24 February 2012

Top Five Friday: The Meatless Maven

A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.
~ William Shakespeare

Ah the first Friday in Lent.  And that means basically don’t overeat and don’t eat meat.  Which are two really good pieces of advice for any day of the year, actually.  Ok, I confess.  Although I am trying to get back to my 80% raw eating lifestyle [I refuse to call it a diet], it is only 80%.  The rest of the time, I eat organic, lovingly-treated meat.  And potatoes.

So today’s edition of the Top Five Friday is all about what to make when you need, or want, a meatless dinner.  You can also check out some of the salads I posted.  Or even the Oysters from last week.  

Not really the spirit of the fast, is it?  Well, at least it meets the letter of the law!  I’m not really sure why fish makes the grade [note to self: google that]; I always thought it had something to do with blood in the meat.  But then when I gutted a fish for the first time, I discovered, much to my chagrin, that fish have blood too! Ewwww!  Anyway, this recipe from the queen of butter, Paula Deen, is pretty awesome for any day of the week, but it makes a Lenten Friday a little easier to bear.  Especially for the non-Catholic friends of ours who bear the brunt of our meatless grumpiness.

Two of my favorite veggies: spinach and mushrooms come together in one amazing and fabulous looking entrée.  And yes, it’s raw.  I love Susan Powers’ recipes ~ she makes living the raw food lifestyle look, well ~ stylish!  And the food truly is raw-mazing.  Not to mention really, really good for you.  I saw these tarts and went straight to Whittingham’s to buy the little stainless steel molds.  Totally worth it! 
I love my salmon.  Especially when it’s wild caught in Alaska.  I’m surprised at how many people don’t know that farm-raised fish is not the healthiest way to get your Omega-3s.  They swim around in little [or big] pools.  Which, yes, may get cleaned.  But still.  How would you feel is you had to swim around in your own…yeah.  Now you understand! 

Now that we've got cleared up ~ this is a super yummy recipe that I’ve made for dinner countless times: both for just myself and for dinner guests.  Always a winner.  And in the summer, I’ve substituted basil for the cilantro.  You can also use dill.  Just take out the soy sauce.

Tofu is not my friend.  And probably not yours either.  Process anything is not good for you.  I have given in before, but generally I stay away from soy products.  Another post for another time!  So I forgo the veggie crumbles in this recipe and put in red wine, green peppers and regular diced tomatoes.  And my shredded Daiya “cheese” of course.

Pan-Seared Scallops
I stopped ordering scallops in restaurants because they were always overdone and just plain wrong.  So there’s no recipe to link to because mine is the best and the simplest ~ IMHO.  Buy scallops.  Rinse.  Melt butter in pan.  Put scallops in.  Salt and pepper to taste. Watch very closely, turning with tongs every so often until lightly golden.  DO NOT OVERCOOK. 

Make pesto out of fresh basil or spinach.  Serve the scallops on a bed of pesto. Voila!  A little bit of heaven!

Happy Friday!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What are your favorite meatless dishes?

22 February 2012

Accenting the Positive: Giving Up and Getting In to Lent

[Penance] does not mean sacrifice and self-denial in the first place, but a “change of heart,” a victory over sin and a striving for holiness.  The sacrifices of fasting and self-denial are only means and signs of this spiritual penance.  If people understand this well, they will not put the main effort in Lent on technical feats of abstaining from pleasures (which sometimes make them proud or vain), but in sincere contrition, prayer and humble fight against their faults.
~  Fr. Francis X. Weiser, S.J

"In Ictu oculi" by Juan de Valdes Leal

Ash Wednesday.  Time to dust [no pun intended] off those New Year’s resolutions and try, try again!  Lent is less about doom and gloom, and more about changing one’s heart.  Unplugging from the world for forty days and re-aligning one’s spirit with what is really important in life: Love, Faith, Generosity, Authenticity.
Many people give up eating a certain type of food, such as chocolate, or literally unplug by giving up Facebook or personal email.  While good, those things miss the point and don’t really go far enough.  My friend Terry [who is the most awesome tenor eh-ver!] said it best on Facebook the other day:
“Think it matters if you stop using Facebook for 40 days…it doesn’t.  How about 1 posting a day about something that matters…perhaps there’s a charity you care about.  That might be something to post instead of cats wearing bowler hats.  Giving up meat? So?  Do it…but maybe spread the word about sustainable, small independent and local farmers while you’re at it….”
There’s a great story in Scripture where Christ talks about a man possessed by a demon, who gets rid of the demon, and sweeps the interior clean; but then the demon gets bored wandering around, finds seven more demons worse than he is, and comes back inside the guy.  What?!  That’s not fair!  The guy got rid of the demon and swept his house clean!  Yes, but he didn’t put anything in the space left by the demon’s absence.
It’s not enough to stop eating fast food [the evils of which is a post for another day!] or sweets.  It’s not enough to stop watching so much reality TV or spending so much time on the computer or the internet.  Getting rid of those behaviours is a good and laudable thing!  But put something in its place.  Otherwise the bad habits will come back stronger then before! We have enough negativity in our lives; do something positive!
Personally, I haven’t finished taking stock yet to see where I need to clean house.  But in one area is definite: after my gall-stone cleanse, I fell off the 80% raw-vegan-juicing lifestyle wagon I had been riding for so long.  My bank statement alone is enough to accuse and convict me!  So one thing I’m giving up is eating out ~ healthier for my wallet and my body.  And in place of eating out [where in the world does that food come from anyway!?], I will be making my own fresh smoothies and juices and eating only organic, sustainable foods.
What about you?  Do you observe Lent?  What are you giving up and getting into? 

