Sunday, April 25, 2010

A weekend of new and familiar.

Spring hit like a deep breath of fresh air and a long sigh of relief this year, and I've been soaking it in as much as I can. The flowering trees, especially, have the power to set my heart still so that no matter what I'm doing, I can't help but stop and think of how much I love them.


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There are a few on my way to and from work that remind me of cotton candy climbing up the branches. There are a few on my jogging route around the neighborhood that have big white blossoms. And the ones outside my apartment are small and dainty, and today they rustled in the wind and fell to the ground like snow.




Which made me think of how something so new can suddenly become so familiar. The blanket of petals that covered the ground today was slippery and white, not unlike the layers of snow that we lived with for so many cold months. When we relied on thick socks and comfort foods to get us through the day. I think it's safe to say that I welcome the snow shower of petals much more happily than I would, well, an actual snow shower.

While the petals fell outside and made room for summer greenery, the food inside was also both new and familiar.




On Saturday, there was the new: this lemony chickpea stir fry from 101 Cookbooks that I made for my friend Jenna, who is back in Chicago after months of living in Guatemala, and is moving to Ecuador in just a few weeks. (Talk about coming back to the familiar after so much new!) The original recipe calls for summer squash, but I used asparagus instead, and added a handful of colorful sliced radishes, because have I mentioned that it's springtime around here?

And tonight, for Sunday dinner, there was meatloaf.




Meatloaf is still somewhat new to me, as I never grew up on it and I actually made it for the first time a few weeks ago. But there is still some familiarity to it, as the ingredients are as everyday and comforting as it gets -- ground beef, onions, tomato sauce, bread crumbs, eggs. And though tonight was only the second time I've ever made it, the recipe is so simple that it felt like an old favorite, one that I can put together with my eyes closed, if need be.

Almost a year ago, spring had just begun around these parts. And even then, I was writing about the familiar and the new. The very, very new. Yet another reason for me to love the flowering trees, and spring, and all that comes with it.

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Lemony Chickpea Stir-fry with Asparagus (adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

2 tablespoon ghee or extra-virgin olive oil
fine grain sea salt
1 small onion or a couple shallots, sliced
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
8 ounces extra-firm tofu, patted dry and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup of chopped kale
1 cup asparagus, chopped in 1-inch pieces
3 radishes, sliced into thick matchstick pieces
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and stir in a big pinch of salt, onion, and chickpeas. Saute until the chickpeas are deeply golden and crusty. Stir in the tofu and cook just until the tofu is heated through, just a minute or so. Stir in the kale and cook for one minute more.

Remove everything from the skillet onto a large plate and set aside. In the same skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, add the asparagus and radishes, and saute until it starts to take on a bit of color, two or three minutes. Add the chickpea mixture back to the skillet, and remove from heat. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

Serves 2 - 4.


Italian-Style Meat Loaf
(adapted from Cooking Light)

1 1/2 pounds 92% lean ground beef
1 cup fat-free tomato-basil pasta sauce, divided
1/2 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup (2 ounces) preshredded fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large egg whites
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine beef, 1/2 cup pasta sauce, and remaining ingredients except cooking spray in a large bowl. Shape beef mixture into an 8 x 4-inch loaf on a broiler pan covered with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Brush remaining 1/2 cup pasta sauce over top of meat loaf. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a thermometer registers 160°. Let stand 10 minutes. Cut loaf into 12 slices. Serves 6.

Calories per serving: 263
Serving size: 2 slices

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Morel mushrooms, and what comes next.

One thing I will miss about working in the Loop is the farmers market. Starting in May, I would be sure to pass by Daley Plaza every Thursday morning on my way to the office from Union Station, wandering slowly around the tables filled with berries and greens and tomatoes and jars of honey and breads and flowers, and I won't lie -- I'd feel a bit overwhelmed.

I'm like that when I shop for anything. I think too much about whether the item is worth the price tag, if I really, really need it and, in the case of most vegetables at the farmers market, what do I do with this thing, anyway? Most weeks, I'd come home with something familiar: green beans, tomatoes, radishes, bell peppers. But other weeks, a vegetable would call out to me. Beets, for example, and Brussels sprouts, which were both so new and foreign to me that I had to give them a go.



Now, with my (semi)new job in the suburbs, my commute involves 25 minutes on I-88 and hello, office, I'm here! No trains, no 12-hour days, and no complaints. Except for missing that farmers market, of course.

Don't get me wrong, vegetables do exist in the suburbs, although they can be pretty pathetic way too often. Brown and bruised green beans, radishes with wet, wilted greens, and one time I went to the grocery store in search of leeks and they were nowhere to be found. I realized quickly that this might become a problem, as seasonal fresh produce will soon be in full force and there are still so many new-to-me vegetables to be explored. Where will I find my Muses?

