Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Mini-Cleanse: Three-Day Detox

So remember the other week when I was patting myself on the back for resisting the urges of drowning my anxiety in comfort food?  Turns out that resistance was short-lived.  Stress, Easter candy, and some hormones (who always seem to stop by when it’s not a good time) made for the perfect storm.

While I wasn’t eating fast food or going through containers of ice cream in a night, there definitely were more “treats” than I typically have, and in general, I was just eating too much.  I could feel it taking a toll on my mood and my energy, not to mention my midsection.  After I had a dream where I was freaking out on my sister’s wedding day because I had forgotten to buy Spanx to go under my dress, I knew something needed to change.   Fortunately, as I was considering doing a shorter version of The Cleanse, my sister mentioned a three-day detox in the May issue of Whole Living.

This was exactly what I was looking for.  Just three days of veggie- and fruit-heavy meals to get myself back on track.  And after (almost) three weeks of avoiding grains, dairy, and meat in January, three days seems like no big deal.  What I also love about this detox is that the menu is the same every day, and the recipes each yield three servings, so there is a lot of prep on the first day, but then not too much for the rest of the time.

So far I only have one complaint but I can’t really blame the writers at Whole Living since I am guessing they were not anticipating that their readers would be dealing with 90-degree days in mid-April.  That being said, cooking a giant pot of soup in hot weather is rough.  Especially when the hot weather is unexpected and the air conditioning units are still packed away in the basement.  It’s a good thing this soup was really yummy and worth the sweat (literally).  I followed the recipe pretty closely, except that I doubled it (Nick is doing this detox too!).  Since I was a little short on carrots (I had about 10 or 11 instead of 14), I also added a zucchini to increase the veggie volume a bit.

I love the idea of letting a serving’s worth of spinach wilt in the hot soup just before serving, instead of mixing it all in with the whole batch of soup.  It prevents the spinach from shriveling up beyond recognition.  And the lemon and dill add bright, fresh flavors that feel perfect for spring, even on an unseasonably hot spring day!

Carrot-Spinach Soup with Dill (adapted from Whole Living, May 2012; makes six servings)

The Base (yields six 3-cup servings)

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 large onions, diced

10-11 carrots, diced (this yielded aout 5 or 6 cups)

1/2 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp coarse salt

1 pound of green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 large zucchini, diced

In a pot over medium heat, cook onion in oil until tender, about 6 minutes.  Stir in carrots, turmeric, and salt.

Add 20 cups water, bring to a boil, then simmer, 30 minutes.

Add beans and zucchini, cook until just tender, about 4 minutes (Whole Living said this should take two minutes, but even at four minutes the beans were pretty crunchy.  Since I knew this soup would be reheated, I left them a little crunchy.)

For Each Serving

1 packed cup baby spinach

3 tbsp freshly chopped dill

2 tbsp lemon juice

To serve, fill  bowl (you’ll need a big one!) with spinach and dill.  Ladle 3 cups of hot soup over greens, cover with a plate, and let steep for 5 minutes.  Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

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Filed under Cooking, The Cleanse

Sister Stuff, More Tea Sandwiches, and Gratuitous Cheese Plate Photos

A couple weeks ago I threw my sister’s bridal shower.  I think it was a success.  There was lots of good food, absolutely no wedding dresses made out of toilet paper, and a lot of laughs.  And most importantly, Emily seemed to have a great time.  You can see a couple details below.  But first, I have to get something off my chest.

Before we sat around and watched Emily open a ton of boxes from Crate & Barrel and Bed, Bath, and Beyond, everyone took a turn saying something nice about Em.  Being the hostess, I set the example and went first.  Except I totally choked up.  I could blame fatigue after assembling dozens of tea sandwiches, but in truth, speaking about one of the most important people in my life gets me all misty.  It is truly embarrassing how easily I get emotional about things like that.

While I think the sentiment came through the tears, I didn’t get to say what I really wanted to say.  So, I’ll say it now, when I can blink away tears in the privacy of my own office….

Have I mentioned that my sister is one of my absolute favorite people?  Of all time? 

She is a fabulous partner for playing Taboo, at least if you have 25+ years of shared life experiences to refer to for clues that no one else would understand.   We say the same thing, at the same time, in the same exact tone, way too often.  She is probably the only person in the world who could accurately infer complete sentences from one hand gesture that I make when I can’t talk because my mouth is too full of cookies.  Despite a four-year difference in our ages and very different personalities, we often seem to go through parallel experiences simultaneously.  I can’t imagine going through life without Emily being there to commiserate, share happy news, and laugh uncontrollably at parts of movies that no one else finds funny.  And if I didn’t have a sister, I wouldn’t have had anyone with whom to wear matching outfits.

