Category Archives: 28 Days of Dinner at Home

Day 28: The empty cup overflowing

“What about the skis?” Christina said, looking at me. “You have not used them since you moved to Minnesota, in 2003. Can we please move them out of the storage area?” My gut reaction to this, was to look wounded. My skis? Not my skis!!! I NEED them. Then I realized that I had promised her that this would be the last year I would keep them if I found no occasion to use them during the winter. It has, after all, been seven years.

“What is that look about? Your skis will be outdated by the time you go to use them again, and you never go! If you do decide to go, you can rent for the day. Why are you wanting to hold onto them?” When I was little, my family and I used to drive from Connecticut to Vermont on the weekends during the winter to go skiing. My friends and I would ski all day, chasing each other down the mountain, flirting with strange boys on the chairlift, coming home for hot chocolate. I remember how a blissful state of exhaustion would always hit the moment I peeled my tight ski socks off, as though the socks were the sole bit of non-jellied structure left to my legs. Sometimes my brothers and I would build forts in the snow at night, sometimes we would go back to the ski mountain for some sledding.

Why can’t I let go of the skis? I think I imagine those times to still be out there somewhere, happening without me. It is as though I believe that at any minute, I might be called in to that scene, but only provided I still have my skis. I have to wonder if what I am experiencing is similar to the psychosis of a hoarder.

“What is it? Tell me what is happening with you right now? This doesn’t have to be so hard.” Christina said.

“I think I just don’t want to have to feel sad about the fact that skiing is no longer a part of my life now that I live in Minnesota.” There, I said it. It seemed to fit. In one conversation the skis had transformed from a childhood security blanket to an inanimate piece of cloth, ragged and old and ready to be given to Goodwill.

All throughout the day, furniture was moving in and out of the house. The cats rushed to claim every shelf or table that was set down for a moment to rest; then they would dive off of the structure when it would begin moving again. By the end of the day, we had a living room in our office, a large dining room table, and a library in the bedroom. At long last, we sat leisurely around the dining room table, which was a beautiful gift from Catherine and Everett, enjoying the last of the 28 dinners.

Yellow split pea soup with edamame and zucchini
In a large saucepan, heat
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 diced yellow onion
1 tsp salt
3 cloves minced garlic
1 cup diced mushrooms
1 cup diced celery
2 tsp muchi curry powder
add 1 cup dried rinsed yellow split peas and
4 cups water
bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 40 min. Adjust seasonings, adding black pepper, cayenne pepper, and salt. Blend the soup with a hand blender until smooth. Add 2 cups frozen shelled edamame. Saute 1 zucchini, diced, it a little olive oil, salt, and garlic and add to the soup.

French baguette
1 cup water (lukewarm)
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
mix together and allow to sit for 10 min.

Mix 2 cups bread flour and 2 tsp salt together.
Add the yeast mixture to the flour, and knead for 10 min (the dough should be a little sticky, but not too sticky). Toss the dough in a little olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to sit for 2 hours. Punch dough down and kneed for a few min again. Then cover and allow it to sit another 2 hours. Roll the dough out into a flat sheet and then roll into a long thin baguette. Place on a cookie sheet with cornmeal on top, to prevent sticking. Bake at 375 for about 30 min, spraying occasionally with water to crisp up the crust.

Root vegetable puffs
In a large pot, heat
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large diced yellow onion
1 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
add 2 large diced russet potatoes, peeled
1 large rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 turnip, peeled and diced
Add about 1 cup water and cover with a lid. Cook for about 20 min. Add 4 Tbsp unsalted butter and return the lid. Cook another 15 min or until tender. Mash the vegetables together, add 1 Tbsp tarragon and a pinch of sage. season with salt and pepper as needed.

In a separate bowl, mix together 1 large egg, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup half and half. Grease the cups of a muffin tin with olive oil, and heat in a 400 degree oven. Take the tin out and spoon a dollop of the egg/flour dough into each cup. Top with a dollop of the root vegetable mixture. Bake at 400 for 15 min.

Watercress salad with mango honey mustard dressing
Chop 1 bunch of watercress. Add some diced sweet peppers and shaved fennel. Dress with mango dressing:
1 ripe mango, blended in a mini food processor with 1 Tbsp grapeseed oil, 1 Tbsp brown rice vinegar, 1/2 Tbsp white rice vinegar, 2 tsp Grey Poupon Dijon, 1 tsp dark honey, 1 Tbsp water, 1/4 tsp salt.

Christina’s vote: “A perfect grand finale”

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Day 27: Birth of Frankenstein

Mary scarcely looked out of the window anymore. It was the summer of 1816, which would go down in history as the “year without a summer”. Weeks had passed since their arrival at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva, and still the air carried a lonely chill and a gray haze covered the world outside. She no longer changed out of her morning dress, which was black and flowed from the empire waist. Instead, she spent the days sitting by the fire, her hair loosely tied leaning in to Percy whom she knew that she would one day marry.

He spoke of things she always felt but never reached her world in any socially acceptable way. He presented her with vegetarianism, and the naturalist movement, and he told stories of his wild nudist friends. The things he spoke of were unthinkable, and yet his courage and his wit were both captivating and convincing. With him she felt valuable. He saw something precious in her, and she wanted desperately to embody his vision. Together they would change the world.

