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Monday, July 12, 2010


My, this has been an eventful week. Two engagements were announced, I saw an old friend after 6 or 7 years apart, we're shopping and packing and getting ready for our trip to San Diego/kids' trip to camp, and I tried to sit through New Moon. This coming week (we leave next Monday) is shaping up to be pretty busy as well! I am going to try my best to get a couple posts in, hopefully I will cook more than just quesadillas and cereal.

I've got two quick ideas for you today. First, and I cannot believe I've never done this before, I made Tea-Poached Tilapia. It was so easy, and so delicious. Time it right and the fish comes out flaky and tender. You could always marinate, Tilapia takes well to marinade, but I was literally digging around in my freezer and found the fish last minute and had no time to do so. I had only planned on making a veggie stir fry and rice that evening.

Tea Poached Tilapia

4 herbal or green tea bags (I used Twinings lemon ginger)
2 c boiling water
2 T chopped garlic
1 T minced or grated fresh ginger
1 standard bunch scallions, thinly sliced
4 tilapia fillets

Steep tea bags in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. You want a strong brew. Set aside. Saute' the garlic and ginger in approximately 2T oil until garlic is softened. Remove tea bags from water, add brewed tea to the garlic and ginger. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a strong simmer. Add the fish fillets to the simmering tea, add the scallions. Cover, simmer for about 3-5 minutes until fish is cooked through. Salt to taste.

Now that you have it, how you serve it is up to you! I pulled the fish out of the poaching liquid (which you can save and freeze and use for soup, or to steam shellfish) and served it on top of jasmine brown rice with stir fried vegetables. I set out an assortment of Asian condiments: like chili sauce, tamari, plum sauce, hoisen, and let everyone dress their own dinner. A fruit salsa would be lovely. You can also turn this into a soup with soba noodles or ramen, and some bean sprouts and snow peas.


Cameron and I love pickles. Pickled anything. Cam is a fan of anything sour (Salt & Vinegar chips, sour candy), and if it's also spicy she is so down. I have a feeling that she will be the one that I eventually travel to China with, they appreciate sour way more than the West.

I want this to be the year that I can, or "put up" preserves but it has just been too frigging hot to boil mason jars. I'm also disappointed in the low yield of my farm share this year, not sure whether that's just how the season is moving along, or if they're just spread too thin, share wise - but I haven't been really getting enough of any one thing to justify such a large scale project.

Anyway, I'm messing around with refrigerator pickles. I prefer a fresh pickle over cooked, and I guess that this is technically a brine, but I'm really happy with the result. I've tried three, so far. Two of which are great, the other one I just put together yesterday so I can't taste it until the weekend.

Like a vinaigrette, once you have a base you can create your own flavor combo from there. You can use any kind or vinegar, though with balsamic you may want to mess with the sugar proportion since balsamic is so sweet.

Basic Pickling Brine (for one jar)

2 c vinegar
1 1/2 - 2 c raw sugar
1/4 c salt

"Jeebus, that's a lot of sugar!" you say, and you are right - but you need it to counteract the vinegar, especially if you are using white. You could maybe use less if you are pickling fruit (my next experiment), as the fruit has a higher sugar content than cucumbers (duh).

Cucumber, Garlic, Chives, Dill, White Vinegar, Lemon Zest

Cucumber, Coriander, Lemon, Ginger, White Vinegar

Radish, Red Onion, Rice Vinegar, Ginger

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July, July, July.. never seemed so strange

Augh, it's hot. We're going through a "heat wave", which in New England means that it's over 80 degrees. Listen, I know that it could be worse - but when your winter is half your friggin' year, you're so busy trying not to kill your family Shining Style that you forget what's it's like to be warm. Plus, it's humid and that is GROSS. We don't have AC, save for in Jeffrey's little home office*, and my small house is set up such that cooking on the stove raises the temperature substantially.

The weekend was for barbecues (it was Independence Day, after all), Monday we had rotisserie chicken, last night we ate at Apollo. Tomorrow and Friday we are invited out to other people's houses, but tonight I have to cook. Tonight is for cold food. Minimal stove time. Tonight is peanut noodles and fresh rolls.

