Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Straight and Narrow, Days 4, 5, 6, 7

Day 4

I had oatmeal for breakfast, sweetened only with banana which I cooked for a few minutes first to bring out some of the sweetness. Although overall it didn't have the sweetness I'm used to, I got used to it after a couple bites, the walnuts helped too.

I had a pretty craptacular day at work, I would have REALLY enjoyed a glass of wine after work but I abstained and went to a new class at the gym that I've been eying for a few weeks.

Day 5

Oh, Day 5. Not a great day, I started out by leaving the house early so I could get out of work early, I like to do that on Fridays. Not only did I not catch an early streetcar, the usual 8:10 one that I take never came. By 8:30, I walked to another busline and took that, got to work ten minutes late and, oh, did I mention that it was 93 degrees at 8am? So I wasn't in a great mood when I got to work and my insane boss had emailed me 14 times and left 4 voicemails, delegating two weeks worth of work to be done by 5. Sweet. I immediately wanted to stress eat so I scarfed down a bunch of cherries and an orange without tasting either one. After an hour or two, when I had made myself feel physically sick with stress, I overdosed on peanut butter, I don't even know how much, it was embarrassing. It must have been a lot thought because I wasn't even hungry for my lunch until 3pm.

Speaking of lunch, that was a high point of my day. I made dahl a couple days ago and it was delicious. I haven't made dahl in a very long time but it is total comfort food for me, my mother had it on heavy rotation when I was a kid and I always loved the creamy lentils and the cool coconut. Only thing was I usually make raita and mango chutney to go along with it. But since dairy was out and chutney has so much sugar in it, I ate it with those wonderful dried cranberry and fresh orange scented collards and I was more than satisfied.

Feeling weary, I dragged myself out of the office and decided that I was going to break with the diet for one evening. Actually, I stuck with the diet, I just allowed myself some wine after a hellacious day. I met up with some friends for dinner at Lola's and we ordered sangria, yes we did and I don't feel bad about it! I also ordered this soup that was INCREDIBLE! It was a cold chilled almond and garlic soup, topped with grapes. It was flavorful and refreshing and I decided I could drink/eat this at every meal for the rest of the hot ass New Orleans summer. Until I googled it the next day and found out it has bread in it and is pretty much a caloric bomb. Damn. Oh well, I still urge you to try it, it's fresh and elegant and unique, you can impress your friends when you tell them this is an authentic, Spanish white gazpacho, I'm going to try this recipe.

Day 6

I hauled ass at the gym this morning and spent the rest of the day eating dahl, reading my book and getting my house in order. I haven't been home in a couple weeks because my car was in the shop and so I stayed at Ben's. Either he'd chauffeur me around (thank you baby!), let me take his car or I'd just take the streetcar, which is easier to pick up at his house than mine. I did get my car back on Friday but umm, I'm not sure why they had my car ten whole days and didn't even do one of the major things that needed fixing, thanks guys. What a bunch of morons. Then I worked a party that night, a wedding with 300 guests and when we broke down the buffet and everyone was in the back kitchen eating roast pork and pasta with caramelized onions and mushrooms, I felt a little faint as I nibbled on strawberries. That pesto-crusted tofu I made earlier just didn't cut it for me. Then they cut the cake and they had all these little cupcakes and oh my, it was hard. but I didn't give in! Even when I felt like I might fall over with hunger and exhaustion at midnight!

Day 7

I almost said screw it and had coffee for breakfast. But I didn't. Ben and I did some shopping for the new house, I'm moving on Thursday and I am SO EXCITED!!!!! Anyway, we got a lot accomplished and then we had a picnic at City Park, it was magnifique. I made a very good lentil salad, I used a dried lime that a friend brought back from Abu Dhabi and it lent a nice, subtle citrusy note. Some onion, cilantro, red bell pepper and a vinaigrette were the only additions. I also made some hummus (Ben ate it with bread, carrots for me). Ben made vegetable spring rolls with roasted beets and this stunningly colored and delicately flavored cherry-mango sorbet, just fruit, no sugar. It was a perfect evening, not too hot, not too many bugs, sitting on the water's edge under a live oak. What a life!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Straight and Narrow, Days 2 and 3

Day 2

Well, today I'm sleepy, is it a lack of coffee? Or is it that I've been sitting on my butt in the same spot for several hours at a riveting Institute of Medicine Conference? It's certainly not a lack of sleep, I went to bed at 11, woke up with a start at 7:30 and had some bizarre dreams, the last of which included Beyonce asking to borrow my deodorant and I was embarrassed to tell her mine was down to the little nubby pieces stuck in the plastic.

