Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Food fashion 2

Oh, this is embarrassing, but those things that offer us the most comfort often are. I have a friend who, in her darkest times, still sleeps with her teddy bear even though she's in her 40s. I have another friend who watches Sesame Street and counts along with the Count, even though he's been out of college for many years.

And me? I could tell you quite a few secrets here, all the embarrassing comfort things I do. I won't. Instead I'll just tell you about dinner last night.

I was tired. I was cranky. And I wanted something really easy. All the leftovers were just too... leftover. You know what I mean.

I made Hamburger Helper. I didn't improvise with browned ground beef, fresh herbs from the garden with noodles and tomatoes and other yummy stuff. I didn't create some lovely faux stroganoff. No. I pulled a pound of ground beef out of the freezer, I grabbed the box off the shelf and I made dinner in 15 minutes flat.

It was salty, gooey, unhealthy, comforting and yummy. It wasn't what I want to eat every day or even with any regularity, but boy... for right then it was just right.

I know we all have our embarrassing comfort foods and rituals. I was kind of surprised to find that one of mine was out of a box and so easily created; usually I happily lose myself in chopping and stirring and measuring. So much for sophistication, but then again, when is sophistication as comforting as, say, a teddy bear, Sesame Street and a bowl of Hamburger Helper?

(c) Laura S. Packer

Monday, August 25, 2008

Spicy brownies

Can I just say I *love* sweet and spicy or sweet and salty?

Thanks. I needed to say that.

This past weekend I made brownies for a potluck. I used my current favorite brownie recipe (the one on the Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate package) and then added spices.

Oh. Oh oh oh were they good.

I often add a bit of chili powder but this time I added Indian spices and the brownies filled my whole mouth with long, lingering flavor and heat. Almost everyone at the potluck liked them, a few people thought they were too much, that's okay.

Roughly speaking, here's what to do:

Make a batch of brownies.
When the batter is ready add a spice blend, including:
- Cardamom
- Cinnamon
- Cloves
- Black Pepper
- Ginger
- Nutmeg

- Chili (not much)
I can't tell you how much of each I added, I kept pouring it into my hand, blending and adding the mix about a teaspoon at a time. Alternatively, buy some Indian tea spice powder and use that.
Keep mixing it in and tasting it.
Bake as usual.
Enjoy. Mmmmm.....

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Food fashion 1

When I was in first grade we were asked to name our favorite foods and television shows. I unfashionably answered, "Liver and creamed spinach and NOVA." (For those of you who may not know, NOVA is a science program on PBS.) It took years to live that down. I still like unfashionable food and television.

Among my old favorites are beets. They seem to be having something of a resurgence now, but for a long time people would squinch up their faces at the thought of them and say, "Yuck." I love them. Their ruby stain on the cutting board, the earthy taste and smell. They speak to me of health and time and old ways of doing things. As a kid we'd eat cold bottled borscht with a swirl of sour cream and it was heaven. I'd let it stain my clothing on purpose, watching the color run.

A few nights ago I roasted beets from our farm share. They were wonderful.

Roasted beets. One version.

Take a bunch of beets. Cut off the tops and save them for later. Scrub the bulbs, cut off the very top and bottom and peel. You may want to save the peels for soup, you may want to toss them out.

Admire the stain on your fingers. It will mostly wash out, but not entirely. That's okay.

Cut the beets into thick slices, maybe 1/2 inch thick.

Toss them with olive oil and kosher salt. Add some roughly chopped fresh rosemary and a dash of black pepper. Add a little mroe rosemary. Really.

Wrap this all in foil and roast it at maybe 350-375 for about 30 minutes until the beets are tender.


(ps. Yes, the beets will have certain digestive effects (write to me if you don't know what I'm talking about). Don't worry about it, this means you're eating something really good for you and it won't last.)

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Home made

I've been traveling for the last week, sleeping in a hotel room and eating in restaurants. I like eating out, but the town I was staying in didn't have much of anything I cared for. It was a tourist town and everything was quick food. Even the better restaurants were marginal.

I'm home now. When I come home from long trips, I need to cook. It's one of the best ways I know to center myself, to feel as though I'm truly at home. By spending time in my kitchen, working with spices and good food, I re-establish myself in my own space.

As I write, chicken is roasting. I've stuffed organic garlic slices under the skin and rubbed it down with salt and pepper. Brown rice with thyme is simmering. In a little while I'll chop and steam the chard I picked from the garden. 

When I eat dinner tonight it will be good food, made with own hands in my own time. I'm home.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer

Monday, August 4, 2008

Listening to my body

This past weekend I rode my bike in the Pan Mass Challenge, a fund raising ride for the Dana Farber Cancer Center. It was a long ride and truthfully, I wasn't prepared. You can read about the ride on my other blog.

What was interesting and relevant to this blog was trying to figure out how to feed myself during the ride. Endurance sports have specific nutritional requirements - carbs, lots of hydration, some protein. And I had no appetite before the ride, so I was riding on very little fuel. I made myself eat the best I could, but nothing, and I mean nothing, tasted good. For those of you who know me, you know how odd that is.

Midway through the only thing that tasted good was cantaloupe. Sweet, wet, orange and exactly what my body wanted. It occured to me that I might be able to eat and thus finish the ride if I just shut up and listened.

I generally try to listen to what my body tells me it wants. Sweet, salty, savory, crunchy, soft, etc. It can be hard to really hear what my body is saying, amidst the cacophony of all my cravings, but when I manage to listen I learn so much.

This weekend was a great example of the need to listen to what my body was saying. Yes, this is food. No, that isn't food. By listening carefully I was able to determine what I most needed in a given moment and complete the ride.

And afterwards? Mmm... Saltycrunchy. Smoothsweet. And lots and lots and lots of gatorade. Funny what tastes just right sometimes. Funny how, when you listen, you surprise yourself.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer