Friday, February 29, 2008

Spaghetti Dinner

We haven't had a sit-down family dinner since before we went to New York, so despite protests from the kids that they would rather eat downstairs in their rooms, this was the order of the evening: Spaghetti, salad, broccoli, and crusty multi-grain rolls, with grape juice for the kids and a locally produced Malbec for me, from Wallace Winery in West Branch, Iowa. It was a nice dinner, full of laughter, especially when Ben absent-mindedly started to pour vinaigrette into his wine glass, then panicked when he realized what he was doing. That laughter continued until the end of the meal. And that's what family dinners are all about.

Spaghetti Bolognese

spaghetti (lots of it)
1 pound vegetarian crumbles or local organic ground beef from a small farm
1 yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon each: oregano, basil, and thyme (all dried)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional, but gives it a Greek taste)
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 28-ounce can tomatoes (diced or do it yourself)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 4-ounce can tomato paste

1. Cook a large amount of spaghetti, according to package directions (in my house, we like to have leftovers noodles for late-night hunger attacks). Rinse, drain, drizzle with a little olive oil, cover, and keep it in a big shallow bowl in a warm oven until ready to serve.

2. In a large saute pan over medium heat, cook the crumbles or beef with the onion until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and carrot, and saute for two minutes. Add the spices, salt, and pepper, and saute for another two minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes, sauce, and paste. Stir until combined, then keep stirring until the sauce bubbles. Cover, lower the heat, and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.

4. When the sauce is finished, taste and add more salt and pepper if you think it's required. Serve in a big bowl separately from the spaghetti so people can create their own preferred pasta-to-sauce ration. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if that's what you like. (My kids do.)

I also served this, as you can see, with crusty bread (I broke mine open and drizzled with olive oil, then sprinkled with a little bit of Himalayan pink salt), salad with your favorite vinaigrette, broccoli with a little butter, and a robust red wine.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Back from New York

I'm back from the Big Apple, where I did a lot of eating...and no yoga at all. Covering the Westminster Kennel Club dog show for Dog Fancy magazine is a big job, but always one I embrace whole-heartedly. I had an amazing trip, as usual. To read about it, see my travel blog: Eccentric Planet.

But here are a few highlights of really great meals I had there.

Vegetable Pad See Eil (Thai) at Pam Real Thai Food:

Pink Cake at Amy's Bakery:

Roasted Vegetable Panini at the Tick Tock Diner:

Vegetable sushi at Kang Suh (Korean/Japanese):

Butternut squash soup with wild mushrooms and macaroni and cheese at the Hudson Cafeteria:

Mmm...I get hungry just remembering.

Meanwhile, I'm back home, back to yoga, and back to cooking. I've been eating up leftovers and making things I've made before, but had a really rigorous yoga class this morning. It's good to be back, and I'm getting geared up to cook again, so stay tuned for more innovative meals ASAP.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Maybe if I WAS Catholic...

I would have been more successful with this Lent business. Three days into my Lenten fast, I was having coffee with my friend Rachel and she asked if I wanted to split a pecan coffee cake. "Sure!" I said blithely, and was all the way through it before I realized it (obviously) contained sugar. Just as well, I decided, because I was headed to New York City and I knew I would be faced with some spectacular pastries (and indeed I was). I guess it wasn't the right time for a sugar sacrifice.

I've just returned from New York and will probably spend the week catching up on my travel blog ( In the meantime, tonight I made a delicious Sunday dinner. Roasted chicken (free range organic), gravy, salad, grapes, biscuits with butter, and a gorgeous--and easy--potato galette. Here's how I made the galette:

2 pounds russet potatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mixed shredded cheese (I used muenster, Swiss, and cheddar-jack)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Peel the potatoes, then grate them. I used my Cuisineart with the grater blade. Put the grated potatoes in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out the moisture.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, then half the grate potatoes, pressing them down with a spatula. Cover with the cheese, then cover the cheese with the remaining potatoes. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Press and shape with the spatula, to keep it flat and round. Peek under occasionally.

3. When the bottom is golden-brown and crispy and holds together, put a baking sheet over the skillet and carefully flip the skillet over so the galette lands on the baking sheet. Return the skillet to the stove and add the remaining oil.

4. Carefully slide the galette back into the skillet and cook until the other side is golden brown and crispy. Keep pressing and shaping with the spatula so it's nice and round.

5. To serve, slide the galette onto a large round plate and cut into wedges with a pizza cutter. Top with green onions or mushroom gravy.

Note: You can also toss sauteed onions and/or mushrooms into the shredded potato before adding it to the pan.

At least I didn't have any dessert.

Dinner is served:

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lent Begins

Let me start by explaining that I am not Catholic. However, I do enjoy the spiritual exercise and personal discipline of giving something up for Lent. This year, I've decided to face a demon I've conquered in the past, but which has recently crept back into my life: processed sugar.

