Tuesday, December 29, 2009

65 Dozen

What I baked for Santa:


Cherry-Walnut Thumbprints, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Gingersnaps.


Gingersnaps and marshmallows dipped in tempered chocolate and chopped, roasted peanuts.

Chocolate-peanut covered marshmallows, "mini-s'more" marshmallows, and vanilla marshmallows.


Cherry-walnut thumbprints, peanut butter blossoms, walnut-cashew torrone, gingersnaps, caramels, spicy-sweet nuts, homemade oreos, and gingerbread.

And a merry little tree!

Happy holidays...hope you got everything you wanted:

Cheers,
Neen

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Holiday Wish

Baring my soul to the vast depths of the Internet has never been what blogging is about for me. When I began writing this blog after our move from Boston, I tried to not make any expectations or plans. It was one of the first projects I ever embarked on without a plan for how often I would work on it or update it. I didn’t really know what I would write, and so that’s why I simply titled it “Neen’s Notes.”

Over the past year and a half, I’ve shared some of my favorite recipes, reveled in the joy of local food, reminisced about life, plugged some of my favorite progressive causes, and even yakked a bit about sports.

But, dear readers, I confess to feeling guilty (again) lately. Not only because the blog has been so neglected, but because I’ve been making a lot of wonderful goodies and fun recipes for the holidays that are admittedly not “clean” foods. It occurred to me then that perhaps my focus has been too narrow. I’m still sourcing the products I do buy from local or fair-trade growers and while the recipes may not necessarily be healthy, they are important in another way. They make my heart feel good. To share them with the people I work with or my family and friends makes me feel so much happiness.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in a yoga practice a week or so ago that it occurred to me. Extremes, by their very definition are drastic and radical. Why make my life so full of that kind of tension? Why carry that with me all of the time?

Many, many times my yoga instructors have said, “Take the ego out of it. Respect what your body and mind can do today and let that be enough,” and I only just at that moment really let it sink in. A deep sense of peacefulness came over me. To capture that—if only for a few moments, was enough to make me reconsider my approach to writing this blog.

And so I have decided that my theme for this holiday season (and hopefully one that I will carry into the coming year) is flexibility. Neen’s Notes will continue to be a blog about living healthy. That means taking out the ego, accepting who I am on any given day, and striving each day to live with a sense of peace, love, and respect for those around me and for the planet that provides so many valuable resources.

If there is one wish I have for all of you this holiday season, it is that you come to find that sense of peace amid the insanity of crowded shopping malls and busy work days. Let it in and let it just be.

Cheers,
Neen

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back-(b)log!

Okay, so I admit it. I’ve been avoiding the blog…a little. Around mid-September life got back to being crazy with school and work. Unfortunately, I ran out of hours in the day and so blogging took a backseat for awhile.

I would be lying and doing my readers a disservice however, if I did not admit that my absence was partly due to feeling a little “off the wagon” so to speak. I struggled throughout October particularly and found myself making easy, bad food choices more than I’d like to admit. I’d been dwelling on those choices and generally lazing in a “guilt-funk” that made me feel pretty grumpy.

Finally, finally I feel like I’m out of that place of negativity and getting back to feeling like Neen. It is amazing how rejuvenating it can be to stumble, recognize your own weaknesses, accept that you have them, and then resolve to strengthen them as best you can. Because honestly, while there were some food struggles, it has ultimately been a wonderful autumn thus far…Let me share some of it with you…

In mid-September, I finally joined the Energy Club gym in Shirlington so that I could keep up running during the cold months to come. What I’ve found there so far is a great community of gym-goers and instructors. Everyone is incredibly friendly and I’m enjoying the classes (particularly Flow Yoga and Body Jam) more than I ever thought I would. My goal for next year? Run the Army 10-miler.

Yoga has been particularly good for working through negative or intrusive feelings. It's soothing and empowering all at once---a very unique blend of emotions.


October 3, 2009

I run AIDS Walk Washington (5k) and finish in around 26.5 minutes. An exhilarating experience that raised over $800,000 for the Whitman-Walker Clinic of Washington, DC. I was nervous with it being my first race, but I kept thinking of all of the people that sponsored me. That was what ultimately gave me the boost I needed during the last stretch up Pennsylvania Ave. Hearing the announcer say my name as I crossed the finish line was pretty cool too.




October 9, 2009

Joe and I take a trip to Smith Meadows Bed and Breakfast to celebrate our five-year anniversary (awww). While staying at their lovely Summer Kitchen Cottage on a 400-acre sustainable farm, we cooked a great meal, walked the grounds, enjoyed cigars and champagne by sunset, and were treated to an amazing breakfast prepared by the B&B proprietor. It was honestly the most peaceful place I have ever been in my life.


mid-October, 2009

Mystery Food 2009 comes to an end with a final basket loaded with squash, peppers, tomatoes, apples, salad greens and fresh HONEY! I was thrilled. Thank you to Leigh at Bull Run Mountain Farm for a wonderful CSA season.


