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The craving: brain-boosting bowl of breakfast
Have on hand: quinoa, blackberries, hazelnuts

Blackberry and Quinoa Breakfast BowlWe are big fans of breakfast around here, can’t get through more than an hour of any day without it, and I’m not talking about a little muffin and a piece of fruit. Those may be nice as pre-breakfast starters, but I need substance in the morning. After a few years of working a job that required my brain be in working order at 6 am, I’ve collected a small arsenal of recipes that are quick and simple to prepare, but deliver a powerful punch of energy and nutrients that help kick start my day, and I can say from experience, the promise of a good breakfast really does make it easier to roll one’s arse out of bed in the morning. None of these breakfasts come out of a box (cereal is a decided luxury for us)—instead most start at the bulk bins at the co-op. Oatmeal is my go-to meal—I think we may have perfected the oatmeal-making experience in our various homes—but some days I need to change it up some, which is when I reach into the recesses of the cupboard for some other whole food stuff. Some days it’s bulgur, for a savory dish I will share at some future date. This morning it was black quinoa. Continue Reading »

The craving: refreshment
Have on hand: yellow watermelon, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, mint, thai basil

Watermelon saladThe heat has boomeranged back, just when we thought our long stretch of sunny, sunny summer was over. I was getting used to using an oven again and preparing to welcome back all my favorite cardigans, when today temps shot back up to the 90s. Well, I won’t begrudge a little more sun, since it’s doing wonderful things for my tomatoes, but after a walk on the flats today I was needing something cool and refreshing.

this little guy was also out in the sun

this little guy was also out in the sun

I looked at the half a yellow watermelon left lingering in the fridge by some recent guests who were a little put off by the color. Yellow watermelons are usually smallish and round, rather than oblong, with thinner rind than commercial pink/red watermelons, which is why you are more likely to find a good one at your local farmers’ market than at the supermarket. The yellow watermelon has a more pronounced, “honey” flavor than its better-know cousin, and in my experience, is much juicier. I didn’t want a dessert, however, and took some inspiration from Jerry Traunfeld’s book The Herbal Kitchen (thanks, Mom!)—which features both a salad with tomato, cantaloupe, and mint; and a dessert of blueberries, watermelon, and basil—as well as some of the most refreshing foods in the fridge to create this thirst-quenching bowl.

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What to do with: purple beans you want to keep purple
Have on hand: green beans, purple beans, dill

Purple Beans GaloreI’m a little in love with purple foods this summer. I’m not talking eggplant and plums here. No, it’s the novelty of seeing a normally green, white, or otherwise demure foodstuff flushed out in a dark hue that gets my heart a-thumping. Maybe I need more excitement in my life, or maybe I just need more anthocyanin, the pollinator-attracting flavonoid that dyes plants red, blue, or purple and that has nutritionists all aflutter with its supposed antioxidantal properties. Blackberries, red cabbage, violets, cherries, and açaí are all good sources of anthocyanin, and scientists have experimented with adding the pigment to tomatoes in an attempt to boost their cancer-fighting properties. Janet Helm wrote a decent round-up of the latest research into the benefits of purple foods last spring for the Chicago Tribune (which has since relegated it to the paid archives, so I’ll link to the version in the sister paper Columbia Tribune), and with purple varieties of everything from carrots to cauliflower in growing demand nationwide I am certainly not alone in my attraction to these colorful characters. We have discussed my infatuation with my purple basil plant and my attraction to purple kale. If Tiger Beat (Tiger Beet?) put some violet veg on the cover, I would rip it off and tape it to my wall.

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Bring out Your Big Squash

What to do with: A zucchini the size and shape of a pumpkin?
Have on hand: Tondo Chiaro de Toscana, cooked brown rice, chickpeas, basil, tomatoes, garlic, sweet onion, Parmesan

bigger than a breadbox

When we picked up the CSA a few weeks ago, there was a surprise among the carrots, green beans, and potatoes that are becoming de rigeur. It really shouldn’t have been surprising—Genine Bradwin of Kirsop Farm has been warning us in her weekly missives that strange things were afoot in the summer squash aisle of our local farm. A group of Cosata Romanesco seeds had been mislabeled at the seed supplier, resulting in squash with the light green-flecked coloring of a Romanesco, but shaped more like a pumpkin. The unusual squash is properly called a Tondo Chiaro di Toscana. My Italian is pretty rough, but that translates to something like Round Pale of Tuscany. And even though I had fair notice that I would not be getting the usual bat of zucchini, it’s another thing to encounter one in person and have to cart it home by bicycle. It’s like bringing home a squat little emperor.

the good stuff

the good stuff

An unusual, regal sort of squash, the Tondo seemed to demand that something special be done with it—something beyond being mixed into a stir-fry, pasta sauce, or burrito. So it sat in the fridge for another two weeks, holding court over all the more prosaic vegetables that we know how to handle. Until in frustration with it, D cut it down to size, using half in…a stir-fry. That left another half, and it seemed perfect for stuffing, especially with some brown rice left over from the stir-fry and basil taking over the tomato barrel outside.

