Guest Blog – On Repeat

I should probably point out as today’s guest blogger, my connection to BigLittleMeals is not only as a very big fan of the blog and its creators, but that I also happen to be dating and living with their son, Travis, in Brooklyn, NY.  Just a small coincidence.

This weekend we were lucky enough to catch the unbelievable work of Liza Lou at the Whitney Museum, titled Kitchen.  This life-sized 168 square-foot kitchen covered entirely in millions of tiny glass beads, each placed with a tweezer, took her five years to create. She describes this as a “monument to women’s work, to the labor that is uncelebrated, to the mothers and grandmothers who baked pies, and cooked and sowed [sic] but yet are never thanked, the labor that is endless” (Artnet).

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Liza Lou’s beaded, life-sized “Kitchen”, completed in 1996 – at the Whitney Museum in NYC.  A quote from the Whitney’s website: “Kitchen might also be read as a commentary on American life—even the American dream—with its ubiquitous products (Tide and Cap’N Crunch), aspirations (glittery surfaces and suburban assimilation), and realities (dishes in the sink and other kitchen drudgery).”

Speaking of uncelebrated labor, it occurred to me recently when I was thinking about what to make for dinner for the umpteenth time, that whoever came up with the phrase “Variety is the spice of life” was not working a full-time job in Retail and trying to eat a somewhat healthy meal before 9 pm.  According to the origins of this phrase, William Cowper’s poem, “The Task” written in 1785, that assumption is definitely true. Admittedly, Cowper was not referring to his dinner routine, but more so breaking through the mundanity of life.

I’m sure there’s someone out there who gleefully loves planning dinner night after night, but when I saw this meme it made me feel a little less alone in the world: “Who knew the most taxing part of being an adult is trying to figure out what to have for dinner every goddamn night until you die.”  It’s truly comforting knowing there is someone else out there complaining the good complaint.

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Yes, we can all agree that choosing what to eat for dinner is not the most taxing part of being an adult (sarcasm people), but I think the sentiment perfectly illustrates the mental bandwidth available after a long day, in our case after a(n) (often) (delayed) commute to/from Brooklyn, to feel the urge to cook something fresh, good for you, and that maybe even tastes good. It’s a lot riding on one meal!

Living in a major metropolitan city has its culinary perks, like finding oat milk or matcha on every menu (how dare they not!) or in the likely event of dinner dysfunction, having anything you want to eat at the click of a button.  Yet somehow living in the land of convenience can lose its luster. It’s definitely not the most sustainable approach, both economically or environmentally, or even always the most convenient (delayed deliveries and cold food) but it creates the allusion that you should always have something exciting and new.

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I decided to do some market research, so I asked one food obsessed friend how he decides what to cook every night. To summarize, he doesn’t fuss over dinner, simple is best. Maybe my data pool is a little small but he makes a good point. When I really think about our best dinners, they are not the most complicated or critic-worthy or require the most thought.  A version of pasta, tacos, soup, or stir fry – these are the ones we have on repeat.

A good friend once gave me some advice worth heeding, “set the bar low,” she said. I’m pretty sure she was talking about planning dinner.  Figuring out what to eat is as complicated as you make it and sometimes it can even be, fun?

Well, I think we’ve come full circle, and hopefully I’ve calmed my current dinner anxiety.  Is variety really the spice of life?  No, it’s cumin.

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Cumin-Spiced Mostly-Veggie Stir-Fried Rice

Cumin-Spiced Mostly-Veggie Stir-Fried Rice

Lots of pre-chopping and slicing helps this come together quickly. The omission of eggs makes this a fully plant-based dish.

  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 1/2 c chopped mixed vegetables of choice
  • 1 jalapeno or Fresno pepper, minced
  • 1 c dark leafy greens, preferably kale or swiss chard
  • 1 1/2 c day-old rice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T rice wine vinegar
  • 2 shakes coconut aminos (optional)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil, preferably hot
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 eggs whisked (optional)
  • 2 T avocado oil (or vegetable oil)
  • salt/pepper, to taste

Pre-chop scallion and vegetables of choice, slice shallot and set aside together in a bowl. I used what I had on hand – broccoli, celery, and bell pepper for crunch.

Remove dark leafy greens from stems, rinse, and cut into strips, set aside. In a small bowl, stir together minced garlic, rice wine vinegar, coconut aminos, sesame oil, soy sauce and cumin.  If using, whisk two eggs and set aside in a small bowl.

Warm avocado oil over high heat in a wok or skillet, once sizzling, add your bowl of scallions, shallot, and mixed vegetables. Cook about 4-5 minutes until softened, stir frequently. Lower heat to medium-high, add in minced pepper and garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes more. At this point I season with a little salt and pepper.

