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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

A full year has come and gone since Hannah and I started Ditch the Umbrella. In that time we’ve reflected, mulled, and written about our emotional calendars, and, hopefully, gained a deeper understanding of what boosts our moods and where our emotional hotspots lurk. But now that we’ve completed a full seasonal cycle, we’ve completed our original mission, and so we will be concluding our little experiment. This will be my last blog post, and Hannah’s final reflection will be coming soon.

I, at least, have made changes to the way I live because of these little revelations: last winter, my worst season by far, I had such a bad case of cabin fever that I resorted to a frenetic and uncoordinated evening playing my roommate’s DDR (Dance Dance Revolution). This year, in an effort to prevent bad dancing, I’ve joined a gym so I can have an outlet for my energy when the days are short, the nights frigid, and the sidewalks nearly unwalkable.

The DDR incident, as I’ve come to think of it, taught me that I need to find ways to enjoy the winter sun, even if my face becomes an icicle. So this year, I plan on returning to cross country skiing, and may even try some winter hiking. (But only if I can start a snowball fight somewhere along the way.)

And I’ve started cooking, and cooking seasonally — enjoying fruits and vegetables when they’re naturally fresh (though I’ll still eat winter tomatoes, even if they’re nothing like the tomatoes Hannah rushed back to the States for) — and synching myself with the cycles of New England in that way.

But most importantly, I’m aware of my hotspots. Of the energy I feel in the fall that propels me to go-go-go, and to have an adventure. Of my weather obsession, which I no doubt inherited from the women in my family. Of my need to travel in the summer, or feel like I’m missing out on something. Of the amount of sleep I need to feel well rested and ready to go, especially when the hours of daylight are limited. Of the joy the holidays bring me with their carols, gingerbread, pine, and good cheer. Of the frustration I feel in the middle of winter, when I just can’t think about slipping on ice yet again. And of the things I can do to make the most of these experiences, and to revel in the joys each year brings.

Thanks for reading.

Late afternoon on the rails, Peru

Weather: Cloudy and unseasonably warm. Over 60 degrees in Cambridge.

Mood:

Anna: 6 out of 10. Energized, but slightly sad to be saying goodbye to DTU. A bit nostalgic.

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Green soup? It must be spring!**

Today is the fourth full day of Passover and I am happy to say that I am not weak with hunger yet. At the wonderful Tuesday-night seder that I went to this year, my former roommate reminisced about how last year I was totally grouchy and impossible to get along with for an entire week. I think she’s forgiven me by now.

This year I’ve protected myself from such severe moodiness mostly by bending the rules of passover considerably. Once you cut out leavened bread (pasta, rice, cookies) and legumes (peanuts, beans, soy) from my vegetarian diet, there’s hardly anything substantial left. After years of starvation I’ve decided that, given that the ancient Egyptians were able to supplement their diet with lamb, I feel comfortable eating the occasional lentil. And I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the bible about peanut butter.

My current interpretation of the laws of passover is simple: no bread, and no corn. I like this definition because in practical terms, it means I have to cut out all the processed and pre-made foods from my diet. Bread is my most common pre-packaged indulgence, and corn (corn oil and corn syrup) is basically ubiquitous. Keeping kosher means I have to go back to basics, and prepare my meals myself.

I don’t fast for passover because I want to be hungry. (I save that for Yom Kippur). I fast for Passover because it’s a way of bringing a new kind of awareness to my life. The Emotional Calendar says that awareness is one of the keys to maintaining emotional stability, but it’s easy to forget about when you’re caught up in major life changes or a heavy work load. I like passover because it imposes awareness and brings me back in touch with myself. That’s a lesson I try to hold on to all year.

I also like Passover because it makes me get creative about my meals. Last Wednesday I took the evening off to try out a new soup that I found in my Moosewood cookbook. It’s super easy, it’s delicious, it’s healthy, and it’s kosher for passover. Doesn’t get much better than that.

My slightly modified version is below. I’m writing it from memory, so you’ll have to forgive me if I miss a vital ingredient or essential step. One thing to keep in mind: it’s better if you let it rest at least an hour before serving. Even better if you make it a day in advance.

