A Week of Little Lovelinesses

Short and sweet, here are the little and lovely things that made this a good week:

1. My fastest mile in recent memory (Crossfit Endurance + Whole30, methinks)

2. Genuine admiration from the chef on my perfectly cooked steak (thanks in large part to my instant thermometer an asset to those getting more adventurous with meat preparation)

3. An unexpected Saturday morning of leisure with said chef

4. Feeling financially fit: setting up a monthly budget AND doing my taxes–my goodness! Now what to do with that refund…

5. Finishing three of our chairs and the celebratory meal that followed

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6. The lazy braise, because dinner doesn’t always have to be hard… It’s not exactly a beautiful meal so I didn’t stop to photograph it but I assure you it’s tasty and satisfying!

Lazy Braise

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

2-4 bone in, skin on chicken pieces (I’m a fan of the leg/thigh combination but feel free to use all thighs or breasts or whatever suits you)
1/2 of a large cabbage
1 large fennel bulb
1 medium or large onion
Salt, pepper, and seasonings of choice
1/2 cup water or stock

Make it:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and heat a large dutch oven over medium heat.
2. Add the fat of your choice (about a tablespoon) and once it’s hot, use tongs to place the chicken in skin side down. Once the chicken has browned, flip it and allow the other side to brown a bit. This process takes maybe 5-6 minutes.
3. In the meantime, roughly chop the vegetables. Cabbage, fennel, and onion all have natural layers so just cut manageable pieces into cross sections and use your hands to separate the layers. Easy!
4. Turn off the heat under the dutch oven and remove chicken to a plate–it won’t be done, just browned. Add the vegetable matter to the oil still in the pan and stir in with salt, pepper, and any other flavor profile you’re craving. I’m always a fan if chili flakes…
5. Place the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables and add about 1/2 cup of water or stock. Put a heavy lid on over the whole mess and throw it into the oven for an hour.
6. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Be sure your serving includes some of the extremely tasty juices in the bottom of the pot… Enjoy!

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Gratuitous photo of Willett asleep with his tongue stuck out.

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No photos of lazy braise, but here’s one of another use for fennel. Finely sliced with celery and endive and dressed with Meyer lemon vinaigrette, fennel makes for an extremely fresh, seasonal salad when the tender produce of spring seems awfully far off…

The Utility of Discomfort

As a typical human being, I spend much of my life attempting to maximize comfort. I have a job that pays the rent so that I have a roof over my head. I buy groceries so that when I am hungry I have something to eat. I surround myself with positive, passionate people so that I can buoy my own spirits and avoid unpleasant interactions.

While such practices represent a healthy, rational approach towards life I have found that existing solely within the realm of the comfortable provides very little room for growth. After five months of living in the woods while hiking the Appalachian Trail last year, I’d like to think I learned a thing or two (or two thousand) about pushing boundaries. From that period of relative discomfort I gained incredible insight into how very little I truly need to be happy. And, in situations of self-doubt, I can always remind myself and those around me that I did hike the Appalachian flippin’ Trail from end to end, after all.

The first time I tried a Whole30 challenge, I kept things as comfortable as possible by sating any and all cravings with their closest “paleo” replica. The results were unspectacular and I remained a steadfast believer that every meal deserved dessert of some kind. Chocolate, after all, is quite delicious with coffee.

The second time I did a Whole30 challenge I decided to play around a bit with discomfort. Nothing dramatic, mind you. More like a conscious observation of what it means to crave a warm chocolate chip cookie and witness how remarkably functional and happy I could remain without said cookie. I even began to daydream about weird things like steak and brussels sprouts and the delightful crispy crust that forms on the bottom of sweet potato hash (best enjoyed after a rigorous workout…). I grew to love real, simple, fresh food.

So this time around, here’s to seeking out a bit of discomfort.

I can cook chicken and ground meat and eggs and maybe I’ll pan-fry a thin little steak if you ask nicely. Give me a piece of fish or a solid hunk of pork and I’ll probably go bat my eyelashes at the chef-in-residence, seeking a bit of guidance (or simply dinner on the table at 8, please and thank you). No such luck this time around. Time to broaden my culinary horizons–pork chops, fish, you name it.

