Heathful by default

One of my general lifestyle goals (do I actually have such a thing? I hadn’t really thought about it until I typed out the words. I …guess?) is to make eating in a healthful manner my normal. There’s nothing wrong with some Annie’s mac and cheese with some frozen peas added — until you realize that that’s the thing you’re reaching for automatically when you don’t have anything in particular planned for dinner and that you’re going through an embarrassing number of boxes each week. So I’m talking about dishes that are genuinely good for me, really easy, and appeal to my occasionally idiosyncratic palate.

I mean, duh, who goes out and decides to pursue foods that are bad for you, difficult to make or procure, and that you don’t like? Nobody. What I’m aiming for here is a repertoire of things that are ACTIVELY good for me (like, very strict nutritionists would approve) and RIDICULOUSLY easy and VERY delicious, with bonus points given for using only ingredients that I always have around. I’m particularly interested in food that is quick to eat, as well as to prepare, since I often have things planned for the evening (knitting, typing, shaking my fists at the people outside) for which I want the use of my hands. This recipe from my previous blog for caramelized tofu fits the bill. And so does what I made for dinner last night.One thing that makes this dish as quick and easy as it is is the fact that I keep a large container of cleaned, chopped leafy greens in my fridge. It would be hard to exaggerate how much this particular action changed the way I cook and eat. If I come home late and starving (after, say, seeing the delightful smartypants Ben Goldacre talk about the placebo effect, AIDS activism in South Africa, vaccine-danger hoaxes, Tony Blair’s sex life, and other matters of scientific importance), I can be eating sauteed greens with an egg on top ten minutes after walking in the door. There are always at least two kinds in the mix — right now it’s kale and tatsoi and some dandelion greens from my dandelion houseplant experiment; I dug up a healthy plant in the park, replanted it at home and rip the leaves off every other week  — so I never feel all ‘what am I going to do with this chard?’ It’s just ‘greens,’ and they’re a constant presence.

I do all the prep work as soon as I bring the vegetables home, with the happy results that I always have greens available for a quick stir-fry or to add to soup. It helps me keep an eye on my greens consumption too; if the level in the container isn’t going down, I know I need to eat more. Which is, as a matter of fact, one reason I threw this together last night. I used walnut oil at the end just because I had bought a bottle at some point for all the good omega whatnots it has, but olive oil would work just as well. Halloumi is a magical Mediterranean cheese that you can brown without it melting, but a bit of feta or parmesan would add a similar sharp, salty richness. When I’ve seen it for sale, it’s been in shrink-wrapped blocks that are roughly 5″ x 7″. I cut two slices about 1/2″ thick off the short end and broke them into pieces about an inch big. Sometime soon, I want to cook several large batches of beans and freeze them in can-size portions to cut down further on the amount of packaging I bring into the house and BPA that I consume and increase my sense of smug self-satisfaction, but for now I’m still buying cans.

Chickpeas and Greens with Halloumi
makes 2 servings

olive oil
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 c. cleaned, chopped dark leafy greens
juice of one lemon
2 t walnut oil
2 slices halloumi, broken into pieces

Heat the olive oil in a skillet in with high sides and add chickpeas to the pan. Stir occasionally for five minutes, or until heated through. Add greens and toss or stir constantly until greens are as cooked as you prefer them. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and walnut oil. In a small frying pan, cook the halloumi until browned on both sides. Divide chickpeas and greens between two bowls and top with cheese.

Squash and Apple Muffins

These muffins were an exercise in using up some stuff in my kitchen that happily turned out to be delicious. The original recipe is in the very nice Hometown Cooking in New England, but the muffins I ended up making bore little resemblance to the recipe. Instead of canned pumpkin, I used roasted delicata squash, dried cranberries instead of raisins, chopped apple instead of walnuts, yogurt instead of buttermilk, a mix of whole wheat and unbleached flours, plus some wheat bran and ground flax instead of straight flour. They were wholesome and tasty and made the apartment smell fantastic for a solid 24 hours. Good stuff.

Squash and Apple Muffins
makes 12

1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. unbleached flour
2 T wheat bran
2 T ground flaxseed
1 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground cardamom
1 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground cloves
a few scrapes of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c butter, melted
1 c roasted squash
1/2 c yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 c dried cranberries
one large apple, chopped finely

Preheat over to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, wheat bran, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar, eggs, and butter until light and frothy. Blend in the squash and buttermilk or yogurt. Add the dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in the cranberries and apple, but do not overmix. Spoon into greased muffin cups and back for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly brown.

Dye job

This was a bit of a risky endeavor, as these things go. I knew that I’d like this sweater more if it were solid black instead of the less-appealing-to-me black and pink tweed. But dyeing whole garments is trickier than dyeing yarn or fabric, since it’s a lot harder to dye big pieces evenly. I wasn’t really worried though, since most of the sweater was already the color I was aiming for and if the pink parts took the dye unevenly it would still be more interesting than it was. I used Jacquard acid dye in black and my enormous stainless steel dyepot and was happily surprised by how evenly the dye took and how very, very black it is.

I’m pretty happy with how the sweater turned out overall. The neck is higher than I’d normally choose, but I like the sleek, fitted effect.