Curried Zucchini Soup

olive oil
2 cups diced onions (1.5 onions)
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
3 tsp curry powder
2.5 cups water
5 cups zucchini (5 small supermarket zucchini)
2 cups potatoes (2-3 medium sized)
1 cup plain yogurt
1.5 tsp salt + pepper to taste
fresh cilantro to taste, chopped.
1. Dice the onions and saute them in olive oil over medium-low heat in the bottom of a soup pot until translucent. About 10 minutes.
2. While the onions are cooking, slice the zucchini in half and then chop into semi-circles. Also chop the potatoes. Set aside.
3. If necessary, peel and chop the garlic (or you can put it through a garlic press).
4. When the onions are done,  add the ginger, garlic, and curry powder. Cook for another minute.
5. Add the water, zucchini, and potatoes. Cover and let simmer until soft. I forget how long this takes – 20 minutes? Add salt and pepper.
6.  Remove from heat and add the yogurt and cilantro. Allow to cool until it won’t hurt you anymore.
7. Blend in batches in the blender until it’s a consistency that you like.
8. Refrigerate. This soup gets better after sitting for at least an hour. I made it a day in advance. You can eat it cold or hot, with a dollop of yogurt in the middle, and matzah on the side.

Weather:
57 degrees and sunny now, but ridiculously cold last night.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I’m happy for the weekend.
Anna: 7 out of 10.

**I don’t know who to give photo credit to but I got it on a diabetes website. I should really get my own camera.

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New England's Ambrosia**

Every year Maine celebrates a holiday known as Maple Syrup Sunday. In 2008, this holiday happened to fall just one week after I moved to Wiscassett. I celebrated by visiting a local farm, where we toured a syrup barn filled with the heady aroma of maple syrup steam. Then we poured outside to enjoy maple syrup ice cream sundaes and soak up the late March sun.

To clarify: maple syrup is nothing like Aunt Jemimah’s. If you have the misfortune of living anywhere other than New England, you may not be aware of the difference between this sacred syrup and its $2 substitute. As someone who grew up tapping maple trees (my parents have been tapping a red maple for the past fifteen years) I can tell you that there is no comparison.

Maple syrup is made from the sweet sap of a maple tree, which runs only six weeks out of the year, from mid-February to late March. (The season is that weird transition period when the days are above freezing and the nights are below.) You tap the tree by drilling a hole and inserting a metal “tap”: the sap drips out into a bucket or, in my parents’ case, a rube-goldberg contraption involving long pieces of rubber tubing and empty milk jugs. If you’re tapping a sugar maple tree, it may take 30 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup – in my family’s case, my dad estimates that the ratio is more like 40:1.

To make the syrup you put the sap in a giant pot over heat and boil the heck out of it. As the water boils off, the sugar becomes increasingly concentrated. The more concentrated the sugar, the higher the boiling point and the hotter the syrup gets. When it reaches 219 degrees fahrenheit, its ready. If it goes above that, it burns and you ruin the whole batch.

That’s one reason why maple syrup is sacred. But the real reason is the taste. That’s why this year I invited some friends out of the city to celebrate our own version of Maple Syrup Day. The subtle flavor of my family’s syrup is like nothing I’ve experienced anywhere else. Poured over waffles, with fresh fruit on the side, it’s divine.

For me, tree tapping is one of the only reasons to tolerate February. And that first taste of maple syrup straight off the spoon is an early sign of spring.

Weather: 47 degrees and sunny.

Moods:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Still defrosting.
Anna: A stoic 6.5

**Photo take from the gluten free for good blog, which is actually a lovely blog, although my personal leanings are towards gluten. Lots of it.

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Happy Purim!

When I was a kid, I used to have a picture book called “The Adventures of K’ton Ton.” K’ton means little in Hebrew, and K’ton Ton is a variation on Tom Thumb, only with a Jewish twist. My favorite K’ton Ton story was when he fell into the hamantaschen dough on Purim. My mother says this is impossible because he was “just like a real boy, only tiny,” but as I recall, he was baked into a cookie and popped out just as his mother was giving the cookie away to the neighbors.

Giving away baskets of hamantaschen is just one of the traditions that make Purim the most fun holiday on the Jewish calendar. Purim celebrates the story of Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from the king’s adviser, a man known as Haman the Evil. When we were kids we would go to a party at the synagogue where we were handed groggers (really obnoxious noisemakers) and given the important task of drowning out Haman’s name anytime it was said aloud.

Purim is also a costume party: people dress up as characters from the story of Esther or, really, anything else you can think of. In 2008 I celebrated Purim in Tel Aviv, where it is thought of as an “Israeli Mardi Gras.” That was when I learned another interesting Purim tradition: according to longstanding practice, adults are obligated to “drink until you can’t tell the difference between good and evil.”

Sometimes I wonder whether that’s because of the end of the Purim story, in which the Jews exact revenge by slaughtering entire villages associated with Haman. But mostly I think it’s just an excuse for a good time.

