Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tomato & Fennel Soup with Cannellini Beans

I know, I know.  Soup isn't generally something one eats when it's 92 and humid outside.  But for me, the issue isn't so much the temperature outdoors as it is the temperature indoors.

More specifically, the temperature indoors in my office.  

For whatever reason, buildings throughout the DC area have decided to compensate for decades without summertime temperature control (my mom tells me that before the days of widespread A/C, Washington was considered a hardship post in the foreign service) by blasting the A/C at obscene levels.  

The following scene happens to me at least a billion times each summer: After walking down the block in temperatures described by the local weatherman as "akin to standing in a blast furnace," I'll walk into a building where the temperature seems to be set on the "winter in Antarctica" setting.  
Within seconds, I have goosebumps.  Within minutes, my teeth are chattering.  Soon my nailbeds and lips turn blue.  I look around, expecting to see penguins migrating past the receptionist's desk -- or, if we're looking at a kinder, gentler type of frigid conditions, at least some Inuit folks chillin' in the cafeteria.  Alas, there are none.

After encountering this motif often during my first summer here, I started schlepping a thick cardigan sweater with me everywhere, just so that I don't die of exposure.  

Indoors.  During summer.

So, knowing that the temperature outside is predicted to go soaring this week, I know I'm going to need something warm to help me survive the icebox at work. I've also had fennel on the brain, since I recently discovered it and am fairly certain that it's fucking magical. 
With all that in mind, I decided to whip up an Italian-inspired tomato soup with cannellini beans as well as sauteed fennel, onion, and garlic.  As luck would have it, it was delicious -- and it helped fend off the hypothermia, which I definitely appreciated.
Tomato and Fennel Soup with Cannellini Beans
Makes two servings of soup

1 fennel bulb
1/2 white onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 16 oz. carton Imagine Organics Creamy Tomato Soup (it's GF and, as far as I could tell from the ingredient list, dairy-free)
1 12 oz. can Eden Organic cannellini beans (I specifically go for Eden Organics due to their commitment to using BPA-free cans)
3 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

Thinly slice the onion and fennel, and saute until caramelized in 2 tablespoons oil.

Once caramelized, remove the onion and fennel mix from heat and place into a bowl.  Finely chop (or mince) the garlic and saute with one tablespoon oil, along with the fennel seeds, until browned and pungent.

Take it off the stove once it's browned (and be careful, because garlic can be a bastard when it burns quickly), and combine it with the bowl of fennel and onion.

Pour the soup into the same (now empty) pot.  Drain the cannellini beans and combine with the soup.  Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Top with the onion, fennel, and garlic saute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Be warm.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

New Product Review: Udi's Millet-Chia Bread and Good Karma Flax Milk

Living on the East Coast, I often feel like I'm living in some sort of career-imposed exile from the land of gluten-free abundance (also known as the West).  So, when new GF products finally mosey on out here, I get really, really, ridiculously excited.

I've been wanting to try Udi's GF Millet-Chia bread for months now.  I saw it on the Udi's website, and I've been all antsy in anticipation of some new GF bread from my Colorado brethren.  (I mean, seriously.  A company with a quintessentially Israeli name, based in Colorado and producing delicious GF goods?  Can we get any more up my alley than that?)
Millet-Chia Bread

Happily, my boy Udi didn't disappoint.  The bread is delicious, and I love how totally millet-y it is -- ok, so "millet-y" isn't a real word, but the point here is that there are millet grains embedded in the bread itself.  If that ain't whole grain, friends, then I don't know what is.  Per the usual with Udi's, it tastes great.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law emailed me a few weeks ago about a product she'd recently heard about but that hadn't yet arrived in Texas: Good Karma Flax Milk.  I'm always on the lookout for good dairy milk alternatives, and I got pretty stoked when I read about this.  Now, a girl needs her omega 3's, and she also needs her calcium -- and the flax milk delivers plenty of both.  

