have gone by, I’ve done my own experimentation, adding different ingredients, making them healthier, veganizing, improving, playing, and always eating the (occasionally awful) results.

Today’s experiment went well, so try these fluffy and flavorful, healthy and hearty pumpkin pancakes, perfect for fall.  This recipe makes a ton of pancakes, by the way.  If you are just one or two people and don’t want to eat leftovers all week, halve it. If you are feeding four growing children, get two pans going so that they cook faster and minimize arguing.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup quick oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon*
1/2 tsp salt

3 cups milk of choice**
2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup pumpkin puree***

1. Stir vinegar and vanilla into the milk, either in a bowl or right in the measuring cup.  Then add the oats and let them soak in the milk mixture for about ten minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.  This is a great time to make coffee!

2. Sift together the remaining dry ingredients.

3. Add the oat-milk mixture and the pumpkin to the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Let it rest for a few minutes while your pan warms up. This is a good time to pour a cup of that coffee you made in step one.

4. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat for about five minutes. I like non-stick, but sometimes I use cast iron lightly sprayed with cooking oil. Ladle some batter into the pan, tilt it a little to spread the batter out, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface and the edges start to dry. The flip and cook a few more minutes until brown and puffy.

Bubbles!  Almost ready to flip.

Bubbles! Almost ready to flip.

5. Eat drizzled with maple syrup or honey, maybe some toasted walnuts if you feel ambitious, and a nice hot cup of coffee.

*Feel free to add other spices like nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and clove. Today I happened to only have cinnamon
**I used almond, soy should work too.
***I used a can from Aldi – only 79 cents! Make sure it’s just pumpkin, not pie filling.

 

 

Carrot-Walnut Muffins

It’s freezing in my apartment!

I’m too stubborn to turn the heat on so early in October, so I baked.  I threw these together while loosely following a recipe from a book and wondering why I have so few ingredients that are appropriate for muffins.   Please note the lack of oil.  I forgot to put it in.  They’re still spectacular.  Absolutely the best improvisational baking I’ve ever done.  Go make them NOW!

Carrot-Walnut Muffins

There would be 12 here, but 4 didn't survive the cooling process.

There would be 12 here, but 4 didn’t survive the cooling process.

Ingredients

1 c whole wheat flour

1 c all purpose flour

1/2 c sugar (I used white, but brown would probably be great, or honey, or maple syrup, but then you’d have to adjust the liquid)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3/4 c apple juice

1 egg or flax egg

1 T orange zest (Ok, I didn’t measure this.  It was two oranges worth.)

1/2 c  chopped walnuts

1 c grated carrot (hooray for the food processor!)

1.  Preheat oven to 400F and prepare a muffin tin for a dozen (grease them or use paper liners, up to you!)

2.  Sift together dry ingredients.

3.  Beat egg/flax egg with the apple juice and orange zest.  I did this right in the two-cup liquid measuring cup I used for the apple juice.

4.  Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined, then fold in the carrots and walnuts.

5.  Pour the batter into the muffin tins.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes clean.  Mine took 23 minutes.

Let them cool for a few minutes before turning them out on to a wire rack to cool.  Eat some while they are still warm!

Little life update, since it’s been ages since I posted regularly (I am trying to get back in the habit now that my life is calmer!):  In mid-August, I moved out of the big, dirty, junky house I’d been sharing with three women and a cat in Lawrenceville.  My manfriend and I are now living together in a lovely little two-bedroom apartment in Highland Park.  It’s quiet and has loads of trees, and the back windows overlook a very pretty little garden belonging to some unidentified neighbor on the next street, while the front windows look out on a gorgeous old house populated with small blond children and their NYC ex-pat parents.  Our kitchen is AWESOME.  Massive pantry, full-size gas stove, a peninsula counter, and a dishwasher!  Paradise.

 

Cucumber-Strawberry Salsa

I’ve been making this in my Tupperware Quick-Chef Pro for my parties and it’s been a big hit!  So simple and perfect for this season.  I don’t recommend making it in a food processor; it’s too hard to control and you might end up with soup (tasty, but not what we’re going for).  If you don’t have a Quick-Chef or something similar, just finely chop everything by hand.

