while I’m away…

For the past few months I’ve been working with Paleo Magazine on various reviews and other freelance work. A couple of months ago I was given an exciting new project, and I’m thrilled to finally share it with you today — with the launch of the new and improved Paleo Magazine app, the editors will be releasing free guides and e-books to online subscribers, starting with my e-cookbook!

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I developed and photographed 10 original Paleo recipes over the span of one hectic month, and the finished product is now available for free when you download the Paleo Magazine app. The entrees included appeal to all tastes and every season, and were inspired by some of my favorite flavor combinations: lime and cumin, shiitake mushrooms and shrimp, fresh peaches and roasted cherry tomatoes, sweet potato and chorizo.

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The whole experience was a learning process. Sure, I’ve been creating my own recipes and photographing the end result for years now, but the pressure was on to create something more sophisticated and streamlined. I used every tool in my arsenal to create inventive flavor pairings and visually appealing photographs, and spent a good chunk of an afternoon scrounging for props at the thrift store. It was hard work, harder than I imagined, and after this experience I have an immense amount of respect for cookbook creators everywhere.

But you’d better believe we ate really well at my house that month.

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So while I’m away, head over to the Paleo Magazine app and check out my first published cookbook. Try the recipes, put your own spin on them, and get back to me with your stories. While I won’t necessarily be whipping up delicious dishes while on the road and sharing them with you here, you can take a little piece of my Paleo perspective with you on your smart phone or tablet to enjoy this fall. Cheers and happy eating!

a book review + watercress pluot salad with lime-nutmeg vinaigrette

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In one of my recent weekly visits to the blog Gluten Free Girl and the Chef I stumbled across an excellent review of a new book, Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. Shauna writes about Robinson’s dedication, research and passion for both wild plants and modern cultivars, and discusses the connection between plants of the past and our diets of the present. That was enough to pique my interest, and as soon as I could get to the library I picked up my own copy.

Early into the first chapter I knew this was going to be a great read. I started keeping a pen and a notebook with me while I read it to jot down interesting tidbits about vegetable varieties and how to make them more nutritious. With recipes, historical anecdotes (with one involving the nuclear bomb tests on Bikini Atoll, no less!), gardening advice and shopping tips, Robinson combines all of her knowledge, in a pleasant way, her gentle voice shining through the academic citations.

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Robinson breaks the book down into two parts – fruits and vegetables – and from there divides the categories into chapters for individual varieties. There is a chapter devoted to lettuces, to berries, to apples, to corn. She describes to history of each plant, tracing the modern lineage back to its ancient ancestor, and details how the varieties have developed through science or by accident.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is how Robinson ensures the reader comes away with an appreciation for a plant’s nutrition – it’s not all about color and flavor, although these usually play a key role in tapping into the nutrients. From this she offers ingenious ideas on ensuring we as consumers can choose the most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, and then learn how to enhance those nutrients through cooking and storage techniques.

The tip I’ve been remembering the most has to do with garlic. Studies crop up like weeds about the anti-cancer properties of garlic nowadays, and traditional remedies recommend choking down pungent concoctions with the stuff to stave off colds and the flu. Robinson reveals, however, that the disease-fighting properties of garlic are not so easily accessed as to swallow a clove whole. There are two enzymes contained in a clove of garlic, and it is only after the whole garlic has been processed somehow – by chopping, pressing, smashing – that the two enzymes can combine to create the cancer-fighting enzyme that is so often lauded in scientific studies. It is important, as Robinson reveals, to process the garlic and let it rest for 10 minutes to activate the production of the helpful and healthful enzyme before cooking. Through this, and only through this, will you extract the most nutrition and the most disease-fighting properties from your common garlic clove.

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This is just one of many amazing kitchen-nutrition tips that Robinson offers, like the fact that cooking beets with the skins on retains more of the nutrients, or cooking and then chilling potatoes overnight before serving reduces the glycemic load of the starchy tuber. Fascinating!

I kept a running list of interesting varieties of fruits and vegetables to plant in my someday garden, thanks to Robinson’s recommendations at the end of each chapter. From Carolina Ruby Sweet Potatoes to Brigadier broccoli, to Tuscan Kale and Hawaiian Currant Tomatoes, to French Gray Shallots and Merlot lettuce, to Spanish Roja Garlic and Detroit Dark Red Beets, I am inspired to reap the benefits of nutrition and flavor in my own plot of land someday.

