Archive | June, 2012

On Summers

21 Jun

Today is the first full day of summer for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. And whooooo boy can you tell. But I’m not going to complain, no ma’am. I spend all winter (and late fall, and most of spring) whining about how cold I am to anyone who will listen. So when summer comes I feel obligated to keep my mouth shut. Mostly.

Every summer I make a mental list of things I want to do before the days shorten again. I rarely do any of them, and then when September rolls around I feel like I failed at summer. (Yes, in my world I can fail at a whole season.) My stomach sinks a little when I start seeing Fourth of July themed recipes all over the internet, and by the time I see ads for back-to-school sales I’m really bummed.

But this summer will be different, oh yes. This summer my list will be right here on the blog, and I’ll update as I make progress.

Summer 2012 at Sticky Green Leaves

  • make a lattice crust pie – DONE!
  • make a fruit galette
  • go to the Green City Market at least a few times
  • go here for dinner—the back patio in summer is the best thing ever
  • attend a free concert in Millennium Park
  • drink mojitos on the porch
  • take some sort of weekend trip to some sort of place – BOOKED! 
  • picnic in Lincoln Park
  • walk the lakefront path from our place to Grant Park (5 miles) – Almost! We did the reverse with a route that comes in at 4 miles. And it was our second 3+ mile walk in a week – not bad!
  • make honey & lavender ice cream

Now, some of these items require the participation of certain other parties. But according to this list I am making several desserts, so I think we can work something out.

View from my table at the Printers Row Lit Fest, June 2011

Sprouts! Update and a Recipe

19 Jun

My container garden is doing really, really well. I didn’t lose anything to transplant shock, and, after an early attack on the seedlings before I planted them, the starlings that nest in the roof beams of the porch have left everything alone (though I do get an earful from mother bird whenever I go out to water).

This is my first attempt at growing anything from seed, and I’m pretty proud of my work–work that began way back in early April. The tomatoes especially–from tiny seeds to sturdy plants that seem to get bigger every day. The jalapeño peppers and basil are doing well too, as are the two cucumber plants that survived the bird raid. I’m not sure about the lettuce yet–it’s growing, but it’s hard to imagine such delicate leaves turning into anything I can use for a salad, unless I go the trendy microgreens route.

I did decide to buy my perennial herbs from the garden center. I had oregano from seed, but apparently oregano seedlings are a bird delicacy. In addition to the oregano, I have thyme, lavender, and rosemary. The downside to purchasing was that I couldn’t find the particular varieties I wanted (Mexican rather than Mediterranean oregano, for example). But on the upside, these plants are large enough to cut from, so last night’s dinner featured our favorite salsa with oregano from our very own backyard. (Fine, our porch. Semantics).

Cherry Tomatoes

Thyme, peppers, and lavender

Lavender Buds

Roasted Salsa

With the exception of the onion, all the vegetables in this salsa are roasted, giving it a deep, rich flavor. It’s a nice contrast to a bright pico de gallo if you’re looking for variety.

  • 1 can roasted diced tomatoes (Muir Glen won our household taste test)
  • 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 jalapeño peppers
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1/3 cup chopped oregano*
  • 1 lime
  • kosher or sea salt

Place the diced onion into whatever bowl you’ll use for the finished product. In a skillet, roast the garlic and peppers over medium high heat until black spots develop. When cool enough to handle, slice off one end of the cloves and squeeze the softened garlic into a blender. Core and seed the jalapeños and cut into chunks. Add to the blender, and give it a few pulses to chop the peppers and garlic. Add the can of tomatoes and pulse until it reaches your preferred consistency.

Pour the contents of the blender into the bowl with the onions and stir to combine. Season to taste with lime juice and salt–I use at least half the lime and a four-finger pinch of kosher salt. Gently stir in the oregano.

When tomatoes are in season later this summer, I’m going to try roasted them myself. This will either go very well or very badly.

* Cilantro is of course the herb of choice for salsa, but I really recommend trying the oregano even if you’re not a cilantro hater like me. If you can find the Mexican variety, all the better. I wouldn’t use dried herbs in this recipe unless I was really desperate.

