Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mushroom wild rice soup

My absolute low points as a cook have been the disastrous beer cheese soup (which was fine, it just turns out my husband loathes beer cheese soup,) and the mushroom wild rice soup I made for our writers group.  I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and my husband and I were both working for mortgage companies, he for Norwest, me for Prudential.  Our writers group was meeting at our apartment fairly soon after work and I thought I could make up a nice vegetarian cream of wild rice and mushroom soup recipe in the crock pot.  I did all the things I do to make good soup, sautéed an onion, added diced carrot and celery, sautéed the mushrooms, and added wild rice and water.  I planned to add cream when we got home.  I scooped it all into the crock pot and left for work.

Turns out wild rice will expand infinately and assume a very mushy and horrible texture if left in the crock pot for an entire day.  If you want soup and not porridge you only need about half a cup of wild rice, not a whole bag.  Also, pregnant ladies are sensitive to strong tastes and odd textures and may not be able to eat either mushrooms or wild rice for years if they have one bad experience.  Don't make cream of mushroom and wild rice soup in the crockpot if you value your tummy and wish to impress your guests.

Cream of Wild Rice Chicken Soup

However, I redeemed myself yesterday by making what my husband claims is the best soup I have ever made.  Dave roasted chicken on Monday night, and it was great.  My husband just rubbed it with butter, salted and peppered and sprinkled rosemary, thyme, and poultry mix on it, and rubbed garlic butter under the skin.  He roasted it at 450 for about an hour in a small gratin dish.  It was truly a great roast bird.  I ran off to my book club while he pulled the remaining meat off the bird, and made a stock with the carcass and pan juices and a bit of water, but nothing else.  There was maybe a cup and a half of mostly pan juices when I got home, plus some chicken meat in the fridge.  (He also served reheated leftover pureed sweet potato and cut up fresh vegetables and some melon.)

Tuesday I got home from work and sautéed a big onion in some butter.  I added diced carrots and celery.  I split the aromatics into two pots, and added sliced button mushrooms to one.  I added peeled and diced broccoli stems to the other.  They both got 1/2 - 3/4 cup of wild rice, salt, pepper, and some fresh herbs including thyme, savory, sage, parsley, and chives.  The mushroomy soup also got the chicken broth.  I added water to cover and cooked them both till the wild rice was done. I needed to go run an errand, so when the rice was cooked I added cold whole milk to both to stop the cooking, turned off the heat and went on my errand.  When I got back I added a lot of broccoli to the vegetarian soup, and a little broccoli and the chicken meat to the chicken soup.  Once the broccoli was cooked and the soup was simmering I added cream to both, and cheese to the vegetable soup, adding the cheese off the heat.  I threw in another handful of herbs and that was it.

Fundamentally it was the same soup as 20 years ago, though the awesome chicken and broth made it much much better, not to mention my new found love of cream.  But the funny thing is, I wouldn't have been able to make this soup without experiencing the disaster of the other soup.  I wouldn't have known to cool the soup down so I could run my errand without having made the horrible porridge.  Which I guess just goes to show that you should forgive your cooking failures as long as you learn from them.  And also, just because you failed at something once doesn't mean you will fail again.

Also, it turns out no amount of cheese or broccoli, which my children all love, will make up for the presence of wild rice in soup for my youngest son.  Sadly I even intended to make their soup with jasmine rice, but my daughter convinced me to use the wild rice.  I guess you can't win them all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Healthy Blood Sugar

Bacon covered meatloaf, fat and protein to get through the day
All of my life if I missed a meal, or it was 7:00 and I hadn't had dinner yet I would pretty much lose my mind.  My poor husband has spent many an evening driving around looking for a restaurant that had a table for us while I got increasingly confused and hysterical.  These episodes always end in tears.  Most of my time as a teacher I have eaten breakfast, a snack around 10:00, lunch, and another snack around 2:00, and possibly 4:00, before going home to make dinner.  On nights when I have to stay at work until a performance I regularly would bring a giant bag of food just to get through my day.

