Kale Salad

I was introduced to this salad last weekend, at a super fantabulous dinner party. When I requested the recipe, my friend sent a link to this blog. (http://food52.com/blog/2839_northern_spys_kale_salad) Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo. I’m hoping to build a light box this weekend. So please bear with me. And check out the photos at food52 — so gorgeous!

For this recipe, neither my friend nor I followed the original exactly. She eliminated the cheddar cheese and added pomegranate seeds plus a delicious dressing made with nutritional yeast. My version, which I made last night to accompany leftover Rio Zape beans (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/27/pot-of-rio-zape-beans-rancho-gordo-style/), was closer to the original but with extra squash and less cheese. Whatever version you make, I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong.

1 bunch Lacinato kale, preferably organic (http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-safe/kale-pesticide-residue#slide-13)
1 small butternut squash, cubed
1/4 c. sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
1/4 c. raw almonds, halved
1/2 lemon
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400.

1. Toss the squash with 1 T. olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about 45 minutes, turning occasionally, until carmelized. (I did this a couple of days ago, when I had the oven on for cookies.)

2. Wash the kale and remove the ribs. I fold the kale in half so the the rib sticks out, and then cut along the edge of the rib. You could also just rip the ribs out by hand. After the ribs are gone, stack the leaves, roll them together, and slice thinly.

3. Combine the kale, squash, and cheese in a large container, ideally one that has a lid. Squeeze the lemon and add the remaining olive oil. Toss to combine.

As per the original post in food52, this salad can be made ahead. Accordingly, you should not add the almonds until you’re ready to serve. Otherwise they’ll get soggy. Enjoy!

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banana coconut chocolate chip cookies, so wholesome you can eat them for breakfast

I’m a total sugar addict. Junkie, really. Which I used to be rather proud of, bragging about my love for skittles, red hots, hard candy of all kinds. Cake. Cookies. Cookies. Oh, how I love cookies. But it’s sad how little sugar loves me. As a child, I would sometimes get literally sick after eating cake at family birthday parties. Chocolate gave me hives. To this day I develop horribly painful canker sores after heavy sugar binges.  Clearly, for my body, sugar = poison.

A stronger person than I would have simply eliminated this poison. But that didn’t work for me. It was too extreme. So I decided to compromise. I started trying recipes that call for alternatives to sugar, such as honey and maple syrup.

Yes, I know. Maple syrup is a sugar. But it is not refined sugar. There is a great deal of controversy on this topic. For example, this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) suggests that the enormous amount of sugar in the average American’s diet is the root cause of many diseases, including cancer. I don’t know whether t

banana coconut chocolate chip cookies

hat’s true. But I do know that even if I binge on these cookies, which I often do, I don’t get headaches or start snapping at people or find myself helplessly in thrall of butterfingersnickersbabyruthmoundsm&msskittlesredhotsjawbreakerslifesaverstictacs and whatever other kind of candy I can lay my hands on, which is what happens when I eat refined sugar. So I like these cookies.
Here’s the recipe, which I’ve changed only by switching from canola to olive oil.

2 overripe bananas, mashed
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. rolled oats (I use the old-fashioned)
2/3 c. brown rice flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. shredded unsweetened dried coconut
pinch of sea salt
1/4 c. semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips (since I’m not vegan, I normally use Ghirardelli, but I made these once with vegan chocolate chips and they were almost as good)

Preheat the oven to 350.

1. Mash the bananas in a medium bowl. Whisk the oil, syrup, and vanilla extract together until it becomes thick, and then mix it into the bananas. Add all of the dry ingredients to a separate bowl. Whisk until combined, then add the banana mixture. Stir until you no longer see any flour. Fold in the chocolate chips.

2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Drop the batter onto the sheet by tablespoons, leaving the mounds as is. Bake on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

These taste best if eaten on the same day that they’re baked. But they also freeze really well. I’ve been known to eat them straight from the freezer. However, if you have more patience than I, try reheating in a toaster oven. They’re dreamy.

