i promise to eat lunch

I do the same thing every year; sit down a couple of days before the new year begins and write out my resolutions. I completely ignore the fact that last year’s resolve got me about two weeks into January and set my sights on a three-week victory this time.

What am I resolving to do, you might ask? Probably the same sort of things that you are: eat healthier, get more exercise, read more,  dance like no one is watching, love like I never got hurt (wait, isn’t that a country song?), write a New York Time’s best-selling children’s book and retire to a farm on the coast of Maine… that last one may just be me. Other resolutions include getting a full night’s sleep and not forgetting to eat breakfast and lunch.

Speaking of eating, I do have some thoughts about that; I want to eat healthier. Not just follow some crazy health fad I read about in the doctor’s waiting room, but genuinely eat more nourishing, health-giving foods. You know what that means, don’t you? No more recipes for bacon chocolate chip cookies in your charming local newspaper! No siree, you’re getting the good stuff and only the good stuff from here on out. Foods that will have your innards glowing with health and vitality.  You might just explode with goodness (let’s just not and say we did, eh?).  We won’t be able to KEEP from succeeding in at least that one resolution.  Are you with me?  Here, I’ll say it for you, “Yes we are!”

Good deal, let’s start then, shall we? I don’t know about you, but I forget to eat lunch *almost* every day. It’s a terrible fault, but it’s one that I am working on. It’s so annoying to me to have to stop and make something to eat. It’s like going to the bathroom, a big fat bother and an interruption, I feel like I’m wasting time. Now, if I have to make lunch for Alex I’m fine – I don’t mind cooking for him, but if it’s just for me I get all huffy and red in the face and usually, conveniently, forget. Alas – no more! I’m resolving to eat lunch and a healthy lunch at that, every day if I can help it.  This recipe is one that I whipped up in a moment of red-faced huffiness the other day and then quickly devoured; it was so good I didn’t even mind that I had take time to eat it.

Chunky Tomato Bisque  – The Quick and Healthy Version

28 oz can of diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp butter or olive oil

1 tsp fresh basil, chopped (you can use dried basil, too)

1/2 cup full fat coconut milk

salt and pepper to taste

That’s it! Round up the usual suspects and heat up a soup pot on low. Add the oil and then the garlic. You want to stir the garlic so that it doesn’t scorch. Scorched garlic equals nasty – remember that. Several precious minutes will pass, but that’s ok, it’s going to be worth it. Once the garlic is nicely browned but before it gets crunchy, open your can of tomatoes and pour them in along with the basil, coconut milk and some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, let cook for 5-10 minutes and then – viola – lunch is served, preferably with a grilled cheese sandwich or a salad if you’re *really* resolved.

Let’s talk for a moment about the ingredients. By using organic ingredients, you can boost the soup’s health benefits to hulk-like proportions. Non-organic ingredients = weak and nerdy Dr. Bruce Banner; Organic ingredients = crazy big and green raging health machine – and nobody has to get angry. Don’t be tempted to go with skim coconut milk, either. Coconut fat is what is giving this soup staying power and another great dose of healthiness, plus it makes it nice and creamy and rich… yum.  We need fat, so long as it’s the right kind!

Well, my friends, we’re all in this together – here’s to another great year! Enjoy…

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before he hits repeat

Someone – please stop my brother.

The youngest one of us (who is also usually the most jolly) has been needling us to anarchy for weeks now.

“Can I play Christmas Music?”

“Let’s turn on some… Christmas Music…”

“Who’s for a little bit of … Christmas Music!!?”

“Oh good – I’ll sweep the floor… andplaychristmasmusic…”

He thinks if he inserts these words quickly enough into a normal, every day, inconspicuous conversation that we the old ones will be duped into saying, “Oh sure – wonderful idea!”  He thinks wrong.

