Salmon for health and delicious eats!

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Husband and I have changed small things about our eating habits over the years, but the big one has been adding in a little fish where we were eating pretty much no fish. I’ve become a big fan of salmon in particular; while it is especially good with a delicious butter and garlic sauce, it’s also a really rich, fatty fish on its own. You can eat your salmon with a pile of greens and still feel like you had a rich and filling meal, usually without feeling stuffed.

We made a really tasty pistachio salmon during Whole30, but this one was a grilled salmon from a restaurant, and thinking about it today makes me want the weather to improve so that I can get outside and grill a fillet. One recipe I really want to try as well is this one; will write again when I actually get around to trying it! I love maple as a flavor, and I’m excited to explore it on main dishes rather than just pancakes: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/maple-glazed-salmon-0

A Single Piece of Ham

My boss is one of the people who initially inspired me to try Whole30. She takes it seriously in a way that I sometimes find intimidating; basically, she thinks that as participants in Whole30, we owe it to ourselves to stick with the program. She’s never going to shame someone for not sticking with Whole30; it’s more like she wants people to treat themselves to the real experience. She gave me my first RX bar, a clean-food energy bar that many Whole30-ers and Paleo folks swear by.

One thing that I realized, though, is that there are certain foods that Whole30 participants should be able to have, but current popular methods of production simply don’t make. A good example would be sausage or ham; both of these foods don’t need to have added sugar in order to be delectable, but pretty much all commercially available kinds do. So the other day, my boss walked into my office and gave me a single piece of ham in a plastic baggie. It looked pretty ordinary, and I looked at her with amusement, ready to hear a hilarious story.

It wasn’t hilarious though – she told me how she’d found uncured, no sugar added ham at a local market from a nearby farm. She was so excited to find ham that was still in a reasonable price range that supported local farmers, that she wanted to share that excitement with me. Instead of being amused, I was really excited.

I think that the presence of so many “celebration” foods at our fingertips may have had an unfortunate side effect; as Americans, we have a hard time seeing almost any food as rare or special. When you choose to make a lifestyle choice, like eating less added sugars or trying to buy more locally produced products, you create a kind of scarcity. This scarcity does lead to more expense most of the time, and often a little confusion or frustration at social gatherings where folks don’t share your passion, but it also leads to moments like this: someone found the hard-to-find item you were looking for, and shared it with you. I’ve seen this look when I made gluten-free cornbread instead of regular cornbread for a dinner with a friend who cannot have gluten without feeling wretched; it’s an opportunity to be there for someone. I still appreciate people who are flexible on their food intake, because it does make hostessing less stressful, but the opportunity to give someone exactly what will nourish them? That’s a pretty special gift.

A Note About WordAds and ads on blogs (repost)

This is a repost, but I think it is still important; I still have ads, but still make almost nothing off of them, and I still think people have the right to like, dislike, block, or avoid ads on blogs to their hearts’ content.

I wanted to address a blogging issue that might come up for some of you – the possibility that ads will show up in a blog. The way that WordPress.com works, with my membership here, means that I cannot control whether ads show up. If you’ve seen ads on my blog for the past 10 months, it was beyond my choice.

Just recently, however, I was offered a small share of that revenue generated by ads, through the WordAds program. I don’t anticipate making much money because this blog still has a small readership, but I would ask something: when you are reading personal blogs that have ads, especially food blogs that are nicer than mine and have better photos and recipe cards and all of that, please don’t turn your ad-blocker on. This isn’t about me or my blog; it’s about the community of food bloggers.

It’s been an issue I’ve been reading about, and it seems that nearly 40% of ads gets blocked by ad blockers – obviously, I understand people not wanting to see ads, but they also often get to read many interesting things on the internet for free, things that would be less useful if no one was paid to write them. My blog is not among these: I write for fun, and I haven’t invested a lot of money into cameras and hosting and other costs of blogging. But for professional bloggers, watching those ads (or at least ignoring them without blocking them!) seems like a kind way to show your appreciation for the site, and that you want them to be able to continue doing it.

My thoughts on this subject are still developing, but you know already if you read this blog that I’m always thinking about how we form communities, usually around food and family and friends and recipes. I want to be the kind of blog reader that I would want reading my own blog, and I think that might mean (gulp) not running my ad blocker. Have you all seen other models of running a blog that allow us to support those whose work we appreciate, maybe without having to view ads? I hope that is the direction that blogs are headed, but I really don’t know; I just know that I want others to be able to turn their successful blogs into long-term, large-scale work for themselves and their readerships.

All that being said, if you notice something that isn’t functioning because of ads, or if you see an ad that offends you, let me know here in the comments – I want to make sure WordAds is working for my readers, as far as ads in a blog ever can work for readers.

The Ultimate Decadence: Baked Brie Bites

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One really decadent food kept coming to me while we were on Whole30 – I’m sure everyone while on this journey has something of the kind. I wanted baked brie: I wanted the flaky crust, toasted but still buttery, with the pooling, near-liquid cheese on the inside, with it’s characteristic sweet and strange tang. I knew this wasn’t something I wanted twice; I knew one time would be enough to put it to bed. As we were shopping for veggies at one point, I saw a prepared baked brie with a heart shape on top that you could take home and bake for valentine’s day – it was 15 dollars. It was in my mind this weekend as I shopped.

