This was supposed to be Parade Day here in West Orange. It was kind of devastating to have it canceled, though it was completely understandable.
We ended up with a beautiful day, and I decided to tackle assembly of my Garden Tower. I’d entered a sweepstakes to win one of these babies, and I won third place – a deep discount, rather than a free one, but enough to make me pull the trigger.
The manual was SIX PAGES LONG. However, it turned out to not be as intimidating as I thought.
For dinner, I made the filling for Thug Kitchen’s Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchiladas, except I chopped the squash, instead of shredding it. I then put the mixture over rice. It was delicious.
Not a bad way to spend the Parade Day that Wasn’t.
Fun fact: one of the weird things that can happen to you after you have a baby is that you can become lactose intolerant! This happened to me after having Little Chef five and a half years ago. Like many other lactose intolerant people, I do have my items that I throw caution to the wind for, though I’ve tried hard to cut back the amount of dairy in my life. That’s what’s led me to so many vegan cooking recipes in the past few years.
Fun fact number two: another thing that can happen to you after pregnancy is gall bladder disease. This happened to me as well. I had an attack when Little Chef was young, and I treated it with diet and acupuncture. I had further issues after having Littler Chef and had the offending organ removed last May in a rather dramatic, emergency situation. The intervening period, about a four year stretch, was a time in which I sought out low-fat recipes to mitigate any issues.
The crossroads where the two meet is Nava Atlas’ “Enlightened Alfredo” sauce. I get my copy of this recipe from “The Vegetarian Family Cookbook.” It’s an alfredo-style sauce made with silken tofu, rather than cream. It’s a nice, low fat content, and it doesn’t send my digestive tract off the rails. Everyone wins!
On day two of quarantine – Pi Day, for those keeping track – I made this Enlightened Alfredo. I paired it with cremini mushrooms, mushroom linguine, and peas. It was delicious. The final touch was a baguette, again from Supreme Bakery.
Lunch that day was a bit simpler, though incredibly delicious. I had a really satisfying salad, mostly courtesy of Greengrocer Foodhub.
No actual pie for Pi Day, though I wore my Pi shirt, and I watched the episode of The Office where they go to the Pie Stand, while I made vegetable soup.
I also had the notion to start assembling my Garden Tower, but I got intimidated by the instruction manual. That would wait until the 15th… which is where I leave you for now.
These first few (or many) posts will be a retrospective… as I write this, it’s March 31st, but we officially quarantined our household on Friday, March 13th. That’s two and a half weeks – so far – for those who are counting. The existential dread of waiting to see if we have the virus has lifted, so let’s look back at the excellent ways we’ve been eating.
Friday the 13th, Little Chef went to school for the last time, and Littlest Chef and I ran some errands. It was Spouse’s first day working from home, as well. We did one more “panic stock-up” at Greengrocer Foodhub, and I stopped at Supreme Bakery for some bread and rolls.
That night, we had delicious sandwiches – tomato for the 5 year-old, but BBQ Baked Tofu for the adults.
Everything about this sandwich was amazing. The tomato came from Greengrocer – I don’t know what voodoo the farmer was working, but that tomato actually tasted like it was in-season! The greens were also from Greengrocer – pea shoots and swiss chard. Barbecue baked tofu is easy, though requires a little time. You take the tofu out of the packaging, wrap it in paper towels, and place it in between 2 cookie sheets. Place some gentle weight on top – I use soup cans – and leave it for an hour or two. Then slice, put into a container, and top with the marinade of your choice (in this case, barbecue sauce). Leave it in the fridge to steep as long as you please – the longer the better – and when you’re ready, put the slices on a baking sheet lined with foil (you’ll thank me at cleanup) and bake at 375. Flip the tofu after about 10-15 minutes, and bake for another 10-15, until the texture seems right. It should be dense and not watery anymore, with a little more backbone than regular firm tofu. Don’t fear any burned bits of barbecue sauce – just like when cooking wings, that’s bound to happen. The finishing touch here was the Portuguese rolls from Supreme Bakery.
After my delicious dinner and the usual routine of getting the kids to bed, I had a conversation with my sister-in-law that spooked me. She felt that we should be prepared for longer than the official reports were saying (and it turns out, she was right, though not as dire as she was warning). Of course, this came at the worst time of year for me – we’re skidding through the end of the off-season. I was purposely letting my freezer run down so I could defrost it before the mania of CSA season. I didn’t can much of anything last year, because I had an infant. I began to panic… and blanch and freeze every vegetable in my fridge that would tolerate it.
No harm done. Actually, the broccoli in the last picture went into my dinner tonight, but that’s a post for a different time. Stay tuned for further quarantine meal chronicles…
Now that life is settling down into this strange new normal that is our quarantine, I figured it was time to get this blog fired up again for the season. Ever since Littlest Chef was born, my cooking life has, understandably, suffered. We’ve eaten out more, gotten take out more, and relied on quick and easy meals more. That’s understandable and part of an era in parenting. However, with this new shakeup, we’re obviously at home, so I’ve had a chance to start getting excited about cooking again.
Let’s talk shopping. When a mandatory quarantine, to varying degrees, began to obviously loom, everyone went crazy. I did not want to be part of the throng of people at ShopRite. It didn’t feel safe or wise, plus I couldn’t deal with the stress of it. In a way that honestly aligns with my principles anyway, I turned super local for my needs. I bought bread from Supreme Bakery and did last minute food stocking from Greengrocer Food Hub. I ordered basically everything else I needed online. I attempted an Instacart order that failed miserably; after scheduling it days in advance, the shopper abandoned the cart during the shopping because the app was being glitchy. We ended up needing to cancel my order, but Instacart’s customer service was really kind and generous with some compensation for my trouble.