It’s been a successful two days of discomfort, in fact. Yesterday I turned out two solidly passable (albeit slightly dry) pork chops, broiled to form a tasty crust and served with a heaping pile of broccoli and cauliflower.

Tonight, thanks to the inspiration and reassurance from my friends at work, I prepared a genuinely tasty piece of salmon.

It went something like this…

Salmon, All Greened Up

Ingredients:

Fresh salmon filet (about a half pound made enough for my hungry little self)
Fresh parsley, roughly chopped until you have about 1/4 cup
Juice of half a lemon
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
A tablespoon or so of olive oil
Salt and pepper

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Make It:

1. Preheat the oven to 350*. Grease a baking dish and place the salmon filet on it, skin side down.
2. If you have a mini food processor, throw the remaining ingredients in there and whiz them up until they make a potent, vibrantly green paste. Sans food processor, get chopping! A mortar and pestle can also help you get everything to paste status.
3. Spread the greenery over the fish and bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the filet.
4. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes and enjoy!

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Little Goals, Big Goals

Week One has come and gone and all is well. As predicted, I felt a few signs of “recalibration.” A couple night’s sleep went south, and more than once I found myself suffering from “hanger” (pronounced h-anger)–a state of heightened emotion brought on by too many carrots and not enough bonbons.

Anywho, here comes Week Two. Time for some little goals. Some daily check-in sorts of goals. The ones you write on your mirror to remind you to do smart things like floss, go to bed before midnight, or schedule your workout for the following day.

For this week, my goals are to:

1. Slowly increase meal quantity/re-jigger ratios to find the tipping point (not too full at mealtime but not hungry 30 minutes later, either…)
2. Pack/prepare 3 new snack options to have on hand in work and home fridge
3. Sleep 8 hours per night
Things are off to a good start. I got my eight hours last night and woke up feeling as refreshed as I can remember in a long time. I also threw together some tasty little snack cakes (and by cakes, I mean meaty patties) that should be a good preventative for the 3pm nosedive into the bag of almonds…
As for the big goals, I took a good chunk of time to sit down and dream big. Since the holidays, I’ve felt a need to get back in touch with my trajectory and suss out what I believe is really going to matter 10 years from now. As someone who thrives on being focused, I find myself more easily frustrated, overwhelmed, or simply apathetic when the big picture is out of focus.
So I put the “picture” back in “big picture.”  …
That was fun.
And, finally, the turkey snack cake recipe:
Turkey Snacky Patties
Ingredients:
1.5 lbs ground meat (I used turkey. Use buffalo and make them “buffaluffins.” Use beef, pork, or lamb and the clever name is up to you…)
1 bag of frozen chopped spinach, prepared according to package directions and drained in a sieve
3-4 carrots
1/2 an onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons salt
Generous pepper
Hot sauce, mustard, other flavor agents of your choice
2 eggs
1/3-1/2 cups coconut or almond flour (the former produces a sweeter result, the latter a nuttier one)
Make them:
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Put the carrots, onion, and garlic in the food processor until they are chopped into little bitty bits. Or chop them by hand and practice your knife skills. I prefer a a very small dice for this use.
2. Make sure there isn’t too much excess water in your spinach–it’ll cause sogginess. Letting it sit in the sieve for a few minutes and periodically pressing with a spoon helps.
3. Add ground meat, veggies, and spinach to a large bowl. Mix together until roughly blended, adding seasonings as you go.
4. Add the eggs and some of the flour, stirring until the mixture is fairly homogenous. You may want to add a bit more of the flour if it’s extra wet, but it’s not imperative.
5. Using a 1/3 cup measure, portion the mixture into muffin tins (no need to grease unless you are using ultra lean ground meat). Today the mixture made 18 cakes, but that will depend on how much you fill the cups and how much mixture you have.
6. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the patties are cooked through. If using a thermometer, you should get an internal temp of 165°.
An easy add-on to a salad.
Looks cute in tupperware…

Snack Time

Somewhere in mid-December I lapsed back into life as a grazer. I have always had grazing phases, particularly around the holidays. Good just just seems to appear on every available surface. I also find myself highly susceptible when unoccupied. With a day off and few obligations, food becomes like an intravenous drip of nibbles and tidbits.

