Life is Happiness, Indeed!

I’m not even going to apologize for absence, it’s been so long. Life has been a whirlwind the past couple of months, and I’ve been lucky to have the chance to cook a hot dog, no less a blog-worthy meal! What’s been going on, you might ask? Well, a new job, for starters, and switching from my previous soup-cooking, coconut-flour muffin baking routine was a bit…jarring. If someone would PAY me to cook, eat out, and find breweries, life would be happiness, indeed (who’s getting the Candide reference there – anyone?) hey, Times Union/Schenectady Gazette/Saratogian…if you’re reading, I’d LOVE to do that!

But, besides the job, life has been quite interesting at the empire recently, and is only calming down. a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to testify before the House Sub-Committee on Foreign Relations in regards to property rights in Cuba. Preparing for that, both mentally and tangibly (writing my testimony), put just about every skill I own to the test. As someone who grimaces at the thought of public speaking, to testify before Congress should be enough to conjure up countless nightmares ranging from forgetting to wear my clothes that day (all the easier to pass through the metal detectors!), to getting sick while being filmed by C-SPAN, to simply forgetting my notes and having to wing it (perhaps the scariest of them all). I shouldn’t have worried; seven hours of intense tutelage courtesy of my opera-singing daughter, who knows a thing or two about delivery and presence, (not to mention stage fright,) worked wonders, and I felt like I owned Congress by the time it was my turn to testify (go, me!) It was truly a great experience, and I feel little less like an invisible voter and much more a part of the American democratic process. I highly recommend it.

Interspersed into this mix, there was some vacation in Maine (at Rock Camp – yes, that is actually a thing), where Mike G. and I found some pretty rocks, gems, and ate lobster. Kind of my ideal vacation, I think. Poland Mining Camp, for those who are so inclined, is run by a lovely woman named Mary Groves, who knows more about rocks than I do about shoes. The accommodations are rustic cabins, complete with fireplaces. Mary cooks you breakfast, you pack a lunch, and you’re off to the mines for the day. Our only complaint was the pretty lame Baxter Brewery beer we picked up on our first night there. We suffered through that and moved on to some tasty offerings from Sebago that I wish they sold at Minogue’s here in ‘toga. On the way back west, we got in two great stops – a night at York Beach (more lobster!) and Jack’s Abbey Brewery in Framingham, which is worth another stop when we have more time. I stuck around the ‘ham for a weekend for my annual “girl’s weekend” (which was long overdue!) and them headed on home.

Of course, the following week, it was time for another trip to Massachusetts, this time for a Schechter cousin’s reunion, although, since several of us had never met before, I’m not entirely sure we can call it that…whatever. Getting to know my cousins has been the highlight of this year, and whatever else comes from my endeavors with the Certified Cuban claims brings, getting to know my cousins will be the best reward of all.

So, after spending most of June driving around the northeast in what seemed like a never-ending loop, I’m back home for a stretch, and it feels fine.

Here’s the briefest of reviews for various restaurants I’ve been to recently, both on my travels, and at home, where I’ve been just too damned tired to cook!

Abeels, Rock City Falls NY: wanted it to be incredible, but it was just eh. Good crab cake, kielbasa cooked beyond recognition.

Alaturco, Ballston Spa NY: amazing dipping oil for the pita (get extra!) unpretentious, good eggplant (and I don’t like eggplant)

Osaka Sushi, Wilton NY :  great! Get the tuna tataki. Get three tuna tataki. You’ll want them. i don’t like that weird spicy tuna stuff that sushi places have these days, though…back in the day when I used to frequent the dearly beloved Kotan on West 3rd St. in NYC, spicy tuna actually had visible, separate pieces of tuna that were cut up, kind of like lox bits….what happened to that? No where I go seems to have that any more….spicy tuna is now this pink, smooth, glop. That’s OK, there’s lot of rolls without it (and they’re usually cheaper than the fancy rolls anyway!)