An interesting thing has happened since I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes and started controlling my blood sugar with diet, I can go hours without food.  I no longer get frantic, hysterical, or teary if I miss a meal.  Simply keeping my blood sugar under 140 at all times, in addition to bringing my HBA1c down to 5.1 (my goal is 4.8,) has smoothed out my hunger.  I only snack for entertainment purposes now, not because I will lose my mind if I don't eat this second.

You have probably read the saying "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a peasant, and dinner like a pauper."  I have found something like that works for me.  I eat big, hearty breakfasts full of fat, protein, and vegetables, with a bit of fresh fruit.  Lunches are salads, stir-fries, or soup, with some protein and nuts or cheese.  Well, okay, all of my meals are actually about the same, high quality protein, healthy fats, lots of vegetables, a bit of fruit.  I get almost no carbs at breakfast, half a grapefruit or a few slices of pear maybe.  Any carbs in the morning really impact my blood sugar.  For lunch I can have a bit more carbohydrate, and for dinner I can tolerate up to 30 grams, a bit of sweet potato, some wild rice, a little milk.

I have been thinking of this lately because I have been crazy crazy busy.  So busy I have been missing meals left and right.  Several days this week I haven't gotten home till 3 or 4, but since I planned on getting home at 1:00 I didn't bring a lunch with me.  And I have been fine.  A bit hungry maybe, but mostly just busy.  On Tuesday I missed lunch, made dinner at 4:30, and then went to my class till 10:00.  I had a little bed time snack when I got home, but I was fine with basically two meals.

Doctors hate the term hypoglycemia, it's a short step away folk superstition for them, and indeed, when I feel frantic with hunger my blood sugar is always a bit high, at least 120.  My personal theory is that my body is pretty good at predicting my meal time, and releases about as much insulin as it thinks I will need at the appropriate time.  When I don't then eat, I release stress hormones, then glycogen from my liver, and eventually end up with high blood sugar.  It's probably the stress hormones that make me feel so rotten.

If my body doesn't expect much carbohydrate, it won't release as much insulin for the next meal, and the crash if it comes, is smaller.  Also, I was probably pretty protein deficient all those years as a vegetarian.  I think of protein as slow-carbs, available to be turned into glycogen whenever my body needs it via gluco-neo-genesis.  And getting enough fat to slow digestion evens things out a lot too.

I am pretty thankful I don't have to go through the crashes anymore.  And I am pretty happy I can make it through a day without planning so many snacks.  And I am really happy I ate a good breakfast this morning, because lunch was 4 hours late, yet again.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Fancy Restaurant Diet

For several years I have been toying with writing a diet book.  I have the best plan: the fancy restaurant diet.  Seriously, the best and often most nutritious meals I make myself are like what I eat at my favorite restaurants.  An appetizer from Cafe Maude: Greens sauteed in butter, piled in a shallow soup plate and topped with a perfectly poached egg, a few crumbles of sheep milk feta, a sprinkle of pepitas, and shreds of crispy bacon, probably half a slice of bacon worth.  Any lunch at the Birchwood.  My favorite dinner from the Craftsman: a microgreen salad very lightly dressed with olive oil and wine vinegar, a 6 ounce hanger steak, and a few ounces of cheese with a half an apple very thinly sliced and a few walnuts for dessert.  I always get one perfect glass of red wine with the meal and a pot of tea with the cheese course.  The Bento boxes from Midori's Floating World are like a tutorial in complex and balanced elements, each jewel like and lovely.  Any meal at Restaurant Alma.

