Archive | April, 2012

On Going Vegetarian

30 Apr

We’ve done it. My little family has decided to try going vegetarian.* We don’t plan on being super strict about it; we’ll still end up eating meat for special occasion meals, when we’re eating at a friend’s home, or when we’re visiting my family in the Land of Fried Chicken. What I eat is my choice, and, life-threatening allergies aside (of which I am lucky to have none), I don’t think anyone should have to accommodate the personal decisions I make.

I also really, really, really love a good filet mignon about once a year.

In a way it’s a big relief. I have thousands of pages of cookbooks, and it’s been nice to revisit a few and simply be able to skip over entire chapters. Cutting down on options isn’t the worst thing when we’re struggling to get a dinner on the table. It will, however, mean learning some new kitchen skills. I have no idea how to approach a block of tofu, and I can see myself relying too heavily on pasta dishes. My husband and I do have different opinions on how often beans can make an appearance and how many pizza nights are reasonable, so we’re both going to have to be open-minded about trying recipes we otherwise would have ignored.

Our primary motivation for going vegetarian is health rather than ethics. I do think an overhaul of commercial agriculture and animal husbandry is…necessary, to put it mildly. But let’s call it like it is: not going to happen anytime soon. Maybe not even in my lifetime. Agribusiness has a stranglehold on our food supply, and cash-strapped families aren’t going to stop buying frozen Cargill beef patties anytime soon.

My husband and I are fortunate enough to live in a large city where farmer’s markets are a big deal, and we have what we call the Whole Foods Death Star just a 20 minute walk away. We can get humanely raised meat and seasonal local vegetables anytime we want. Ninety percent of our groceries come from Trader Joe’s–I know, I know, Joe has some skeletons in his closet too, but they don’t call it Whole Paycheck for nothing. Fish is tricky, what with the mercury and overfishing, but there are good resources to help identify the best options (Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, to name one.)

The bottom line is that my family could be pretty groovy carnivores. But even though we live a fairly low-impact life as it is–no car, recycle everything we can, laundry always on the cold cycle, green cleaning products, etc.–we can do better, and a primarily vegetarian lifestyle is just one more tiny step.

*lacto-ovo, which I consider legitimate vegetarianism, but I know many folks do not.


23 Apr

This spring I decided to get serious about gardening. Container gardening, to be specific. I live on the top floor of a two flat, so my gardening options are limited to whatever I can fit in pots on the small back porch. Fortunately both the porch and the apartment in general get a lot of  morning and afternoon light. I have a beloved houseplant that I’ve kept alive for going on seven years, and the basil I purchased at a farmer’s market last summer did well, so I’m optimistic. So optimistic that I decided to start my plants from seed.

I planted lettuce, basil, oregano, arugula, miniature cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and jalapeño peppers. The cucumbers, peppers, and herbs are going strong, but I have a feeling I’ll end up purchasing tomato starts once the farmer’s market opens. (NEXT WEEKEND! THE EXCITEMENT!) I ignored the look on my husband’s face when I showed him the pots I wanted to buy for these sprouts (they’re huge, truly) and I”m hoping that once I get everything in the tomatoes and lettuce will look a bit sturdier. My seed tray is shallow, and I think the roots have reached their limit. I’m also going to purchase a few herb starts and put those in with the seedlings, since, well, I’m impatient and I’m going to want to make salsa before July.

I’m lucky that I live near some of Chicago’s largest green spaces, but the parks, even along the lakefront, are no replacement for the fields I was used to growing up in central Illinois. It’s going to be several more years (if ever) before I live in the kind of home where a backyard stuffed with seeds and plants and flowering trees will be possible. Seeing the little green bits popping up on my windowsill has been comforting, in a way.

So for now I’m going to fuss over my sprouts, make my husband haul home bags of dirt from the hardware store, and help that houseplant see its eighth birthday.

On Breakfast

23 Apr

My husband and I recently sat down to talk about our eating habits. We both have weekday schedules that make sitting down to home-cooked, healthy meals a challenge. But after taking a serious look at our current roster of go-to meals, and the amount of money we spend on takeout, we decided to spend a few hours coming up with a plan.

I’ve always been the chef in the relationship. I’m good at it, and I love feeding people. But this year of graduate school has basically taken over my life, and I’m down to cooking an interesting meal maybe once every two weeks. My husband’s comfort zone ends at oatmeal, fried eggs, and guacamole (but the guacamole is fantastic). He is, however, dedicated to branching out. Basically, we had to come up with a system that allows us both to contribute to better diets in sustainable ways. For my husband, we started with identifying a handful of simple, healthy recipes that he can get comfortable with and put into regular rotation when it’s his night to cook. He’s already introduced me to quinoa, a food that I had never heard of until my mid-20s (let alone knew how to pronounce).

For my part, I decided to start with breakfast. I am a sucker for baked goods. I can leave a bag of candy alone all day, but a plate of brownies will be gone by bedtime. Plus, while the lemon poppyseed muffins from the coffee shop around the corner are tasty, they are huge and I shudder to think how many calories are hiding in there. So it seemed logical to look into baked goods that I could 1) eat knowing I’m getting a balanced amount of calories, fat, fiber, and protein, and 2) portion out in ways that will keep me from eating the whole batch. I found the answer in my latest indulgence in my cookbook-buying addiction: Moosewood Restaurant: Cooking for Health.

So, without further ado, I bring you Banana Breakfast Muffins*

  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used greek-style 2%)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats

Beat the wet ingredients until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined. Gently fold in the berries. Portion out into 12 muffin cups and sprinkle with oats. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.

* Adapted slightly. Moosewood called for nonfat yogurt and wheat germ rather than flax, but I’m a big believer in adjusting to what I have on hand. I also added the oat topping, just because I love oats and I thought it would look nice.

* Second revision: I mixed in a heaping 1/4 cup of oats and added a scant 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce, as I found the first batch just a little dry.


An Introduction

23 Apr

Hello reader! (Or readers, if we’re going to be optimistic.)

A brief introduction: I’m 28, a resident of the wonderful city of Chicago, a soon-to-be graduate of a masters in writing program (anyone hiring?), a newlywed, and a follower of many, many food blogs. And therein lies the question: what’s going to make my blog different from all the other blogs written by young, writerly, urban women who love desserts?

I don’t know!

But I hope you’ll give it a shot. As this blog evolves, I’ll post not just my kitchen adventures but also about things like healthy living in general, the challenges of being a humanities person in a technology-centered world, the lovely craziness that is marriage, and why I think the Oxford comma is necessary.

I hope you’ll stick around for the experiment.