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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Confession: I'm Confused.

Is anyone else often confused about the clear contradictions going on in the food world these days? I am.

If I'm to have listened to every piece of information I've absorbed over the last few months, here is what I have learned:

Soy is bad for you. In moderation, soy is very good for you. Soy is great for you.
Protein is essential to be healthy. Americans rely far too much on protein.
Whole grains are important to a healthy diet. Be careful, because as Americans we eat far too many grains..
Eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible. But only eat fruits and vegetables that are in season.
Eat only "real" food. Avoid anything processed. 
Fat is bad for you. Fat is essential to absorbing minerals found in food. Eat more fat. 
Eat approximately 1500 calories a day to look like healthy celebrities.
Being thin is not necessarily being healthy. But you're not healthy if you're not thin

Ok, this is literally just a smattering of the information that is swimming around my head on a daily basis. It's hard, this world of food. And lately, I'm finding myself more confused than ever. One source tells you to substitute low-fat cheeses for everything under the sun, and to make sure you consume Almond Milk. Not because Almond Milk is healthier, but because it has less calories and more protein than skim milk. Another person is telling me to consume whole, raw milk daily, because it's the healthiest thing. But am I healthy if I'm heavy? And is it healthier to eat cheese that is (deliciously) processed into a red wax circle?

Granted, I cook a lot, and eat mostly all real food, and avoid processed food and try to be as healthy as possible. I exercise regularly and drink in moderation and blah blah blah blah blah. I consider myself well-educated and learning about these issues. Mostly.

But I honestly find myself perplexed on a daily basis about one choice or another, and it often changes if I'm having a "thin" day or a "fat" one. Generally "thin" days lend themselves to whole, healthful ingredients, while "fat" days find me running toward the Splenda and away from the quinoa. I eat local when I can, consume mass fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis. But in the dark days of December, YES...I eat tomatoes. Bad, right? Or good, because I'm not eating marinara from a jar?

Does anyone else find themselves trying desperately to navigate these waters on a daily basis? How do you stay centered in your own eating mantra when everyone is shouting at you from different sides?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Salad is Born...Now it Needs a Home!

It's a well-known fact that I am, in fact, addicted to salad. Given the other things in life I could choose as my vice, I'm not that concerned. Usually, my salad involves whatever is in the fridge and generally create something that I adore, but most people would call a meal with way too much going on.

Last night, however, this changed. I made the concerted effort to make a salad that made sense, both ingredient-wise, and flavor profile. Ok, I'm totally lying. It was based on the lack of food in our fridge. Tomato, tomato...

Anyway. I put together this variety of flavors with purpose, even though there wasn't much to choose from. Grilled chicken, heart of palm, peach, herb mix, arugula, walnuts. And it was really good. Perfectly light for the late night hour of my eating, but flavorful enough to feel substantial. There was one huge misstep, which was the fact that just 2 days ago I put balsamic vinegar on the grocery list that lives on our fridge. So...the necessary flavor the balsamic goodness would have imparted was missing, but that's what next time is for, right?

But here is the issue. I eat salad at least 4 times a week. At least. And still, I do not have a proper wooden salad bowl. I make my concoction most often in a medium-sized stainless steel mixing bowl. (And yes, most nights I eat it directly out of said bowl...don't judge me!) I have ceramic salad bowls and serving bowls galore, but the one thing we never registered for was a proper wooden salad bowl.  I would love one, and yet somehow never seem to find the money to purchase one. Yes, I realize how ridiculous that statement is, but it's true. There's always something else to buy...

Now I'm on the hunt. Anyone know of a fabulously gorgeous, practical, inexpensive, gorgeous wooden salad bowl for sale?

Handful argula
2 C Earthbound Organic Fresh Herb Mix
1 large (or 2 medium) heart of palm, sliced
1 peach, quartered and grilled
1 chicken breast, halved and grilled
1/4 C chopped walnuts

Heat grill pan (or grill) to medium heat; spray with olive oil spray.
Season chicken breast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
Place chicken on grill.
Grill chicken for approximately 8 minutes per side (depends on thickness.) Let rest and then slice in half lengthwise and then across.
Place peach segments on grill, turning after 1-2 minutes (you should see strong grill marks.)
Mix all remaining ingredients together, adding chicken and peaches.
Dress with balsamic vinaigrette. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sweet Matilda, She is Blooming

I needed to name the garden. I have no idea why, but for some reason, something I'm taking this much care and responsibility for, and loving and reporting on at least weekly, feels like it needs a name. And thus, Sweet Matilda was born (inspired by the Tom Waits song, Waltzing Matilda.)

It's been a little over two weeks since the garden was built. In that time, I've been diligent; watering twice daily when necessary, carefully removing too-weak leaves from the bagillion tomato plants, and trying to train the vining plants in the raised bed to flow over the edge. I've been slightly obsessed, and for good reason. I'm in love with it. And it shows. It's growing beautifully, and the anticipation of the fruit and vegetables to come are enough to keep me satiated. Plus: the tomato plant I purchased at the Niles Bensidoun French Market a few weeks ago has popped our very first tomato!

I've waxed poetic on why this garden means more to me than all other gardens past, and it's true. I love it. It's taking time away from obsessing about other crazy things in my life (work, travel, family, life) and allowing me a little bit of focus everyday. For the first time, I understand why people garden (both flowering and eating) and I'm a changed woman.

