Making sense of the world by making more of it
Having now been two and a half months since I picked it up at our beloved community book fair, I finally finished reading Mark Bittman’s Food Matters.
After the first couple sections, I was actually tempted to put it down. Not because I disagreed with him: in fact, it was interesting to get some numbers behind the intuitive way I’ve felt about food pretty much since university. No, the reason I was leery was the hinting at the “vegan before 6pm” thing*. I’m pretty open to trying new foods and new ways of eating, but after years of playing around with my breakfast, I can honestly say that I do not function properly without yoghourt and granola to anchor my morning. Also: there’s something about eating really “light” (as in easy to digest foods) all day, and then putting all the heavy stuff (meat, dairy, delicious starchy baked goods) all at the end of the day. It seems like a recipe for sleeping poorly, no?
* Will I end up reading his newest book “Vegan Before 6″? Who knows. My to-read list is terrifyingly long, my library hold queue is… problematic, and I’ve somehow gotten myself into another (in-person!) book club so… maybe next year sometime? We’ll see.
To my delight, Mark actually explains that the “cheat” dinner idea is just how he made the balance of animal protein and refined starches work for him. If all-day moderation and sensible food choices are hard for you, then be totalitarian for two meals, and let yourself relax for the third. Reading through his sample month (I love that it was such a long sample list!) of meals, I noticed that quite a few of his breakfasts and lunches had not only dairy but meat too. (Recipe-wise, I’ve only tried the Thai Beef Salad, so far, but I liked it!) For whatever reason, that made me feel a lot calmer about my eating habits. Or the eating habits of our household.
If I’m not around for dinner, The Boy will often have just toast or popcorn for dinner. I’d mock him, but frankly if there’s a loaf of fresh dynamite bread around and I’m only making dinner for me, this is what I eat:
Not terrible, but not stellar either… especially when I started thinking about the sheer number of “bread”-y things I consume daily. Sometimes hourly. Ahem. Now, admittedly, I usually bake with 50-66% whole wheat flour, but it’s still kind of a lot of “processed” food, and definitely more starch than I need. So I started thinking more about that as I planned my meals, and particularly my work lunches.
Whenever I find myself perusing other bloggers’ bento posts, I feel a twinge of guilt when they include (obviously) a shot of their boxed lunch, but also all the “extras”: any fruit, or snackety foods they pack in as well.
While I do pack my lunches super-densely into my beloved, 650-ish mL glass box… it hardly makes up all I bring to work on an average day. I would feel incredibly self-conscious if I were to photograph all of my work-food, though because, uh, it seems like kind of a lot compared to everyone else. On an average work day, here’s what I bring with me:
- Yoghourt and granola (AKA “second breakfast”), probably consumed around 9:30ish. On days I can’t eat around this time, if I haven’t had a bigger breakfast beforehand I have a pretty hard time staying focused through my morning.
- Some kind of fruit around 11:30ish, which acts as a nice acidic pick-me-up.
- Actual lunch, sometime between 12:30 and 1:30. This seems late for a lot of people, but it’s not like I haven’t been eating beforehand and on the days when I have a lunch that needs reheating, it means I don’t have to wait for a microwave.
- Afternoon snack, usually around 2:30 or 3. It is no secret that I am a cake- and cookie-eating fiend but I’ve been packing myself a second fruit snack instead lately (…and a little dark chocolate) and that seems to be working well.
- Tea leaves (most likely some kind of Earl Grey), jar for a tea ball, travel mug.
Actually listed it out it doesn’t seem like all that much, but when I pack my lunch and it’s just a parade of container, after container, after yet more containers… I get self-conscious about taking pictures of all that.
(I used to roll my eyes at people who carried separate lunch totes — who could possibly be bringing such a huge lunch it doesn’t fit in their normal work bag? Umm… me. I do. I’ve become one of those people. After years of struggling to cram just one more jar into the front compartment of my backpack, and one too many times of pineapple juice or whatever dribbling over my laptop because I ended up putting those extra containers in other sections of my bag… I’ve just admitted defeat and started using a dedicated tote. It’s been liberating.)