Cheap luxury

I don’t do it weekly, or even monthly — the pleasure in just as much in the break of routine as it is in the experience itself — but I love going to nice restaurants by myself at lunch. It’s a fraction of the price of going at dinner (even with a 25% tip, I spent less than $13), but somehow feels much more luxurious. It’s quieter and brighter, the pace is slower, but the service is faster. No one is looking over her shoulder from the bar, waiting for her turn at my table. Sure, I have to go back to the office afterward, but knowing that I took the effort to carve out that space in the middle of an otherwise busy day makes it that much sweeter.

Today I went to my favorite neighborhood sushi place. Out of the office, away from my desk, at a table with a waitress and a menu and the nice, non-splintery chopsticks, I sat quietly for an hour, sipping miso, nibbling salad, making notes about the book I’m working on, and savoring my spicy salmon and eel avocado rolls. It was a pleasure that was far greater than the sum of its parts.

That was … weird

This past weekend, I went to the last ever performance of Angels and Accordions, the site-specific dance/music/dramatic posing extravaganza at Green-Wood Cemetery. I had won tickets through their site for knowing some things about Dewitt Clinton* and brought along my friend Anna. I had a great time, but it was due more to the excellent company and our shared love of the absurd than the performance itself, which was overly crowded and overwrought and kind of hackneyed. This photo gives a pretty good idea of what it was all about:There was some dance at the beginning and end of the event, but the bulk of it involved walking around with roughly 500 other people, looking at “angels” posing dramatically around the cemetery. Occasionally, someone playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “Beautiful Dreamer” on an accordion would be stationed nearby. We split off from the group for half an hour or so and wandered around taking pictures and picking up conkers, which I find completely irresistible both as shiny, useless objects and a kickin’ potential fake swear. If I could think of anything to do with them, I’d haul ’em home by the sackload.

I’d never seen this stone before Anna spotted it and we spent longer than I’d like to admit trying to figure it out. There’s no apparent connection between the two people. She was 13 when he died, so he could have been a grandfather, though it doesn’t say so. They seemingly had nothing in common, she being a California-dwelling pacifist and socialist, while he was a Freemason who fought in the Civil War. Even if she was a descendant who wanted to be buried across the country from where she died near this particular guy, why add him to a new stone? Presumably he had had one sometime in the more than 70 years between their deaths.

Then we accidentally stumbled back on the group just in time to catch the finale.

*VERY little-known fact about Dewitt Clinton: He was the ancestor and namesake of a young man with whom I once spent an evening in the early ’90s drinking a highly suspect concoction of malt liquor and wine coolers and because of whom I was subjected to one of my first hangovers.

Apple Pie Oatmeal

This was a happy experiment over the weekend. I like adding dried fruit to oatmeal, but had never thought to add fresh until I was facing a fridge full of apples and a looming CSA pickup this weekend. Cooking the apples with the oats gave it a creaminess that meant that I didn’t need (or even want, really) to add butter.

4 c. water
1/2 c. steel-cut oats
pinch of salt
1 smallish apple, chopped
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cardamom
1/4 t. allspice
brown sugar

Bring water to a boil, then add oats and salt. Add apple and spices after 10 minutes. Cook for 30 minutes total, stirring occasionally. Serve with brown sugar and milk.

Makes one (sizable) serving.

New sweater

Just in time for the first of the real fall weather, I finished this cashmere/silk pullover last night. It still needs to be washed and blocked before I do a modeled shot, but all of the ends are woven in and I’m calling it done for now.

It’s a very plain stockinette sweater with hems at the sleeves and lower edge, princess-seamed waist shaping, round yoke and bound-off neck. I tried hemming the neck, but it was too bulky and didn’t really need it anyway. This is also one of the more quickly knit sweaters I’ve made in a while: cast on Sept. 3, bound off Oct. 4.

Potato-Leek Soup with Kale and Sausage

This was more of a clean-out-the-fridge-and-freezer effort than anything else, but it turned out pretty well. I had gotten some leeks in my CSA share that I wanted to use up and had three potatoes I’d bought to make gnocchi that I was happy to surrender to the cause. The potatoes got me thinking about colcannon, the hearty, filling Irish dish of potatoes and cabbage. I didn’t have any cabbage on hand, but did have some kale that was starting to go brown around the edges. When I opened the freezer to take out my last quart of chicken stock, I noticed three links of hot Italian sausage that had been in there probably longer than was ideal and pulled them out too. I didn’t have any soup-friendly cheese, but since I was using the sausage, I didn’t think it would need it anyway.

Once everything had defrosted, I browned the sausages in a little olive oil while I chopped the leeks. Sausages out, leeks, salt, and another drizzle of olive oil in while I peeled and chopped the potatoes. They went in the pot to cook a little on their own with some more salt before the stock went in, though I don’t know that that step really added much. I had enough stock to cover it all by an inch or two, so didn’t need to top it off with water or milk, though that had been the plan, more or less. When the potatoes were tender, I gave everything a rough mash with a potato masher and added the chopped kale and the sausages, which I’d halved lengthwise and then sliced.

All said, a perfectly tasty and serviceable dish. It’s pretty soupy in the photo, but it thickened and turned into more of a stew after a night in the fridge. The Italian sausage was a little weird, flavor-wise (would have preferred kielbasa) and there was too much of it. The next batch of potato-leek soup I make — and there will be more; got another bundle of leeks in this week’s CSA share — I’ll leave out the meat and add a little cheese and some more veg.