Add in kale or swiss chard and cook until softened, then mix in day old rice. When rice is warmed, about 3-4 minutes, add in sauce and stir frequently until evenly coated. If using eggs, make a well in the middle of the rice and pour in the mixture, grind some fresh pepper on top, and keep stirring into a scramble. Once egg is mostly cooked mix together with rice and serve.

Recipe brought to you by Hannah in Brooklyn and BigLittleMeals.com.

Boom!

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It started with “WOKE.”  Then it was “OK, BOOMER.”  And then I realized I was hopelessly out of touch with current slang.

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I know and used these expressions!

Staying “relevant” seems to be on lots of folks’ minds these days.  In today’s Andy’s Corner, Andy is fussing about whether being “hip” or “square” is relevant.

In my internet search I was hoping to find advice on helping seniors stay up-to-date and instead I came up with this: The Secrets to Stay Relevant After 40.  Are you friggin’ kiddin’ me?  You have to worry about that when you’re 35 years younger than I am? OMG.

That article notwithstanding, I feel like I’m pretty on top of things news- and information-wise.  I probably spend way too much time on the computer reading everything fit to print (as if we had print anymore!). However, I fall short in some of the 6 suggestions made in this essay written for the Boomer Cafe (did you know there WAS a Boomer Cafe for Boomers to submit relevant essays?):

  1. Upgrade everything. Do it now.
  2. Don’t diss modern culture.
  3. Exercise. No really, work out.
  4. Keep aches and pains to yourself.
  5. Go out. Actually leave the house.
  6. You can’t drink like them.

Under the “going out” category, the writer specifically cautions against 5:30 dinner reservations – which, coincidentally, I had just made for four of us at our local restaurant, The Glen Ellen Star :).

Suggestion #2 really caught my attention: “Don’t diss modern culture.”  Which brings me to our Albuquerque Guest-Blogger friend David.   I’m not sure he was exactly “dissing modern culture,” but David recently remarked on our blog that he had designed a line of t-shirts & more displaying his pro-Boomer – and maybe anti-Millenial/XGen – sentiment.  The name?  “wOKe Boomer.”

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Get it now at Zazzle!

That totally stumped me; but David explained that it was a reaction to this common (to everyone except me, apparently) Generation Z’s snarky reaction to Baby Boomers: “OK, Boomer.”  And then I had to have David explain “woke.”

A disclaimer is needed here:  David, being two whole years younger than I am, qualifies as a Baby Boomer.  Andy, born in 1943, is a War Baby.  My 1944 birthdate puts me right on the borderline – and able to smugly disavow any Boomer tendencies.

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This is worth a watch

Just when I thought David was fussing way too much about something that most of us near or total Boomers had never experienced or confronted – or even heard of, I saw this article in the NYTimes, Jan 15.  Who would have thought that in the midst of a Supreme Court hearing, our Chief Justice would be savvy enough to refer to that sarcastic anti-Boomer expression?

Wednesday’s Supreme Court argument, over what federal workers must show to prove age discrimination, could have been dry and technical. Instead, it was a lively affair that spotlighted Chief Justice John G. Roberts’s sly wit, one that may serve him well when he crosses the street to preside over the impeachment trial.

The chief justice, who will turn 65 this month, asked whether a stray remark from a supervisor would suffice as evidence of age discrimination. Would a stinging “O.K., Boomer,” he asked, be enough?

(Two even more recent headlines read, Woke William,’ Activist Prince, Would Make Princess Diana So Proud – and Bill Maher Warns Trump Could Win Because Democrats Too ‘Woke’.  Whew.  What a relief that I now know what that means!)

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I promise not to “drink like THEM!”

Yes…until – or if-  I start “upgrading everything“, “keeping my aches and pains to myself,” and “not drinking like THEM” (in addition to #2, 3, and 5), I’m just going to focus on staying relevant food-wise.

The trendiest, yummiest, hippest food item we have in our fridge or pantry – according to our foodie daughter – is Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp.  Writers from Taste and NewYork Mag agree – read more here and here, as do the wonderful family of bloggers on The Woks of Life (great name!) who offer up a fantastic-sounding recipe using Lao Gan Ma.

And if you’re embarrassingly unhip food-wise, let me describe this jar of chili to you.  It’s garlicky, spicy, and wonderfully crunchy because of fried chiles.  It has umami – probably due to the MSG (but don’t worry about that; read this.).  I can take a little half teaspoon of Lao Gan Ma – straight – without dying of the heat.  I can’t do that with our most-used chili sauce, Sriracha.  You can mix it with yogurt as a topping for a veggie salad.  You can top scrambled eggs with it, use it on our scrambled egg taco or put it atop our Jook Chicken or on some skillet-fried potatoes.  YUM!  Use it on stir-fried noodles or our Fried Rice.  Even wilder and crazier and hipper – top some vanilla ice cream with it.

