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 It went pretty well for me, although I made one really bad decision because of outdated information.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


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.)


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!


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!

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!