Okay, enough about food. Onto… books? Here’s what I’m reading that has a deadline:
- This month’s “What You Should Be Reading” is The Joy Luck Club (my choice!). I’m both excited about it (I love that book) and nervous that no one else will like it. I’ve been re-reading it at an extremely leisurely pace, but really the bulk of the work for me was in the “intro” to it. After all, I’ve already read it!
- The ladies’ book club choice is Gone Girl which I started last night. I’m two chapters in, and have a strong dislike for Amy. Already. This is probably a bad thing. Also probably bad? Reading said chapters before bed. The tone of the book stresses me out. I’ll have to carve out some time in the daytime to read.
This would be, of course, be a lot easier if it weren’t (quite spectacularly) Gardening Season! I got my peas and (very late) garlic planted, and beans, beets and herbs are due in before the weekend. One of my rhubarb plants survived mightily, the other less so (but it still survived!). I am mostly just pleased that I managed to move the veggie bed that had been up against the house over against the fence. I have some new ideas, and new troughs, and am really excited to get going this year. Proper summary to come (theoretically) in a gardening post.
Inside the house, I’ve been slowly cooking my way through Anita Stewart’s Canada (also picked up at the book fair) and for the most part have been liking the results. (The “Malaysian” fried noodles tasted to me a lot like a Cantonese version of pad thai… which then prompted me to declare that we’d be having “real” pad thai later in the week. This week is a noodle-off!)
So, that’s pretty much what’s taken over my brain at present. Much-belated, I present April’s collage because, yes! I am still on this often-really-frustrating wagon!
Just to be clear, this isn’t — as one might think — last Friday’s bento. I did make one, and I took a picture, I just never got around to writing it up. I just figured since I was posting a bento mid-week anyway (*shock*) I might as well post that day’s lunch while I was at it. (And does it seem like a lot of my lunches are frighteningly yellow of late?)
At first glance, and certainly when I was putting it together, this bento felt like a cheat. Let’s cram leftovers into a box and call it bento! (Yes, I know that falls well within the definition of a bento. Shush.) My original intention for this lunch was that I would eat the slaw cold, then microwave the (leek & feta) tart, hence my feeling like a cheat. (In the past, I’ve explained that my personal interpretation on the bento thing is that it be a meal designed to be consumed at room temperature.)
Lest you think that my morning lunch-packing felt entirely like disappointment though, let me clarify that I was totally stoked to actually be able to use a lettuce leaf as an edible divider for once. That’s right folks: we actually have lettuce in the house! And our CSA hasn’t even started yet! Shocking!!
Anyway, so how did it work out? Surprise! The slaw*, which was this one by the way, was fantastic. The only thing I found myself wishing for was the occasional burst of sweetness (maybe peas next time?) amid the spicy crunch. …and then the heat got the best of me**, and despite my having intended to eat it warm, I started in on the tart, just for some relief, and oh! It was perfect. I mean, the tart is definitely tastier warm, but it was alright at room temperature, and the sweetness of the leeks was just what was needed as a counterbalance to the slaw’s bite. So good. (And it turns out I didn’t cheat after all!)
Quick note about the tart: I have made it before (it was this one) but this time instead of puff pastry, I used some rye pastry dough that was languishing in the fridge. Aside from not being as sturdy, I honestly didn’t notice much of a difference.
In other news: May flowers!
* About that slaw — I highly recommend it. As a slaw-hater, I was pretty excited to try something that wasn’t vinegar- or mayo-based and even The Boy, a confirmed cabbage-hater***, admitted it was pretty tasty: victory! My only comment? Uh, maybe tone down the chilies a little. I halved the recipe, added some shredded carrots, used one serrano, and seriously could not eat this without stirring in a spoonful (ahem, or more) of yoghourt. But aside from the burniness? Delicious.
** Office workers! If you are freezing in your over-air-conditioned office environments, may I strongly suggest packing something spicy as all get-out in your lunch? I’m all for trying to keep warm via emergency sweaters and endless cups of tea, but by the time I got to the end of my slaw, I was nearly sweating. A welcome change in my frozen workplace!
*** Why, you might be asking, would I keep trying to make coleslaw if I hate it and The Boy hates cabbage? I think this falls into the “maybe I just hate it because I’ve never had it done right” thinking that I keep applying to vegetables I don’t like. (See also: squash, eggplant.) It drives The Boy slightly bonkers, but he’s a very good sport about it.
