Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spring Looks Good on You, Salad



As April very nearly gives way to May, it's becoming my favorite time of year again: the farmer's market stands multiply from the few winter standbys to the rows and rows of newcomers, their tables overflowing with the first real fruits of the new season.  The farms showcase leafy spinach, flourishing in the cool and rainy weather of the Northeast spring, alongside the first few weeks of asparagus as the sleeping roots begin to shoot up their tender stalks.  The fall harvest of sweet root vegetables hasn't quite been exhausted, and sweet heirloom squash varieties and beets -- greens removed for storage -- are still out in the baskets next to their early season cousins, carrots and turnips.  

Having missed the market one Saturday, my husband even scored some fresh strawberries and fiddleheads at the grocery co-op coming in from farms a bit further south -- no doubt thanks to our unseasonably warm spring.  Strawberries favor the cool season before the onslaught of real summer heat, so take advantage of their abundance and flavor while you can.

Whatever your region, keep your eye out for newcomers to your local market or items coming from your area at the grocery store.  These are clues that these varieties are in season right now in your area, and will most likely have been picked recently at or very close to ripeness.  This is where you'll find the most color, flavor, and nutrients -- not to mention enough variety to consistently spice up your dinner rotation. It's the perfect storm for salad creation: abundance, simplicity, and freshness, easily thrown together on any night of the week. 


Spring market salad:

Curly leaf spinach

Yellow carrots

Fiddleheads (furled fronds of a young fern)

Strawberries

Butternut squash, roasted in coconut oil 

Beets, roasted in coconut oil 

Local blue cheese crumbles (easily omitted if you're doing it vegan or paleo)


For protein: edamame (or eggs, paleo)

For fat: olive oil + avocado

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Happiness is a Portuguese Pastry



Pasteis de Nata and Port. Saturday, 08 April 2017

Exactly six months ago I married my husband, in a hurricane, in Virginia.  Two days later, we packed our bags, said goodbye to our dog, and boarded a plane -- Lisbon bound.  The city was a dream; we spent our days walking miles of marble-tiled narrow streets, winding up and down hills and in and out of stone-walled cafes, drinking port and sangria and dreaming about our future as the sun set and the sounds of melancholy voices singing fado echoed off alley walls.  

One morning, we stopped by a bakery, Manteigaria Fábrica de Pastéis de Nata, selling nothing but espresso and what seemed to be the national pastry of Portugal, an egg custard tart.  We watched in rapt fascination as the white-clad bakers behind the glass deftly rolled, pressed, and poured the contents of the tarts into long rows of pastry cups.  They had it down to a science -- the assembly line as art.  Five minutes later, we were biting into fragrant layers of hot and crispy pastel de nata -- properly enjoyed with powdered sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top just after coming out of the oven.  Custard tart devoured only moments after its creation, we finished our espresso and set off into the early morning bustle of downtown Lisbon.  

Fast forward to Friday, the day before my birthday.  I get home to find my husband intently focused on spreading out his pastry dough carefully into a muffin tin, a bowl of egg custard standing at the ready, the aroma of the first batch already wafting from the oven, flour covering everything.  A bottle of port wine waits patiently on top of the fridge.  

Happiness is a homemade Portuguese pastry -- best enjoyed with friends. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

In Honor of Spring... Building a Better Breakfast Bowl


Colors for breakfast -- a typical workday feast.

As someone who frequently packs breakfast and eats it at work, my typically colorful breakfast bowls have drawn their fair share of curious looks.  With the familiar grain-based breakfast stand-bys no where in sight, it's easy to mistake these savory bowls-full-of-veggies for anything other than what they are - breakfast.  

What is breakfast, anyway?  Intended to "break the fast," this is actually the most important meal of the day: our opportunity to fuel up with nutrient dense energy to get our brains and bodies ready to face the activities of our days.  When you're looking for nutrients, the powerful phytochemicals in plants are an ideal place to start, and they aren't shy about advertising their presence.  A good rule of thumb? Cook by color (this goes for all meals, not just breakfast!) The brighter the hue, the richer the nutrients, and the more variety the better.  

Another key to building a breakfast that will last you all the way to the lunch break? Make sure you've got a good balance of proteins, carbs, and fat.  All fruits and vegetables are carbs, so it's completely unnecessary to fortify your meal with lower-quality, higher-glycemic carbs such as breads, pastries, or cereal grains.  While I would heartily agree that these foods are delicious, they are completely counterproductive if you are trying to build a healthy, filling breakfast as they will only make you hungrier faster.  Because they digest quickly but bring few nutrients along with them, they trigger your brain to seek additional sustenance elsewhere.  

For fats, lean heavily on the plant-based fats -- olive/coconut oil, avocados, nut butters -- and use saturated animal fats from responsibly-raised animals in moderation.  When eating eggs, do yourself a favor and eat the whole thing.  The yolk is the healthiest part, and it contains incredible amounts of vitamins, minerals, and good fats.

Without further ado, the breakfast bowl:

Protein: 
2 eggs, soft boiled. (See how golden the yolks look? That's an indication of a really well-cared-for hen out there)

Carbs: 
Butternut squash + caramelized onion, skillet fried. 
Lacinato (dinosaur) kale, sauteed with ginger and garlic.
Blueberries + blackberries. (I admit, these were an out-of-season treat -- can't wait til they reappear this summer!)