Oregano and Thyme

Conscious Box: June 2012, Part II

17 Jun

June Conscious Box, Part II

Artisana: Organic Cashew Butter
So I have a thing about nuts. Basically, I don’t eat them. I’m not allergic, and I never bother asking the Thai takeout place to leave the peanuts off my pad thai, but I will pick around them. However, I do like the flavor of most nuts. Walnuts in brownies causes me great sadness, but if you somehow made a walnut-flavored brownie, I could get on board with that. Long story short: I have never eaten a cashew, nor had I tried cashew butter. And now I know that I don’t like cashews. I will say that the butter was very creamy and not at all gritty like some minimally processed nut butters.

kō denmark: Jasmine Neroli Rose Body Lotion
I’m not a big fan of jasmine, so I’m not the best person to evaluate this product. Coconut oil is a primary ingredient, and felt a little more like I’d moisturized with a light body oil that a lotion. It wasn’t greasy and it absorbed well, but it’s not something I’d try again.

Savvy Bohème: Allons-Y! Natural Deodorant
Last year I decided to switch from traditional antiperspirant deodorant to plain old deodorant. I’m not convinced about a connection between aluminum and breast cancer or Alzheimer disease, but 1) I never felt like antiperspirants were that effective anyway, and 2) bodies are designed to sweat, so why not let them. So I went to Whole Foods and bought about a billion different deodorants, from Tom’s (fail) to those crystals (bigger fail). I finally settled on Lavanila’s Healthy Deodorant. It’s expensive, but it actually worked.

The expensive reign of Lavanila might be over. I’ve been using the Savvy Bohème sample for a few days, and I love it. I even did a comparison test for a day. (Such dedication!) It’s not cheap, but it’s still less than Lavanila, and I like the idea of buying from small business owners when I can. Bonus points for the 10th Doctor reference.

Natural Newborn: Bug Stopper Soap
As a city dweller, I don’t have much need for insect repellent. I’ll try it if we end up going to a concert or something in the park this summer, but that would mean remembering to lather up before we leave, and, well…It smells nice, though—like citronella, which I expected, but more lemony.

Nuti-Masu Life Ocean Salt
Apparently this salt is very popular in Japan (it comes exclusively from the water around Okinawa) and is just beginning to make headway over here. It’s a very fine, fluffy powder rather than granules or crystals, which is something I’d never seen before. The flavor is less aggressively salty than table or kosher salt, and I could see using it on something delicate like fish or in a salad dressing.

Natural Vitality: Energy 28
Last month’s box had a slightly different version of a Natural Vitality drink packet. That packet was essentially a liquid vitamin, whereas this formula is a “superfruit, veggie, and antioxidant blend.” I’ll probably add it to a smoothie just because it’s here, but this is one of those “can’t hurt but I’ll never seek it out” products. What is 200mg of a blend of fifteen different vegetables really going to do for me?

Soap Hope $5 off coupon
Soap Hope, an online retailer for an assortment of natural home and health products, describes itself as a “Peace Corps for money.” The company invests 100% of its profits in programs that benefit women in developing countries; after the money has spent a year “in service,” it’s returned and the next year’s profits are invested. Pretty neat. They carry well-known brands in addition to smaller companies, some of which I already use on a regular basis—I’ll probably start buying my BioKleen laundry detergent through them.

Chili For a Hot Day

15 Jun

Part II of the June Conscious Box review is on its way, but first, a story.

It’s been a long road to this chili. Not a difficult road, but a long, tasty road. You could say this is now my official chili recipe. For the first few years I lived away from home, my chili was exactly like my mom’s. Then I started experimenting with shredded chicken breast instead of ground beef. And then I started doing crazy things like adding onions and jalapenos and diced tomatoes, all of which would have caused a major revolt (led by me) in our household had my mom tried it. Finally, I ditched the chicken in favor of an all-bean recipe.

