He said, she said: A chicken story

I’d like to report on a little conversation I had with Grant a couple weeks back. Nearly verbatim.

Me: Hey, I just noticed that Ballard Market does indeed have rotisserie chickens! They’re only $8 instead of $10 like at Whole Foods, and they’re from Draper Valley Farms (the same place I got our awesome Thanksgiving turkey from!), which is a much closer farm that raises their poultry WAY more sustainably than the crappy California one that does the theoretically natural Whole Foods chickens. (Michael Pollan wrote a whole exposé on them in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.) And they’re brined with a much healthier solution than usual; it’s less salty and it’s all natural, not like those gross QFC ones that are cheap but full of corn syrup and nitrates. But they aren’t super obvious because they’re not pre-packaged; you have to actually talk to the deli staff to get one. So please try to remember that next time you shop there, and try to remember to get them from there over other groceries whenever you can, OK? There’s one in the fridge right now if you want some, and I just stuck it in there so it’s probably still warm. I gotta run.

Him: So… what you’re saying is… there’s chicken in the fridge… and it’s really good.

Green(ish) smoothies

I’ve been working from home since January, trying to make a go of my online dating consultation business full time. (PLEASE send my info to your single friends if you think they could use a hand! Referrals are my number one source of business.) Working from home has SO many wonderful advantages, but I thought one would be that it would make me eat healthier. Boy, was I wrong!

I’m normally a very hungry person, and between boredom, stress, and I guess just timing at work, I’m always acutely aware of when it’s lunchtime at a normal office job. Sometimes I’d have a big project or be engrossed in a deadline and I wouldn’t eat until an unhealthily late hour, or I’d stay late well past a smart dinner time. But for the most part, I ate regularly at normal intervals that didn’t make my metabolism crazy.

At home, I’m a menace. Grant and I are sharing our car and attempting to stave off the purchase of a second vehicle until we have kids someday. So I’m sometimes driving him to work or to the bus stop, grabbing a latte, mocha, or chai, and then not consuming anything else for breakfast. And then I don’t realize it’s Food O’Clock until about 3 PM, when I’m DYING and my entire metabolism is screaming at me and I need to lie down and can’t imagine getting back to work because my blood sugar is crashing so hard. (I exaggerate a little, but not much; I’m an idiot who forgets to eat.) I don’t think this is one of those healthy things where I lose weight; I think my body goes into starvation mode and starts conserving anything that touches my lips as fat. So it’s not like I devised a brilliant breakfast-free stratagem here! I need to eat.

More and more, the thing I wind up eating to chill myself out is one of these:

Mmm mmm purpley goodness!

 

Yeah, that’s a “green” smoothie. Only yesterday’s is more like brownish-purple because I included lots of blueberries. In fact, all this contains is filtered water, ice cubes, two lemons, half a bunch of Italian (flat) parsley, and about half a cup of blueberries.

Here’s today’s, which was a third a bunch of Italian parsley, a few (five?) big leaves of green kale, a large Braeburn apple, and two small lemons, plus ice cubes and filtered water:

Frothy goodness!

One of my tips for making more nutritional smoothes is that you should generally blend up as much of the fibrous parts of veggies as you can, in addition to the part you’d normally eat. So for kale and parlsey, this means you don’t discard the stems (though you can trim the very end bits off if they’re scuzzy). And for lemons, you cut them like this:

IMG_3940

Actually, you can be even less aggressive than I was. I just accidentally cut through to the pulpy part, but an ideally butchered lemon would be opaque pale white with all zest removed but no juicy bits poking through if you know what I mean. I first learned of green smoothies from Green for Life by my mom’s pal Victoria Boutenko. Victoria posited that you could even eat leafy parts like carrot tops and other veggie greens that usually get discarded in our country. I’ve tried it but never with a proper blender, which makes a HUGE difference; so I can’t attest to the carrot top thing (nor the Carrot Top thing, if we’re honest) but I bet it’d be lovely.