As my brother must learn, there are rules. There is protocol. There are expectations and reservations and limitations that keep time from happening all at once and becoming a Horrific Mess. The End. And since I am so much older and so much more experienced and so much wiser, I see that these boundaries are what give the holidays their extra glimmer. If we go around playing Christmas music all helter-skelter any ol’ time – we will wear it out and the world might end, or we might start another Black Plague, or at the very least we will all be sick of the sound of it by the time Christmas actually rolls around. We, the old ones, must preserve the sanctity of the holidays from they, the jolly ones. *steps off soap box*

At any rate, the fact is that the holidays are approaching at a frighteningly swift pace, and I can’t believe it. I’m still dawdling around wondering when the trees will reach peak color. How did I get so far behind? Keep up, Ann! In just a few days the Christmas music will start and reality will set in and I must be prepared.

A huge part of the holidays, for me at least, is the food. Yay food! The oldest brother said to me several weeks ago that he was planning on loosing something in the neighborhood of 20 pounds in preparation for the holidays. I have no idea how far he’s come towards that goal, but I admire his gumption. November and December have a cruel way with waistlines, and it’s terrifying and mystifying and wonderful all at once.

The recipe I’m going to share this week is a little secret weapon in the food-fight that will begin in mere hours. It’s a veritable bomb of comfort and joy that utilizes handy leftovers as well as several other ingredients that aren’t Holiday specific at all, just in case you need to call a time-out and recoup your losses.

 

Turkey Soup with Quinoa and Spinach

otherwise known as ‘Holiday Pause Soup’

You will need:

3-4 quarts of turkey (or chicken) broth

1/2 pound turkey meat (which could always be increased or decreased to your preference)

10 oz frozen spinach

1/2 cup quinoa

1/2 medium sized onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, diced

salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp butter or olive oil

Optional other leftover ingredients such as corn, chopped roasted veggies, etc.

 

Dice the onions and garlic and then sauté them in your butter or oil in a large soup pot. When the onions are translucent and limp, add your quinoa and let it brown for a minute or two. Then pour in the broth and cap it. Let the quinoa simmer in the broth for half an hour or so before adding the rest of the ingredients. I think a little pureed squash or sweet potatoes would add such great texture and taste fabulous! Let this boil until the spinach is cooked, about 10 – 15 additional minutes and then you are ready to serve. It’s a clever way to change the outfit of heavy holiday foods and add some much needed yule-tide greenery to your dish.

Well, gentle reader, so it begins. Are you ready? Make sure to double up on your vitamin C and get enough liquids in the midst of all the merry making. Honor the things that make this time of year precious and don’t be afraid to take a pause every now and then to reset and recharge. Have a bowl of soup, count your blessings and go forth and be merry!

 

my german summer

The German appeared on the horizon like a subtle storm, exciting from a distance with all the intrigue and mystery of a tumultuous dark cloud. He came with his charm, his attitude, his quaint way of coloring outside the lines with the English language and a fascinating way of rolling cigarettes like the cowboys we’d seen in movies.

He refused to disclose his exact birthday and acted like a nineteen year old most of the time but his eyes and stories and balding head  betrayed the many years he had actually lived through. He had been every where and done every thing that was exciting and exotic and somehow ended up in the middle of corn country USA working on an organic farm in exchange for room and board and a chance to learn firsthand about America. The farmers he boarded with happened to be friends of ours and that’s how we met our German. I was 16 at the time and my brothers and I fell nearly head-over-heels in love with his grand adventures, foreign ways and delicious German food.

Unfortunately, in spite of his great size and athletic build that would have made him a top-notch farm hand, the German realized all too late that he really, truly, honestly and desperately hated to farm. He hated picking beans. He hated canning tomato sauce. He hated getting up early. He hated being hot and sweaty. He hated being in a small town where nothing happened. He did, however, love to cook and eat and swim and sit by a smoldering campfire and play mournful songs on an old guitar. The focus of his stay quickly became Food which meant he spent a great deal of time at our house in the kitchen with my mom, whipping up delightful things for us to eat. I do believe that was the only summer ever that I actually Put On weight instead of losing it. We had schnitzel and spatzle and creamy soups with brussel sprouts (or ‘Rose Cabbages’ as he called them), we made sour pickles in crocks and stomped sauerkraut with our feet using a centuries old secret family recipe he requested from his mother. At the end of the day, when we had finished our own batch of farm work and he had sung all of his sad songs by the fire, we ate thick slices of “Bee Sting Cake” while he told us what it was like to grow up on the East side of the Berlin Wall.