October 31, 2009

I put the final touches on our fabulous Halloween costumes. Joe and I hit the town Saturday night as Batman villains The Riddler and Poison Ivy. I took most of my Ivy inspiration from how she appeared in “The Long Halloween.” It ended up looking better with less leaf-applique than I originally did. Joe’s Riddler costume was centered mostly around the amazing lime-green polyester suit that we found for a rather inexpensive price on Amazon. (Seriously, what can’t you find on that website?) He took inspiration from several comics and I did my best to bring his vision to life with limited time. I wish I’d had more time to sew more question marks on the suit, but he says he liked it simple.

A busy month and a half, huh? Somewhere in there I juggled work and a full course load and managed to get the flu (ugh). No one can say I’m (to use an Alton Brown expression) a unitasker! I’ve been doing some cooking as well and getting back into using the crockpot more now that the autumn chill seems more permanent. I’ll post some new recipes soon---stracciatella is on its way as well as a slow cooked tomato-cubanelle sauce that I guarantee will impress even your grandmother.

Until then friends, stay healthy and get out there and VOTE tomorrow.

-Neen


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cooking from the Heart...

I strive to be a really positive influence on others, but we all experience times of doubt and insecurity. Sometimes, I don't think I am as honest with my readers as I could be about the struggle that is a part of healthy eating and living. The truth is that for as often as I am happy about the progress I have made, there are days where I beat myself up. It could be that I finally broke down at the deli and bought a candy bar after months of clean eating, or simply that I woke up that morning I didn't like what I saw in the mirror. There's a part of me during those moments that knows it's time for a reality check, but sometimes that voice can get stifled.

Food and I have a tenuous relationship. As humans, we need sustenance to live. At a young age we come to acknowledge those who provide us with that sustenance as our caregivers. From very early on, we learn that to feed another person is to love them. When I met Joe and discovered that I liked him, one of the very first things I did for him was to make sauteed balsamic-thyme sirloin tips with mozzarella cheese. And it was not a dish I made to be particularly impressive, but because I had those ingredients in the fridge. It won him over, and the feeling of providing that kind of comfort to another person won me over. True, I'd spent the latter half of my freshman year of college cooking weekly meals with a friend for our group of friends, but that was the first time it was me alone just whipping something up on the fly for someone else. In any case, I kept cooking. I read culinary textbooks, southern cookbooks, cookbooks for every ethnic food imaginable...anything to stimulate my imagination to create new things. But at the same time, I found it difficult to avoid overeating when I was always trying out new recipes. I walk the line. I am constantly trying to balance between being passionate about the creation and sharing of food while avoiding gluttony and irresponsibly grown/created food products. It becomes overwhelming, it becomes burdensome, and worst of all...cooking becomes guilt-ridden.

And then I know it's time to step back, take a breath, and just go home again. Time to take a day and remember why the act of sharing a meal is an act of love. Remove everything else from the equation and just create out of the desire to love another person.

And on Sunday, I did just that. Taking flour from Morris farms, eggs from Polyface farms, cheese from Blue Ridge Dairy Co., tomatoes, garlic, and basil from Bull Run Mountain Farm, and cayenne peppers from my own backyard, I brought together those who provide me with products I know are grown and raised with love and a sense of pride.

First, I made these:
I made the pasta dough from a combination of whole wheat and whole grain durum (semolina) flours, two eggs, a few tablespoons of olive oil, and a few tablespoons of water. It made a fine, elastic dough that was surprisingly light. I think that one of the keys to whole wheat pasta is to make sure that the dough gets a proper rest before it's rolled out. The filling is comprised of part-skim ricotta, parmesan, and pecorino romano cheeses. I bound it with an egg and added a few herbs and spices to bring out the flavors of the individual cheeses.


What good are ravioli without a nice sauce? Since Leigh said that it was likely the last week for big, ripe tomatoes (damn blight) I took the bunch of gorgeous orange and yellow ones he gave me and sauteed them in a few teaspoons of bacon fat with garlic, some bell pepper, thyme, basil, and spices. I finished it with a diced cayenne pepper. I'm not really a huge spicy food fan, so I removed the seeds first. After tasting the sauce, I instantly mourned that it would be gone so quickly. Even Joe, who normally asks me to go light on the marinara sauce when I serve him pasta, asked for more of it on his plate.

And what better to serve a lovingly prepared meal on than a dish designed with the earth in mind?[FYI, that's a seven-inch triangle plate in grass green from Riverside Design Group's Sea Glass collection. How awesome is that color? If I didn't already have an "Empire Red" theme going on with my kitchen appliances, I think I'd go with that green. It's refreshing!]