As she leaned into Percy, the cloth on her dress brought the cool fabric to the skin on her wrist and provided relief from the heat of the fire, which showered her entire right side with gold.

“I’ve just the plan for us to pass these dreary hours.” Lord Byron addressed the group as though he were on a stage. “We’ll have a contest. Everybody must contribute. Mr. Polidori, you are educated in medicine, surely you must have written something during your years of schooling. Mr. Shelley, and the soon to be Mrs. Shelley, you are both brilliant writers, and Claire you too must contribute something to the challenge.”

Lord Byron paced around the room as he spoke, and gestured wildly with his hands as though he were plagued with hysterical inspiration. “A frightful tale to fit the frightful mood of this dark, wet, sunless summer.” They all agreed, and as the evening went on, Mary felt herself get pulled out of the conversation and into the crackling fire. Words from their earlier discussion about galvanism and the supernatural haunted her. Could it be possible to return a body back to life?

She often would lay awake at night to wish that she had the power to awaken the dead. She would bring back her mother. She would channel the thunder and the lightning, harness the power of the universe, and watch as her mother breathe life again. She imagined herself seeing her mother, and then not being able to get over the invisible barrier of fear that would be built into her ghoulish exterior.

She saw the story, and all the pieces of it. They fell like ashes, one by one, into her lap. She would make the creature gentle, but hideous. She would make the scientist well meaning, but human. A typical portrait of a Christian soldier trying to impose God’s will on the natural world. She could see the creature lying on the table, she could taste the dampness of the lab, she could see the pale scientist, weary from his work.

Percy shook her arm, “Darling, it is time for dinner.” She heard her sweet poet say. “mmm, yes I will join you.” She said.

Barbecued tofu
Heat oven to 375. Drain 1 block of extra firm tofu by wrapping it in a paper towel and placing a plate on top (to press the water out). Slice the tofu into squares and lay flat on an oiled cookie sheet. Bake for 15 min.

Barbecue sauce
heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and add 1 diced vidalia onion, 1/2 tsp salt, and 2 cloves minced garlic. Add 1/4 tsp chili powder and 1/4 tsp chipoltle chili powder. Cook until the onions are brown and sweet, then add 6 oz tomato paste and 8 oz water. Whisk in 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 sprinkle cayenne, 1 tsp black pepper. Adjust to taste.

Mix 1 Tbsp BBQ sauce with 2 beaten egg whites. In a separate bowl, add 1 cup flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. Coat the tofu in the egg mixture and then bread with the flour and put in a frying pan with hot oil (mix grapeseed and olive oil). Brown on all sides, remove and drain on a paper towel. Place the tofu back on the tray, and top with BBQ sauce. Broil on high for 7 min on each side.

Quinoa and amaranth side
Cook amaranth by boiling 1 cup of grain in 3 cups of water, reduce heat and simmer for 25 min. Heat 1 tsp black truffle olive oil and 1/2 Tbsp olive oil with 1/4 tsp salt in a saucepan and add 1 diced yellow onion. Add 1 1/2 cups diced mushrooms. When the mushrooms are cooked, mix in 1 large scoop of the amaranth and about 2 cups cooked quinoa (leftovers). Heat through and serve with a little butter on top.

Toasted lemon ume kale
Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and add 4 small cloves minced garlic and 1 bunch rinsed kale. Cook covered, stirring often. When the kale is cooked, add fresh lemon zest and 1 tsp ume plum vinegar.

Christina’s vote: “This dinner made me want to do some boot scootin’ at the burning man”

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Day 26: Ending at the beginning

We all leaned back in our chairs, comfortably watching as someone else stood in the hot seat presenting her data to the lab group. Most of the group are post-docs, and I imagine their comfort to be both a product of practice and circumstance. They are not trying to impress anyone, there is no higher degree to qualify for, they have nothing left to prove. They have come together to do what they do best, critically analyze methods and data.
I sat desperately trying to figure out how to move myself from outsider to insider, and thinking about how to best get through the early stages of my doctoral program with minimal discomfort and embarrassment. Unfortunately, I have noticed that the only way to become an insider is to speak up wherever possible, which requires that I be willing to be uncomfortable and embarrassed.
As the presenter spoke, I tried to follow along with the methods she used. A man from India asked her a question. As she answered him my ears experienced a bizarre shock. The presenter had been speaking in a Minnesota accent, but when she answered the man I noticed that she suddenly was carrying a thick and authentic sounding Indian accent. I was amazed. The second she turned to address someone else, the accent was gone. I looked around the room, but no one else seemed to notice. Had I imagined it?