Eating on the Wild Side also inspired me to try some new produce at the grocery store. Instead of my typical kale and spinach, I purchased two bundles of delicate watercress. Instead of apples or berries, I chose a handful of translucent-skinned pluots. With a homemade vinaigrette and some gently toasted pistachios, all I needed was that new and vibrant produce to create a new salad. I made this twice I liked it so much – something about the bitter greens, the sweet fruit, the crunch of the nuts and the acidic spice of the vinaigrette combined perfectly.

Truly, as Robinson writes, when the fruits and vegetables are fresh and nutritious, they need but a little dressing up to turn them into a good meal.

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Watercress Salad with Pluots, Toasted Pistachios and Lime-Nutmeg Vinaigrette

1 bunch fresh watercress, washed and trimmed

2 pluots

1 c. raw pistachios

1 lime, juiced

1/4 c. olive oil

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. sea salt

Arrange the washed and trimmed watercress in a large salad bowl, Slice and pit the pluots and arrange on the greens. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and toast pistachios with a pinch of sea salt and a splash of olive oil until fragrant, about 5 minutes, before sprinkling over salad.

Meanwhile, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a bowl or in a food processor. Combine the lime juice with the olive oil, salt and nutmeg, and briskly stir in the egg yolk until the dressing emulsifies. Drizzle over salad and serve immediately.

The salad does not keep well dressed — if you are making this ahead of time or in a large batch, dress only what you’ll be eating immediately, and store the greens, fruit, nuts and vinaigrette in separate containers in the refrigerator to keep everything crisp.

organized simplicity // a review, a lifestyle

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I recently finished reading the book Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider, recommended to me by a good friend. It was incredibly inspiring.

Tsh writes about pragmatic ways to live a simple, organized life, and outlines a comprehensive plan to turn your home into a clean, well-managed place through ten steps. She also delves into the emotional and spiritual realm, discussing how clutter and chaos can negatively impact our ability to live life on our own terms. To be controlled by one’s objects is to not to have life to the full, she writes, but to be steered by the society of more, the attitude of the consumer.

The more I think about our impending move, the less I want to own, to schlep in luggage through airports and across oceans to a new place. I’ve done plenty of work to get to where we are now — i.e., to where all of our stuff fits in our little 900-square-foot house — but reading this book revealed to me some junky places in my heart in addition to the junky places in my home.

As I read through the ten steps, in which Tsh outlines a plan to comb through every detail of every room, I kept a notepad by me on which to jot down any notes that came to mind as I mentally walked through our home with her guidance. I ended up filling an entire notebook page with ideas for things I wanted to sort or get rid of. Within a week I was taking it all to the charity shop. This meant drastically reducing the size of our record collection, tossing out dingy college t-shirts and home decor items, and researching how to responsibly dispose of old prescription medications. I discarded old makeup and unused scrapbooking materials, organized our toiletries and first aid kit, corralled all of the many electronics wires and culled our collection of orphan pens. I disbanded the concept of a junk drawer and, thanks to a little bug infestation, ended up cleaning out and reorganizing our kitchen pantry. Now I know where everything is. Now I know exactly what I have. Now I have control over these objects in a way that, before, they had ownership over me.

One of the most important concepts in the book is the idea of purpose. Tsh describes simple living as “living holistically with your life’s purpose,” and one of the first exercises she encourages in her book is to create a family purpose statement. This will guide the direction of your life, yes, but will also determine the purpose of your home, which will further direct how the home is curated. Is your family purpose statement focused on friendships and hospitality? This will be reflected in the warmth of your home and the diligence with which you maintain it — ready to host at a moment’s notice. Is your purpose statement centered upon environmental stewardship and the love of the outdoors? This will be reflected in your commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Andrew and I are still working on our family purpose statement, but I loved this concept. How refreshing to have a team decision already formulated about life goals and the purpose of our home. We often discuss these things — how we want to live, what we value, etc — but to have a fully-composed vision to turn to when making decisions will be helpful in pursuing our goals to streamline and simplify.

Another aspect of Organized Simplicity was an insistence on the value of relationships over objects. One of the factors that is contributing to our general de-socialization, Tsh writes, is the importance placed on getting more over loving more, being more. We are so consumed with buying, collecting and earning that we forget to care, to establish a home base, to spend quality time with loved ones. I know that everyone in the country isn’t this way, but I concede that there is a reason that we are more “connected” than ever and yet feel more isolated. This phrase — “value relationships over objects” — will definitely become a part of our family purpose statement.

