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Everybody Else Is Doing It, and So Are We

16 Aug

Quinoa, long the province of stores in which patchouli figured prominently, has gone mainstream. There are now quinoa recipes in tons of magazines and on tons of cooking websites, and not just the “crunchy” ones. Quinoa is the It food.

Honestly, I only heard of it a few years ago, and another year or so passed before someone took pity on me and told me how to pronounce it. Which is nice, because it’s now making regular appearances in our kitchen. It’s easy to cook, has a better nutritional profile than rice, and has a mild, nutty flavor that blends well with lots of other foods. It’s the blank slate of proteins: we’ve tried it with salads, chili, stir fry, and a few other things I’m forgetting. Turns out it’s pretty tasty in baked goods too.

I’ve made at least four different kinds of muffins this summer, with varying degrees of success. (Did you know that blueberry muffins can go off? Not stale–off.) My husband has been fairly indifferent to my efforts thus far–he’s more responsible than me and usually eats oatmeal for breakfast. But he was the initial champion of quinoa in our house, so I was very happy to come across this recipe for quinoa muffins. Finally, a muffin recipe that might mean I wouldn’t have to eat the whole batch myself!

The original calls for raisins, but many of the commenters on the MS site reported success with dried berries, diced dried apricots, or chopped nuts. I was doing a mental inventory of our dried fruit stash, but then I read a comment that suggested using chocolate chips “so the kids will eat them.”

“Screw the kids,” I thought. “I like chocolate too!”*

So I biffed the “healthy” profile a little with the chocolate, but I did tweak the recipe to use less sugar, went with almond milk instead of whole milk, and I replaced half of the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat. My muffins look darker than those on the MS site because I decided to chop the chocolate a little, figuring that the tiniest bits of chocolate would melt when mixed with the still-warm quinoa. They did, so I ended up with a slightly chocolatey batter with larger chips throughout. I also ended up with muffins that I didn’t have to eat all by myself. Success!

Quinoa Muffins

  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups flour (all purpose, or a combination of white whole wheat, wheat, etc. )
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mix-ins: raisins, dried berries, chopped nuts, or chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup milk (dairy or unsweetened almond)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil or similar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour or place muffin papers in a 12-cup tin.

Bring the quinoa and water to boil in a medium saucepan. Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10-12 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Measure out 2 cups cooked quinoa and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and mix-ins. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk, egg, oil, and vanilla.

Gently stir to incorporate the cooked quinoa into the flour mixture. Pour the milk mixture into the bowl and stir until just combined.

Divide the batter into the 12 muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the tin for a bit before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Notes: These muffins freeze well wrapped in foil, and they’re excellent warmed in the microwave for 45-60 seconds. (The frozen muffins, that is. If you want warm unfrozen muffins, 15 seconds should do it.)

quinoa and chocolate chip muffins

* Warning: Parenting advice from a non-parent ahead…

In general, I think adding what is essentially candy to food “so the kids will eat it” is not an ideal habit, and, frankly, only seems necessary because the parents have established that precedent. “But SGL, you sanctimonious jerk, you used chocolate chips!”  you say. Yes, yes I did. And sometimes I have cheesecake for breakfast. I am enjoying my impressionable-young-child free days while they last.

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

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.

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.

Conscious Box: May 2012, Part II

17 May

While I’m very happy with my first Conscious Box and I’m already looking forward to June, there were a few products I wasn’t in love with.

Ultima Replenisher: I couldn’t quite tell from the packet what this is, aside from the fact that I’m supposed to mix it with water. It’s high in vitamin C, but a little internet research reveals that it’s an electrolyte replacement drink mix. Not bad, but a glass of water would have done just as well, unless there’s a real possibility you’re low on electrolytes. But most people have to be ill or work out like a professional athlete for that to be the case.

Natural Vitality Organic Life Vitamins: This was a 1 oz liquid version of a multivitamin. I thought about putting it into a smoothie, but for the sake of science I tried it chilled and straight as the package suggests. It was, um, not so good. Plus, why would I need 1,667% of my daily value of vitamin B? Or 670% of vitamin E? This is precisely why I take a children’s multivitamin: two vitamins (ok, gummy vitamins) puts me right around 100% DV. There’s a debate as to whether the average adult needs multivitamins at all–recent research is starting to oppose the practice–but unless your diet is seriously deficient I don’t think there’s a reason for these “super vitamins.”

Canfo Flush Me Quick Cleanse capsules: These contain aloe vera and mangosteen extract and a blend of dandelion, cassia, dong-quai, licorice, and ginseng. I did not actually try these, nor will I.

And here’s why: I think “detoxes” and “cleanses” are, frankly, bunk. Assuming you’re a healthy, nonsmoking adult who doesn’t spend a lot of time around, say, lead paint, your body is “detoxing” itself just fine every day. And notice that supplement manufacturers never tell you exactly which “toxins” their product is “cleansing.” But people do report feeling better after completing one of these detoxes, and I think there’s a very reasonable explanation that has nothing to do with capsules and concoctions.