But that made for a lot of beans. A lot. And after a few rounds, my husband suggested we figure out a less bean-y version. Replacing part of the beans with carrots seemed like a good solution, but I didn’t want to use so many that it was more carrot stew than chili. Then I remembered we had a vacuum-sealed pouch of cooked lentils from Trader Joe’s hanging around. I think my husband intended them for a lentil burger experiment, but the chili was a great success and my fridge theft was thus forgiven. We couldn’t find the lentils again (this is the trouble with Trader Joe’s) so I switched to dried, which is cheaper and requires no extra effort for this particular recipe.

The best part? Using a slow cooker means a satisfying dinner and tons of leftovers without having the stove and/or oven on when it’s 85 degrees.

And that, friends, is the absolutely fascinating story of lentil chili.

Lentil & Bean Slow Cooker Chili

I should mention that I have a 7-quart slow cooker and a husband who loves leftovers, so this makes a giant batch of chili.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups brown lentils, rinsed
  • 2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes*
  • 4 cups vegetable stock*
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 5 heaping tablespoons regular chili powder (or hot, if that’s your thing–though I would probably use less)
  • 1 tablespoon ground guajillo chile**
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 generous teaspoon red chile flakes (or more, to taste)
  • healthy pinch or two of kosher salt

Method:

Dump everything into your slow cooker. Give it a stir, set the cooker to low, and come back later. Later for us usually means between five and seven hours.

I often make a pot of whole wheat macaroni to go along with the chili. Chili mac was one of my favorites growing up, and it’s a great way to stretch the batch. To avoid mushy pasta, I keep the macaroni and chili separate until ready to serve rather than mixing it all together.

Enjoy!

Notes:
* I try my best to find the low-sodium versions when I’m buying canned goods like tomatoes and stock. If you can’t, you might want to swap the stock for water and be a little more liberal with the kosher salt. It’s the sodium in processed products that’s the problem—it’s nearly impossible for a home cook to salt something enough to produce the crazy percentages we see on product labels. I hate to sound all righteous and whatnot, but if spending an hour or two making vegetable stock is something you have time for, I have discovered it’s well worth it.
** Guajillo chiles are popular in Mexican cooking. It’s not a critical element of the recipe, but since I have it on hand I use it. Ground anchos or chipotles would be another option.

Conscious Box: June 2012, Part I

13 Jun

June’s Conscious Box arrived a few days ago, and, like the first, it did not disappoint. Here’s the first set of reviews, with more to follow shortly!

Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake
I tried this as my breakfast this morning. The Vanilla Chai flavor isn’t bad—a little vanilla, a little spice, but still that underlying “health shake” taste. The formula also includes a “greens blend” with chlorella, so there’s an unappealing greenish brown tinge to it. The first thing I noticed was that it’s much less gritty than other protein drinks, a big plus for those who favor mixing it with water rather than using it as a smoothie add-in. The product was developed by a vegan professional triathlete (!!!), so it’s dairy free as well as gluten and soy free. The nutritional stats are fine: it’s low calorie (135) but high in protein (15g) and fiber (6g). It also includes omega-3 EFA and 50% of the RDI for the most common vitamins and minerals. I was surprised that something so low calorie got me through to lunch, but that’s where the protein and fiber come in. It’s expensive though—about $2 per serving. If I see single-serving packets at Whole Foods, I might grab a few. I do like that it’s not soy-based like most other protein powders.

Healthy ToGo Vita Rocks
Pop rocks with vitamins! The Cherry Blast flavor wasn’t too bad, but I can’t say the same for Lemon Burst…Both left an odd aftertaste, which is to be expected with vitamins I suppose, even candy vitamins. This is a fun, novel idea, but I question the wisdom of overlapping vitamins and candy to this extent. Chewables and gummis are one thing (and maybe not great themselves) but pop rocks? I also can’t imagine wanting to take a few minutes just to eat what amounts to a single vitamin. Then again, I’m an adult, not a kid. My ten-year-old self would probably have a different opinion.

