Food for the Body

Thoughts about eating well to feed your body and spirit.

January Cold

Here’s a picture of the chard I harvested last Wednesday.  I don’t usually harvest that much at a time just to feed myself, but it was harvest Wednesday or let it die back.  I have most of my chard plants in a large rectangular container on my very sunny back deck (not really a deck, but a platform to which the patio stairs are attached).  There’s room for my bay tree to go outside in the warm months and to have a few containers, maybe a chair.  Barely that really.  All it takes, though, is a few containers and a little mindfulness to be eating some fresh greens 10-12 months of the year in our hardiness zone.  It looks like the plants survived the bitter cold last week and will go into leaf again when the temperatures are back in the mid-40s, but I’m not certain of it.  I’ll be patient and observe what happens so in future years I’ll have a more refined gauge of what works and what doesn’t work for different shifts in the weather patterns.  The weather will do what it will; but I can act to adapt in a way that tries not to fight what is.  Dan — how is that chard patch of your in New Bedford?

This morning my harvest was from my refrigerator and cupboard by way of the TPPS, Yes Organic, Farmer’s Market, Whole Foods, and Giant by way of all sorts of places — and this is supposed to be the good, healthy eating.  I took the basic proportions from the back of a box to make muffins that had spelt flour, multi-grain flakes, wheat germ, hemp seeds, currents, flax seed meal, walnuts, chopped fresh apple (it all started with needing to cook the apple), ginger, vegetable oil, baking powder, salt, dehydrated cane (unprocessed sugar), and spices.  No eggs, no dairy even on the back of the box of currents.  By the times I was done transforming them, though I would have enjoyed the original, I’d ended up with the kind of muffin the Vermont-granola-style restaurants name “power” muffins, or “energy” muffins, or maybe “everything” muffins because it is too hard to be descriptive of this many ingredients.  I think they will be good food to carry in pockets when out in the cold for extended periods of time.

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Hot Water Bottles and Wristwarmers

One of my father’s joke bits of wisdom is “everything in moderation, including moderation.”  When I first studied philosophy academically, I was very much taken with Aristotle’s concept of the “golden mean,” which (this is a gross oversimplification) advocates living in moderation as a way of right living.  Pantanjali in the niyamas in his Yoga Sutras invites the yogin to balance effort (tapas) and surrender  (ishvara pranadhana) in our practice.  The Bhagavad Gita suggests that extreme austerities are just as indulgent as wildly excessive consumption of food, sleep, and comforts.

What does that mean in our modern, middle class lives in a time when we are being confronted head-on with the impact on the earth and our fellow beings of the way we, as a society, have been consuming?

In part, I think it is mindfulness.  It is not denial, but balance — choosing ways to consume less, but still not feel deprived.  I am fortunate in that much of what we are learning now about both lifestyle and impact (the stuff under the “green living” umbrella) is not new to me.  My parents were children of the Depression and my father had a modest income. I went to Quaker youth camp in upstate New York in the 1970s, and I did volunteer work for the first Earth Day when I was in college.  We turned the lights off when we weren’t in the room, we turned off the faucets when we were brushing our teeth, or lathering our hair in the shower.  We creatively changed what we cooked out of Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, Virginia Lee, or Diana Kennedy or the New York Times Food Section with what we learned from Diet for a Small Planet.  We wore warmer clothing inside to be able to keep the heat down.  It is important for me to try to live mindfully, but I also very much like to be warm and comfortable, love the feel of beautiful fabrics, and one of my greatest pleasures is eating well.

I have a number of reasons I like to keep the heat down in the winter:  it feels better on my sinuses because the air is not as dry and I do not like to have to run a humidifier (yet another electrical appliance); it costs a lot of money to keep an old row house at even 65F in the cold months; and I am concerned about my carbon footprint.  I can get really cold when I am working at my desk or getting ready for bed.  I don’t like being cold, and it seems silly to insist on being miserably uncomfortable just so I can feel better from the perspective of some perceived moral ground.  So I try to create a balance.