I can’t count how many times I’ve made these cookies since January 28, 2013.  Obviously none of those times was remarkable. But today I tried something worth noting. I used coconut oil instead of olive oil, and I added 1 Tablespoon of Maca powder. Superfoodorama!! I just learned about Maca yesterday, when my acupuncturist recommended that I add it into my diet. Apparently my reserves are depleted and I need to build them up. Who knew? Not me. I don’t know whether this will really help, but it’s worth a try. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s an article that spells out the hype. http://www.naturalnews.com/027797_maca_root_hormone_balance.html

pot of Rio Zape beans, Rancho Gordo style

My first heirloom beans. And, yes, my first photo! It’s a big day here in dreamland.

cropped-rio-zape1.jpg

I haven’t posted photos before because I firmly believe that you’re better off with no photo than a bad photo, at least when it comes to food. But these beans are so beautiful it would be pretty hard to make them look bad. Plus the lighting this morning was perfect, if depressing: overcast winter sun that basically transformed my living room windows into a string of light boxes.

I don’t have a shot of the final product, because by the time the beans were finished the sun was gone. And I have no light box. Yet. But it doesn’t matter.

What matters is something no amount of perfect light or mad skill could capture: the taste. Indeed, I wish we had the Jetsons-style technology we were supposed to have by now, the year 2013. Then you could just punch a button and order them right through your screen. You wouldn’t have to take my word for it. You would know the rich, creamy, kinda smoky flavor these beans hold when cooked with nothing but water, a tiny bit of olive oil, and a few aromatics. You would know that these bean totally lived up to the hype. Thank goodness. Because I have a whole lotta Rancho Gordo beans.

You’re going to hear a lot more about Rancho Gordo beans in the weeks, probably months, to come. And I expect I’ll start buying heirloom beans from other sources. I’m hooked. They really are better than the supermarket beans I’m accustomed to. For now, though, here’s the story on this bean, the Rio Zape.

As described by Steve Sando in The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, it “is very similar to a classic pinto bean, but it’s more dense and exudes a deep, rich pot liquor.” Sando also warns that the Rio Zapes don’t “work well in a lot of recipes because they’re so rich and distinct.” Instead, he says, they’re best as a pot bean.

Later, one day, I might try to prove him wrong. But for this first batch I took Mr. Sando at his word. I prepared the beans Rancho Gordo style. Here’s the original (https://www.ranchogordo.com/html/rg_cook_beans_primer.htm) and my breakdown of the directions/recipe.

1 lb. Rio Zape beans
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1/2 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of kombu

1. Pick over the beans, remove any debris, and rinse. Cover the beans with an inch or two of cold water. Soak for 3-4 hours.

2. After the beans have soaked, heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Saute the vegetables for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re soft and fragrant. Add the kombu and the beans, together with the soaking water, plus additional water as needed to cover by an inch or so. Or, if you don’t want to use the soaking water, drain and rinse the beans then add fresh cold water to cover by an inch.

3. Bring the beans to a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1-3 hours, adding salt when the beans start to become tender. Today I added 2 tsp. salt after 45 minutes. Next time I’ll probably try 1 tsp. to start, as these were a little salty. The beans cooked a total of 1-1/4 hours.

I really wanted to see what these tasted like, so my dinner tonight was a (large) bowl of beans. And it was great. I feel nourished, healthy, well cared for, and totally satisfied. Which is awesome. I love beans.

slow cooked lentil stew with root vegetables

Originally, this was intended to be a post about “Flexitarian” cooking. I wanted to include a recipe that could easily be adapted for a group of people that included both meat-eaters and vegans. But things didn’t work out as planned.

I started out with a base recipe that I’ve been making for years, yet another Mark Bittman special. This one is from his days as the Minimalist. (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/27/dining/the-minimalist-lamb-lentils-and-time.html) My go-to version differs from his in that I generally add parsnips and more carrots. But the original is wonderful and I stick fairly close. This time, however, I decided to switch things up by using my slow cooker. I thought it would be a perfect fit for the recipe, which cooks for a long time at a relatively low temperature.

