Friday, March 22, 2013

where my food comes from

At my old job at the food bank, I had a conversation with a coworker about how food was the cool thing to care about these days. Supporting local farmers, improving food deserts, buying organic- perhaps spurred by Michelle Obama’s work, food-related issues are on everyone’s mind right now. This coworker pointed out that social issues are cyclical in how much they engender public interest and action. The respective fights against AIDS and breast cancer have had their spotlights (and have not disappeared, of course; red ribbons and pink ribbons are everywhere). Still, it stands to reason that food will not always be this big- something else will suddenly step to the front of public consciousness (um, I vote global warming).

So, I’ll use this minute, this day, to share my feelings about where food comes from. For me, it can mean a lot of different things.

First and foremost, I don’t want a lot of human beings to have experienced suffering for my food to come to me.

Truthfully, the diet I eat is one of privilege and affluence that is better than most Americans and many citizens of other countries. I often feel guilty eating my organic, fancy products when I know what the money spent on them could mean to someone else. I try to take these drop-in-the-bucket steps to keep myself from being wracked with guilt about my purchases.

- I try to buy from local farms, making a weekly trip to the farmer’s market. This will come up again, but here’s an ethical reason it’s important to me- being a farm worker is AWFUL. Perhaps you have heard some of the awful news stories about pregnant women dying of dehydration in the fields because the food companies weren’t enforcing labor laws. DRAMATIC underpaying is rampant, which I learned when I read this thoroughly insightful book, The American Way of Eating, written by an undercover reporter who worked as a farm worker; Applebees chef, and Walmart employee. And, lest you think that buying organic improves conditions for the workers instead of the soil, that same book reports that a farm implement banned from conventional agricultural farms because of the damage it does to workers’ backs is still permitted on organic farms.

That looks backbreaking. Source here.

So, I meet the people who pick my food. (One of my favorite vendors at the farmer’s market sold me a sweet potato and then said, “Yeah, I cook one of those and keep it in my pocket while I’m out picking. It keeps me warm and then I get a snack on the field). I see pictures of the conditions on the farms. And yeah, farmer’s market food costs more in part because organic, small-scale farming is way way way more labor intensive. Large scale farming gives us agriculture that’s cheap (though we tend to see that more in the absurdly low priced junk food and soda because of the government subsidies for corn). Large scale agriculture also offers myriad points in their supply procurement pyramid for worker abuse. When possible, I buy small scale.
After saying all this, I’ll confessed that I am wracked with guilt at the thought of the fact that I eat bananas. Banana plantations are the WORST. I have no moral ground to stand on at all. Yes, bananas are healthy and filling and cheap, yes, I buy the ones in the reduced produce bags which otherwise might get thrown away. But I repeat: I have no moral ground to stand on with regards to bananas. I need to phase them out. Hold me to this, guys. Any advice welcome. (Sidebar: we had a family friend in my hometown who owned a house with a skylight that created an arboretum-like area. Where they kept- the banana plant! And harvested their own bananas. This is my dream.)

- I don’t shop at Walmart. I think all workers (even part-time ones; and many are stuck in part-time work in our current economy) should be paid a living wage and have benefits, including good health care. Obviously, Walmart is not the only employer who does not provide the full extent of those opportunities to their workers, but as one of the nation’s biggest corporations- and employers- they could cause a sea change if they improved their workers’ compensation and rights.
For a counterexample, a store I am proud to shop at is Costco. Their comprehensive benefits are considered the gold standard for the industry, and people recognize that, based on the massive and enthusiastic turnout for jobs at their first Washington D.C. store, in a neighborhood that could really use it. Their employees typically make at least $17 an hour. Stating the obvious, Costco is a successful company that makes profits. They simply do it in, as I see it, a more ethical manner.
A quote I read and loved was, “The Best Customer of American Industry is the Well-Paid Worker”. FDR said that!
A reality check: the grocery stores closest to me are Safeway and Giant, and I shop at both of them... because they’re the closest to me. Safeway’s benefits sound good, Giant’s do too, though they are a little vague, and I can’t tell whether they apply to part-time employees. Obviously, I don’t have perfect information. In another example, I am a big fan of Harris Teeter for the philanthropic work they do, which I saw firsthand at the food bank. They were VERY generous to our children’s feeding program. That being said, their stores are far from my house and cost a LOT more than the other ones nearby, so I don’t shop at their stores often.
I also do not want to come across as judging anyone who does shop at Walmart. Yes, they have low prices on some items and being able to vote with your dollar is a luxury for people with sufficient dollars. In addition, many neighborhoods offer few options other than Walmart, like where my sister goes to school.
The bottom line is that this is something I’ve spent some time thinking about and it’s a choice I’m able to make at this point.