This was yesterday’s lunch, and I decided to mix things up by putting the rice along the long side of my lunchbox. (I know, hold onto your seats, I’m getting crazy up in here.) Either my sense of proportions is off, or I actually eat less rice than I thought: I’d always thought it was a solid third of the lunch that was rice.
I was feeling the need for something a little springy, so I made a quick garlic scape omelette (so good!), the celery kinpira (note to self: less pepper next time, holy moly) and filled in the rest with my beloved mushrooms. Not the most inspired lunch, but it still provided surprisingly varied tastes. The egg was a little sweet, the celery was, uh, peppery, and the mushrooms were their usual, umami-y selves.
In other news, even my garden has gotten the memo that spring is here: yay! On the downside, it means there is now a lot of yard and garden work to get caught up on… eek.
Today’s bento was my lunch on Tuesday… and what a lunch it was!
It started with the desire to try making the curried cabbage kinpira. I figured that since I was using those flavours anyway, I might as well make the dry-spiced dal from this book * for the protein component — I did briefly consider making it with red lentils instead of the moong dal… but decided it might be fun to see what else I could find to add some colour in my lunch box instead — as well as making Maki’s spicy curry peanut furikake. (Shown above. Well, except that I hate peanuts, so I used cashews. zOMG, she is not kidding about eating that one straight up once it’s made. So good. I should definitely have been more generous with the chili powder, though.)
For colour I decided to go simple with some peas stirred into the rice and lightly boiled carrots for a little crunch. I had originally intended on tucking some bread and butter pickles in as well, but after fitting the cabbage in, decided I was a little short on space. While it might have been nice to have a bit of that vinegary tang, the furikake was honestly so flavourful, I don’t really feel like anything was missing in the “keep your tastebuds guessing” department. (The sweet bursts from the peas and carrots also helped there.)
All in all, I am super-happy with this bento! It was definitely out of my normal “marinated meat bites + rice + veg” formula, and tasted awesome! I actually feel a little bit bad for the cabbage; I hadn’t counted on the dal and cashew seasoning being quite so flavourful — the poor cabbage tasted almost bland in this meal. Ah well, I’ll try it again sometime in a non-curry-overdosed bento, where it’ll provide more of a contrast.
* As an aside, thus far that book is at about 75% in terms of recipes I’ve tried that are successful, which is pretty good! The lamb biryani and dry-spiced dal are incredible. (Seriously. I have yet to make either recipe without eating copious amounts straight from the cooker with a spoon before guiltily serving/packing the food as originally intended. And I’ve made both at least thrice each now.) The vindaloo was pretty good (but honestly not worth the trouble of doing in a slow-cooker, in my opinion), and the aloo gobi was also pretty solid. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I should try again with less liquid (although I had already reduced it from what the recipe called for!) or what, but I found the chickpea flour curry to be… a work in progress. On my list to try soon are the saag paneer and the “lamb crumbles with peas”.
I’m not entirely sure when it began, but The Boy seems to have developed the tradition of bringing me a food-related souvenir whenever he travels without me for any length of time. This started quite early on in our courtship with cookbooks from Costa Rica and New Zealand, as well as a cast-iron cookbook from a trip to Washington DC which I’ve lost and am still upset about not being able to find. There have been chocolates (always dark; he knows!) from Europe and the west coast, the recent gift of cacao beans for Valentine’s day, and of course the well-documented start of The Boy’s Anthro-based surprises for me.
This last trip out west, however, he seemed to have been feeling a bit nostalgic for our trip to Scandinavia. Upon his return, he presented me the comestible portion of his gifts: my favouritest, buttery, orange-scented, chocolate-streaked oat crisp cookie. (There’s even a picture I took of one in the blog post linked above.) I’d like to say I shared these with grace and polite reminiscences, but the truth is that I thanked the Boy, offered him one, and promptly hid them, to be devoured (by me) later.
I regret nothing.
