Monday, February 18, 2008

Post Vacation: More legumes

Back from a wonderful weekend away at my in-laws cabin with my sweetie. As is our way, one of the fleshly delights we enjoyed while away was lots of good eating. The last time we went there for the weekend, we really thoroughly overate. This time we were smart enough to scale it back a few notches. It was still delicious and indulgent: we used some gift cards for Trader Joe's we got for Christmas, so we splurged on foods that I would not normally buy: expensive cheese, grapes out of season, dried tart cherries for the apple crisp I made... but it was still a very economical weekend for two adults to feast in deliciousness for 4 days!

Well, with the meat and cheese eating of the past weekend behind me, the first thing I did when I got home was make a big pot of lentil soup. There are a million variations on lentil soup, but this is my mom's recipe that I grew up on, and it's still my favourite. I've got a fridge full of it and, with the help of some chicken thighs I've got thawing that I will curry tomorrow, it will get me through the week and make me feel... de-indulged? digested? Whatever the word is for eating normally, that's what lentil soup is.

Betty Ann's Lentil Soup

1 cup brown lentils, washed and picked over
1 large onion, minced
olive oil
2 small potatoes, cubed
1 cup spinach
1 carrot, grated
1 can diced tomatoes and juice
shredded cheese for serving (parmesan or feta are best)

saute the onion in olive oil (i use 1 tbl). when clear add lentils and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer 2 hours. After 1 1/2 hours put in the potatoes. At the end, add the tomatoes, spinach and carrot, and any seasonings you like (i like basil). Simmer ten more minutes and serve with cheese. Mmmm. Sticks to your ribs, high- fiber style.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Daal: Don't leave home without it

This weekend was a symphony of overindulgence as my partner and I celebrated his birthday, first with a rib dinner for two at home on Friday night, and then a potluck party on Saturday night. Thank god for my friend Prajna, who brought chole as her contribution. I at least got a quasi normal dinner, but heartily laced with way more sugar than my system can really tolerate. It's such a cycle - one which I am so familiar with. Something trips up my cooking-eating system, and I eat something unusual: restaurant food, so much richer, saltier, fattier, then anything homecooked. The salt and fat makes me crave sugar. Then I am too wiped out from sugar crashing to cook properly, and the whole thing carries on.

Today I was determined that this week wouldn't be like last. Jeremy and I are going away on Thursday (my birthday) to celebrate our birthdays and a year since we moved in together. We're going to Idylwild, where his folks have a cabin - anyway, we will definitely be doing some eating for pleasure, as well as other things for pleasure, and I don't want to go away feeling exhausted, bloated, over-sugared and generally lousy. To that end, I hauled out my favourite book, Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, and made some of my trusty daal. Without Daal nothing is as good. It's the perfect fuel for me. I make it like she tells me too now, sllightly differently than how my mom taught me. Tonight I made moong daal. I flavoured it with mustard oil in which i fried black mustard seeds, fennel seeds and dried ginger, a fave combination of mine. So that's in the fridge, ready to nourish me through the week.

I stuck some sweet potatoes in the oven, and made another Madhur recipe, for sri lankan greens. You can make any greens this way, and they are really knock your socks off. As you can see in the pic, I bought some beautiful greens at the farmers market. I am trying to get closer to 100% my produce at the farmers market, and part of that is weaning my dependence on the prewashed bags of greens I buy at Trader Joe's.

Anyway, the greens are sauteed with spices: sliced onion, fresh chilies and curry leaves - those are the secret ingredient, giving a rich, buttery taste that is utterly unique. Add a little salt and turmeric, put the lid on until the greens are tender. I never used to cook my greens long enough. These ones, red and white chard and tuscan black kale, really benefited from the 15 minutes steaming in the spices. They became sweet and tender, taking on the flavours of the seasonings beautifully.

Anyway, I feel much more equipped to handle the week without having to stretch my belly or my budget at a restaurant: 4 or 5 meals of creamy dal, delicious sri lankan greens and comforting sweet potatoes. Bring it on!

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Colonized Molecule

One of the inspirations for this blog is that I finally picked up Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, a 'bible' of the new localvore/slow food movement. I'm about halfway through it, and so far it's as gripping as I might expect. Since I haven't gotten to the end yet, I suppose it's not fair for me to gripe about the sense of 'ok, what the hell am I supposed to do about it on $50 a week for food?" I am getting as I read about the high price of cheap food.

One of the things Pollan talks about in the book is our food chain's dependence on corn. Hybridized industrial corn, which goes into virtually everything we eat: it makes the food additives, emulsifiers and sweeteners that make up most of our starches, and is the animal feed that makes most of our protein: eggs, chickens, beef, cheese, milk. (organic or not I might add). Scientists can tell this dependence by looking at the carbon molecules that make up the bodies of North Americans. Corn has a unique carbon signature, and one of the scientists Pollan quotes describes the average North American as looking, molecularly speaking, "like a corn chip on legs."