My next consideration is that I don’t want my food choices to totally screw over the planet.

- I don’t eat a lot of meat. It’s healthier, and we all know by now the ABSURD mathematics of meat- pounds upon pounds of corn and soy feed to produce a single pound of meat. Eating less meat is healthier, cheaper, and kinder on the planet. Going back to the worker argument above, one of the most striking segments of Food, Inc., for me, was seeing the deal pork processing makes with the INS where they get a steady supply of illegal immigrant labor to exploit in exchange for regularly turning in their labor supply for not having papers. You’ve seen Food, Inc., right?!
When I do buy meat, I get it at the farmer’s market, or my beloved Lebanese Butcher. Lebanese Butcher sells halal meat, score (it’s the Muslim equivalent of kosher, basically). They also sell organic meat, score. Best of all, one time I asked, “Where is your meat from?” and the guy went, “… My farm”, as if it was the most obvious thing ever. And when I inquired where his farm was, said Warrenton, a town not forty minutes away.
I want to emphasize that part of the decision I made to only procure meat from those sources is that Food, Inc. scared me. There is almost no regulation of the meat industry in our country, and based on the fact that their response to frightening, antibiotic resistant bacteria in their beef was to create the now-infamous “pink slime”, I am not confident that they’ll police themselves.
So, I buy meat at my trustworthy places, and yeah it costs more. Fortunately, I eat meat maybe twice a week, and often even less because my Orthodox Christian religion has long periods of meatlessness built into the year, like during Lent and Advent. When I eat meat, I prefer it in dishes like ground beef stuffed cabbage (where the meat’s mixed with rice and stuffed into cabbage, served with tomato sauce) or ground bison meatloaf (where the meat’s mixed with mushrooms, eggs, and breadcrumbs). Cooking meat that way means a pound can last my family a week.

Greek Style Nonfat Plain Yogurt
Source here.

- I try to buy organic dairy. I have whacked out hormones as it is and don’t need any more of them in my system from cows. I’m also in a microbiology course and am petrified of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Healthy cows don’t need antibiotics. I’m scared of all the antibiotics- and new germs who aren’t bothered by them in the slightest- we’re introducing into our biosphere. That being said, while organic milk and yogurt are easy to find (Trader Joes seems to only sell organic yogurt at this point, which delights me), they are, of course, more costly. And organic cheese definitely does NOT seem to’ve hit a tipping point where enough people want to buy it yet cause lord you can only find it at crazy expensive places. So cheese is my compromise where I don’t screen for organic-ness. If you know a cheese guy, holla at me. I’d love to know.

- Local farms. Smaller scale systems, crop rotation… less havoc on the environment.
Typically organic in practice if not in name (getting organic certification is $$$$!). That being said, I am not as much of a stickler on buying organic produce as I could (should?) be. Probably if I got pregnant I would (which I wont be ever so this is a moot point). I’ve also actually read some thoroughly disarming things in this well-researched Science Daily article about organic pesticides- the non-synthetic substances with which it’s legal to treat organic crops. So the jury is still out for me. Thoughts, friends?

- I try to eat sustainable seafood. I find it really difficult to find adequate information about seafood, and this is something I’m still working on. That being said, I cannot eat Chilean Sea Bass. I just can’t. How is it still allowed to be on menus?! If I’m buying seafood, I’m generally getting it at Whole Paycheck Foods and hoping their seafood ranking system is as honest as it appears to be. If I get cod, I want it to be from the Pacific. If I get salmon, I want it to be Alaskan- this Eating Well magazine article about fishing for wild salmon in Alaska was a delightful read.
When I go out to eat, this all becomes a lot more murky and confusing. So I go, “NO CHILEAN SEA BASS” and cross my fingers that I’m not exploiting the environment. If anyone has a handy tip sheet for restaurants (can you use that Monterey Bay Aquarium guide there? Is it too obnoxious and Portlandia-y to interrogate your server about whether your fish was farmed. And if it was, if it was decent farming, like I hear steelhead’s okay?
Also, I haven’t eaten shrimp in a long time except from Whole Paycheck Foods because man that situation in Thailand bums me out.

- I am exceedingly skeeved out by genetically modified food. On the one hand, science hasn’t proven it’s bad for us (yet). On the other hand, do we want to be guinea pigs so food and chemical corporations can make even MORE profit? On the other hand, if we start labeling genetically modified foods, does it mean that a class system will emerge where lower-income folks will have to eat all the genetically modified Frankenfood while the wealthier get the “pure” stuff? And can we feed the planet on the large scale we need without using it?
Here’s my current compromise: for the millionth time, local farmers don’t do things on an industrial scale and frequently offer heirloom and/or offbeat varieties of various vegetables. Love me some local farmers. Also, I buy organic tofu and edamame, because Food, Inc. gave me a particular hatred for Monsanto.
The thing that’s thoroughly irking me with this is oil. I’ve bought canola oil lately because it’s not soybean oil (see above hatred for Monsanto). But I’m learning more that canola oil is just as GMO’d out. So if I want a heart-healthy, neutrally flavored oil, what do I get? Suggestions welcome.

