Friday, May 27, 2011

My yard is a petting zoo

We babysat our niece and nephew last weekend so that Justine and Michael could go away for their anniversary. Ben sat on the deck and sprayed himself with the hose just about the entire time.  I tried to remember what my own children were like at 18 months. I tried to remember what they ate, how I got them to sleep, when they woke up, how they liked to play. Couldn't. None of it.

For dinner, I served the children Heidi Swanson's mostly-not-potato salad out of Super Natural Every Day.
My mother would have loved this.
It's in the big bowl, but the humans were cuter than the salad. I was very drawn to this recipe -- a melange of chopped celery, green beans, tofu, and a very few potatoes -- because it seemed like a good diet dish, which it was. But it was not so much fun to eat, at least not when your mind is on potato salad. Conceptually, it's on a par with mostly-not-avocado guacamole or mostly-not-chocolate brownies. I mean, it tasted nice, but maybe it needs a new name. Like, chopped celery salad with potatoes?

On Sunday morning, I got up early and made Swanson's baked oatmeal. I had one of those dangerous self-congratulatory thoughts as I prepared this pretty, pretty dish. I thought, "Stella is going to love this and remember forever the baked oatmeal she had at Aunt Jenny's." Having deceived myself in this manner repeatedly over the last 14 years, I immediately I self-corrected: "This is not going to happen. Just thinking it actually ensures it's not going to happen."

I am a sage! It did not happen. I served the oatmeal to Stella who wrinkled up her nose and said, "I don't like it. I don't like nuts."

Owen said, "I don't like oatmeal that is baked."

Isabel looked at it and said, "Oh, it has fruit in it. No thanks."

My husband thought it was tremendous and ate heartily, and I agreed: tremendous. The recipe is here. If I were to make it again, I might increase the sweetener just a bit.

Apart from complaining about the baked oatmeal and spraying themselves with the hose, the children spent a lot of time with the goats and chickens.

I know. Funny, given I don't like eggs.
I have turned into the eccentric woman with the crappy (all senses) back yard and too many animals. I did not see this coming.

Stella is holding a prized Penedesenca chick. 
In case you couldn't see the prized Penedesenca chick.
On Monday, I made Swanson's dilled green beans and seitan. The little kids were gone by then -- I would not have imposed this on them. While I loved the chewy, spongy seitan, no one else ate it. No complaints, no fights, just no one ate it. My husband pushed the seitan to the side of the plate.

It was better than it looks. 
And with that I was done with Super Natural Every Day.  I still want to make Swanson's bran muffins, tutti frutti crisp, and carnival cookies, but I decided not to force myself. They are fattening treats and this isn't the spring for fattening treats.

Anyway, there's a sweet coda to my short expedition through this lovely book. On Tuesday, I found myself with aging CSA corn, aging CSA fava beans, aging CSA green peppers, and brand new CSA cilantro. I concocted a dish that was entirely inspired by Heidi Swanson, using up ingredients I bought to cook from her book. It was fabulous. So fabulous, in fact, that I wrote the recipe down.

Super Natural Homage Succotash

1 pound fava beans (week old is okay)
4 ears corn (they don't have to be just picked -- week old is okay)
2 tablespoons coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped 
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
kosher salt to taste
handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1. Shell the fava beans, peel off the skins, and blanch for one minute in a pot of boiling water. Drain.

2. With a sharp knife, scrape the kernels off the corn.

3. In a large skillet, heat the coconut oil with the onion and green bell pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the corn. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.

4. Add the coconut milk, curry paste, and fava beans and a splash of water. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. Taste for salt. Scrape into a bowl and top with cilantro. Serves 4.

I served the succotash with steak, which was not very Heidi Swanson, but is very Guy Fieri, whose book I start tomorrow night.
 I didn't notice quite how fatty until just now.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Poor Natalie

I'm drowning in page proofs of my book, but that's better than being due in 11 days.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The incredible, inedible egg

We feed our chickens well.
I'm an adventurous eater, but like most people I have a few intractable aversions. And they are pretty lame. I haven't drunk a glass of milk since I was 5 and I don't think I've ever eaten an entire egg. I like the yolk of a fried or soft-boiled egg, but the white makes me skin crawl. Hard-boiled eggs are out of the question as are deviled eggs and egg salad. But worst of all: scrambled eggs. I can barely stand to watch other people eat scrambled eggs. I would as soon eat a fetal duck egg as a scrambled egg.

Which is why I should never have attempted Heidi Swanson's seasonal vegetable frittata from Super Natural Every Day. I like frittata when there's so much cheese and vegetable that you can convince yourself the egg is just there to help the other ingredients coalesce This was not Swanson's seasonal vegetable frittata.