Purim started at sundown last night. I had no wild parties planned this year, but my dad and I did make hamantaschen, the traditional Purim snack. The word “hamantaschen” means Haman’s Hat – Ashkenazi (European) Jews say that the triangular cookies are in the shape of a hat. But I learned today that according to Sephardic (Middle Eastern) tradition, the cookies are said to be shaped like Haman’s ears.

My plan yesterday was to type up a hamentaschen recipe and share it here for Food Friday (okay, Food Sunday). But unfortunately, despite trying two different recipes, we were unable to find one we really liked. Of the two recipes we tried, one was a sugar cookie base made with oil instead of butter, and the other was more like a pie dough, with the butter crumbled in. But the pie-crust recipe, from a cookbook of traditional yiddish recipes, was weirdly textured and required some emergency modification. And the cookie-dough recipe, from the New York Times, didn’t hold its shape and had a strange oily aftertaste. Still fun to eat, but a little disappointing. K’tan Tan would never have approved.

Do you have a hamantaschen recipe that you would recommend?

Weather: sunny and thirty five degrees.

Mood:

Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. More on the good mood to come later this week!

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No scones here!

This weekend I’m doing a two-day Wilderness First Responder recertification. I’ll be renewing my CPR and first aid skills. I’ll also be learning all sorts of emergency tricks for situations like: what to do if you fall on your ice-pick while climbing in the White Mountains in January. Or how to respond to a snake bite in the back country in Arizona. It should be a lot of fun.

Of course, now that I live in Somerville, wilderness survival is less relevant than it was three years ago, when I took the original course. These days, my emergency survival kit includes things like an extra T pass, several Starlite mints, and a travel toothbrush. Just in case.

And when things get really desperate (like they did last week), my response rarely involves binding a broken limb with twigs, an old t-shirt, and a sleeping pad. Instead, I turn to baked goods, like the Emergency Scones that I made last week. The recipe, modified from epicurious, is below. Whether you’re feeling desperate or not, I recommend these for a delightful Sunday morning treat.

I’ve also included some tricks for working butter into flour, and for not having to go out and buy buttermilk (especially during a snowstorm). Naturally you should feel free to disregard.

Pea-Sized Pieces: the trick to making these scones is crumbling the butter into pea-sized bits. If you’ve ever made a really good pie crust before, you know that this is what makes flakiness happen – each pea-sized bit melts into a thin film that separates the layers of dough. If the bits are too big, you’ll get uneven dough. If they’re too small, you’ll get a heavy dough. And if you smear them together as if you were making cookies, then you’ll get, well, cookies. To make pea-sized bits: take a stick of cold butter and dice it as if it was an onion. Cut it lengthwise and widthwise until you have lots of discreet, rectangular butter bits that you can throw into the flour mixture. Dump the butter into the dough. Then use your hands and break the bits up until they are pea-sized, or really a little bit smaller. More like a lentil. Keep in mind, once you add the wet ingredients, that you want to keep those butter bits intact as you mix the batter.

Buttermilk Substitute: Buying buttermilk is silly since I never use it and it goes bad quickly. I mixed together 1/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/2 cup milk. Then I squeezed in the juice from half a lemon, mixed, and let it sit while I made the batter. Tasty, cheap, and I didn’t have to go to the store!

Emergency Scones

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat, plus some whole wheat, plus some white. go crazy.)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • grated peel from one lemon
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips. (Or chop up regular chocolate chips, or a bar of chocolate).
  • 3/4 cup chilled buttermilk (or 1/4 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup milk, and the juice from half a lemon – see above)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon peel.

3. Add butter and work in until lentil sized. (see above for some tips.) Mix in chocolate chips.

4.In a separate bowl, whisk together milk/buttermilk, egg yolk, and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and mix gently to keep the butter balls intact.

5. According the original recipe, you can now take this dough, shape it into a large cheese-wheel on a lightly floured surface, and cut it into nice triangles. Instead, I scooped it up with my hands and formed it into scone-sized balls. Array the balls/triangles on a greased cookie sheet.

6. Sprinkle sugar on top.

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until crusty and a toothpick comes out clean.

Weather:

34 degrees and sunny. A great leap forward from yesterday’s single digits.

Moods:

Hannah: 6 and TGIF on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.
Anna: 6 and really antsy.


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Back in October of 2008, at the end of the fall season of environmental education, we threw an end-of-year celebration and staff party that happened to coincide with Halloween. That was the year that I wore my most inspired costume ever: a lampshade rigged up on top of my head. Partygoers were invited to pull the cord dangling by my ear. Nothing would happen.

“Oh dear,” I’d say. “I must be burnt out!”

Speaking of burning out, I was pretty exhausted last week after an epic writing run. So I took Thursday and Friday off and put myself through a strick four-day recharging regimen.