Tsh ties in all of this organizational theory with personal values: her commitment to living a life glorifying to God, one that is in harmony with the environment, one that is simple and frugal and full and rich. She advocates homemade body and home care products as a way to save money and limit exposure to toxic ingredients. She homeschools her children because she values the freedom to travel and individualize the curriculum in accordance with her kids’ personalities. She values debt-free living and rigorous savings plans, and outlines her budgeting system in great detail.

But she does not push for us to do more just for the sake of it. She does not want her reader to feel compelled to take on meal planning and DIY deodorant-making just because she says so. There is purpose behind her every action, behind her every word — and it is to cultivate a simple life. A life that is good and bountiful and beautiful in its slowness, in its attention to detail.

This is the sort of life I want to live. (I also want to be her friend.)

How I’m implementing Organized Simplicity:

1. Getting back to a budget.

2. Tightening up my spending.

3. Bringing less into and taking more out of our home.

4. Composing a family purpose statement.

5. Making my own household cleaners.

6.  Letting go of objects; releasing the hold they have over me.

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I’ve started reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker, and I’m finding it to be the perfect follow-up to this book. This prayer is the lodestone of her work — “Jesus, let there be less of me and my junk and more of you and your kingdom.” Amen.

making real sourdough bread

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“It is pleasant: one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with peace, and the house filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells. But it takes a lot of time. If you can find that, the rest is easy. And if you cannot rightly find it, make it, for probably there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.

“You should have four bread pans, which can be bought usually at a junk-man’s if one of your female relatives does not have them stuck away in some cupboard under the back stairs. You might even buy the glass ones, which are very good, although less romantic. You will need a big bowl, too.

“Given these props, then, and an oven that will hold the four pans, you can safely embark on what may, for the first time at least, be a harrowingly entertaining experience, but will probably lead to many calmer, peace-bringing times.”

– “How to Rise Up Like New Bread,” How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher

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I love Fisher’s words on the subject of baking bread — as a ritual, an exercise in bringing a little bit of the past and a little bit of peace into our modern kitchens. No matter where you stand on the nutritional value or detriment of bread, I think there are few of us around who would say we didn’t like it, or that it was a meaningless foodstuff. When I think of bread, I think of reading Little House on the Prairie. I think of my grandmother’s fresh yeasted rolls at every breakfast, at every holiday supper. I think of Biblical characters shaping and molding leaven to bake on a hearthstone next to the fire. The ancients, the people and traditions in the root of all of us.

In my mostly grain-free lifestyle, I love the idea of bread more than the bread itself, but I happened to be married to a man who dreams of it. Not just any old sliced bread, not the so-called “healthy” stuff packed with seeds and fibers, but the hollow crusty boudin loaves with a real sour taste and gasping air pockets inside. I have a feeling that, if we ever get to France, our tour will include an equal number of pain au chocolate and baguettes burnished gold by ancient wood-fired ovens as it will museums and boulevards.

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So I bake this for him. It is, as Fisher writes, a task that requires a great deal of time, but if I can find it the baking process proves to be a worthwhile endeavor. I knead and fold and rest, both my arms and the bread, and finally bake it in a preheated dutch oven at a very hot temperature, twenty minutes covered to trap the steam and seal the crust, twenty minutes uncovered to let the bread poof and crackle.

It is a labor of love in the truest sense of the phrase. When two loaves (sometimes a pretty as a picture, sometimes a little more dense than usual) are finally resting upon the breadboard, my husband tears into them with abandon and plenty of butter. Few crusts remain for toast the next day, but I think through these tokens of affection he feels the most loved. Hot bread, a full belly, a sweetly steamed kitchen and a flour-flecked wife do indeed a happy man make.

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Notes on baking sourdough: I first started this experiment with a recipe from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. The sourdough starter recipe I posted is what I have used through this entire process, even though I switched halfway through my experiment to the Tartine Bread methods of baking.