Hot water bottles and wrist warmers are part of the balance.  Two hot water bottles taken to bed (and then I use the water on the plants the next morning) makes going to bed toasty and delightful, but not too hot in the middle of the night.  If I am working at home and it is midday, I can warm myself up with a two-minute handstand or a few sun salutes or some abs work or other arm balances. That’s not an option if I am on a conference call or at the office.  Nor does it make sense after dinner when it is time to get energetically quiet.  The wrist warmers, though, make an amazing difference (I also enjoy wearing them when I start practicing until I warm up as another layer that easily can come on or off.  I kind of like the way I look and enjoyed all the complements I got when I was meandering around New York over the holidays.  They are a great way to use scrap yarn (especially if you don’t have the time, yarn, or inclination for a larger project — see my post on “Sauca (and the blanket).”

If you want to make your own wrist warmers and you are a fantastic knitter, you can go for four double-pointed needles, multiple colors, and add a thumb section.  For those of you who are newer to knitting or who want wrist warmers very quickly, here’s all it takes to make the one’s shown above.

1.  Two needles of appropriate gauge and less than a skein of yarn.

2.  Measure loosely around your knuckles.  That’s the right width for your wrist warmer (notice that the girth of your knuckles and your forearm a couple of inches below the elbow are about the same).  Then knit about a two-inch square to make sure you know how many stitches you get per inch horizontally.  When you have your gauge correct, unravel your test square to use that yarn in your wrist warmers.  I recommend rechecking the gauge about an inch or two into your first wrist warmer to make sure you were right.  It is easier to start over at that stage than to try and fix it later or have to give them away to someone larger or smaller (unless you want to).

3.  Cast on the correct number of stitches for how many stitches per inch you get with your yarn and needles and the width you measured around your knuckles.  It is OK to round to the nearest half inch.  First two rows are simple rib — k1, p1.  Then do basic plain knitting (k first row, p return row) until the first wrist warmer is about 6-8 inches long and reaches almost the desired length up your lower arm.  Then do 6-8 rows of moss stitch (row 1 — k1, p1, row 2, p1, k1) [or you could just do more ribbing].  Cast off.  Measure second wrist warmer against the second.  Turned inside-out, using the knitting yarn, sew into a tube, leaving a whole for the thumb a the end with just the double row of ribbing.  The sewn part at the knuckle end should be about 2/3 to 3/4 inches, then there should be about a 1 1/2 to 2 inch whole (just hold it up on your hand to make sure it fits).

4.  They will stretch out as you wear them, but if they are a little too wide or tight, you can wet them and then make them either longer and thinner or shorter and wider by blocking.

4.  Bored with the colors you have at home?  It’s pretty easy to swap with a fellow knitter.

5.  Want to be just a little fancier?  Do stripes by alternating colors when you change rows.  Want to practice cables.  Do one center cable, just remember that it won’t be in the center if you want it to go on the top of your hand; it will start a quarter of the way in.

6.  New to knitting?  Go into any yarn store, tell them that this is your project, and they’ll tell you a good yarn, what needles you need, and show you how to cast on, knit and pearl.  There are farmers at the Dupont Circle Fresh Farm Market on Sunday who have beautiful homespun, hand-dyed yarns.  They might not show you how to knit, but they include patterns for hats.

7.  Have fun.  Be creative.  Be part of a fashion wave.  Stay warm.

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Hard Freeze Forecast (Heyam Dukham Anagatam)

My favorite sutra in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s is, II.16, “heyam dukham anagatam.”  This translates roughly as “the pain that is yet to come can be avoided.”  What does this have to do with a forecast of a hard freeze?

My chard, beets, and turnip greens are still flourishing.  They can manage with a night or two in a row in the high 20sF, and that is all we have had so far.  The forecast for later in the week, though, is for the first true cold snap since 1994 (you may remember that as the year when lots of people’s pipes froze).  My winter garden (which does not have a cold frame due to lack of space — maybe I’ll get more creative next year, and I’ll try an experiement with plastic bags on Thursday night) cannot survive lows in the low teens highs in the twenties.

