Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Trusty Tote Bags

Long before using a cloth bag for shopping became trendy and even fashionable ("I'm Not A Plastic Bag" bag, anyone?), my heavy-duty tote bags accompanied me everywhere.

It's partially because I dislike plastic bags. But mainly, it fortified when I started the thrice-weekly pilgrimage to the Greenmarket. You'd need a big tote bag, backpack, or a roller to schlep 5 lbs. of shelling peas, 3 lbs. of zucchinis, 3 lbs. of peaches and 6 ears of corn in one trip! Thank goodness my bosses were so tolerant. I used to haul all sorts of food, some even strange, to the office. Surely my co-workers were amused (or frightened) when they saw a whole fish chilling inside the fridge. Well, I was just giddily happy to fill my bags with good food. I particularly loved transporting a bunch of garlic with scapes intact: their long leaves trailing behind me, as if a samurai warrior proudly carries his clan flag on his back.

I've been taking advantage of the Whole Foods stores; they offer a small discount for bringing your own bag. Recently I read that they will phase out plastic bags by April this year. I think this is definitely a move to the right direction. If we are serious about reducing the plastic bags piling up at home, make it harder to get one. Or even go further: charge a small amount for a plastic bag at the counter. That'll make everyone think twice about asking for it.

Ku Cake

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Oatmeal & Seaweeds

I admit it may sound weird. But this is the way I eat my oatmeal.

I think it's well-established that the oatmeal is good for you; it helps to lower the cholesterol, provides fiber and much-needed carbohydrate to keep you through the morning. The best part is it's warm! So for a long time the oatmeal was on my "I want to have this for breakfast" food list. There was one obstacle, however. I couldn't stand the taste of it.

Mind you, the oatmeal itself is quite bland. That's why it's commonly cooked with variety of flavorings such as brown sugar, apple-cinnamon, maple syrup, etc. Well, I enjoy cold cereal that's slightly sweetened with bananas or other fruits. And I love muffins - what an excuse for having a 'cupcake' for breakfast - that's sweet and warm. But there lingered something about the warm temperature and sweetness combined with that particular texture of cooked oatmeal. I can't put my finger on it: something deeply hidden inside me, on emotional level, finds it almost repulsive. I tried to overcome that feeling, but just couldn't. Therefore the oatmeal remained untouchable.

Until one day: Eureka! It hit me. The cooked oatmeal is a porridge made with oats. I love porridge made with rice (called 'ojiya'). So... why can't I cook the oatmeal, not with sugar, honey or syrup, but instead with savory alternative such as soy sauce?

Because of the short cooking time, my choice is Quaker Oats Quick 1-minute oatmeal. I remember my grandma used to say: "Eat your seaweeds and your hair will remain full, strong and dark". So I sprinkle some dried wakame, hijiki, or konbu when cooking. I add vegetables such as green peas or corn, something small and cooks fast. Adding grated ginger also boosts the flavor. And when I feel the need of protein, I crack an egg on top (make sure to break the yolk before placing in the microwave). Cooking time varies depending on the additives, but it usually goes like this: 2 minutes on High, stir, 1 minute High, stir again, and 40 seconds to get to the desired texture. I am a happy oatmeal eater ever since.

Sometimes you have to Think Outside the Box.

Ku Cake

Friday, January 11, 2008

Diet? What Diet?

As the new year turns, it seems everyone is (supposed to be) thinking about "Diet". The TV spots are rampant now: "Just take this pill and the fat will melt away" or "all you have to do is to eat what's delivered to your doorstep", etc. etc... I am not denying any effectiveness of them. I personally resorted to the Slim-Fast in the past when I needed to reduce the weight quickly. The point, though, is to use any method you find suitable and then, when successful, modify your habit to maintain.

I'm talking about the long-run here. Do you really want to continue taking the magic pill? Or only eat what comes to you for the rest of your life? Not me. I want to know what I am putting in my body. I buy an 'ingredient', and avoid the precooked food as much as I can. I also want to eat what tastes good to my palate. Since I arrived here in the US, I often find the flavoring of the food too- everything: Too sweet, too salty, too bland. But if I cook, I can definitely take care of that department and every meal becomes a satisfaction. Even when it did not taste as I imagined; in fact I love those surprises.

