Mindfully Attending to Eating Patterns (Today’s Daily Presence)

I ordered fresh fruit for delivery this week, as well as a box of “healthy” pre-packaged foods. It has been a while since I ate anything that wasn’t made from scratch and I found my body’s response to be quite surprising. Everything tasted either over-salted or excessively sweet. All of the chips and such seemed overly artificially-flavored, even though it was from natural ingredients.

I wish I could give all the credit for the shift I’ve undergone in my tastes to adhering to my “home-made foods” diet so thoroughly, but the other factor that’s made a decided difference is being on low-dose T. Since starting T, I rarely crave carbs, salt or sugar. I cannot believe how boring a bag of pretzels tastes now; in the past, I could consume a large portion easily in one sitting. I’m primarily interested in eating meat and fruit now, but I would say overall my food drive has lessened.

I am only today starting to settle down from my efforts to get my job transitioned to online work (there might unfortunately be additional developments on this front), so I haven’t been cooking more than the bare minimum to keep myself fed. I am anticipating some exciting meal prep once my homegrown mushrooms and micro-greens and so forth are finished growing. What’s the last homemade meal you created? Have you ever experienced a significant shift in the types of foods you enjoy?

Yesterday’s Labor (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

I made homemade pizza yesterday, preparing both the crust and sauce from scratch. The pan I used didn’t work very well so the bottom of the crust was not cooked to my liking. Today, I toasted slices in my toaster oven and what had been unappetizing became one of my best pizza bakes to date: crunchy, with just the right amount of sauce, dough and toppings.

I’ve written about this before, but I feel a renewed sense of appreciation for having enough time in my schedule and funds to be able to make meals from with fresh, unprocessed ingredients. I used to detest having to eat leftovers as a child, but now, as an adult, they feel like a gift I created for myself that brightens my day. When they are of the “junk food” variety, it’s even better. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel disappointed when I haven’t planned well and take-out is my only option, which is so different from how I used to think about food. What’s the last home-cooked meal you had? What was your moment of gratitude today?

Compliments of Hot, Sour and Sweet (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

In preparing for the potential pandemic looming in my country, I have spent the last month stocking up on food items. An unexpected benefit of doing so has been that I’ve been motivated to try flavors I haven’t had in a while. One of my tastiest creations I revisited this week is a homemade hot paste.

The thick, peppery condiment extremely simple to make. I eat it with eggs in the morning or with meat and tofu dishes later in the day. I start with dried peppers, both the large sweet types used in moles like pasilla and ancho, as well as small hot red peppers like guajillo (I’ve learned that only a few of these are needed!). I then add vinegar–either white wine or apple cider–and salt. I pulse in my food processor until a paste is formed, trying to stop before the seeds are chopped so that it doesn’t turn bitter. To create a sweet and spicy version, which I might use more in dishes with tofu, chicken or fish, I add honey. I store in a small jar in the refrigerator and use within a week.

I enjoy fashioning my own condiments to complement homemade food. The condiments sold in stores are often diluted with filler products and/or packed with extra sugar and salt. I find that having a condiment or two on hand helps me to break up the monotony of having the same dish I’ve meal-prepped for three or four days in a row. Do you make any of your condiments yourself? If so, what is your favorite creation?

A close-up of the center of a loaf of soda bread with an X cut in the middle.

Soda and Seed Bread (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For several months, I’d been making sourdough bread. I loved the taste but got tired of the amount of time it took to feed the starter and proof the bread. I’ve since been experimenting with soda bread, which requires no rise time at all. Anything I can make in less than a hour has to be a winner!

Ingredients

500 grams flour (1/2 white, 1/4 rye, 1/4 whole wheat)

300 ml 2% milk + 2 TBS apple cider vinegar

2 TBS each raw sesame seeds, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds

1 TBS baking powder

1 tsp. salt

Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Pour the vinegar into the milk and let sit while you mix the dry ingredients.
  3. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. If you’d like, you can toast the seeds and nuts before adding to the flour, salt and baking powder.
  4. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Wet your hands if needed and pat the dough into a flattened disk.
  6. Cut an X into the middle of the dough.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes.
  8. Let cool before slicing.

This recipe makes a dense, hearty bread that is great with soups, jams and plain butter! If you’ve made soda bread, what is your favorite recipe?