Emmett (my nine-year-old son) is joining me in our Lenten vow to exercise all processed sugar from our lives. No white sugar, no brown sugar, no cane sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, no dextrose or maltodextrin or any of that processed stuff. Pure molasses, agave syrup, real maple syrup, and brown rice syrup are o.k.

We've already had quite a time finding Emmett something for lunch. Even the wholegrain bread I bought last week contains high fructose corn syrup. But he finally settled on some organic corn chips with melted cheese and apple slices with natural peanut butter. I rolled up leftover tempeh bacon in a whole wheat tortilla with hot sauce and spinach leaves, and helped finish the apple slices and pb. It won't be easy and we may occasionally eat something by accident that has a little sugar in it, but we are not going to eat any desserts or sweets and we will be reading labels. I hope this sets a good example for Emmett and makes him even more conscious of what he puts into his body--since he tends to be so fond of junk food.

For a snack, I enjoyed the luscious and delectable, 100% raw Organic White Chocolate Yoga Bar, by Everythingraw ( Can I describe how delicious this is? Creamy, chocolaty, nutty, everything I could ever want in a candy bar--but with no sugar, so I am entirely virtuous so far, half way through Day One of Lent.

By the way, today was a snow day, school cancelled. I think we must have gotten at least 12 inches of beautiful snow. See Ben plow.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Happy Super-Fat Tuesday!

As yet another winter storm descends upon us, we are preparing to celebrate Super-Fat Tuesday, a.k.a. Super Tuesday plus Mardi Gras, a.k.a. Pancake Day, a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday. Dinner will consist of chocolate chip pancakes, tempeh bacon (free-range uncured bacon for the boys), and scrambled tofu (eggs for the boys, who still haven't opened their minds and palate's to tofu's considerable charm).

For cocktails, traditional hurricanes, of course. We plan to feast while watching the election returns, and possibly playing a rousing family game of Pictionary.


2 ounces light rum
2 ounces dark rum
2 ounces passion fruit juice
2 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
1 ounce sweetened lime juice
1 tablespoon grenadine

Combine all ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake and serve in a tall glass over ice, garnished with orange slices and cherries.

Chocolate Chip/Mixed Berry Pancakes

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I like Bob's Red Mill)
2 tablespoons brown sugar (I used organic)
1/4 cup baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups rice milk
1/4 cup canola oil
chocolate chips, chopped nuts, and frozen berries, as needed, for sprinkling over the pancakes

1. Preheat a griddle over medium heat. Spray it with cooking spray.

2. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

3. In a glass measuring cup, combine rice milk (soy milk also works) and canola oil. Pour into the dry mixture and stir until just combined. Don't over-mix or the pancakes will be too tough.

4. Pour the batter onto the griddle in 1/4-cup dollops. Sprinkle chocolate chips, nuts, and/or berries on top, as desired. When the edges start to bubble, flip them over and cook for another minute.

5. Keep the pancakes on a plate in a low oven so they stay warm and you can serve them all at once. Serve with real maple syrup or orange marmelade, with or without whipped topping. These pancakes go very well with tempeh bacon. (Or maybe it's the maple syrup that makes the tempeh bacon so irrisistible...?)

Tempeh Bacon

This recipe is a slight variation on Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Tempeh Bacon in Vegan With a Vengeance. This should serve 4, or in my case, one, with leftovers to make frozen burritos with the scrambled tofu, below.

1 8-ounce block of soy tempeh
1/4 cup Bragg's Liquid Aminos (or you could use soy sauce)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, put through a garlic press
1 tablespoon peanut oil

1. Slice the tempeh in half to get two approximate squares, then slice each square into strips. You should get about 24 strips.

2. Heat about three cups of water in a heavy pot over high heat. When the water starts to steam, add the tempeh strips carefully, so you don't break them. Cover and let steam for ten minutes. Remove from heat, carefully drain into a strainer or colander, and let cool for about ten minutes.

3. In a large ziploc bag, combine all the remaining ingredients, except the peanut oil. Add the tempeh strips, seal the bag, and move the bag around to cover all the strips in the marinade. Refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight.

4. Heat a griddle over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Fry the tempeh bacon until golden-brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels.

Scrambled Tofu

This serves two, or in my case, one, with leftovers for tomorrow. I normally put veggies in this, but I was hungry so streamlined it this time.

about 8 ounces firm or extra firm tofu (whatever you have around)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablesoon Bragg liquid aminos (or soy sauce)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
hot pepper flakes, to taste

1. Wrap the tofu in paper towels and drain for at least 15 minutes (if longer, keep it in the refrigerator).

2. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Add the garlic and saute for one minute. Crumble the tofu into the pan. Sprinkle with the turmeric and stir to combine everything.

