Summer project: Backyard (Farm) to Table Webisodes

Because I always need a creative project on top of all my regular work, I’ve decided to so a summer/fall webisode series documenting the transformation of my yard into a haven for fruits, veggies, (and flowers). Eventually, once I have produce, I will include recipes as well.

From the description of the first episode:

“Just for fun, I’m documenting the transformation of my yard into a haven for fruits, veggies, (and flowers). I will try to do one episode a week, but as it is summer, there may be some weeks I’m not around. ;) This is true backyard film-making – I shoot everything myself on a Sony HD DCR-SR47, usually in one take (maybe two). Each “scene” is shot in succession, back to back, and then quickly edited – which explains why my excessive use of words like “actually” don’t all get eliminated (I apologize for that and promise to work harder to just not say “actually” in the next episode). My goal is simply to document the work and share what I’ve learned – including planting tips and yummy recipes with the herbs and vegetables that result. Now that I finally have a home of my own and small piece of land to play with, I can’t imagine not having a food garden. I strongly advocate for this choice for all landowners – consider taking some of your turfgrass area and turning it into a small garden bed – my main veggie bed is only 10 x 14 feet – not very big – and most people have at least that much space in lawn. Thank you for checking out my first episode! :)”

Click here for the first webisode: Backyard (Farm) to Table Episode 1

Please enjoy and share with us your gardening favorites – favorite planting tips, favorite plants, favorite recipes – we’re open to hearing your tips and stories! Happy summer!

- AMo

This fudge is RAWsome

I have a tendency to go through food phases. I’ve managed to stick with the vegetarian thing for almost six years, so I suppose that no longer counts as a “phase,” but I’ve periodically flirted with various lifestyle trends and stuck to few to none of them. There’s been my rocky relationship with veganism, macro affair, superfood obsession, coconut-oil-in-everything fling, and my most favorite, the raw phase.

Most of my romances with different diets start with reading something that compels me to “change.” So, it was inevitable that after  reading Brandon Brazier’s book The Thrive Diet in the spring of 2010, I fell head-over-heels with eating raw. And when I fall, I fall hard. I went from eating a pretty standard vegetarian diet on a Thursday, to eating a completely raw diet on the Friday and for the next six weeks.

The first week was rough. I skipped the chapter on adapting to the diet (turns out that is super important) and went through a pretty uncomfortable detox. Starting from the second week, though, I ate raw almost exclusively. And I felt awesome. Seriously. I had real energy, not caffeine induced pseudo-energy. I lost fat, had clearer skin, and felt “lighter.”

Unfortunately, my relationship with eating raw began during a semester that quickly got hectic, as most semesters do. I started lapsing, became negligent and inattentive. The usual stuff that leads to break-ups. After six weeks, my affair ended. I went back to my triple-shot lattes and pre-heating my oven.

Lately, I’ve found myself reminiscing on that spring of 2010. I remember the smoothies that usually served as my breakfast. The almond-flaxseed burgers with sundried tomato sauce. The sensation of falling asleep at night without the rock in my stomach caused by pizza or hoagie sandwiches…

Ergo, I’m returning to the raw diet and begging for another chance. Next week, during my Spring Break, I’m reigniting my relationship with raw foods with the help of my sister, who is also intrigued, interested, and has self-discipline to spare. As a token of renewed affection, I’m making fudge. Chocolatey raw fudge. (See Recipes We Love section for fudge recipe)

~V

Work-life-food

The semester just started, so my work life has suddenly become quite busy and filled with tasks such as responding to student emails at all times of day, teaching, prepping and reading for the classes themselves, reading and responding to grad student blog posts, conducting staff meetings with tutors at the University Writing Center, planning meetings, sending announcements and alerts to fellow faculty, encouraging former students to submit to this or that conference, and finishing/submitting new academic writings so that my chair won’t tell me again how I need to publish more. Whew. And none of this includes grading, which I have delightfully increased this semester because of the new reading responses I’m requiring, but these should be glance-worthy – either they did it well or they did it half-ass. If thorough, full credit. If half-ass, no credit. I can do the assessment of fifty 300-word reading responses quickly, right? Right?

The deafening silence provides the answer.

Le sigh.