Whereas the NT method calls for freshly ground flour and overnight soaking, plus little more than a few turns of the dough, the Tartine method is much more involved. You must make a starter, and from that make a leaven, both of which take several days combined of feeding and rest. After the leaven has activated, more flour and water are added, there is a rest, then salt is kneaded in, and then another rest. The bulk fermentation happens at this point, but there are several more steps that follow. Each of the final steps involved turning and folding the dough, plus a few more rests. However, as time-consuming and labor-intensive as this recipe is in comparison to the NT method, it produces a reliably delicious loaf every time. Plus, the Tartine method can be “customized” to fit your schedule; i.e., if you run out of time for baking or if you’ll be leaving the house for a few hours, you can slow the fermentation process by refrigerating the dough. Chad Robertson, the author of the Tartine book, is thoughtful that way.

Because the Tartine method is so perfect and involved, I will not attempt to recreate the recipe here — bread making is, after all, a marriage of art and science, with as much to do with feel as it is ratios. If you’re interested in making bread like the kind I’ve written about and photographed, check out Robertson’s book. Regardless of it you get around to actually baking a loaf yourself, the tome is gorgeous, more novel and travel log than cookbook. It will be as at home on a coffee table as in a kitchen cupboard.

a little reading for your weekend

I recently submitted a few essays to the Equals Record — not only did they say they wanted to publish, but they asked me to guest edit a column for their online edition and it went live today. Check out a few of my favorite books and why I love them over here.

One of my goals for the year was to submit some of my writing to a new-to-me publication, and boy did I get lucky with the great people at the Equals Record. Now that I’ve checked that goal off of my list I’m not stopping short, but my creativity is churning and my ego is boosted enough to propel me through several more submissions. Three cheers for goals and the thrill that comes with accomplishment.

Well Fed cookbook review + giveaway

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My copy of Well Fed came in the mail last week, and it only took a moment before I was already lost in the mouth-watering photos, the recipes, the stories, the flavor pairings and the wit of Melissa Joulwan, author and blogger at The Clothes Make the Girl. One of my favorite paleo bloggers, Mel has a tough-but-sweet attitude, and from what I’ve read she really knows how to tackle a challenge with style and grit. Not only that, but she’s an inventive cook with an eye for presentation and a flair for exotic spices, and her cookbook displays all of this.

Plus, nearly everything in Well Fed is Whole30-approved, which is such a blessing. I’m smack dab in the middle of my first Whole30 challenge, and if I wasn’t able to cook and eat the dishes that I was reading about I think I probably would’ve eaten the cookbook itself. Thankfully, it’s all systems go for these delicious dishes!

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I’ve already made her recipe for Creamy Mashed Cauliflower and the Coconut-Almond Green Beans, and I have plans to cook up her Creamy Spice Market Kale, “The Best Chicken You Will Ever Eat,” her Salmon A L’Afrique du Nord, her Turkish Chopped Salad, and her Velvety Butternut Squash in the coming days. It’s Well Fed-week on our menu planner!

How could I not want to cook all of her dishes after reading Well Fed? After reading the last few pages I was so inspired to start cooking and fiddling with spices that I could hardly bring myself to make what I had planned to cook for dinner. Mel’s Cinnamon Beef Stew or Scotch Eggs sounded so much more inventive than my simple veggie-and-sausage scramble.

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Mel certainly doesn’t turn her proverbial nose up at simple meals, however. She writes about her tried-and-true methods for putting food on the table despite busy schedules during the workweek, including the ever-important topic of meal prep. Mel takes a day to cook up large portions of protein, wash and prep veggies, do some preliminary roasting and sauteeing and pack snacks for the week in an afternoon — this way, she knows what’s available for meals and nibbles, and dinner is as easy as combining this chicken with those roasted veggies, adding a homemade sauce or a zingy spice blend, and then digging in with gusto.

I was so inspired that I undertook my own form of meal prep on Saturday afternoon. I washed and sliced several bell peppers and radishes, roasted golden beets, steamed greens, washed and spun lettuce for salads, hardboiled half a dozen eggs, thawed chicken breasts, made my own ghee, and cleaned out the refrigerator. I had plans to cook off some bacon and sausage later, and to make some of Mel’s famous sauces and spice blends too. Even though I work at home during the week and usually have plenty of time to make lunch or dinner from scratch, there are days when it all seems too much to do in one sitting. Plus I feel more secure about sticking to my Whole30 guidelines now, knowing I have tons of great prepped ingredients upon which to build meals.