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In which I go into the woods to live occasionally and find out whether there is anything edible there.

Rubus armeniacusWhen I first arrived in the Pacific Northwest late last fall, I soon realized I had landed in a berry-lover’s mecca. Every open lot seemed to be populated not by some useless weed, but by blackberry bushes dripping with the biggest, ripest berries I had ever seen. Blackberries are a comparative rarity on the East Coast. We bought most of ours at the supermarket, where they would be packaged in smaller, more expensive portions than blue or rasp.  When you do find them in the wild, they are usually in narrow, dense, tall stands only accessible by wading through a treacherous moat of poison ivy or, if more approachable, have probably already been picked over by other aficionados. Ripening as they do, in the last hottest days of summer, my associations are jumbled up with sweat, bees, and the agony of the impending school year. Then there are the thorns. The black is a bellicose berry.

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The craving: crunchy, sweet, salty
Have on hand: popcorn, peanuts, cashews, maple syrup, agave syrup

Have on Hand is getting a visitor this week, a person of rather different tastes than our own—my mother. She doesn’t like vegetables. Or fruit. Or raw seafood. She does like pretzels and crackers and Rice Krispies and Diet Pepsi, and she will be game for trying the weird things I feed her (read: anything a shade of green), up to a point. But left to her own devices, she would just as soon snack as have a meal. I owe my love of crunchy things to this woman, as well as the strange cravings for Cheez-Its, soda, and Dairy Queen that accompany any trip to the beach.

Caramel corn

caramel corn is snacking nirvana

She doesn’t like me to trouble over her, as mothers don’t, but I thought I’d take the visit as a challenge to rework a few classic snacks into slightly less processed versions. I also wanted to get rid of a few spare bags of various ingredients that didn’t fit into the glass ball jars we transferred almost everything into this week. I pointed my arrows at caramel corn and Cheez-Its and had some fun trying things out and some mixed results. I’ll post the popcorn experiment here, and the crackers later this week.

Caramel corn must be one of my mom’s favorite treats, and it’s a weakness she indulges only once a year during the annual fair one town over from where I grew up, when she can buy a box or two (or send a daughter into the crowds to do so) before holing up with it covetously until it’s gone. Who knows what’s in that stuff, but it sure is delicious. At issue here for me: All the no-fail, homemade caramel corn recipes I see around the web use corn syrup. What’s the problem with corn syrup? In its high fructose form it’s used a ton in processed foods and might be helping to drive high rates of obesity. Often as it turns out, it also contains mercury. So, a lot of people have tried to cut corn syrup out of their diets, although, if you’re coming at it from a strictly health point of view, the verdict is far from clear whether regular old sugar is really any better for you. As it was, I didn’t have any corn syrup on hand, but I did have lots of other sweeteners: maple sugar, agave syrup, evaporated cane sugar. I thought I would give some of these a try.

Continue Reading »

In which I go into the woods to live occasionally and find out whether there is anything edible there.

Oyster or Angel Wing?Today to beat the heat I ventured into the deep cool of a second-growth forest, and it wasn’t long before I stumbled across this display of fruiting fungi, shining out from the green like some kind of crystal. They looked a lot like oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), with their light color, shelf-like growth, fan-shaped caps, and thin gills. They also looked a lot like Angel Wings (Pleurocybella porrigens).

Yum?Oyster mushrooms are one of the best edible mushrooms, and are now grow commercially. I often see them at the mushroom stand at the farmer’s market in town, where they appear with the characteristic gray-buff cap color. Angel Wings have long been considered a desirable, through less tasty, edible mushroom, and indeed David Aurora lists the species as edible in his classic field guides Mushrooms Demystified and the more pocket-friendly All That the Rain Promises and More…. However, the verdict on Angel Wings has changed since 2004 when a number of people in Japan died of a brain disorder after eating Pleurocybella. The victims all suffered from preexisting kidney issues, but even so, the mushroom is listed as inedible in a more recent mushroom field guide released by Falcon Guides. Continue Reading »

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