In addition to the normal requirements of my work life, I have a life (much to the surprise of many students). I enjoy spending relaxing downtime with my boyfriend. Playing Scrabble. Going to the movies. Lounging on the sofa watching home improvement shows. Dreaming up plans for new perennial beds in my now-destroyed backyard thanks to Hurricane Sandy and my neighbors’ three giant trees now laying across it. Balancing work life requirements with my non-working life becomes difficult once the semester starts…and food is often the one element that suffers.

Well, more to the point, the nutritional value and healthiness of my food often suffers. Classic conundrum, which I know that ALL of my girls here can understand – how to cook/prepare/have ready healthy, nutritious, low-calorie-yet-filling meals every night when you walk in the door, exhausted, at 7pm? It’s so much easier to just stop at the grocery store on the way home and pick up a hoagie or some deli soup and crackers, or stop at Panera for the You Pick Two…and suddenly, all of my high-fiber, low-calorie, healthy suppers disappear into a haze of my worklife and I’m left ten pounds heavier, wondering why I couldn’t just be better prepared?

Am I alone in this?

I think not.

But these thoughts don’t go away just because you know you aren’t alone. These self-censoring thoughts that I let myself, my heart, and my waistline down, consistently, every semester. That even though I do try to cook and freeze enough food for the week, inevitably, I will run out because there will be a weekend that I won’t have time to cook.

Like this weekend coming up. I’m shooting a bat mitzvah (I’m also a photog) all day Saturday. Sunday will likely involve lots of resting, and perhaps some mastic remover-applying on the laundry-room floor that needs to be re-done. But after working six days, I’ll need a break. And will I want to spend that free time cooking all day?

Ideally, yes.

Most likely? No.

I know I’m not alone in this.

I know that the 5-6 pounds I shed over winter break is a wonderful accomplishment, as is my lowered blood pressure.

I know that I will falter and even fail.

I know that it will be disappointing that I still, after all of these years, can’t seem to find a healthy balance between my work-life and non-working life, and that it is the quality of my food intake that will suffer.

I’ve done well so far, but I’m almost out of frozen healthy, homemade foods. In order to replenish my supply, I will need to spend Sunday cooking. But will I choose to?

Would you?

- AMo

The Kitchen is the Heart of the Home

…or so I’ve been told. As a little girl, I remember my working mother walking into the house, smelling of rubbing alcohol, soap, children, and medicinal odors I was too young to recognize. As a pediatric nurse, my mother gained experience and expertise in different settings throughout my lifetime–first as a nurse in a pediatric clinic, then as a school nurse in our elementary school clinic, then as a hospital nurse in pediatric pre-op and day surgery, and finally today as a triage nurse for a specialist (pediatric cardiology). She would come home, surely exhausted and sore, and walk straight into the kitchen. I remember the sound of the light on the stove hood popping on, the way she would murmur to herself in order to focus on the names of ingredients rather than on the insistent whines of her young daughters, her confident and steadily quick pace in the kitchen. My mom seemed a magician–how did she know just exactly where everything was all the time? I could barely remember where I last kicked off my shoes. (A question she also knew the answer to, even though she hadn’t been home when I kicked those shoes off.) How could she just reach into the preheated oven the way she did, not flinching or worrying that she would pull back a burned stub? How did she know that things would still taste good, even if she ignored parts of the recipes? (A skill I sadly did not seem to inherit.) If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then our home’s heart was filled to the brim with magic and love. Maybe they are the same things.

I stayed out of the kitchen most of the time when my mom would cook dinner. She would constantly invite me to stay and help, encouraging me to try out an age-appropriate task here and there. But, inevitably, when I finished stirring those ingredients together, or cracking those eggs, or watching that pot of water come to a boil…I would end up sliding away to return to the television that beckoned or that book I was reading. My sister, on the other hand, would stay and help. I was often jealous when I heard them laughing or talking deeply to one another, certain that I was missing out on something. And I was–I was not part of the family heartbeat when I faded away into voluntary isolation.