In September, the German left us – heavier and a little wiser about the world at large. No doubt he was glad to be heading back to his familiar life and I dare say we weren’t broken hearted to be getting back to ours. The only thing we truly had in common was our love of food and excellent after-dinner conversation. We had a small stack of handwritten recipes and he most assuredly never took his glamorous city life for granted again. It was a win-win situation.

This is one of our favorite recipes, absolutely the oddest thing I have ever eaten and you must try it before you judge it too harshly.

Soyunka (or, “Junk Food Soup”)

1 bunch of green onions, chopped

1 sweet red peppers, chopped

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

1 20 oz can tomato sauce plus one can water

1 1/2 cups dill pickle slices *with* the juice

1 1/2 cup sauerkraut

2 Tablespoon parsley flakes

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 cup chopped ham, bologna, sausage… any kind of cheap meat

Don’t laugh – it’s no joke, these are actually the ingredients! Saute the onions, peppers and mushrooms in butter or olive oil until they are limp. Add to a large soup pot then throw in the remaining ingredients. Cook on medium for 20 minutes or so then serve with crusty bread. It’s out of the ordinary, slightly alarming and leaves a strong impression, almost like the combination of homeschooling Midwest farmers and a city-wise German, but you only live once, might as well dive in and taste it, right? Enjoy!

it came out of nowhere

I Love Leftovers. For this home chef, ‘Leftovers’ is code for, ‘Easy-Meal’ and that’s a good thing. I usually plan for leftovers when I can; cooking an extra chicken breast and stashing it away, boiling too much rice and storing the extra, or sauteing two onions when I only need one then saving the rest.  In this day and age, time seems to be as expensive a commodity as fuel and food and it makes sense to cook two meals at once, saving time, energy and thought.

But, even with all this careful meal planning, every so often I face an interesting situation. It usually goes like this; there are two more days until it’s time to go shopping and we’re running low on ‘regular food’. The main meals I planned have been cooked and eaten, the leftovers conveniently consumed, and I am left with a smattering of completely unrelated ingredients. A couple of eggs, a quart of chicken broth from Monday’s stewed chicken, half a cup of lemon juice, a serving or so of cold white rice from Tuesday’s stir-fry and some garlic.

For all my love of easy-peasy menu making and ‘second meal’ strategizing, I do love the once-in-a-while meal challenge. I need a meal to come out of nowhere – something recycled, repurposed, reconstructed, rethought. Something that is going to spring from the cupboards and fridge and appear in delicious completion on the dinner table – and, oh yes, I need a meal in less than 30 minutes, if you please. If there were such things as Good Kitchen Fairies, this would be the time to summon one, but as I am yet Kitchen Fairy-less, I must think of something all on my own.

Last night was such a night in our angled apartment. I needed a meal, a good, recycled sort of meal that was going to take the culinary cacophony in my fridge and turn it into a poem of  a meal – and fast. How do eggs, lemon, chicken broth and cold (slightly old) white rice sound?

How about Avgolemono? It’s alright if you can’t say it – I barely can, but thankfully for us we don’t need to pronounce it to be able to enjoy it. This is a traditional Greek soup that just happened to call for several of my misfit ingredients. Here’s how you make it:

Avgolemono

4-8 cups of chicken stock

1 cup cooked white rice (you can also use small pasta if that’s one of your random ingredients)

3 eggs

4 tablespoons of lemon juice

1 garlic clove, grated or minced

salt and freshly ground black pepper

In Greek, the name of this soup means “egg” and “lemon”. Ah ha.