After it was all said and done, I felt accomplished. Even satisfied.

But it wasn't until Joe brought me his empty plate in search of a few more ravioli that I felt "the happiness." There was that same look that made me feel all warm and fuzzy five years ago, and I thought "Yes. I may not always do right. I may not always make the best choices. But if I can always give this kind of comfort and love to the people around me, then I think I'll be okay."

-Neen

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Marriage, Mystery Food (lucky 13!) and More...

What an absolutely amazing and fabulous vacation. I could not have asked for more happiness to somehow have crammed its way into this past week. It still boggles my mind a little that my brother is a married man now. He and Jessica both looked amazing at the wedding and truly happy to be with one another. Both of them were so alive with joy the whole time that you really couldn’t help but have it rub off on you.

Joe and I had a really fun time in Pittsburgh and I’ve been missing everyone terribly since we got back. It’s always hard to come down from something that you looked forward to for so long. Ah, we’ll just have to find another reason to celebrate soon and get together again! Fall is almost here, and that means holidays so I’m sure it won’t be too long.

Anyway, I’m back in action here in Arlington and went to pick up some goodies from Leigh last night:Sweet corn, tomatoes, tomatillos, hot peppers, Thai basil, Italian basil, chives, sorrel, sweet potatoes, peaches, apples, and garlic. Yum! Everything looks so vibrant. This is likely the last week we’ll get big tomatoes though, so I’m rationing those.

I haven’t done much cooking yet this week aside from a little bit of flatbread with various vegetable/meat toppings last night. I did, however have a nectarine and a few apples left over from last week and a craving for sweets. It led to this:

Spiced Nectarine-Applesauce

The great thing about fruit sauces is that it takes very little effort to make them delicious. In-season fruit is a candy all its own and combining it with a few spices makes a great treat. You can even spread it out on some puff pastry and bake for a fast tart.

This particular sauce was made from some Ozark gold apples and nectarines. The method is fairly simple. Cut the fruit and treat it to prevent browning, then put it in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot. Add some spices if you like. This batch had a few cinnamon sticks (remove before pureeing) and a few sprinkles of pumpkin pie spice (a blend of cloves, nutmeg, lemon peel, cinnamon..). Set the heat to medium-low and cover. Let it cook until all of the fruit is nice and soft and then use a potato masher, immersion blender, or food mill to process to your desired consistency. Sweeten only if you think it needs it. The nectarine I had was really ripe and almost tooth-achingly sweet. Some types of apples benefit from a teaspoon or so of honey added to the mix.

Over the holiday, I had the great fortune to receive some wonderful plates, platters and bowls from the folks at Riverside Design Group in Pittsburgh, PA. The sauce in the above picture was photographed in a 7” bowl in amethyst over a 10” bowl in gold from their Sea Glass collection.

From their website:
“Since 1996, RIVERSIDE has been passionate about creating a more sustainable global community. We remain committed to both responsive and responsible design. We use post-industrial/preconsumer recycled glass and other sustainable materials, our packaging and promotional items are environmentally friendly, and our offices are located in a LEED certified building (Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design).”
Look for more of their unique, earth-friendly designs to pop up in future posts…

We have a long weekend for the Labor Day holiday, and I’m really hoping to make some homemade pasta this weekend to enjoy with those magnificent orange tomatoes from Leigh.

And before I disappear for the holiday, here's a really important plug for Slow Food regarding the Child Nutrition Act and their "Time for Lunch" campaign.

So far, over 16,800 people have signed the Time For Lunch petition to get real, quality food back into America’s schools. Every 4 to 5 years, the Child Nutrition Act (which governs the National School Lunch program) comes up for renewal in Congress. This program sets the standard for what over 30 million children eat at lunch every day. In the past decade, school budgets have been slashed over and over again, leaving our nation’s schools struggling to provide nutritious, wholesome food to the next generation.