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Overall, this cookbook was an inspiration to me as a Whole30 participant, as a new-to-paleo eater, and as a cook in general. It’s a small book and I like it that way. With just under 100 recipes, the cookbook offers plenty of recipes to try without being overwhelming — and the book itself is small and kind of square-ish, which is a nice change from the hefty hardbound tomes that take up so much space in the kitchen. The photography offers great detail and the layout is pleasing (in addition to being designed by one of my favorite creatives), and Mel’s lovely personality shines through with every anecdote and note on spices. It was a purchase well-made, and now more than ever I am feeling nourished and well fed.

And because I’m feeling so excited about this cookbook I’m offering one lucky reader a copy of Well Fed as a gift, from me to you. This is in no way affiliated with the author of the publisher, and I was not sponsored to do this giveaway — I just want to spread the good news and the great recipes far and wide. To be entered to win, please leave a comment telling me about your favorite meal, the one that makes you feel the most “well fed” and happy. I will randomly draw a winner next Monday, January 21 and your own personal copy of Well Fed will be on it’s way to your kitchen. You have until Friday, January 18 at midnight to enter. Good luck!

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All photos courtesy of The Clothes Make the Girl. From top to bottom: Mel and Jicama Home Fries, Scotch Eggs, Coconut-Almond Green Beans, and Chocolate Chili.

wish list :: food philosophy bookshelf

In the last couple of years, my food philosophy has changed dramatically. I’ve always been healthy and active and concerned about eating healthy, but never before have I questioned conventional food philosophies like I do now. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to eat fresh fruit and vegetables from my family’s orchards and gardens, and we had easy access to beef and pork that we raised ourselves. We’ve had laying hens for years and I’ve learned to taste the difference between farm-fresh and store-bought omeletts.

Like any athletic, active kid, I could eat anything and feel invincible — I won’t tell you how often I used to eat fried chicken strips dipped in nacho cheese sauce before a volleyball game — but it wasn’t until I was confronted with making my own food choices in college that I started to research nutrition and ethics and to really think about where my food was coming from. Usually, it was the campus dining hall, which was fine but not ideal. As I began to live on my own, I experimented with weird vegan/vegetarian food substitutes, with kind of strange diets, and to feel uncertain about all of it.

After reading Sally Fallon and Mary Enig’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook, which is more like a story fully of scientific research and encouraging, traditional food wisdom tidbits, my food philosophy changed and finally, I felt settled. This was not a diet, full of restrictions or fake-food substitutions, but a way of life that centered around wholesome, nourishing, real foods. It was in line with the way my grandparents and great-grandparents used to, and still do, in most cases, eat. This Nourishing Traditions philosophy eschewed processed foods and industrial products for solid, scientifically based health reasons, not just the usual biased and weakly based ethical reasons that so often get thrown around in discussions on food. It certainly does not offer a quick fix solution to weight or health problems, and it is a philosophy that requires work and dedication. But the health results are real, just like the food, and anything that focuses on grass-fed butter, raw milk, and grass-fed heavy cream is okay to me.

Supplementing my Nourishing Traditions tome is almost anything by Michael Pollan, but always taken with a grain of salt, and Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Dr. Mary Enig, the original champion of good fats. Real Food by Nina Planck covers basically the same material as Nourishing Traditions text, but acts as an easy-to-read refresher on the philosophy. Mollie Katzen’s original Moosewood Cookbook is a cookbook I turn to for my favorite hummus and banana bread recipes, and although I don’t have my own copy I covet this book for it’s inventive vegetarian recipes. The Nourishing Traditions philosophy sings the praises of grass-fed meats, including pork, bacon, and burgers, properly prepared vegetables are the crux of the meal plans. A recently acquired copy of Gourmet’s French Basics cookbook provides plenty of great knowledge on traditional French recipes like beef consommé that also fall in line with NT philosophy.

Now, learning about food and nutrition from a cultural, historic and scientific perspective has become one of my favorite hobbies. I’ve learned to look at food as an opportunity for nourishment and enjoyment, and I think I’m a better person for it. But not in a moral sense — I’m always striving to separate the quality of my food from the purity of my soul, because this is NOT about entitlement. I eat the way I do for me, not for anyone else’s benefit or appreciation. What about you? How would you describe your food philosophy?

From top left: Food Rules by Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, Real Food by Nina Planck, The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig, Gourmet’s French Basics Cooking, Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Dr. Mary Enig.