When the meeting was finished, I caught up with the presenter in the hallway. “Hey, I noticed that you picked up that guys accent when you answered his question, are you a musician?”
“Oh no, that is my real accent. I grew up in India, I have just lived here for the last 8 years.”
We talked as we walked out of the building, and then stood outside for awhile still talking. We both went to boarding school. She moved around a lot when she was young. She is an only child, and her parents recently moved back to India from the states. She wishes she had picked a field that would allow her to move around more.
“I am going to tell you something that I wish someone would have said to me when I was getting my PhD, and don’t take this the wrong way, I am not suggesting that you should quit or anything.”
I tried to smile genuinely.
“Make sure that you think about what you want to do with your degree before going through with the program. It is a lot of work, and it is terrible to come out on the other side of it and still not know what you want. After the PhD, it is a lifetime of grant writing and publishing papers that you have to look forward to.. that is, if you want to do research. If you want to teach, you can do that now. Only one percent of the US population holds a PhD, and only 6 percent contains a masters degree. I’m not saying that you should back out, I am just saying think about it. I wish someone would have said this to me.”
We said goodbye and exchanged niceties, but my mind was reeling. The sun was incredibly bright, and the whole world seemed yellow. Her words hung like a mirage in the air. They followed me down the road, their meaning was constantly shifting form. What are my goals, what do I hope to accomplish, will I need the tools that I am about to sharpen, would it hurt me to have them? Am I sure that I want to be in research, or teaching in a University setting.
I thought of the lab meetings, and how present everyone is. No debatable comment goes unchallenged, no idea is neglected of feedback, it makes me feel alive just to be there. Then I thought about how there are no wrong turns, what else are we here to do in this life if not to explore our own minds and bodies, to find out what challenges us, to see how much ground we can cover? The storm of uncertainty passed, and I was able to see my horizon again. Once the clouds were clear, dinner emerged.
Mushroom, broccoli and onion frittata
In a frying pan, heat
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 yellow onion, diced
add 2 cups mushrooms, chopped
2 small heads broccoli, broken into small pieces
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
cook uncovered until the broccoli is bright green and the mushrooms are cooked. Remove from the heat. Grease a 8 inch square baking dish with butter and olive oil (you don’t need to use much, but the combination works well to keep the butter from burning but give it a brown color). Beat 8 eggs with 1 Tbsp cream. Add 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp paprika, and 1 tsp pepper. Pour the egg mixture into the glass pan and add the vegetables. Sprinkle with a little cheese (optional). Bake at 375 for 30 min.
Brussel sprouts
In a frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp unsalted butter. Add 1/4 tsp salt. Add 2 1/2 cups brussel sprouts, halved and soaked for 10 min. Add 3 cloves minced garlic and 1/4 red onion, sliced. Cook covered on medium until the brussel sprouts are bright green and soft. Serve with 1 tsp of vinegar sprinkled on top, or Sunny Spain seasoning.
Walnut and sun dried tomato couscous
Boil 2 cups water with 1 Tbsp roasted walnut oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Add 1 1/2 cups dry couscous and remove from the heat. Let sit for 7 min., then fluff with a fork. Add 1 tbsp basil and 1 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes.

Christina’s vote: “Light as a spring breeze”
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Day 25: "What’s in a name?" towers

“What vitamins should you make sure to have an adequate supply of in order to lower your risk of heart disease?” I asked the two students, then looked at the answers on the study guide that the professor had handed out. They had come in for my TA office hours and I was quizzing them for their next test. The options were vitamin A, vitamin E, or the B vitamins (B6, B12, and folate). The correct answer was supposed to be the B vitamins, but recent studies have shown that the believed mechanism by which B vitamins act to prevent heart disease (reduction in homocysteine), may not actually reduce your risk for heart disease.

Vitamin E would be a logical answer because Vitamin E prevents fatty acid oxidation, which is one of the proposed mechanisms for the initiation of plaque formation in the arteries. However, recent studies which provided high doses of vitamin E and vitamin A supplements found no reduction in heart attack risk.

“This ees ridiculous” The Hungarian professor exclaimed during my advances in nutrition class, when our guest lecturer was explaining how large scale clinical trials to test the benefits of nutrients using a pharmacological mindset. “Vy are ve treating nutrients like they are pharmaceuticals. Nutrition does not vork that vay. You cannot give people Vitamin E after they are older, or maybe have some plaque vormation already and expect it to act like a drug. It has to be eaten during the lifetime vrom food.”

Her passion spoke for us all. There is a major problem with the way nutrition research is done. We want to see which nutrients specifically are having an effect on disease prevention, so we test them one by one in large clinical trials. When tested this way, sometimes the individual vitamin results in the opposite of the intended effect. In these cases, the study has to be stopped early, as was the case during a study of the effects of vitamin A on lung cancer risk in smokers. The vitamin A that was used in the study was in much higher doses than the vitamin A that one would encounter from food, which reflects the cultural world view of the researchers. We want to see an effect, so we will choose to “hit it with a hammer”, because vitamins are benevolent and more is always better.

If the study turns out a positive result, the news is rushed to your cereal box and bottles of juice, but this is often misleading also. The vitamins in your food are different than the vitamins in the bottles, mainly because food is a complex matrix. Take the example of spinach. Spinach is considerably high in iron, however the iron that you get from spinach is not absorbed very well due to other compounds in the leaves which bind to the iron and make it not absorbable.

I looked up from the study guide, at the two 18 year olds concentrating hard in the chairs in front of me. They had underlined their textbooks, memorized segments of the lectures, they had taken notes, word for word. I leaned forward in my chair. “By the time you graduate this information will have been disproved.” I said. “I wish we would teach you more about how to ask questions, and where to go for answers to those questions, but we don’t. We expect you to memorize facts that will soon be obsolete. It is too bad, really.” They both stared at me like I had an alien growing out of my shoulder, and so I continued. “What is the effect of omega 3 fatty acids on inflammation?”