The deadline for renewing the Child Nutrition Act is coming up at the end of September. Congress and the Obama administration must renew this act in a way that benefits children and provides them with healthy, sustainable food. Here is the official platform from the Slow Food website:
1. Invest in children’s health.
Give schools just one dollar more per day for each child’s lunch. Under the National School Lunch Program, the USDA reimburses schools for every meal served: $2.57 for a free lunch, $2.17 for a reduced-price lunch and 24 cents for a paid lunch. Since these reimbursements must also pay for labor, equipment and overhead costs, schools are left with only $1.00 to spend on food. How can schools be expected to feed our children and protect their health with only a dollar a day? It’s time to build a strong foundation for our children’s health by raising the reimbursement rate to $3.57.
2. Protect against food that puts children at risk.
Establish strong standards for all food sold at school, including food from vending machines and school fast food. At most schools, children can buy junk food in vending machines, at on-campus stores and in the cafeteria as “a la carte” items. These overly processed, high-calorie “fast” foods sneak under the radar of federal nutrition standards. They undermine the National School Lunch Program’s investment in children’s health and allow food companies to profit from selling obesity. It’s time to take the first step towards making real food the standard by approving Rep. Woolsey’s and Sen. Harkin’s Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009.
3. Teach children healthy habits that will last through life.
Fund grants for innovative Farm to School programs and school gardens. This spring, 30 fifth-graders joined Michelle Obama in planting a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. “What I found with my kids [is that] if they were involved in planting and picking it, they were much more curious to give it a try,” Mrs. Obama says. Every child deserves the opportunity to learn healthy eating habits at school. In 2004, a section was added to the Child Nutrition Act to provide schools with grants to cover one-time grants that enable them to purchase local foods and to teach lessons on healthy eating in kitchen and garden classrooms – but Congress never appropriated funds for it. This year, it’s time for Congress to guarantee $50 million of mandatory funding for Farm to School programs.

We also ask that Congress and the Obama Administration:

1. Give schools the incentive to buy local.
Establish financial incentives that encourage schools to buy food from local farms for all child nutrition programs. Buying fruits and vegetables from local farms is an economic engine for creating jobs in our communities, rebuilding rural economies, and supporting family farmers. By shortening the distance food travels – from farm to table – it also saves oil and ensures school foods are as fresh and healthy as possible.
2. Create green jobs with a School Lunch Corps.
Train underemployed Americans to be the teachers, farmers, cooks, and administrators our school cafeterias need. We can’t serve real food in schools without investing in school kitchens and the people who prepare and serve lunch. This spring, President Obama signed the Serve America Act, which expanded Americorps and reinforced his call for Americans to serve their country. Right now, our nation has an opportunity to train young and unemployed Americans to be the teachers, farmers, cooks and administrators we need to ensure the National School Lunch Program is protecting children’s health. President Obama has called for an end to childhood hunger by 2015; let’s answer that call by putting Americans to work building and working in school kitchens nationwide.
Please go to www.slowfoodusa.org to sign the petition or sign up to host or attend a Labor Day Eat-In. An “Eat-In” is simply a potluck held in a public place like a park. Let people know that you’re showing your support for real food in schools by gathering community members, family, and friends together for a shared meal. If you can’t make it to an Eat-In on Labor Day, there are many other ways to help out, like a telephone call or letter to your state representative. A PDF version of Slow Food’s platform is available on their website and is great to use as a starting point if you aren’t sure what to say.

Enjoy a local Labor Day weekend everyone!

-Neen

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hot Dates (with chocolate, football and mystery food)!

Wow--I have way too many things to update, so long post ahoy:

Numero uno, friends, is Mystery Food Week 11. It was a delicious mix of sweet corn, tomatoes (Mr. Stripey!!!), Thai basil, Italian basil, eggplant, purple potatoes, garlic, hot peppers, nectarines, peaches, and apples. So much food! And I only buy a half-share.Of course the first thing I did when I got home from picking this up was to make a big batch of tomato sauce for pasta. I love a long-cooked tomato sauce, but there's something so sweet, simple, and wonderful about a quick summer sauce. The squash, potatoes and peppers ended up in a pot roast I made from a chuck blade roast from Polyface farms. I seasoned and seared the meat, caramelized some onions, and then threw everything into the crockpot with a splash of red wine to cook all day. When I came home, Dioji was very anxious to discover where the delicious smell that he couldn't find was coming from (he's not allowed in the kitchen while we're not home--safety first!) and then whined at me when he realized it wasn't for him. Oh sheltie.

Numero dos is that our fantasy draft for the "I Cannot Wait For Football" league was this past weekend. It went pretty well for me, although I made one really bad decision because of outdated information. Here's the lineup for team Plaxico's Cellmate:

QBs: Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Chad Pennington

RBs: Clinton Portis, Steve Slaton, Joseph Addai

WRs: Chad Ochocinco, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, Steve Breaston, Michael Crabtree

TEs: Dallas Clark, Owen Daniels

K: Ryan Longwell

DEF: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia

A pretty solid draft if I don't say so myself. The Michael Crabtree thing was a lapse in judgment, I swear. We have another one this weekend, but I'll be autodrafting because it is the same day as my brother's wedding. I'm not sure he'd be too pleased with me if I disappeared from the reception to draft a fantasy team.