Fine food should be flavorful and delight your memories, your sight, and your emotions.  All of my favorite restaurants source local and organic whenever possible.  They use good fats, butter, olive oil, nut oils, and they aren't afraid of fat.  The serving sizes are small, but they feed the senses and satisfy because they are complex and visually delightful.  Consideration is given to variety, seasonality, and the progression from one course to another.  Protein is the focus, with lively and interesting vegetables on the side.  If you skip the bread basket, though one or two slices of fabulous fresh warm bread are almost certainly fine for you if you don't have Celiac, and if you don't drink too much wine, there is no reason you couldn't happily lose weight eating like this.  And lately all my favorite restaurants are increasing their use of local food by pickling foods to save for later seasons, and lacto-fremented vegetables are really healthful for you.

A condensed version of my fancy restaurant diet:

  • Focus each plate around a small serving of the best protein you can afford.
  • Grass fed meats, wild game, wild caught sustainable fish, duck eggs, homemade tofu and hand crafted tempeh, artisan cheeses, fresh seasonal beans like fava beans, and shellfish are the best proteins.
  • Select foods that are local, organic, and seasonal.
  • You should be able to list the farmers that produced your food, the names of their farms should be poetic.  
  • Authentic ethnic foods are always better for you.
  • Use great fats: homemade butter made from grass-fed milk, really good flavorful olive oil, delicate fresh nut oils, coconut oil for high heat and for richness in your curries and asian inspired foods.  Make your own ghee.  Many things taste better with a drizzle of white truffle oil.
  • Fat is filling and carries flavor, don't fear it.
  • Make sure that there is a balance of flavors and colors on each plate, make the plate vibrant with vegetables, fruits, and herbs.  Try to add smokey, toasty, or earthy flavors.
  • Include sour flavors from citrus, fruit reductions, fine vinegars.
  • Include crunchy textures from finely diced raw vegetables, lightly toasted nuts, small amounts of bacon.
  • Mushrooms, especially wild-crafted ones, are awesome.
  • Sauces should be a delicate complement to the authentic flavors of the food, use a light hand and don't overwhelm the food.
  • How your meal looks is almost as important as how it tastes.
  • A small serving of naturally fermented foods adds an intense burst of flavor, capers, diced pickle, a few delicate shreds of pickled beets, umeboshi, any kind of Japanese pickle.
  • The best snacks are like the amuse at a restaurant, a shot-glass of super rich soup, a morsel of cheese with some nuts and a tiny serving of fruit, a bit of fancy preserved meat with some raw vegetables. Pate with crispy crackers.
  • Dessert is important and it should be exquisite.  The very best dark chocolate with a perfect cup of espresso and a few walnuts, fresh berries with a dollop of whipped cream, a lovely cheese drizzled with local honey, rose-water and cardamom panna cotta.
  • Eat in courses when you can, each a delicate morsel.  Focus your full attention on each.
  • Breakfast should be hearty and special, lunch should be salad and soup, or salad with protein, dinner portions should be small and complex.
  • One great glass of wine, ample ice water, and a warm drink with dessert.
  • Make every meal a special occasion with family or friends.  When you eat alone light a candle, and read great poetry, or listen to soothing music.
  • Take your time and make sure to have lively and interesting conversations.
The best part of my diet plan is even if you don't lose weight your food will be much more enjoyable so you won't care.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

While I was away

I didn't blog so much, but I did take a few photos of things I ate and drank.  There were some lovely cocktails one warm night.

The one on the left is a cherry gin and tonic, the one on the right is an apricot and tequila cocktail with considerable lime and lemon juice.

The light comes in the window over our kitchen sink in a lovely way, washing lettuce is much more fun in lovely light.

My husband fried a steak, then threw some onions and tomatoes in the hot pan, steamed broccoli, and made rice in the rice cooker.  Not so fancy, but simple and tasty.  Any meal cooked by someone else tastes ever so much better I think

My favorite breakfast ever, sauteed greens and mushrooms, poached eggs, crispy bacon.  I had a half an avocado on the side, and a few wedges of orange.

My son's S'more pie.  No idea how it tasted as it is chock full of gluten, and I wasn't there when they ate and photographed it, but conceptually it seemed good, graham cracker crust, melted chocolate bars and marshmallows under chocolate cream pie filling, meringue topping.  The four of them ate it in one sitting.  Must have been good, right?

