Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bed beat beets

We got beets in last week's CSA box and thankfully they haven't started to soften up on me yet. I just haven't been able to bring myself to have the oven on long enough to roast them this week. I could make an entire meal out of roasted beets and goat cheese.

Just a few minutes ago, while showering off dog park dust I got the bright idea that I should pickle the beets tonight before they go bad. It's pushing eight o'clock and I have to meet my boss at the office by 6:30 am for a road trip. Under no circumstances should I be pickling beets tonight. (I am not one of those people who function with no sleep). I went as far as to start researching recipes when good sense kicked in and I decided a little cleaning, then netflix in bed was a better idea.

I probably won't get to the beets for another day or two, due to the road trip and all, unless I can convince Western One to jump in. This gives me time to solicit some favorite beet ideas from you fine folks and cross my fingers the little guys hang on...

of seltzer, soda and soapboxes...

We rarely drink soda in our house. Occasionally Western One will drink strong ginger beer by the gallon, but as it's too spicy for me I rarely partake. Don't getme wrong, there are times when a cold soda tastes really good (like when I'm too hungover, um, tired for hot coffee) but for the most part I'd rather just have water. I'm thankful for my beverage preferences because it saves calories for beer and cheese and leaves space in my synthetic food limit for more satisfying indulgences.

We drink a lot of seltzer and lately have been accessorizing with a dash of fruit juice. Tonight Western One went for a more substantial beverage of half Mandarin seltzer and half mango puree, while I, nostalgic for my days in Ireland, opted for black currant juice. The brand name made me giggle...remember that show?

Anyway, this post is about more than "look at me, I drink seltzer, not soda." As most of you who have read Green Peccadilloes for some time know, I like to spend time thinking about food policy. In the interest of full disclosure, I spend a good bit of my workday thinking about health policy more generally, so this isn't a huge stretch. One proposal that has been kicking around New York for two budget cycles, and is gaining national steam, is the "soda tax." While ostensibly the concept makes sense, the way it has been approached, at least here, puts me right over the edge. The tax only applies to "sugary beverages" or, in other words - regular and NOT diet soda. The implication of course being that people should switch from one evil to another.

Now there is plenty of room for debate about this approach generally. It, like most consumption taxes, is regressive, but in a world where hunger and obesity paradoxically go hand in hand and it is cheaper to buy your kids 2 liters of soda than a gallon of milk, I'm not sure I have a problem with that. There's the free choice argument, but this certainly wouldn't be the first time we used the tax code to influence behavior, and it won't be the last. I understand that the objective correlation between calories in regular soda and obesity and related public health issues is an easier connection to make than similar issues associated with artificial sweeteners and other crap in diet soda, but to completely ignore the latter strikes me as ludicrous.

I'll get off my soapbox now, but I'm very interested in the thoughts you all have as I know I'm not the only one out there thinking about how to focus on good food...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

BLT Blasphmey

I am really embarrassed to admit this. We are weeks into a fantastic tomato season and it took me until tonight to make my first fresh BLT of the summer. What the hell is wrong with me?? Granted I'll give into a halfway decent sandwich shop version every now and again, but nothing beats a real BLT, piled high with fresh juicy tomatoes.

Wonderpup and I are on our own tonight and after a riotously good time at the dog park, I got home later than I wanted and just didn't feel like real dinner. I stuck my head in the fridge, prepared to settle in with a brick of cheese and a beer, when I realized we had bacon. BACON. The wheels started to turn... Amazingly, and without any planning, I had all the ingredients for the perfect summer meal - super fresh lettuce and tomatoes in the CSA box and bread, which much to my surprise had not yet started to grow mold.

Now I've seen all sorts of fancy takes on the BLT but I'm a purist. You don't cover U2, generic Cheerios suck, and you don't mess with the BLT. Bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo and toast. Take or leave the salt and pepper - I had pepper bacon so I skipped. It was so good I had two! (and yes, that is a New Yorker cartoon on my plate - best plates ever!)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We had a bunch of veggies to get rid of before the onslaught of today's CSA delivery, so last night I decided to use up as much as I could. Try as we might, we just haven't been as good about eating and preserving our bounty as much as I'd like. I'd reserved some of the sauce I made over the weekend so I just sauteed the veggies and made a quick pasta. It was done in the time it took me to boil water and cook the pasta. I LOVE dinners like that - it's so easy to throw together simple and tasty when you have great, fresh ingredients. I'm going to miss that.