I'm not sure zucchinis are in season, but they were in our CSA box, so I used zucchini as our seasonal vegetable and sliced up some potatoes. Swanson calls for a mere ounce of goat or feta cheese for 10 eggs, so I doubled that, given my need to disguise the eggs. I thought it was a very handsome frittata.

But while I was hungry, I was apparently not hungry enough. It was too eggy for me. At the same time, it was too full of zucchini for household scrambled egg lovers. "Not the best, Mom," said Owen. "No offense."

 I don't fault Swanson's recipe. I just don't have a feel for egg cookery. We fed the leftovers to the chickens, who love eggs with a disturbing ardor. Which may have something to do, though I'm not sure exactly what, with why I'm turned off by eggs.

Our second favorite Heidi Swanson pasta salad.
Last night, I made Swanson's tortellini salad using CSA broccoli and supermarket asparagus. It was tasty, but compared unfavorably to the orzo salad I described in a previous post, the recipe for which you can find here. Try it!

As I've mentioned, I'm going to cook from Guy Fieri Food next. It appeared in the mail and Owen has been flipping through it and folding back pages of he-man dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and pork ribs. Every day he asks me when I'm going to stop cooking from "the vegetable book."

I know. But Owen has eaten a lot of tempeh and broccoli lately and I owe him. And for all the noisy graphics and dudespeak, the recipes in this book look delicious and solid.

Meanwhile, here's what's left on my Swanson to-cook list:

-baked oatmeal. Because Soule Mama loves it.
-dilled green beans with seitan. Because I've never eaten seitan. (Or, as Buddy Garritty calls it, "satan.")
-repeat of the cauliflower soup. Because there's a CSA cauliflower to use up
-mostly not potato salad. Because there are CSA potatoes to use up.
-carnival cookies. Because: popcorn, peanuts, bananas, chocolate chips, ground almonds.
-Tutti frutti crumble. Because the picture is so beautiful.
-Bran muffins. Because I have been searching for the perfect bran muffin recipe since I was 18.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mama Bear cooks faster than she types

This boy likes white bean dip.
The cooking from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day continues:

Saturday night, my sister invited us over for dinner and I contributed Swanson's white bean spread and served it with crackers and cucumber slices.  I somehow got it into my head that the instructions included steeping a 5-inch branch of rosemary in olive oil. The resulting spread was delicious, but very, very, very piney and resinous. This struck me as interesting, because Swanson usually has such a light hand with the flavoring. I was puzzling over this until last night when I reread the recipe and saw that she calls for a teaspoon of rosemary. The dish is satisfying and hummus-like and I suggest you make it as directed by Swanson. You can find the recipe here.

That was Saturday. No one invited us to dinner on Sunday night, so we stayed home and I made Swanson's broccoli and potato gribiche. You roast small, thin-skinned potatoes and broccoli then toss the warm vegetables in a tangy dressing (gribiche) of hard-cooked egg yolk, olive oil, vinegar, shallots, mustard and herbs. Spectacular.

Three comments:

1. I might in future omit the potatoes, because the broccoli held the dressing better.

2. But if I were to make it with potatoes, I would steam or boil them, as soft steamed/boiled potatoes absorb dressing better than roasted potatoes.

3. I omitted the chopped hard-boiled eggs you're supposed to toss with the broccoli because I don't personally like hard-boiled eggs.
This boy likes gribiche, but won't let me photograph him eating anymore.
Monday night, I made Swanson's weeknight curry, a super-quick stew of Thai red curry paste, coconut milk, cauliflower and zucchini. It was exactly as billed -- an easy weeknight dinner.

The next morning, I baked her millet muffins. Having eaten almost no sugar for a month, I am probably not the best judge, but I thought they were outstanding.

Hunger is the best sauce.
I'm not sure what the tiny, chalky pellets of millet add to the muffin, but I don't mind them.

Tuesday night, I made Swanson's orzo salad, using whole wheat macaroni because I couldn't find whole wheat orzo. You blanch some broccoli and use about half of it to make a pesto. I'd never tried broccoli pesto and it was great. Toss the pesto with the rest of the blanched broccoli and your boiled pasta, add some chunked avocado. Rich, sharp, tangy, cheesy, nutty, much loved.

I am coming to the end of what I can do with Super Natural Every Day. There are a few more recipes I want to try, but I've pretty much powered through that book. I went to the library yesterday to try to borrow Swanson's prequel, Super Natural Cooking, but every copy in the Marin County Library system was checked out. Popular! So, regretfully, within a few days I guess I'll be moving on. The next cookbook has been chosen. Not by me, but with my consent. Owen has even gone through and folded back the pages of dishes he wants me to cook. It will be a test of my theory of dieting, which is that it's all about portion control.