Weekly shopping 5/6/2012

I shopped in the late afternoon today, and I have to say going at 8:00 AM is clearly a better choice.  We started at the meat counter and I finally caved in and bought a pork loin to roast.  We also got 2 packages of chicken thighs, chicken feta sausages, pork chops, sockeye salmon, a package of stew meat, and one of hamburger.

We back-tracked to the veggies and got potatoes and onions, mushrooms, lettuce, celery, carrots, red cabbage, bell peppers, jalapenos, avocados, two winter squash, eggplant, young garlic, spring onions, bananas, grapes, two grapefruits, and apples.

At the dairy counter we got butter, tofu, a few lunch yogurts, 3 dozen eggs, and some kid-friendly cheeses.

We got corn tortillas, crackers, rice, and corn chips for our carbs this week, and curry sauce, salsa, canned chili, pancake mix, and prepared hummos for our prepared foods.

From the freezer section we got two bags of strawberries, one of mixed berries, and a bag of green beans.

We spent 230.00, though we bought milk and cream at breakfast, so add 10 bucks to the total.  For the last few stressful weeks we have been splitting our shopping in half, which adds to the total for sure.  But we do have quite a bit of food lurking around, so we didn't need as much this week.  Dinners this week will be -

Monday:  Teriyaki salmon, Japanese sesame eggplant, squash and carrots steamed, miso with seaweed, and rice.
Tuesday:  Scottish mince, quesadillas, hash, salad.
Wednesday:  Curried beef, curried chickpeas, rice, indian spiced pureed eggplant, banana raita.
Thursday: Mashed potatoes, sweet and sour red cabbage, pork chops, eggs.
Friday: Roast pork loin, pureed squash and carrots, sauteed mushrooms, salad, fried tofu.
Saturday: Ethiopian spiced butter roast chicken thighs, sauteed bell peppers, stewed green beans and onions, curried lentils, rice, and I may send one of the kids to go buy some fresh injera, which is not gluten free, but the others will like, or if I have the time and energy I may make some homemade chickpea crepes which I can eat.  One of these days I will make some 100% teff injera from scratch, but not this week I think.

The kids are getting chili with cheese for lunch tomorrow, with some chips and grapes.  Crackers with hummos, yogurt, and apples on tuesday, cheesy vegetable rice on Wednesday, left over curry with rice on Thursday, and after that I have no idea, maybe mac and cheese?  Salsa, chips, and beans?  I cannot express how much I love our thermoses.  My kids don't have celiac, but I try to minimize their gluten in the off chance it will delay their getting it.

David and I mostly eat leftover dinner for our lunches, but the chicken feta sausages are for emergency lunch.  I have started taking half an avocado most days for lunch, or eating it for breakfast.  There is enough pork we should cook it earlier in the week and have leftovers for lunches.  The nice thing about shopping for the week and having a menu is you can switch at any time as long as you take the meat out of the freezer and soak the beans ahead.

I'll be eating eggs and veggies and fruit for breakfast.  The kids will have oatmeal cooked in the rice cooker overnight, yogurt and homemade granola, pancakes with homemade canned peaches, smoothies, and huevos rancheros.

Have a lovely week.

Sings of Spring

Twilight apple blossoms
Soon I suppose I will have to admit that it is summer now and actually go work in my garden, but in the mean time I am very happy that my mother and I have planted so many blooming bushes and trees.  The bloom progression works wonderfully in my yard, first the plums, then the redbud, the neighbors apple tree, then one of ours and the other.  Standard lilacs, then Miss Kim lilacs.  By the time the spring blooming trees are finishing up the azaleas and lilly of the valley are starting, and then it's summer.

I have been spending all of my gardening time making a garden for a sick friend.  It's much much more fun for me to make a garden from scratch.  I like designing and installing gardens more than maintaining them.  But even more than that I like having a lovely garden, lot's of flowers, and fresh herbs.