As you know, I was wrong. I don’t know whether to blame the slow cooker or the (really) cheap wine that I used, but while the lamb itself tasted okay, the lentils and vegetables that cooked with the lamb were, for lack of a better word, nasty. Terrible. Disgusting. Very disappointing and sad. So much so that they are now gone, frozen solid, outside.

Happily, I wasn’t able to make both versions simultaneously, and therefore was able to learn from my mistake. The second version, the one that follows, doesn’t call for wine. It’s also vegan. And while it is still in need of some work to be company-worthy, it’s really quite good for a simple, healthy winter meal. Especially when served as part of a meal.

I used carrots, parsnips, and potatoes, but feel free to vary the vegetables as you wish. For example, I bet celeriac would be amazing instead of (or in addition to) the potato. Fennel might be nice instead of carrots. Also, this can easily be doubled or even tripled. But note that you only need enough water to cover the surface by about an inch.

2 c. lentils, brown or French green (the brown will fall apart a bit)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped, about 2 cups
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped, about 1-1/2 cups
1 baking potato, peeled and chopped, about 1-1/2 cups
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
3 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece kombu, if you have any (this isn’t essential)
1-1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. dried thyme
4 c. water

Add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir, cover, and cook on high for 4-6 hours, until most of the water is absorbed. Taste and correct seasonings if necessary. For dinner, I ate this with sauteed Brussels sprouts and bread, but it would also be good with another green vegetable or a salad. And it was good today with a cheese and arugula sandwich.

Breakfast at Little Goat Diner followed by an inaugural poem.

This morning I woke up early, too early. I had big plans. A close friend who lives very far away, too far to see often, is in town this week, for work. So we decided to meet for breakfast. Which was super exciting, as it meant we got to check out Stephanie Izard’s newest restaurant, Little Goat Diner (http://littlegoatchicago.com/diner/).

OMG — it was so good! Put on your hat scarf gloves parka and every other warm thing you own (because it is ridiculously cold, even if you didn’t just arrive from Thailand) and go, right now. The space is warm and comfortable, with a bright, friendly vibe. And the food is delicious. I had the Bull’s Eye French Toast, which is described on the menu as follows: “crispy chicken . sweet onion brioche . bbq maple syrup.” Sort’ve like chicken and waffles, right? Yes, but more.

First, there were the gooseberries. At first I wasn’t quite sure what they were, these shriveled rounds of gold strewn atop the toast. I guessed gooseberries, because, well, what else could they be? But, never having had a gooseberry before, I wasn’t certain. And also they tasted pickled. Which was a perfect accompaniment to the savory sweet maple syrup drenched onion bread but kind’ve weird. I had to know for sure. So I asked the waiter.

It turns out that yes, they were indeed gooseberries, but not pickled. Just plain gooseberries, which are waiter likened to a cross between strawberries and tomatoes. Honestly, I didn’t taste any either of these fruits. Just a delightfully sweet vinegary pucker. But perhaps my palate wasn’t at its most sensitive. Because as delicious as it is, this is not subtle food. Which is fine with me.

The second surprise, which the menu does suggest and which I feel a fool not to have anticipated, were the eggs. Yes, the Bull’s Eye. Or Eyes. Because there were two, one cooked into the center of each toast. I discovered the first by accident, when I cut into the toast and saw thick yolk running out of the perfectly cooked white. If you try this dish, make sure to go for the egg straight away. Because while my egg-free bites were very good, the remainder, each a perfect combination (because I’m a bit obsessive that way) of chicken, toast, egg, gooseberry, and syrup, were momentous.

