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

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

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