Everett’s “What’s in a name” tower
2 cups chick peas, soaked and cooked (or canned)
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Heat until the garlic infuses into the chickpeas (about 5 min)

In a separate pan, heat
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp black truffle olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cups diced dutch yellow baby potatoes
3 cups green cabbage diced
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp cumin
cook on med-high until potatoes are soft, covering and reducing heat after about 10 min. Add 3 large carrots, diced, turn off the heat and return the cover. Allow to steam while you make the rest of the food.

Asparagus
In a frying pan, heat 1/2 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 thinly sliced onion. Add 1 bunch asparagus and saute. Season with salt and pepper.

Sauce (for asparagus and cabbage dish)
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp ume plum vinegar
2 Tbsp tarragon
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
Heat ingredients and whisk together.

Cheese bread
I used the dough from yesterday (I made some extra and put it in the fridge overnight to slow the rising). Roll out the bread dough and sprinkle with cheese and herbs (basil). Roll it up tight and bake at 375 for about 40 min (spray occasionally with water so that it gets crusty).

Catherine’s vote “A festival of delicious nutrition for tired bodies”

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Day 24: Dinner at the table

I was standing in the elevator holding a bag of groceries, my laptop slung over one shoulder. The paper bag was cutting into my hand, and the laptop was pulling at the skin on my neck, so I was glad to feel the upward motion did not stop at the first floor like it usually does between the hours of 4 and 6. A moment later, I felt the elevator shake and the doors slide open.
Floor 3? Nobody ever goes up from floor 3 in our building. I looked from the lit number, to the elevator entrance and saw that it was our neighbor Jerald.
Jerald and Melissa moved here from New York, which is the first thing that I liked about them. Melissa is an actress and a voice coach. Beautiful sounds often emerge from their apartment, and the air fills with the potent emotion of the opera singer. I try to return the gift with the smells of garlic simmering and bread baking. I imagine that together we are contributing to some invisible canvas of culture. Jerald is a PhD who has written books about recovering from divorce. He has a program called “smooth divorce recovery” (www.smoothdivorcerecovery.com).
He is a friendly and genuine fellow, with a trimmed beard and a kind smile. It is always a joy to run into him.
“Hello, what are you doing on the third floor?” I asked.
I can be so nosey sometimes.
He chuckled, “Does it look like I am just wandering around? I started a divorce recovery support group in the building. I am trying to get resource known among the recently single community. We have a pretty big group some weeks.”
I wondered if some of the recently single in his divorce recovery group ever couple up.
“What are you up to these days?” He asked.
To many people, this question is more of a formality than an invitation to present a monologue. They reply with a polite sentence or two, something that they think the listener might find interesting and then leave it at that. Perhaps they use the opportunity to talk about someone else in their lives, but not me.
I prefer to take my listeners hostage. Sometimes I hear myself speaking, and wonder how Christina can stand to listen to me over and over again.
“..and I have another blog going…” I say, after having told Jerald about my research, my masters project, my teaching assistantship, my job for the farmers market, and my taxes. “Oh really?” he said “What’s the address?”
I heard somewhere recently that one of the top CEOs of some corporation said that his number one tip for success was ‘be less interesting, and more interested’. In Jerald, I witnessed direct evidence of the power of this statement. His interest in me has caused me to feel a strange alliance with him. Curious.
Suddenly there was a thundering blast, followed my the faint sound of laughter. I looked over Jeralds shoulder and saw a woman carrying a large piece of wood. Opposite her were two men shuffling backwards. It was Christina, Gerry, and Everett, and they were cheerfully clamoring down the hallway with our new dining room table. Every once in awhile Gerry would shuffle sideways causing a horrible crashing sound.
Jerald chuckled politely when he did this. I used the opportunity to say a little something more about myself. “My inlaws are moving in to the building, they are bringing me a dining room table! I am so excited I can hardly stand it.”
Thus begins the new, civilized chapter of dinner at home: ‘dinner at the dinner table’.

Pizza pocket dough

1 cup water (lukewarm)

2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast

2 tsp brown sugar

Pour yeast into the water. Explain how yeast are single celled organisms who breath in oxygen and burp out carbon dioxide, just like humans. If you have a child, have them “feed” the dissolved yeast some brown sugar.

In a separate bowl, mix together:

2 tsp salt

2 ½ cups flour (unbleached white or a mixture of unbleached white and whole wheat)

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Add the liquid to the flour and bring together with a spatula. The dough should be sticky. Turn it out onto a floured surface and sprinkle with

½ cup unbleached white flour

Split the dough into sections and give a little to everyone to help with the kneading. After about 10 min of hard labor, coat the dough with olive oil and cover. Allow it to rise 1 hour.

Filling

2 cups part skim ricotta

1 egg

1 cup mozzarella

1 bunch fresh basil, chopped

Mix together the above ingredients. In a frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and add ½ diced yellow onion and 2 cloves of minced garlic (in that order). Add a pinch of salt, which will help the onions to brown. Now add vegetables (Swiss chard, spinach, tomato, mushrooms, zucchini, whatever suits your fancy!) and cook until just tender. I cooked swiss chard and mushrooms for this filling (pictured on the side). Remove from heat and add to the cheese mixture.