The final statement in my credo- I don’t reject hospitality

Icon from my religion: Abraham and Sarah inadvertently inviting angels in for dinner. Hospitality is sacred! Source here.

No one will ever change the food system by being rude to their friends and families. If I go to someone’s house and they are kind enough to offer me food, I will eat it. Period. My individual purchasing power is what I vote with, but I don’t condemn anyone else’s choices. I also think hospitality is one of the most sacred things we have as human beings, and am thrilled to receive it :)

Questions of the day:

- Do you follow some of these rules? Less? More? Am I doing anything wrong?

- Do you come from the dumpster-diving school of philosophy, where any food is okay as long as you eat it to prevent it from getting thrown away? (I say yes! Providing food safety standards are met).

- Are you a stickler about eating what’s put in front of you like I am, or do you occasionally (or often) take eating with friends as a chance to take a stand?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

four year blogiversary!

Today marks four years since I sat down in my college apartment and decided to become a food blogger. A LOT has changed since that day. That fact, plus the fact that in general I feel like I’m at a big exciting transitional period in my life, results in me having a lot to say.

Obviously, not all (not most. Not half. Not even 1%, in all likelihood) will fit in this post.

In lieu of that, another of my rambling posts that you have so grown to love and a few promises for more and ever-so-slightly different content.

We begin with a recipe, because new recipes have been few and far between; a peculiar and disheartening fact that must be remedied because recipe developing is one of my favorite things about blogging!

Choco chip goodness!


A few facts about this recipe: yes, I already have a chocolate chip cookie recipe. It is my godmother’s, and you can find it here: My Godmother's Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies. That being said, that recipe serves a CROWD, and there are times you want to simply not tempt yourself with several dozen cookies in your home.
I also liked the idea of an eggless recipe, since I am always loath to use my tasty and special farmer’s market eggs in a recipe where they’ll completely disappear. The eggless fact means that the recipe can be made vegan if you use a vegan butter like Earth Balance. Plus, flax is fun: right now I only have whole flaxseed (which I think is better since those big bags of pre-ground flax go rancid so quickly). SO, I take some whole flaxseed, put it in a bag, and whack it with a meat cleaver til the seeds are crushed! Heaps of fun and a great stress reliever.
Finally, this recipe is on the healthier end of the spectrum because it’s 100% whole grain (I used my godmother’s trick of using ground up oats for most of the flour: note that I have not tested this, but I imagine you could make this recipe gluten free simply by using certified gluten-free oats and a gluten-free baking mix for the flour). Despite that, the cookies are tender- oat flour has a wonderful, softer texture in whole-grain baking. This recipe also has less fat and sugar because it gets some moisture and sweetness from a mashed banana, a trick I picked up in this Daily Garnish recipe. And I added pecans because nuts are good for you and taste AWESOME.

Final note: I baked them on a tiny tray in my wonderful, tiny, energy efficient toaster oven. It took about three batches, which is just thirty minutes of baking. LOVE that guy.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 T ground flax
3 T water
1 cup oat flour (you can make your own by grinding 1 1/4 cup of oats in a food processor or blender)
1/2 cup whole oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 T canola oil
2 T melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 medium ripe banana, mashed
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Combine ground flax and water in a small bowl, and let sit for five minutes or until the water becomes gel-like.

Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients (oat flour through salt) in another small bowl.

Mix together oil, butter, and sugar and beat (I used a stand mixer) until the butter is light and fluffy. Then add the banana, flax egg, and vanilla. The mixture will be very thin and mushy; that is okay.

Keeping the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients a bit at a time, scraping down the side of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Continue until all the dry ingredients are added. Then take the bowl out of the mixer and use a spatula to fold in chocolate chips and pecans.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray (or grease with butter). Use a tablespoon or cookie scoop to put dough on the sheet. Don’t worry too much about spacing them out, because they don’t spread much. Push down on the tops of the cookies with a spatula or your fingers (you may want to use a little grease since the dough is a big sticky) to spread them out into a cookie shape.

Bake for 10 minutes or until the tops of cookies feel set up.

This made about two dozen for me, but they were teensy- I used a cookie scoop but flattened, not heaping. So.. that makes me feel better about the very LARGE quantity I ate of the very tiny cookies!