I don't usually make peanut noodles from a recipe, I just kind of mess around until it tastes right, but I came across the following and I have to say that it tastes exactly how I want it to. (I added more garlic and an extra tablespoon of vinegar, but that's just me. I also used whole wheat vermicelli)

Cold Peanut Noodles

recipe courtesy of Catherine Newman

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated
1/4 cup hot water
1 pound angel hair pasta, cooked, drained and rinsed
2 scallions, very thinly sliced (optional)
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced into long, narrow strips, then cut crosswise
2 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)

Whisk together first 9 ingredients in a large bowl. Add pasta, scallions, cucumber, and cilantro, and use your fingers to toss and coat the noodles. Add salt or more vinegar if it isn't as vibrant as you like. Let sit at room temperature if you're going to eat fairly soon — otherwise refrigerate.

Our accompaniment was asian-inspired fresh rolls. These are a great way to trick children into eating salad, by the way. There are near endless possibilities as to what you can put in these light, tasty, little packages; once you get the hang of rolling them you will want to make them all the time. I like to put rice noodles in there, usually, but since noodles were the main course it seemed like overkill. Tonight was simple, using what I had on hand.

Chicken, Basil, & Romaine Fresh Rolls

1T rice vinegar
1T soy sauce
1 tsp raw sugar
1 small clove of garlic, pressed or minced
1 tsp fish sauce
zest & juice of 1 lime
2 c cooked chicken, shredded
4 c chiffonade romaine lettuce
1 c chiffonade basil, any variety
1 carrot, grated
package of rice spring roll wrappers, available at any asian market

Whisk together first six ingredients until sugar is dissolved, then toss with shredded chicken. Let marinate for at least 20 minutes, then toss with lettuce, basil, and carrot.

That's your filling, now you need to know how to wrap it up.

First of all: spring roll wrappers come stiff, like uncooked noodles. "IF I BEND THEM THEY WILL BREAK, OH GOD." Don't be scared. Let me walk you through, friend.

1. Set up your work space. The bowl of filling, your package of wraps, a plate or some kind of dish with cold water, and a cutting board or dish to roll them in.

2. Lay one wrapper in the cold water. Wait 30 seconds. Take the wrapper out, being cautious not to rip it. If it falls apart, you left it in too long. If it still feels stiff, like it won't be pliable enough to work with, put it back in the water for a few seconds.

3. Place the wrapper on the work area, and a large pinch of filling in the middle.

4. Wrap it like you would a burrito, keeping in mind that unlike a tortilla this will stick to itself. You also have to work kind of fast so it doesn't get too tacky or soggy. If you don't know how to wrap a burrito, it's pretty simple. Fold the southern "flap" up over the filling. Bring the eastern flap over, then west. Roll it all north.

I have made a video that demonstrates. It was shot by my eleven year old daughter, who spends a lot of time making Ke$ha tribute videos and is handy with a camera.

Once you get used to it, you can soak the next wrap while you're wrapping. Serve as-is, or with a dipping sauce. An easy one is soy, fish sauce and a squeeze of lime. Thai sweet chili is excellent, especially when accompanied by sweet soy sauce. Hoisen, grated ginger, and a shot of lime juice or orange juice is good too.

*that we have totally taken over, the poor man gets no peace.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Musings On Body Image

I've been thinking a lot about body image lately. I'm almost 5' 10", and I weigh about 160 pounds. This is the "biggest" I've ever been, not counting when I was pregnant and postpartum. I'm well within the BMI for a woman my height, but I feel huge - and that's not okay.

Maybe it's because I used to be super thin. Period stopping, anemic thin. I just was. I had a really fast metabolism on top of constant anxiety, and I couldn't have put on pounds if I tried. People (read: other girls) would comment on it, tell me how jealous they were. I was constantly uncomfortable in my own skin. I wore huge clothes (it was the 90's, after all). If you're tall and skinny and awkward, you get called things like "stork" and "giraffe". I hated my small breasts, my bony knees, my pointy elbows.

In my twenties, after I had both of my kids, I felt pretty good. I was comfortable enough to walk around in a bikini top (stretch marks be damned). I started wearing closer fitting shirts. I didn't really think about it very much.