Ingredients:

1/2 lb strawberries

1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded (if you get the little persian ones, you can skip peeling it)

1/2 a lime’s juice

handfull of fresh cilantro

a few scallions

Freshly ground black pepper and a dash of salt.

1.  Start by whirring the scallions and cilantro in the Quick-Chef until they are roughly chopped.

2.  Add your cucumber, in 1″-2″ chunks, give it three or four good turns.

3.  Add the strawberries and turn until chopped however finely you like, then gently fold in the lime juice.  Top with fresh black pepper and salt to taste.

Serve with tortilla or pita chips.  Yum yum yum.  It’s also really great over a salad of lettuce or baby spinach with a few pepitas.

Simple Skillet Suppers

If last winter was the winter of soup, this is the winter of the skillet.  All my meals lately seem to consist of whatever vegetables I have lying around tossed in a skillet and lightly seasoned.  Some of these meals turn out better than others for sure, but what I am really liking about them is how quickly they come together.  No need to simmer for hours at a time, hovering around near the kitchen lest it scorch or boil over.  Takes about 25 minutes if you chop as you go like I do (a good chef wouldn’t recommend that, but I’m not a chef, so there!)  Here’s one that was particularly delicious.

Southwest Skillet

Ingredients:

2 medium red or other potato (not russets, they fall apart), scrubbed and diced

1 onion, diced

8 oz package mushrooms, sliced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1/4-1/2 cup your favorite salsa

salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high flame, heat enough water to cover the bottom.  Add the onions and potatoes, cover and cook about 5 minutes.

2.  Add the mushrooms and cook uncovered for 5 minutes.

3.  Add the pepper, cover and cook 5 more minutes, adding a little more water if it’s starting to stick.

4.  Finally, add the beans and salsa, give it a good stir and heat through.  Depending on how big you chopped your potatoes, you may need a little more time with the lid on to get them cooked through.

What I liked most about this meal was its versatility.  It made an excellent reheat-able dinner at work, for one thing.  My boyfriend topped it with cheese and wrapped it in a tortilla, and I think he also added some kolbassy when I wasn’t home to wrinkle my nose at it.  I ate the last of it for breakfast today, topped with a fried egg.

Also, the variations are endless!  I’m seeing another version with sweet potatoes, red pepper, and black beans, finished with a squeeze of orange juice and maybe a handful of baby spinach. Yum.  Last week I made one with potatoes, leftover roasted squash, an apple, and some cabbage, finished with lemon juice.  Trust me, that one was much better than it sounds 😉

Green Paste

Today I whipped up some easy healthy soup to (I hope) make up for next week’s impending birthday cake and Christmas cookie binge. One of my coworkers likes to joke that all I eat is green paste, and I’m certainly not proving her wrong tonight. Here’s what I cobbled together in about thirty minutes today.  It isn’t pretty to look at, but it is pretty tasty.

My ugliest meal yet!

My ugliest meal yet!

Green Paste Soup

Ingredients:
1 medium bunch of kale or other greens, coarsely chopped
1 small can tomato paste
1 can butter beans, drained, or any other white bean
3 small onions, or one giant one, or two mediums, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 or more cloves garlic, peeled
whatever herbs you have hanging around
salt and pepper
2 Tbls soy sauce
1/2c whole wheat couscous

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (about half full). Add bay leaf, onions, garlic. Simmer 10 – 15 minutes.
2. Add kale, herbs, and tomato paste, simmer 10 more minutes.
3. Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth.
4. Add beans and turn heat back up to low, adding soy sauce and other seasonings to taste. If it tastes too acidic, add a spoonful of sugar.
5. Dump in the couscous, stir well, turn off the heat and put a lid on it. Let stand for 5-10 minutes until the couscous is tender.

Enjoy!  I garnished it with some pepitas.  It was also good with nutritional yeast and a dash of hot sauce.

Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew

Earlier this week I got a happy little surprise at work:  a $40 gift card for Giant Eagle for doing a good job!  I don’t live near a Giant Eagle, but just a short bus ride away is a fancy-shmancy Market District one.  I’ll just be honest here and tell you that I spent well over $40.  There were so many things!  Bulk bins full of seeds and beans and spices!  Some of the prices were on the high side, but there were also plenty of things I wouldn’t be able to get at my local Shop N Save like red lentils, wheat berries, fennel seeds, and coriander.  It was very exciting.  The sale items were great too, like $.89/lb for kale and collards and $.99 boxes of mushrooms.   By the time I had gotten through half the store (didn’t even get to the frozen foods), I was starving and had to quickly come up with a hearty, guest-worthy dinner for two that would cook up fast since I turn into an angry beast when I get hungry. Inspiration struck in the maze that was the produce section, so I stuffed my canvas bags to the brim and hauled them home on the bus with a little help from my handsome man-friend.

Dinner was to be baked potatoes, sauteed beet greens, and this red lentil soup.  All chosen for ease and speed of cooking.  I turned on the oven and started the water boiling before I even unpacked the bags.  While the lentils simmered, I chopped the sweets and onions.  Once the sweet potatoes were in the pot, I sauteed a shallot for the greens and washed them well (beet greens are impressively dirty).  All the while, russets were baking in the oven.  Altogether, the entire meal took less than an hour to prepare and we were satisfied before I got too hangry.

This is a warm, filling stew that is perfect for crisp autumn weather.

Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew

Ingredients:

2 cups red lentils

2 medium onions

1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes

1 bay leaf

1 inch piece of fresh ginger

Spices:

I think I used about half a teaspoon each of cardamom, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, red pepper flakes, and smoked paprika.  Use what you have.  Curry would also be good in this soup.

Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Start by bringing a large pot of water to a boil, with the bay leaf in it.  Once it’s boiling, add the lentils and simmer.

2.  While the lentils are cooking, peel and finely mince the ginger and add it to the pot.  Then peel and dice the onion and sweet potato and add them.  Put in all the spices, 1/4 teaspoon at a time.  Let it cook a little longer before adding an additional 1/4 tsp or more of all or just some of the spices according to your taste.

3.  Simmer the whole thing for about 40 minutes beginning to end, or for as long as it takes for the lentils and sweet potatoes to soften and the spices to blend.  This is even better leftover because the flavors continue to develop, so feel free to double it to eat all week.

Note about the spices:  If you have the time and feel like dirtying another pan, toast the spices in a skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or so before you add them to the stew.  They taste better that way.  I was too hungry to think about it at the time, but it really does add to the flavor of the soup.

This stew is pretty hearty and would be great served with pitas and a green salad rather than baked potatoes and cooked greens.

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!

Warm Bulgur and Chickpea Salad with Broccoli

I can’t take full credit for this concoction.  The mama I work for got me hooked on this simple dish shortly after I began taking care of her two girls almost two (!) years ago.  The kids LOVE it.  The tahini sauce is my own variation, untested on the little ladies, so if you don’t have or like tahini, just leave it out and dress the salad simply with lemon juice.  It’s good either way.

Ingredients:

1 c bulgur, cooked according to package directions (cooks the same as white rice)

1-2 c cooked chickpeas or other bean of your choice

Big bunch of broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets and steamed to your liking

Handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

Dressing:

1 1/2 lemons, juiced (more to taste)

1 clove garlic

1-2 Tbsp tahini

pinch of cumin, salt and pepper to taste

Minced fresh parsley for garnish

1.  In a blender or food processor, combine all dressing ingredients and blitz until smooth.

2.  Toss everything in a big bowl until well-combined.  Sprinkle with parsley and an extra squeeze of lemon if desired.

Ta-da!  Good while everything is still warm from cooking, or leftover cold the next day.  Don’t hesitate to substitute another grain or bean or vegetable if you don’t care for one of these.  The variations are endless, and because it’s so simple you really can’t screw it up.

Mediterranean Bean Burgers

Mediterranean Bean Burgers

Make these!  They are from Dreena Burton’s wonderful cookbook, Let Them Eat Vegan.  Quite similar to my own Salsa Burgers, but with a different flavor twist.  Penny Parsnip makes them without olives, because olives are yucky 😉  I’m planning to eat these for dinner tonight with a side of pasta tossed with some steamed spinach, seasoned with lemon and lots of garlic.

Much love to all of my readers!  I’m  getting some things worked out for the better right now and hope to start posting my own recipes again soon.