If this was a proper review, I would now describe my companion’s meal. She ordered the “kimchee & bacon & eggs & pancakes asian style breakfast tasty thing.” Unfortunately, however, I can’t tell you anything except that she liked it a lot. I didn’t even taste a bite! I meant to, I swear, but I didn’t think the flavors would be compatible. So I wanted to wait. And then I was too full. But I can tell you that it is the chef’s favorite, at least according to Chicago Magazine (http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/November-2012/Stephanie-Izards-Little-Goat-Is-a-Big-Time-Diner/). I’ll try it next time.

After breakfast, we foolishly walked back to the hotel. Under normal circumstances it would have been pleasant, even fun. It wasn’t far. But today is one of those cruelly cold Chicago winter days, where the clear blue sky and bright sun exist primarily to illuminate the deadly patches of black ice that lurk on sidewalks, waiting to trip the unwary. Full, happy, healthy, we survived the walk without suffering anything worse than reddened noses. Yet we passed more than one person who appeared not to share our good fortune. We talked about homelessness and what will happen tonight to those people who live, whether by bad fortune or choice, outside of society. And then we went on with our days.

The public ceremonies for President Obama’s second inauguration are being held today, this year’s Martin Luther King Day. It’s a big day. Important. Exciting. Full of love and hope and weighty thoughts about the responsibilities we bear for our fellow humans, our planet, our past, our future. Yet none of that was on my mind when I started the day. On my way home, however, while reading everyone’s posts on Facebook about the inauguration, I remembered the inaugural poem.

When I got home, I had missed the live action. So I was able to read the poem first. Then I watched and listened to Richard read before an audience that included the Obama’s and the Biden’s and the members of the Supreme Court and Eric Cantor (who seemed not to be enjoying himself), and untold numbers of others, many of whom seemed as moved as I by these words about humanity and hope and inclusiveness and what it means to be a human being living and working in America. I then read the poem again.

In case you have not yet seen and/or heard it, here’s a link followed by the text. Namaste.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/21/169905447/watch-one-today-an-inaugural-poem

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 2
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello

shalom, buon giorno

howdy

namaste or buenos días

in the language my mother taught me—in every language

spoken into one wind carrying our lives

without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 3
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together

entering the world of fancy heirloom beans

I just placed my first order with Rancho Gordo (https://www.ranchogordo.com/html/rg_story.htm). For the uninitiated, Rancho Gordo, which is based in Napa Valley, California, grows and sells heirloom beans. Although I first read about the company several years ago, I’ve never actually tried their famed beans. It seemed like too much trouble, especially when I have access to perfectly wonderful, much less expensive beans right here in Chicago. But then I read Steve Sando’s book, The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide (http://www.powells.com/biblio/95-9781604693102-0).

The book details the color and markings, flavor and texture of 50 different varieties of heirloom beans, most of which I had never heard of. After reading the book, I realized that despite my love, in truth I know very little about the beans of the world. Which is wonderfully exciting. Because I can use some inspiration. So, after studying the descriptions of all the different varieties for a few weeks, I finally decided. I want to see for myself whether these beans live up to their hype. Here’s what I’m waiting for, together with Sando’s descriptions:

1. Ayocote Negro (black runner beans):

Color and Markings: Ayocote Negro is solid black with maybe a few stray dark purples mixed in. The large size and slightly oblong shape makes them easy to identify.

Flavor and Texture: Black runners are very much like their purple brothers, Ayocote Morado. In fact, you could use them interchangeably. They tend to be a little starchier than the lighter-colored runner beans, but not unpleasantly so. They make the perfect salad bean and their earthiness makes them an ideal match for sauteed wild mushrooms with loads of garlic.

2. Cargamanto Columbiano:

Color and Markings: The red Cargamanto bean is really a gorgeous specimen. The red-chocolate background is a beautiful base for little yellow specks.

Flavor and Texture: Like all cranberry beans, Cargamantos have a luxurious feel in the mouth, as if you are eating something incredibly indulgent and fattening. The bean itself is velvety and the pot liquor is thick and rich, made even more so if you smash a ladleful up and then return them to the pot.

3. Good Mother Stallard:

Color and Markings: Good Mother Stallards are purple with really odd and wonderful cream-colored spots, lines, and flecks. Some of the beans have more cream than others and they look like some kind of mish-mash of pintos, cranberries, and the Milky Way at dusk. There’s really no other bean quite like them.

Flavor and Texture: Some beans are creamy, some beans are velvety, and Good Mother Stallards are silky. They have fairly tough skins but they break easily and release one of the best, if not the best, pot liquors of any beans I know.

4. Vallarta:

Color and Markings:Vallartas are solid yellow with a slight green cast when super fresh.

Flavor and Texture: Vallartas are rich and thick. I wouldn’t want a big bowl of them as a meal, but cut with bitter greens, they’re great.

Sando’s description of Vallartas is underwhelming, to say the least. But it piqued my interest because apparently this rich, thick bean is one of Chef Thomas Keller’s (http://tkrg.org) favorites. What makes it so great? I’m intensely curious.

In the coming week, while I wait for my shipment, I will daydream about these beans, start planning meals. Which will be fun, especially since in reality I won’t be cooking much, if at all. A friend is coming in from out of town. I’ll probably eat out most nights. And I still have food in the freezer. But while I don’t anticipate spending time in the kitchen, I will be planting seeds for future meals, reading cookbooks, searching online, and dreaming.

quinoa, crustaceans, and the general impossibility of ethical eating

This past week I read a couple of articles that brought me back to that time when I first realized the impossibility, at least for this weak human, of eating ethically. One article, this one (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa), begins as follows: “Ethical consumers should be aware poor Bolivians can no longer afford their staple grain, due to western demand raising prices.” Oh god. My attempts to eat healthily are the direct cause of poor Bolivians being forced to eat crap!

And there was also this article (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/01/17/169443117/yes-virginia-crabs-likely-feel-pain-but-theyre-still-delicious), about recent research suggesting that crustaceans, specifically crabs, probably feel pain. Reading it, my first thought was, OF COURSE THEY FEEL PAIN!!!!

I don’t know, of course. I’ve never spoken with a crab, or a lobster. I’m not a scientist. But why would we imagine these living creatures don’t feel pain? Because they’re not like us? Does no pain qualify as pain if it does not mirror human pain? Are we really so blind to the fact that the universe does not revolve around us? I hope not.

There was a time, many years ago, when I grew so freaked out about our food supply that I had trouble eating anything. Even water was problematic. It seemed like every single thing, all food, was either poison or poisoned, polluted or caused pollution, suffered or caused suffering,or just generally made the world worse. It was awful. Particularly because I have a tendency to faint when I don’t eat. Which is embarrassing.

Luckily, this phase didn’t last long. In a perfect world, I would grow my own food and raise my own animals, which I would love right up until I ate them. But this is impractical. I have no land, no money, no farming skills. I only know how to go to the grocery store and/or eat at restaurants. I soon realized not only that my eating habits weren’t going to make or break the world, but that if I wanted to contribute I needed to stay alive, which required food.

So I made peace with reality. I accepted that we live in a broken world, that everything is imperfect.  I recognize the problem and that I am part of the problem but also that I didn’t create this world and all I can do is try my best. I try to buy organic, locally raised vegetables, and eat only animals that lived well and happily. But I fail a lot.

Honestly, I’m not sure where I’m going with this post. One of my goals with the idea of a bean cookbook is to try to make the wold a better place. Because beans really are better for us and for the planet than most foods. Yet I don’t always want beans. Sometimes I want a cheeseburger. Or a lamb chop. Or steak. I wish I didn’t. But I do. Honestly, I get shaky if I go too long without meat. I have other friends who have never liked meat, feel sick if they eat it. We’re all different.

Most of the time I prepare and eat vegetarian meals. If I buy an appliance, it’s Energy Star. I turn off the power strip to my television. My water use, while not minimal, is mindful. But I love taking long, hot showers, and baths. And I eat animals, not all of which lived very good lives or were given a good death. So I fail. I am imperfect. But I try to do my best. Which, at the end of the day, is all we can do. Live love.