I could suffer today by bemoaning the coming cold, worrying about the garden, and remembering that I don’t like cold.  That would be present suffering in anticipation of potential future suffering.  I certainly can avoid that.  I can also do what I did yesterday, which was harvest lots of the chard and most of the beets, put the beets into cold storage (vegetable bin in the refrigerator) and make pasta with sauteed garlic and chard.  Between now and Wednesday night, I’ll harvest most of the remaining greens.  I’ll make a big vegetable soup with the beets and the chard, maybe make chard pie or calzones (truly delicious), and eat the rest over the following days.  I’ll feel grateful that in the bitter cold, I can be eating fresh garden greens.  I’ll be even more grateful that I can just shop at the grocery store or the farmers’ market and don’t need to rely on my garden feeding me year round.  I’ll also be happy for the hard frost.  Part of the reason the aphids and the mosquitoes have been so bad is the absence of a hard frost in winter.

Some bitter cold in winter in a temperate zone is inevitable, as are sickness and death.  We can avoid suffering by not just getting anxious and unhappy and suffering in the present, but not taking action to alleviate potential suffering.  With preparation and practice, we can avoid some suffering.  Just has preparing for winter in the garden can allow it to be productive for greater parts of the year, so too, with a steady practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation we can avoid some physical and emotional pain and suffering.  Most important, with steady preparation (preparing for the potential for difficulties in the future is not the same as being anxious about it), when the inevitable comes, we will likely suffer less, at least in our hearts, if not in our bodies.

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Blustery Walk

It was great to get outside for a walk on this blustery day.  Sometimes the sun was out and the wind settled and it felt almost balmy.  At other times, the wind howled and the sun hid behind a dense cloud, and it felt like we were about to get a blizzard.  In between, it was either cloudy and still or sunny and windy.  What a refreshing way to get ready for the new year.  Hot tea and soup were specially welcome when I returned home.

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Ice and garden greens

Went out into the backyard despite (or perhaps because of) the freezing rain.  The greens had a thin coating of ice, but were still bright.  Picked big handfuls of mixed asian greens, arugula, and chard.  The ice cracked off as I picked them.  Later in the morning, I will saute the greens with tofu for a nice brunch.  I have dough rising for pizza for the neighborhood solstice open house.  I think about making crackers.

Tomorrow, some of the greens growing will be frozen food.  I’ll make an italian bean and greens soup with those leaves.  When it gets back up to 50F, which it is supposed to do within the 15-day forecast, there will be new growth.  The chard just might make it all the way through the winter.  The arugula — it’s less likely.

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Cookies for Holiday Gatherings

I’ve been baking for holiday potlucks and gatherings.  I enjoy the surprise and sense of offering of gatherings where everyone brings something of their own to share.  These cookies are easy, attractive, and not as bad for you (if bad means refined flour and sugar, high cholesterol and fat, no nutritional value other than calories) as they could be.  I try to use all organic ingredients (except the baking soda and the spirits); the butter and eggs are available locally; I choose fair trade, as well as organic, cocoa.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsps baking soda

pinch of salt

3/4 cup butter (at about room temperature — no more than 65F; do not melt or microwave)

1 cup sucanat (evaporated cane juice)

splash of brandy or other spirits

1 egg (beaten)

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Cream butter in large bowl; beat in sucanat and then brandy; mix in egg until smooth.  Gradually mix dry ingredients into butter mixture.  Chill dough well.  When dough is chilled enough to shape without it sticking to your hands, roll dough into small balls.  Put on cookie sheet and press down slightly.  Bake at 325-350F for 8-10 minutes.  Makes 4-5 dozen small cookies.

Variations:  Replace butter with vegetable shortening and egg with egg replacer for vegan cookies.  Add a tablespoon or two of ground cinnamon to the dry mixture and replace the brandy with kahlua for the taste of Abuelita (Mexican hot chocolate).  Replace brandy with peppermint schnapps for cocoa-mint cookies.  Add a teaspoon or two of dried ginger for cocoa-ginger snaps.