The answer is Whole Foods. At least, I hope that is the answer. I went shopping there for the first time ever a couple of weekends ago (is that weird?) in search for inspiration and lo and behold, I found morels.



Apparently, morels are big come springtime. I first heard about them last spring through Jess at Sweet Amandine, where her bright photos alone were enough to convince me that I should eat some morels. Nearly a year and one visit to Whole Foods later, and here I am! Telling you that morels are tasty and that you should try them too! And quickly, because they're only around for a month or so.

But, as Jess also warned, they are pricey. I don't remember what I spent on my little box of four to five morels, but that may just be because I pushed it out of my mind. That's right, I wanted to try them that badly that I ignored the price tag and just went with it.

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I sauteed my morels with olive oil and asparagus, sprinkled with garlic flakes and drizzled with lemon. The morels soaked up the lemon like a sponge, but that deep, earthy background still stood strong. They have a sturdier bite than regular white button mushrooms, and I can see why people may go crazy for them, and they certainly are a nice way to bring in the season.

It'll be another two months before the farmers markets open in the 'burbs, and until then, I just hope Whole Foods doesn't let me down. The morels were a good start. I'll let you know what comes next.

Monday, April 12, 2010

fruit.



i've been trying to write a post
about meatloaf
for weeks now
but the words just won't come.
so instead,
you get some pictures of fruit.
hope you don't mind.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

home.





these were taken last month
at my parents' house.
this particular roll of film
(fuji pro 400h)
may have lasted more than a month
and i almost struggled to finish it.
but in the end
i kind of fell in love
with that color and grain.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

madison.









these photos are long overdue.
i took them in february
back when there was no hope for spring
or warm weather
but shanna and i
went to madison anyway
to visit caitlin, and walk around
and chat and eat and take pictures.
and it was kind of chilly
but that didn't stop us
from having a wonderful time.
thanks again, ladies!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Salad and spring, earned.

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The air is different around here. I noticed it when I came home tonight -- that my apartment had this fresh, crisp feel to it, like it was breathing again. The windows were open, and it was a warm, breezy evening, and the air was full of life. Yes. This is it. I remember this.

Around this time last year, Chicago was gypped of a spring. We went from cold and wintery to cold and rainy, and the transition to warm and sunny was long, slow, and late. So now, as buds of green start to speckle across the trees as if by magic, I can't help but just soak it all up in complete amazement. It's April! It's springtime! This is what we've been waiting for all those months of snowy boots and scarves worn 24/7 and stale, dry air. This is what we thought would never come, what we had forgotten even existed. It is the big burst of light at the end of the tunnel, and oh what a tunnel it was. We deserve this. We earned this.



It's so true that when you work for something, you can just appreciate it much more. Like when I'm on the treadmill and I fight to run that last five minutes, and I finally make it, drenched in sweat and out of breath, and it just feels better. That sweat was earned. Those miles are mine.

Or when I spend an extra 45 minutes in the kitchen, long after the dinner dishes have been cleared away and the leftovers stashed safely in the fridge, to prepare my work lunch for the next day. It can be exhausting, and sometimes I look around at the mess I just made in the kitchen at 10 p.m. and wonder if this is really worth it, if a salad should involve this much effort, or if I'm just wasting my time.

But then lunchtime rolls around the next day, the one hour of my work day that's all mine, and really, that hour should be an enjoyable one. Not spent regretting an $8 lunch that consists of soggy Ceaser salad and greasy bag of chips. No, that's where the hard work pays off. And that's why I made a batch of this salad a couple of weeks ago and a second batch the week after. It's just that good and that satisfying.

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It's the tofu that does it, I think. Browning the tofu in some olive oil gives it a nice bite, and the texture works well with crisp green beans and the burst of tomato. The dressing is light and not at all overpowering, letting the flavors of the ingredients stand alone. And it's filling! A cup and half at 187 calories, paired with a piece of fruit, is a perfect lunch.

So there you have it: A delicious salad, green buds of spring, and an honest appreciation for all of it.

Pasta, Crispy Tofu, and Green Bean Salad (Adapted from Cooking Light)

Salad:
1 (15-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups uncooked pasta (original recipe calls for penne; I used rotini)
2 cups (2-inch) cut green beans
2 cups halved grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried dill

Dressing:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
salt and pepper


For the salad: Pat tofu cubes dry with a paper towel. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu and sauté 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.

Cook pasta in boiling water for 5 minutes; add beans, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water, and drain. Combine tofu, pasta mixture, tomatoes, and dill in a large bowl.

For the dressing: Whisk together vinegar and remaining ingredients in a bowl. Pour dressing over salad; toss well to coat. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.
Serving size: 1 1/2 cups
Calories per serving: 187