Where will you find this “Old God-mother’s” chili?  Probably not at your local Safeway.  But, of course, you can get it from Amazon.  Don’t be afraid to order 3; we’re betting you’ll use the jars up quickly and probably order still more.  Just remember to give it all a good stir when you first open the jar.

Boom!

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Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp

 

 

Lagniappe: We’re “Bowled” Over

We tried out a soup recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi last night – which fits right into yesterday’s blog.   Admittedly, it’s not often we’re wild about something that’s vegan, so this is obviously pretty special.  Should I say we were “bowled over” by it? 🙂

And be sure to check out Andy’s own mini Super Bowl game in yesterday’s Andy’s Corner (originally I had the link wrong, so you may have assumed you couldn’t see it).

Have a fun Super Bowl Sunday – even if you’re out riding your bike, as our 83-year-old friend in SF plans to do.   The streets are apparently very quiet then.

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Curried Lentil, Tomato, and Coconut Soup from Ottolenghi – made with Chana Dal instead of red lentils (and cooked way longer because of that)

Curried Lentil, Tomato, and Coconut Soup

This recipe is in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple cookbook; we modified the recipe very slightly.  If you use chana dal – which are split chickpeas – you’ll need to cook this considerably longer, but it will be equally delicious.  FYI – the recipe is vegan!

  • 2 T olive oil or sunflower oil or coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 c)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled, finely grated
  • 1 T curry powder – or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 c red lentils, rinsed and drained (you can substitute chana dal, if you have more time to cook)
  • 1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 c finely chopped cilantro
  • Diamond kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk, shaken well (reserve about 1/4 c for swirling on the top when you serve, if you want to be fancy)
  • Lime wedges and cilantro leaves for serving
  • Coconut milk – or yogurt if you don’t need vegan – swirled on the top for serving (optional)

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onion and fry, stirring often, until softened and golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, curry powder, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add lentils and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add tomatoes, cilantro, 1 tsp salt and a pinch of pepper, and 2½ cups water. Add coconut milk to saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft but not mushy, 20–25 minutes (note: if you’re using chana dal it may need to cook for as long as an hour…and maybe require a bit more water).

Season soup with more salt and pepper if needed.

Serve the soup with lime wedges and a topping of cilantro leaves.  And we love the addition of a bit of yogurt on top.

Note: the soup can be made up to 3 days ahead.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

This Bowl So Dear

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from Australia’s Michael Leunig

I find the above illustration and poem by Australia’s Michael Leunig surprisingly uplifting.  Plus, the comfort and simplicity of the bowl of homemade soup and a wooden spoon fits right into the whole notion of our blog.

A little googling about bowls vs plates led me to a whole world of sociological and psychological and historical analyses of the subject.  Where was Andy, the Sociologist, when I needed him?  FYI – he was in his office googling football bowl games. 🙂  See today’s Andy’s Corner.

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Well done, Tigers!

Little did I know that Andy, the Sociologist, had already discovered the British food writer Bee Wilson and was immersed in the Kindle edition of her book The Way We Eat Now: How the Food Revolution Has Transformed Our Lives, Our Bodies, and Our World 

In a piece that Wilson wrote for The Wall Street Journal, she writes, “Our abandonment of plates for bowls suggests that we are reverting to the simpler times of one-pot cookery, liberating ourselves once and for all from fork anxiety. Today, the thing that we are most short of in the kitchen is not necessarily money but time. Sales of bowls have climbed in tandem with the rise of the Instant Pot and the pressure cooker, time-saving gadgets that produce tasty dishes too sloppy for a plate.

But perhaps there is more than just the issue of time at play here.  In an article in the online publication Quartz, Helen Zoe Veit, a Michigan State U professor who focuses on the history of food and nutrition, indicates that snobbery was also at play in our earlier avoidance of one-bowl meals. “How we were eating [in the twentieth century] was reflective of what we were eating, and that tended, in mainstream American culture, to be a slab of protein with a couple sides, salad and bread. “(This) sort of extreme separation of meal components…is seen as a mark of refinement and education and status….Americans for a long time were sort of saying…that mixtures are a little disgusting.”

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A plated place-setting

We’re SO happy that snobbery about bowls and eating mixtures of things is now passé Though Andy and I haven’t entirely given up on a nice plated meal with a side-dish salad – and while we’re still novices when it comes to Buddha bowls and burrito bowls and grain bowls (though we promise more focus on that in blogs to come), we’re in love with soups and stews.