Assemble the pizza pockets by rolling out small sections of dough, filling one half with the cheese mixture, folding the dough over and sealing it shut with your fingers. Coat the bottom of the hot pockets with cornmeal to prevent from sticking to the pan. Brush with

Egg wash:

1 egg

2 tsp water

Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 min. Serve with tomato sauce (Serves 4-6)


Tomato sauce
Heat 1/2 Tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp salt in a sauce pan. Add 1 diced yellow onion and 2 cloves garlic. Add 1 large can diced tomatoes, or tomato sauce. Add fresh chopped basil and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Christina’s vote: “Heartwarming”
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Day 23: Quinoa balls













In the weeks leading up to the competition, I tried everything I could think of: filet mignon, seared scallops nested in an artichoke with hollandaise sauce, potato scale encrusted halibut, carrot and rutabaga encrusted pork chops, lobster tail in a golden beet sauce, king crab legs, whole herbed chickens. It is impossible to prepare for a cooking competition when the ingredients that will be made available to you are kept secret, but it didn’t stop me from trying. On a grad students salary it is difficult to justify eating this way, but since it was for the sake of research and furthering my career as a chef, I considered it a business expense. I shudder to think of what our blood cholesterol looked like during that week, but every delicious, buttery, mouth watering bite was worth it.

Christina assisted by sitting at the counter opposite the kitchen, whittling carrot flowers. It was a technique we had picked up a few days earlier from a chef at a Thai restaurant. We had stopped in for a bowl of soup and a brainstorming session.

“We need to focus on practicing with the presentation.” I said, just as the young waitress set the two giant bowls of lemongrass soup down in front of us. I picked up one of the floating carrot flowers with my large metal spoon and looked at Christina.


“Excuse me miss?” Christina called after the waitress as she turned to walk away.
She turned back. “Yes?”
“Do you know how these carrot flowers are made?”
“Oh, aren’t they cute? I can go get the chef to come out here and show you how to make them.”
“That would be great, thank you!”

Christina and I looked excitedly at each other as the woman went into the kitchen; in a few moments, an older woman exited. Without saying a word, she stopped in front of our table, retrieved a carrot and a knife from her apron pocket, and began to produce little flowers right before our eyes.

We turned our heads this way and that, leaning in close and sitting up tall, trying to study every angle of the process. Within moments, the carrot was gone, and on the table sat an orange bouquet. The woman nodded her head, with a slight smile, and returned to the kitchen. Christina slipped one of the flowers into her pocket. She began practicing as soon as we got home.

Christina was the only person I would allow to help me in the competition, but she also has no cooking experience. I tried working with a professional assistant for a night, but that ended in disaster. I was too bossy with him, and he resented me thoroughly within our first 5 minutes together.

“Just put the nuts in the bag and hit them with a hammer.” I yelled, shoveling pine nuts into a Ziploc. I can only imagine what Christina must have thought from the other room.
“Are you serious? With a hammer? Why can’t we bring proper equipment?” He whined. “Just trust me, and stop questioning me” I barked. It is no wonder that I was labeled “bossy” by a local magazine writer that was covering the event.

In the end, the secret ingredient was squash. I made a butternut squash ravioli with a coconut golden beet reduction, while Christina whittled a beautiful garden until her fingers were bright orange. I would have made these quinoa balls had I not made them in the earlier qualifying competition. They are delicious stuffed with chicken and herbs, squash and tellagio, or sweet potatoes and cabbage. I am sure they would be good with mushrooms, Swiss chard and herbs as well. If nothing else I can only hope that I will one day be remembered as the inventor of the quinoa ball, and not just the bossy chef that crushes nuts with a hammer.
Toasted Quinoa balls

In a saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp salt. Add 1 1/2 cups rinsed quinoa. Toast the quinoa until a nutty aroma is released, then add about 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, half covered, until the water is gone (about 15 min). In a separate pan, heat 1/2 Tbsp olive oil and add
1 tsp salt
1 diced yellow onion
1 large sweet potato
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 small head green cabbage
1 Tbsp butter
cook until the sweet potato is soft, and the cabbage is sweet. Cover and let sit with the heat off while you prepare the salad. When the quinoa is finished cooking, remove lid from the sweet potato and cabbage mixture. Have ready 1 small block of Havarti cheese. Allow the quinoa to cool a bit (maybe put it into a large mixing bowl and stir it around so that the air can help it cook. Add 1 1/2 Tbsp corn starch and 1 tsp salt. Form the quinoa into a flat thin patty in your hand. Place a lump of cheese and some of the sweet potato mixture in the center, and bring the rest of the quinoa around it so that you have an encapsulated ball. Make as many as you can, then heat 1 Tbsp of sesame oil and 2 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and pan fry , turning each ball so that they get toasted on all sides. Alternatively, brush the balls with sesame oil and bake in a 400 degree oven until brown (I usually pan fry, but I imagine this would work as well).
Salad
1/2 head romaine lettuce, chopped
6 mini sweet peppers, cored, halved, and sliced thin
1 large cucumber, peeled and chopped
Avocado and red onion dressing
in a small food processor, blend together:
1 small avocado
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 red onion
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Christina’s vote: “Lovely balls”
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Day 22: The gift of a storm

I leaned my head against the cold glass window, and watched helplessly as the snow collected on the driveway. The faint smell of cigarettes, fireplace, and library books clung to the chill in the air of my grandparents house. I had come with the intention of stopping in for a quick visit, but I had stayed for just a few moments too long. I had taken one too many of one of my grandmothers infamous mismatched teacups, and played one too many hands of gin rummy. The snow was now past the invisible line of where my grandmother would say, “You’d better stay with us. Your mother would not be pleased attall if I let you drive in this weather.” I had to admit, it did look pretty bad out there. The trees, which were heavy with snow, were blowing sideways and flapping in the wind. They shook out white glitter, the way giant carpets fling dust.