Cuchi Cuchi, Cambridge, MA: too much fun, yummy small plates, great cocktails. The waitresses kind of dress like I used to in the ’80’s when I went clubbing in the East Village (i.e. retro-punk-hippie-bombshell wannabe). Sigh.

Ice cream place in Cambridge, around the corner from Cuchi Cuchi – (DENA, SUE, or JEN, please comment with the name!); cardamom ice cream. That is all.

Lebanese Taverna, Washington D.C. – I died and went to Beirut. Incredible decor, great food, and bellydancing. Puffy little football shaped bread to dip in the best hummus I ever had (get the hummus sampler), kibbe, killer cocktails. The belly dancer balanced a scimitar on her hip bone while rolling her abs. A must see.

Rest stop observation: they don’t have single serve Cabot cheddar in Delaware, they have Wisconsin cheddar instead. Stock up on your Cabot in N.Y. Also, they have cups of oatmeal, but no hot water – WTF?

And now, for your listening pleasure, Life is Happiness Indeed, from Bernstein’s Candide. Truly, the best of all possible shows.

the girls representing schechter photo-18

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pudding

I’ve been experimenting with a lot of healthy food lately, and having a mixed bag of successes and failures. Some healthy food blogs make everything look and sound like they’re absolutely delicious, but c’mon…the brownies made with prunes and applesauce really don’t taste like they’re made with butter, and cauliflower, no matter how good it is roasted, is still, at heart, cauliflower. I’m all for making really tasty, healthy food, but we do need to accept that we’re not going to make a non-dairy, gluten-free substitute for full-fat, four cheese macaroni and cheese that will pass a blind taste test! In fact, I don’t want it to. I want to train myself to appreciate the different textures and flavors of the ingredients I’m using, not hide them and pretend they’re something else. So often, so-called ‘diet foods’ are marketed as low-calorie, facsimiles of the originals…”100 calories snack packs”, “skinny cow ice cream”, “low-fat salad dressing”…the list goes on, keeping people tied to the flavors and textures that we’ve become addicted to.

Instead of buying into the “diet-food industry”, I’d rather eat real food that’s both simpler and healthier. I’m finding my taste buds are adapting. I had a donut on Saturday, and the sweetness was almost overwhelming. I now eat plain greek yogurt with only banana and don’t need to add honey anymore. I’m not perfect; I still crave things, especially salty-crunchy things, but I’m working on that. I make homemade popcorn to quell that crunchy craving, telling myself it’s better than buying something in a bag. I just need to make it in a small pot, not a large one!

I haven’t written much about chia yet, mostly because I mostly use it to give fruit & yogurt smoothies some fiber; I haven’t really used it as a main ingredient, but I decided last night to make a breakfast “pudding” with it. I love the idea of making breakfast the night before, like those refrigerator oatmeal recipes, but honestly, I didn’t love my refrigerator oatmeal much. Chia seeds look like poppy seeds, but act more like tapioca; they absorb liquid and become slightly gelatinous. I mixed up 1 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk with 1/4 cup of chia seeds, a small squeeze of liquid stevia, a dash of vanilla extract, and a little salt. After stirring together, I poured the mixture into two glass bowls with lids & refrigerated overnight, stirring a couple of times to disperse the seeds, which settle a little bit. At the same time, I cut up a bunch of strawberries & let them macerate overnight. This morning, my chia was not quite pudding-like, but it was close enough; I served it with my strawberries and sliced banana – the chia seeds give it an interesting texture that can be a little off-putting, but I got used to it; I’m not sure I would want to eat it solo, but it worked with the fruit, especially the creaminess of the banana – and it’s pretty satisfying. It’s a nice alternative to my standbys of yogurt and hard boiled eggs.

I have to remember that not every recipe is going to be an epiphany; some will just new ways to prepare some decent, healthy food.

note – this recipe was inspired by chocolatecovderedkatie.com, who features lots of healthy dessert recipes.

One post, two healthy meal ideas, thank you very much!