Instead of a 15 dollar perfect brie, Husband and I improvised: a small wedge of brie for 2.50 and a pie crust on sale for 50 cents. we cut pieces of crust, heated up the oven, and cut lumps of brie to wrap up in the crust. After this weekend, we’re returning to near-Whole30 for a lot of our meals, trying to jam-pack our lives with veggies and fruit, but this was our splurge (among a lot of others): these perfect little bites.

We tried them with three toppings: I put a tiny pat of almond butter on one, a smear of crystallized honey on another, and a dusting of rosemary and garlic on the last. I like savory, so that last one thrilled me, but the others were delightful too, and fully satisfied my craving. Sometimes that’s what you need – a long week and a long, lingering head cold left me there, feeling nothing but gratitude for cheese and crust, even as I know that I’m about to dive back in to the piles of celery and cucumber and bell peppers. I recommend wrapping bits of brie in pie crust any day you need this too!

Strawberries and Cream (Cheese) Pancakes!

IMG_5143.JPGSaturday morning has been like the breath after a storm lately, the only time of the week when I don’t notice how long I am working on something, or how long I have to get up and get ready and go go go. This morning, I googled pancake recipes (I liked mine but didn’t love it, so I recommend just going with your favorite; I do recommend lots of vanilla extract and butterscotch flavoring if you have it!), heated frozen strawberries, and added dots of cream cheese to each warm pancake. I will say, I’ve been really impressed with “white whole wheat flour” (I have King Arthur brand, but I haven’t tried any others yet) – it makes the recipe a little grittier and darker than average whole wheat flour, but still works up with the consistency of white flour. It’s a good compromise, especially for Husband who does not deal with whole wheat well.

These pancakes, let me tell you. It wasn’t fancy, or beautiful (I attached a picture pretty much just to show how non-romantic my photos were) – I was honestly quite grouchy and unpleasant, and Husband did the thing where he went fairly quiet and fairly upbeat just to weather my mood. But man, the combination of sweet and tart fruit, wholesome pancakes, and just a rich morsel of cream cheese will melt even the most stubborn giant.

Pancakes, even when they are a little charred with the first batch as the pan gets going, are a little like love, which has on my mind with Valentine’s coming. It’s our second Valentine’s in marriage, and while I still feel like I’m learning constantly, I’m starting, very slowly, to see that this is what life is: messy, requires adjustment, but is so surprisingly sweet so often. I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have him around me, to have him weather the days with me. I love that he delves into his food and grins and says “good pancakes, hon” and asks me what I want to do today. Messy, but unbelievably sweet.

6 Recent Kitchen Staples

I haven’t been very innovative in my cooking lately, but these 6 things get me through the busy weeks with my sanity intact. What 6 things make your kitchen function?

  1. frozen chicken breasts – It’s simple, no-bone meat, but it tastes good quickly or in a crockpot recipe, which saves me when there’s no time to develop something or choose a meat with finicky needs for cooking.
  2. canned tomatoes – I love the bounty of fresh summer tomatoes, but in the winter, I just have to stock more cans of tomatoes and tomato paste than I expect to need, because making up a pasta sauce or a curry is a fast way to add a lot of veggies, warmth, and spice into my life.
  3. Cut cucumbers, celery, carrots, and peppers – The amount of good veggies I eat is pretty much proportional to how many I have on hand, washed, and cut. This means taking some time at the beginning of the week to get them into shape, but it definitely pays off when the veggies are handy at the vulnerable, late-afternoon moments when I’m trying to decide whether to get fast food or wait for dinner.
  4. Sparkling water – I never thought I’d be a flavored sparkling water fan, but I really like it – it’s not sweet, and doesn’t even have artificial sweetness, but it is just different enough from drinking plain water to feel special. I’ve substituted it for most of my idle wine, soda, and juice consumption, saving those three for special occasions instead.
  5. Whole bean coffee – It just goes without saying that having a tasty hot beverage at the ready is important, but Husband has convinced me that it’s worth the minutes of grinding the beans to have a cup of coffee that just explodes with flavor.
  6. Kale – for kale chips! They crisp up so fast and I can eat a whole bundle of kale in a sitting this way, with little more than a dash of olive oil and salt to season it.

There are obviously many other things in my kitchen, but these are the basics on which all the others depend. What are yours?

Why Bread?

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My first return to the New best bread ever – easy-to-make Peasant Bread recipe after Whole30 yielded a gorgeous loaf, with all the caramelizing edge of the bowl from the real, non-clarified butter used to make it. I’ve been eating it with goat cheese as my breakfasts and yes, that is the farthest thing from “continuing Whole30” but after today or tomorrow, it will be gone. I’m still figuring out how to do this, you know…

I read an article the other day about how there is a gentleman who bakes lots of bread and gives it out, still warm, to all his neighbors. I feel like this would be my favorite thing; I want to spend a whole day baking, rotating loaves from rising into the oven and wrapping them up and taking them to the people nearby. At the very least, I like bringing a warm loaf to a party, where it can be sliced up and eaten before it even has a chance to get cold (though, truth be told, peasant bread sets up over night and is easier to slice and toast the next day! magic, I tell you.) I know that a lot of folks have been realizing that sugar and gluten are messing with their insides, not really nourishing them, but oh, how I like the way a piece of bread feels. The nourishment is psychological, in this case.