I was walking Wonderpup the other morning and I could smell the end. Not quite the scent of fall, but there was that tinge on the air that foretells the demise of summer. I found myself taking a deep breath, savoring the smell and meeting it with ambivalence. I love fall, and not just because I'm a fall baby and self-centered, it's just my season. But this year, when for the first time in my adult life I've worked hard and almost succeeded at cultivating a garden, I'm meeting the end of the growing season here in the Northeast with a bit of sadness. I know, I know, it's not even Labor Day, but it's coming.

Monday, August 23, 2010

When did my garden become Sleepy Hollow?

I figured it was time for a quick garden update. While my tomatoes have been doing ok, I've had some setbacks in other areas. Below you can see that many of my strawberries have been consumed. Alas, not by me. The plants seem to be doing well and are busting out of their bed, but I am only managing to salvage a quick berry here and there (typically as a snack while I'm weeding the herb garden).

I tried out upside down tomato gardening. Supposedly it helps avoid fungi and other problems that can plague tomatoes. However, it requires very consistent watering. Not compatible with busy schedule (aka totally flaky) gardening.
And the most frustrating of all... headless broccoli. You can sort of see from the below picture how tall the plant got, but neither of the two I planted ever sprouted a head. What good is broccoli sans head? I thought I'd overlooked some simple step that every gardener knows, but apparently not. (or maybe my expert gardening friend was just trying to be nice to me on a bad day...)

See.... no head!
While not quite producing in bulk, my Caribbean red peppers are doing well and have produced some nice little fireballs. Of course my celtic roots can't handle such heat, but Western One enjoys them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Slow Sunday Sauce.

The other day I made a quick mid-week sauce, but the huge pile of tomatoes in my kitchen was calling out for more. A rainy, lazy Sunday obligedand I set off to work.

I essentially start the same way as for my quick sauce - peel the tomatoes, give them a rough chop and toss them into a stockpot with onion, garlic, and olive oil. Since I'm going for a deeper, slower flavor this time, I added fresh oregano, bay leaf and rosemary in addition to the basil, salt and pepper I use in a brighter sauce. A touch of red pepper flake and a chunk of parmesan rind round out the core of the sauce. Later in the afternoon, after the base flavors have done their thing, I'll play around with it a little, maybe add some green peppers and tweak the seasonings.

With the pot set on a low simmer, I'm off to the couch for some good reading and trashy TV. A stir here and there, another handful of herbs at some point to help layer the flavor, and I'm off the hook for a couple of hours. When Western One gets home I can pretend I slaved all day...

Thursday, August 19, 2010


It's clearly sauce time! To say we received an abundance of tomatoes from our CSA yesterday would be a gross understatement. Add that to my plants and we were drowning in tomatoes. Some of them were already a tad soft and the idea of wasting a single one was more than I could stand, so at 9:30 last night I decided to make sauce. I'm not totally nuts, I didn't make the simmer all day, deep, rich sauce (although that's coming...) but instead opted for a quick, bright and simple version.

Farmeshare onion, garlic, basil from my garden, salt, pepper, olive oil and the tomatoes. That's it. Oh, and a touch of a cornstarch slurry to thicken it up a tad. It maybe took me an hour, including peeling the tomatoes, and the last half of that just involved stirring. I dumped the sauce into a container, went to bed, and had dinner halfway done for tonight. Would someone please remind me of this next time I'm whining about not having time for real food?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Well, I suppose I went home and ate cheese last night - but in the best possible way. And it's about 12 steps above biting into a brick of cheddar in the Hannaford parking lot. Um, not that I've ever done that.

