Thursday, May 27, 2010

Quinoa: It's What's for Breakfast

In my last post I mentioned my trip to DC where my mom and dad live. In the week leading up to my visit, my mom asked if there were any foods she'd like me to stock up on. I gave her a list of things (steel cut oats, soy milk, yogurt, english muffins) that I've been eating for breakfast lately and my mom being my mom, she went out and bought EVERY last item on the list. I was not staying for a month and I was not bringing an army with me so, needless to say, there was an excess of breakfast foods. I did manage to at least eat a little bit of each thing and to introduce my mom (who regularly eats rolled oats) to the wonders of steel cut oats.

For those of you who haven't tried them, these tasty nuggets of flavor and texture can be found in the hot cereal aisle (or bulk food aisle) in vintage-like cans.

God bless the Irish.

They take longer to cook and require more babysitting than traditional rolled oats, but the pay-off are chewy, yet crunchy whole grains that put their mushy (processed) cousins to shame. My mom was sold.

Leave it to my youngest brother to kick it up another notch. While we were discussing the relative merits of steel cut oats, Andrew, who is a cook at a brunch place, mentioned that they serve quinoa for breakfast. While quinoa is often cooked like couscous (covered in a pan of boiled water while the grains soak up all the liquid), he said they cook theirs like pasta which makes for more consistent cooking. Cooked quinoa also refrigerates well. So I cooked up some quinoa for breakfast this morning. It took a mere ten minutes compared to the 20 to 30 for steel cut oats. I mixed it up with a little cream, brown sugar, and dried cherries. It soaked up the cream a little more readily than oats do, making it harder to play with the consistency, but the grains were delicious. They stick to your ribs a little less than oats do so they're a great warmer weather, quicker cooking alternative.

Next up: a cardamom- anise seed addition to my morning cereal.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shopping the Edge With the Better Half

First, a confession. I was back in DC (where I'm from) last weekend and the shopping from the edge experiment took a back seat. I didn't do much shopping there, but the little I did do (with my mom) did violate some of the rules I've laid out for myself. The night I made pizza for my parents, I did a pretty good job: only the pizza sauce and olives were from a center aisles. But when I was shopping for a party that my parents were having for their newest granddaughter, I was less able to adhere. It's not my household (anymore) and, thankfully (for my parents) I'm passing (slowly) out of the stage in which I think I know more than they do. Besides, they conserve in other ways like doing all their dishes by hand even though they have a dish washer.

In my absence, my husband was instructed to at least try to keep our house a center-aisle free zone. It was a risky maneuver.The first time we went shopping together, he asked if he had to adhere to the rules when he was shopping. "Do what your conscience tells you to do," I told him. "You don't want me to do that," he retorted. "My conscience will let me do pretty much whatever I want to." Clearly I'd forgotten who I married. My husband's mantra is, in the famous words of South Park's Cartman, "Whatever. I do what I want."

But to my pleasant surprise, what the old man wanted to do this time was actually participate in the experiment. I expected to find telltale frozen pizza boxes and soda cans in the house, garbage, or recycling but instead E stuck with eating leftovers, frozen pizza crust, and grilled burgers. His veg intake might have been a little low but so was his consumption of over-packaged, processed foods. Yay old man!

The good news is that we're down from averaging about three bags of garbage a week to two. But the biggest difference is probably in the number of items we're putting into our recycling bins. Yes, you say, but recycling is good! And reducing is better!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Shopping From the Edge: First Trip to the Coop

By far the greatest success of this first trip to the coop was purchasing both brown sugar and dried cherries in bulk for two reasons: I remembered my containers from home and it couldn't have been easier. In fact, I love that I don't have to deal with moving the brown sugar to a more resealable container because it's already in a mason jar.

Mason jars, which I do sometimes use for actual canning, make me feel warm and fuzzy and nostalgic for a time that I have no memory of. They make me want to grow and ferment things and store items in my pantry that I bought out of a bin at The General Store along with a few yards of calico, a spool of grosgrain ribbon, and penny candy. The make me want to hold chicken eggs up to the light to determine whether they've been fertilized. In fact, I have so many mason jars used for so many different things in my kitchen (making yogurt, storing food, growing sprouts), that sometimes I have to remind myself that I do not live in a little house on a prairie.