It helps that I've also spent a lot of time visiting local farmer's markets and farms, and picking up what has started surfacing. I bought my first strawberries of the season, and they've been juicy and delicious, with the expected gorgeous tartness of the beginning of the season. My Locavore app is getting an intense work out these days.

We're actually on our way to Wisconsin right now (got to love blogging from the passenger seat of the car) for our nephew's high school graduation, and I have high hopes of hitting some beautiful WI farm stands on the way back tomorrow. And of course, the necessary, obligatory stops for cheese in all forms.

One thing. I seem to be KILLING all the Marigolds I planted to keep the rabbits/deer/woodland creatures at bay. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Scream, You Scream...

Monday night was lazy. And I mean, pizza, couch, season finale of Parenthood and a double feature of Breaking Bad lazy. After the crazy weekend, and a movie date on Monday afternoon (J saw Date Night with our "nieces" and I saw Sex and the City 2 with friends) we were tired. And missed each other.

All seemed right with the world as we settled onto the couch to watch 9 By Design (before the aforementioned viewing.) I had a few squares of sausage, spinach, and garlic pie from our new favorite, Villa Nova, in front of me, along with a salad and a giant bottle of water. My broken toe was elevated. And then it hit me. CRAP! I don't have any dessert in the house. Ordinarily, this would not be such a big deal, and I'd eat a piece of fruit or a piece of dark chocolate broken off of a bar reserved for baking. But not after the weekend that wouldn't end. I needed ice cream, or cake, or something only 5 year olds should eat in the  same meal with pizza.

I ate, and pondered, and drowned my confusion in the world of Courtney and Bob Novogratz and their brood. And then got up, and quickly made a batch of lowfat, agave sweetened, vanilla chocolate chip ice cream. Think I'm kidding? I'm not. Once the ice cream maker was done, I threw the soft-serve ice cream in a container and chucked it in the back of the freezer, hoping for a miracle's worth of hardening before I needed to chow down.

After hour 1 Jesse and Walter White's meth-lab shenanigans, we went for it. It wasn't completely hard yet, but I couldn't have cared less. I mowed down a lady-sized bowl.

Back in the freezer now, getting it's well-earned freezing time, this ice cream made me insanely happy. Why? It's exactly what this blog is about. Easy, accessible, created with minimal ingredients in (relatively) minimal time. Naturally, healthfully, and tasty. A kid can do it, a mom can do it.

And yes, a broken-toed, completely wiped, little old me can do it, too.

Lowfat Agave Vanilla Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
2 1/4 C 1% Organic Milk 
1/2 C agave
1/4 C raw sugar (I think this is probably unnecessary, and am going to try without next time)
vanilla bean, opened and seeded (or you could use 2 TBSP vanilla extract)
1/4 C cream
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 bittersweet chocolate bar (chopped into small chunks)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together milk, agave, and sugar until sugar is dissolved. (You could use a handmixer for this, too.) Mix roughly 2 minutes on low speed.
Stir in vanilla, cream, and sea salt.
With the ice cream machine on, add ingredients to machine. Follow directions for your machine--mine has me add the chips in during the last 5 minutes.

Transfer mixture to air-tight container and freeze until hardened to desired consistency.
**A Note: My ice cream machine directions clearly state that using low fat ingredients and NOT using stabilizers and other things, the consistency of the ice cream may be different than that of a purchased ice cream. This batch did turn out a bit like frozen yogurt, but that's fine with me, given the quality of ingredients and the lack of intense fat. That is all. :)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

(Pouring a huge favorite--always--Founder's Brewing Kentucky Breakfast Stout)
Incredibly, I made it through the weekend. Without chiropractors, massages, or falling down. I worked 32 hours in 3 days. I unstocked 90 cases of beer, set up and tore down 1 huge beer fest. I tended bar for a more-than-sold-out BoDeans concert, likely pouring 300 drinks and opening more than 150 beers. I dealt with 1 massive crisis and turned it into 1 fantastic extra offering of food.

The Extreme Beer Fest was a huge success. Probably too huge. While I'm thrilled that we pulled it off with 90 beers and 3 distributors, we all decided that bigger, in this case, is not necessarily better. For October's event, I'm scaling back, doing a statewide (translation, Michigan only) beer fest. But, having said that, Friday night I was certainly the belle of the beer ball.
(The view from above)
Favorite beer of the night? It's a toss up, but I'm fairly certain that Warren Michigan's, Dragonmead and their Final Absolution won by a small margin. Dark Horse (Marshall, MI) was another huge favorite, as was local brewery The Livery and Great Divide out of Colorado. The bbq and smoked salmon courtesy of Wheatberry Tavern (Buchanan, MI) were absolutely incredible. The shop is stocked to the gills with beer, and the sales rocked my world.

The best part of the whole night, aside from my amazing crew at The Acorn and my rockstar pourers? The new faces, specifically those of self-proclaimed beer geeks. I got more compliments than I could handle (including my favorite: "Do you get proposed to ALL the time?") and saw a lot of happy, buzzed people. People traveled for this event, and not just the usuals from Chicago. One guy drove from Madison just for my event...which, in the beer world, truly means something.
While I'm exhausted, nursing a broken toe, and readying to rally for an insane few weeks of travel and work, I'm still basking in the beer geek glow. And beginning the logistics for October.
All Photos Courtesy of Richard Hellyer/F Stops Here