And Numero Tres is that I've been craving filled pastry/cookies. I used to really like fig newtons heated up in the toaster oven when I was a kid. A week or so ago, I was in the market and saw some nice, soft Medjool dates. I remembered from when I was first diagnosed with anemia that dates were a good source of iron, but I've never cooked with them before last week. Recalling that the texture of my favorite kashi bar (the dark chocolate/coconut one) is made by creating a date paste, I decided to try a similar route. After several tries using the food processor to create said paste, I got frustrated because it never seemed to get sticky enough to hold everything together. The raw date bar recipes I searched all suggested that the approach would work, but it wasn't the consistency I wanted. Finally, I found a good old southern recipe for date squares and modified it using a base recipe similar to my Banapple-Nut Bars.

I'm not saying I'm a genius, but this is kind of amazing...

Chocolate-Date Cookie Bars

Ingredients

For the cookie base:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup mixed nuts, ground to a coarse meal by pulsing in a food processor. (I used a mix of macadamia, cashew, almond, and brazil nuts.)
1/4 cup 10-grain hot cereal or other high-protein hot cereal, dry.
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking soda
Pinch salt
2 tbsp. raw honey (I really like buckwheat honey in this, but anything will work.)
1 medium egg
2 tbsp. natural peanut butter
For the filling:
1/2 cup Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 heaping tbsp. dutch process cocoa powder
10 grams 70% dark chocolate, chopped.
For the topping:
1 tbsp. shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/2 oz. mixed nuts, roughly chopped. (If you would like the recipe to be lower-fat, you can skip this and use some lightly toasted seeds, rolled oats, or cereal.)

Method

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small saucepan, combine the dates, extracts, and water over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened. Use a potato masher or immersion blender to create a more even consistency. Stir in the cocoa and dark chocolate and set the mixture aside to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the oats, ground nuts, cereal, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Slowly drizzle in the honey while pulsing occasionally to disperse evenly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and peanut butter, then add them to the food processor while pulsing occasionally until a sticky dough is formed.

Grease a 9x5 loaf pan and press the cookie dough into the bottom to create an even crust. Next, layer on the chocolate-date paste, and then top with the chopped nuts and shredded unsweetened coconut.

Bake for 20 minutes and cool completely before cutting into bars.

So good. Not a drop of refined sugar or flour and yet somehow full of sweet, chocolatey, nutty goodness.

Nutrition facts: Yields ten servings. Each cookie bar is approximately 138 calories, 7 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of protein, and 16 grams of carbohydrates. They are also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B-6, folate, and iron.

I think that this recipe could be easily modified into a good energy bar recipe by adding another egg white, replacing some of the oats with some wheat bran, and maybe adding some greek yogurt into the filling or base. If you were so inclined, you could replace the 10 grain cereal with a scoop of vanilla or unflavored protein powder. I'm really trying to keep things more natural these days.

Oh, and if you want to blow your mind...mix a spoonful of the chocolate-date paste and some berries into 5 or 6 oz. of nonfat greek yogurt for a creamy treat. That's a post-run snack I can totally get behind.

Well, I'm off to Pittsburgh tomorrow for my brother's wedding, so I'll be M.I.A for a little while. In advance, have a great weekend and good luck to all my fellow fantasy team owners who have upcoming drafts.

Stay local, folks!

-Neen

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Football (and Mystery Food Week 9)

Ah, August.

You know what that means: NFL training camp is in full swing! The Steelers have their first preseason game next week against Arizona. News from the front lines says that Limas Sweed is looking good as he battles for the number three receiver position behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. Tomlin has been presenting some good challenges to the team, switching players in and out of on-field leadership roles to encourage well-rounded communication. So far, it doesn't look like the team has taken too many injury hits, but who knows what the next few weeks will bring?

Wishing I could be in Latrobe tomorrow night. The Steelers are holding an evening practice with autograph session and all six of those shiny Lombardi trophies will be on display too!

Since I had football on the brain, I got our fantasy football league set up and ready to go. The draft is going to be interesting this year. I'm sure I'll have a better sense of who is really raring to go after seeing some preseason games, but right now I feel pretty clueless. I didn't pay close enough attention to last year's college season and need to read up more on some of the rookies.

The elephant in the room here seems to be at quarterback. There is no one that comes to mind that I think "Yes, I must have him." Odd as it sounds, I'm not entirely sure that any of those guys normally considered a safe bet, is in fact a safe bet this year. Sure, either Manning brother is probably reliable, and Roethlisberger would be okay if not for his off-field issues and an o-line that still has a few holes. Tom Brady is an option too, as much as I'm not a fan. He's had a good, solid year to rehabilitate his injury, but it really depends on how tentative he is with planting that leg. If I had to pick right now....probably Drew Brees. He put up some great numbers last season while his receivers kept switching due to injury, so he's very flexible. Definitely want to keep an eye open there.