I have to admit that my first trip was rough. I was tempted by each of the middle aisles, especially the one that has bars of really dark chocolate. I was panicked that I would be hungry for a snack and there'd be nothing to eat at home, which, of course, is silly because there's always cheese or yogurt or fruit. I even perused the bulk section for snack foods. I was impressed by the array of items I'd never noticed before: all shapes of pasta, olive oil and maple syrup, and more types of teas than even in the tea aisles.

I will return to the bulk section. And I will like it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

First Mama's Day

It turns out that even when you do things like entertain yourself by placing your daughter's shirt part-way on and then taking pictures, you get spoiled for one special Sunday in May.

In our house, this means that husband wakes up early to go to the coop to buy fresh ingredients for breakfast which includes a bowl of fruit; light, lovely pop-overs; my favorite tea AND orange juice; and Eggs Benedict replete with the best darn from scratch Hollandaise sauce you've ever had (which says a lot since you order it almost every time you go out for breakfast). I'm wondering if I should be worried that my current reign as Queen of the Kitchen might be threatened by my husband who until now has specialized almost exclusively in baked goods. (Although this might have been his crucial mistake: now that I know what he's capable of, I might be demanding more food stuff drenched in Hollandaise.) To top things off, he only bought one thing (the English Muffins) that was in violation of my current "shopping from the edge" experiment.

I even got to enjoy a little of the New York Times (Sunday!) in bed before the little bug woke up, rolled over, and won (demanded?) my attention.

I only had to do ONE load of diaper laundry the whole day, had a lovely scenic paddleboat ride down the Mississippi River with my best guy and my best gal AND got to take a nap.

I might even have more kids just so I can get multiple special Sundays each year. That IS how it works, right?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

May Food Experiment: Shopping From the Edge

For four consecutive weeks (beginning this past Tuesday) I'm shopping exclusively from the perimeter (and the bulk section) of my coop (and, of course, the Farmer's Market). What do I hope to accomplish by doing this?

1) Healthier Eats. Even at the coop, where they stock the shelves with local and generally more healthful foods, the aisles in the middle of the store are filled with items that are more processed than items on the perimeter. Some "health experts" even advise avoiding those middle aisles to lose weight. Since I'm breastfeeding right now, losing weight isn't a goal as much as eating healthy, but if that ends up being a side effect, I probably won't complain.

2) Less Packaging Waste. I'm going to be shopping from the bulk section a fair amount and hopefully I'll get better about bringing containers from home to pack in the store. Right now we average about three kitchen-sized bags of crap that we throw out each week (plus our recyclables). I'm hoping to see a decrease.

3) More "Experimental" Cooking and Cooking From Scratch. Most of the items I'll be buying will be raw ingredients, which means if I'm craving, say, granola bars, I'm going to have to figure out how to make them myself. Amongst the other items I'm going to have to learn to make from scratch: polenta, pizza sauce, vegetable stock, mustard, and mayonnaise.

4) Less Food Waste. I find that the more involved I am in the process of making food, the less likely I am to let it go to waste. So, for example, I might let a container of Chinese take out sit in the fridge until it grows alien life forms and has to be tossed, but my homemade yogurt is a precious, precious commodity that I will not let go to waste. I also hope that by learning to cook more from scratch, I'll be able to cook more meals just with what I have available in the pantry and fridge without having to make extra trips to the grocery store.

What, exactly, will I be "able" to buy. Produce, eggs, milk, butter, (and cheese -- I could perhaps learn to make it , but that's a little too hardcore for me), meats and fish, and whatever is in the bulk section plus whatever I can get at the farmer's market. Even though the frozen food section is on the perimeter of the store, I'm going to be skipping that part (especially since I can get fresh produce these days). I'm also going to skip the bread section and learn how to make bread from scratch.

What do I anticipate happening?
1) By about week 2, I'm going to wonder, "Why the hell am I doing this?"
2) I'm going to love baking my own bread, but it's never going to be as good as the bread from local bakeries and it's never really going to be time effective.
3) I'm going to succumb to desires for: cereal, pre-made chicken stock, and condiments.
4) I'm going to be forced to organize my kitchen to stay on top of bulk food purchase.