Saturday, May 29, 2010

Polenta Pizza

I'm been craving pizza a lot since last weekend. I have resisted making pizza for myself because I live alone. So, having a whole pizza in the house with no one to share it with is just asking for trouble. But on Tuesday, my boyfriend invited me over for home made pizza. He had made the dough from a sourdough starter. I arrived promptly at 6pm and got to watch him put several layers of toppings on it. It was equal parts absolutely decadent and delicious, and I heaped several slices on my plate. But I ate too much, as I usually do with pizza. I notice that whenever I eat breads I tend to have trouble controlling my portions, and pizza is no exception. White flour acts a lot like sugar in the body, and since I'm sugar sensitive, and sugar causes me strong cravings, then my lack of control around breads just makes sense. But I don't plan to make the leap to no wheat any time soon because it is in so many things, and I'm just not ready for that. For now, I'm trying to eat less of it.

Last night, I was starting to formulate my grocery list, a I do at the beginning of each weekend. I took out a few cookbooks, to get inspired for my meal planning. I brought down three vegetarian cookbooks, hoping to find healthier versions of some of the comfort foods I like. So, I was perusing one of my favorite cookbooks, Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family, and found a recipe on Polenta Pizza. In this recipe, she prepares the polenta, spreads it into a pan, sprinkling a little parmesan cheese on top, and bakes it in the oven until it develops into a "crust," crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside; and then spreads the toppings on and bakes it again. She put a ton of vegetables on it: zucchini, eggplant, squash, peppers, etc., and very little cheese. But I wanted more traditional pizza fare. I decided on a simple mushroom and cheese pizza. I could also throw in some pine nuts next time, for added crunch. The result? It tasted really good! I liked the polenta texture, though I added a bit too much water and it came out a little too creamy to slice up. But I am told that if I use less water next time, I could cut it into bars and eat it. It wasn't the same chewy texture as a wheat crust, but it held its own and it is much less time consuming that preparing home made pizza dough. The bonus was that I baked it in one of my baking ramekins. So, I was able to make my own personal sized pizza, with no leftovers.

So, here is the question of the week. What is the best pizza topping combo you've ever discovered? Your answer might give me inspiration for my next polenta pizza adventure.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Almond Butter Chard

One summer, almost two years ago, I saw a nutritionist who talked me into trying a nutritional cleanse. It was based on the book, “If the Buddha Came to Dinner, ” by Hale Sofia Schatz. The program consisted of eating whole, unprocessed (clean) foods for three weeks to detoxify my liver and give my gut a rest from hard to digest foods. It was not really meant to be a weight loss diet, but it would improve my digestion and hopefully help me feel fuller on less food.

I’m still don’t know what made me even try something like this. In the past, whenever someone mentioned “elimination diet” I would shut down like a steel trap. Because of certain foods I was eating at the time, I was craving food all the time and couldn’t imagine having to control myself on a diet of only a few foods.

That being said, the first week, I ate only vegetables. But the trick was that I could eat ANY vegetables I wanted, even the “bad” ones I had learned about in other diets, like avocado, potatoes, and corn. Being given license, I ate an avocado every single day! Actually, that program went a long way to abolish all sorts of food taboos I had. For example, I can also eat moderate amounts of olive oil and butter (yes butter!) with my food, without worrying about gaining weight or losing control.

Another reason why I was surprised that I’d even try something like this was because I really didn’t like vegetables at all. When I was a vegan for 3 years, in my early 20’s, I lived on pb&j sandwiches most of the time, rarely eating a vegetable that wasn’t on the higher end of starchy, like potatoes and carrots. I didn’t (and still don’t) enjoy eating cold vegetables and didn’t really know how to cook them. One of the benefits of this cleanse, besides making me feel absolutely fabulous, emotionally and physically (more on that later) was introduce me to good tasting veggie recipes. I made soups, roasted roots and greens almost every night.

Towards the end of the three week cleanse, we could add in lean meat and non-meat proteins. One of the recipes I discovered on the cleanse was Almond Butter Chard. . I had truly never eaten chard before this recipe landed in my lap. It is amazingly delicious and simple to follow. Try it and let me know what you think!