Roethlisberger being embroiled in this civil suit doesn't necessarily mean that he's going to have a bad season, but it is certainly going to be on his mind. It's hard to form an opinion on his situation when inaccurate news is reported as "facts of the case." The only people that know what really happened are Ben Roethlisberger and Andrea McNulty. I've admittedly found it very difficult to remain objective. My gut reaction tells me that I should never doubt a victim coming forward with a claim of sexual assault, especially because victims are so frequently discouraged from doing that or filing any kind of charges (let alone criminal ones). Ms. McNulty's character as its being reported is more than dubious, but again, I have seen all too clearly how a person's character can be shredded when the person they are accusing of assault is well-liked. All this said, I hope that things find a way to work out in the healthiest, fairest way for everyone involved.

Onto other things! Picked up my weekly share from Leigh yesterday and it was a big one:We've got corn, a big orange tomato, ground cherries (like tiny tomatillos), zucchini, okra, garlic, potatoes, tomatillos, and peaches. The tomato lasted all of a half hour. I sauteed it with some garlic, onion, some cherry tomatoes from the farmer's market, salt/pepper, and a few sweet peppers. Let everything caramelize a bit and then ran the whole mixture through a food mill. It turned into a glorious burnt-orange colored tomato sauce. We had it on whole wheat penne with some fresh mozzarella. I rarely eat pasta, but it was fantastic.

I'm not sure yet what everything else is destined for, but the peaches are a little bit bruised so I think peach sauce/butter/preserves might be in order. Today was my first day back to running (and in an invigorating morning rain!) since Mt. Gallbladder's eruption last week , so I diced up some of them for my post-workout yogurt. We'll see about the rest...mmm peaches.

More later--stay local, folks!
-Neen

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Attacked! (and Mystery Food Week 8!)

Every once in awhile, I think that our bodies decide to do something in order to remind us that they are in fact, in charge. Once the defeat of the great Perl Dragon was completed, I thought that the knot in my stomach would unwind peacefully, but alas it was not to be.

Starting out last Thursday with coffee on an empty stomach was probably mistake number one. I’m guessing that mistakes 2 through 4 were salad with at least a cup of raw, cruciferous vegetables, another cup of coffee, and a peach with the skin still on. I tried (in vain) to make it to the Capitol South Metro after work in search of yogurt at the Penn Quarter farmer’s market, hoping that would calm what I thought was just bad indigestion. (Again, I was mistaken). By the time I got to the corner in front of the Library of Congress, the $20 in my wallet was destined not for delicious yogurt, but rather for a cab to Joe’s office, where I’d parked the car that morning. We weren’t even out of the city before I admitted to Joe that yes, I thought I needed to go to the hospital.

I don’t feel like my readers need the graphic details of what a gallbladder attack feels like, suffice to say that it is the worst pain I can recall since dislocating my elbow (and I’ve had surgery twice since then). Anyway, I spent Thursday night and most of the day Friday stuck in Alexandria Hospital not allowed to eat, drink, or leave. A CT scan showed an inflamed, gunky gallbladder that was clearly not pleased. Oh well, a little anti-nausea medication and some antibiotics and I was back in action. The gallbladder gets to stay as long as it behaves, but at the remote sign of crankiness, out with it!

The weekend wasn’t all bad though. My parents had planned to come visit us this weekend, so it was nice to have them around when I wasn’t feeling great. We still had a lot of fun, actually! Friday night after I was released from the hospital we went and got a bite to eat at Legal Seafood and then picked up Dioji (who was at Roger and Lynn’s house because Joe was at the hospital taking care of me.) Saturday, I got to take them to the Arlington Farmer’s Market. I was so excited because I knew they would love all of the vendors there. Sure enough, they left with granola, heirloom tomatoes and these little baby peppers that looked irresistibly sweet and colorful. I got my usual haul minus meat because I placed an order with Polyface Farms to try out their products. Pick-up is this Saturday and I am really looking forward to it.

Our other venture on Saturday was to Agraria Restaurant in Georgetown. I originally saw them listed on Slow Food DC’s website as an area eatery that supported sustainable agriculture. Joe mentioned to me that his office frequently takes members there for a meal and after our experience, I can certainly see why. I think that fate was being kind to me because we missed our Friday reservation at Nora’s and I managed to get a table for Joe, myself, and our parents. The harbor was packed and lively, and we had an excellent meal. The dishes weren’t overcomplicated or pretentious, which I really liked. I had the pan-roasted chicken with lemon, thyme, and rosemary. It was accompanied by this really fresh corn, bean, and pepper salad and some whipped potatoes. The portion was just perfect, too. Joe tried one of their pizzas. Wow. The combination of fresh dough, heirloom tomato sauce and fresh made, hand-stretched mozzarella fired in an 800 degree oven created what may be the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. Joe says it was better than Otto, but I dunno…that might require a blind taste test for me to say for sure!
After dinner, we watched boats in the harbor and chatted for awhile. It was so relaxing and refreshing to see everyone having a good time. There are few things better than good company AND good food together. Pictures are good though!