EBoost Healthy Energy Shot
I’ve never purchased any of the now-ubiquitous energy shots on the market. One or two experiences with Red Bull, during which I was convinced my heart was exploding, has kept me away from Monster drinks, energy shots, and their ilk. This particular version has 150mg caffeine (naturally occurring in the green tea extract, according to the label) and an assortment of fruit extracts and vitamins. I was thinking about trying it for the sake of science, but then I saw that this little 2 ounce shot contains 33,333% RDI of B12. Those 5 Hour Energy shots contain only 8,000% (only, ha). B vitamins and caffeine are the basis for all these energy shots, of course, but over 33,000 seems…extreme. I think I’ll pass.

LARABAR: Pecan Pie
I won’t spend too much time on this, since nearly everyone has heard of LARABARs by now. So here is my review: LARABARs are awesome.

Mighty Leaf Tea
Mighty Leaf teas are great, and I was very excited to see packets of Organic Earl Grey and Organic Spring Jasmine in this month’s box. It’s not crazy hot today, so I’ll probably make a cup of the jasmine tonight.

Coming Attractions: Kelp Krunch sesame bar (it had better be good if they think they can get away with that cutesy “K” for “C” business), Nuti-masu salt, Natural Vitality Whole Food Energizer, ko denmark lotion, Artisana cashew butter, and Savvy Boheme natural deodorant.

What’s In the Cupboard? Muffins

7 Jun

As their name suggests, I didn’t set out to make these particular muffins. These muffins are a product of their circumstances, namely the presence of overripe bananas, leftover coconut from a failed macaroon project (which I might tell you about someday, once I recover), a desire to do a little more baking before it gets too hot, and an impulse purchase of almond meal.

These muffins are not flashy or fancy; they would not get your attention at the bakery or at brunch. These are the one-dish casseroles of muffins. I don’t like my pastries particularly sweet to begin with (give me a scone over a muffin any day, and please, leave off that glaze business) and these are a nice balance between a “traditional” muffin and the bran-heavy sort you feel noble for choking down but never enjoy. I hope you enjoy these.

What’s in the Cupboard? Muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups mashed banana
  • 1/2 cup plain 2% greek yogurt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 12-muffin tin with oil (spray canola worked fine on my nonstick tin) or line with papers.

In a large bowl, stir together the banana, yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and honey. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, almond meal, flax seed, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined. Gently stir in the coconut and oatmeal.

Portion into 12 muffins cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before turning out of the tin.

Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

5 Jun

I know it’s June, which isn’t exactly sweet potato season. In my defense, I found this recipe weeks ago and it’s just been sitting on one of my Pinterest boards since then. All the ingredients are pantry staples for us too, which made for a quick and easy Sunday night dinner. For the original recipe (that is, without my “What do I actually have in the fridge?” tweaks) head over to Pinch of Yum.

Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

  • 3 large or 5 small sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 cup corn kernels (fresh is ideal, defrosted frozen is just fine)
  • Mexican seasonings to taste. The original recipe was vague here; I used 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon guajillo chile powder.
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1-2 jalepeno peppers, depending on how spicy you like things
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh mexican oregano or chives
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, jack, or queso fresco if you can find it)
  • sour cream

In a 350 degree oven, bake the sweet potatoes for 45-60 minutes, until they’re pieced easily with a fork.

In a dry skillet, roast jalepenos over medium heat until they develop black spots. When they’re cool enough to handle, core, seed, and dice them.

Add the corn to that same skillet and sprinkle with your chosen seasonings. Roast the corn over medium high heat until it begins to brown. Mix the roasted corn and diced roasted peppers with the beans and set aside.

Heat the oil (can you guess where?) and sauté the onion until soft and translucent. Mix into the bowl with the other vegetables.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them in half and scoop out the flesh, leaving the skins intact. Mash the potato and salt to taste. Stir in the corn/bean/pepper/onion mixture. Spoon the filling into the skins and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Pop the skins into the oven until the cheese is melted.

Top with the fresh herbs and a bit of sour cream.

Enjoy!