3. Cook and stir until the tofu starts to get brown and crispy. Season with salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes.

To use leftovers, wrap scrambled tofu and tempeh bacon in warmed whole wheat tortillas, wrap in plastic, then freeze. To defrost, unwrap them, roll them in a paper towel, and cook for two minutes.

You can also freeze the pancakes, stacked with wax paper between them or in individual plastic bags. Defrost these in the microwave on a plate, covered with a paper towel, for one minute, or a little less, depending on how big they are.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Anusara Yoga Retreat

This weekend, I attended an Anusara Yoga Retreat at Prairiewood Retreat Center in Hiawatha, Iowa. Marsha Nieland, who owns Fusion Studio in Cedar Rapids, had the idea to do a retreat centered around the book "Eat Pray Love." On the first day, we had a two-hour yoga class, then lunch--Stacey Berg catered. She made delicious roasted vegetable panini, an incredible minestrone soup (see picture), and turtle bars.

After a break, we spent the evening hanging out, playing games, finger painting, talking about the book and the parts we loved, laughing a lot, and eating Indian and Italian food from local restaurants. The Aloo Gobhi (cauliflower and potatoes) was especially good, also the Dal, Nam, Raita, and rice pudding, which the restaurant (Taste of India in Cedar Rapids) threw in just to be nice. After dinner we broke out an incredible array of chocolates from Vosges out of Chicago, and drank lots of a wine called (appropriately) Bitch. It's a red-fruity wine, very easy to drink and juicy but not sweet. The next morning, we did more yoga, pranayama, meditation. Everyone had an amazing time.

My friend Rachel, pictured above doing a lovely split across the beds in the room we shared at Prairiewoods, has just returned from Denver as a certified yoga teacher and is now specializing in Anusara, studying to teach that style. She's my BFF so she wanted me to try it. It's an open-hearted style of yoga, fun and compassionate, not so serious in tone as Iyengar but yet rigorous, based in many of the same principles as Iyengar. I feel great after the weekend--I almost wish we had done more yoga classes (but it's not every day you get that much premium-quality chocolate piled up in front of you so seductively, so I'm certainly not complaining).

Today, to balance out the weekend's diet extremes, I'm doing another raw day. Raw Monday, Raw Friday works for me so far. I'm making one exception: A cup of good hot black coffee. For breakfast, a carob orange smoothie, which I invented based on ingredients I happened to have around--raw pistachios, very ripe bananas, lots of oranges, and a big jar of carob powder:

Carob-Orange Smoothie

1/4 cup raw pistachios
1/4 cup carob powder
1/4 cup filtered water
2 very ripe bananas
juice from one freshly squeezed orange
orange wedges for garnish

1. Grind the pistachios in the blender. Add the carob powder and water. Blend to a paste.
2. Add the bananas and orange juice. Blend until smooth.
3. Serve with orange wedges--squeeze them over the top. This will be room temperature unless you use frozen bananas, which also works.

Friday, February 1, 2008


It's February 1, and our anti-consumerism bet is officially over.


I don't know what were thinking, getting into a competition with the likes of Amy and Nick, those two are hard core. But still, I learned a lot and it was a great experience. We didn't stay under the required limit, but we did spend much less than we would have, in a month when we had a lot of expenses like quarterly taxes and credit card bills. I have so much travel planned in 2008, and Nick and Amy have so many home-improvement plans, that we will continue to watch our pennies and save for more important things than junk made in China, bad food, etc. Not spending is really hard for me, but a personal discipline I desperately need to practice longer and harder.

In the meantime, I haven't posted food here because I've mostly been eating versions of the same things I've already posted. But tonight, I am making raw tacos. I am trying to eat raw all day today, in preparation for a yoga retreat tomorrow, and just to lighten up a little. I had yoga this morning and it felt really good, on just some tea and a banana (I know, tea isn't technically raw, but I decided it's o.k. for my purposes).

I had some walnuts and an apple for lunch. Now I'm ready for something savory.

Raw Tacos

1-1/2 cups raw pecans
1 tablespoon Bragg liquid aminos
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
dash of hot pepper flakes
lime wedges for garnish
Romaine lettuce leaves
fresh tomatoes, sliced, salt and pepper to taste
avocado, peeled, mashed, and salted

1. Combine pecans, Bragg, garlic, cumin, chili powder, salt, black pepper, and hot pepper flakes, in a blender or food processor. Process until chunky. Scoop into a bowl.

2. Mound pecan mixture onto large cleaned Romaine lettuce leaves. Squeeze lime wedges over the filling. Top with tomato slices and avocado. Roll it up and enjoy.

I can barely believe raw food can be this amazingly good. We had some grapes for dessert but they weren't nearly as good as the tacos.