Back to the conference. I initially kicked myself for choosing this week to be on the straight and narrow since I'd be at a conference downtown for two days. Not only did that mean I'd have to plan, pack and lug around food all day but I'd have to forgo the ubiquitous continental breakfast pastries. Actually, these didn't tempt me too much and I sipped on lukewarm green tea and nibbled on cherries and slices of sweet potato all morning. For lunch, I had soba noodles with teriyaki tofu and potato salad with a tarragon-shallot vinaigrette. After that, I took a walk and passed by Starbucks, man, did it smell enticing! Even a post-lunch walk could not keep my head from drooping as I listened to presentations on genotoxicity, industrial effluents, renal excretion levels and anaploidistic sperm. Weird, huh? This is usually when I'd hit the coffee or sweets to give me a little rush.

The conference ended at 4:30, I quickly changed into my penguin costume (that's the black and whites worn in the restaurant, I think it makes me look like a penguin) and headed over to the Foundry for my evening shift. I got there with a few minutes to spare, shoveling potato salad in my mouth for my "dinner." It was one thing to turn down slightly stale doughnuts in the morning but I knew I was really crazy when I started turning down PECAN-BREADED OYSTERS that the kitchen blithely nibbled on from a huge mound in the back or the ENORMOUS slabs of King Cake everyone took home with them. I started feeling a little light-headed halfway through the shift but fortunately the party ended early, I was out by 9.

Day 3

Still sleeping long and hard, which is fine, less time to be tempted by food. This morning at the conference, they had BEIGNETS! I didn't even look at those sugar-dusted, golden pillows of deliciousness, I'm getting better at this! I told my co-worker nonchalantly "It's not as if these are the last beignets on earth, who needs them?" She responded "Won't you be sorry when tomorrow is Armageddon?" Damn her. Today was much better because I could go home after the conference instead of to another shift. Hit the gym, hit the grocery store, came home and made dahl and Bryant Terry's collard greens redux from his excellent Vegan Soul Kitchen cookbook. (As a sidenote, I am no vegan but I do like my vegetables and new, innovative recipes are always welcome, pro-biotic, raw, whatever). By the time I was done with that, it was almost 10, which is around bedtime for me, read a few pages of my book and was out.

I'm not finding this too difficult yet actually, I mean, sure, passing the oysters, the beignets, eating my black beans while watching my boyfriend dig into some sopressata, Cotswald and fresh bread wasn't EASY but doable. The hardest part for me at this point is all the work it's taking to make sure I have an endless stream of appropriate foods, every night when I am done with work and the gym, I'm cooking for a couple hours to get ready for the next day. But it feels good for once to say, hey, I don't need that, because self-control is not something I've ever been very good at it. We'll see if that's how I'm feeling in a few days!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Body and Mind Recalibration

I think I've always had a pretty healthy attitude towards food, if you overlook my slight preoccupation with it. But I've never been one of those people who wants to curb my appetite or have guilt associated with certain foods. In fact, I'm a strong proponent of the whole mind over matter thing so that if I am eating dessert, I don't say "Oh, this second piece of Chantilly cake from Whole Foods (which is incredible) is making me fat." No, instead I prefer to say "This second piece of Chantilly cake is making me strong and beautiful," because by doing that, it negates the caloric intake, right?

Additionally, I work out a lot and I generally eat very well, lots of vegetables and whole grains, not much processed, canned or pre-made food. So I have gotten myself into this habit of eating whatever I want based on those two factors. I don't know how I got here but I find myself eating (or needing) a dessert EVERY DAY. Once I start eating the sweets, I feel like a junkie, like I'm calculating how much more I get eat or what I'll eat after that. It's a sickness and I must quell my inner junkie! Even with "good" foods, I will just continue to keep eating unchecked, paying little attention to how my body responds. Anyway, I have decided for one week to give up MEAT, SWEETS, WHEAT, DAIRY, CAFFEINE and ALCOHOL. Sure I'd love to lose a pound or two but I really am more interested in eating more mindfully and practicing self-control, never one of my strong suits.