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Being a good guest (why not to drink bottled water)

In The Yoga of Discipline, Swami Chidvilasananda says that we should eat in such a way that the earth is happy to have us as a guest.  (See Thanksgiving blog).  As I get ready for the holiday season — a time of being a guest and receiving guests — I continue to contemplate this exhortation.  We’ve all had the house guests who seem to ravage our homes and our larders without any apparent appreciation for our hospitality, leaving us exhausted after they are gone.  We have other guests, who make us feel gracious, whose way of relating to our home and our hospitality makes us want to invite them in further and helps us enjoy our own home and food more.

My favorite guest is the one who makes herself at home, helps herself, and is delighted with offers of specially prepared meals or touches to the guest room.  The ones who invade private spaces and make a mess and, on the opposite side, those who tiptoe around and refuse nearly every attempt to make the visit special, are equally difficult.

How can we be a good guest of the earth?  Not only should we be grateful for what we are given, but we should not take more than is offered from the heart.  Here’s a practical example:  it takes about 60 ounces of water to bring you a 20 ounce plastic bottle of water.  The earth cheerfully offers the 20 ounces of water as nourishment.  Taking the 60 ounces, when 40 ounces is waste and destruction and only 20 ounces is for nourishment, is like being the kind of guest that exhausts you rather than enriches you by honoring your hospitality.  I’d love to hear other practical examples from you about how to be a more gracious guest of the earth.

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Food, family, friends, life (and leftovers)

Yesterday I celebrated the bounty of Thanksgiving with my friend Pat and her children, which was just delightful.  The food was bounteous and delicious, but not to the point of groaning excess.  While I was at the yoga fundraiser in Takoma Park, Pat and the children were cooking.

Jonathan, who is eight, made the cranberry sauce.  Being the superb cook that she is, Pat said it’s just the recipe on the back of the bag (one bag cranberries, one cup sugar, one cup water, cook until the cranberries are split and liquid starts to gel), except that she replaced the water with apple juice, replaced the sugar with brown sugar and halved the amount, added currents (nice touch), and then put in orange rind, cinnamon, all spice, cloves, and powdered ginger.  Only a true cook would think that is just the recipe on the back of the bag, but I know what she means.  As long as the proportions are right you can vary anything to taste.  The addition of the dried fruits and spices were just right for the latin-influenced cooking of the rest of the meal.

Rebecca made the mashed potatoes, which we had because she wanted them.  They are amazing, they are miraculous, she claimed, mashed potatoes.  All you do is mash them and then they are amazing.  Ordinary potatoes completely transformed, just by mashing them.  Rebecca also offered grace, giving thanks for “food, family, friends, and just for being alive.”  Simply said from the heart; no more needed to be said.

I was sent home with the leftover vegetarian rice and peas, which Pat had specially prepared for me to honor my preference to eat vegetarian.  As is traditional in her family, I brought home the leftovers with the understanding that when I returned the container, it would have within it a food offering in return.

Pat did cook a turkey as part of the meal.  When we were cleaning up (I was carving the rest of the turkey to store for future meals), I asked Pat whether she would be making stock with the turkey bones, so I would know the best way of carving.  She said she did not have time, so though I am mostly vegetarian, I took the bones to make stock.  I had, then, the leftovers one would never have if you’ve long since stopped roasting birds, and Pat felt more content knowing that we would be using all of the bird that fed us.

Today, when I am home cleaning and cooking and enjoying a precious vacation day, I will make turkey stock.  With the blessing of these particular leftovers, I can make what would be traditional to a Thanksgiving meal that I would have cooked:  roast winter squash and stuffing (using the turkey stock, the remains of a loaf of bread I baked last week, dried mushroom, and celery).  My delicious meal of stuffed roasted squash, will be enhanced by the lingering (not leftover) energy of the friends with whom I shared a delightful meal and the knowledge (that by minimizing what goes uneaten) that we are eating in a more sustainable manner) [yes, it’s all about balance; my vegan friends would no doubt be compelled to remind me that eating vegan would have been more sustainable].

Many thanks to Pat and her family for welcoming me and for sharing.

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“No-Knead” Bread

In November 2006, the New York Times published a recipe adapted from Jim Lahey’s Sullivan Street Bakery for “no-knead”bread.  I immediately adapted it further (as did many of those who commented on-line).  Many thought the NYT adaptation benefited from more salt.  I also have made it much more energy efficient (the NYT recipe expects the dough to rest in a 70F room and for the oven to be pre-heated for at least a half hour).  In the winter, I keep my house at 62F, and pre-heating for only 10 minutes (or baking something else first that doesn’t need pre-heating) is much better for the environment.

As I was baking a loaf (whole wheat, flax seed variation) this week, I thought about how much this recipe teaches about skill and steadiness.  The reason the bread doesn’t need to be kneaded, but still yields a crusty peasant-style loaf, is the high liquid content of the dough relative to kneaded breads and the very slow rise time.  That one can achieve the results of active labor by mere patience and an understanding of the science of the process recalled for me  something I learned at a Rod Stryker workshop a number of years ago about having a steady practice.  Rod Stryker was asking students at a week-long intensive whether they had a steady meditation practice.  One woman raised her hand and said that she had sat and meditated every day for 30 years.  We were all thoroughly impressed.  Rod Stryker asked her how long she sat.  I think she said three minutes a day, it might have been five.  I don’t remember exactly.  I was still impressed.  Not because she would claim to have a 30 year practice when it was just a few minutes a day, but that she had the self-knowledge to set an amount of time to practice that she could keep.  The daily few minute sit was obviously not her only practice or she would not have been at a relatively advanced yoga workshop.  It is easy not to develop a home yoga practice, a good home-cooked diet, a garden, or anything else that needs steadiness, if we set the bar too high at the beginning.  We don’t want to set it too low either, but finding what we can do with steady commitment and then allowing growth to be spontaneous is the way to keep at it without feeling burdened.

Every once in a while I bake bread that takes attention every day for seven days in a row and then involvement multiple times on the day of baking. It is my having spent the time making more difficult breads that has enabled me to create variations the “no-knead bread” and know it will still come out well.  The “no-knead” bread, only modestly varied, I can make whenever I’m out of bread whether I’m busy or not.  It just takes throwing a few ingredients in a bowl on a night when I know I’ll be at home the next afternoon or early evening for a three-hour block of time (doing other things almost the entire time).

The basic recipe is as follows:

3 cups of flour.  (At least half needs to be bread flour; you should add a tablespoon of wheat gluten for each cup that is not bread flour, e.g., whole wheat or rye.)

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

2 teaspoons salt (NYT had 1 1/4)

1 and 5/8 cups water

cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting

Day one:  mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.  If you store your flours in the freezer (which helps keep them fresh and lowers electricity usage because a full freezer is more efficient than an empty one), let them come to room temperature before making the dough. Dough texture is sticky.  Cover bowl.  Let dough rest for 15-20 hours depending on room temperature.

Day two:  dough is ready when the surface is dotted with bubbles.  When dough is ready, lightly flour a work surface, place dough on it, sprinkle dough with a little more flour, and fold dough over once or twice.  Cover loosely and let rest for 15 minutes.  Using just enough flour to keep it from sticking to work surface (I have a cutting board I use only for baking) or hands, shape dough into a ball.  Coat work surface and a kitchen towel (not terry) with flour, bran or cornmeal.  Place ball of dough, seam-side down on work surface and cover with floured towel.  Let rise for about two hours until doubled in size and dough does not readily spring back when poked with your finger.  If dough is slow rising because of cool room temperature, put near radiator or put it near stove when cooking something else and when starting to pre-heat oven.

Pre-heat oven to 450F with a 6-8 quart covered pot (cast iron, enamel, pyrex, or ceramic) in oven while pre-heating.  When pot and oven are hot and dough is ready, carefully put dough, seam-side down into pot and shake pan to distribute dough more evenly.  Don’t worry, it will straighten out as it bakes.  Bake covered for 25-30 minutes.  Then remove lid and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes until browned.  Cook on rack.

