Friday, October 23, 2020


...on leftovers and pantry items, but take the wins where you can.

The lentil soup and vegan chili I made a few days ago are now all gone. Yes! (Anyone who has ever batch cooked and then had the food stare back at them for a week -- or more -- will understand my excitement.) My husband helped, thankfully, and we both decided that the next batch of lentil soup should have more kick to it, both as far as salt and spice. Easy to fix.

As promised, I took the squash that had been sitting on my kitchen table for a while and turned it into a pie. The original intention had been a pudding, but when my husband saw the vegan gluten-free pie crusts I had in the freezer, he made the case for pie. This was very easy. I took the whole squash -- barely medium, closer to small -- stabbed it a few times, put it in a pan with a little water, and baked it at 400 for about 40 minutes. I let it cool over night, then cut it in half, scooping out the seeds and pulling away the peel. That went into a blender with some salted cashews (that was what I had), water, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, about a cup of pitted dates, fresh ginger (because I didn't have dried), and then the usual suspects for pumpkin pie spice, including cinnamon, nutmeg (my absolute favorite), and cloves. This went into said frozen pie crust and baked for 50 minutes in a 375 degree oven, and after a few hours of cooling was delicious. I was worried that this wouldn't set up well, but the texture is perfect.

Realized this morning that I was running low on my homemade yogurt. I had about a tablespoon and a half left, which is the perfect amount for starter, so I soaked what was left of the salted cashews with the same amount of salted pistachios, then several hours later blended the nuts with the diluted yogurt, now starter. It is currently sitting on my kitchen window sill, and I have a feeling it will be just fine. Why cashews and pistachios? Primarily because the only other nut I had was walnuts, and that's something my husband can't eat. 

Cashew-pistachio yogurt, which I swear tastes better than it sounds

About six weeks ago my husband and I got a big box of tea from the Algerian grocery store at Haymarket, and quickly realized that the tea was too bitter. I had also ordered some Scottish tea (among other things) from Adagio Tea, which my husband liked much better but which he felt guilty about using too much of while we had to slog through the bitter tea. Because I could not stand to look at a quart and a half of tea that neither of us really liked for too long, a few weeks ago I decided it was time to crank up the kombucha and chai machines again. 

The chai recipe I use is essentially the recipe from How Not To Die: six cups of water plus however much fresh ginger, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns, cardamon, and tumeric you want, plus some ground dried orange powder I made a few weeks ago (dehydrate the orange peel then grind up in your blender). Boil the water and spices for about ten minutes, then turn off the heat and steep one-quarter cup of tea for three minutes (yes, that's a lot of tea, which is why you don't go over three minutes). Most people could use this with an equal amount of milk and a teaspoon or two of sweetener; I usually blend it with a handful of nuts (whatever I have), one or two dates, and an equal amount of water. Hot or iced, it's delicious, and the recipe above will yield about four servings, if you're not overly greedy.

The kombucha recipe I use doesn't differ too much from what everyone else uses. Worthy of note: 1) my starter was a half cup of store-bought kombucha I had a few weeks ago, mixed with some strong tea (possibly re-brewed from some tea my husband had lingering) and a lot of sugar. After a couple of batches, I started wishing for something that wasn't sugar, and then I noticed that my favorite brand (GT) lists kiwi juice in the ingredients, not cane sugar. I couldn't find any frozen juice concentrates that didn't have corn soup (what is wrong with these companies?), so I broke down and bought a bottle of white grape juice (and yes, I verified that it doesn't contain anything but juices). I used this as part of my next starter batch of kombucha, and I was shocked at how much more quickly it fermented. Win!


Even in this fuzzy picture, you can see the grape juice-fed SCOBY

...Except that I'm trying to avoid glass bottles, and the juice was also not cheap. Yesterday I picked up a can of organic peaches (and yes, I verified again that it only contained fruit and juice), and when I was contemplating what I could make with the peaches and how I could reuse the juice syrup, it occurred to me that this would be a perfect substitute for grape juice. So woo hoo! I'll let you know how this turns out.