Let’s say I decide to do a “cleanse.” I spend money on supplements, juices, teas, whatever other supplies are required. I go grocery shopping and stock up on the fruits and vegetables I’ll consume while completing the cleanse. While I’m doing said cleanse, I don’t eat heavy, fatty foods, and I don’t drink alcohol. I also don’t eat a lot of food, as the cleanse prescribes taking in only a certain number of calories per day. I make time for the gym and other relaxing activities.

At the end of my 5 or 7 or 10 days, I’ve lost two or three pounds. I’m proud of myself for prioritizing healthy eating and exercise. I have more energy, and I’m sleeping better. The cleanse was a success!

Or not. I think being mindful of healthy eating and exercise will lead to feelings of well being with or without the “detox” products. Whenever we have to spend more time thinking about what we put in our mouths, we’re going to make better decisions. No one is going to choke down lemon juice with cayenne pepper in the morning and finish the day with a burger and a beer. I’ve been feeling pretty peachy since my husband and I decided to go vegetarian at the beginning of the month–I’ve simply had to think harder about what I eat, and that’s led to a greater awareness of healthy options.

I have absolutely no beef with Conscious Box including these types of products. I still love the idea and can’t wait for the next round. And I don’t think all supplements are bunky–there’s solid evidence backing extra vitamin D and fish oil, both of which I use, and a quality cup of peppermint or cinnamon tea can do wonders. But a product purporting to correct something I have no evidence my body is failing to do? No thanks.

Now that I’ve stepped down from my soapbox, I realize that I forgot to mention a few other nice items: Mate Factor Yerba Mate tea, Good Nature Cranberry tea, and a packet of Vaska laundry detergent. I’m looking forward to using these products–just didn’t have a chance to try them yet.

Conscious Box: May 2012, Part I

15 May

I finally jumped on the sample-box-by-mail trend. Those who follow makeup and beauty trends are probably familiar with Birchbox, but now the genre has expanded to include wine, art, gourmet food, and DIY (For the Makers is just about the best thing I’ve ever seen and I desperately want to sign up). I wasn’t particularly interested in Birchbox, and wine and gourmet food are things I know a fair amount about and feel comfortable experimenting with. Where I’m not so sure sure of myself is the organic, eco-friendly world. I have a few brands that I buy regularly–Method, Biokleen, Amy’s, Seventh Generation–but the labels “natural,” “green,” and “organic” are so flexible and depend on who’s doing the labeling. And, I hate to say it, but there’s just as much snake oil salesmanship going on in the granola market as in regular retail. And there is nothing so sad as getting excited about a new product and bringing it home only to find it’s inedible, smells to high heaven, or makes your house dirtier than it was when you began.

Enter Conscious Box, a monthly sample box filled with vetted products and a handful of coupons for that month’s manufacturers. I just received my first box, and so far I’m very satisfied. I’ve already identified a few things I’d like to purchase. I’ve also identified a few things I’m never going to purchase, which is part of my plan too.

Mayesa Cacao Original: This is a dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free based drink. Those are all “frees” I don’t need to go out of my way to avoid, so this is a product I never would have looked twice at. I had heard a bit about hemp protein as an alternative to soy or almond, but again, never gave it much thought. Honestly, I was surprised I enjoyed this so much. It has a very rich dark chocolate flavor with cinnamon undertones–it reminded me of mexican hot chocolate. 170 calories, 5g protein, and 3g fiber is a pretty good deal for this much chocolate flavor. I can see this helping me get through my 3pm slump, when I’m mostly likely to wander over to the vending machine or find my way to some godawful pastry at the student center.

Wembe Amazonian Soil Assai Soap: Those who know me know how much I love soap. I have far more opinions about soap than any normal person. As such, I was thrilled to see a whole bar of soap in my first CB. I was not so thrilled with the soap itself. But that’s not the soap’s fault–I just don’t care for the scent. I’ve been using it on my hands and I’m impressed by how moisturizing it is, so if I run across the brand again, I’d try another variety.

Bambooee Reusable Bamboo Towel: This bamboo-fiber towel is designed to replace paper towels (1 roll is supposedly equal to 50 or 60 rolls of regular towel). Paper towels have been one of the hardest things for me to “green” in our home. Sponges sort of gross me out; rags aren’t very absorbent; microfiber cloths need to be washed regularly–I need something reusable but also something I won’t feel too bad about tossing if it gets really gross rather than doing a load of laundry. These bamboo towels are great. The cleaning I did with my sample towel would have used up many, many paper towels, and the towel is still intact and ready for another round.

Better Life Cool Calm Collected Lotion – Citrus Mint: Love it. The box also included a 10% off coupon for clean, and I definitely plan to use it. It’s light, not too greasy, and absorbs quickly. It’s just-about-everything-free. I smell the mint more than the citrus, which is a plus for me.

Dr. Tung’s Snap-on Toothbrush Sanitizers: These are little caps that fit over the brush’s bristles; I’ve used a similar product on my travel toothbrushes for years, but not any that claimed to sanitize with “disinfecting vapors of essential oils,” and certainly not any shaped like lion paws and with stickers of cartoon lions on the front. Do they sanitize? Who knows. But they will keep my brushes protected, and, really cartoon lions.

So these are the clear winners for me in my first foray into sample boxes. Part II–the non-winners, of which there were a few–to follow shortly.

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.