Fat:
Olive oil, drizzled on top.
Coconut oil, used for sauteeing squash and kale.
*Half an avocado - not in this version, but often present.  

Happy spring, and happy eating!





Friday, February 17, 2017

Philadelphia, at Last


First breakfast at home in Philadelphia. Friday, February 17th.

It's been quite a while since I last posted, and a week since I last wrote.  The past month has been spent diligently preparing for our move to Philadelphia: packing, throwing away, donating, and carefully cramming our entire host of worldly possessions into about 50 boxes destined for our new home in West Philly. The kitchen alone took an entire day to pack -- the last day -- and another to reorganize everything into our new space.  


After finally getting heat in the apartment on Tuesday night (we had a bit of a rough landing, and the house had not even been cleaned when we arrived), we have spent the last few days exploring the neighborhood, trying new cafes and restaurants, and unpacking our lives into our new home.  West Philly is exquisitely beautiful; giant Victorian mansions of impossibly intricate shapes and detail line nearly every street, shaded by ancient and wizened trees, their naked winter branches writhing densely against the sky.  Our house sits on the edge of a park: the wide open, tree-canopied epicenter of public life in the neighborhood.  

From our living room window we can survey the southern corner of the park and look across it to the University on the other side.  Built just after the turn of the century, the house exudes the ancient character of bygone days.  None of the original hardwood floors are truly flat, and the kitchen is a melody of curves and angles.  The floor slopes so much that you feel like you might slide right off your chair, and all the oil in the pan runs quickly to one side, making it difficult to cook anything without burning. The pantry door will probably never close.

The living room has high ceilings above an arched bay window, the new home of our piano and outdoor-furniture-turned-breakfast-table.

The skylights above the stair and master bedroom and bath flood the rooms with light at all times of the day. The house itself is huge, with our apartment occupying the top two stories.  We've turned the upstairs into two dedicated workspaces for Chris and myself, and guests will sleep here in the nook, where I have my writing desk.  The nook is the size of our bedroom in the old apartment, with a single small desk and one bookshelf and a chair. The white space is magnificent. 

After picking up a few essential groceries at the neighborhood co-op, we were finally able to cook breakfast at home today.  After feeling like a stranger in our own home for three days -- we arrived to a cold, filthy shell on Monday night -- everything is finally falling into place.  At last, we are at home in Philadelphia: my kitchen is organized, the radiators are warm, and I can walk through the house without my feet turning black from the grime of someone else's life.  

This first breakfast -- a simple spread of eggs, toast, and greens -- was truly something to be grateful for.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Weeknight Winter Salad

January 11, Wednesday night dinner

As you plan your meals for the upcoming week (we like to do this on Sunday afternoons), consider picking up a few versatile ingredients that will work for throwing together some quick but very satisfying full-sized salads.  Salads are great because they use fresh ingredients that you don't have to take time to cook, and they often require minimal washing and chopping.  The downside of course is that fresh ingredients go bad faster, so you run the risk of not finishing off the crisper drawer before things start to turn.  If this happens though, it's a perfect opportunity for a Saturday morning shakshuka...stay tuned for an example of one of those!  

When prepping a salad, it often requires minimal additional effort to go ahead and prep them for several meals at once.  Salads tend to stay fresher when you store them in single-serve sized containers rather than one big one, and you're more likely to grab it in the morning to take it with you for lunch.  Throw in some base greens for each salad (I made six at once last week) and then chop or prepare enough toppings for each one.  You can mix and match ingredients to give yourself the necessary variety, and you can wait until the day-of to add whatever protein strikes your fancy.  We used smoked salmon on days 1 and 3, and two boiled eggs on day 2. Don't forget to include a generous serving of plant-source fats (avocado, nuts, olive oil, etc) in your salad, this is what gets you full and keeps you satisfied.  Don't worry about the high density calories from these foods, an avocado for lunch makes you less likely to snack later.  



Winter salad:

Greens: pre-washed baby spinach and kale

Chopped cucumber (out of season, but ridiculously on sale that day, so I went for it)

Chopped purple and orange carrots

Roasted acorn squash

Roasted beets 

Toasted walnuts

Edamame (Frozen and rinsed to unfreeze. It's parboiled, so you don't actually have to cook it any more)

Smoked salmon

1/2 sliced avocado

Olive oil 


Note: the roasted things were from a previous night's dinner, so all I did was reheat them in the toaster oven before serving.  You can always repurpose leftovers into new dishes to use them up.  
















Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Lazy Sunday, leftover lasagna





December 3, Sunday night dinner, 9:06 pm

Sundays are often about cleaning out the crisper drawer, to make room for the fresh new leafy things coming in Monday night.  This lasagna turned leftover spaghetti squash from earlier in the week and some kale a bit past its prime into a decadent weekend dinner treat.  Throw in a freshly baked baguette and a bottle of Spanish red, and you've got yourself a date night dinner without even stopping by the grocery store.  

Spaghetti squash lasagna: 

1 jar arrabiata sauce
1 small tub of organic, whole milk ricotta + 1 egg + generous amounts of thyme and oregano 
2 layers of noodles
1 layer of spaghetti squash, steamed and scraped out of the skin
1 layer of coarsely chopped lacinato kale
top layer of peas and freshly grated fontina cheese