I don’t think of Emily as “my younger sister” or “my little sister”, just as “my sister”- a peer, a role model, and an amazing friend.  She is quite possibly the most energetic, passionate, and motivated person I know.  If you want something to get done, and done right, ask Emily.  She has strong values and they are reflected in her actions every day, but she is also open to new ideas and allows herself to continuously grow as a person.  Actually, she does more than “allow” herself.  She actively pursues experiences that help her to develop intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

I think that, in Mike, Emily has found someone who can match her energy, share her enthusiasm and beliefs, and support her independence.  Together (along with Cooper, the bunnies, the gecko, and HBD), Em and Mike are an incredible team, and I am so happy to have them both in my family.

And yes, I am a little teary now.  Let’s talk about food.

Since Emily loves tea, and she and Mike like spending a lot of time gardening, I used a tea-and-herb theme as inspiration for the shower.  It all started with the idea to have herbs potted in teacups as decorations (and also used for prizes during the games).  My mom was nice enough to execute my vision (in addition to all the work she and my dad put into setting up the house for the shower!)

Continuing with the tea and herb theme, I decided to make tea sandwiches that each used a different type of herb.

In addition to the Open-Faced Radish and Chive Tea Sandwiches  I’ve made before, I also made Ina Garten’s Turkey & Basil Tea Sandwiches (I used cranberry bread instead of raisin bread, and it was amazing) and this recipe from Martha Stewart for Smoked Salmon and Dill Tea Sandwiches.  Oh, and Cucumber Mint Tea Sandwiches although I can’t tell you if those were any good, given my mint aversion.

Unfortunately my camera died before I could document the amazing desserts that Emily’s friend Courtney made, but I do need to at least acknowledge them: a gorgeous chocolate cake with little sugar bees to match Em’s wedding invitations, and pavlovas with fruit and lemon curd.  So yummy.   The menu was rounded out by the best fruit salad I’ve ever had (brought by my aunt) and a beautiful veggie plate.  Instead of dealing with hot tea for a large crowd, we offered an assortment of iced teas, including Hibiscus-Pomegranate and Orange-Earl Gray.  And thanks to Mike’s mom for bringing the tulip centerpiece- it brought everything together perfectly!  No wonder Em felt so loved that day, with so many people contributing to the event.

And for no reason other than I love cheese and pretty cheese plates…

Note the crackers arranged in concentric circles.  Well done, Katie.

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Last Night’s (Stress-Free) Dinner: Rainbow Chard, Shiitakes, and Fennel with Farro

What kind of stressed person are you?  Are you someone who gets such terrible knots in their stomach and waves of nausea that you can’t eat?  Or are you someone who distracts themselves from stress by stuffing as much food into their mouths as possible?

Generally, I fall into the latter category, although I am way better now than I used to be.  Occasionally I get such horrible stress and anxiety where I can just not bring myself to eat, but that’s rare.  When that happens, I know I’m having a bad day.

I actually had one of those days on Monday.  With just over a month left in the semester, I started getting into panic mode, because there is a lot to do, and some of it is really challenging.  If I find myself bordering on having a temper tantrum in the morning because I cannot figure out what clothes to wear during this weird “one day it feels like July, one day it feels like January” weather, I know I am feeling overwhelmed.

But by Tuesday it had subsided back into the level of stress where I think that eating something terrible for me will make me feel better.  As I headed home from school and contemplated dinner plans, it seemed like I was trying to find the worst possible thing to eat.  Fast food?  An entire box of macaroni and cheese?  Skip dinner and just eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s?

Fortunately I have a long enough commute that I was able to reason to myself, recognize what was going on, and convince myself that stopping at the grocery store and picking up some veggies to saute would not take much longer than sitting in a drive-thru lane, and I would probably feel a lot better in the end.

And I did.  Sliced Brussels sprouts, crimini mushrooms, and shallots, sauteed and piled on top of farro, was amazingly yummy and satisfying.  The dark chocolate with orange peel for dessert didn’t hurt, either.  It was so good that I actually wanted to replicate the same exact dinner last night.  But sadly the grocery store had no Brussels sprouts left.  It’s a good thing my stress level was continuing to decline, because if I had encountered the Brussels sprout shortage on Monday, it might have resulted in a breakdown.  And no one wants to cry in the produce aisle.

So I adapted.  I got some fennel, more mushrooms (shiitake, this time), and some rainbow chard.

A couple months ago I was sitting in the lab when one of my fellow grad students said, “I have a question.”  I was expecting something along the lines of “Do you know how to run [insert complex statistical analyses here] in SPSS?” or “What are we supposed to bring to class today?”  What I wasn’t anticipating: “When you cook Swiss chard, why don’t you cook the stems?”