One more thing about the kombucha: using a tip Jack Monroe left on their Twitter account, I purchased some "blueberry nectar" when I got the grape juice. My final step with kombucha is to separate it from the SCOBY and let it ferment with about a cup of juice mixed in for a day or so. It is SO good with blueberry! I'm wondering now if I can use another batch of diluted canned fruit juice, or blended canned fruit...?


Blueberry kombucha, which tastes as good as it sounds

While I puzzle that out, I'm going to celebrate tonight by making a vegan quiche in the gf pie crust. I am SO excited to make a simple tofu pie since for so long I couldn't eat one. And I'll also make the long-promised Thai tofu curry since the coconut milk and Thai curry paste are staring at me (pretty much from the same place the squash was). It's the little things that make life good.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Cook Through Your Anxiety!

That will totally be the title of a self-help book in the next two or three years. Don't worry, I have no intention of writing it.

Thinking about food, as I did in my last post, makes me think about food, and on Monday night I took a close look at what I had in my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. I couldn't even face my over-stuffed spice shelves, and what I had was SO. MUCH. that I'm not going to list out everything. Just know that it was A LOT, and even after going on a cooking binge, it's still enough that I don't need to go shopping for almost a month (but don't worry, that didn't stop me -- more below).

I came up with no less than seventeen recipes that I could make without having to go shopping. When I say I could eat for a month, I wasn't kidding. On Tuesday, feeling anxious about my sons' food issues, the upcoming election, poverty, the environment, and pretty much everything else, I made: vegan, gluten-free sourdough bread (in my Instapot, no less), chocolate beet cake, tomato sauce, vegan chili, and lentil soup. That's just me cracking my knuckles -- seriously, I have twelve more dishes to go -- and the fact that I needed to do some homeschooling and other general parenting. The latter included a phone call with the nutritionist, during which it was decided that they both need a lot more protein. So, budget conscious though I'm trying to be, I spent more money than I'd like to confess to on animal protein sources. As I watched my husband and son devour one-fifth of what we'd spent in one sitting, I started to wonder if the mathematics of better food needed fewer times really works out when you're talking about two growing boys. 


I think even this picture is giving a good idea of the awesome texture of the cake and the for-real red velvet color.

(I'm making meat for my sons because they need it. And before someone wants to get on me for not giving them vegan sources of protein, please know that one of the things that seems to be bothering them is, yep, beans. Soyfoods, probably because of the fermented nature, seem to be bothering them less, but that's not cutting it for their growth. Before you say at least give them vegetarian options, they both have issues with dairy and one of them has issues with eggs. And to anyone who wants to argue that their growth and general health isn't worth what I'm feeding them, we don't have anything to discuss.)

Perhaps you'll be surprised to hear that stress-cooking doesn't actually make your stress go away. To really burn through stress, I need to move around, but I was confined to my home both Monday and Tuesday. By the time I got back from shopping I was ready to jump out of my skin, but then I found that my body bars (36 and 15 pounds) had arrived much earlier than I'd thought. Woo hoo! As soon as my husband cut them out of the boxes for me I did what I had been promising myself I'd do: deadlifts and squats (36 pounds) and overhead presses (15 pounds). Oh, my! You know how your body can just scream for something it hasn't gotten for a while? That's how I've been feeling for a very long time, but when I picked up those bars, the delicious ache in my muscles told me that it was finally getting what it needed. 

With the prayer that I will be able to avoid food shopping for, I don't know, a week, I attacked the kitchen this morning, making chicken soup stock and then chicken soup. (Did I mention we roasted a chicken last night? It happened.) After a little calculus and chemistry with the boys -- highlight of my day, I kid you not -- I think I'm going back for vegan, gluten-free mac and cheese and squash pudding. Or we'll see what else we can come up with that I can fit in the fridge.

Off to make someone an egg and vegan cheese sandwich on gluten-free bread,

Deb in the City

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Dogged by food, again

One of the consequences of ongoing toxic stress that no one tells you about are digestive failures, and not just something as well known as IBS. It was during the, well, decade that I was living through hell that I developed a number of nasty sensitivities. While I can eat soy and sesame now, wheat is still off the table. (Dairy is as well, but that's down to straight up lactose intolerance.)

Things are better, though not always good (which is why I'm drafting this at 1:28 AM), and I thought I could finally rejoin the eco-conscious food system and buy farm-fresh produce for my family, and focus on things like zero-waste. Well, no.

Let's call COVID-19 "stressful", and for many of us, let's call it toxic. Fair to say that teens are suffering from that even more than adults are. My teens are, and they both manifested some extreme digestive symptoms. After consulting a nutritionist for both, we got some blood work done. One of them was relatively straight-forward -- as expected, don't even look at dairy and wheat, and tomatoes and beans are iffy -- but for the most part, he can eat within relatively normal parameters. I fully expected that his brother would be less dramatic, but I was wrong.

My other son showed up highly sensitive for the vast majority of what he was tested for. FYI, "vast majority" includes not only wheat and dairy, but also beef, chicken, eggs, pork, and most fruits and vegetables. I want to say that pretty much everything he's eaten showed up as something he was sensitive to, but that's not entirely correct as tea, coffee, and chocolate are all things that he's just fine for. 


Who doesn't love lasagna? Now all I have to do is make this with gluten free pasta, vegan cheese and meat, and figure out a tomato-free substitute for the sauce...

I spoke to another healthcare provider the day after I got the results, and her perspective was that his (and maybe both of their) immune systems need to be strengthened, and he should have small amounts of the foods he's sensitive to in the meantime. Confining him to a narrow set of food choices is going to add more stress, both physical and mental. That was the conclusion I had started to come to as well: if the food wasn't killing him, I wasn't going to take it away. (Please note, these are food sensitivity results, not allergies. I do not advise anyone to be as blithe with things that could cause anaphylactic shock.)

All of this came to a head as we had an order of farm fresh food waiting to be picked up, which I knew included things both of my sons had shown sensitivities to. Even with a more relaxed attitude, I can't help but wonder what the point is of going out of my way to get premium farm fresh produce (and meats) when my sons can't eat that much of it. Or does that mean that there's even more of a point to it?

Around this time I also found that my favorite food blogger, Jack Monroe, was posting again. Seems for now they've tightened their belt even more (Brexit is rearing it's ugly head in so many ways), and as they're cheerfully shopping for two on a weekly budget of $25.82 (the current equivalent of 20 pounds), I'm wondering how well they would cope if their family members were diagnosed with the same level of sensitivities to things like wheat and dairy. (Let's pretend that people on that tight a budget can access a test like that in the first place.) Actually, I don't have to wonder, because I've been in similar straits myself. The answer for me was to suffer through the things I was sensitive to because I didn't have a choice. I don't think I'm the only parent who has had to make that decision for themselves, and it's horrible. But having to make that decision for your children is the worst. It is also extremely -- wait for it -- stressful, which exacerbates everything and keeps you cycling through your vicious circle. My hat is off to Monroe and anyone else who can continue through that and power through.

Not sure this makes me feel better or worse about the farm order, but for now I've suspended it. It doesn't make sense right now to order something four days in advance, not knowing who will be sensitive to what. This feels like the right decision for me right now, but I can't but feel like I'm part of the problem now.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

You go with what you've got

Several years ago I read Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. It was absolutely fascinating, particularly because it linked the success -- and promotion -- of ballet to politics, specifically revolution. It also explored the ways in which ballet argued with itself for centuries as it tried to find its identity. How was dance going to tell a story without being a secondary player in a play or an opera?

According to Homans, that question isn't answered until George Balanchine, who choreographed ballets that existed for their own sake (a version, perhaps, of the "medium is the message"). Balanchine is the pinnacle of ballet as high art, and it's had trouble re-establishing its footing since his death.

Maybe. I'm strictly an occasional audience member, and I have no sense of what goes in the dance world. Why I still think of Apollo's Angels is because of an anecdote Homans relayed about Balanchine. While choreographing one of his ballets -- possibly Emeralds -- he made what may have been the unusual decision to choreograph for seventeen dancers. Why? Because those are the dancers who showed up when he put out the call for the first rehearsal.

Whether true or not (and whether I got the ballet correct or not), I love that story. We all have our ideas of what would make something perfect, and some of us go to great lengths to force the components we imagine we need into place. And its exhausting, and while we may get something good, I've found that it's better, both for the sake of sanity and the ultimate "result", to go with whomever shows up for that first rehearsal.

Image from the Boston Globe
The people who show up are the ones who get things done