As a new mom, I am attempting to overcome my apparent innate discomfort in the kitchen. When I first met my husband, I would prepare an occasional meal for him (usually the only meal I would properly cook in my tiny kitchen would feed the two of us–otherwise, it was all about the microwave for my meals). Generally, I felt at ease with the casserole. The casserole is a lot like baking–you mix all these specific ingredients together, pop it in a preheated oven for a certain amount of time, and voila! Dinner is served. But stovetop cooking? It causes me much stress.

This week I discovered that I will be earning 2/3 the paycheck I had been earning and that we had budgeted. One of my classes was cancelled because enrollment is low. I haven’t wrapped my mind around what this means for our monthly budget, but so far we have started to make little cuts back here and there. Right after our daughter was born, and for most of her little life, we ate out. Almost for every meal. We were both out of our minds with exhaustion, so feeding ourselves nutritious, balanced, home-cooked meals thrice daily was not on our radar. My only care in the world was getting the baby fed, a task in and of itself that turned out to be much more difficult than I ever anticipated. To this day, I am fixated on helping my daughter gain weight, despite her consistent healthy reports from the pediatrician. But I am also fixated on the budgetary bottom line. What is our monthly take-home pay? What can go? What must stay? How can we trim up the “must stay” list?

So, we’ve been cooking more. Eating in more. Which means that our home, whose heart has essentially been fairly dormant recently, is starting to wake up. This past week I have cooked all but one dinner–I will be preparing this coming week’s menu today as well. The recipes have all been new to me. And on those days when I cooked (except Wednesday), my husband has marveled at my culinary confidence. “The Amanda I married wouldn’t have wanted to cook ___________.” “The Amanda I married would have really gotten nervous when she realized she didn’t have enough of ___________.” Yes, indeed my confidence has begun to climb, but I have certainly not reached the summit.

On Wednesday night, I prepared to make chicken schnitzel. I pounded the chicken breasts, watched my butter melt across my hot frying pan, and managed to cook only one breast at a time because of space. The first breast was okay…I had to keep it in the pan a bit longer than the directions suggested because the edges weren’t cooked thoroughly. The second breast…was a disaster. As I prepared that breast (dipping it in the breading, etc.), I hadn’t noticed my butter burning on my pan. I didn’t notice the smoke when I cooked the breast. It wasn’t until my husband asked me to turn on the exhaust fan that I started to suspect something was going on. (Why do I never see or smell the smoke first, when I’m the one standing over the burning food?) I lifted the breast up just to take a peek–despite its pink and juicy interior (having been on the pan for all of three minutes), the breading was completely black. Panicked, I removed the smoking pan from the burner and laid it aside. I turned to put something in the sink…and upon turning around, that’s when I noticed all the smoke billowing from our kitchen into the dining room where our daughter was eating her dinner and into the living room. I cursed. I said unkind things about my culinary abilities. I freaked out. Once the burner was slightly cooler, I pulled out a new frying pan and cooked the third chicken breast. While that breast cooked on much lower heat (and therefore took longer), I shooed our four animals into the bedroom, opened our front and back doors, and held a box fan pointed toward the ceiling while it attempted to move the smoke toward the exits.

My eyes were pink and stung. I thought I still saw smoke for the rest of the night. My husband’s chicken breast wasn’t fully cooked, so he ended up microwaving it a bit longer. My plate was cold by the time I had regained my appetite. (Something about standing in a smoky kitchen will just destroy my interest in eating whatever was burning.) I felt like an utter failure.

But Thursday night, I went back into that kitchen. I made ground chicken stroganoff (recipe courtesy of Mo), and managed to feed myself and my husband in a timely manner (even before the baby had her dinner!). The meal was delicious, as well.

I think I am learning something about the heart of my home. It is prone to bouts of extremism, just like my own emotions. It is vulnerable and insecure. But, it is also a place of reassurance and trust. It is a place where mistakes can be made, unkindnesses uttered, and all sins forgiven by the end of the day. If this kitchen is the heart of my home, then it is still an immature one. But it is learning and growing through all these attempts and failures and successes.

This heartbeat is strong. It is palpable. And I will nurture it into something magical.

~A.Hab.

Life and Pie

In early February of last year, an ultrasound showed that my then 18-week-old little baby had a rare and lethal condition that guaranteed he wouldn’t live past delivery. My husband and I decided to carry to term, and on June 22, our baby was delivered, blinked, then passed away. He was beautiful.