I didn’t have a good answer.  I only warmed up to chard and kale less than six months ago and, honestly, I just trim out the stems because that’s what most of the recipes I’ve read have said to do.  Besides, there are a couple rabbits downstairs who are happy to receive the leftovers.

But I know that you can eat the stems, and when I was looking at the beautiful rainbow chard on my cutting board last night, I decided it was time to give it a try.  So while this sauteed chard, shallots, and fennel might not seem too different than some other things I’ve posted, I will argue that this marks an important culinary milestone for me.

Shiitake mushrooms add a meatiness to the veggie-heavy dish.  In the past I might have hesitated to mix lemon and mushrooms, but after this Parchment-Baked Shiitake Mushrooms and Brown Rice recipe, I have no problems sprinkling some lemon juice over the shiitakes, which is a good thing, because I love acidity with my greens.

I was a little disappointed that the red chard leaves tinted everything else pink, so there wasn’t quite the variation of colors that I had envisioned.  If I was really concerned about it, I could have sauteed the mushrooms and fennel separately, but the thought of using extra skillets (or more time) was less appealing than pink-tinted mushrooms.  On the bright side, if you’re ever looking for natural food coloring, you might want to keep this in mind.

On the other bright side, it tasted delicious.  I might have been converted to eating Swiss chard stems.  Sorry, rabbits.

Rainbow Chard, Shiitakes, and Fennel with Farro (2 servings as a main course, probably could serve 4 as a side dish)

Cook farro according to package directions.  (I bought mine in bulk, so it didn’t come with package directions…. My strategy, loosely based on Mark Bittman’s instructions in the Food Matters Cookbook:  I basically measure out 1/3 cup per person, put in a pot, and cover with water about an inch above the grains.  Bring to a boil, and then lower heat so that the water gently bubbles.  Cook until farro is tender, but chewy.  This usually takes about 20-30 minutes.  If water goes below the level of the grains before they are cooked, add a little more water.  If the farro is cooked before all the water is absorbed, drain the excess liquid, although I would wait until you are ready to serve.  I usually wait until the farro is completely cooked, remove from heat, and let it sit, covered while I’m cooking the vegetables.  By the time the vegetables are done, the seemingly excess liquid has been absorbed.)

While the farro is cooking:

Rinse one bunch of rainbow chard.  Trim off the tough ends of the stems and discard.  Cut out the stems, and slice into two-inch pieces.  Stack all the leaves and slice cross-wise in one-inch pieces.

Thinly slice one large shallot and one small fennel bulb, crosswise.

Gently rinse eight medium shiitake mushrooms and remove stems.  Slice into 1/4-inch pieces.

Once the farro is done, or close to it:

Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add some red pepper flakes, shallots, fennel, and chard stems.  Saute until chard stems and fennel are tender.  (This took about 8 minutes.)  Add chard leaves to skillet and stir until slightly wilted.  Add mushrooms, and cook until chard is more wilted and mushrooms are cooked through.

Mix in lemon juice (from either a 1/2 or whole lemon, depending on your preference) and season with sea salt.  Serve over farro and enjoy, knowing that, in the long run, this will help you cope with stress and make you feel way better than donuts for dinner ever could.

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Filed under Cooking, Last Night's Dinner

Call to All Foodies (on a Budget): Olive Oil Recommendations?

I don’t have a bucket list.  Probably because I am not particularly fond of the word “bucket.”*

But if I did have a bucket list, do you know what would be on there, most likely higher up than it should be?

Attending an olive oil tasting.

Yes, such a thing exists, and conveniently it seems to often occur near vineyards, where you can engage in other sorts of tastings.

Ideally, I will do this somewhere in California, because going to California in general is also on my life to-do list (I hear they have some decent zoos and aquariums there…).

But for now, I have a smaller goal – to find a good, reasonably priced olive oil.  Not for cooking, but to be used as more of a finishing oil.  You know, salad dressings, for dipping bread, etc.  I seem to end up with ones that are either flavorless or bitter.  I’ve read that bitterness is sometimes considered a good thing with olive oil, but I’ve had ones where that was all I tasted, even when mixed with other foods.

I suppose I could do more research on my own, but I spend enough of my time doing research.  So I decided to take the lazy way out and ask for recommendations from others.  Please remember, I am a grad student, so while I am suspect there are some incredible olive oils out there with a price tag to match, for now I’m looking for a good value.

Suggestions?  If I try one you suggest and like it, I might just give you some recognition….

*The more words I add to this list of words I don’t like, the more I wonder if I have some bizarre, lexical variation of a sensory processing disorder, where I have extreme sensitivity and aversion to certain words just based on the way they sound.  Is there such a thing??

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