I can't tell you how much this disturbs me. The idea that the massive corn-oil-military-imperialist complex has affected my body, right down to the level of my carbon atoms, fills me with rage. Rage and corn.

In the end, this is yet one more manifestation of why what we eat, drink and breathe is so important to revolutionary transformation. Our body is a primary site of colonization, and must be one of the foremost loci of liberation. This is basic feminist theory of course, and the underpinnings of my life's journey into healthcare and food politics. But I gain renewed energy from the thought of my little carbon atoms - the chain of being made flesh, literally. As I struggle to make change in my own and other's lives, I am inspired by the thought of breaking the molecular chains of corn dependence within my own body, of no longer being 'a corn chip with legs'.

This entry was a little grim. More later probably on the decadent, corn-fed birthday dinner I am making for my honey tonight. Hey. Even the battleground of the body needs furlough every now and then!

(Image: Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Your Body Is a Battle Ground), 1989)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chronicling the mishaps

Today was not a successful frugal day. It is a bit tiring to feel like if I screw up on my planning at all, then I am out of luck. This morning i realized the food i cooked on sunday had run out. The lunch I packed to take to work consisted of two slices of bread and a raw egg. I get depressed just thinking about it.

So, I cracked and got lunch from next door, Bella Roma. Bella Roma is wonderful, delicious food, made with care by a gifted chef with good ingredients. I recommend it highly. But it's not a great place for me to go for lunch. For one, getting a panini, the cheapest things there, comes to $10, more than my food budget for a whole day. And at the cost of about 800 calories. I guess I could have gotten the pasta e fagioli, but then I would feel like i was wasting eating out. Don't question it. That makes sense to me.

I don't feel too awful, physically, but a huge bunch of fat and white flour in the middle of the day is making me feel very sleepy. Plus, eating salty animal products makes me crave sugar like nobodies business. I am nibbling on some Mix Mukvas (sweet fennel candy breath freshener) I bought at Bharat Bazaar on Tuesday to keep it at bay.

I should really do a DIY frozen dinner project some time soon, so in these cases I don't have to take a raw egg for lunch, which, in retrospect, was pretty much a guarantee i was going to eat a pannini today.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pancake Day

Yesterday was Pancake Day, aka shrove tuesday, mardi gras etc. Since I'm Canadian, to me it will always be pancake day. This was news to my American partner, but he was happy to go along for the ride.

Confessionally, I suck at making pancakes. I always turn out these 300 lb slabs of low fat multigrain cardboard and also manage to burn them. This time I swore it would be different. And it was. I printed a recipe from (click on the pic for the recipe) that looked easy and delicious, and had buttermilk, one of my favourite ingredients. In fact, I bought the buttermilk before I even found the recipe. I bought a piece of turkey kielbasa at the store to provide sausage, to me the necessary accompaniment to pancakes.

The recipe had butter and white flour in it, and so I discovered why I had been turning out hockey pucks all these years. Making them decadent was the right thing to do. It is Mardi Gras afterall, or the british equivalent: No drinking in the streets, no flashing of boobs, no costume parades; Let's go wild and have PANCAKES FOR DINNER.

All that being said, the white flour, butter and sugar has made me feel a little weird, as always when I stray from my pure food path, which happens not infrequently... So today I am going to try to eat as cleanly as possible, and I brought some extra snacks in case my blood sugar is screwed up after the pancake dinner. Of course, I am slated to go out for dinner for a friend's birthday tonight, so who knows what will happen later. All the more reason to eat right for lunch today.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Numero Uno

I've decided to try and chronicle my adventures, eating right, living in harmony with the planet and my beliefs and fueling the revolution inside and out, all on a budget.

One of the most important things I do that helps all these things, is cook for myself (and increasingly, for my partner.) I'm out of the house a lot and I don't like having to make choices between different unhealthy, expensive or both, foods, which even in a city like Los Angeles, are what's on tap. So on the weekends especially, I cook. I also do meal planning, which I do in concert with the sales info I get off the websites of the local grocery chains. I try to buy my produce at the farmers market, and am on a quest to eat more locally. I also track what I eat on Partially I do this because being overweight is an issue for me (I used to weigh over 200 lbs) but increasingly because I am curious about the nutritional profile of what I eat and it gives you all that info like fat, cholesterol, fiber etc. Check it out - it's neat to see!

On today's menu:

Spice rubbed chicken thighs smothered in organic barley
Steamed cauliflower
organic apple

Snack: my homemade 'Luna Bars': cranberry almond oatmeal cookies