Speaking of which, the other day a friend told me I looked thinner, that my face looked "less poofy." It's one of those compliments you turn over a few times in your head before you let yourself be truly happy about it.

Last night, I went out to dinner with my family and the waitress brought me a glass of wine and said, "Here you go, Mama Bear." It's one of those passing comments you turn over a few times in your head before you decide it's the waitress, not you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

We kilt those green bell peppers

You're not welcome anymore.
Blogger erased my last post, which is not a huge loss except that I wanted someone to make Heidi Swanson's white beans and cabbage from Super Natural Every Day and then to reassure me that it is as incredible as I thought it was. I've reattached the recipe to the end of this post. I worry that I'm losing my critical faculties, as being on a diet has made everything taste wonderful to me.

Almost everything. I still don't like green bell peppers. Although this is the season of asparagus and cherries, in our CSA box last week they gave us cold storage apples, zucchini(?!) and three green bell peppers. I really hope they don't keep this up or I might have to shop around for new A to CS.

I've only ever made one recipe in my life that highlighted green bell peppers to good (or any) effect. I  remember it like it was yesterday. To my shock, when I looked up this recipe, I saw that I made it in September 1998. Owen was -2. That's a long time to remember a recipe.

Was it really that good?

I made it again on Friday night and, yes, it is as improbably delicious as I remembered. You cook small pieces of green bell pepper in olive oil with onion and parsley until they combine to form a soft, sweet melange, then you toss this lovely green sauce with pasta shells and some Parmesan. I probably wouldn't go out and buy green peppers just to make this -- it only encourages the farmers -- but if you need to use some up, this is the recipe you want. It comes from Verdura by Viana La Place, one of my favorite cookbooks. I've made a few very slight changes.

Pasta shells with green peppers and herbs

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
3 green peppers, cored, seeded and cut into small dice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound whole-wheat pasta shells
2 tablespoons softened butter

1. Heat the olive oil and onion in a wide skillet and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic, parsley, green peppers and some salt and pepper. Cook until the peppers are tender.

2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a big pot of boiling, salted water. When the pasta is almost done, scoop out about 1/3 cup of the water and add to the skillet of warm peppers. Drain the pasta. Add it to the skillet, toss in the butter, and stir until everything comes together. Serve with Parmesan. Serves 6.

Small portions, no seconds. Anything can be diet food.

And here is the recipe for Heidi Swanson's white beans and cabbage. If you make it, let me know what you think.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
4 ounces thin-skinned potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, and finely diced
kosher salt
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked and cooled white beans (I used navy beans)
3 cups very finely shredded green cabbage (about half a head -- though I would use more next time)
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Warm the butter or olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until they are cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes. Be sure to scrape the pan and toss the potatoes once or twice along the way so all sides are browned

2. Stir in the shallot and the beans. Let the beans cook in a single layer for a couple miutes until they brown a bit, then scrape and toss again. Cook until the beans are crusty on all sides

3. Stir in the cabbage and cook for a few minutes until it "loses a bit of its structure." Serve with Parmesan.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Self pity is such a good look on me

Next time I'll make chocolate mousse. 
I can't really explain why my diet isn't working. It has become a source of despair and of that I am ashamed. Despairing about weight is foolish and frivolous. But I can't help it. I am despairing. A diet is a powerful metaphor for effecting change in your life and it is every bit as powerful when it doesn't work as when it does. Just in a profoundly discouraging way.

I wish I could make a joke about my feeble will power but my will power hasn't been feeble. I wish I could make jokes about my slothful habits, but my habits haven't been slothful. I've been spinning and hiking and yesterday tried something horrendous and mortifying called "Pilates Abs." I've also forbidden myself to sit down except when necessary, like to compose a blog post or watch Fringe. The other day when the temptation to sit overcame me, I baked Heidi Swanson's oat cakes from Super Natural Every Day.

I would have been better off sitting. Even sleeping.

These oat cakes are:

a. very delicious
b. very fattening

Whole grain pastries are tricky. They seem like a good idea -- oats and spelt flour, flax seeds and nuts! -- but I think a fluffy white cupcake would have been more dietetic. It's the granola syndrome: a cup of granola is more nutritious, but Frosted Flakes are less fattening.

Anyway, I can't make these again because basically all I eat now is scrambled tofu, fish, and kale.
However! If you are not a diet, I highly recommend these oat cakes. You can find the recipe here.