Variations:  Use just 1/4 cup rye flour along with bread flour.  It will taste like a classic french bread.  Incorporate a teaspoon or two of olive oil.  Semolina flour works well and turns the loaf a beautiful shade of yellow.  You can add constituted cracked wheat, but you have to know what dough should look and feel like, because it changes the moisture content.  Same for oat bran.  I’ve taken to adding flax seed meal into most of my baked goods for the nutritional benefits.  Because flax seed meal can be used as an egg replacer, you cannot replace it one for one with flour, but if you replace a quarter cup of flour with a third cup of flax seed meal, and keep the liquid the same, it has worked for me. Try it without a variation first.  Practice, enjoy.  The more you know about bread-baking, the more options you have.  I’ve done it with beer and molasses as part of the liquid and mostly a mix of whole wheat and rye flour to make it taste like pumpernickel.  Not my favorite, but it worked.

Play in the same kind of way with your yoga practice at home.  Start with a favorite pose you you learned in class.  Start small.  Start simple, and then let yourself get inspired by the desire to create your own variations.

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Poor Man’s Caviar

Last year, when it was dry and hot early, I had an extraordinary season of peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  This year, the peppers and cucumbers were not particularly abundant.  The heat came too late and the rain has been too inconsistent for them to thrive.  The eggplants, though, were ecstatic this year.  Every week brought at least two and sometimes four.  When cooking for one, it is easy to find two eggplants a week far too many.  It was a relief to go to Santa Fe, where I could eat seasonal vegetables that did not include eggplant.

I was delighted, though, knowing I was about to host a party, to come home to five eggplants almost ready to be picked.  What better base for a potluck party dish than eggplant?  Knowing the crowd, I anticipate baba ghanoush by the bucketful; could not make that.  The tomatoes are not longer succulent enough for caponata (they must all become sauce); that was out.  I chose, then, eggplant caviar.  Not a bad pick.  What could be a better offering for a party in Washington DC at this time in history than what is often called poor man’s caviar?

I do not know the historical basis for it being named poor man’s caviar.  It does not look like caviar.  Not really.  It does not taste like caviar.  You can put it on bread or crackers the same way you would serve caviar, but that certainly does not further the explanation.  It is, though, a delicious and festive dish that pretty much requires only having eggplant growing in the backyard (or a trip to the farmer’s market) and the time to take care of it.

Eggplant caviar is a dish that reminds me that with only a little space and the willingness to provide nurture and pay attention for a season and to cook a simple dish slowly, I can experience what it is to enjoy and share little luxuries without being entirely dependent on money.  I am finding that comforting and encouraging.  (I do recognize that there are those for whom a little space and times are luxuries they cannot even imagine.  For me, choosing the simpler luxuries allows for more to share and offer.  Going entirely without comfort would not help much of anything.  As for sharing and giving, I certainly do hope those help.)

Recipe (adapted from Thomas Keller’s Eggplant Caviar in “New York Cookbook,” Molly O’Neill)

Take 3 to 5 eggplants, depending on size of eggplant and number of portions desired. Cut them in half, score the flesh and salt it.  Let the eggplants drain cut side down, weighted by a heavy plate or pan, for 45 minutes to an hour.  Rinse and squeeze out the eggplant.  Roast, cut side down, until very tender.  (In my convection oven, that’s about 25 minutes at 350F).  When cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and chop coarsely.  Drain again in a strainer for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, wisk together olive oil, pressed garlic cloves, and dijon mustard to taste (to be local, you could use walnut oil, and it would taste excellent; I expect, however, that there may be party guests who are allergic to nuts).

Squeeze out the eggplant pulp and mix it with the remaining ingredients.  Best if sits overnight or at least a few hours.  When ready to serve, adjust the salt and pepper.

Variation Make with mushroom.  Skip right to roasting (or even just mince finely and saute until juices evaporate).

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