If I had known how brief my time with her would be, I might not have wasted so much time at the window.

I was new to driving, and to my freedom. I was only a freshman in college. I wanted to get back up to school. I had parties to go to, and friends to be with.

“Have you got a sweater miss Em? It is drafty by the window.”
I felt guilty for wanting to leave. “I’m okay, thanks grandma. You know, I think that, if it is okay with you, I will stay here after all. “
I turned away from the window. My grandmother looked pleased.
“Wonderful, I’ll call your mother!” She said, and she jumped up from the dining room table, and put out the end of her long Tareyton cigarette (because ladies do not walk and smoke at the same time). She headed to the kitchen for the phone. I wandered out of the dining room and and into the bright white hallway, where my aunt Beth was working on a portrait.

Beth had moved her art studio over to my grandparents house, so that she could spend more time with them. My grandfather, who was losing his mind to dementia, played solitaire through most of the afternoon, so having Beth around was probably really nice for my grandmother.

Aunt Beth hummed softly, peering at her canvas through dark rimmed glasses which magnified her eyes. She wore a skirt that hung at her ankles, and a button down flannel shirt. Her hair hung in exactly the same way that is always has over the entire course of my life. It is jet black, and comes down past her ears with bangs straight across.

I was first taught the meaning of the word “eccentric” in reference to my aunt Beth.

“Well, I think I am going to stay here for a few days.”
“mmm?” She swung her head around to look at me with those giant, scrutinizing eyes.
“I mean, it’s snowing pretty bad out there”
“is it? I hardly noticed.” She was delicately stroking her paintbrush over the canvas, and where she stroked a cheek appeared.
Suddenly, she turned toward me. “Why don’t you go get a chair. I am going to show you how to paint. “
“um, what?? I can’t do that. I am a terrible artist.”
“Oh? Why do you say that?” she asked.
“well, I have even had an art teacher tell me that before..” my aunt glared at me “okay, well the art teacher didn’t use those exact words, but I could tell she didn’t think I had any talent…”
“just grab a chair, and we’ll just see about that”

The next two days came and went in a blur. My aunt showed me how to squint my eyes and paint the blobs of color. She showed me how to paint the colors I actually saw, and not the ones I believed should be there. We sifted through postcards of the works of the old masters. I picked my favorites and copied them as best as I could. My grandmother fluttered in an out of the hallway, watching us work. When the sun went down, we packed up our paints and pastels, and washed the blue and peach colored markings off of our hands, arms and faces down the muddied up art room sink.

At the end of the second day, my aunt turned to me and said, “isn’t it about time you get back to school? I think the roads are clear now.” I could have stayed there forever. “Maybe I will just quit school and become an artist.” I said, with a sly smile.
“Oh no you don’t” my grandmother chimed in “your mother would never forgive me!”

I am reminded of my grandmother tonight.

Cold sesame soba noodles:
1 package of soba noodles (4 servings)
sauce:
2 Tbsp natural peanut butter (creamy, with no sugar added)
1 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 sprinkle cayenne
a few shakes ume plum vinegar (optional) or salt
1 tsp peeled, chopped fresh ginger
vegetables:
3 large carrots, peeled
1/4 purple cabbage, shredded
3 green onions, diced
1 tsp peeled, chopped ginger
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
sesame seeds

Whisk together the sauce ingredients and taste to adjust to your palate. Cook the noodles by simmering in boiling water for 6 min. Drain and rinse with cold water. While the noodles are draining, heat 1 tsp sesame oil in the pot and add the carrots, cabbage, ginger and a little salt. Cook for about 4 min. Add the sesame seeds and green onions, remove from the heat and add to the sauce. Pour the noodles in. Mix well and serve!

Vegetarian egg rolls:
Heat 1/2 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and 1/4 large green cabbage, shredded. Add 4 carrots, peeled and diced and 1 cup cubed tofu. Add 1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger, 1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp mirin. When the carrots are cooked (but still crunchy), turn off the heat and stir in 2 beaten eggs. Pour the mixture into a bowl and clean out the frying pan.
When the mixture has cooled, assemble the egg rolls (use egg roll wrappers from the grocery store. They have instructions inside with pictures that explain the rolling technique. You can also find instructional videos on you tube.)
Fry the egg rolls lightly in grape seed oil, then, right before you plan on eating them, place them in a 350 degree oven for 10 min. Alternatively, you can just brush them with oil and bake them for 25 min without frying them at all.

Serve with dipping sauce:
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp chopped green onion

Christina’s vote: “worthy of a man-sized bite”

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Day 21: Problem solving


I remember it vividly. I was lying on the pinkish-red, shag carpet,watching a television with a dial that you had to get up to turn. A woman in a commercial is about to burst through the living room door, carrying a tray of Rice Krispies. Before she enters the room where the husband and children sit in anticipation, she sprinkles a little flour on her face to make it look as though she has been slaving for hours. Her smile is bright, and she flashes the camera a knowing wink. The message, “tastes great and you don’t even have to work for it”.