After my cheat-y weekend in Princeton (cheeseburger, beer, salt bagel & lox; not in one meal!), it’s time to get back to business. I’m figuring my daily yard raking is a good activity, even though I question where all of those damn leaves came from – I raked in the fall…what’s up with that? Not to mention the pinecones! We spent a lot of time complaining about this past winter; I think my trees were doing the same, just in a different way; every pine tree in my yard (and there’s a lot) seems to have ejected every single pinecone from it’s branches.

I got some juice back into my system, and am on my way…last night’s dinner was a winner for sure. I had an idea for marinated fish kebabs and a chick pea masala-type dish. My local Hannaford doesn’t have the hugest selection of fish, so I usually go with an open mind and buy what looks best. Yesterday it was swordfish, which I generally don’t eat; it’s been years since I’ve last had it, but it looked good, so there you go. I whipped up a quick marinade of greek yogurt, lemon juice, Penzey’s Turkish seasoning, Savory’s Moroccan Tan Tan seasoning, salt & pepper, tossed that into my fish, which I cubed, and let it sit for an hour or so.

Next up, my chick pea masala. I hadn’t shopped in a week, so I had to use what was on  hand; I sautéed up a half an onion, some red bell pepper, and 3 cloves of garlic, then added a can of drained chickpeas & cut up a few kalamata olives and threw them in too. After they melded together a couple of minutes, I deglazed the pan with a little apple cider vinegar (maybe a tablespoon, tops), and added some spices; Turkish seasoning, Moroccan seasoning, smoked paprika, Penzey’s roasted garlic, salt, & pepper. I turned the mixture to low & let it simmer, figuring the longer it cooked, the better it would taste.

Mike G. got the grill going, and we got our kebabs going; after about 5 minutes a side and a quick baste with leftover marinade, they were grilled to perfection. Served up with squeeze of lemon, a little parsley, a chopped salad and the chickpea masala (topped with some scallions), it made a hearty, yet light-feeling meal…healthy and satisfying!

I still had more marinade, so tonight I marinated a couple of boneless chicken breasts in it & cooked them in my George Foreman. For a side/vegetable, I made my new favorite thing, roasted cauliflower and garlic puree. So simple…take a bag of frozen cauliflower and a few cloves of garlic (I think I used 5), toss in a little olive oil, salt & pepper, and roast at 450 for about a half hour, or until the cauliflower is getting caramelized and the garlic is softened up. When it’s done, add to a blender with 1/4 – 1/2 cup of chicken stock and a tablespoon of Parmgiano cheese & puree. It’s a vegetable that thinks it’s a side dish, and it’s great. The only problem is that you could easily eat an entire bag of frozen cauliflower by yourself, and I have a feeling that might not be a good thing.

A Triumphant Meal

Funny thing,  I just read an article naming Saratoga Springs as one of the best college towns for food; with the abundance of great restaurants in & around Saratoga, I can’t disagree. But also named on the list was Princeton, where I happen to go to several times a year to visit my favorite (and only) daughter, who attends school there at Westminster Choir College. It’s concert season, so I’ve been to Princeton for 2 of the past 4 weekends, and maybe because I’m spoiled by living in Saratoga, I’ve never been all that impressed with the food. Admittedly, I do have some pretty high standards, and since I’m not going to any of the 3 or 4 $$ restaurants on the Yelp scale right now, to impress me, you need to show me some great, moderately priced food to impress me. While I have found a great bagel place outside of town in Plainsboro (Bagel Street Grill), the local spots just weren’t thrilling me; they seemed to be either geared towards students with the munchies (a hoagie with chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, fries, and fried macaroni & cheese – yes, all on the bun @ Hoagie Haven) or to the parents of the trust-fund crowd (sorry, I’m just not looking a burger garnished with fiddlehead ferns & fish roe)

My second trip of the season this past weekend might have changed my mind about Princetonian fare. Mike G. and I had several hours to ourselves, and the weather was gorgeous, so we took to the streets. My daughter says Princeton is like Saratoga on crack, and there’s definitely truth to that. Where Saratoga’s main downtown consists of about 7 blocks (5 on Broadway and one each on Phila & Caroline), Princeton’s downton is roughly 4-5 times that. I don’t think there are as many restaurants/block in Princeton as in Saratoga, but if you keep walking, especially down the side streets, there are more than I had previously realized.