As you can see, the batter is soft and squishy, not super held together. And it’s eggless, so you can snack to your heart’s content.


I enjoyed my first (fully baked) cookie by the window, in the sun. I thought this would be an opportunity to show off my new favorite shoes.

Fact: my aunt is a bit of a hoarder (not, yknow, in a clinically crazy way; just a loveably kooky one) and has been getting rid of shoes like it’s her job. Fun fact: I am her size! Such benefits.


The cookie was great.


The brainchild for these cookies actually originated on a HARDCORE HIKE! In that Steve and I took a hardcore hike and I was sort of incurably hungry for the following three days. So I made some nice energy dense cookies.

Not for the first time, Steve and I set out to climb Old Rag, Virginia’s highest mountain. Not for the first time, we planned poorly. Last time, we didn't realize how long the hike would be and figured out we wouldn’t be able to finish it before sunset. This time, we had enough daylight (partially thanks to Daylight Savings Time).

The problem was, we dressed for nice, temperate, sea-level Northern Virginia, not hardcore mountain Shenandoah conditions. And wore shorts. As we traversed our way to the snowy mountain cap.

Silly kids!

The climb was fine, once we warmed up. More than fine. Stunning!

DSC02698 DSC02701

I found myself mortified at my athletic condition, though. I foolishly thought that since both of my parents have, on separate occasions, climbed this mountain successfully at middle age, I’d have no problem being so young and spry.

Dude, the climb is HARD! Steve had to literally push me up the mountain a coupla times. Grabbing rocks with bare hands (poor planning #2) feels hardcore, but also… hard! Sore!

The top is an endorphin rush like nothing else. Buttttt… then you have to climb down. And if you do the loop, well, recognize that the way down is the cold side of the mountain. To specify, the frozen, ice-covered side of the mountain. It was slowwwwwwww going.

But we made it!

Now for something completely different: Lent!

Because I’m Greek Orthodox, my Easter (and thus my Lent) are on a different schedule than everybody else’s. So, it just started. Lent for me means not eating meat (if you’re going about it the full way, you abstain from all meat AND all other animal products, but I’m not at a place physically or mentally where I can handle quite that level of strictness).

Fortunately, not eating meat is easy when you make ETHIOPIAN FOOD!

Leftovers from wunnerful Ethiopian Cabbage Dish, a recipe I modified just slightly by using 1/4 cup of oil instead of 1/2 cup, because I just don’t like greasy food.

This is such a lovely, nutritious combo.


I also made some chickpeas, which I toasted up in olive oil til they had golden spots on them, then added these spices:


Plus a little tomato paste and water, and mashed them. Delicious.

Speaking of chickpeas, I made wasabi hummus (!) Somewhat inspired by Trader Joes’ magnificent horseradish hummus. A can of chickpeas plus some water plus some tahini plus some wasabi powder. Great with carrots!


On a final Lent note, I’m not drinking for Lent. I don’t think I have an alcohol problem, but my genetic profile suggests I’d fit right in if I got one. I’ve felt for the past few months like sometimes I drink alcohol not because I actually drink alcohol but because other people are, or because it’s there. There are times when I’m like, “Yesss! A glass of Malbec would be perfect right now!” and those are the times I want to have a glass of Malbec.


I thoroughly enjoyed the environment in which I drank that glass of mead (Mad Fox Brewing Company) and the mead was good, too, albeit SWEET. (It was ginger-pear. I HAD to order it!)

However, upon drinking that mead, I decided that I needed dessert. So Steve and I split a mini mason jar of butterscotch pudding. Yes, it was delicious, but two bites in I knew it wasnt really what I wanted (it was essentially un-bruleed creme brulee, a heavy cream, egg yolks, sugar bomb). And yet there it was, and I was loath to waste it. And it cost money!

Example #892359163597263598237502837502875028750283750283750827308235 in the history of the world why people don’t make their best decisions after having consumed alcohol.

Next item on the Lent agenda, products! One vegetarian friendly, one vegan friendly.



DON’T BOTHER. I bought them because they were on sale, and I thought to myself, “how could anything with mushrooms and mozzarella be less than awesome?”

Well, couldn’t tell ya how they did it but these were not awesome and in fact not very good at all. I ate them in reasonable good cheer by crumbling them up on salads and enhancing them with wasabi hummus- :) – but there are much better veggie burgers on the market.

Next product, also bought on sale:


So the original price on this guy was $35, but a special at Whole Foods and a manufacturer’s coupon given to me by the guy demo-ing it reduced that price to $20, and this is a big container, so that struck me as a “deal” (so much as protein powder can be).

I was impressed first and foremost by the taste (the advantage of getting to sample something before you buy it).

