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The Secret to Making Vegetables Taste Good

28 Jul

Kale and Kohlrabi Ingredients

I participate in a community supported agriculture program, or CSA for short. It’s a weekly parcel of produce from nearby farms. Most of it is organic.

I love being a part of a CSA. The fruits and vegetables are fresh and delicious and I get a warm fuzzy feeling from supporting small businesses and farmers. But the best part about subscribing to a CSA is the surprise of what will appear in your weekly box of  seasonal goodies.

My CSA program started in May, and throughout the weeks, I’ve gotten fragrant garlic scapes, delicate lettuces, crunchy cabbage, and the most flavorful, tiny strawberries I’ve ever eaten. It’s awesome watching the progression of the growing season through my weekly produce share, except for one thing.

The kale. It won’t stop coming. It is the only thing that has made the CSA cut every week, a curly, leafy invader that just won’t quit. I’ve had 13 straight weeks of kale bunches, and frankly, I’m sick of it. I’ve made Baked Eggs with Sausage and Kale for breakfast. I’ve made Roughed Up Kale Salad for dinner. I’ve snacked on crispy kale chips. But damn, it’s a lot of greenery, especially from a vegetable that up until 2 years ago could only be found state-side in overly-salted canned Italian soups.

Luckily, I won’t drown in this never ending sea of kale because I know how to make vegetables taste good. It’s a simple trick, and one that’s easy to master. It’s so easy that you may already know it and not even realize it.

So what’s the magic trick for making vegetables delicious? It’s salt, pepper, and olive oil. That’s it. Every fresh vegetable is elevated by that threesome. You can roast, saute, steam, and in some cases, even eat veggies raw if you just add olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s the lazy cook’s dream come true!

When you want to up the ante, saute some chopped onions and minced garlic in your olive oil until just golden. The flavor will infuse the oil, and when it coats your vegetables, they’ll be saturated with flavor. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over the top of your veg to add freshness and a hint of acidity. Sprinkle on something crunchy, like toasted nuts, seeds, or breadcrumbs to add another layer of flavor and texture.

Warm Kale and Kohlrabi Salad with Sunflower Seeds

Warm Kale and Kohlrabi Salad with Sunflower Seeds

That’s exactly how I cooked this warm kale and kohlrabi salad, a tasty and easy way to get through one more bunch of CSA kale. If I get it again next week, I’ll start with my basic threesome of salt, pepper, and olive oil and go from there, building flavors and textures into something delicious.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with photographing the contents of my weekly CSA. Follow me on Instagram to see what’s arrived. And tell me, what’s your favorite way to prepare fresh vegetables?

 

 

 

 

I Got Doored By a Taxi

16 May

I’m the proud owner of a new road bike. She’s clean and sleek, and I bought her with the intention of long distance riding, along with some general scooting-around-the-city riding. Isn’t she pretty?

bike

I’ve lived in Chicago for 14 years, and I’ve always had a bike. My orange Trek from college was upgraded to a purple Kona. A couple years later, the purple Kona was pinched right out of the basement of my apartment building. (Bastards). The abducted Kona was begrudgingly, yet cost-effectively replaced with a second-hand Schwinn ten-speed that weighed roughly 200 pounds. It was identical to the first adult bike my parents bought me, circa 1996, and was at least that old. It cost $50 and I rode it for 7 years until both gear shifts haphazardly flew off of the handlebars mid-ride last summer. (To the guy who was sitting in the parked car that one of the gear shifts crashed into: Sorry about that! I hope it didn’t leave a mark. Also, thank you for not chasing me down.)

This spring, I upgraded. I love the feeling of being on a bike. Pedaling down the lakefront path on a sun-soaked day is about as good as it gets for me. It’s powerful and carefree at the same time, and one of the easiest ways to feel pure joy. The day after I bought this bike was cold enough for flurries to fall, but I went for a short ride anyway, because I’m hardcore. A few weeks passed, the weather gave way slightly and I got onto the lakefront path. It was great.

A couple of weeks after that, I rode to the farmer’s market on a lovely day. I sat in the grass for a while and watched the people totinh canvas bags stuffed with lettuces and apples. Afterwards, I thought that I would ride 1 mile north to visit the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond, one of my favorites spots in the whole city for its serenity. I’m pedaling along, happy as can be, and then

BOOM.

I got doored.

I got doored by 20-something guy from Mississippi who was exiting a cab with his wife to check out the Lincoln Park Zoo. They were on vacation. The cab was stopped in traffic. I screamed in the split second between seeing the door swing open and making contact. He was terrified. I was too.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, “getting doored” is when someone opens up a car door without checking to see if anyone or anything (in this case a cyclist) is coming up behind the car, and then the cyclist crashes head on into said door. Ouchie.

I value my life, and I’m also not a moron so I was wearing a helmet. Thanks to that helmet and a good bit of luck, the damages were minimal. I cracked three teeth and got a decent-sized bruise on my left knee, but that’s it. I didn’t fly over my handlebars, or into the parked cars next to me, or into oncoming traffic. No broken bones or disconnected joints. I didn’t even have any scratches, and miraculously, neither did my new bike. I am so, so lucky.

Before: Three cracked up teeth.

Before: Three cracked up teeth.

An hour or so later, after a very nice policeman finished up his report, and issued the cab driver a ticket for not pulling over to a safe place to release his passengers, I rode home. Credit shock for giving me the balls to do that.

It’s two weeks later. I’ve already gotten my teeth fixed and you would never know that anything had happened. I haven’t gotten back on the bike yet though. I’d like say that it’s because I haven’t had time, or that the weather has been bad, both of which are true enough. But in reality, I’m a little afraid. I had 14 glorious years of riding around Chicago fearless and unscathed, but I don’t have that fearless feeling any more. Maybe that’s not a bad thing? I’ll get back on my bike soon, maybe even tomorrow. I’ll be a little afraid, but I hope that feeling  will subside, and I’ll feel powerful and carefree again.

My new grill, good as new!

After: My new grill, good as new! Sidenote: My dentist’s office has the coolest wallpaper.

The Gluten Free Diet – Part 3

21 Jul

 

20140708_203258I didn’t even bother to take a new photo of my flour canisters today. My weight has stayed exactly the same since last Monday.

I was thrilled to see the number on the scale read the same today as it did last Monday. This week was very unordinary in the best way. I traveled to London for work, touring the fabulous food halls of lux department stores like Marks and Spencer and Selfridges and sampling cakes from Peggy Porschen’s Parlour.  I didn’t see a single vegetable that wasn’t fried other than peas, and I’m not entirely sure that peas, in all of their starchy glory, count as veg.

On my trip, I also realized something very important. My croissant consumption goes up exponentially the closer I get to France. Who knew? 

In short, I ate a lot and really enjoyed myself, which is what I set out to do. 

So how did I combat a bump up in weight? I got physical.

I spent 2 straight days working on my feet, and it didn’t hurt that the bake shop we were using was very hot, teetering on the edge of sweatshop. That has to count as some kind of low-impact cardio. 

Outside of the kitchen, I walked. And I walked. And then I walked some more. I’m not much of a planner when I travel, preferring to amble aimlessly, discovering things as I happen upon them. I could walk for hours in Chicago, just taking in the scenery. Put me in a new place, and I could walk for days. I wish that I had a FitBit so that I knew exactly how far I went. I’m betting that I did somewhere between 8-10 miles on Friday alone. 

The morning after I ate a Cornish pasty and chips for dinner, I woke up early to use the hotel gym. The display showed Imperial measurements. I’m not great at math, so I’m just assuming that 2 kilometers is about 12 miles, and that i ran it in less than 30 minutes, making it my longest and fastest run of all time! (Just let me have my delusions. I’m not hurting anyone.)

As soon as I got home, I made trips to the farmers market and grocery store to stock up on fresh produce, lean proteins, and all of the good, healthy foods I need to make fast, easy, healthy meals during the work week. 

Life is too short to deny ourselves all of the time, which is why I thoroughly enjoyed my trip. And now, it’s right back on track. I’m looking forward to losing a little more this week! 

 

The Gluten Free Diet – Part 2

15 Jul

Time zones are stupid. Why can’t we all just live on the same clock? 

I realize that that is not a rational question, but I’m not a rational person right now. 

I’ve been awake for nearly 32  straight hours, on an overnight flight to London. I made good use of my time on the plane, writing a great motivational post centered around the first week of my new commitment to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle, only to accidentally delete the damn thing in a fatigued delirium. I’m at my wits end.

I dropped 2.5 pounds last week! 

2.5 pounds is a good amount of flour. It was very validating to weight it out and transfer it from the green jug to the red. (Read The Gluten Free Diet – Part 1 if you’re confused.)That validation carried me straight through the day, giving me enough motivation to skip all of the candies, chips, and other assorted crap for sale at the airport. Flying out of O’Hare without a calorie-heavy snack is akin to a small miracle for me. 