By some act of God, this stuff has arrived in Virginia before making its way to Texas (color me bewildered), so of course I had to pick some up.  Much like Udi's, it didn't disappoint: I got the vanilla flavor, and it's some tasty stuff.  It's creamy, sweet, and it packs quite the nutritional punch -- 1200 mg of omega 3s and as much calcium as dairy milk per serving.  This, I'd say, is an epic win.

You might be guessing that most of my breakfasts for the past week have involved both the bread and the flax milk.

You'd be guessing right.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chili Verde Chicken & Black Beans

As you may have discerned from the title of this recipe, I started eating meat again.  As it turns out, my body needed it -- despite eating prodigious amounts of plant protein and maintaining ridiculously high iron intake when I was vegetarian, I was losing muscle mass like woah and wasn't able to bring myself back from the brink of serious anemia.

Since I'm a big fan of the idea that the hallmark of a healthy diet is flexibility in meeting one's own individual needs, I decided to reintegrate some meat back into my life.

I still eat vegetarian (and, save for my Greek yogurt, mostly plant-based) during the day, but dinners now involve meat of some kind.  My husband, who is very much a meat-eatin' Texan and was probably an apex predator in a past life, is quite pleased.

So, the recipes I post here will sometimes reflect that change -- but because some of my dear friends are vegetarians (and, in other cases, some of my dear friends live with or are married to vegetarians), I plan to try and provide vegetarian options for each omnivorous recipe I post. 

One of my favorite blogs, Peas & Crayons, gives her readers what she refers to as T-Rex and Brontosaurus options -- and I love that idea, so I'm going to follow suit.  Wherever possible, I'll show vegetarian and omnivore-friendly options for each dish.  I want to show some love across the omni-veg schism, you know?

Anyways, without further ado, I present:

Chili Verde Chicken & Black Beans

I'm constantly on the hunt for new recipes to try out with Hubs.  We both love Mexican food -- what with him being from Texas and me being from Colorado and all -- and we both really miss it.  DC has exactly zero good Mexican restaurants, so I wanted to give this recipe a shot as soon as I saw it.

I used this recipe from Epicurious as the basis for the dish, but I omitted the milk, cheese, and black pepper.  I also made a number of substitutions and additions (changes in italics below):
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 3/4 cups Mexican salsa verde (sometimes called tomatillo sauce; from a 16-oz jar)
  • 1 3/4 cups Edward & Sons vegetarian chicken-flavored broth
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken (from a 2-lb rotisserie chicken, skin removed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups coarsely crushed home-made tortilla chips
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1 cup chopped onion

Vegetarian option: If you sub out the chicken broth with the vegetarian chicken-flavored broth listed above, the only thing left to do is nix the chicken and double the amount of black beans, or add 1/2 cup corn and 1/4 cup quinoa (uncooked - let it cook in the salsa verde, and it'll thicken things up nicely).  This baby will be filled with plant protein and all the good-for-you awesomeness that black beans and quinoa bring to the table. 

Vegan option:  In addition to the substitutions above, omit the sour cream and use fresh avocado or guacamole.  I'd wager that this is far better than sour cream (damn, I wish I'd thought of that before I cooked this!), because really, you can never go wrong with avocado or guac.  Ever. 

Happily, both Hubs and I were pretty impressed by this dish (and it takes a lot to impress Hubs when it comes to Mexican food).  You wouldn't expect such humble ingredients to turn into such an awesome dinner, but it was like a mariachi party in my mouth.  Orale!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Home-made Tortilla Chips

I often get frustrated with tortilla chips. 

You can spend $4 on a bag of those suckers, but then you open the bag and a) it turns out it was filled with a lot of air and not a lot of chips, and b) what chips were living there have now been smooshed and look more like a pile of crumbs than legit chips.

So, I decided it was high time to make my own. 

And, as it turns out, it's ridiculously easy and incredibly cost-effective.  For $.79, I got a pack of organic corn tortillas at Whole Foods (and you can get bigger packs at other grocery stores).  For $4, I got a shaker of cumin that I'll use for months.  Chip for chip, home-made is a way better deal!

Homemade Tortilla Chips
  • 10 corn tortillas
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Cumin to taste
Use a pizza slicer to cut the tortillas into chip-size portions (on the tortillas I used, this wound up being sixths -- quite possibly the most awkward measurement used thus far in any blog I've ever written).

Lay the pieces onto a cookie sheet.  Using a marinating brush, brush the tortilla pieces with a bit of olive oil (you won't use the whole 1/8 cup, but you need enough to dip the brush into).  Sprinkle with salt and cumin.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until browned and crispy.

Once they're cool, they're ready and willing to be dipped into or sprinkled onto just about anything -- salsa, hummus, soup...the list goes on!

Monday, May 21, 2012

It Has Come to My Attention...

Apparently it's Gluten-Free Month.  Or Celiac Awareness Month.  Or something like that.

I, for one, would like it to be called "Hug a Glutard" month.  What's that you say?  "Hug a Glutard" is a no-go?

(This is an opportune moment for a quick disclaimer: if you're the sort of person who is offended by things like swear words and South Park/Family Guy-esque jokes, then this here blog is not for you.  Believe me, it's better for all of us if we lay this out up front.)

Anyways, in honor of Gluten-Free Month, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite glutard-friendly products.  Some are stand-ins for their glutinous counterparts that I used to eat, and others are fabulous on their own.

1) KIND Healthy Grains: Back in my glorious days of glutinous gluttony (sorry, I couldn't resist the alliteration), I loooooooved me some granola.  Almond-coconut granola, blueberry granola, everything.  However, I particularly loved peanut butter granola.  So, you can imagine my unabated joy -- which actually involved jumping up and down while gasping with delight, and probably made passersby wonder if they needed to call the paramedics -- when I saw KIND gluten-free peanut butter granola in the grocery store.

I bought three bags at once, because I suddenly went from "Holyshithisisamazing" mode into "OmigodwhatiftheyonlycarrythisforalittlewhileandthentheypullitIhavetostockpilethisliketheSovietsstockpilednukes" mode.  Mercifully, they haven't stopped carrying it, but I keep buying it.

2)  Trader Joe's Brown Rice Tortillas:  Anyone who longs for the days of burritos and wraps can now re-live those glories, thanks to these awesome tortillas.  As with most GF products, they crumble more easily than regular tortillas -- but that can largely be mitigated by popping each tortilla in the microwave for 20 seconds before folding it up.  I've been using these for super-fast pizzas, but their most notable use to date has been for Mediterranean veggie wraps (recipe to come).

3)  Suzie's Thin Cakes:  Made from popped quinoa, corn, and sesame, these little guys are full of whole grain and are only 11-12 calories per cake.  They make the perfect vehicle for, well, almost anything: hummus, nut butters, jellies (almond butter and strawberry jam is a personal fave) -- the list is endless.

4)  Bob's Red Mill GF Rolled Oats:  When I had my wisdom teeth pulled during college, the silver lining was that I got to eat an obscene amount of oatmeal.  Seriously, oatmeal is magical.  My father thought I'd lost my mind and started asking if perhaps I was becoming a horse -- because the fact is, I really freakin' love oatmeal.  Finding certified GF oats after going gluten-free was one of the greatest and most crucial elements of my health and happiness, since both my tastebuds and my insides love this stuff.

Love, thy name is GF Oatmeal.

5)  They're not pictured here, but Bob's Red Mill GF Oat Flour and Honeyville Almond Flour are objects of great affection in my kitchen these days.  Since I unraveled the mysteries of GF baking (GF baking was, until about a month ago, an enigma wrapped in brown rice flour and shrouded in xanthan gum) and realized that these are the two key ingredients, I've been on a baking binge.  For me, if something enables me to have light, fluffy, and delicious homemade GF blueberry muffins, then that thing will be subject to my undying love and adoration.  I'll probably start writing love sonnets to my GF oat flour and almond flour tonight.