The best thing about my sad little missive yesterday is DelSo tipped me off to an evening farmer's market in the area. I can't believe I missed it, especially since my market visit frequency this summer has been much hindered by our time at the lake. (which is great, don't get me wrong, but I'm out of town nearly every weekend) I'm so looking forward to next week. (and...if you're not reading DelSo's work - you should!)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

So very sad

I am quite literally sitting at my desk eating stale bread. And although it's August, I will walk home through the driving snow, in heels. Ok, that last part is a lie, but I am munching on "just this side of stale" bread and feeling a tad sorry for myself. See,I can prove it...

This evening is stereotypical of a dangerous pattern, and one I often talk about trying to break. I'm hungry, I have errands to run, and while there is certainly some food in my house the devil on my shoulder is convincing me there is nothing acceptable that I could make before hunger drives me to ornery. Often, I will do one of a few things in this situation (although procrastinating by writing a post is a new one...):

1. Succumb to some in-transit garbage food. (thankfully this is rare because I really really try to avoid fast food, although sometimes I can convince myself a small fry is all I need to get through);

2. Go to the grocery store starving. I will leave with some combination of the following - cheese, salsa, tortilla chips, olives and a varitey of items that I believe will constitute a meal although I will without doubt forget one key item;

4. Go out to dinner.
5. Stay in the office and convince myself there is something acceptable in the vending machine.

My goal with the stale bread is to refocus long enough to finish the project I'm working on, run my errands and get home to a reasonably well-constructed dinner that does not include one of the five options above. Wish me luck... (maybe I should just buy some snacks for the office)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Not what I'd planned...

Ever set out to do one thing in the kitchen and end up in a completely different stratosphere? If you're at all a regular reader, you know that I'm not much of a meal planner. More often, I get home, survey the fridge and go from there. When I try to plan and, for example, take ground turkey out of the freezer to use during the week, things never seem to go right. (hence the ground turkey sitting in my fridge that now needs to go in the garbage). So I wouldn't say that I planned tonight's dinner, but I'd had a vision all day.

We got these awesome, multi-colored cherry tomatoes in the farm share yesterday and all I could think about was a bright (in flavor and color!), simple pasta with fresh basil and some goat cheese.

I got home after 8pm, starving and tired. I started halving the tomatoes and let them sit with some grey sea salt, black pepper and a healthy pinch of red pepper flake. Then I remembered I'd harvested the heck out of the basil the other day and didn't have enough fresh to complete my vision. I looked at the squash and spinach that came in our box and decided to add even more color. Then I remembered the leftover eggplant from my pizza the other night and suddenly a rich, earthy pasta was born. I had plenty of oregano and rosemary, and just enough basil.

Often when I dramatically change course mid-prep things either end up spectacular or an epic disaster. This dish hit somewhere in the middle, but further from disaster, thankfully. After cooking up all the veggies and tossing in the pasta, (too much pasta, I might add, I would have preferred a higher veggie to pasta ratio) I drizzled the whole thing with white truffle oil and stirred in just a touch of goat cheese for creaminess.

All in all, it needs a little work and had I known where I'd end up, I would have skipped the red pepper, but for a fairly quick meal loaded with veggies, it's tough to complain.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chain gang

I did a reasonable tour of duty as a server in a few chain restaurants in my day. While I like to be all high and mighty about local businesses, real food, etc. there is a reasonable chance that my aversion to eating in such establishments is not due to a particular ethos or snobbery, but rather a desire to avoid the flashbacks. This evening I dined with friends in my very last corporate restaurant employer (which shall remain nameless, but let's just say I REALLY regret tossing the now-vintage red and white striped shirt...what a Halloween costume that would be!). Not my first choice, of course, but I am willing to go with the flow now and again for the higher calling of socialization.

It's been almost 10 years (what?!?!) since I was a server there, but it suddenly felt like it was yesterday. I could picture the tubs of industrial, processed food in the kitchen, the line cooks blindly following a roadmap to create a dish. The meal was fine, maybe even reasonably tasty if you ignored the rubbery, wilted broccoli. It was the same as it was 10 years ago, and maybe there is some comfort in consistency for folks. Who am I to judge.

