Saturday, March 27, 2010

Costa Rica!

Last night, I returned to 40 degree Chicago from 80 degree Costa Rica, where I'd spent the past several days with some close sorority sisters from my undergrad at Duke.  The trip was pretty amazing (if you'd like to see non-food-related photos, check my Flickr site here) and the food was, too... I think I ate more rice, beans, and sugar-sweet fresh fruit in the past few days than I have in the whole last year:

I ate a lot of "casada tipica de Costa Rica": black beans, rice, mahi mahi sauteed in lime and garlic butter, served with fried plantains and a tangy sauce. SO. GOOD. 


You can't really tell, but that's beef fajitas, with the standard bell pepper/onion sautee, but also fresh guacamole, plantains, and bacon to add zing. 

And, of course, it wouldn't be a trip to Costa Rica without some serious coffee...

... or a spring break without some sweet coconut water and rum!

Family Dinner Party

Sorry for the delay in posting, y'all -- I've been off on spring break (photos from Costa Rica coming soon!) and left the computer behind.  

A couple weeks ago, Matt's sister Katie (of the incredible strawberry jam) and her husband Greg came to town to help us use one of the Green Zebra groupons.  As it happened, my little sis was also in Chicago with Jefferson again, so everyone came over Friday night for a big, whole foods meal.  Aside from a brief coffee Matt and I once shared with our respective moms, this was the first time anyone in our families had met, and it ended up being a pretty fun evening.  

And the food was delicious. 

Above: crispy parmesan chicken breasts topped with a light lemon vinaigrette salad.  Matt was in charge of hammering the chicken breasts flat, which I then dipped in 1) flour, 2) egg, 3) a mixture of grated parmesan and bread crumbs and fried in a little butter. 

Hammering the chicken thin meant that it didn't need to stay long on the fryer -- just a couple minutes on each side -- and thus was crispy on the outside, but tender and juicy on the inside.

The salad was incredibly simple: I bought an organic lettuce mix, mixed equal parts olive oil and lemon juice, and topped with shaved parmesan reggiano.

Below: cream of mushroom and leek soup.  A Barefoot Contessa recipe, found here, and I'm not going to lie, it was mostly butter.  You can see the fat in a beautiful, delicious, creamy sheen on top.

For me, the soup could have used a little more depth of flavor -- its dominant notes were the thyme and white wine -- but its subtlety was nice in contrast to the sharp acidity of the lemon-parm chicken.

We paired it all with Goose Island's Sofie: a citrusy Belgian, and one of our favorite beers.  I'd do a more thorough review for you, but it would be put to shame by Matt's brother Andy's description, which can be found on his kind of fantastic beer blog here.

Cooking for family is a reminder of why I want to live this way, eat this food; people have always come together over food, and with loved ones, the act of eating is a complete experience rather than a simple consumption of calories.  And when the food is fresh and delicious, when you've put some thought into what you're sharing with the people you love, that experience is all the better. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mostly Plants?

There's a question mark at the end of my blog title for a reason.  Since well before beginning this challenge, I knew that the hardest part would be the "mostly plants" end of things.  How many of us struggle with the recommended five to seven vegetables, even in summer when everything is fresh from the garden?  How about in winter in Chicago, when the greens available in the produce section were either A) grown in Mexico or somewhere similarly distant or B) look sort of sad, pale, bruisy and wrinkled?  It's like a Sophie's Choice between eating a pear from half a world away, or eating a pear that looks vaguely like Winston Churchill.

I can only tackle one eating challenge at a time.  I'd like to be responsible in getting produce fresh and local, but if it's going to be so unappealing in my fridge that I won't eat it, then I won't be feeding my body right.  And frankly, living on lattes and croissants freshly made though they may be (see previous post), is JUST NOT what this year is about.

So I'm buying those $5 boxes of berries.  At least until summer comes back.

Assuming summer will, in fact, come back.  Some days in Chicago it is just hard to tell.

We love zucchini.  Matt's been known to have it for breakfast.  I'll chop up a whole one, grill it in a little olive oil, and eat it instead of chips in front of a movie.

I'm trying to get two fruits or vegetables in every meal, to hit the recommended servings mark.  So, above is artichoke alongside a bolognese made with fresh crushed tomatoes.

And, of course, it helps if one of those daily plant servings comes a little decadent...

Haagendaaz "Five" Vanilla Bean ice cream topped with a cup of fresh raspberries.  That is officially my FAVORITE WAY TO GET MY DAILY FIBER.

Exams, In Sum

Latte and a fresh-baked croissant from my local bakery.  I'm pretty much living on espresso, milk, eggs, butter, and pastry flour.

