September 14, 2009

variety is the spice of life

I’ve missed this blog!! So here’s a really, really long post to show you how MUCH I’ve missed it. Without a picture because, well, I was simply too busy cooking last night to be bothered with the camera. Ah, how I love to write that. Too busy cooking. I'm back in the swing of things.

Recently I’ve been inspired by
bento boxes—those perfect, colorful, sometimes comical representations of lunch, perfect for picky eaters. What’s so inspiring? They’re packed full of colorful variety, from veggies to grains to fruits. In essence, they’re the perfect idea of a meal that lives up to my high standards.

I’m also leaning more toward vegetarianism; I did pretty good last week until pepperoni pizza stared me in the face after we ran a 5K in the rain (and since I beat my normal mile time, I'm saying I deserved it). So at the moment, let’s call me a vegetarian with a pepperoni and/or barbecue opt-out clause. Fair?

Did you just ask about steak? A marbled slab of grass-fed beef cooked to medium-rare perfection? And how I might just not ever eat another one? OHMYGOSH. You did say grass-fed, right? Acceptable.

Ahem! Where was I?!

Vegetarian leanings, that’s right. I’ve been packing in the veggies and grains and legumes (recently it’s all organic black beans and garbanzos) and have been feeling exuberantly healthy—not to mention, only days away from my first sprint triathlon (for those of you unfamiliar with tri terminology, that’s “just” a half-mile swim, 18-mile bike ride, and 5K/3.1-mile run, that's all). I’d like to imagine that my training for the sprint is merely the beginning of the new, super-fit Amber. And while I’d love to eat more and more queso and carnitas as my workouts, and biceps, increase, that just doesn’t jive well with other things that are important to me: sustainably-produced foods and a diet that is life-sustaining. (There, aren’t you proud that I’ve stopped short from divulging my health care soap box?? Because I have one.
Read this article by Michael Pollan and get back to me.)

In short: Healthy foods for mind, body, spirit, community, and earth. As Pollan himself puts it, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That’s what I’m up to these days, and by golly bento boxes are going to help me accomplish this.

That said, I won’t actually be purchasing a bento box, but in true make-do fashion, I’ll be packing my BPA-free plastic and glassware with the same nod to efficiency and variety.

Admittedly, I’m a pretty picky eater when it comes to lunches; I don’t fare well with homemade salads, for some reason, and I have stopped buying sandwich meat for the most part, and it’s downright difficult to eat leftovers every day, unless said leftovers happen to be smothered in cheese. But I’m a big fan of variety, fresh fruits and veggies, and repurposing a dish. I’m also newly aware of the ease of freezing food you make in your own kitchen. Fancy that!

I bought a box of frozen organic buckwheat and blueberry waffles, befuddling myself. Why did I, a
food blogger of all people, purchase a box of frozen waffles?! So once that box was empty, I picked up some organic buckwheat flour and made my own version: buckwheat pancakes with organic (previously frozen) blueberries.

And let me tell you, they taste all the same—if not better—than those store-bought ones. Since organic blueberries can be bought frozen for a fraction of the price of fresh, they do the trick; buckwheat flour from the bulk bins only set me back a dollar or two, and I had plenty for two recipes of pancakes. Plus, one recipe for pancakes yields a much bigger batch than a box of six waffles; I can eat two pancakes a day and still come out ahead money-wise. Not to mention these things are packed full of nutrition and are way low in sugar. Score. Even Ryan enjoyed a couple.

Last night, I turned my kitchen into a downright decathlon with boo-coos of cooking events on the dockett. My goal was simple and complex at the same time: prep a variety of super-healthy foods that I 1) would be able to enjoy all week and 2) could be done on the cheap. I spent a total of $35 at Wheatsville on organic fruits, veggies, and stuff from the bulk bins, and went home to get to work, using up a few pantry staples in the process.

First up, I made roasted red pepper hummus in the food processor. To compliment that (and also to make some black bean wraps with), I whipped up a batch of whole-wheat tortillas on the cast iron grill pan. Meanwhile, on the next burner, I started a pot of brown rice (I’ve got stir fry in mind). On yet another free burner, I steamed some edamame and once that was done, put a few eggs in there to boil. (I made one mistake—I got two timers mixed up and wound up with soft-boiled eggs rather than hard-boiled ones....)

Somehow I had already cleaned the standing mixer as well as the food processor and decided to whip up an easy batch of veggie patties to pan-fry. Did I mention Ryan and I decided we needed cookies? Thankfully, we had refrigerated (organic) chocolate chip cookie dough ready to go. I popped a few dollops into the toaster oven and 13 minutes later we were satisfying our sweet tooth(s). Sweet teeth?

Anyway, I digress. Today’s all-organic lunch included:
2 vegetable patties (recipe below)
1 cup edamame
3/4 cup fresh strawberries
1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

Tomorrow, my lunch will be:
1 black bean wrap, with avocado, cheese, and homemade salsa
1/4 cup hummus dip
1 cup fresh carrots
3/4 cup fresh strawberries
1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

By Wednesday, I hope to shake things up with a broccoli-based stir-fry. Thursday I’ll enjoy black bean wraps once again, and Friday I’ll take along more veggie patties (which I’m dutifully reserving in the freezer).

Pan-Fried Veggie Patties

2 cups shredded zucchini
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
3 small or 2 medium diced onions
2 scallions sliced very thin
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons olive oil for pan frying

Shred and chop the vegetables. Toss together in a large mixing bowl with the egg, flour, and seasonings. Mix well. Heat oil in large non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Form patties about 1/4” thick (form thick patty with hands, then flatten in the pan with a spatula) and cook a few minutes on one side, until browned and crisp. Flip and cook a few more minutes, until patty has cooked through.

It occurred to me while cooking that these are a lot like the potato pancakes my mom always used to make for us. But with way more vegetables. And guess what? They taste great. I’m thinking of trying a version of this with breadcrumbs and black beans, and maybe even corn which will wind up a more substantial patty, similar to a veggie burger. That’s the plan, anyway.


~Molly~ said...

YUM!!! I love the quote by Pollan, so true! I can't bring myself to be totally vegetarian because there are health benefits from eating meats(ok, maybe not pepperoni, that would be a mental and tastebud benefit). One of these days I want to attempt a bean burger, I keep forgetting about them though!


Anonymous said...

That was a lot to take in...but I'm definitely jealous that you had lunch for over 1/2 of the week prepared on Monday evening! No way could I find the patience to do that...although I'm getting more interested in cooking. The organic/cage free/no antibiotics chicken and grass-fed beef is eating up my checking account! It's tough. Any suggestions for a college student living with our broder who eats us out of house and home? :) blog suggestion: eating on a budget (even though all of your recipes are aimed at that very cause). Question is: how can we get the proper proteins and iron we need every day without supplementing with well...supplements that don't give you what food can? Also, it's true...I'm still a very picky eater. I sense a challenge!