Oremus pro invicem,

17 February 2012

Top Five Friday: Throw Me Some Beads! The Mardi Gras Edition

Creole is New Orleans city food.
Communities were created by the people who wanted to stay
and not go back to Spain or France.
~ Paul Prudhomme

It’s almost Lent.   And that means Mardi Gras, the feast where Catholics traditionally used up all the animal-related products before the 40 days of fasting began on Ash Wednesday.  Eastern Catholics still follow a strict, “black fast” – no eggs, meat, or dairy.  Western, or Roman Catholics are little less, well, we're just wimpier ~ and with good reason. I had one professor in college who was Eastern Catholic and he was always grumpier during Lent then the professors who were Roman.  Just sayin’.

A die-hard Virginian I may be, but I love my Deep South sisters and Nawlins food ranks up there as the best a Southern foodie can get.  Chicken, crawfish, shrimp, and lots of butter.  And always that question: isn’t gumbo the same thing as jambalaya?

My favorite way to eat oysters is baked in their shells with garlic and parmesan on top.  But with a dairy intolerance, that is right out.  Happily, frying is not.  [Although I admit I don’t do as much of that lately.  Having gallstones really helped me get in the habit of healthier eating!]  This is a great recipe, although I didn’t use saltines, I used gluten-free breadcrumbs.  And it actually came out beautifully.

No, this is not the same as Gumbo, y’all.  Jambalya has rice, lots of it.  Think of it as the Creole version of paella.  Gumbo thickens with a flour-based roux.  For this recipe,  I used long grain brown rice in place of white because 1) I’m all into that health stuff; and 2) I’m not from Nawlin’s so no French Quarter grandmother is turnin’ ovah in her grave as I gleefully put my own Virginia stamp on things.
It’s great to be Catholic and Southern.  You get to drink things like a gin fizz. Also bourbon.  But I wanted to highlight this Nawlin’s classic.  Enjoy after a day sweating in the kitchen over a hot stove ~ preferably not into the gumbo!

            Ok, fine.  Another great one is the Sazerac.  Awesome.

Confession: I’ve never made these.  However, I’m dying to try them this weekend for my friend’s Mardi Gras bash.  So if I get around to making them, I’ll let you know how they turn out.  I have eaten them before, if that counts.  And they are waaaaaay better than doughnuts, y’all!

Ok, I’ve never made this one either.  This one is on the list this weekend as well because all the ones I have ever had at Mardi Gras parties were made my non-Nawlins people and they were dry and well, yucky.  Hopefully none of them is reading this now.  Might as well try my non-Creole hand at this favorite too!  I even have last year’s baby ~ which technically means I should have hosted this year.  Maybe I'll get it again this year!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Any favorite foodie traditions for Mardi Gras?  How do other non-Nawlins foodies celebrate?

11 February 2012

2012 Goals: Second Month Check In

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. 
~ T.S. Eliot

According to my calculations, I haven’t gotten very far in reaching my goals, even though I took a risk with such a huge list this year.  Try as I may, I tend to get overwhelmed pretty early in the journey, and simply stop looking at the road signs.  No wonder I get lost and end up looking over the Resolution Ravine ~ I see a lot of dried old bones and fresh carcasses down there!

So while I am trying to figure out what method of tracking my goals will help me to actually accomplish them, I have decided that in at least one department, I can add something that will definitely help: posting here weekly about my goal struggles and progress [when there is any!] and asking for your input on how you conquer the Overwhelmedness Ogre.

Together, let’s see how far we can go this year!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

10 February 2012

Top Five Friday: Gettin' Your Green On

Salad "freshens without enfeebling and fortifies without irritating."
~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

Last week I highlighted my top five favorite soups. This week we look at salads.  I know ~ you don’t like to eat your veggies. I understand that salads are easier to munch on in the summer time when the tomatoes are red and juicy and warm from the sun’s caress in your garden, and your hands smell like the crisp and spicy basil leaves you just plucked.  But salad has its place in the winter too.  And even if you haven’t had a mild winter like we have had so far here in Virginia, you can still enjoy the energy and pick me up you get from eating your veggies.