Then I was impressed by the nutritional info.


Then I was IMPRESSED by the ingredients. [Note: I am not a dietitian yet and am discussing the fact that this product was good for me, someone with no major health issues. My godmother is an R.D. at a hospital, and one of her first steps on starting there was taking the sprouts out of the salad bar because they can harbor bacteria that can do a number on immunocompromised people. Buy the products that work for your needs!


Fact: my sister did a little PCOS research and learned that whey protein isn’t recommended for women with PCOS because we pump our cattle so full of hormones and women with PCOS already have hormone drama. So I dug that this was whey-free and had only pronounceable ingredients. (Well okay maybe you can’t pronounce some of the probiotic strains. But I am currently a microbiology student, so I can! :D)

I used the powder to make the first actually good protein pancakes of my life!

I used:
1/4 cup Safeway brand organic whole wheat pancake mix (the kind you add milk and eggs too; not the kind you just add water to)
1/2 scoop of the protein powder above
1 flax egg
scant 1/4 cup milk

It cooked up like a dream, even with the flax egg.


Annnnnnnd the pancakes were totally beautiful and tasty. A first for me, in trying protein powder pancakes! An added bonus of protein-rich pancakes, of course: you can top them with just syrup and feel good about it :)


Speaking of my sister, she’s coming home for Spring Break tomorrow! Lovely.

Remember the beautiful flowers she sent for no good reason?


Had to do a followup blossoming picture. So. Gorgeous!


So I have a LOT of hopes and aspirations for the future right now. Some of them are blog related. Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts I have.

- I just read Health at Every Size and I have way too many thoughts about it to summarize in this post, but it’s getting its own. Short version: I thought it’d be a book-length version of a Dove commercial with yadda yadda self love yadda yadda everyone is beautiful. It is, in fact, an exquisitely researched, chock-full-o’-facts rebuttal to everyone in our society who squawks about skinniness in the name of health. J’adore.

- I’ve been taking a lot of science classes and in general have been thinking a lot about science in the media. Every woman knows what antioxidants are; many know hunger-related hormones like leptin and ghrelin; some are savvy on aerobic conditioning and the effect of various workouts on metabolism. But who can tell me what your gall bladder does? What your blood cells are made of? What vitamin D actually does in your body?
A brief thesis: the science available in women’s magazines is not incorrect science. It’s just tiny, narrow snippets of science with a nearly 100% focus on how you can apply it to weight loss.

- In general, the media’s just breaking my heart right now. Steubenville, anyone? Looking at my two most recent issues of Health magazine (a magazine to which I subscribe, so I’m not trying to pile on attack speech, but here me out), I’m struck. On each, the top word, directly under the title, first thing on the left which catches your eyes first if you’re reading, as in English, left to right: LOSE.
LOSE is the first word. LOSE, the word that’s the opposite of WIN. Or GAIN, as in GAINING the right to vote, GAINING confidence in your job, GAINING friends and supporters. One says “Lose 10 pounds in three weeks” (yeah not healthy), the other “Lose your belly fat”. LOSE. First thing. Food for thought.

- I have spent various points in the past four years thinking of food in an exclusive way. Food as the solution to EVERY problem. Or, later, food as the cause of EVERY problem. The truth is, you know what food solves for me? Hunger. That’s it. I have worked hard to get out of that myopic view of the world and I want my blog to reflect it. SO, I’d like for my blog to talk about food in a happy, positive way (recipes, reviews of ONLY the products I choose to buy [because all the blogs I’ve spent the past few years reading and enjoying have all had a troubling association between commercial success and vending of total bullshit products], recaps of fun and special trips that involve tasty food, explorations of the delicious ethnic cuisines my hometown has to offer).
But I’d also like my blog to be about ME, and my life is about a lot more than food. Always has been, but I’m seeing it better now. I want to talk about what I’m learning at school, what my personal reading has done to teach and inspire me. What’s going on in the world. And while I’ve done various recaps of individual dates in my life, I’d like to share about me in a less ADHD way. Like, yknow, WRITING, rather than recapping. For example, here’s what’s new with me: I’m still a chem and microbiology student. Now I’m doing some freelance writing and I’m also exploring my first personal chef-type job that I could later see as a business when I’m a dietitian.
I’d also like the blog to involve more discussions. Hands down one of my favorite blog posts I’ve ever read- fellas, hide your eyes- was this "green your period" post at Healthy Tipping Point that discussed my now-beloved Diva Cup. There were hundreds of comments on that post! Not saying that because I’m jealous of her readership- saying that because I think it’s rad when blogs can be forums for a community discussion. To that, if you read my blog, tell me about you! My hits aren’t huge, but they add up to more than my loyal family and friend readers. Is there more content you’d like from this blog?