What is different, of course, is the calorie counts on the menus. Now I'm not much of a calorie counter and I could produce multiple posts to support that statement, but my heart nearly skipped a beat (ok, two) when I saw the number of dishes that had close to or OVER 2000 calories. For one meal. Worse, for one mediocre, less-than-fresh meal. I am sure that I have put away that many calories in a sitting before (wine + out of this world sirloin + creamed corn brulee + homemade ice cream adds up) but let me tell you, those meals were worth every hip-expanding, artery-clogging bite.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pizza Night

I decided to make a pizza the other night and was smart enough to leave the dough out to work its way up to room temperature. The last time I neglected that step, got pissed off and we ended up with garlic knots. Don't get me wrong, the garlic knots were excellent - I roasted a bunch of cloves in a nice little relic from my "I want to be a potter" days and worked the roasted garlic and parmesan right into the dough. But still, not pizza.

This worked out better. I wanted to take advantage of my fresh tomatoes and some local eggplant I picked up, so I went for a Mediterranean theme. On a wheat crust, I put a light layer of oil, fresh mozzarella, fresh oregano, caramelized onions, chopped kalamatas, grilled eggplant and slices of tomato. Then I topped with feta. So much for pizza being an easy meal - that one was a lot of work, but reasonably yummy.
My tomatoes are starting to ripen! This is the first time in my adult life I have successfully grown tomatoes, and while I'd like to blame apartment living, the reality is I've always been too lazy and unfocused to get the plants to where they need to be. I picked a handful today and also harvested the heck out of my basil and oregano.

I just bunched up the oregano to dry it, but decided to be more creative with the basil. Here's a bunch of it all washed and ready to go. I picked out the nice, intact leaves and froze them on a cookie sheet.

I've never frozen basil before, but I'm told this is the way to go. I'll likely also do the ice cube thing like I do with my cilantro, but not this batch. Instead, I decided to infuse some olive oil. I can't wait to come up with all sorts of fun stuff to do with a basil-infused oil. I just took what was left after freezing and gave it a quick rough chop, threw it in a mason jar, covered with oil and... time to wait. I'll be sure to report on how it worked.

After my herb preserving, I ran to the store to stock up on bread, mozzarella and goat cheese. With fresh tomatoes and basil in the house, I can keep myself happy for days with these simple items!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Festival Food!!

I almost forgot to post about the fabulous festival food we had at the "Daddy of 'em All" - Cheyenne Frontier Days. Sometimes you just have to let go of reading labels and knowing your producers for just a glimmer of a moment and enjoy the childhood memories and summer fun that is inextricable from these tasty treats. THIS is what makes life good.

My weakness is fried dough, funnel cake, whatever form....best crispy with cinnamon AND sugar. It's like I'm hardwired for the stuff. If I am at a festival and don't manage to partake, my joy lightbulb dims ever so much. Were I to miss a whole summer? Well I just don't know what would happen then! I'd probably need real fried pickles to rekindle my belief in life.

For me, the antithesis of the funnel cake is the corn dog. I had no interest in, and truly not much exposure to, these creations growing up. I decided I didn't like them without ever trying and that was that. Then I moved to the midwest and was ruthlessly chastised for being a corn dog rejector. I think it's just stubborn Irish at this point. I am not opposed to a hot dog under the right conditions, and I'm not even opposed to hot dogs wrapped in something. (pigs in the blanket....hello!!!) I've just dug my heels in on this one for some reason. Even Western One waving what he professed to be a very good corn dog in my face didn't do the trick. [Editorial note: It's like "that's what she said" is screaming and throwing elbows to get in on that joke. Must resist...] Corn dogs and White Castle...those are my lines in the sand...I'm willing to miss out on some pop culinary culture for the sake of my principles.

CSA success!

I still haven't been to the grocery store since we returned from our trip, and of course I didn't have the foresight to take any meat out of the freezer so I was really counting on yesterday's CSA share. I'm pretty thrilled with what I managed to come up with - it was like Iron Chef, except with multiple ingredients and only one cook. Ok, so it wasn't like Iron Chef at all.

Everything on this plate with the exception of rice, a touch of cheese, spices, olive oil and a can of New Mexico green chili from Trader Joe's came straight out of our CSA box or my garden. AND I managed to make a tasty, satisfying meat-free dish. Pardon me while I gloat a little bit, this was a big step for me. Really the big step was venturing into Western One's culinary territory all by myself - maybe he was just being nice, but I was insanely gratified when he didn't douse his plate with red pepper, black pepper and salt.