Here are my prep tips for an awesome green smoothie that won’t gross you out:

  • Include ice cubes. Both in the blend and in the glass you drink from. I find that green smoothies are WAY less ick-inducing when they’re really cold! I also often use some frozen berries both for fiber and flavor, and they have the side benefit of chilling things down a bit.
  • Use a Vitamix. You just have to. You’ll never get truly smooth-ish smoothies with a regular blender. See if you can find a used one on Craigslist or at a yard sale; my mom did this for me and saved hundreds!
  • Add more water than you think you need. You may want to make your smoothie more concentrated, but more water makes it blend more easily and heck, it keeps you hydrated!
  • Don’t use powders/boosts/etc. Just don’t. There’s a place for that crap, but in my opinion it’s not in a smoothie like this. The ingredients in what I’m describing are so pure and healthy that they shouldn’t need a helping hand from some chalky powder that’s just going to diminish your final product.
  • Start on Low, wait until all the bulky bits have been grabbed and are starting to spin in the slushy form, and then kick it up to high. If you need to, use the blending stick to poke your produce through the hole in the lid (I KNOW; that’s what she said). Poke as much as necessary, but be careful because liquid can spew out around the poking stick once everything is blending properly. I don’t even want to hear the jokes that might come from this.
  • Consume rapidly, ideally within a couple hours. They get gross if you leave them, even refrigerated. And they start to taste really different and not in a good way.
  • Stir before you sip! I like to use these metal spoon straws, which are also excellent for many a melty dessert. (I definitely don’t just eat kale, after all!)
  • Rinse your equipment right after. Even our badass dishwasher can have trouble getting dried smoothie-blend-bits from the inside of our glasses, blender carafe, and reusable straws if I don’t stay on top of the rinsing. Which just looks super gross to the next person who uses that item. So be diligent!

I’ve been doing much better home-food-wise ever since I got back on the green smoothie train. I know they look scary, but I urge you to give them a try! Heck, come over and I’ll make you one. :)

Spaghetti (squash) and meatballs

Ah, the challenges of attempting to eat South Beach/heart healthy/low refined starch, and still eat inexpensively. It’s damn tough! This one’s been lingering in my draft pile, but it was so yummy I didn’t want to let it slide.

Back when Grant wanted spaghetti and meatballs RIGHT AFTER a bunch of starch-overloaded Stroganoff, I countered with spaghetti squash and meatballs. He consented. I cooked. I had never made this dish before, or even heard of spaghetti squash before my friend Jen introduced me to it a couple years ago. I was so thrilled to learn of a less starchy spaghetti alternative!

I used About.com‘s guide for cooking the actual squash, because Martha’s said to cut it open raw and I thought that might be too rough on my tennis-elbow-crippled arms. And I used roughly Martha’s turkey meatball recipe, but I kinda fudged it as I’m wont to do. My meatballs were better anyway, and beefier. (I don’t know why, but I just really really hate ground turkey. I think it’s sort of like carob — it feels like someone is just trying to trick me.)

Always better with some Italian flat-leaf parsley mixed in. And prettier, too.My sauce was just a jar of Newman’s Tomato Basil to which I added a bunch of herbs and veggies, as I usually do. It’s nice that there’s a cheap, easy to find, no sugar added natural sauce out there — makes me feel less bad about using a prepared sauce. This wound up being a pretty tasty dish, all things considered, though the meatballs make it much more labor-intensive than just a straight up meat sauce. It all depends on how much time you have to spare. Either way, yum!

And for those of you who, like me, are horrified at the idea of pasta plus more starches, this is a great way to feel less guilty about making the perfectly accompanying garlic bread.

My intro to slow

Let's pretend mine will look exactly like this.

My mom gave me a slow cooker for my birthday. Yippee! I grew up on her Moroccan-inspired lamb and couscous dishes prepared lovingly in the crock pot, and I’m looking forward to creating my own.

However, in true Virginia fashion, I got bored flitting through recipes that called for complicated steps (searing the meat BEFORE I put it in the cooker? You mean I can’t just throw this sh*t together before I dash off to catch my bus in to work?) and ingredients I don’t currently have in my kitchen (see aforementioned couscous), so I decided I’m just gonna wing it. Yep, I bought me some grass-fed lamb at Whole Foods, and Imma throw that in there with chopped turnips and rutabaga and carrots and kale and herbs and spices and a can or two of beans or soup we have that I can’t seem to use up, and some wine and whatnot, and just throw it on low and go with the flow. Ya know.

The plan is Lamb Thursday. I’ll keep ya posted. (And possibly I’ll put the slow cooker in a baking dish in case it explodes/leaks while I’m at work, which seems totally likely, and yet does not deter me from this “plan” in the slightest.)

Chez nous !

OK, so yes, this is a picture of reheated Popeye’s chicken leftovers. But hey, don’t knock it just yet! First of all, we have a tacit understanding that anytime there’s an Ikea run, there must also be a Popeye’s run. That’s just how it is being married to Grant. Second of all, when I got stuck in horrid post-Ikea traffic and called him to have him preheat the oven, and we both forgot that I had three dishes of salted oiled kale leaves ready to make chips, and he didn’t think to check it, and he roasted them at 400 for like 20 minutes, it actually wound up crisping them almost perfectly with only slight burny residue on a few leaves (which I still happily ate). Hooray accidental snackery!

AND we had enough chicken left over for dinner AND I managed to clean up our living and dining rooms so we got to eat on an actual table for only the second time since moving in AND I made Grant prepare the sides (biscuits, also left over, plus steamed broccoli) so I could get a little cooking break. SO check out this pseudo-fancy shot of our eating space. Decent, right? I mean, the décor is still a bit bare as we haven’t hung any pictures, but come on. CLOTH NAPKINS AND CRYSTAL CANDLESTICKS, people. Sh*t is coming together now. (Now if only I could find my Pyrex containers to take leftovers in to work easier!)

Fancypants salt

Trust me, this is nicer than our mid-moving shot.I’ve been idly wondering what the deal was with Himalayan Pink Salt for a while… we even made these Himalayan Salt Slabs our default wedding gift for certain friends for a while. But I’d never actually tried the stuff, largely because I only saw it sold in a coarse grain that seemed like it’d be annoying for actually seasoning cooked food.

But THEN, we got the weirdest wedding gift yet — some friends of my stepmother in law gifted us a gadget (or rather, a pair of gadgets) that we’d never even heard of before — these Cuisinart rechargeable salt and pepper mills. And now I had an excuse to try out some of that much-hyped coarse-grained Himalayan salt, plus some gray moist rich and mineral-flavored Celtic sea salt that was sold in the next bulk bin over.

The results? Um, first, I realized after loading up the mill that I’m probably not supposed to put somewhat moist salt into this electrical gadget. But I tried it, and my pink-and-grey cocktail is both delightful looking and delicious. (I wish I’d bought peppercorns too — I thought we had extra and we don’t! — but I think I’m going to contrast the blended salt with an all-black peppercorn selection, instead of the four-color mix we’ve been buying from Trader Joe’s. I have a feeling I’ll like the flavor better.)

Aaaanyway. We’ve now been welcomed into the world of salt snobbery and insanely unnecessary kitchen gadgetry — a bit late, sure, but there you have it! Guess I’ll go read up on the deets of my fancy pink salt now.

One night, two very different foods

#1: Red Velvet Cupcakes. Only old-school, cocoa-heavy, extra-tangy ones. #2: Kale chips. (Told ya they were different!)

For item #1, I sought out a recipe that was a bit chocolatier than most store- or bakery-bought red velvets and, well, apparently I was also seeking out tangy without meaning to. I heard from our wedding cake baker that a cake with cocoa and vinegar is the more traditional Red Velvet origin, but I managed to forget that I’d made one like that once before in that fashion and it was kind of weird and unpleasant. So! Once again! Kind of weird and unpleasantly tangy, especially with my more-tangy-than-most cream cheese frosting. But also kind of good, in that not sickeningly sweet, maybe I’ll pass these off on my coworkers kind of way. (Tee hee, in case any are reading this.)

And here’s my favorite bit: filling cupcake tins is so much easier with my Pancake Pen, which is in turn best filled by my Wide-Mouth Funnel (both of which appear on my Favorite Tools page). Also, I forgot to add sugar at first, and when I dipped my finger into the batter I got a nasty surprise. Good thing I taste tested! o_O

And for item #2, I used smitten kitchen’s kale chips recipe, only I had crazy curly kale (cale?) so the proportions and times and temps were off. Plus, we broke our Oxo Salad Spinner apparently, so I had to hand dry it. Luckily, there’s a website to fix it, but so far no luck. :( And my hand-dried curly-ass kale was sort of imperfectly crisped, like the outer bits too crisp and parts still chewey. I’m planning on letting it sit out overnight and seeing how I like it for weird breakfast, at which point I may just pop it back in the oven for a bit more crisping.

And there you have it! A night of odd choices, to be sure, but both yummy enough in their own way I hope.

Achievment unlocked — coconut H2O

I’ve been hearing everyone discuss the many health benefits of coconut water for ages, but I haven’t yet tried it. Why? Because on The Parenting Experiment, I heard John Salley claim that it was suuuper easy to just pop a straw in there and drink down that healthy goodness.

Not being big on processed and pasteurized “health” ingredients, and being kind of intrigued by the idea of a straw poking out of my coconut, I decided this was indeed the route I’d take. But the right kind of coconut (“young” and I think “Thai”) can be hard to come by in my day to day life, so I wound up waiting until my recent Uwajimaya run.

And the sucker I brought home was less easy to pry open than Mr. Salley had indicated. (What do you mean, you can’t believe everything you hear or read on the Internet?) So Grant and I had to do some real, um, exploration. After much random hacking (including trying to pierce it with a screwdriver — yep, my idea) we devised a plan. Or rather, I devised it and made him execute it, since I’m incredibly accident-prone and it was a blunt knife in unknown territory. (New Year’s resolution — learn to sharpen knives properly; sharpen knives properly.)

First, I had him make an X-shaped chop along the coney part, as shown above. Next, as shown here, I had him slice off that now-loosened coney part to reveal a … weird brownish rough part. Which Grant proceeded to hack at, until discovering the… disgusting slimy membraney part.  (Pretty sure that’s the scientific name for it, anyway.) MMMM!

THEN I was finally able to … oh Gawd it’s gross even remembering it… poke my way through the disgusting placenta membrane thing, think quick, grab a glass, and upturn the coconut so the liquid could drain into a glass. Plunk in a few ice cubes and a straw, and serve.

The verdict? It was unimpressive. Not like I gained the powers of a radioactive coconut or anything. Only vaguely coconutty; only slightly reminiscent of the fridge-stink the (shrink-wrapped!) unsheathed fruit had caused; not really all that healthy tasting. But who knows. If I wind up feeling fantastically fantastic tomorrow, then maybe I’ll lean on this the same way I occasionally lean on wheatgrass — very, very occasionally, when I’m feeling very, very ill.

But no, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to try açai berries anytime soon!

Rivers of Acidophilus

The other day (Friday, to be specific), I purchased a bottle of organic peach flavored kefir* from the Metro Market. Friday was April 21st. On Tuesday, I opened the bottle, tasted it, noticed it tasted funny, read the expiration date, and saw that it was April 10th. Yech.

So last night, I let the Metro folks know, and they gave me a free new bottle with a far-away expiration date, and all was as it should be.

Until this morning.

I shook the new bottle of kefir, opened the seal it and poured it, but I could tell from the look that I hadn’t shook it enough so I re-capped it and shook it again. Really. Hard. Cap pops off, bottle escapes from my hands, kefir explodes ALL over my kitchen. I whine at roommate who is busily working really hard under an incredibly stressful deadline to pretty please give me a hand. She being the awesome person she is helps while I whip off my yogurt-splattered outfit and change. I came back down and mopped up sticky peachy culturedness from all surfaces of my kitchen. My knees still smell like peaches.

What is it that kefir has against me? Maybe I really, really, really need to heed my naturopath’s urgings to go off of dairy entirely? But I really LIKE kefir! And until recently, I thought it liked me!

Anyway, I realize this story is kind of pointless. But in case anyone notices that I smell kind of fruity, well, I would’ve missed my bus if I did a better job of removing kefir from my legs, and let’s just say by now I find it nicely moisturizing. TGIF, folks.

*Kefir is a sorta hippie-ish, super-cultured yogurt-like substance that is usually a little runnier than yogurt. The brand I always buy is liquid. It is NOT, however, like one of those foul Dannon drinkable yogurt abominations, for the record.