The Happiness Tag! :)

So, blog awards aren’t always my thing, but I really like one that’s going around: the Happiness Tag. It’s just a request to say the things that make you happy, and then ask others the same question. Since I’m writing a food blog, I’ll use this happiness tag to talk about some foods that have been making me happy lately.

Happiness foods:

  1. Salmon: I have never eaten a lot of fish, but once in a while salmon is filling me with happiness these days. When cooked right, it’s flaky and mouth-melty, and yet is lighter and makes me less heavy and sleepy than lots of other protein sources. I’ve tried it lately with feta and herbs, and also in a green salad – so wonderful and summery.
  2. Pecans: While these are quite expensive lately, due to water shortages and other things, just a few go a long way! I have added a pecan or two to some cream cheese on top of celery lately and drizzled honey on and felt like I had the best dessert you could ask for (while still eating celery, let’s be real here…). Their nutty flavor is even more intense after toasting with a little butter on them.
  3. Cherry Tomatoes: Little tomatoes are great for adding to just about any summer dish! When I left for my road trip, the first few tomatoes were growing, little and green, on our cherry tomato bush and I’m so excited to get back and eat sweet, tiny tomatoes. I recently learned on the Gastropod podcast that the oldest form of tomatoes were actually tiny, a bit like cherry tomatoes now (not the same variety, but still!). Easier to eat without having tomato goo spurt everywhere too.
  4. Dried apricots: These fruits are the mvp for the road trip, and I’ll tell you why: most dried fruits I know are either overly sweetened (sorry pineapple) or overly chewy (craisins just aren’t for me). Apricots, when sold without extra sweetener, are the perfect mix of soft and chewy, and aren’t lip-puckeringly sour while also not being cloying in their sweetness. Love them.
  5. Milky coffee: I try to drink my coffee black most days (save a few calories without giving up a drink I love? Okay.) but milky coffee has been a nice vacation-time luxury for me lately. I don’t add sugar usually, just enough milk to make the whole thing blonde – milk has a lot of natural sugars in it anyway that make me happy.

Hey fellow bloggers: want to take this on? I nominate:

1. Panini Girl

2. Love Ling

3. Messy Counters and Floured Paperbacks

4. Cumin and Curryleaf

5. Ginger Jams

6. Grateful Life Wellness

7. Food Ann Made Today

8. Live Eat Create

Looking forward to hearing what makes you happy! 🙂

 

53. No Thyme to Waste’s Braided Challah

A few days back, I was having a nostalgic day and decided to bake a loaf of challah. I have no claim to challah’s long history, but in college it was a bread I learned to make in my parents’ bread machine and so whenever I was about to head back to school, I’d make two loaves: one to eat with my family, pulling sections of the braid off with our hands while it was still warm, and the other to slice cool in my college town, accompanied by my roommates or nearby dorm neighbors. The bread seems built for community building: soft, pliable, woven together, and always slightly sweet and eggy.

I found No Thyme to Waste’s recipe for braided challah and was also somewhat enchanted by her blog – it uses the same WordPress theme that I do, but to much greater effect! I’m inspired to include recipe cards with any recipes I make from friends or from a handwritten card – obviously will keep linking to recipes that come from other blogs. I was impressed that it used so much whole wheat flour, and this recipe didn’t disappoint: Husband does not like super whole-grain bread and he thought this was the best loaf I’ve made yet! We ate on it for days, letting it replace store-bought bagels in the morning, toasted with a layer of cream cheese all over it. I didn’t have the seeds to put on top, but otherwise I pretty much stuck with the recipe; I’m learning that it pays to follow the directions with bread.

While I didn’t get to bring any on this road trip with me, I’m hoping to be able to at least prepare a few meals while I’m here visiting with my sister – she’s a much healthier eater than me, but if she let’s me, a loaf of homemade bread might be just what her kitchen needs.

 

Eating… On a Road Trip

I’m on a road trip! So that’s fun. But it does mean that there isn’t much cooking happening. I’ve been thinking about the ways I eat when I’m on road trips, and how I can make myself not feel awful when eating all the fast food and snacks that I seem to have available to me.