Sunday, we had coffee, a leisurely stroll around Shirlington (with the requisite stop at Cakelove…mmm), and then lunch at Luna Grille before my parents packed up their cooler full of goodies and headed back to Pittsburgh. It was a very relaxing weekend, which was honestly just what I needed after the gallbladder excitement.

Ah yes, and even though I’m banned from eating them raw, I’ve still been enjoying my CSA treats from Wednesday.

Yay! A tomato! And potatoes, green peppers, corn, broccoli, ground cherries, peaches, and apples. All in all, a very good week. There were several fine frittatas to be had. I got some really big blackberries at the Arlington market and I think I’m going to bake them with the peaches for dessert later tonight. I basically make a crust-less pie and then toss toasted honey-cinnamon granola on top of it for a little bit of texture. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pie crust, but anything requiring a lot of butter just doesn’t seem like the brightest idea right now.

Oh well, at least being laid up gave me some time to get into the meat of Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run. Here’s a quick blurb about it from the Washington Post. I’ll post my own review and thoughts once I’ve digested it a bit more. So far though, it is really engaging.
McDougall's subject is the Tarahumara, a tribe living frugally in the remote, foreboding Copper Canyons in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The Tarahumara are legendary for their ability to run extreme distances in inhospitable conditions without breaking a sweat or getting injured. They are superathletes whose diet (pinole, chia seeds, grain alcohol) and racing method (upright posture, flicking heels, clear-headedness) would place them among elite runners of the developed world even though their society and technology are 500 years behind it. It's a fascinating subject, and the pages of "Born to Run" are packed with examples of McDougall's fascination....The book flows not like a race but like a scramble through an obstacle course. McDougall wends his way through the history and physiology of running, occasionally digressing into mini-profiles of top-tier racers and doctors, spinning off into tangents about legendary races like the Leadville Trail 100 Ultramarathon, while always looping back to the main narrative. Back on course, he describes his pursuit of the bashful, elusive Tarahumara and their secret to success on foot; his befriending of an eccentric gringo who became part of the tribe and is the key to McDougall's communication with it; and the realization of the eccentric's dream to pit big-name, corporate-sponsored American marathoners against the near-primeval Indians in a super ultra-marathon in the Copper Canyons. A race to end all races, in other words.
That’s all from me for now…I’ve got to get back to work!

-Neen

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mystery Food Week 7 (Schoooool's out for sum-mer!)

(Insert sigh of relief here)

There were some tears and frustration, but I finished up all of my assignments for the semester. The Perl dragon has been slain. It feels so good to be on vacation for a little while. Yes, there's still work during the day, but now I can at least do fun things like garden and read on my Kindle when I get home at night. I haven't had two seconds to think about getting fantasy football set up for the season, so I'm looking forward to doing nerdy football research this week.

But, speaking of gardening here is Week 7's delicious bounty from Bull Run Mountain:


Potatoes, celery, garlic, salad greens, broccoli, tomatillos, apples, and PEACHES. I have been a peach-eating machine lately. This summer's are really are the closest thing I've tasted to the infamous "Florence fruit stand peach." I'm not sure anything will ever top that. It was a blisteringly hot day in Florence and my parents and I wandered up to this fruit stand with the most gorgeous produce I've ever seen. Hungry from doing the tourist-thing, we got some fruit and to this day that was the most delicious peach I have ever eaten.

Anyway, I digress. I made a big batch of veggie pancakes by shredding one of the potatoes with last week's zucchini, some peppers, onions, garlic, broccoli, and some herbs/spices. Add an egg and a few tablespoons of flour to the mix and then fry them in a pan for a few minutes on each side. They're really crispy and savory!

As for the 10 peaches, I made a batch of peach yogurt (peaches + pumpkin pie spice + greek yogur t+ drizzle of honey + dash of vanilla), ate a few raw, and roasted the rest with a little bit of butter, cinnamon, two small apples, and toasted oats.

Over the weekend, I was in Pittsburgh with the family for Jess' bridal shower. It was a lot of fun! I'd never been to a bridal shower before, but I liked the silly games and enjoyed a really tasty lunch with a lot of people I don't usually see when I'm home. I'm really looking forward to having fun with everyone at the wedding in August. Here I am with the beautiful bride-to-be:


When I came back yesterday, I noticed that I have three bright red cayenne peppers that are about ready to pick and two green sweet peppers that weren't even on the plants when I left! Yay! I was worried. I haven't had much success growing vegetables in the soil in my box garden…

It's good to be back in Arlington, but I already miss everyone. I'm looking forward to some more CSA goodies tomorrow, a week free from worrying about school, and a visit from my parents this weekend.

It's going to be a happy week.