Task One: Read a novel. I chose Swamplandia!, which I purchased even before reading all the media hype because of a loose affiliation with the author. Enjoying a luxury I haven’t taken advantage of in years, I read for two days straight, failing to leave my apartment between 5pm Thursday and 9am Saturday morning. It was total immersion in the hot, humid, mosquito-ridden Florida swamps — the perfect escape from a cold winter of writing in New England.

Task Two: Go on an adventure. The final third of Swamplandia! is a hallucinatory near-death expedition into the swamps. On Saturday I got up early and caught a train out to Ipswich, where I rode my bike out to Crane’s beach. For the first 1.5 hours it was sunny, cold, and beautiful to be walking along the beach. Then I rounded the point and found myself in the salt marshes on the windward side of the peninsula. In the wind it was bitterly cold, I was exhausted, and when I tried to find my way into the shelter of the dunes I instantly lost the trail and got lost in the hills. Sand rose up steeply around me, the wind whipped through the narrow valleys, and slick sheets of ice pooled in the depths. I felt a little bit like the thirteen year old hero of Swamplandia!, lost and exhausted in extreme conditions in otherwise familiar marshland — the precise opposite of the Florida keys.

Task Three: Recovery. I slept for eleven hours on Saturday night and woke up feeling fully refreshed. Then I opened my curtains and saw the snow piling up outside. The solution? Fresh-baked chocolate chip scones, which were remarkably easy and delicious, if I do say so myself. (I will save the recipe for a Food Friday.) These particular scones always remind me of my uncle Mike, who lives in San Jose, California. Mike’s rare visits to the east coast involved massive pillow fights at night, and chocolate chip scones in the morning. This time I shared them with a few friends for an impromptu brunch. Glorious.

Today, I’m feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready to keep writing. Even the worst weather ever can’t put me off.  Plus, I had leftover scones for breakfast.

 

Not my scones. But don't they look good?

Weather: worst day ever. Thirty six degrees and rain/sleet/horrible.

Moods:

Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the can’t get out of bed to jumping for joy scale.
Anna:  6.5 in her current caffeinated state, but she has a stressful week ahead of her. “It’s Monday. But soon it will be Thursday!”

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Food triggers memories and marks transitions. At some point last October, I realized that my mind was in autumn mode when rather than ordering white wine, I went for red. Shortly thereafter I went on the pumpkin/gourd spree. That was followed by my foray into German and Austrian cuisine, which seemed winter appropriate, but quickly became fried food overkill.

In case it wasn’t already apparent, Hannah and I both love food, which is why we started Food Fridays. Hannah takes joy in creating new dishes and baking sweets. I fail in the food prep department, but excel in savoring new flavor combinations. It’s a win-win, or so I like to think.

This past year I’ve started to fancy myself a food explorer—even if that’s a bit of a stretch. This is not a totally new thought, though. There was that time many (many!) years ago when I ordered sweetbreads expecting something akin to french toast. And that time in Israel I accepted a dish that had been described as “charif”, or spicy. It turned out to be brain. Or, while in Greece, that time when I put my stomach to the test by eating a single, daring bite of kokoretsi, which the EU banned in the 90s. I survived without incident.

Recently, though, I’ve focused on flavors that don’t make people cringe. So this past Saturday I ventured to Gargoyles on the Square in Somerville for a 10-course molecular gastronomy experience. (Of note: it was nearly impossible to find a molecular gastronomy menu in Boston, but the chef, Jason Santos, rose to the challenge.) My father, brother, and I stared slack jawed as course after course arrived. We even took photos.

 

Clarified Tomato Juice Cocktail

Shrimp Chips and Cocktail Sauce

 

 

Lamb Bacon with Coconut and Mango "Egg"

Beet Salad with Vinaigrette in a Pipette and Boursin

Foie Gras. Sadly, I can't remember what else is on the plate.

Pork Belly Soup "Cappuccino"

Calamari Spaghetti Bolognese

Hanger Steak with Dehydrated Mac and Cheese

Ice Cream "Popcorn" with Caramel Snifter

Glazed Donut Pancakes with Oreo Ice Cream

 

Hannah has discussed seasonal dissonance—that out-of-step feeling when your expectations don’t match up with the weather, like the 60-something degree weather we had today. Now imagine that feeling with food. You eat a bite of something that your mind says is an egg. Instead, you taste mango and coconut. It’s bizarre. And it’s delicious, whether or not you’re expecting the twist. Far, far better than one of those surprise snowstorms in May. And just as good as a spring day in February.

Weather: Unseasonably warm today. 62 degrees.

Moods:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. A beautiful Friday.

Hannah – 7 out of 10. February thaw!

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