The messages are subtle, but they are everywhere. Advertisers have inadvertently sold us on a cultural expectation. Cooking is a bother which nobody ought to have to endure.

It has never been my experience that cooking is a chore, for me it has always been a delight. The strong messages about how we are not supposed to enjoy anything that could be construed as work, are overwhelming at times. Christina has even been scolded by complete strangers in the elevator of our apartment complex for talking about work on a Sunday. Through the generation of voids and the desire to fill them, it seems we have forgotten how to love what we do.

Similar to selling whitening toothpaste, or eyelash lengthening medication, we have been sold our problems along with our solutions. This line of thinking was stirred in me this morning, when I went to the medicine cabinet in a sleepy daze and reached for a medication that a doctor suggested I take to help improve my calcium absorption. I read the side of the box,

“may cause blood clots, stroke, migraines, weight gain, potassium imbalances, and sudden death”

I have read it before, but somehow was desensitized to it’s meaning. I reached for a glass of water. That is when the insanity of the statement hit me. Who is governing my life? Why is it so easy to accept the idea that something is wrong with my body that needs to be fixed? Would I follow the pursuit of health to the gates of sudden death?
I tossed out the medication, and began to ponder the various forces that guide my decisions. Often it is fear that causes me to grab hold of one idea or another, coupled with the desire to have an achievable goal. I could tackle a few crest white strips from time to time, and the fear of being unattractive to people is a pretty good motivator. Sometimes it is love that drives my decisions, as in, Catherine loves soups, and Everett loves lentils, Christina loves salads, and I love brown rice. This is how dinners are born.

Lentil stew
1 1/2 yellow onions, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 cups diced mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 stalks celery, diced
6 carrots, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
2 cups lentils, rinsed (various colors, if you can find them. I bought these at the farmers market)
6 cups water or vegetable stock
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp powdered ginger
a pinch of cayenne

Heat oil in the pan. Add salt and diced onions. Saute for a few min, then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 40 min. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove the bay leaf. Serve with crisp fried onion topping (optional).

Brown rice pilaf
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion
2 cups brown rice
3 1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt

Saute the onion in the olive oil with a little bit of salt. Add brown rice, and toast the rice until it releases a nutty aroma. Pour in the water, bring to a boil and reduce heat to med-low. Cook, covered, to desired texture (about as long as it takes for the lentils to be done).
1 1/2 cups diced parsley.

Mixed green chopped salad with apple and dried lime balsamic vinaigrette
1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 avocado, cubed
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 small head romaine lettuce, chopped

3 Tbsp olive oil
juice from 1 lemon
1 Tbsp apple infused balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried lime
lemon zest
1 tsp french basil
salt and pepper
Whisk together and use to dress the salad. If the apple infused balsamic is not sweet enough, add a bit of honey to your dressing.

Christina’s vote: “Damn good honeybunz”

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Day 20: Feast for the soul

“You are a real runner, most of us just run a few miles here or there, but you are a runner.” People say this to me often, and they touch my arm, and not their head up and down, and look me directly in the eye as though they are knighting me with the title. I get lost in those words, because somewhere in their diagnosis, I find too many questions.
Does it matter that my feet have not pounded on pavement for months? When is a person no longer considered part of the population count of runners. How many hours would I need to spend on the couch to be considered a couch potato? Not a day goes by that I don’t encounter someone who refers to me as a “runner” but I don’t feel like one anymore.

It’s been six months since my injury and the longest run that I have been on is four miles on the treadmill. To further my confession, I should add my indoor running has been at a snails pace while watching reality television shows. Sometimes I gaze longingly outside, enticed by the shin shattering pavement, but then I have to avert my eyes back to the television and remind myself to take baby steps.
It is a hard pill to swallow.
Last winter I ran every day, in sub zero temperatures, wearing a tight black suit with my head wrapped like a ninja. This year, the winter running clothes were excitedly unpacked, but as the days went by they were gradually buried under a pile of clothes, and then repacked with my winter attire without witnessing even one snowflake.
I skipped my workout and went to school early today. It was cold when I got there, but as I sat at my desk looking out of the window I began to notice the layers disappearing from the ambling students. A red T shirt with stark white arms walked passed, followed by some flip flips, and I knew it was time for me to take action. I went to the locker room of the pilot plant in the food science building, pulled on some shorts and a t shirt, laced up my shoes and headed for the street. The bright sky bleached my eyes, as though I were emerging from nightclub. My body remembered it’s comfortable cadence, but my muscles and lungs were not ready to maintain it.
There was nothing that I could do but accept it and keep moving on.
I passed the Zoo, and swung in through the entrance. It was here, in the primate hut, that I was afforded the opportunity to witness my own evolution- from the small child tapping on the glass, to the angsty teenager with ridiculous clothing, to the couple hanging on one another, combing their fingers through each other’s hair. I recognize that I am still young on my path, but old enough to have an evolutionary history to observe. I hold the door open for a mother and child in a stroller, and then for an elderly woman in a wheelchair, and I feel grateful to have full use of my body.
As I rounded the corner to home, with the wind at my back, I basked in the ecstasy of returning to the sport that I feel inspired by. It was then that I began thinking about dinner.
Eggplant dip with flat bread
Preheat the oven to 350. Poke some holes, with a fork, into 4 baby eggplants. Place them in the oven (directly ) with a pan underneath to catch the drippings. Bake for 1 hour. When the eggplant is done, cut the top off and peel it. In a saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/4 tsp salt. Add 1/2 yellow onion diced and 3 cloves garlic. Cook until the onion is caramelized. Add the eggplant and about 3 Tbsp yogurt and blend together with a hand blender. Top with crispy onions (can buy at Persian market, or just use the ones you would use for green bean casserole).
Flat bread (this is the same recipe as on day 1)