Having completed a week of tracking what, when, and why I eat has made me acutely aware of the inefficiencies of my eating habits. Reaching for the bag of almonds every 90 minutes is not conducive to a life of perpetual motion and engagement, nor is it particularly well-rounded from a nutritional standpoint. Time to find out what it takes to keep me on track with three meals and one to two snacks.

So, for week two–creative, satisfying snacks. I tend to default to nuts and fruit when snacking. They are easily available, portable, and tasty to boot. That said, I think I’m missing out and tend to eat rather mindlessly when presented with a 10 ounce bag of almonds and a basket of berries.

A few of my favorite non-fruit/nut snacks from recent memory:

1. Take a bit of thinly sliced meat (I’ve been going the roast beef route quite a bit lately) and wrap it around pretty much anything in your fridge–leftover cauliflower mash, roasted root veggies, lettuce and tomato, you name it.

2. Mini-tupperwares filled with chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad, etc. (tasty mayo recipe below!) and use as dip for carrots or celery.

3. Buffaluffins (buffalo muffins… obviously some other sort of muffin if you don’t use ground bison…)–basically a meatloaf where you hold everything together with almond/coconut flour and egg. I’ll add any veggies I have on hand to the mix, ranging from raw baby spinach to roasted mushrooms. Bake in muffin tins for snack sized portions. Top with mashed sweet potato for a post-workout delight.

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Homemade Mayo, Mustard Style

Using a bit of mustard makes this an easy, one-stop addition to just about anything…

Ingredients:

2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
1 tablespoon mustard (check your labels!)
1 teaspoon salt
Generous cranks from the pepper mill
About a cup of neutral oil (you don’t want to be able to taste what it came from)
1/4 cup of olive oil (if you want a bit of the favor)
Warm water, as needed

Make it:

1. Get your yolks, acid, mustard, salt and pepper into a bowl
2. Using an immersion blender, hand mixer or good old fashioned whisk+elbow grease, combine aforementioned ingredients until smooth
3. Recruit a friend or loved one to pour the oil into the mixture in a thin stream while you whip the bejesus out of it. Watch it emulsify! It will thicken as you whip
4. You may find it gets fairly thick–adding a bit of warm water a tablespoon at a time will help it loosen up a bit
5. Transfer to a storage container and enjoy!

A Social Endeavor

Keep it social, friends. Just because you eat like a dinosaur doesn’t mean you can’t have festive dinner parties, lovely dates, or day-long kitchen parties wherein everyone leaves with enough meat sauce to serve a small herd of athletes.

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As pre-historic as our eating habits may be, we appreciate the invention of chairs and understand that a “BYOC” dinner party leaves a little something to be desired. In a word, seating. To prepare for the social events of the season, Travis has been hard at work assembling and staining four lovely shaker chairs for our apartment. Willett guards the perimeter, per usual.

Here’s a recipe for a big old batch of meat sauce–a good staple to have on hand and best made when you have a few hours to let the flavor develop.

Indispensable Meat Sauce:

Ingredients:

1/2 large white onion
1 large carrot
1 celery stalk
3-4 cloves garlic

Olive oil
Salt, pepper, oregano and/or Italian looking spices in your cabinet

1.5-2 lbs ground meat–a blend of beef, lamb and pork would be great here

Big can of tomatoes–I used whole plum tomatoes in sauce, but crushed in sauce or pretty much any other variety would likely work as well

Liquid, as needed–I used chicken stock because I had it on hand… Can’t hurt!

Make it:

1. Chop your veggies. As I learned, keep them small unless you want to encounter big hunks of carrot. 1/4″ dice would probably suffice.

2. Heat up a big heavy pot over medium or medium low, depending in how hot your stove gets.

3. Add a generous glug of olive oil and add the veggies. Stir them around periodically for about 10 minutes. You want them to soften but not brown. Season as you go from here on out with salt, pepper, and anything Italian looking.

4. Turn up the heat a bit (medium or medium high) and add the meat, stirring to break it up into little bits. Again, you want it to get brown (ie cooked) but not browned (ie crunchy outer layer).

5. Once the meat is brown, add your tomatoes–sauce and all. If you went with whole tomatoes, they’ll break up naturally as it cooks but you can help them along with some aggressive spooning.

6. You should have enough liquid from the tomatoes to get things going to a nice simmer. Turn the heat down (low, pronably) to maintain it without getting too much towards a boil. Periodic blorps of sauce bubble is the right audio/visual…

7. Let this happen for as long as you can. Mine was best after I believe 2 hours or so. Taste every so often to guage progress and adjust seasoning. You may need to add liquid to keep the blorp alive–use whatever makes sense.

So go on, call your friends. Spend your bar money on some nice meat and throw yourself a little party. Everybody loves parties.

21 Days

Be forewarned: you’ve got a lot of blog posts coming your way.

At work, we’ve all selected an activity to create time for each day for the next 21 days. Ideally, carving out a space in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives for the next three weeks will begin to leave an ever-so-slightly more permanent mark on our brains. By consciously reading the newspaper each day, getting eight hours of sleep or, in my case, taking 30 minutes to write each night one hopes that in a month we’ve retained the mental and muscle memory to keep at it.

I’ve come to realize–my college years safely behind me–that I really do enjoy writing. Perhaps it was the 25-page research papers initiated hours before they were due that left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. This blog is a slow and not-very-glamorous endeavor, certainly, but it allows me to play with words and phrases and even add pictures when I’m feeling ambitious. I’ve missed that.

So for the next 21 days I’ll be taking a few minutes every day to update the blog. It might just be a photo of a nice meal or an arbitrary observation about the ongoing nutrition challenge. If we’re really lucky, it’ll be a delightfully simple recipe or a revelation about the swifter, stronger, Paleo-powered Anne. And, if things get ugly, I might throw a blog tantrum. That could be fun.

 

 

 

 

Round Three, Day One

My family is full of tinkerers. On any given day you’ll find my mother in her garage building wheelbarrows, my father eliciting cooperation from the latest Apple product, one brother perfecting how to smoke bacon on a Brooklyn sidewalk, and the other scheming up how to turn mushrooms into styrofoam (a gross oversimplification of a really cool project…). And me? These days I tinker with nutrition, exercise, and the tremendous things I’ll be doing five years from now.

So here I go, tinkering away again. Today is the start of CrossFit South Arlington’s winter nutrition challenge. When I did my own challenge in September the primary goal was resetting my system after months on the trail. It was quite successful and, surprisingly, kind of fun. But how to keep things fresh this time around? It is, after all, a challenge.

First, the blog. Hiking the AT was the first time I felt I was doing anything “blog-worthy” that someone would want to read about. When I did the nutrition challenge back in September, though, all kinds of people had questions for me–what I was eating, how on earth I cooked it, whether it was fun, and why I voluntarily (eagerly, even!) woke up before 6am. Consider this a six week snapshot of all of that with a heavy bias towards the cooking part.

Second, I’m training for a half marathon in March. This adds a whole new element for me to document and track–primarily, am I getting stronger and faster? I’ve never trained for a race using anything but a standard RunnersWorld training plan, so switching to a CrossFit Endurance approach–more strength focused with shorter, high intensity runs–is certainly going to rock the boat.

Pretty exciting, eh?

And now, le food:

Never underestimate the power of an egg. After all, eggs makes chickens. More importantly, they can be used to turn last night’s meager leftovers into a charming meal. Keep the yolk a bit on the runny side and you have yourself a little something to sate the worst of the “I MUST HAVE CHEESY PIZZA NOW” cravings that might come your way…

First meal of the challenge: leftover chicken and mustard greens, warmed up on the stove with an egg for good measure.