As hard as it was for me to understand knowing the severity of my baby’s condition, our doctors confirmed over and over that our baby was happy and comfortable in utero. In one ultrasound we even saw him yawn. Our doctors also assured us that the problem was not genetic, chromosomal, or caused by any issue with me or my body. In fact, several times my doctors commented that I was “remarkably healthy.”

I had been trying to stay healthy during the pregnancy up to that point. I tried to remind myself that everything I ate or drank went to my baby first, and I wanted my baby to eat well. Thankfully, I was blessed with very little nausea, so eating a variety of foods was no problem. After getting the diagnosis, I became even more committed to giving my baby as pleasant a life as possible. I couldn’t save him outside of the womb, but I could control much of what might cause him stress in the womb.

I had already limited caffeine, eliminated alcohol, and I never was a smoker, so I concentrated my attention on food. I kept notes of what I ate, counting protein intake, fiber, micronutrients, vitamins. I’d already spent a couple of years learning more about nutrition and was introduced through research to several foods with high nutritional value, some even considered “super foods,” like chia seeds, spirulina, quinoa, and goji berries. I still occasionally ate cheese dip or cookies or frozen yogurt, but I tried to make sure that I hit necessary nutritional marks every day.

For several weeks after our baby was born, friends and people from our church brought us meals. One woman who is close with my mom brought us a lovely meal made with many of the ingredients and foods I’d been trying to consume regularly during pregnancy. The main course was a quinoa, vegetable dish, and for dessert, she brought what she calls “Spunky Pie.” It’s a dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, delicious (trust me) chocolate pie. The crust has almond flour, coconut flour, coconut oil, chia seeds, and flax meal. The filling is made with avocados, raw cocoa powder, and liquid stevia for sweetness. The recipe is available in the Recipes We Love page of this blog.

After saying good-bye to our baby, I fell away somewhat from the healthier approach to food I had taken during the pregnancy. Food became, instead, a source of comfort in the form of sugar and carbs rather than fuel. But I’m using the new year to recommit to eating healthily and for nutrition as well as taste. I’m planning on making a “Spunky Pie” soon to inaugurate this renewed approach to food, and also because the pie is so stinkin’ tasty. This pie is proof that a healthy, nutrition-dense recipe can be comfort food.

Food was a tool during my pregnancy, but my friends (particularly including the wonderful women on this blog) and family were lifelines. I thank them, not often or well enough, but I thank them for their continued support and love. As a token of gratitude, I offer them a pie, a weird, healthy, and chocolatey pie.

~V

2013: New food adventures

Here at Flavorbombs, we are looking forward to the potential inherent in a new year. The past year had its share of hurts and troubles, mixed with joys and delicious moments, but we look forward to 2013 as a year (hopefully) filled with new food adventures shared with each other, with family, and with friends (new and old). Here are a few of our favorites (not so much resolutions as hopes):

- With my amazing new Kitchenaid stand mixer (a generous Christmas gift from my sweetie), I hope to start making healthy whole grain bread for nutrition and to save money. – AMo

-With my large kitchen in my new house, I hope to start baking/creating/designing delicious sweets again. I miss it. -Adele

- I’d like try more new recipes and have my family eat dinner at the table together, like we used to. -Mo

- This year, I hope to eat “cleaner,” to use food as an ally in efforts to lower health risks…while still enjoying food, of course. -V

- In 2013, I hope to help my husband and myself introduce ourselves to food as a delicious resource rather than as a reward or emotional comfort.  I hope my toddling daughter will learn these good habits from our example. -A.Hab.

-In the upcoming year, I’d like to entertain family and friends more. I envision lots of laughter and good food around the table. ~Robin

Embracing new Christmas traditions: Cioppino

Every Christmas Eve, J’s family, a somewhat traditional, South Philly Italian group, gathers for a seven fishes meal. I say ‘somewhat’ because they don’t use all of the traditional fishes normally served and most are typically fried. One of the biggest problems, however, is the lack of room everyone has after this fried fish feast for J’s mom’s delectable stromboli. This year, it was decided that something had to change. The fish portion of the meal needed to be lighter so that we have room for layers of cheese, meat, and doughy delight.

