Thursday, February 28, 2008

Eating local

I ate a perfectly cooked chicken last night.

The meat was white and juicy and so tender that it practically melted away as I sliced through with a knife. Big props go to my boyfriend, who cooked the chicken with radishes and small potatoes from my stash. He also sauteed spinach with garlic, creating a deliciously wholesome but simple meal.

While he was slaving away in the kitchen, I called a friend who moved to Singapore last summer using Skype, the free Internet phone service. It was my first Skype experience, and it blew my mind.

Here I was talking to my friend who is thousands of miles away for free. And I could see her! She had a video camera and showed me the view from their apartment.

It was 14 hours ahead, so while we were cooking dinner, she was (I assume) done with breakfast. It was already tomorrow there. It was like I could see into the future!


When they moved to Singapore, they started (and inspired me to start) a blog about their culinary adventures. Their blog is aptly named after durian, a famously odorous fruit found in Southeast Asia that, according to them, tastes like "hot garbage." Check out their blog for more impressions and insights about life and food in Singapore. I miss you guys!

As I chowed down on my very American meal of chicken, potatoes, and spinach last night, I realized how my foray into exploring new food and recipes does not compare in the slightest to what they are learning and tasting.

While I always recognized that a big part of moving or traveling to a new country means trying different foods, I now see how doing that follows one of the basic principles of CSAs - eating local.

But I think I'm relieved glad that there's no risk of durian showing up in my next CSA box.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A rare event

Did anyone see the lunar eclipse the other night?

We had clear skies in Chicago when a dark, cloudy layer started to creep over the moon. As I drove to a restaurant, I saw lots of people on the streets craning their necks to get a look. It was a rare event that won't happen again until 2010.

The eclipse occurred the night after I returned from a long weekend ski trip with some of my closest girlfriends. When we first started going on the trip 7 years ago, we all lived in Chicago. Slowly through the years, almost everyone has left except one friend, who is moving overseas this summer. The weekend definitely took on a new meaning this year since we don't get to see each other very often.

But this was our fifth trip together, and we have established certain traditions over the years - many that involve food.

We are pretty healthy eaters, but we always go crazy on the junk food. It might have something to do with the altitude or the fact that we burn through so much energy on the mountain (or most likely that we give ourselves permission to live it up during this trip), but we typically stop at a gas station near the airport and load up on bags of chips and other crap for the two-hour drive. After a day on the slopes, it's all about beer and cheesy nachos (this year, we added a car bomb shot and two slices of pizza with a beer for $5 to the mix, but that's another story).

Every morning we eat a huge breakfast to fuel up for a day on the mountain. This is one of my favorite parts of the trip. We mix up to three cereals with fruit, toast bagels, hard boil eggs, and drink oj and coffee. This year one of my friends made a tofu scramble with some veggie sausage. While I love breakfast and know how important it is not to miss, I typically don't eat more than a banana and have a cup of coffee, so I savor these meals.

We also started a non-politically correct tradition that we like to call White Trash Dinner. It involves a crusty mac and cheese casserole made with Velveeta and our own version of pigs in a blanket (tofu pups wrapped in crescent rolls). My friend closely guards the casserole recipe, but the tofu pups are easy to make and served with bbq sauce and mustard dips.

The best part about these big meals is sitting around the table and catching up with each other. Since we don't all live in the same city anymore, its during these moments that we truly reconnect.

It's sad that this trip has become that rare event for us to see each other, but I feel confident that we will reunite before the next lunar eclipse!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Spicing it up

Over the past few weeks, we've had a major weather event almost every day here in Chicago - from sub-zero temps to 50 degrees and back again to crazy wind, a thunderstorm that turned into sleet and snow, to blizzard conditions. My office, along with many others in and around the city, even closed early today.

It has reached that depressing point in winter where we've been through a lot but there is so much more to go.

That's sort of how I feel about those potatoes in my cupboard. I've been through so many of them but there are so many more still left.

Okay, I promised myself no more posts about potatoes.

But it raises a reality of subscribing to a CSA. You get what you get. It's winter, so I got a lot of root vegetables. I have to admit that it got a little old after awhile. The more stews and soups that I made with the same ingredients, the less interested I got. Unfortunately my list of rotting food is a little longer than usual this month.

A few weeks ago I took a cooking class with my boyfriend. We made some great dishes, including a moroccan chickpea stew over quinoa. What I liked about it is that the recipe calls for some items from my CSA (carrots and onions) but also for spices that I don't typically use, like cinnamon, turmeric, and cayenne.

After the class I paid a visit to The Spice House, a local store that sells spices from all over the world in bulk. This place is great. You can smell and taste any spice, and buy amounts as small as a 1-ounce sample, if you want to try one out without commiting to a whole jar. It's an inexpensive way to experiment with different flavors (thanks, Klein, for the suggestion!).

I made the stew tonight. It's hard to tell in the photo, but it's resting on a delicious mound of quinoa, which just might be the new couscous for me. The colors and the new flavors even helped lift me out of the winter doldrums.

Moroccan Chickpea Stew [from Rice and Spice by Robin Robertson]

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 zucchini, diced (I subbed broccoli, which soaked up the flavor really well)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock or water
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup raisins
Zest of 1 lemon
2 1/2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, rinsed if canned
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro or parsley
6 cups hot cooked couscous or rice (or quinoa)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and carrot and cook, covered, for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the zucchini, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, salt, cayenne, tomatoes, stock or water, and salt to taste. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, soak the apricots in hot water for 20 minutes, then drain and finely chop. Add the apricots, raisins, lemon zest, and chickpeas to the vegetable mixture and cook 5 minutes longer, or until hot and the flavors are blended. Stir in the cilantro or parsley and serve over couscous or rice (or quinoa).

Serves 4-6.


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