- On a final and less dramatic note, I hate the name of this blog. I have almost since the day I created it. I can’t explain it to anyone verbally without sounding like an idiot. Very few people call me Lele, and my boyfriend cannot for the life of him remember that it’s “Lee lee”, not “Lay lay” (which sounds pervy). I’d like a simpler title that I can actually tell people without a great deal of explanation and spelling. I’d also like to switch to Wordpress, because I’ve heard it’s so much better. If any of y’all have successfully done it, tips are SO welcome!

Friday, March 15, 2013

balancing lunch

Being on a student schedule, I usually get to eat lunch at home. Suuuuuuuuuch a luxury! I’ve had too many jobs where lunch was a ten-minutes-at-my-desk-or-a-meeting affair. Having a (relatively) slow and relaxing lunch is a really nice way to work some self-care into my day. AND, as such, I want it to be balanced and leave me satisfied. Here are some recent lunches!

Lunch #1: The McGriddle (hahahaha not. But hear me out).


So my little sister is the master of microwave-cooking eggs in a mug. She taught me how to do it (relatively) well. So I take an egg, THOROUGHLY whisk it in a mug (key) and microwave it with some waxed paper on top for a minute, stirring halfway through.

Then I put it on a salad with greens, chopped apple or pear, and goat cheese. And THEN, put a little MAPLE SYRUP on top. Thus, egg+cheese+maple syrup=McGriddle!

Hahaha I know it’s BS. But this is a really good salad.


On balance I’m going to give it a B-. Delicious and healthy, but I probably snacked a good amount later since it was pretty low-cal and I just generally feel fuller when I have grainy carbs with lunch.

Next lunch: Count those food groups!


The savory portion of the meal was kind of a mini-version of the grain bowls I’ve been lovin’ on lately. Quinoa, black beans, kale, mushrooms. Topped with avocado for healthy fat/general bliss.


On the sweet end, chopped apples with Greek yogurt and cinnamon. A silly revelation that you all will think is super vapid: for years I put yogurt in a bowl and fruit on top. But if you put the yogurt on top of the fruit… it doesn’t stick as much to the bottom of the bowl! Another deep thought from my blog. You are so welcome.


Enjoyed with flowers! Nice and filling, this one. No complaints.


Third lunch: Veggie extravaganza!


I love how simultaneously nutritious and overflowing this plate is.

Let’s do a lap, shall we?


Going clockwise from the orange section, we begin with oven-baked sweet potato fries. Next, the last of some leftover brussels sprouts cooked my favorite way, which have been popping up all over the Internet (jk that’s my bff’s blog! check it out!). For the protein and healthy fat element on this plate of carbs, we have some Trader Joe’s refried black beans topped with some beautiful sliced fresh avocado (tip: Costco has the best avocados. I think they are absolute rubbish at Safeway, Giant and Trader Joe’s). Finally, something rather special: kale chips made with TAHINI. Dude. Try it. Kale and sesame are a match made in heaven. Just make sure to bake your chips on a low temperature and keep an eye on them, because they get crispy faster… then promptly transition to burnt.

It seems unfair to grade this one on balance, cause cmon- it’s a beautiful thing to have your entire day’s veggie needs in a meal. That being said… B+ rather than an A because I was hungry for a snack not too long after I ate it :) Don’t care, still delicious, still awesome for me.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

last of the winter dinners

Cautiously optimistic spring is here, what with having gotten Snowquester (I’m allowed to say that since I leave near DC) over with. So I’d better publish these nice hearty winter dinners before it’s all salad, all the time!

I bought a cabbage. I bought some meat. I thought about making stuffed cabbage.

I thought about it… for awhile. Then, fate! In the form of Deb publishing a recipe for stuffed cabbage in Smitten Kitchen. So this happened. This good good goodness happened:


Though I didn’t follow Deb’s recipe (except for the sauce, which was mad easy and mad good- I used organic tomatoes which I think just taste fresher), it was pretty cool channeling her.

Here’s what I did:

- Cooked some brown rice (1/2 a cup raw)
- Caramelized a big sweet onion (mmm)
- Mixed those guys together with about a pound of meat from Lebanese Butcher. I rave and rave about that place in this blog, and this is one of their best: a mix of ground beef and ground lamb with awesome awesome herby seasonings. Probably parsley, mint… don’t know what else but it’s oh so good.
- Microwave-steamed 8 cabbage leaves (I am just morally opposed to boiling things, and I think the boil the whole cabbage then peel off the leaves technique leaves nearly-raw inner leaves and totally limp and dead outer leaves)
- Made Deb’s sauce (link above)
- Wrapped the stuffing with the leaves; threw in a little more cabbage from the inside, chopped up; and cooked the rolls per Deb’s suggestions


Then there was leftover lamb so I mixed it with red lentils and some brown rice that’d been languishing in the fridge and the last of some Trader Joe’s butternut squash bisque that I found a little bland and some cumin and curry powder and THAT was really good too!