Mmmmm.  Muffins.  Gaaaaaaahhhh.

So, with that -- happy Gluten-Free Month!  May your GF adventures be delicious!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Inspiration from Tiny Buddha

A few days ago, my friend Tina sent me a link to an awesome article from Tiny Buddha -- and, because sometimes life hands you just the right thing at just the right time, it was exactly what I needed.

While it's becoming increasingly clear to me what I don't want out of my career, figuring out what I do want has been a different can of worms.   This article, Six Powerful Questions That Will Change Your Life Forever (the title aims a bit high, but it's still helpful), really got me thinking.  

I found that three of the six questions largely dealt with the same thing, so I boiled it down to three key ideas and then let my imagination run wild.  

What do you absolutely love in life?
Reading, writing, food, creativity, cuddling with Hubs while watching comedy movies, all things Middle East (ok, everything but the internecine religious warfare and the Egyptian dysentery), cooking, baking, spending time with friends and loved ones, spirituality, vivid colors, trees, maternal and children's health issues in developing countries, sunlight, Chai, learning, coffee, teaching, independence, helping others, design, modern art, Islamic art, working out, Japanese gardens, cacti, comedy, thunderstorms, Colorado, blueberry muffins, yoga, beaches, fresh fruit, organizing, waking up early and watching the sunrise, stargazing, the Rocky Mountains in the summer, jazz music, Monty Python, Mel Brooks movies ("You changed your name to Latrine?"), ice cream, traveling, Texas Hill Country, Tel Aviv, Pad Thai.

What are your greatest accomplishments in life so far?
Moving to Israel: Deciding to go to Jerusalem was the scariest thing I’ve ever done.   I’d always wanted to live overseas, but I never thought I’d have the courage to take that big of a leap – especially when it involved spending a year in a country that I’d never visited before, where I knew no one, and where I didn’t speak the language.  It was terrifying -- I remember waking up on the morning of my departure and feeling like there was a Mac truck sitting on my chest -- but I did it and I thrived.  It was an amazing experience, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Learning Hebrew: I got off the plane in Tel Aviv with no knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet, and one year later I was reading, writing, and speaking with a proficiency I never imagined.  I wasn’t fluent, but I was getting there – and I was incredibly proud of the progress I’d made.

Living alone: For a long time, the idea of living alone terrified me.  I'd always had roommates, and those roommates were always close friends with whom I spent almost all my free time.  The idea of spending all that free time by myself seemed incredibly scary – what would I do without friends to keep me company?  I knew, however, that I needed to get to a point where I felt that I was in excellent company when I was alone.  I also knew that living by myself was the way to accomplish that, so I spent three years living alone.  There were times when it was lonely, but overall it was an enormously positive experience.

Leaving He Who Shall Not Be Named: When I decided to leave my ex, who I'll refer to as A, I felt like by insides were being ripped out.  (Long story short: long-distance relationship with an old flame from my college days, plans to get engaged, I move across the country to be with him, he starts binge drinking and being hostile to the point of bordering on abuse, I move out exactly six weeks after I moved in.  It was terrible.)  It was, hands down, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I never thought I’d have the conviction or strength to leave someone I loved so much, but I knew that the relationship would destroy me if I stayed.  I had to take breaks from packing up my stuff to just sit on the floor and cry, but I pushed through the pain and got myself out of a horrible situation. 