On the plate: Roasted anaheim peppers, stuffed with a mexican rice of sorts (fresh onion, corn, tomato, green chili and cilantro) and lightly broiled; a little extra rice on the side (the peppers were small); sliced red potatoes seasoned with chili powder; and fresh corn. Mybiggest mistake? Using the oven and broiler on a hot August day, but the Dos Equis helped that.

I'm curious to hear about others' CSA/farmers' market/garden adventures...

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Universe wanted me to have this beer

I stopped into my favorite bar today for our traditional Monday post-work meetup and was prepared to order a Harpoon IPA when a can/tap (and yes, that's what it was) caught my eye. "Is THAT Dale's Pale Ale?" I exclaimed. Why yes, it was.

I was amazed because I'd only recently tasted this hoppy delight while driving though Colorado. Somewhere between Boulder and Ft Collins, a brewpub appeared on the side of the highway and Western One asked if I wanted to grab a drink. I think he wanted me to stop singing. Anyway, said brewpub was Oskar Blue's - a fun, funky place where we sipped ale and watched America's Funniest Home Videos on the tele. I decided to try one of the house beers and opted for Dale's Pale Ale. I'd enjoyed it and wanted to buy a 12-pack, but the brewpub itself wasn't allowed to sell at retail, so off we set for Ft Collins, with DPA destined to whither in my memory. Less than 24 hours later, it magically appeared at the Gingerman, begging me to drink it. My uncle reminded me that Jung said there's no such thing as a coincidence (I'll spare you the resulting conversation) and although my scientist partner would likely disagree with this profession of hoppy faith, I tend to agree. Anyway, DPA just about pushes the edge of hoppiness for me, but the citrus (grapefruit) finish is refreshing and yummy. Plus, how can you knock good beer in a can. No longer are we relegated to crap beers at glass-free events.

What to do?

After years on my own, at 25 I moved back home for a few tumultuous months. Going from years by myself to a house chock full of my larger-than-life mother, step-father and two teenaged brothers was about enough to send anyone over the edge. Factor in studying for the bar exam and it's amazing I survived. I had two reprieves; the gym (I still swear that summer I was in the best shape of my live) and tormenting my mother.

By this stage, I had begun to think about what was in my food and had made a conscious decision to avoid various additives and general ickies. I would haughtily read labels and profess my refusal to eat a wide variety of meals my mother prepared for the family. I was so much more enlightened than her, right?

I recently thought about this because I just spent some time with Western Mom and Dad. Western One's parents are fantastic - a sort of wholesome, nurturing, parental environment that really is foreign to me. Plus I'm the family newbie. So the last thing I want to do is be rude and offend such wonderful people, but my heart nearly skipped two beats when Western Mom presented an pink popcorn cake laced with jelly beans for dessert our first evening in Wyoming. I literally thought..."holy shit." Thankfully, I was able to avoid this particular confection, although I couldn't resist the peanut butter rice krispie treats with chocolate frosting. So now I'm a total hypocrite - I scoffed at one over-processed monstrosity and devoured another. When we had a picnic in the mountains, I held my breath as a made a sandwich with pre-packaged deli meat. I simply couldn't bring myself to say that I rarely eat deli meat generally, and certainly not the stuff that is extra-packed with preservatives and sits in a grocery case for weeks.

So here's the issue. When one is striving to eat a particular way (yet, admittedly falters now and again) how do you avoid particular food products (and I really mean "food products") in a social or family setting without being offensive? If I were trying to maintain or lose weight, I feel like I might have an acceptable reason to refuse particular items or be more discerning. But when that is not an obvious motivation, when I simply want to stick to an approach I feel good about, do I just come off as rude or picky by avoiding the vittles so lovingly presented to me? While it was fun to torture my own mother with my righteousness, it's a different story with someone else's. In this particular case I acknowledged that 12 days on the road was going to destroy any resolve I had anyway, so I just let it all go for a brief interlude, but will admit I didn't feel great about that approach.