It started a couple years ago. My metabolism slowed down. It was bound to happen. I passed thirty. My job changed. Instead of running around a restaurant five days a week, I was walking around an office and sitting in front of a computer. One day I notice that I have the dreaded Muffin Top. Then my tee shirts are riding up. Then I have to buy new pants.

"Who cares?" you say. "You aren't obese. You're healthy. It's all in your middle and there's not much there. Shut up."

See, that's what the rational part of my brain says too. But my rational brain is speaking in a calm level voice, and being drowned out by the shrieking hysterical part of my brain that's telling me if I keep it up I'm going to be a tall fat lady like Julia Child; towering over everyone and scaring the neighborhood children. I'll have to shop in men's big and tall stores and dress like a lumberjack. I'll have a heart attack at 40.

Where does this come from? Certainly not my family. They don't give a fuck. They're all shapes and sizes and I've never heard the word "diet" come out of their mouths unless it was immediately followed by "Coke". Not my friends, they're not exactly Bridget Jones types. The media? The American standard of beauty? Maybe? Who the hell knows, but it's stupid and I hate it.

The biggest thing here is that it's starting to affect my relationship with food. I don't want to have to hold off on the fries. I really like beer, and bagels, and butter. I don't want to feel guilty for eating mac and cheese......but it keeps happening. Considering that I eat mostly whole foods, that we rarely if ever get fast food and that a good meal makes me really happy, it shouldn't be like this.

So here is what I've been doing:

1. Exercise, and more of it. This needs to happen anyway. Exercise is vital in anyone's life, but most people hate it because "Exercise" is not fun. Going to the gym, running on a treadmill, working out in front of the tv while Jillian Michaels yells at you suuuuuucks. You feel like you have to do these sort of things, and then you resent it. Fuck it. Go outside. Go for a walk, go for a run, push your kid in a stroller or pull them in a wagon, walk your dog. That's exercise. Last night we went down to the town's ratty tennis courts (that nobody goes to because everyone uses the fancy courts at the private school down the road) and hit balls at each other for an hour. We were terrible and every third ball went up and over the fence, but it was really fun. Boom. Exercise. Think about what small things you can do in your day to day life to make it more active. Ride your bike. Take the stairs. Walk to the store. If you hate to Exercise, then don't. At some point you'll give up and be back where you started - getting winded walking from your car into Wal-Mart. Don't be that guy. Are you going to give up walking your dog or running around with your kids? If your answer is yes, then you are terrible and should rethink your life.

2. Don't count calories. First of all, the average person doesn't even know how this works. They're like midichlorians or something? Second, if you count calories, you will CONSTANTLY feel bad about yourself. It doesn't make any sense to me to feel guilty for drinking orange juice. It's the JUICE of an ORANGE for fuck's sake. I don't care about calories. I use common sense. Is the salad better for me than the fried chicken sandwich? Yes. Is the oil and vinegar on the salad a better choice than the blue cheese ranch? Yes. There you go, I just cut calories. How many? Who the hell knows - but clearly the salad was a healthier choice. Frankly, you could put fried chicken on that salad and still be pretty ok. Once you remove the bun, the mayo or whatever, and the french fries you're ahead of the game.

3. I don't own a scale. I don't weigh myself unless I have a doctor's appointment. I have no idea how much I weigh. It's somewhere between 150 and 170 pounds. I don't need to know. Do I feel healthy? Do I like the way I look? Am I getting regular exercise? Do I eat well, and often? If the answer to those questions is "yes", then that's the goal. Not a number. Numbers fluctuate. You can weigh 150 pounds, check two days later and weigh 152. Why would I want to beat myself up over 2 pounds? I'm not going to look any different, or feel any different - and maybe this time next week I'll weigh 148, depending on what I eat and how active I am over that time. By not weighing myself, I cut out all of the guilt and doubt and bad feelings.

4. I remind myself that I am raising girls. Gorgeous girls. I will cry if I ever hear them complain that they "look fat" or if I see them dieting, and will consider myself a failure. It's so important to teach young girls to love and respect themselves. Let's lead by example.