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Too many bowls? Or a necessary abundance of comforting things to cradle?

I think Bee Wilson is really on to something when she says, “The rise of the bowl in our lives suggests that many eaters are in a permanently fragile state, treating every meal as comfort food.  In a world of alarming news, maybe we all need something to cradle.”  Amen.

We’re sure looking for comfort – so tonight I’m making Joyce’s Clam Chowder.  Tomorrow we’re having a bowl of Jook Chicken.  Later in the week it’s Colorado-ish Potato and Green Chile Stew.  Last week we tried out three new soup-y stew-y recipes and are delighted to share them with you today.

This evening we’ll light a fire in our wood stove, turn on our 56th episode of Schitt’s Creek – or maybe the 2nd episode of Cheer, select the perfect bowl from our (crazy large) collection, dish up that bowl of chowder…feel its warmth…take our spoon (wooden or not), and proceed “with steadiness and cheer.” Continue reading

New Beginnings

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Do we need to make New Year’s resolutions about food?  If so, Harvard Medical School offers up “Six Simple Ways to Smarter, Healthier Eating.”  I’ve read it – and lots of other articles with nutrition advice – carefully.  Harvard’s #6 is the absolute best: “Plan meals that are delightful, delicious and healthy.”  (I would probably add that planning is not enough; you need to also COOK and EAT the meal you plan! 🙂 )

Please note though – I’m not giving up totally on salt or sugar or bacon or coffee or red meat or butter – or wine – as this new year starts.  I did, however, many moons ago give up drinking almost all juices, eating ultra-processed food and most pasta (which, all on my own, I decided made me gain weight).  I never eat more than half of a sandwich, and I try to have desserts around only when we have company.

Admittedly, I intend my last meal on earth to be spritz cookie batter – made with a blend of butter (preferably Kerrygold) and sugar (definitely cane, not coconut – a family insider joke).  I’d be the first to say that Julia Child and I could have been soul sisters in our love of butter.  High on my 2020 Bucket List is a visit to Bella la Crema,  a new innovative “butter bar” the next time we’re near Lyons, Colorado.  Yay, Colorado! Yay having friends we want to visit in Boulder!

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That said,  a keeper resolution is that Andy and I will cut back on the amount of beef and lamb and pork we eat – for the earth’s health maybe even more than our own health.  For the time being, I’ll pass on plant-based meat.

I most definitely intend to follow Harvard’s suggestion #2:  Harness the power of nuts (and seeds).  Here are a couple of articles to support this.

8 Health Benefits of Nuts

Super Seeds and Nuts You Should Include in Your Diet

Both are well worth a read – and we’ve added them to our Food for Thought (lots of articles there are worth a read!).

To accompany this 2020 resolution of mine, let me share a few nutty family stories and recipes.  Clearly, the family is very seedy 🙂  And – on another note – Andy was quite tweedy in his “higher” education LSU position – that is until he became quite needy in his “hire” as an adjunct.  See today’s Andy’s Corner!

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Picture this:  it’s 4:30 pm on Christmas day.  Your family has all agreed to contribute something to the Christmas dinner.  Your daughter is putting the finishing touches on her Moroccan stew; your son just iced his pumpkin bundt cake; his partner is preparing a preserved-lemon dressing for her Moroccan salad.  Your older grandson….well…let’s just say a roasted carrot dip never happened 🙂

Your small kitchen is pretty hectic about now….and then your 14-year-old grandson (i.e., Moss – of guest blogging fame) announces he’s ready to make his appetizers – which will be cracker/crisps – from scratch.  And he has never made them before.  And they have to chill in the freezer for at least an hour.

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This is not our grandson Moss making crackers or Moss in our kitchen – but it is Moss making a chocolate cake for his 14th birthday! Note: sugary, chocolate-y cakes should most definitely be allowed on birthdays!

Deep breathing.  It will all be fine.

About 2 hours later (after mixing, baking, chilling, slicing and then re-baking the cracker/crisp dough), we all sit down to taste the just-out-of-the-oven homemade appetizer cranberry nut cracker/crisps – served with fig jam and brie.  And they are delicious!

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Fortunately, Ono Moore, our Siamese cat, is not fond of blue cheese or fig jam or even Nutty Seedy Fruity Crisps

Earlier in December our daughter tipped me off to Sikil-P’ak – both a healthy and unusual pumpkin seed dip – which she served at a recent All-Ladies party.  She was also responsible for the recipe for spiced nuts, which I’ve included, straight from her Picnics cookbook.  Both of these recipes are perfect for incorporating nuts and seeds into your 2020 diet – and loving every bite.

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