What would I do if money, time, limitations, and judgment were non-issues?   Or, phrased differently: if I had unlimited funds and opportunities, and if I knew no one would judge me for my choices, what would I choose to do?
I’d write – oh, would I write. 
I’d find a way to mix my love of the Middle East and international affairs with my love of health and science. 
I’d be an entrepreneur and would work for myself.
I’d spend my days in a fulfilling job that allows me to be intellectually stimulated, creative, and independent while making a discernible difference in peoples’ lives.  
Hubs and I would travel to as many places as humanly possible.  (We don’t just want to see the major places that people usually go – we want to see the out-of-the-way places as well.) 
I’d go on medical aid trips to help with women’s health issues in developing countries. 
I’d make people laugh as a matter of routine. 
I’d watch funny movies and shows with Hubs after cooking a delicious dinner that we both enjoy. 
I’d divide my time between a city (in an ideal world, the city in question wouldn’t be DC – but we’re here for the long haul, so DC it is), a cottage in Texas Hill Country, and a cabin in Colorado.  (It’s imperative that this cabin not be rustic, though.  I don’t do rustic.  I want a nice cabin with double-paned windows and heated tile floors.) 
I’d make artwork, and I wouldn't be terrified to show it to people. 
I’d cook with abandon.   
I’d visit the Middle East often, and I’d come back loaded with textiles, jewelry, and spices. 
I’d go to yoga more often than once every other week. 
I’d make it my mission to scatter joy.

Who do you admire most in the world?
Elizabeth Gilbert:  Seriously, I adore her.  Every time I read something she writes or listen to an interview of hers on the radio, I feel as if she’s talking directly to me.  Her warmth, compassion, intellect, and humor are tremendous.  Adding to which, she’s just so relatable!   I deeply admire her ability to be completely true to herself (which is quite a tall order, when you start to think about how hard and painful it can be – and was for her – to absolutely be true to yourself), follow her heart, dissect her feelings and experiences in thoughtful and insightful ways, and articulate those experiences in a way that makes her feel as if you’ve been friends forever.

Nick Kristof:  I've never loved a journalist's reporting the way I love Nick Kristof's.  His dispatches from the front lines of the developing world are eye-opening, and I deeply admire his commitment to traveling to places most people would never dream of visiting, reporting on what he sees there, and then taking action once he gets home.  He and his wife, Cheryl Wu Dunn, wrote a book about all the problems facing women in the developing world, and it's one of the most enlightening, infuriating, and captivating books I've ever read. His determination to shed light on issues such as maternal and infant mortality rates, sex trafficking, and other problems affecting women is truly inspiring.

Madeleine Albright:  I love the fact that she’s both whip-smart and down-to-earth.  She endured some massive trials in her day, not the least of which was the endemic sexism that thrived in the academic and government sectors in the 60s and 70s.  I deeply admire the fact that she earned her Ph.D. in an era where middle-age women were routinely denied the degree (my Gram was a case in point), and she then went on to work her way through a system that was inherently stacked against her to become the first woman appointed as Secretary of State.  Adding to which, in the middle of her career her husband left her, quite abruptly, for another woman after 20 years of marriage – yet despite the wrenching heartache that caused, she worked through it and clearly did quite well for herself.  They say that the best revenge is a life well-lived, and I think it’s safe to say that she got hers.

Robert Gates:  Former Secretary Gates is, by all accounts, a class act.  That's a rarity here in DC, and I immensely admire his ability to do the right thing (as opposed to what would serve his own interests) and remain above the fray of DC politics.  In a town where partisan warfare, unbridled narcissism, and general vitriol often rule, he never dipped his toes into that cesspool.  He has epitomized what public service should be.

Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Kristen Wiig:  I love that they don't hold anything back with their humor.  Tina Fey goes all-out in her nerdiness (and can I just say how endearing it is to see someone embrace her dweeby self so fully?), Amy Poehler leaves it all on the field with her bawdy, "I give exactly zero fucks what you think of me" style, and Kristen Wiig absolutely nailed it when she wrote "Bridesmaids."  All three have unique personalities, and they seem to have no qualms about really owning who -- and how -- they are.  This, in turn, creates a comedic style that personifies each person in a totally different and totally awesome way.  The result is always awesome.

My parents:  I love how happy they are together.  They've been married for 35 years, and they're sublimely happy -- in fact, they've always been my role models for what I want in a relationship.  Back in my (horrific) dating days, I relied on my parents' relationship as a compass for what I eventually wanted, and until I met Hubs, no relationship had met those standards.  However, I knew I'd rather be alone than settle for anything less than the sort of relationship my parents have.  It took a while, but that strategy paid off - I never settled, and I wound up marrying an amazing man who makes me absurdly happy.