My diet is to eat in moderation. Sure I indulge time to time; I'm not an ascetic after all. But when I feel the need to balance/cleanse my system, I cook up a batch of vegetable soup. This tomato-flavored soup keeps in the fridge for days, and makes an excellent base for variety of quick meal. A friend of mine sent me the recipe, entitled "Fat-Burning Soup", a long ago. Those days we were experimenting with occasional "fried green tomatoes" recipe - boy, were we fearless.

The ingredients: 6 large green onions, 1 bunch scallions, 2 green peppers, 1 28-oz can tomatoes (whole or crushed), 1 bunch celery, 1/2 head of cabbage, 1 can V-8 juice, 1 package Lipton or Knorr Onion Soup Mix. Chop all vegetables, combine all the ingredients in a large stockpot. Add enough water to cover. Cook until the vegetables are tender.

This is perfect to eat at night, when you came home hungry but don't want to fill up your belly with regular meal. I guess some people eat cereal. I eat this soup. The onions boost the immune system. The tomatoes supply lycopene. The cabbage is supposedly good for restoring the digestion system. I would feel better and lighter in a few days: I swear by it.

There are so much more to talk stemming from this subject. So stay tuned.

Ku Cake

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Christmas Extravaganza

Happy New Year. A little late greeting.

Our Christmas celebration starts on the Eve. For an appetizer, we start with the Yellow Pea Soup, which is thick and delicious, from hours of gentle simmering. The main dish is the Roast Carp. Because we live in the Polish neighborhood, the live carp is readily available for purchasing on the day before. We don't have to trek into the Chinatown. Convenient. The side dish is a Salad of Really Finely Chopped Cabbage & Carrots, and heck, it's the holidays, Mashed Potato (with lots of butter and cream, of course). For dessert, an Apple Pie.

We invited the friend's family for the Christmas Day dinner. After considerable pondering, the main dish is decided on the Roast Duck. Normally the chicken is the choice for two of us, however, a chicken may be a little too ordinary for the occasion. On the other hand, goose or turkey is too big; besides I don't really have enough practice. So, we bought a whole duck plus several legs, hoping it'll be enough for four adults & a child. I thought I put the bird in the oven early enough, but apparently not. It took much longer than I anticipated: Panic! To alleviate the pain of waiting, we whipped out a few appetizers, using what we had in the pantry. Eventually The Bird was beautiful. Roast Potato, Roast Beets & Arugula and Sautéed Broccoli took care of the much needed vegetable department.

What to do with the leftovers? We declared the following day "The Leftover Reform Dinner", invited another friend and finished off. The delicious duck is by now neatly disassembled: all meat is torn apart and resting in the freezer. The carcase produced flavorful broth, enough to fill three big containers. Some went to the freezer. The rest is kept in the refrigerator for our New Year's Eve meal.

We are feeling the need to correct the diet. My New Year Resolution is "Make What We Eat". I long for the spring; I miss the locally grown vegetables.

Ku Cake

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Toshikoshi Soba - The End Of Year Meal

This is the "Toshikoshi-Soba", the definitive New Year's Eve meal in our household. It's a tradition in Japan to slurp soba noodles for one's health & longevity in coming year. When we are not away from home, this is what we eat: I insist.

I always loved, and still love, soba the most among the noodles: for its nutty flavor and clean finish. My grandma lived in the area famous for its soba production. When we visited her during the summer pause, she always greeted us with plenty of freshly hand made soba noodles. The serving was very simple: cold soba, dipping sauce and mountain of thinly cut nori. We ate bowl after bowl, and I thought I could just eat this for the rest of my life. Unfortunately I no longer have an easy access to those wonderful fresh soba, and resort to using the dried packaged ones. But whenever I cook up a bowl (in hot broth, instead) the memories come back just the same.

Now the New Year arrived. I wish for another bountiful season.

Ku Cake