Also known as layered salad, I make this for summer BBQs and it is a great way to get those veggies down!  The recipe I have actually used is in one of my coveted Southern Living cookbooks, but this one has most of the ingredients and the point of these salads is to play a little.

I discovered this sexy little salad while searching Epicurious for a 4 course dinner for fourteen friends I hosted a couple of weeks ago.  Actually, I took this recipe as a suggestion and made substitutions all over the place.  Figs are not in season, so I used dried instead; raspberry and run raisin goat cheese instead of the yogurt; arugula instead of pepper cress; and I topped it off with balsamic vinegar and EVOO.  Wow.  Now I know why figs are known as nature’s candy.  Even my friends who do not like salad ate it up!
Okay, I agree: this salad really is better in the summer when everything is straight from the garden.  But it still makes the list as one of my top five salads.  I adore fresh tomatoes and basil still wet with dew.  If you are dairy-intolerant like me, forgo the cheese altogether or use Daiya’s Mozzarella ~ love that brand!  It’s not only non-dairy, it’s non-soy.  Yay!

This is a great winter salad because it has bread in it.  And although I try to eat as little gluten as possible for health reasons, fresh French bread is my weakness.  I have used a variation of this recipe several times and each time it’s a hit.  The key is to let the salad sit for a little while so that the bread absorbs the juices from the tomatoes, cucs, and the EVOO.  This one can be an entrée.

Growing up I hated beets.  Now I love them.  Especially in the juicer.  Ahh!  My favorite café in North Arlington is Cassatt’s Kiwi Café and they serve a simply amazing beet salad with goat cheese and honey.  This recipe has the same idea (brown sugar), but with the added yumminess of bacon.  And as we all know, everything is better with bacon!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What are your favorite salads ~ for winter or summer?

03 February 2012

Top Five Friday: "No Soup For You!!"

First-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.
~ Abraham Maslow

Looking through past posts from 2011, I realize I haven’t posted any menus or recipes since March or April of 2011.  Time to rectify that sad state of affairs!  As it is February (although these past few days have felt more like April), what better place to begin a new month of Top Five Fridays then with food?  So today I highlight my top five soups.  And given the roller coaster weather we have been having, some of these recipes are on the lighter side ~ in texture, if not in calories!
Epicurious is the best recipe archive hands down.  And even my friends who do not like squash ~ or any type of vegetable ~ love this soup.  I made this for my cousins when they visited the United States for the first time in October and they were blown away.  I guess they don’t puree vegetables in Poland?
Since I don’t “do” dairy, I substituted coconut milk for the cream and a soy-based product for the sour cream.  I do not normally eat or recommend soy products (perhaps a topic for another post) but I have yet to find a good non-soy substitute for sour cream.  Love to hear your suggestions in the comm box!
Again, I substituted coconut milk for the heavy cream and didn’t notice the difference.  And yes, I do still use real butter (margarine is just evil ~ it’s chemicals, people! Blah!)  And even with a dairy intolerance, organic butter does not seem bother my system.  (Thank God! My reputation as a good Southern cook is intact!)
This is wonderfully hearty soup for when winter nights are actually cold!  Don’t turn your nose up at the secret ingredient ~ peanut butter. It adds a rich and creamy texture to the soup and you hardly notice it.  Serve this with corn bread dripping with butter and honey ~ yum!
Pumpkin pie, pumpkin custard, pumpkin bread ~ you name it, I’ve put pumpkin in it.  I love this sweet squash!  Having said that, you may not think pumpkin and chili could get along in the same pot.  But just like the peanut butter in the Sweet Potato Stew, pumpkin adds more texture than noticeable flavor in this chili.  I even served this to my manly men friends for Super Bowl Sunday in the past and they went back for thirds!
Ok, so corn is really a summer starch.  And I really try to do the seasonal eating thang.  But this chowder is too good to wait until summer to make.  And I love crab, although not as much as I love pumpkin (Crab pie? Crab custard? Ewww!)
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What are some of your favorite soup recipes? Share your links or lists with us!

01 February 2012

Writing Challenge: A Month of Letters

What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters.  You can't reread a phone call. 
~ Liz Carpenter

Really, nothing beats going to the mail box and finding a handwritten letter tucked between the utility bills, political posturing, and snail-mail spam.  Even better when that handwritten envelope is unexpected.  So it was with great joy that I read Tia’s post (of Depression Cookies fame) about the Month of Letters Challenge, brought to you by Mary Robinette Kowal. 

The rules are simple: during February, snail mail at least one item during the days the post office is open. And make sure you write back to everyone who writes back to you.  For more info, visit Mary’s website.

With several pen pals, one would think I had enough letters to mail for more than twenty-four days.  Perhaps ~ we’ll see how it goes.  I signed up ~ join me, and if you’re so inclined, drop me an email with your POB and leave the digital world behind for the next month!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela