The Other Half of the Equation

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I love January. I love that feeling of fresh starts, anything-is-possible and refocusing on what really matters. And of course I love that everyone spends the month talking about eating better and healthier, holiday regrets be damned.

It doesn’t bother me if everything I strive for in January isn’t done by December. What matters is the striving.

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Last semester was really hard. Between school and writing, I filled myself to the brim, with no real day off during the week. The first thing to go when time was short was exercise. Rob and I had to cancel our membership at our beloved CrossFit gym when I started grad school and although my school has an incredible gym, I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that I’m not very good at motivating myself when it comes to fitness. I’m just a sedentary, introverted bookworm at heart. Movement and gym machines and leaving the house just don’t come naturally.

But I like running. I like running, but I’ve never stuck with running. In 2013, I want to change that. The first step: signing up for a 5k in March with my friend Meg. It’s small, it’s just a “fun run,” it’s nothing compared to what the triathloners at the same event have to do. But it’s still something.

And if these high school girls circa 1899 can get in shape while wearing long, woolen black dresses, I can suck it up and run 3 miles.

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(Images: Library of Congress)

Black Bean & Pumpkin Soup with Peanuts & Lime

Black Bean & Pumpkin Soup with Peanut & Lime

Give me a big bunch of vegetables, some softened onions, a good broth, maybe a few beans and baby, I got a stew going. Or more likely, a creamy soup. (I love my immersion blender, what can I say?)

Black Bean & Pumpkin Soup with Peanut & Lime

This time it’s a pumpkin-y take on black bean soup, inspired by a ridiculously enormous kabocha pumpkin and a couple jars of slow-cooker black beans I made last week. The pumpkin and half the beans are simmered together and pureed until smooth before the other half of the beans are added, whole, for texture. I wanted to do something different from the usual cumin-chipotle-chili-powder black bean soup, so I incorporated some of the Thai garnishes I had lying around from Friday’s dinner of khao soi.

Black Bean & Pumpkin Soup with Peanut & Lime

Lime juice and cilantro aren’t crazy-weird in the context of black bean soup, but it was the roasted, chopped peanuts sprinkled on top that turned out to be key — they add a texture and flavor that makes this soup a little different from the one you used to eat at Souplantation. (Hey, we’ve all done it.)

And since I’m back in school this week, I’ve packed up the leftovers in jars, to be frozen for future dinners. Because as you may know, the only thing I like better than getting my soup on is getting my soup on when I’m too busy to actually make a soup.
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My 16 Favorite Recipes For The Kitchn in 2012

Happy New Year! I took a much-needed two-week break for the holidays, spending a week in Seattle with my family, followed by Christmas week in Massachusetts with Rob’s family. I’ve returned home inspired to make the most of my remaining holiday break and excited for a fresh start in the kitchen.

The first semester of graduate school was a busy one, especially with my weekly recipe column for The Kitchn. When I was initially offered the slot, I thought, There’s no way I can come up with a totally original recipe every single week! But you know what? I did it — and there’s no way I would have done it unless I had said yes to a challenge that scared me a little.

So in celebration of fruitful challenges and saying yes to what scares you, here are 16 of my favorite recipes for The Kitchn from this year. (A link to each recipe can be found by clicking on its photo.) Enjoy!

Healthy Weeknight Eating Tip: Pre-Cook Your Vegetables

The holidays. They’re here. Has it already begun for you, the rush of parties, post-work shopping, travel prep, cookie-dodging? I’ve been deep in it for a couple weeks, thanks to finals and the fact that Rob and I will be leaving town early this year so we can spend a week with my family in Seattle before Christmas week with Rob’s family in Massachusetts. Fun! Or it will be, in about a week.

So, you may ask, with all the rushing and the wrapping and the stuffing of peppermint bark into gaping mouths, how does one manage to actually eat in a reasonably healthy way at this time of year? One method that really helps me is not just washing and prepping my vegetables when I get home from the market, but actually pre-cooking them for the week ahead.

I blanch greens like kale, mustard greens and even beet tops in boiling water for a couple minutes, then squeeze out the excess water, chop them up and spread them on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once they are frozen, I pack them into freezer bags. (I usually just mix the different types together. The baking sheet above has four different kinds of greens from my CSA box.) They are loose enough that it is easy to pull out a handful to throw into soups, frittatas or spiced lentils whenever I need them. And since they’re fine in the freezer for a month or two, they are a godsend on weeks when I am too busy to get to the farmers market, but don’t want to forgo veggies.

Hard vegetables like carrots, turnips and squash are tossed with a little grapeseed oil and salt and roasted in a 400°F oven until they are soft and caramelized and perfect for tossing into salads, tucking into sandwiches or just eating plain, warm or cold, over the next five days or so. I was inspired to start doing this last year by the video below from Tamar Adler. Watch it and see if you aren’t inspired too.

A couple notes on nutrient loss and pre-cooking: No, your veggies won’t be quite as nutritious if they are cut up and cooked several days before you eat them rather than prepped and cooked just before the meal. But the truth is, you’ll probably be getting more nutrients because you’re actually eating the vegetables, instead of ignoring them because cleaning and cooking them at the end of a long day is too much to even think about.

Also, steaming greens is preferable to blanching because you don’t lose water-soluble vitamins. But I don’t own a steamer, so I blanch. If you own a steamer, by all means steam!

Rosemary, Parmesan and Black Pepper Whole Grain Crackers

No matter how busy I am, I try to do at least a little holiday baking every year. I love it: the smell of spices, the all-day marathons in the kitchen, the happiness of those receiving the treats. This year I’m feeling more savory than sweet though, and have been browsing through my recipes for gift-worthy snacks that don’t involve an avalanche of sugar. These crackers from My New Roots — toasty, crispy, made with brown rice and quinoa — are not only addictively munchable, they are also good for you. And as easy to make as a batch of sugar cookies, I swear.

I’ve always avoided making crackers because the process always seemed a little fussy and I also have a secret obsession with plain, bland water crackers. I don’t need to make my own. The ones I buy at Trader Joe’s are fine.

But if you’re talking fancy, is-that-seriously-the-price-tag, gluten-free, protein-packed, legitimately healthy crackers — I have no problem giving those a try. I was also intrigued by the recipe, which involves blending cooked quinoa and brown rice in a food processor until it becomes a dough, bound together with soaked flax seeds.

Sarah has a ton of recommendations for flavoring the crackers; I went with fresh rosemary, finely grated Parmesan and black pepper, which also happens to be my favorite popcorn topping combo. Nutty, crisp, and herb-y, they’re hard to stop eating, especially the misshapen edges that begged to be munched on as you break up the baked crackers.

Speaking of misshapen, that would be the correct word to describe the majority of my crackers. But that’s okay. Packed into a canning jar and tied up with bakers twine, they look appealingly rustic, a savory hippie stand-out in a sea of frosted cookies.
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