After much discussion and debate over appropriate recipes and presentation options, J and his folks agreed on cioppino, a California fishermen’s stew. At Thanksgiving, we agreed to cook this complicated dish for the family Christmas Eve.

Two weeks ago, J and I gathered clams, jumbo lump crab meat, mussels, cod, mahi, shrimp, and scallops, bottles of clam juice and pinot grigio, fresh herbs, and freshly made shrimp stock. We also gathered our nerve, for a lot was riding on the success of this dish. If we succeeded, we may be starting a new Christmas Eve food tradition in J’s family. That is a heavy and exciting burden.

If you’ve never made it, cioppino is a complex stew that involves accurate prep, fresh ingredients, several hours, lots of careful reduction, and precise timing when adding the fish so as not to overcook any one kind. But J and I are confident cooks and embraced the challenge with the abandon of fearless food lovers…and our first attempt was wildly successful! J’s parents enjoyed the deeply flavorful and satisfying concoction and so now we are set to make the dish tonight for the family.

Cooking for family and friends is always satisfying, and traditions are important, but when we are gifted the rare opportunity to change a central family food tradition, it should be handled with respect and love and fresh ingredients in the hopes that everyone embraces the new.

Happy Christmas Eve, everyone, and please share: What new family food traditions will you attempt this year?

Christmas Candied Presents

This year, my husband and I took one look at our budgetary bottom line and sadly shook our heads at each other.

“It’s going to be another bleak Christmas this year,” I said apologetically. With only one full-time paycheck coming in paired with paltry adjunct pay, our holidays looked not so merry and bright at the outset.

But then I graduated. And, as it turns out, when you take six years to get that damned degree already, people are sometimes eager to shower you with money. At least, in my case, I felt showered. (Particularly when the $20 check came from my mom’s long-distance cousins who have been living on an extremely fixed income for most of my adult life. I wanted to burst into tears when I deposited that check, knowing full well what it meant for them to give it up.) Because of the generosity of so many at my graduation, we were able to do some Christmas shopping.

In an effort to save money, we decided to make Christmas treats this year. Turns out that we probably would have spent about the same amount on small gifts for our family members, but, eh, at least this comes from the heart.

For weeks I flipped through Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, and Southern Living. I dog-eared pages upon pages of potential candy candidates, unsure of my culinary prowess, wary of terms like “hard crack” and “candy thermometer.” And then one day, while lazily flipping through the channels after a particularly grueling round of grading final exams (and dealing with the immediate fallout of student panic), I saw Trisha Yearwood not crooning but cooking! I was surprised, confused, but also curious enough to stick it out.

“Today we’re making food as gifts!” Trisha chirped while simultaneously drawling.

Why, I thought, that’s exactly what I want to do, Trisha!

In thirty minutes, Trisha Yearwood taught me how to make and package peanut brittle, chocolate candies from a crock-pot, and raisin bread in a can. I copied down her speedy instructions as quickly as I could (forgetting for a moment that there is such a thing as the Internet that preserves these sorts of things…you know…permanently). And then I was settled.

“We shall make peanut brittle, crock-pot chocolate, and raisin bread in a can!” I announced to a man who really just wanted to change the channel to something less cooking and more sporting.

I have not baked the raisin bread in a can yet because I am a bit unsure about letting it sit for a few days before I can give it to my family. I have made the crock-pot chocolate candy and the peanut brittle, which I have uploaded in the Recipes We Love section of the blog. So, please, try out these recipes. They are about as simple as they could be (without, you know, buying the candy pre-made), and believe me…if I can manage to make these taste good, then you can with great ease.

Enjoy!
~A.Hab.

Moms Gotta Cook, Kids Gotta Eat

A 16-year-old and a 16-month-old. That’s what I’m working with here. That means picky taste buds x about 1.5, which is why I was so happy to stumble upon a recipe (courtesy of my big sis) that made the whole household happy. That includes my near-vegetarian toddler, Mini Mo.