Recipe in a Bottle Rules for Road Trip Eating:

  • Pack healthy snacks: I fully like to treat future-me like I will magically prefer dried apricots and stalks of celery to candy and cookies. Even if I’m not crazy about those things once I’m actually on the trip, my body thanks me for the daily injection of fruit and veggie.
  • Avoid fast food sides (law of fries): I love me some good fries, mac and cheese, kettle chips, whatever, but while I’m on a trip, I try to limit myself to a sandwich or other main entree. It’s a great way to cut half the calories in a fast food ‘meal’ and not feel bloated afterwards.
  • When seated, aim for salad: I am not a natural salad lover, but lately I’ve become convinced of how much better I feel on long trips if I sneak a salad in here and there!
  • Find mini-exercises for gas station breaks, etc.: I try to lift up on my tip toes a few times every time I leave the car for a little while, which is helpful for my muscles. Before and after the trip, I try to take some stretches, a walk if I can manage it, and do a plank for a minute. These things won’t prevent a little road-trip weight gain, but they sure do make me feel better and less tired.

Overall, these aren’t revolutionary, but as I eat out with my sister and my mom (and eat our leftovers during other meals) they are keeping me feeling less sluggish than I tend to get while travelling. This is important, because it’s supposed to get up to a heat index of 105 today! Eeek! Stay cool and eat well, friends. 🙂 I’ll be back with recipes soon.

52. Jen’s Parmesan Meatballs

In my search for meatball recipes (Linda from Scribbles and Grits got me thinking meatballs with a sweet-and-sour recipe she gave me, as did my friend N when she came up with the idea of a meatball-themed dinner party), I came across the blog Carlsbad Cravings.

It is a beautiful blog and has so much wonderful food, including the meatball recipe I eventually decided to try, Parmesan Meatballs. I was also making curry that day, so these were a separate, stand-alone dish, eaten with flatbread on the side.

Following her directions was very easy, and I was stunned by how well the skillet works for this – I tend to leave cast-iron cooking to Husband, worried that I’ll ruin it somehow, but the meatballs crisped up perfectly on the stovetop and browned fully in the oven. The spicing was perfect and the amount of cheese was substantial without detracting from the rest of the meatball. This is a serious contender for my next meatball-themed dinner party, which looks like it will be soon! It will also be my first meatball-themed dinner party so wish me luck on that venture.

Enough dawdling for me. Back to work. 🙂

Veggie Curries

Do you have foods associated with emotions? I find that moods sometimes strike me so hard that I absolutely have to make a particular dish.

I tried my first Indian food while living in Europe; a friend was living in Stockholm and she introduced me to saag paneer, which is a wonderfully spicy spinach dish with sauce and thick chunks of firm cheese called paneer. You can eat it on rice or on flatbread called naan, and I was absolutely converted from the first bite. I found where the Indian neighborhood in Madrid was, and began visiting frequently for a curry, or going into the local markets there for jars of spices – tikka masala simmer sauces or jalfrezi curry, whatever looked good and not so spicy that it would burn my tongue.

At the time, I lived on the outskirts of the city with roommates who were both flight attendants, and so I was alone a lot. I wasn’t unhappy, exactly, but I was not accompanied, and I do so dearly love to be accompanied even in the simple things in life. This summer, at least at moments, I feel the same way: Husband works and I am home writing and preparing for the next school year, and we don’t know enough people in our town yet to have frequent friends over just to be around. So when I’m seized with loneliness, I turn to the same thing I did in Spain: put a big pan on the stove, chop enough peppers, tomatoes, onions, and even celery to fill the pan halfway, sizzle it with a big pat of butter, and then pour a spicy mix in on top. When I’m feeling luxurious, I mix in cream or yogurt to make it a creamy curry, but mostly I try to make it all spice and veggie.

I also made some fluffy versions of naan to eat with the curry this weekend, which turned out well – some of the puffiest yeast bread I’ve been able to make, which is funny given that naan is usually pretty flat. When I was done cleaning up after that meal, I felt better – not less alone, exactly, but filled up. Also, when I fed it all to Husband later on, his excitement was gratifying. He’s loved Indian food much longer than I have, and given that I tend to be a spice wimp, a spicy curry is welcome in his book.