Almond Butter Chard

This recipe is a great accompaniment at any meal of the day. I’ve served poached or fried eggs on it, for breakfast, and it goes well with chicken or salmon for a delicious supper.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon onion, diced
4 leaves of chard, washed with hard end of stem chopped off and discarded
1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 tablespoon water (optional)
1 dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Separate chard stems from leaves. Dice stems and roughly chop leaves. Heat the oil on medium, in a medium-sized, shallow skillet. Add the onion and chard stems and sauté until the onion starts to soften. Add the chard leaves and stir to coat. Continue sautéing until mostly wilted. Make a well in the middle of your greens. Add the tamari and almond butter, and stir to make the sauce, as it heats. You might need to add water, if the sauce seems too dry. Then stir the sauce into the greens. Sprinkle cayenne and serve immediately.

Are there any recipes that have transformed your thinking about a certain food? Please share!

Friday, May 14, 2010

D-lightful Sunshine

I moved here from the other side of the mountains, where it is sunny most of the time, and usually 5-10 degrees warmer in the spring and summer. I moved here because I have very fair skin. It burns easily and I sometimes get a rash and blisters when I’m out too long. I always loved it when it rained there because it cleaned the cars and roads, and made the air fragrant with the smell of dirt and grass. So, 17 years ago, I packed up and moved towards the clouds and rain. And I’ve been here ever since.

I’ve come to appreciate the sunshine a lot more since then. One problem with living here, though, is that I, and almost everyone else I know, have become vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin when we spend at least 15 minutes a day exposed to the sunlight. About 6 years ago, in the middle of winter, I was feeling very tired and sleepy all the time. My doctor tested my vitamin D level, and it came back a 6. The “normal” range is somewhere between the 30’s and the 80’s. So, I’ve had to take daily supplements every since, as have most of my friends who’s vitamin D is low.

Recently, we’ve been treated to sunnier, warmer weather these past several days, in Seattle. When the sun comes out, the sun-deprived suddenly perk up like sunflowers! Sometimes it makes me long to move back over the mountains to the high desert, where I grew up, because I appreciate the sun more now that I don’t have it as much. But I’m sure if I moved back I would quickly regret it as my fair skin sizzled to a burnt crust.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Minibreak on Mother's Day

It is a few days before Mother’s Day and, as I do every year, I’m packing up the dog and driving down to Richland to spend the weekend with my folks. I just watched a TV show last night about a mother who has a bad Mother’s Day. Her kids wake her up at 5am with a sloppy breakfast and spill the food all over her and the bed. When she goes to the bathroom to clean up, her husband rushes off to a drug store, with the kids, to hunt for a last minute gift she will “cherish.” So, she takes off to her mother’s house to seek refuge from her disappointing Mother’s Day. She gets there, plops down on the couch and orders her favorite childhood food, interrupting her own mother’s relaxing day.

I have to admit that I also get quite spoiled when I visit my parents. It is very different from any other vacation. I don’t bother making too many plans, like I would if I were visiting some place new. From the moment I arrive, I can always rely on certain rituals. As mentioned in an earlier post, Mom will always offer me poached eggs and crackers for breakfast (the answer is yes). My dad will always ask me what the road conditions were like on the pass. And mom will make all the meals, preferring to cook alone. Mom likes things her way. One of my favorites is her bean soup. Sometimes it will be on the stove when I walk in the door, and I’ll instantly start salivating. It was one of the first recipes I asked for when I moved out of the house. The beans make for a hearty supper and liquid smoke gives it an earthy flavor.

Sue’s Bean Soup

1 ½ cup dry pinto beans
1 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 quarts water
3 chicken bouillon cubes
3 beef bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
2 yellow onions, sliced thin

Put everything in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer for at least 3 hours with the lid on. Or, if you need to leave the house, after it comes to a boil, put it in the oven at 300 degrees for 3 hours.

This little vacation away gives me a chance relax and step out of my life, with its daily interruptions and the endless “to do” list, that awaits my return home, and gives me some time to get inspired and make plans.