We pulled into town Friday night, cranky from our drive down 287. Mike G. had been yelping for the past hour of the drive, but nothing was standing out. We decided to try Triumph Brewery, which had been on our list to try for a while, but somehow the timing was never right. After walking down the entry ‘tunnel’ off of Nassau Street, you emerge into their main space, which if it weren’t sub-divided into several sections, would be a cavernous room; instead the soaring ceiling made it airy, and the double-decker bar, side room, and mezzanine seating areas gave it definition. The gleaming fermenting vats & some exposed brick gave an industrial, but cozy look.

It was busy, but we were seated right away. After quick review of the beer offerings, we knew what we wanted; the ’95 Pale for me, and the Bengal Gold IPA for Mike G. After the perfect first sip of crispy coldness, we finally started to relax. The menu is upscale pub fare, with some surprises, like duck confit, tuna tartare, and bahn mi, but we stuck with burgers. Perfectly cooked grass-fed burgers with cheddar cheese and local bacon. They were great. I got mine with salad – a fresh choice, and more thoughtful than usual, it included chick peas and some pickled onions. Mike G’s fries were just average, but for his usual side of mayo he was given an option of regular or chipotle, and that chipotle mayo really worked with both the burger and as a dip for the fries.

What really impressed us at Triumph was the service; our server answered all of our beer questions knowledgeably, and when she couldn’t (about the bacon), she asked the kitchen and got the information for us. We had a nice surprise when she presented us with two tokens for a free pint after we payed which made Mike G. wonder if a $50 bill had snuck in with the $20’s he had paid with, but not to worry – we didn’t over pay, just got a little gratitude back for our gratitude. Triumph is doing a good thing by giving their customers good food, good service, and a little love, which is sure to get us to come back. Oh, and their coasters feature the chemical composition of beer, which is just cool.

When life gives you lamb, make a curry.

And so, it’s almost Passover, and Jews everywhere are getting ready for our week-long exile from the bread aisle. In upstate New York, we’re lucky if we get and end-cap of dedicated Kosher for Passover victuals. It’s ironic that I’m still put out by this, since I haven’t even eaten any bread or grains in over a week, and to be honest, haven’t really missed them that much. But somehow, during Passover, it will still feel like I’m being denied, and I’m sure I’ll wake up with an overwhelming craving for pasta, bagels, and pizza.

During these last few days before Passover, we start prepping for the Seder and all of the many traditions and rituals that go with it. I’ll be blogging about various aspects of the ‘chosen food’ over the next week, my first being the lamb shank.

The Passover Seder plate is comprised of several symbols of the story of the Jew’s bondage and ultimate freedom from Egyptian tyranny and slavery. One component is the roasted lamb shank, a symbol for the mark of lamb’s blood the Israelites were instructed to leave on their doors so their houses were ‘passed over’ (get it?) so they did not have to bear that most awful of all the plagues, the smiting of the first born. We never ate lamb in my house growing up, so sometimes we cheated on our ‘lamb shank’ and used a chicken bone (sorry, mom). But this year, I’m having the Seder, and I’m lucky enough that my significant other, Mike G., is also preparing a Seder plate to display at his biz,, Thunder Mountain Curry, so yippee – I get a lamb shank! And even better, we got to make a most delicious lamb curry with said lamb. What started out as a tagging quickly morphed into a tagine/curry hybrid, with a tang of lemon, ginger, cumin, coriander, cayenne, cloves, and garlic. A little tomato paste tightened up the sauce, and some saffron rice accompanied. A great wine was found by the name of ‘A Proper Claret’, which was perfect for this rich, savory dish.

Rich & Savory Lamb Tagine-Curry

(adapted from Food & Wine’s recipe)

            Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • One 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • Kosher salt

Mix above, and pour over:

  • 5 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces

Marinate for 4-6 hours 

Add above to pot and add

  • 2 cups water
  • 6 large carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 t Penzey’s Balti blend
  • 1 potato, cubed & par-cooked in microwave (optional)

         salt & pepper to taste

Cook on stove top for ~ 1 hour.

 

Saffron rice:

1 chicken stock

½ cup rice

pinch saffron threads

 

Add saffron to stock & cook rice as directed.

Enjoy with a Proper Claret!

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How about some chili?

Wow – I’ve never gotten so many views of my blog – how cool! So, I’ve been to the Y four days in a row now, and have been eating some really healthy options, and I must say. I feel pretty damn good. Not just in body, but in spirit also. I haven’t really seen the scale move much yet, but I know that can take some time to kick in. I feel much more in control, and that’s a great feeling. My urge to snack has actually diminished; something I didn’t think would happen so quickly. I’ve been keeping a bottle of water by my side, which has been great – keeping me hydrated AND fulfilling my need to put something in my mouth (this might be weird, but I’m finding that my Camelback water bottle is my favorite one; biting down on that little spout thingy is very satisfying).

It looks gorgeous out, so I think today I’ll head outdoors for a nice walk instead of the Y. It’s good to change it up a bit, and I’m hoping to find some signs of life in the still semi-frozen Saratoga tundra.

I’ve decided to share some recipes that I’ve been making while on this journey. I don’t share anything that isn’t worthy, so if I share a recipe, I think it’s a good one. I made this  Pork & White Bean Chipotle Chili because I took out a container out of the freezer that I thought was a couple of boneless chicken breasts. Oops, nope. It was 4 boneless pork tenderloin pork chops. OK then, guess I’m not making chicken salad. If you don’t eat pork, this recipe would work just as well with either turkey cutlets or chicken, or for a vegetarian option, pump up the beans (red, black, or garbanzo), sub the beef broth with veggie, and add some mushrooms to vegetables for some umami flavor.

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped ~.5 cup

2 medium celery stalks, chopped ~.5 cup

1 pepper (green or red), chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 chipotle chilis from can with sauce ~2 T total

12 oz. pound pork sirloin cutlets, cut into 1/2-inch dice

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

1 cup beef broth

1 14 1/2-ounce can peeled tomatoes (undrained)

1 15-ounce cans cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained

Yields 5 1 cup servings.

Serve with fresh cilantro or scallions on top.

Prep:

Heat 1 tablespoons oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, pepper and garlic and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Add chipotle chilis & sauce.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Pat pork dry. Add to skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook until browned, stirring frequently, approximately 6 minutes.

Add pork to vegetables. Blend in chili, cumin, and oregano and stir 3 minutes. Add broth to skillet and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Stir into pork mixture. Add tomatoes with liquid and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until pork is tender, stirring occasionally, approximately 1 hour.

I ran this through a nutritional calculator:

Nutritional Info:

Calories: 314

Fat: 13g

Carbs: 15g

Fiber: 8g

Protein: 26g

Sodium: 661mg

Spring Cleaning

It’s long overdue. I’ve been struggling with my weight since I moved out of NYC and stopped walking everywhere I went. That was 25 years ago. Since then,  I’ve gained weight, had a baby, gained more weight, lost some, gained some, lost some more, gained some, got divorced, lost some more, gained a little…you get the idea. I need to lose about 60 pounds to be in a happy place for me, and for the last 20 years, I’ve lost and gained the same 20-30 over and over again, never quite getting to my pre-pregnancy weight (which was overweight, btw.) This bought of recent unemployment has not been my scale’s friend. That, combined with the winter from hell and my absolute loathing of the gym, has made for one couch-bound potato throughout this winter. BOOM! That 20 lbs. I lost last year? Gone. It’s time for some Spring Cleaning for my mind and body.