So, enough stalling – time to get back to work on the novel; my characters work on a farm in the future, so I keep food in mind while I write. Do comment and let me know what foods you like to eat by yourself, or to make you think of others and not feel alone?

51. J’s Hot Chicken Casserole

Lately, I’ve been interspersing a lot of blog-found recipes with the last few RSVP-card recipes, but this one has been on my mind since I got it. I was worried that Husband would not eat it, for his dislike of mayonnaise in general and chicken salad in particular, but when he glanced at the recipes I had left a few days ago, I decided to go with it.

This recipe is so classic midwestern, and it was the recipe given to me by my Husband’s grandmother J. She is perhaps the person I’m closest to in his family, because when we were dating he spent about 8 months living with her, so all my visits to him also involved visiting her. We would occasionally go out just him and I, but the majority of our time during those visits were spent with J, baking cookies or watching silly television or lighting a fire in the back porch chiminea and staying up late. She’s one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met, and when she moved away, I really missed her a lot. We still see her a few times a year, but I am amused by how much I would be happy just hanging out at her house most weekends. Recently, she gave me some hand-me-downs from her years as a teacher, and it is a nice feeling to put on her professional clothes and feel reminded of her presence. I get compliments on them all the time – so grandmother-in-law hand-me-downs must be pretty stylish!

I was skeptical because this recipe didn’t have any chicken in it, and now that I’ve made it I would definitely add some shredded chicken breast to it, but I wanted to try it exactly the way that J made it (for once!) and it was still pretty delicious. The water chestnuts make it a really interesting texture, crunchy without being super crispy, and the mayo and cheese really meld well together to me (even Husband didn’t mind the background taste of mayo). We’ve been using it as a side dish for a few days now because it made quite a big dish, and just like the hand-me-downs, it reminds me of J and makes me want to go visit her all the time. I hope to see her again soon.

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GoSun Fun: Kettle Corn Popcorn?

So, I enjoy the combo of sweet and salty, and kettle corn does that quite admirably. When I looked on the GoSun Community Kitchen page, I saw that popcorn is doable in the GoSun, despite also coming with a caution: you need to put a small amount of kernels in there to leave space for the expansion. I could handle that, so I whipped up some butter, cinnamon, and sugar and coated the kernels in it, and slid the tube into the GoSun on a blazing summer day.

The results were… well, not spectacular. The sugar burnt before the kernels popped, but I have to tell you: kneeling beside your solar cooker while you hear corn pop inside the tube is pretty amazing. I am once again stunned that someone figured out how to make such an elegant, simple no-fuel cooker.

However. Don’t put the sugar on the corn before you make it, okay? I stopped the process early (as you can see by all the unpopped kernels) but it was working, just burning pretty bad; I knew I had a hard job of cleaning the tube even with the level of char I’d already gotten.

So I call this a mistake, but it does reveal a pretty amazing capacity inside that vacuum tube! Will be back to regular, stove-top foods for a little while though; back to the GoSun later in the week. 🙂

50. T’s Chicken Salad

Things don’t always go the way I expect them to. This morning, I expected yet another day of sunny skies and instead, a soggy day rolled in. When we were 17 and  T and I played on rival sides of an ultimate frisbee game, I expected she wouldn’t even want to talk to me because I’d been such an obnoxious guard. When T and I became each other’s long-distance friends for the next 10 years, I couldn’t have predicted that either.

So when, this week, months after the wedding, an email from T revealed a recipe for chicken salad, I had to give it a shot. I’ll start out by saying: I don’t like chicken salad. I always find it cloying and full of flavors that don’t mesh. Granted, I’ve never made it myself, and I’m sure that making it myself would allow for a lower input of mayonnaise, which would make me far happier with it, but it’s exactly the possible serendipity, the chance that it could be delicious, that made me give it a chance. With T, you really never know.

T’s recipe reads more like a poem than a recipe, but I promise it’s worth at least considering her style before you return to your old standard, because let me say, I ate myself silly on this stuff, smeared on cracked pepper crackers while looking out at the rain. It’s worth your trouble. This is the same T who once made biscuits for me purely from feel, with no measuring, so I encourage you to unleash your “inner T” when it comes to measurements, and try to feel the right chicken salad out.