Ciao for now!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Where did Neen and her notes go? (And Mystery Food Week 6!)

Yes, it’s true, I disappeared there for a week. But life happens, right? In short, I had a very important presentation for school, compounded by a Perl assignment I couldn’t seem to get a handle on and then wound up with the stomach flu. It was a rough week. I picked up my CSA share (a delicious basket of potatoes, squash, basil, cabbage, purslane, kohlrabi, and a few other items), but froze most of it because I wasn’t up for eating much or taking a picture. But this week’s is beautiful and is further down in this post…yum!

Fortunately, as of Saturday afternoon things started getting a lot better.

My birthday was Saturday, and it started off with a trip to the farmer’s market and then a group presentation on Elluminate. It was the first time I’d done an online presentation and it went really well. I must attribute some of the success to having a wonderful group to work with and a class that seemed genuinely interested in the topic (biographical reference sources). Want to see our presentation? Go to: http://stuckinthestacks.blogspot.com to view it in its entirety.

After that was done, it was off for a quick run, which was VERY refreshing after being sick all week. (I tried to run on Friday and barely made it down the block).

And then…the culmination of four months of waiting: Billy Joel and Elton John Face to Face!

Pre-concert:

At Nationals Park:

Yes, it was amazing (as always), but even more special that it was the first concert at Nationals Park AND on my birthday. Sometimes the stars really do align. The sustain pedal on Elton’s piano got stuck during the opening set, but it didn’t cause a major problem. Billy’s band came on and he did his set while they took Elton’s piano off for fixing. (It didn’t seem to phase him much---Elton opened his set with Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding and it brought down the house).

Billy Joel was walking on top of pianos, running around throwing microphones, and even dived under Elton’s piano during the technical problem to try and fix it. Very spry and excitable for a man that just turned 60 and is going through divorce #3.

I was really impressed that they went on for 3 and a half hours in the 90 degree heat and very sticky humidity, considering both men were wearing full, dark colored suits. Their bands sounded incredible too. Mark Rivera was dynamite on sax and Crystal Talifiero was her usual “jack-of-all-trades” self, playing everything from bongos to horns.

So, THANK YOU JOE for a wonderful birthday concert experience.

This week has been kinder so far. I finished the impossible Perl assignment and feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of the language and its syntax. Looking at the CGI book really helped considering I’m a lot more familiar with programming for the web than I am with command-line programming. Oh, but you didn’t come here to listen to me go on about Perl, you came for Mystery Food!

That is a delicious bunch of goodies including zucchini, cucumber, tomatillos, potatoes, garlic, basil, Lodi apples, and (my favorite) peaches. The peaches are like candy. (For breakfast this morning, I had something really delicious: Dice one peach and mix it with 5 oz. of plain greek yogurt, a teaspoon of raw honey, sprinkle of cinnamon, and a 1/2 oz. of chopped mixed nuts. Happy in a bowl. It’s also perfect post-workout recovery food. Vanilla or almond extract might be a nice touch, too.)

Tonight for dinner, we’re having lots of local treats…

Last night, I seasoned, herb rubbed, and seared a bison chuck roast and sautéed onions, garlic, tomatillos, and some heirloom tomatoes. I put everything in the crock pot in the fridge overnight. This morning I added some chopped potatoes, kohlrabi, a cheese rind, and about a 1/2 cup total of broth/red wine to the pot. The crock pot is now making me dinner while I’m at work. Total time/effort? About 10 minutes of chopping and sautéing. (You could do everything the night before, but potatoes can get kind of gray and mealy on you if you cut them too far ahead of cooking.)

I hope that everyone out there is having a great week. I’m really looking forward to getting this summer semester finished so that I can focus on other things (like blogging, my brother’s wedding, Slow Food stuff…etc.) for a little while. It’ll be nice to have a month where I have no required reading. I’ll be getting very friendly with the Kindle!

Oh, and no, I did not indulge in a birthday cake this year, but there was a birthday frittata instead!

Weird, yes. Delicious, definitely.

Ciao for now—stay local, folks!
-Neen

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mystery Food Week 4

...was a really busy week, but here's the loot from last Wednesday (7/1):
Salad mix, sorrel, Italian basil, garlic scapes, radishes, and a big purple kohlrabi!

Most of this week's goodie bag ended up in various parts of our early 4th of July cookout on Friday. It was a wonderful meal with friends, and we supported some excellent local farms in the process. On the menu: Hot spinach dip, cool Italian bean dip, fresh vegetable crudite, brined smoked chicken breasts, bison-beef burgers, braised barbecued pork shoulder, and whole wheat peanut butter chocolate-chip cookies and fruit sorbet for dessert.

Unfortunately, class calls, so that's all I've got for now. Oh, except that we went to a really cool pig roast with the good folks from Slow Food DC....yum!: