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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Friday, May 20, 2011

Recipes for Poets - Distracted Poet's Rice and Veggie Mix-Up

Deb Ager of 32 Poems challenged readers to post a recipe for busy poets (not an oxymoron) that takes 20 minutes or less to prepare. The time limit seems apt for a species of writer that often prizes brevity. On the website, I loved reading what other poets like to eat - seems random, but somehow the dishes sounded delicious. The 32 Poems website has the details and links to other poets' recipes.

I made this last night when I wanted something super "clean" and healthy and fast. It's also in keeping with my latest obsession to reduce food waste by using up as many decaying vegetables as possible. I actually made this without oil by steaming the vegetables. While it served my purposes last night, I missed the taste of sauteed onions, so I modified it here.  
This is pretty much the brown rice and veggies recipe that we used to eat at Yaffa Cafe for $3.95 (I'm dating myself) when we were young and poor in the East Village. For all I know, Yaffa still serves it. It's perfect not only because it's fast, but forgiving: you can keep your mind on creating a perfect line break without compromising the meal. And if you add an egg or two, you can eat the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. 

Distracted Poet's Rice and Veggie Mix-Up
(inspired by the Yaffa Cafe)
Serves 4

2 cups brown rice
3 cups water
1 onion diced
2 tbs olive oil or butter
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp dry thyme
2 cups fast-cooking vegetables - I used:
- spinach leaves
- carrots diced
- broccoli florets
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded cheese of your choice

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat and sautee onions, garlic, thyme, and rice until onions are translucent. Add water and, once water comes to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, add vegetables and cover for another 10 minutes until the vegetables are al dente and all of the water has been absorbed by the rice. You're essentially steaming the veggies while the rice finishes cooking. Add salt and pepper, mix and serve, covered with cheese. Let it sit for another 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spinach Rescue Recipe: Ispanakli Yumurta

There are mornings when I look in the mirror thinking, as Jessica Lange once said, who is that drag queen? I can see shadows and folds and bumps and crevasses that somehow exaggerate and distort my features at the same time. With my budget, there isn't a lot I can do. So I take a breath and rearrange my face to look a little less cubist. On bad days, this makes me want to crawl back into bed and start over.

On good days, I can access a deep-felt gratitude for the body that battled illness and can still survive a vinyasa class without losing consciousness, for the people who stand by me, and for a resolve and acceptance that seems to grow with age. My mother was of the belief that you become more of yourself as you grow older, for better or for worse. I do feel that right now - like a condensed flavor pack, ready for another round.

As the Chinese sages said:

Be not sad.
Be like the sun at midday.
I Ching (Book of Changes)
Translation: no matter how bad things get – shine on.
     This also seems to be good advice for the spinach curling up in my vegetable bin. It's in season right now and tastes like spring. When I bought it, the leaves gleamed emerald, crisply attentive, with sandy soil still clinging to its roots. I plucked it like a bouquet, inhaled its gritty green smell. I was gung ho on making a fresh spinach salad that night – then forgot it. Four days later, the leaves have started to loose their viagranous urgency. Their color has deepened grimly and they’ve gotten flabby, On the upside, the flavor has gotten spinach-ier. Some people think it has a nutty flavor. Not quite pretty enough to be featured in a salad, but just right to star in a Rescue Recipe.
     In my last preachy post I moralized about how throwing out food is one of the deadliest, methane-spewing eco-sins. It’s also morally evil, seeing as one out of six Americans struggles with hunger. There’s no excuse, because there are so many amazing ways to give produce a second chance.
This past-prime spinach, for example, would be great in a soup or lentil stew, and fantastic sautéed with garlic for a healthier grilled cheese sandwich. One of my favorite rescue strategies is to add it to eggs, onions, and feta. 
     I like the Turkish take on this combination called ispanakli (spinach) yumurta (eggs). I love this recipe not only because it's a way to use spinach, but I adore eggs up - like the sun shining at midday.
Shine On Spinach Yumurta
1 lb fresh spinach, course stems removed
1 large onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup feta, crumbled
4 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
paprika and cumin (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F

Clean spinach by submerging in a bowl of cold water and swishing it around vigorously to remove the sandy grit. Shake off water and remove any course stems.

Melt butter over medium heat and add onion. Cook until translucent. Add spinach, cooking until the leaves soften and wilt slightly (a little more than they already are), about 1 minute. Stir in cheese; season with salt, and pepper.

Hollow out four nests in the spinach mixture and crack one egg into each. Sprinkle with a few pinches of paprika and, if you like, cumin.

Place in oven until eggs set, then serve immediately.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Science Experiment That Ate My Garbage

I used to be embarrassed by the science experiments in the back of my fridge. Now, thanks to my 8th grade son, I can present hard data about them.
      For his Science Exit Project, Jack compared the rotting rate of organic and nonorganic apples and carrots. He predicted that the nonorganic would last longer because they're pickled in more pesticides. Jack did lots of research, uncovering several unsettling facts along the way.
      What he found was that 186 million pounds of food is wasted in this country each day (USDA). In fact, half of the food produced in America ends up in landfills, where it proceeds to emit methane, a greenhouse gas 20-plus times more potent than carbon dioxide. While all of this food is being scrapped and our environment is heating up, one out of six people in America struggles with hunger.
      These discoveries floored me. What could I do? I can compost and donate to food banks
       I can stop creating so much garbage.
      My awareness of the leftover-food chain changed the way I look at the food rotting in my fridge -- and the way I cook. The fear and (self) loathing I used to feel while mining the frosty shelves has been replaced by gamemanship: I've become a garbage opportunist with the selfish aim of advancing my moral standing. The on-the-way-out items become collage material for new and different meals: what can I do with that (X) moldering away in the vegetable bin?
      If I'm feeling lazy, I can go to lovefoodhatewaste.comLike an uber home ec teacher, this quirky British site has compiled an exhaustive menu of recipes from professional chefs and normal folk alike. I've learned that there’s a second life for almost every food. From their widget “What food needs using up?” I learned what to do with “One sad brown banana” (put it in a curry!) and how to store half an avocado (keep the pit in it.) And there's much more.
      Whether my own or someone else's, making a Rescue Recipe makes me feel a little virtuous - even if the methods are dubious. Does anyone really need to know that dinner was made out of salvaged garbage? The answer depends on who you're trying to impress. 

April Rescue Recipe: Vicky's Chicken Broth
This Rescue Recipe came from my friend Vicky.  Not too long ago when Vicky wasn't feeling well, I went to her house with a my mother's great chicken soup. But Vicky had already defrosted some of her own. It was incredibly robust and deeply savory. And I discovered that it's a perfect Rescue Recipe because it calls for chicken and whatever is wasting away in your fridge. The other day I made it, and here's what I added:
Scoliotic Kale spines, diced
Curling spinach
Limp carrots, quartered
Softening potato, diced
Nub of ginger, halved
Stringy celery, diced
Handful of kosher salt
Handful of whole peppercorns
Toss everything into a large stock pot and fill with water. Bring to a boil then, with the lid slightly ajar, simmer. After a few hours, break up the chicken with a wooden spoon and continue simmering for at least 6 hours - preferably overnight. Strain and press as much of the solid food that you can through a sieve, so that you have a thick-ish broth. Then serve, and if you have extra (which you will), freeze for a rainy day.
      By the way: Jack's experiment proved that organic and nonorganic produce rotted at pretty much the same rate. Organic is more expensive, but at least it lasts as long as the pesticide-treated produce. To say nothing of the many other environmental benefits to organic and, if possible, local. So in the end, I'm sticking with my healthy, flavorful, and sustainable choice: organic.