I first had the chicken/broccoli casserole at my big sis’s house over Labor Day weekend 2012. She had a pretty nice crowd at her house for the weekend in honor of her niece and nephew’s joint 1st birthday party. (Mini Mo and her cousin Gabe were born 3 weeks and 2  days apart!) The casserole we had the next day, then, was perfect for the group and pretty darn tasty to boot.

A combination of cut-up chicken and broccoli mixed with cream of chicken soup, topped with a layer of shredded cheddar and another layer of Ritz cracker crumbles, this dish is hearty and yummy. It’s simple to make, but it’s not to be done without solid planning ahead. You’ll find the recipe here in the Recipes We Love section.

After getting the verbal instructions from big sis that weekend, I attempted it at home. While the result was tasty, it was a bit too liquidy. I got it right the next time, though, and every time since–after a phone call here and a text message there to big sis. The important thing is that my picky eaters will eat it, which just warms me up inside. The first time Mini Mo finished her bowl and asked for more (or “moy” in Mini Mo-speak) made me about fall over with excitement.

This is one meal I know that will not go to waste and will not be picked over. PLUS, my finicky kids will get veggies and protein in one bite. It’s gotten to the point where I make this every other week now, and I’m perfectly fine with that. :-)

~Mo

Making the Divine

It was just the kind of day perfect for baking, making concoctions to take to family for the holidays. Nothing left to shop for, no errands to run—only home and a counter laden with supplies. Boxes of rice crispy treats, containers of cocoa, bags of dates and nuts, all of these things beckoned me, and I gladly complied. I swung open the back door to sunshine and balmy December breezes—ahhh, the South—and cranked Michael Buble on the stereo.

All should have been right with the world. No financial concerns, great friends, loving family, time off from work. Freedom and peace. Finally. So hard won. And yet, a sadness consumed me because I was alone, and it was Christmas Eve. Ink on divorce papers had barely dried when I moved into my house three weeks before, and I thanked my lucky stars for my blessings. Really, I thanked my Creator, for saving me from so very much, for providing a safe and wonderful place to call home, a place where new memories would be made.  And yet, tears flowed onto my apron while I thought of my precious 11-year-old girl who was across town with her dad.

I needed comfort, so on a whim, I shoved my supplies aside and pulled out the Kitchen Aid and my binder of recipes. Times like this called for drastic measures, or in this case, drastic (and daring) recipes. Flipping until I found it, I sighed in relief when I pulled out the stained index card with one simple word scrawled at the top: “Divinity.” Memories flooded my mind: my country grandmother, known as Maw-maw, making this white, persnickety concoction every Christmas (and sometimes Thanksgiving, too, if we were lucky); my mom perfecting it in certain years, and in others creating disastrous white goo that we had to eat with spoons; various aunts who had varying success with it as well. I decided, right then and there, that I needed to join their ranks on Christmas Eve 2011.

As the Kitchen Aid did its glorious work of spinning egg whites into frothiness, then stiff-peaked merengue, I went about the business of carefully cooking the sugar. The required precision for this candy puts off most people, but it didn’t deter me that afternoon. I tested the hardness of the syrup, I consulted my confectioner’s thermometer to the exact degree, and I poured the syrup into the merengue carefully, just as the recipe stated. The Kitchen Aid whirred and stirred and then finished its work. Tears long gone, I happily looked at the bowl of divinity, and then I began the work of dropping it by the spoonful onto waxed paper lining my counters. Only…..it didn’t stick together into delicious little balls like it was supposed to. It oozed onto the paper and created tell-tale puddles of the divine turned disastrous. I had seen this before, in my mom’s kitchen. In a panic, sticky fingers grabbed the phone and soon Mom was on the line.

“How do I save it?” I panted. “Hurry! I know my time is very limited!”

“Quick, put it back under the mixer and beat it more until it thickens. You didn’t cook the syrup long enough, but this will help. It won’t be as good, but at least you’ll be able to form it into balls.” Mom gladly shared her expertise, and we laughed together across the miles.

So, I did what she recommended and ended up with slightly chalky, grayish-looking divinity, not the smooth, delectable white candy that it can be. But, it was edible. And best of all, the loneliness was gone, banished by one holiday tradition of the wonderfully strong women in my family.

**You can find my recipe for divinity (if you dare try it) in the recipe section of this blog. Good luck!

~Robin