I stayed on track of my diet last week by constantly reminding myself of my impending travel plans. It’s tough to eat healthfully on the road, especially when a significant chunk of your time is to be spent sampling cakes and puddings. Knowing that the upcoming week would be difficult made it easier to be conscious of my decisions in the present moment. I ate tons of fresh fruits and vegetables. I went out to dinner and instead of overdoing it, I split a burger with a friend. I snuck in 4 workouts throughout the week. 

This week, I’m going to enjoy London. It’s my first time in The U.K. and I’m here with the purpose of getting to know the local cake and dessert customs. There will be lots of eating, and lots of baking. I’ll have my first marzipan-covered fruit cake, stop into Peggy Porschen’s parlor, and wander the food halls of Marks & Spencer. But I packed my running shoes. My hotel has a gym. It will all balance out if I am mindful. 

But first, a nap. 

 

The Gluten Free Diet – Part 1

8 Jul

Unbleached Whole Wheat Flour

 

Here we have 2 empty red jugs and 2 green jugs filled with unbleached whole wheat flour. They’re filled with 11.5 pounds of flour, to be exact. I’m not entirely sure that I am comfortable with the word “jugs,” but it really seems to be the most fitting noun in this scenario. Onward!

One of the coolest things about working in a test kitchen (and there are loads of cool things) is watching people’s reactions when I describe my job. Some people get glassy-eyed with hunger when I talk about developing recipes for new cookies, pies, and cakes. Some people (mostly guys who idealize the stunt man profession) get a kick out of the product testing procedures, which on any given day may include some or all of the following:

intentional burning 
slow smoldering
audible sizzling
dripping and/or oozing from places that shouldn’t drip or ooze
popping sounds mere decibels shy of ruptured eardrums
microwave sparking to rival an Independence Day fireworks display

Yes, people’s reactions are pretty great, and they give me joy and a renewed sense of gratitude for my awesome job.

And then, it comes – the question to end all questions about my chosen profession as a pastry chef. 

“How do you stay so skinny?”

In fairness, men don’t ask me this question, because seriously, how creepy would that be? But the ladies just can’t seem to resist. They always ask. If I had to estimate how many women have asked me how I stay skinny/thin/trim/fit, or some other such synonym, I’d guess 11 million, conservatively.

Seriously, It just happened a few days ago during an interview with a local Chicago magazine. After 5 years at my current job, and with 5 years of bakery work before that, I should have seen it coming. But no matter how many times I’m asked, it still makes me slightly uncomfortable.

I mean, who really wants to talk about their weight? It’s a pretty personal matter. Even right now, as I’m typing this, I’m having reservations about publishing something like this. My discomfort stems from that fact that I’ve never, ever thought of myself as thin. Even as a kid, when I was very fit from running around playing basketball, I wasn’t stick-skinny. My weight hovered within the size medium range. There were hip-less girls, all angles and length, there were softer girls, and there was me, right in between them. I wasn’t the biggest, and I wasn’t the smallest, and I’m still there today.

Yes, I have easy access to a variety of desserts and pastries all day, every day, so it wouldn’t be crazy to think that I would gain weight, and I kind of have. But I also haven’t. The truth is that I’ve been gaining and losing the same 15 pounds over and over since college. I hover in this weight range, and when the waistbands of my pants start to feel snug, there are certain things I do to nudge the scale back downwards. It usually comes off pretty slowly, since sampling cakes and cookies is basically written into my job description. Abstaining is not an option.

At present, I’m hovering a little too high and I’ve known it for a while. I’ve been letting myself indulge a little too often, both at work and outside of it. I’m at 11.5 pounds on that 15 pound fluctuating range.

11.5 pounds is a whole lot of flour. Those are some heavy jugs.

I’m a visual person, so I’m using the flour to remind myself of my commitment to a healthy weight. and healthy lifestyle. As the number on the scale gradually decreases, I’ll transfer the corresponding amount of flour from the green jugs to the red jugs. Over time, the green jugs will be flourless. It’s the “gluten-free diet.” Get it?!?

Wait…did you really think I was giving my my test kitchen job and going gluten-free?

Every Monday, I’ll share an updated photo of my flour experiment and give a weight management trick that I use in my personal life. This week, my suggestion is to find your own personal motivation. I personally can’t wait to transfer all of that flour from the green to red jars so that I can reclaim all of the precious counter space they’re taking up in my teeny tiny kitchen! Would something like this motivate you? If not, find a way to relate to yourself. What motivates you and how can you keep that motivation top of mind so that you can call upon it when you’re face-to-face with a big piece of delicious pizza? Find your motivations! Share your plans with others to make yourself accountable! Share here – I’d love to hear it!

I’m feeling a little lighter already…

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