Tasting and Smelling Delicious Food (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I am still sick with a respiratory illness but am hopeful that I am on the road to recovery. My sense of smell has been severely impacted and I’ve eaten meal after meal in which the only aspect of the food I could appreciate was its appearance and texture, because I could not taste anything. Today, some scents and flavors are getting through, so my lunch felt like an incredible luxury solely because I could enjoy more than how it looked!

I created a whole-wheat pasta dish with spinach, salmon and home-made pesto sauce. I started by cooking the pasta on one burner while I wilted the spinach on another in a cast-iron pan. After removing the spinach, I then pan-fried the center-cut salmon, skin-side down, in the cast iron. Finally, I toasted the pine nuts and then blended them with locally-grown basil, avocado oil and Parmesan cheese in my Vitamix (I am allergic to garlic but most people would add it in here). After sprinkling on a pinch of salt and a dash of oil, I served the dish in a large ceramic bowl I use for my more elaborate meals.

The creamy texture of the sauce, combined with my renewed ability to detect actual scents like basil and salmon, was so enjoyable. It makes me think of the tens of thousands of meals I’ve eaten in my lifetime and leads me to wonder how many of them I’ve scarfed down without any consideration or appreciation for being able to bring all of my senses to bear. A good meal is my quintessential simple pleasure. Have you cooked anything tasty in the last week? What’s your favorite or go-to lunch? Do you have any mealtime rituals that enhance your enjoyment of food?

Creating Pup-Pie Treats (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

My poor pup has been getting a little overlooked between my return to work and my illness, so I decided to make him some homemade treats today. I’ve never attempted to do so before, even though I let him have tiny “people-food” snacks far too often. I settled on a baked treat being the safest bet.

I first measured and then cooked 1 sweet potato by cutting it up and boiling it in water. It came in at 260 grams, so I measured out equal parts of that in rolled oats as well as in dry roasted, unsalted peanuts. I pulverized the peanut-oat mixture in my Vitamix until it formed a loose paste. Once the sweet potato was cooked through, I used the Vitamix to puree it. I mixed the wet and dry ingredients together along with two eggs. I then pressed the dough into a greased ceramic pie pan and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for twenty-five minutes.

After the initial cook time, I cut the pie into one inch by one inch squares, and baked them at the same temperature on a sheet for 10 minutes so that they would be as dried as possible. I think they could have gone longer but I was too lazy to experiment. Weirdly enough, I unintentionally created the start of a gluten-free biscotti for humans, were I to add perhaps coconut butter and a source of sugar. All in all, not bad for a spur of the moment experiment!

A white ceramic pie pan containing a light brown cookie with chunks of sweet potato. The cookie is cut into small pieces.
Mid-way through the bake process.
A small purple bowl sits empty on a couch cushion. In the upper part of the photograph, a blurry image of a Yorkie is visible.
The empty bowl after offering the treat.
A Yorkie dog is standing on white carpet eating a treat.
Nibbling away!

Tasting Something Flavorful (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For today’s simple pleasure, I made my own recipe which is an Americanized version of aligot, a French cheese and potatoes dish. I’ve always enriched my mashed potatoes with a lot of butter and milk, but, after adding cheese one day on a whim when I wanted to test my blender capacity, I am hooked on this combination.

Ingredients

4 Russet potatoes, cubed and boiled

1 brick (8 oz.) Monterey Jack cheese, cut into small cubes

1 can evaporated milk

2 TBS butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Steps

Cut up the potatoes and boil in salted water to cover on the stove. As soon as you finish cooking the potatoes (around 30 minutes on the stove), drain and place them into a blender* or food processor along with the rest of the ingredients. If you do not have a high-powered blender, I think you could also melt the cheese into the butter/evaporated milk and then rice the potatoes into the hot liquid before mixing vigorously.

The potatoes will seem a bit loose at first but will firm up quickly. Serve with a protein and greens. Have you ever tried aligot? If so, what is your favorite cheese/potato combo?

*Make sure you have enough liquid as I nearly burned out my blender with this recipe. Leftover potato water can be added as needed.

Today’s Simple Pleasure: Smelling a Pleasant Scent

It took no effort to realize today’s goal! I try to cook all of my food from scratch, in part because I have some food sensitivities. I recently watched Mark Wien’s travel vlog in Lebanon and had to try my hand at making kibbeh. I adapted the ingredients to my taste and set to work. The smell of the meat, pine nut, bulgur and allspice/cinnamon mixture baking was incredible. A very satisfying and pleasant scent that will linger for hours is exactly what I needed to lift my spirits. What aromas have you encountered today that made you smile?