It’s hard to diet when you love food, but I know that’s an excuse. Boyfriend a chef? EXCUSE. Too cold to go to the gym? But I’ve got great cholesterol/blood sugar/blood pressure? Oh, shut me up already! As anyone who has gone shopping with me knows, I am the queen of rationalization, but I need to be dethroned.

Over the past few days, a coup d’etat has taken place. I’ve gone to the Y three days in a row, twice in Mike G., and today on my own. Doesn’t sound like much, I know. But everyday I go is like a little victory for me and my knees, which are the only part of my body that my weight seems to affect (well besides the obvious things like my hips, thighs, etc.!) I actually only hate going to the gym when I don’t go the gym. Sort of vicious circle/Schrodinger’s Cat scenario; if I am in the gym I no longer hate it.

As for food, well, my biggest hurdle is correcting some really bad behaviors. I have a snacking habit that I’m ashamed of. I’m a sucker for those so-called healthy snacks, like quinoa chips, lentil crackers, etc. I guess they are healthy in their way, but not when you eat the whole bag! A big part of being successful for me is cracking that snack habit. Like a closet drinker, I snack alone.  Admitting to it is my first step, so here it is – I am powerless against snacks. I will no longer buy lentil chips or Ritter hazelnut bars at Ocean State Job Lot, no matter how cheap they are. I’m going to stop eating at night, and will eat with intention, not casually and absent-mindedly.

I’m going to talk about what I’m going to eat rather than what I’m not. I’m going to eat delicious, high-quality food. Lean protein, eggs, high-quality carbs such as quinoa, sweet potatoes, wild rice, and beans, vegetables, fruit, eggs, yogurt, and yes, even some butter. Once in a while a bit of chorizo might add some flavor to a dish. For the past couple of months I’ve been experimenting with alternative flours; coconut, almond, quinoa; when I bake (and I will, a little), these will be my ingredients, and my sweeteners will be stevia, applesauce, honey, maple syrup, and dates. I can’t wait to start finding new recipes & making up my own!

Some dishes I’ve made over the past few days: Kale-Quinoa Kugel Cakes, Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, Roasted Garlic Cauliflower Puree, Butternut Squash with Tahini Sauce, Almond-Yogurt Fruity Smoothie, and my go-to easy breakfast, Herby Mashed Eggs.

I was going to take a picture of my dinner with Kale-Quinoa Kugel Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper & Roasted Garlic Cauliflower Puree, but it was so good that Mike G. & I ate our beautiful looking plates before I remembered to take pictures. But here’s a recipe for the Roasted Red Pepper Sauce I served with the Kugel Cakes. It’s delicious. Try it on a piece of fish, chicken, as a dip, or as a sandwich spread.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce/Dip/Spread

3-4 cloves roasted garlic **

12 oz jar roasted peppers, drained

1-2 t good EVOO

¼c toasted slivered almonds or pine nuts

1t smoked paprika (Penzeys)

Moroccan or Turkish seasoning (optional) – I’ve used Tan Tan Moroccan (Savory Spices) or Turkish Seasoning (Penzeys Spices)

Drizzle of a lightly flavored balsamic vinegar; I’ve used pomegranate, raspberry, cranberry, fig, and white balsamics – all are good.

Salt

Black pepper

Season lightly to start & adjust to your taste; I like might like more seasoning than you! Also experiment with your favorite spices & blends; this is versatile!

Put all in a food processor or blender & process until smooth but slightly textured from the nuts.

This looks beautiful & is great on fish, chicken & vegetables as a warm sauce, as a dip with pita & veggies cold, and as a sandwich spread as a mayo alternative.

**To roast garlic, place unpeeled cloves on a piece of foil, drizzle with olive oil & loosely wrap the foil around them, making sure they’re covered. Roast in toaster oven @ 400 degrees for around 30-40 minutes, or until they’re nice and soft. If you want to roast a whole head (which I advise, since you’ll want to use your roasted garlic on everything), remove the loose outer layers of skin, cut the ‘stem’ side of the head off, and place the garlic on the foil. Drizzle with olive oil and bake as above.