Roast (or let the crockpot do the work) a couple of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts with your favorite marinade and whatever chicken-lovin’ herbs you have in the garden. I used rosemary, parsley, oregano.  Let it cool down, and take the meat off the bone, handshredded is best to make sure you don’t have any bones or other skin or fat that you wouldn’t want to eat.  Add a stalk of celery, chopped (I like more, but good to start with just one and keep adding); half of a red delicious or some other sweet crunchy apple chopped; more poppy seeds and black pepper than you would think you need; toasted pecans chopped; and a slice or two of red onion chopped very fine.  Stir in enough Duke’s mayonnaise with some pan drippings, if you dare, to hold it together.  This is Mom’s voice: “”If you like chicken salad, It will make you do the happy dance.”  Duke’s mayo is a must.  Freshly ground pepper is best.  Let it sit in the fridge overnight so the flavors marinade.  
Serve with anything: make a sandwich on wheat with spinach, croissant if you are feeling fancy, any crackers you like, celery stalks, the rest of the apple, romaine lettuce leaf and roll it up.  Yum.  Make a little bit at a time and make it often.  Pairs great with fresh tomatoes out of the garden cut up with pepper on them.
The main counsel I completely ignored was letting it marinade overnight, but there is some left, so tomorrow I’ll get that glorious aspect. Whatever happens, it will probably be different from your expectations, and it might be worth reveling in that for a little while.

49. Crockpot Pork Chops with Rhubarb, Peppers, and Onion

A while back, when I asked for crockpot recipes, I got the wonderful suggestion from The Wiser Shopper (click here for the recipe!) to make Pork chops with apples and onions based on a Martha Stewart recipe. The idea sounds like one of my favorite combinations of sweet and savory, so I filed it away as a great option but didn’t remember it until this week.

This week, in particular, I had a lot of leftover rhubarb from the farmer’s market, so I thought I’d adapt the recipe by subbing a little bit of apple sauce and a lot of chopped rhubarb in the recipe. I threw all the other ingredients into the slow cooker for the whole day, and by evening, there was… well, the same brownish stuff that comes out of a lot of slow cooker recipes, but man oh man! When we sat down to eat, it was some kind of delicious.

The pork was moist and the sauce was tart and savory and multi-layered. I fried some homefries to go with it, which turned out to be the perfect contrast to the softness of the meat and veggies, and overall, I was really pleased. I added one other thing, which was a spicy barbeque sauce, a generous glopping on top of the ingredients at the beginning of the process. The spice was essential, because I think the whole thing would have turned out overly sweet otherwise.

Thanks Wise Shopper for sharing your recipe – it made a regular old Monday night extra special and delicious.

Coffee, and Sustaining Foods

It’s summer, so I’ve been trying to cook and write more while I have a reprieve from work. I’m luckier than most – two months when I don’t have to commute in and spend my 8-5 at work. I’m grateful, and trying to get a lot of work done. In the picture, you can see chapters of my book printed out on notebook paper so that I can shuffle them up, put them into a binder, and then shuffle them again. I write in a chaotic way, and having the ability to move scenes easily from one spot to another keeps me from throwing my hands up and walking away.

Lately, a primary food group has been coffee: I usually drink it black, but this morning I’m nursing a cup of milky, sweet coffee and trying to figure out how to bridge two scenes, one very emotional and one very action packed. Coffee doesn’t really nourish me – gotta get some actual nutrient-filled breakfast here in a bit, but it feels nourishing – it makes me feel sharper and more awake, more adequate to the task of writing a novel.

Even though vegetables are not my favorite food group, eating a big fluffy salad can also be one of my sustaining foods. It makes me feel full without feeling heavy and sleepy – pair it with coffee, and I am ready to face the many tasks that have cropped up this summer.

What foods do you make to feel strong and sustained, to go into battle with the daily difficulties and the long-term projects in your life? Coffee is essential for a lot of us, but I’m sure there are other foods that make you feel this way. Let me know, and who knows? I might try to make them in order to get through a couple more chapters. 🙂