Incidentally, I fully expect to fail by Friday but right now I'm going strong! I am keeping eggs because I don't think they have that same difficult to process element that cheese and milk and yogurt have and also because I think I'll need to protein. For breakfast I had my usual egg and spinach with green tea and no coffee. I didn't miss the coffee but I sure was yawning until 10am. I had fruit for my mid-morning snack, which was not as satisfying as yogurt or peanut butter or Goldfish or Luna bars but amazingly I held out until 12:02 to eat my lunch of black beans, kale and brown rice. I also have a Creole tomato-basil salad, cherries and a carrot-ginger salad to tide me over until dinnertime.

Is it terrible that all weekend I was cramming in fried shrimp poboys and smoked cheddar and a lovely Rose? And that I wanted to buy huge steaks for a farewell to red meat sendoff party last night? That I have already checked all FIVE of my favorite food blogs this morning and that just moments ago I was salivating over Joule restaurant's dessert menu offering of Banana tarte tatin with rum caramel and coconut whip cream? What is wrong with me? Let's hope by Day Seven we see some improvement!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hits and Misses

I seem to have lost my mojo since living in Chile. There I grappled with poorly equipped kitchens, the lack of tools and ingredients I was used to, not to mention having to learn how to measure things from my recipe sources (usually in the silly American system) using metric system containers. 100 grams of butter? I had no idea what that even looked like. Plus, the ovens range from 1-8. I am clueless there. Anyway, since moving back to New Orleans, where there are over 1100 restaurants, not to mention working in a restaurant, I did far less cooking than I have any time in my adult life. So I have lots of misses lately, perhaps I can just blame it on the recipes. On the flip side, there have been a number of hits.

This weekend, I was having a birthday party for my roomie. She's been talking for months about Coq au Riesling, an Alsatian twist on the French classic, so I thought that would be a good choice for our main dish. I found this recipe from Nigella Lawson but then I tweaked it a little, mostly because I was too lazy to walk ALL THE WAY over to the computer to re-consult my recipe but also because my chef boyfriend intervened and who am I to argue with his expertise?


* 1 cup bacon lardons
* 1 leek, finely sliced
* 12 skinless chicken thighs or 2 3/4 pounds thigh fillets
* 3 bay leaves
* 10 ounces oyster mushrooms torn into strips (4 cups)
* 1 bottle Riesling
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill leaves
* Buttered noodles, optional

Heat the oil in a casserole or large wide pan and fry the lardons until crisp.

Add the sliced leeks and soften them with the lardons for a minute or so.

Tip in the chicken thighs, bay leaves, torn mushrooms and wine.

Season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer gently for an hour. Like all stews this tastes its mellowest best if you let it get cold and then reheat the next day. But it's no hardship to eat straight off. Whichever, serve sprinkled with dill and with some buttered noodles, if using.

Two nights before the party, Ben told me to "saute no more than half my aromatics," so I cooked down half of the leeks and added a couple carrots too. I couldn't find that darn bulb of garlic but I would have! I added the wine and let that cook a few minutes, turned it off, chilled and put my chicken thighs in the marinate overnight.

I DID flour and brown my chicken, although Nigella doesn't and while I think that gave it a deeper layer of flavor, plus the flour thickens the sauce, it was a pain in the ass. I guess that's mostly since I made over 6 pounds of chicken. Then I continued on, layering the rest of my aromatics with chicken and more wine and some stock. This was done one night before the party because, as I have indicated, I'm lazy and wanted it out of the way. But also I think that these sort of stewed dishes taste best when they've had some time to thicken and mellow. It was indeed a hit and I have REALLY enjoyed it as leftovers for lunch. It would be great over potatoes or rice or with some garlic bread instead of the egg noodles. Next up, strawberry shortcake, both a hit AND a miss!