The other thing The boy brought me back was something equally near to my heart: cast iron. (See also: note about cast-iron cookbook in preamble above.) As a side-note: that’s how much my husband loves me, y’all. Enough to endure the narrow-eyed interrogations of travel security folks by hauling a heavy, oddly-shaped cast-iron item in his luggage. He’s a keeper!
He had expressed a little concern that he’d purchased the wrong one: his was steel grey and about half the price of a similar pan which had been black. I informed him the other one was probably pre-seasoned, but that he chose correctly. After all, I think seasoning fresh pans is kind of fun (what, weird? me? I don’t know what you’re talking about). So needless to say, the pan got larded up and thrown in the oven. Tada, seasoned!
But what is this pan, you might be asking? It’s a poffertjes pan! Well, poffertjes are the Dutch name; this pan advertised itself as an aebelskiver pan — the Danish name. Both refer to a sort of puffy, mini-pancake usually served with powdered sugar. The batter is a lot like waffle batter, though a little less sweet. Now, although The Boy has been to the Netherlands, and both of us have been to Denmark, neither of us really associate these snacks with Europe. There used to be a vendor at our local farmer’s market who made these (presumably of Dutch descent, since they were advertised as poffertjes) and we were pretty big fans of his treats. Sadly, that booth is no longer around, so I was very happy to see that I would now be able to make my own!
Reading the packaging, there were two recipes provided. The first, was this one:
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Zest of 1/2 lemon
3 egg yolks
1-1/3 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
5 egg whites
4 tbsp unsalted butter
7 tbsp jam/preserves
Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, granulated sugar, salt and lemon zest. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks lightly. In this same bowl whisk in the buttermilk and ricotta. Wisk this egg yolk mixture into the flour mixture until well combined; mixture will be lumpy. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry peaks form — about 2-3 minutes. Stir the egg whites into the batter in two parts.
Heat pan on medium heat. Put 1/4 tsp. butter into each well. When butter bubbles pour 1 tbsp batter into each well. Place 1/2 tsp of your jam into the center of the batter then top with another tbsp of batter. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown and crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Use 2 skewers to flip the pancakes over and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and server warm.
Yields about 24.
While that does sound delicious, I don’t usually have ricotta on hand. So, I decided to steal the jam-insertion idea, but go with the (decidedly less foofy) second recipe instead. (After all, who can argue with “great grandma’s” recipe??)
Great Grandma’s Danish Aebelskiver:
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs separated
apple slices or other fruit for filling (optional)
Sift together flour, salt and baking soda. Add buttermilk and egg yolks. Beat egg whites until light and fluffy, forming soft peaks. Gently fold egg whites into batter.
Heat Aebelskiver pan on medium heat. Grease each cup with a little butter or oil, and fill 2/3 full. Cook for approximately 1 to 1 1/2 minutes (per side) until golden brown, flip using skewers. When both sides are done serve with a sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar. Best served warm.
Optional: Fill each cup only 1/3 full with batter. Place a small amount of fruit in each cup and cover with an additional 1/3 batter.
I added some cardamom, as well as apricot jam, and despite my compulsive inability to follow recipes, they turned out surprisingly well! I learned that I didn’t put quite enough jam in them (although the ones that had enough were really delicious) as well as that having a mix of some jam-filled ones, and some plain ones added to the fun! (Yes, I got lazy with the jam. Shh.) If you’re wondering about the can of syrup on the table, there’s nothing for it: we love maple syrup. There was no way these little puffs were going to escape undrenched.
As delicious as these little cakes were, however, I am ridiculously excited about another application for this pan. After presenting it to me upon his arrival home, The Boy explained that he’d bought it because it made him think of the Hong Kong-style eggy bubble cakes I had been so hopeful of recreating when we bought the waffle iron. I’ve tried that recipe, and while the flavour is spot-on, the waffle iron’s tendency to squish the batter thin instead of letting it puff up into little “eggs” means it doesn’t taste quite right. And I just couldn’t justify buying yet another waffle iron just for making myself little egg treats.
Now, however, now I have a pan built for the purpose of creating luscious, puffy cakelets! Oh, I haven’t tried making the aebelskiver-pan version of my favourite PMall snack, but you can bet that if they’re a success, you guys will hear all about it.
Yay for foodie travel traditions!