Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rice and beans, and A for effort.

Murdo and I joined a gym. This is nothing huge -- we've belonged to gyms before, although lately I've been working out at home, jumping and squatting and lunging along with Shaun T., with whom I have a love/hate relationship but who keeps me sweating the most I ever have in my life and who actually has made me want to cry from exercising. But it's nice to know that I also have access to treadmills and ellipticals and weights 24/7, just five minutes from my house, for when I feel the sudden urge to run in place for half an hour at three in the morning. (OK, I never have an urge to run. Anywhere. At any time.)

As part of our new membership, our "trainer" met with us to discuss our goals, our current exercise routines and our eating habits. "On an A through F scale," he asked, "How would you rate the way you eat?"

"B-?" Murdo replied, shrugging at me.

I was thinking more of a solid C, fully aware of the unhealthy amount of fries I eat on a weekly basis, and the family size bag of Cheetos that Murdo came home with one day, and the two packages of bacon in our fridge. 

But then we got to talking about our actual meals. For me, on the weekdays, it's a yogurt for breakfast (I was never into the whole yogurt thing until I forced myself to start eating it daily a couple of months ago because it's healthy and filling and simple and I need more of that in my life and now I love the stuff), some kind of light bean dish or soup for lunch (this week, it's been this, with a side of roasted beets), and a home-cooked meal for dinner (lately, there have been burgers on the grill, tacos -- beef for him, black bean for me -- breakfast, Sriracha chicken, BLTs). Then there are snacks, which I have between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, dinner and bed. Crackers, chips, edamame, cheese, popscicles, kimchi, berries, tomatoes, granola. The occasional frozen custard after dinner.

And you know what? I think I deserve a B. So I may have eaten half of a deep-fried chicken sandwich last Wednesday (in my defense, the menu called it a "crispy buffalo chicken sandwich," which in my book, does not mean the whole thing gets dipped into the fryer), and two (or maybe three?) chocolate peanut butter thingies yesterday, and half a donut this morning. But for the most part, I try to eat pretty healthy. The trouble can be eating healthy without completely depriving myself of foods I've loved my whole life. Yes, tomatoes and beets and blueberries make me happy -- but so do ramen noodles. And Lay's Sour Cream and Onion chips. And chocolate chip cookies. And pork rinds. And greasy Chinese food. And brownies! And and and … Well. All in moderation, I know. But when it comes to junk food, I kind of suck at self control.

The key, I've found, is planning ahead. Every Sunday, I figure out what Murdo and I want for dinner for the week. Then, I shop according to those meals. I try to stay away from the chip, cookie and frozen food aisle. I buy (somewhat) light, healthy, low-calorie snacks. I also prepare my lunch for the week on Sunday -- something light that I won't get sick of eating every day for five days straight, and that's easy to eat either at my office desk or at the park near my building. By knowing exactly what I'm eating every day, I can avoid excessive eating out or just excessive eating, period.  

Ten years ago, I didn't think I'd become one of those people who bought low-fat yogurt and wrote down what she ate every day. But I just feel so much better about myself when I'm aware of what I'm putting into my body. It's a struggle sometimes, but I like to think I'm getting better. A for effort, right?

Skillet Rice and Beans with Corn and Fresh Tomatoes 
(from "The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook")

This rice and bean dish recently made its way into my lunch rotation. It's light but filling, flavorful but easy to make, and most of the ingredients are usually already on hand. If you don't have fresh corn, you can use 1 1/2 cups of frozen corn, thawed and patted dry, or a can of corn, drained.

4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 cup brown rice, rinsed and drained
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 1/4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 (15-ounce)cans black beans, rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper
2 cups grape tomatoes, quartered
5 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the corn and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in the rice, garlic, cumin and cayenne. Cook until fragrant, stirring, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the broth and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the beans and cover. Continue to simmer until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil with the tomatoes, green onions, cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the tomato mixture over the rice and beans and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Film Friday: Fried eggs and edamame (and why I shoot film).

On the day we moved into our house, my sister-in-law approached me after returning from the most recent unload from the apartment and said timidly, "There's been a casualty."

I didn't know if she was being serious or joking. I thought of the cats. I wondered where Murdo was. I slowly drew in my breath as she lifted up my camera -- the Minolta that Murdo's dad had given to me, that he bought in the early 80s for a few hundred dollars and chose because it was simple and fully manual, that he used to take photos of Murdo when he was growing up, that was built like a tank and unveiled my love for film. It had fallen out of a box on the way from the apartment to the truck. I pulled the camera to my eye and breathed as the needle moved up and down with the light, the shutter successfully closed and opened, the film wound back. The shutter speed display at the bottom of the viewfinder was slightly askew, and the filter was dented, but otherwise it still worked. Tank, indeed.

I haven't been taking many film photos lately. Moving two towns over means that I'm now two towns further from my local camera shop where I get my film processed. Scanning the film myself takes time, patience, swearing at single strands of cat fur that make their way onto the scanner. The photos here are from the only two rolls I've taken all summer.

Yet still. There is something about holding an old, sturdy camera in my hands. The satisfying, heavy click of the shutter as it releases. Watching for when the light hits at a certain time of day, filtering through the leaves of a tree or reflecting on a table, the kind of light that adds a layer of texture, depth, surprise, magic to film. Getting a roll developed and seeing where that magic turns up. The results are not just captured moments, but moments that turn into something else entirely.

A plate of breakfast becomes a quiet morning, soft and comforting.

Fried Eggs and Edamame
Now here's a power breakfast, with a cooking method not unlike fried eggs and crispy kale. Toss half a cup or so of edamame into a skillet that's been heating with olive oil over medium heat. Let cook for a few minutes. Then crack an egg (or two) over the pile and cover, and cook a few minutes more, until the egg white is set and browned on the edges, but the yolk is nice and runny. Or longer, if you like. When it's done, sprinkle with salt and pepper, slide onto a plate, snap some shots with your film camera, and enjoy your morning.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friends, and farm life.

Please meet my friend Nick, and his fiance, Marli. They asked me to take the photos at their wedding later this month. They're nuts. To further prove my point: They're growing and cooking all the food for their wedding. Including two pigs, for a roast.

But it makes sense for them. Last weekend, we visited them to see their home and Marli's family farm, where they've been working all summer. If you had told me 10 years ago, when I first met Nick, that one day he'd be working on a farm, I would've believed you. If you had told me that he'd be working as a deep-sea welder, or a lawyer, or a beach bum, I would've believed you (he has seriously considered all three as careers). Nick is the friend who everyone should have, the guy who doesn't just dream things up but actually does them, who looks at life with open, curious eyes, who travels the world and makes friends wherever he goes, and who always comes home to the ones he's had his whole life.

The weekend started off with goats. Then kittens. A skittish rooster named Xavier, who had lost his harem of hens and now thinks he's a goat. A tromp through the woods to see a cave that was once home to a bootlegging operation. Sunflowers. We shot off shotguns and rifles at old tin cans. Then, we ate ice cream. We pulled peppers and cucumbers and beets and Swiss chard out of the ground, and cooked them alongside grass-fed beef burgers and steaks for dinner. Finally, a bonfire.

In the morning, I woke up to kittens mewing by my side and the sound of Xavier crowing. Breakfast included bacon and eggs, sausage, pancakes, hashbrowns, orange juice. They sent us home with homemade strawberry jam.

Nick and Marli are getting married in a couple of weeks. To embrace a life together by digging their hands into the earth and filling their minds, bodies, souls with the goodness they pull up. I'm so, so happy for them.