Had some nice farmer’s market chard. Used some of it to make fish, which turned into a little bit of a situation:

chat with rach

And the rest I made into a splendid little quiche.


Once again, I began by caramelizing onions. Then I added lotsa mushrooms and some Swiss chard to that same pan, and let ‘em cook and get all lovely and soft. I whisked up some eggs with milk, salt and pepper, and a dash of hot sauce.

THEN, in the style of an Eating Well recipe, in lieu of making a crust (since I suffer from laziness and we had- and still have- a ridiculous quantity of phyllo dough in our fridge left over from a baklava project of my mother’s), I used a bunch of folded-over, brushed-with-oil phyllo dough.

Came out very nice indeed. We ate almost the entire thing in one night.


Sheila always gets to lick out the bowl the eggs were beaten in. Then she goes and fits on the improbably tiny shelf, next to the cupboard where she knows the cookies to live, and begs for more treats.


Speaking of more treats, the final recipe delight I have to share is CALZONES! Calzones are SO much fun to make and also REALLY easy. Best of all, they freeze bee-yoo-ti-fully, and are a complete meal in an efficiently small delivery system. The original hot pockets, if you will.

I will refer you to my original calzone post for the dough. That recipe works beautifully, and I’ll just add that this time for the 1 cup of white whole wheat flour I substituted 1 cup of oats, ground up, plus cornmeal to make that oat flour add up to 1 cup. Still great!

As for the filling… mmm mmm mm.


We got sweet Italian sausage at the farmer’s market, and it served as a succulent base for the calzones. I browned it, whole, in the pan, then took it out once it was all nice and blistery on the outside. Then I used those drippings to cook some mushrooms. While those cooked, I sliced the sausage into small pieces. When the mushrooms looked nice, I returned the sausage to the pan, plus some frozen spinach and a small can of tomato sauce. And that’s that! It made more than enough filling.

Plus some cheese to go on top! Mix of white cheddar, regular cheddar, and parmesan. Just what I had. All cheese is good cheese.


Into the hot oven they went. The really huge and overstuffed ones were made by Steve :)


Eaten at the kitchen table, still beautified from my sister’s flowers :)


And that… I thiiiiiiiink…. is the last of winter :)

Monday, March 11, 2013

luray getaway

Had so much fun heading to the hills, where everything was coated with a magical layer of frost.


I say hills… you could say mountains, specifically the Shenandoah ones, except Skyline Drive (the ermagerd-such-amazing-views route traversing the mountain Chain) was closed. So the hills sort of near Skyline Drive.

A gorgey, if short, walk.


Short cause this (ooh so atmospheric!)


Became this (ooh imminent death!)


A few more parking lot shots…

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And it was time for our next destination: a tour of Copper Fox Distillery. Nifty, right?! A hard likker interlude in the middle of a common wine tasting route.


Beautiful old building. I love these old doors (oh gosh I sound like the Instagram parody)


Cute sign.

We went in and parked ourselves in a cozy sitting area, next to an oh-so-warm fireplace that the animals enjoyed as well.


Feeling like an elderly Earl, I sat down with Whisky Advocate and smoked my pipe.


The distillery consists of good ol’ boys making whiskey and rye (teehee- when my sister was little she thought the song went, “And good old boys were drinking whiskey in bed”)


First stop is the grain room, guarded by a knight.


Li’l barley and rye bits hang out drying out.


Then they get smoked in the oven room across the hall. Copper Fox’s claim to fame is that they’re the only distillery in the world that uses fruit wood (from apple and cherry trees) to smoke their whiskey.

Various steps in fermentation. I’m going to be honest here: the tour was cool but our tour guide was sort of a first class d-bag who kept making terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE jokes. Do you want to hear a masturbation-related joke on a distillery tour? No? Me neither.

He was also just sort of vague and incoherent and didn’t truly seem to understand how the process even worked.

So… there are various machines. This is what they look like. Fermentation happens. Distillation happens. Aging in barrels happens. Etc.

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They have kind of a nifty bottling conveyor belt contraption. Had to be very particular about how they do the wax seal on the top since Maker’s Mark has their wax seal trademarked (!)


We didn’t get to taste the whiskey, but we sniffed it. We did taste some of the soaking rye berries, pictured (looking sort of hideous) at right. Tasted like a vat of oatmeal!


Homebrew aficionados could take un-aged whiskey and rye spirits home and age them in these adorable mini barrels. Fun!


So concluded our tour.

Now it was about three in the afternoon and neither of us had eaten lunch, so we sat down for a… meal. Of some kind.

Steve and his man friends always go to this one pizza place every time they hike in the Shenandoahs. His eyes light up when he talks about said pizza. So off we went, to Rudy’s Pizza, in Sperryville.

It was… very very large. And very very cheesy.


I’m going to refer people to the common metaphor to describe pizza and another thing (when it’s good it’s really good, and when it’s bad it’s still pretty good) to discuss this pizza. It got the job done but I didn’t need to eat large quantities of it.


Back over the mountains we went to Luray. Specifically, to a lovely spot dating back to 1931, recently gore-jess-ly renovated, The Mimslyn Inn.

I cannot cannot say enough good things about The Mimslyn Inn.

I think you can often sense immediately how you’ll be treated at an establishment at how they treat you at check in. Maybe others can relate to the experience of arriving with a fairly fresh and dewy and youthful face, clutching a Groupon rather than an AmEx, and being treated rubbishly?

Well, such was not the case at this absolutely lovely inn, where the gracious and welcoming staff treated us like total stars the whole time we were there.

Plus, it was totally gorgeous. Welcoming, figuratively and literally warm lobby- the fireplace was fab!- and rooms that were comfortable, clean and well-equipped that still had furniture that reflected the age and character of the building.

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Oh and BATHROBES! Every time I put on a hotel bathrobe (yknow, once every five years or so) I feel like Eloise at the Plaza. Initially there was just one, and I asked at the front desk if we could get another (so Steve could get the diva experience too, natch) and our wish was their command.

In general, I have a little bit of a love affair with Luray. Specifically this gem:


Gathering Grounds. The restaurant and coffee shop whose decor and baked goods I’d like to rip out and deposit in my own home. Note that the picture above was taken in daylight yet the pictures below were evening. That’s because on a less-than-18-hour trip to Luray, we went there twice.

So. Cute. Bookshelf ladders are the BEST!


Nice coffee bar with EPIC baked goods selection (how I wish I had the appetite for pie…)


The restaurant apparently used to be a hardware store (actually, all the buildings in town seemed to have some kind of cool history) and all sorts of neat architectural details and fixtures connected to that. Also thought the wine (whiskey?) barrels were a neat touch.


Seriously, if I were asked to describe my ideal home decor, I’d say, “Make my house this”. Cash register, customers, and all. I would happily sell cookies out of my house if my house were this pretty.

We sat at a wonderful cozy nook in the back on the couch with our tea and cookie.

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I sort of can’t convey the awesomeness of that soft, buttery, gently spiced, cream-filled oatmeal cookie pie. I just hope all of you get to eat something as delicious some day.

Then we went to the equally awesomely-decorated movie theater (plush seats, random faux Greek statues and neon lights in the lobby; wonderfully campy!).

Annnnd… saw Silver Linings Playbook.

Guys, I cannot even put into words how much I love that movie. We can discuss that later.

In the meantime, we went back to the hotel lobby and enjoyed wine by the fire (note: they have a bar in the lobby that has a great selection of Virginia wines. LOVE.)



Woke up at the crack of dawn the next day. Boyf did not. So I wandered down to the lobby and had a free coffee and muffin (yum!) and the most delightful conversation with an older gentleman who’d been to the same inn in the sixties. He also discussed the potato chip factory (!) a few miles away where they do an annual tour/party in the summer (dude. happening). And traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway by motorcycle. He was basically awesome.

Steve finally awoke (sort of) a few hours later and we made our way down the big hill below the inn for a proper breakfast.


We went once again to the Purple Door, the place we visited last time we were in Luray (by which I mean camping near Luray with inadequate provisions).

My tea arrived in a mini pot, <3


Omelet was aight. Spinach, shrooms, and pepper jack.


Then we wandered around town for a bit. There was the COOLEST antiquey store- I think it was a co-op, with all these little stalls that had a wide variety of things. LOVED this:

The label read: “Old Original Vintage Labels: these vintage labels were removed from old factories mostly located around the town of Luray, Virginia. They date back to the 1930s-40s. They have never been used.”

I want to decorate my entire house with these. LOVE.


Then… time to go back to our favorite cafe!

Split a tomater soup. And Steve ordered some decadent creation involving white chocolate and cranberries.


And then we went for a stroll on Luray’s beautiful greenway! Love love love public works projects like this. Under the train tracks, next to a beautiful creek, all along the town’s edge. It was recently constructed, and was packed with people enjoying the sun. Why can’t all towns do this?!