1 ¼ cups warm water

1 tsp active dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

4 cups all purpose unbleached flour

1 ½ tsp salt

1 egg beaten

2 Tbsp melted butter (I think this makes a crisp bread, so leave it out if you prefer something softer)

olive oil (to cover)

yellow cornmeal.

Dissolve the yeast in the water and add the sugar. Let sit for 10 min. Add 3 cups of the flour, mixing well (about 5 min). Add the egg and butter. Knead the last cup of flour into the bread (using more or less if you need to). Cover with olive oil and plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Punch the dough down and separate into 5 balls. Let sit 5 min. Roll the balls out and top with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. Place on a hot baking sheet in 400 degree oven (sprinkle some cornmeal underneath the dough to prevent it from sticking). Bake for 10 min. on one side, then flip the breads over and bake for 10 min. on the other side.

Sweet tofu curry with mushrooms and broccoli

Remove 3/4 of a block of extra firm tofu and wrap in a paper towel to drain the water out. Once the tofu is wrapped, place a plate over the top (this helps get the water out).

In a frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and add 1/4 tsp salt. Add 1 yellow onion, diced, and 2 cups of chopped mushrooms. Add 3 cloves minced garlic. Cook until the onions and mushrooms have browned a little, then add the tofu, cut into small squares. Add 1 1/2 tsp muchi curry powder and a little more salt. Add 1 head of broccoli, broken into pieces. When everything is cooked to desired texture, add 2 Tbsp cream cheese (or full fat yogurt) to the pan, melting it and stirring into the rest of the food. Serve over reheated rice with saffron water on top.

Saffron water : Place a pinch of saffron threads into hot water and let the color come out. Spoon this water over the rice.

Christina’s vote: “Indian, but not Indian- Vietnamese, but not vietnamese- extravagantly vegetarian”

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Day 19: Two becomes four

Today was the day that two became four. Christina’s mom, Catherine, and her husband, Everett, arrived this evening for a permanent visit. They are moving in to an apartment directly above our own. My mind was absolutely buzzing when I left school this afternoon. On my drive to the store I began sifting through memories of my vegetarian days, trying remember which meals I found to be the most satisfying, because Catherine and Everett are vegetarians. The timing of their arrival couldn’t be more perfect, for a number of reasons. The first of which, being that I have 10 days of dinner left to prepare, and I have discovered that I consistently am cooking for 4 instead of 2.

“Hon, look at all the leftovers we have in our fridge.” Christina said bent over and peering into the bright white refrigerator, her hand gripped firmly on the handle.

I shot her a hard look, as though to say ‘are you sure you really wanna complain about that, cause I will pull out the resentful housewife routine so fast that it will make your head spin.’

“…I mean to say..isn’t it wonderful that there is so much food in our refrigerator..bbbecause mom and Everett will have something to snack on when they arrive.” She shut the door slowly, and tiptoed out of the kitchen.

It really isn’t easy to cook for just two people, especially when you are trying to incorporate a diverse array of ingredients. One has to constantly think about what needs to be used immediately, or else food ends up wasted. When you don’t listen to the food to hear what needs to be used up next, you run the risk of filling up your trash or compost too fast.

“Jeez, you sure know how to fill up a trash can” Christina said. Then without looking up, as though she could feel the daggers in my eyes, she slowly shut the trash and tiptoed out of the kitchen.

So Everett and Catherine’s arrival is just what I needed to help me start using food more efficiently, and to encourage me to incorporate some more vegetarian recipes, which I consider to be my specialty, into this dinner blog.

Now I am going to sip my tea through saffron sugar cubes, and bask in the excited chatter of family.

Vegetarian Burritos

In a small saucepan heat
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/4 tsp salt
cook for about 3 min, then add
1 cup washed white rice
Stir the rice into the onions until the rice begins to smell toasty. Add about 1 1/2 cups water or stock and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered until the water is gone (about 15 min) or until the rice is cooked to desired texture.
In a frying pan, cook the other half of the onion (diced) in 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add 1/4 tsp salt and 2 cloves minced garlic. Add
2 cups black beans
1/2 diced green pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
4 small sweet peppers, diced.
Have ready:
shredded cheese
diced tomato
fresh cilantro
re-fried pinto bean
whole grain tortillas
fill the tortillas with desired filling and roll by first folding one end over the filling, folding the ends in and rolling it up. Spread a little olive oil on top and place in a 350 degree oven until crisp.

Serve with steamed broccoli and garlic.
in a saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/4 tsp salt. Add 3 cloves minced garlic and immediately add 1 head of broccoli split into pieces by hand. Toss the broccoli in the garlic oil, then add a little water to the pot and cover until the broccoli is bright green and cooked to desired texture.

Everett’s vote: “The burrito I always wanted when I was in Arizona”

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