 The first order of business is to put the stock into a pot and get it boiling. Once it boils, add the grated garlic and let it simmer for a minute. Now, add the rice. While the rice is being warmed by the broth, beat the eggs until they are frothy. Add the lemon juice and stir well. Now, this is the tricky part – tricky, I say, because if you dump the cold egg into boiling broth you will end up with a Greek-styled egg drop soup. This is Not what we Want. You are going to gently, kindly introduce the hot broth to the egg mix. Take a spoon and add a few spoonfuls of broth to the egg, stirring well. When that’s mixed in, add a couple more spoonfuls of broth. This warms the egg mix up slowly so that you can bring the two together without tragedy. It’s important that the broth isn’t boiling, so you might want to lower the heat to make sure it stays just ‘really really hot’.

When you have mixed enough broth into the eggs to make the egg mix relatively warm, stir it into the broth. Don’t let it boil again, or the egg will curdle. Take it off the heat, stir in salt and pepper and serve.

You’ve done it. You’ve made a meal come out of nowhere. Impressive, isn’t it?

they say it funny out here; Chicken Meal #2

They do.

They say it like this, “Chowdah.”  It makes me giggle.

I say it like this, “CHOWDER.” My face gets very grave and serious when I say it – like a command.

It leaves one wondering, is chowder a serious thing, or something that should make you giggle?

 

As we all know, I moved to the Wild, Wild East over three years ago from my relatively tame corner of the world just on the edge of the Midwest. Aside from the obvious language barriers that had to be overcome, it has been one, long, very interesting adventure which has ended in a happily ever after, after all.

The fact is, ladies and gents, I ended up married to one of these wild Yanks who, when in the least bit provoked or absent-minded, drops his r’s and says things like, “My, you’re a wicked-good kissah!”

🙂

The second meal prepared from our lone bird was a mix of east and midwest, wild and tame, unique and classic – “Sweet Potato and Corn Chicken Chowder”

Say it five times fast, I dare ya.


Sweet Potato and Corn Chicken Chowder

Serves 8

Calories per serving: 150

Price Per Serving: astonishingly cheap (sorry, still no receipts.)

Preparation Time: about 45 minutes. I got distracted doing something else so it took me a little longer…

Ingredients:

4 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into small chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

2 large or 3 small sweet potatoes, chunked

1 quart of chicken stock

1 Tbsp chicken boullion plus 1 quart of water

(I had to use the boullion and water because I didn’t have enough stock. If YOU have enough stock, please use that, or if you don’t have stock, use 2 Tbsp boullion and 2 quarts of water. Make sense?)

3-4 fresh ears of corn


Alright. Here’s what’s to be done.

You’re gonna need a big pot – a four-quarter or bigger if you can manage. Pour the olive oil in the bottom of the pot, (which, I should mention, has been moved to a burner and is heating up) and then add the onions and garlic. Once they’ve had some time in the heat, add the chicken – stirring frequently. Frying the chicken first in the same pot, in my humble opinion, adds a little depth to the finished soup. *That’s why you do it like that* Once the chicken is nigh unto done, add the broth (or whatever combination of broth and boullion and water you have decided upon) and potatoes and bring it ALL to a boil.

I love how quickly sweet potatoes cook – have I ever said that? They soften up so nicely, they’re just a joy to be around in the kitchen. Once the sweet potatoes have become fork-tender (after about 15-20 minutes of boiling) you are going to proceed with what I perceive to be the Midwestern portion of today’s meal – the corn. Being from corn country, I know a thing or two about the veggie (at least, I put on airs as though I do…). I feel as though the fact that I have picked corn for farmer’s market at 3  A.M. gives me some sort of authority to be picky and odd about corn while at the same time enjoying a good ear much more than any person should. We picked our corn at 4:30 P.M from a large bin sitting just inside the door at Price Chopper – the corn snob in me promptly fell over and died. Ah well.

At any rate, whether near or far, Eastern or Western, you should really try to make this chowder with fresh corn – as fresh as you can manage. I shaved the kernels from our ears just before we were ready to eat and dumped them in, letting the soup boil for just a mere five minutes more before taking it off the heat and serving it up.

The result? Sweet, soft potatoes mingling in a salty, fragrant broth with crisp sweet corn and plump chunks of chicken.

I don’t care *how* you say it – that there’s good food!