Friday, March 5, 2010

And Adam Marvin Makes My Day

Antique Weight Watchers Recipe Cards

Although, let's be honest, it's hard to say which days of mine Adam Marvin doesn't make.

Things You Learn in Law School that Reconfirm your Commitment to Bizarre New Year's Resolutions Include...

Professional bakers often cannot be fingerprinted.

The years of working with enriched white flour have literally burned their fingerprints off their fingers.

This tells us two things:

1) If you plan a life of crime, take a cue from Nancy Botwin and make your front a bakery.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lentil Soup

Winter has lasted approximately FOREVERPLUSTHIRTYSEVENDAYS in Chicago this year, and a few days ago that meant nothing would do but a big pot of my mom's lentil soup.

Start with three grated carrots and a chopped onion in a little olive oil:

(Look!  Photos from the cooking process!)

(Well, make that one photo from the cooking process.  The other ones came out too blurry.  Especially after I popped the bottle of wine and had a glass.  Or two.)

Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and a teaspoon of dried marjoram.  Saute until the onions are tender and the marjoram fragrant.

Add a can of diced tomatoes (I used the Racconio brand again, just tomatoes and sea salt), a bag of lentils, rinsed and cleaned, and about eight cups of broth.  To make the dish fully vegetarian you can go with vegetable broth, but since I have about 2908239072349082349 containers of homemade chicken stock in my freezer from the 2908239072349082349 times I've made roasted chicken and then boiled the bones, I figured I'd better use some up.

Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for an hour until the lentils are soft.  Pour in one to two ounces of dry white wine and simmer uncovered another ten minutes.

Top with cheese (I went with a lovely mellow munster) and serve with fresh baked bread and butter.

It's a vegetable-based recipe, if not totally vegetarian, and goes to the heart of what I think Pollan's food rules are all about: fill yourself with beautiful plants and herbs first, supplemented by natural starches, garnished with naturally-raised meats and dairy.

When I make this soup, I feel like I'm really eating from the earth.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Confessions: Airport Food

Returned late last night from an amazing weekend visiting friends and scouting a wedding location in South Dakota.  Our travel dates corresponded, amazingly enough, with the running of the 3rd Annual Nemo Outhouse Race, and as always with the SD*TFA crew, the fun was out of control.  I'd post photos, but A) most of them were inappropriate and B) none of them had much to do with eating whole foods.  

I DID take some photos of things I ate this weekend, and this post is going to be something of a confessional.

In my own apartment, with my own utensils, my nearby Whole Foods, and all the time in the world (read: fifteen minutes between classes) I can cook anything I want and eating unprocessed is easy. 

When dashing through the airport at 6:00 AM on an empty stomach, it's not so easy.  


That would be a Caribou Coffee dark chocolate latte.  God knows what's in it.  But it tasted like HEAVENNNNNNNNN.

I like this photo that Matt took; it captures the voices of angels I heard while sipping on that. 

Over the weekend, we ate out a lot, but mostly at places whom I would trust to use largely fresh, local, whole ingredients.  For example, a bowl of granola and fruit at Bully Blends tea and coffee shop, accompanied by a pitcher of whole milk:   

In perfect honesty, though, I didn't alter my orders or ask the server about what went into the dishes I wanted this weekend.  I just ate.

And drank:

You can't tell me those sprinkles are whole, even if everything else in the mug was (which it decidedly wasn't).  

And the return journey was worse.  We woke at 5:00 AM to reach the airport by our early flight time, only to discover that the flight had been delayed, then delayed again, then delayed again.  We didn't reach our connection in Minneapolis until 6:00, and didn't get home to Chicago until almost 10:00.  All of which meant that we dined on airport food all day.

... for breakfast...

... for lunch ...

And for dinner: the camera was out of batteries by this point, but Matt got a Wolfgang Puck margherita pizza, and I took one of their cold Caesar salads.  Didn't have much of the dressing or croutons, because I was feeling so disgusting from all the junk.  All the same, I don't feel like I can quite count it on the unprocessed side of my weekend equation.  

Several people, when I've told them about my yearlong challenge, have asked how I feel: have I noticed a substantial change for the better in my body?  I've been saying "yes," not out of any real conviction that my eating has improved my body image or health, but rather because I've been generally feeling good and healthy, and may as well attribute it to the eating regime as to anything else.  Coming out of this weekend, though, I can tell a major difference.  I feel decidedly draggy, heavy, bloated, and lethargic.  It's really astounding how a couple days off the wagon can so seriously impact your body.  And it makes me more determined and eager than ever to stick to my challenge. 

Anyways, this is sum of my travel confessions.  I'm back home and more ready than ever to cook and eat the kinds of meals I've been cooking and eating.  

And no more Caribou for a long, long time.