To this end, I’m embarking on an experiment – gulp – I’m going to try to find a gluten-free bread that I enjoy making and eating. Rising is a whole other animal when you are not using wheat flour, but I can work through it, and I’ve got a few bags of “alternative flours” anyway that need to stop gathering dust (or providing dust?) in my cabinets. Wish me luck, and think “peasant bread” thoughts at me, so that maybe my loaves of less-unhealthy breads will be so good that I want to share them too!

Super Bowl (of Fluff): Browned Butter Rice Krispies!

It’s funny how a break from all sweets can make you appreciate really good ones. On Friday, I tried a morsel of catering-company rice cereal treat – it was not bad, not at all, but it reminded me of how wonderful the treats made in my Mom’s kitchen were, hunching over a saucepan full of butter and slowly melting marshmallows. I immediately wanted one of those perfect treats, but how to get just one?

The answer came the next day in the fact that we’re going to a Super Bowl party, and I needed something to bring anyway to share! With a lot of health conscious people at work, it never feels right to make a treat like this and just abandon it in the break room, but for a “holiday” like the Super Bowl, I don’t know anyone who makes their meal a health-focused one.

I love browned butter and find it to be a slightly deeper flavor, so I used this recipe instead of the one on the cereal box itself. Tiny specks of brown flecked the melting marshmallow mix, but otherwise, I really couldn’t taste a difference when the whole thing was finished – the truth is that the sweetness of rice crispy cereal is really overpowering! Delicious, sure, but made me excited to return to the calmer fruit-based sweets I’ve been focused on this month.

My boss has pointed out, and it’s been hard to hear, that with Whole30, no one “does it to you. You do it for yourself, so a cheat day is a cheat of yourself.” I have never thought of my health as “for me” – it was always so that I wouldn’t worry those who mattered to me, or leave them with the burden of my care. Whole30, even the triumphant reintroduction of some of my favorite foods, really has made me realize it affects me, and health is for me. Choosing to eat, say, just one rice crispy treat instead of a whole pile of them, is a weird and not-natural thing for me, but doing it has to be the way I respond if I start to take seriously that health is for me!

 

Whole30 in the books

Husband and I have completed Whole30! He’s been more committed than I have to the process of reintegration, whereby you add a single item back to your diet (legumes, sugar, dairy, etc.) every 3 days to see how those things make you feel. I went a little overboard and tried a lot of things in only two days and ended up feeling TERRIBLE. I’ve gone back on mostly veggies and fruits and meats, and I cannot tell you how much better it makes me feel.

I think I got lulled into the month long change and figured that my iron-stomach would return instantly after the break from gluten and cheese, but I was incorrect. It turns out, my body thrives on whole foods, and my mood and energy level is so dependent now on eating well! I am realizing that I cannot go back to the doubt and disappointment in myself that came with eating whatever looked tastiest. It’s a hard decision, but I think I’m going to become basically all-Whole30 for the meals in my life that I have control over, be they at work or at home.

With restaurants, parties, and social events, it’s worth a little languor to participate, to not be fussy, and to sample the wonderful foods that others make and share with me. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t aim myself toward the healthiest options, because I’m realizing that the full-life feeling I’ve been having lately, where there seem to never be enough hours in the day, is only sustainable if I’m also aiming to feel 100% whenever I can. I don’t have time for a mid-afternoon slump, and no amount of coffee can create the clear head that a good, veggie and protein rich lunch can.

I’m still not convinced that everyone needs Whole30 (lots of people seem to have the moderate-consumption-of-unhealthy-food thing down!) but I have been convinced that it is working for me. The one deliberate add in I’m excited about is alternate proteins, including beans, quinoa, and tofu, because I am a little sick of meat at so many meals! It’s a little more sustainable and I never seem to overeat on quinoa, so it’s an adaptation that works quite well for me. 🙂

Crispy Hash Browns

When I make hash browns, they tend to be sorta soggy and fall apart, so I looked at a lot of online suggestions for avoiding this problem, and I came to this strategy:

  • I grate the potatoes onto a big paper towel.
  • I squeeze them out, trying to get as much water out of them as I can.
  • I put them on a big plate that is microwave-safe, and microwave them for 2 minutes while heating oil on the stove.
  • I fry them without moving them until I can peel up the edge and see that they are getting brown. I try to keep a wide, thin layer and if possible, flip them all together.
  • Once both sides are getting crispy, I try to scatter them so that more of the middles get a crispy edge on them. This part is my own choice though, so you totally don’t have to!
  • On Whole30, you can serve them with onions, tomato, avocado, etc. and of course some bacon if you are into that.

Hashbrowns bring me back to my favorite meal, and make me feel pretty normal in the midst of a very clean-eating month!