I realized, when all was said and done, that I had a blast writing all this down.  It felt awesome to think of all the things I love and that make me happy, and thinking of my life in terms of expansion (what are the possibilities, what could make me really happy?) versus contraction (I spend 40+ hours per week feeling miserable, there are no job openings, etc.) made a huge difference.

Now, the question is...what to do with it all?

Hmmmm, thoughts to ponder.  Suggestions are welcome!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get...

As you may have gathered from some of my other posts, things have been pretty tough lately -- I'm finally realizing that after many years of feeling unfulfilled in my career, I have to make a change.  (I can't go into any detail on what I do now or why I don't enjoy it, but I can definitely say that I've been one miserable cowgirl lately.)  The process of figuring out what I want to do and how I want to do it is an epic task, and it's been stressing me out something fierce.

When things get hard, I start looking for ways to make myself feel better, even if it's only for a few moments.  I'm a walking poster child for taking deep breaths and visualizing being on the beach, which definitely helps (deep breath in...I'm in the Seychelles, in a hammock on the beach...I'm drinking mango juice with a little paper umbrella in it...I don't have cell phone or Blackberry reception...).

In addition to imagining that I'm sunning myself on a tropical beach, I realized that if I'm going to come through this time of stress and unhappiness with my health intact, I need to uber-vigilant about taking good care of myself.

The phrase "taking care of yourself" is usually associated with doing all the things we know we "should" do: eating broccoli, getting sleep, flossing nightly, etc.

All that is true -- but I also find that self-care takes many other forms

In addition to eating loads of fruits and veggies, I've found that it's essential for me to spend some time venting my frustrations to my friends and family (or a blank Word document on my laptop).  It's also crucial for me to make sure I get to the gym every dayadd little pick-me-ups to my daily routine to help brighten things up, and take baby steps in the direction of the life I want.

So, with that, I present...

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get:

1) Flowers.  No joke.  I know, I know -- it's not exactly "the tough get going," but I find that some pretty flowers on the table make a huge difference.  Incorporating little elements of lightness and beauty into my daily routine does wonders for my outlook.  They're the first thing I see when I walk in the door, and they always make me smile.

2) Baking.  I have an undying love for blueberry muffins.  Back in my glutinous days, I used to keep a stockpile of blueberry muffin mix in my apartment during grad school -- and damned if I didn't bake up a batch whenever midterms or finals came around.  There's just something inherently upbeat and happy about a blueberry muffin, and I use them as an incentive to get through the morning.  I whipped up a batch for this week, and I know I can look forward to 1:30 each afternoon when I get to have my "Hooray, you've made it halfway through the day!" prize.

Ok, so this is a strawberry muffin -- but they're just as fabulous as the blueberry variety!

3) Running.  Nothing clears my mind and lifts my mood like a good run.  The rhythm of my feet hitting the ground, as well as the confidence of knowing that my body knows exactly what to do, help me relax and release some of my pent-up stress.  The runner's high at the end sure doesn't hurt, either.

4) Massages.  All the stress has led to me walking around with my shoulders up by my ears (for the record, I can confirm that this is really uncomfortable).  My Massage Envy membership might just be what saves my neck and keeps me from being in a permanent state of muscle spasms.

I know that it's going to be a while before things get better.  However, the sustained stress that comes with situations like mine can take a lasting toll on the body.

As I was brushing my teeth one morning, I suddenly knew, without a doubt, that I needed to be careful and take extraordinarily good care of myself.  I viscerally understood that if I didn't do these things, the chronic stress would do lasting damage to every cell in my body.

So, I've decided to commit to taking really, really, ridiculously good care of myself.  I'm committed to daily green monsters after my trip to the gym each morning, fresh flowers each week, monthly massages, and lots of deep breathing.

This, I hope, will enable me to mitigate the damaging effects of sustained stress -- and hopefully emerge on the other side of this experience stronger than ever.