Home-Grown Herbs and Pasta (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I enjoyed a homemade beef, soybean and veggie pasta for lunch today. My dish also included a variety of snipped herbs that I’ve been growing, as well as artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, crushed tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, honey and abundant amounts of olive oil. The pasta is a whole wheat rigatoni; the tubes were perfect for holding all the sauce.

Part of my inspiration for this dish was Gaby’s sandwich on the latest Bon Appetit video. She included lemon juice and vinegar, but I realized the tomatoes I added brought the acidic brightness the dish needed. I also added capers which I feel often take any dish I’m making to another level of sophistication.

Soybeans are an unusual inclusion in this type of dish, but I’d never cooked them before and wanted to see how they would taste. I actually loved having them in the dish, as their texture was almost like that of a cooked peanut (more snap than the mush of a typical bean) and they complimented the pasta without altering the flavor. I can tell I haven’t been getting enough protein lately so I’m trying to find ingredients that boost my intake.

All in all, this dish was hearty and I felt proud that something I grew actually made it onto my plate. I have been avoiding grocery stores and getting items delivered, so I worry that my food is going to become boring or lack creativity because I can’t grab special ingredients the day of cooking, but I felt pleased with how it turned out. What’s your latest culinary creation and what inspired it?

Exploring a New Culinary Idea (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I can be a bitter person but I generally don’t enjoy bitter foods. However, I cooked pork for the first time in months after receiving in a subscription meat box I ordered, and had a flash of inspiration that a honey-mustard sauce was needed. I only recently learned that the yellow in mustard is from the inside of the mustard seed, so I ground up some mustard seeds in my mortar and pestle and added vinegar, salt, honey, avocado oil and pepper flakes. I then emulsified the entire mixture in my blender and added it to my pork, spinach and rice dish.

The meal had an bitter flavor but it was a pleasing sharpness rather than a blunt bitterness that can overpower all the other flavors. I’m still amazed by the fact that the reason spicy mustard looks the way is does is because it made of crushed seeds. My mind never questioned why it looked the way it did before! What’s your latest culinary creation?

Spring Sprouts (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’m growing herbs! They aren’t yet anywhere close to being ready for harvest, but watching their progress each day brings me joy. I cannot explain how unsuccessful I’ve been at growing plants in general, so the fact that the seedlings are sprouting at all feels like a win.

I am using an Aerogarden (not an affiliate) and like the fact that the plants grow hydroponically rather than in a soil base with their own dedicated light source. Minimal maintenance and attention is needed, which is a must for me. I hope that I will eventually have a yield that can add flavor to my home cooking and perhaps even inspire new recipes. Are you growing any plants this season? What is your favorite method of growing herbs? Do you use them in cooking and/or medicinally?

Clean Mint Chocolate Milkshake (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I was craving mint chocolate and I know better than to purchase it unless I want to have all of it eaten in one sitting. I wasn’t sure how the recipe I created would taste as the addition of banana seemed like it might throw off the flavor, but it was one of the best milkshakes I’ve made in months. It reminded me of mint chocolate chip ice cream. If you use a plant-based milk, make sure it is one that is higher in fat as I think it is needed to balance the peppermint and chocolate.

Ingredients (Makes 1 serving)

1 frozen banana. broken into chunks

4 ice cubes

1 date

1/8 tsp of peppermint extract

2 TBS cocoa powder

1.5 cups of milk (I used lactose-free whole milk)

Add the ingredients to a blender in the order I listed them (in other words, the milk goes in last). Blend until mixed, about 30 seconds in a Vitamix. Enjoy!

One More Bite (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I’m grateful for having the time and available resources to mindfully eat an abundance of fresh, healthy foods. Yesterday, I received a shipment of fresh vegetables from a farmer a few states away, and combined several of them with a chicken and pasta dish I made that included a kumquat sauce. I’d ordered avocados straight from California, and, although they are still ripening, the farmer there packed them with an overflowing amount of kumquats still on the branch! It was a delightful treat and, mixed with the carrots, microgreens and spinach of yesterday’s haul, my lunch today was one of the most satisfying I’ve had all year.

My relationship with food has been the source of both pleasure and pain. I have struggled with anorexia as well as food addictions, so eating a moderate amount of healthy foods is something to which I end up aspiring rather than achieving more days than not. Most likely because of these mental health conditions, few things in life bring me the excitement and joy that food does. I stare at dishes being brought to other diners at a restaurant the way other people stare at people they find attractive. I recall meeting someone several years ago who told me he ate because he needed to eat, not because it made him happy, and I’ve never had such a “who are you?” moment as that one.

All of this to say, living through a lockdown where traversing a grocery store feels akin to potentially being taken out by a sniper in the form of a virus-carrier, my issues with food have only gotten worse. I’m starting to eat beyond the point of hunger and have spent far too much money trying to ensure I don’t have to go without in any capacity during this time. One practice that I am hoping will cut through the anxiety-fueled excess is mindfulness. Taking time to enjoy each bite as well as to honor its origins will hopefully help me to focus more fully on gratitude, and, in slowing down, I will be better able to hear what my body is communicating to me in terms of what it needs. What’s your relationship like with food? How is it being affected by the pandemic?

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?

Enjoying Home-Made Meals (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

As someone with a significant food sensitivity to an ingredient in nearly all savory foods (the allium family which includes garlic, onion and so on), eating a meal at a restaurant or take-away tends not to end in a gut-happy place. Even though it takes more effort and planning on my part, I find pleasure in creating recipes and tasting the results of my labor. The rarest of treats is a friend making an allergy-sensitive meal for me.

Purchasing Ingredients

I’ve changed strategies more times than I can count in terms of how I procure food. I used a home delivery ordering system for a while. Next, I went to the store several times a week. My latest strategy is to go to the store only one time a week, and to buy a few foods that can last until about four days into the week when I make a second round of dishes. This summer, I hope to spend lots of time at farmer’s markets buying the freshest possible vegetables and fruits.

Kitchen Necessities

I have a few weapons of choice in making my own meals, namely, slow cookers of various sizes, a Vitamix, a toaster oven, and cast iron pans. The slow cookers allow me to roast meats, marinate beans and tenderize vegetables. My Vitamix is vital for daily smoothies and rich, creamy soups. I bake breads and reheat food in my toaster oven. I actually do not have a microwave at my house! When the one I’d bought in college stopped working, I didn’t replace it and find that I rarely miss it. Finally, the cast iron pans let me crisp meats and veggies.

Meal Planning

There was a time where I wrote out elaborate meal plans for six months at a time, week by week and ingredient by ingredient. As of late, I am more spur-of-the-moment and less creative with the effort I put into what I am making. I like to have the same breakfast every day and to then vary what I eat through the rest of each day. I always include a lot of fruit, some vegetables (my sticking point), meat and/or soy products and some whole grains. Beans are the food group of which I would most like to increase my consumption. I’ve had a lot of issues digesting pork which is what I like to have with them, so that has made finding dishes in which they work more difficult.

How much do you like to cook homemade meals? If you don’t get to have them as much as you’d like, what barriers get in the way? What are your methods of buying food items? Which cooking tools must be in your kitchen? How do you meal plan?

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?