As the shutdown intensified, Chelsa moved Greengrocer’s operation to an order-online and contactless pickup model. It’s worked fabulously. We’ve been able to be eating fresh, healthy foods while maintaining the integrity of our self-quarantine. I can’t remember a time when salad tasted quite so good. I also got in on a group order from a wholesaler, so I was able to get things like hummus, seltzer, flour, etc.
The interesting thing is that, by piecing my groceries together and working with what is available, I’ve basically been back in CSA mode- looking at what’s in front of me and trying to find interesting ways to turn it into healthy meals and snacks for my family. What better time to get this blog back up and running? If you follow the Instagram account (@omgcsa), you’ll have already gotten a good preview of what’s been going on in my kitchen thus far, but I’ll break it up into a series of posts here. I’ll likely also have interludes to talk about the quarantine and to share tips and information that I have. I won’t be talking about the disease itself – there’s plenty of that going on on social media, and it is not my field of expertise. We are, however, in strange times when it comes to procuring meals, and that is an area I can speak to with confidence.
I encourage each of you to record your experiences during this strange time. I read someone’s observation recently that we are the ones who will be creating the primary sources that historians will be referencing decades from now. Even if it’s just a personal journal, even if it’s just a Google Doc with your thoughts jotted down – record your navigation through these challenges.
So, sometimes, you’re planning out dinner, you see a recipe, and you realize that you don’t have all of the necessary ingredients, but you say, “Forget it,” and jump in anyway. That’s exactly how this Lasagna happened.
I have this great cookbook called Light & Healthy Cooking from Good Housekeeping. I got it on the bargain rack at a now-defunct Pathmark years ago for $7.00, and I still get enjoyment from its pages. It contains this tasty looking lasagna recipe:
However, I was missing several things on the list. I did have a bunch of vegetables, no boil lasagna noodles, sauce, and cheese, though, so I dove in and made my own! The results were satisfying, as the pictures of the process imply. The full recipe is below.
Stevie’s Vegetable Lasagna
1 package (8oz) oven-ready lasagna noodles
1 (8oz) container ricotta cheese
1 (12 oz) container marinara sauce
1 (8 oz) can mushrooms (I used stems & pieces, no salt added)
2-3 carrots, shredded
8 oz (half of a bag) frozen sweet peas
Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
About 2 cups chopped greens of your choice; I used spinach & swiss chard
Cook the onions in the oil over low heat until they get soft and translucent. Add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the greens and raise the heat to medium. Saute until the greens are tender. Turn off the heat.
Rinse the lasagna noodles in cold water. In a casserole dish, swirl some marinara sauce, then cover with a layer of noodles. Spread a layer of ricotta cheese on the noodles, then layer on some of the greens mixture, some of the peas, some of the shredded carrots, some of the mushrooms, and some parmesan cheese. Cover this with some marinara sauce, then another layer of noodles, then repeat. Top the last layer of noodles with a little bit of marinara and a layer of mozzarella cheese.
Bake in a 400 degree oven, covered, for 30 minutes, remove cover, and bake for another 20 minutes.
Like most, I’ve got a pile of resolutions in front of me, though I think I’ve managed to keep them reasonable and achievable this year. Among those that are applicable here, I plan to get back to posting regularly (once the season kicks up, though perhaps some before then), eating homemade/healthy more consistently, and – my stretch goal – to go for zero-waste this year with my CSA share.
These things didn’t happen in 2019. I was full of good intentions, but it was just too hard with an infant, a new house, and a lot of emotional/postpartum/grief struggle. 2020 is poised to be more conducive to my goals.
I started this post on the 4th and never finished writing, but I’m happy to say that, a couple of weeks in, all is going smoothly so far. I did get a splurge night out for my birthday, but otherwise, we’ve been good about eating at home and keeping it pretty healthy.
Among the notable meals was a crock pot soup from a crock pot magazine that I’d inherited in the pile of cookbooks from my mother’s house.
I made Thai coconut chicken and rice soup. It was delicious and deeply satisfying, despite being from a “diet” cookbook.
I’m happy to report that the leftover froze and reheated well. I’ll be repeating the recipe. It is worth noting a few changes I made based on preference and what I had in the house. I used fresh onions and mushrooms, and I used dried ginger. I also used homemade stock, not packaged. I can’t overstate how good it is to use homemade stock, both for taste and for the health benefits, since it isn’t loaded with salt.
Administrative note – would it be better for me to type out recipes like this? I’m hesitant to retype recipes that might be copyrighted or still in print, but this is old and I couldn’t find any instance of it online for a link. I personally often save recipes as images, but if text works better, I can experiment with format. Let me know in the comments.
Anyway, if you’re looking for good but light comfort food, especially as we seem to be heading toward actual winter weather later this week, I’d recommend this recipe. My next post will be about another lightened-up comfort food I made – my own take on vegetable lasagna.
I posted on the Instagram feed a little while ago about “Hulk Muffins,” but I’m just now getting around to talking about them on here.
My child does not like leafy greens, currently. The only “salad” he will touch is dandelion greens, strangely enough. We get rather inundated with greens over the course of the season, and I’m always looking for new things to do with them. (I can always make pesto, of course, but how much pesto does one person need?) I found the answer in these “Hulk muffins,” which have turned out to be a huge hit with everyone in my family. They are sweet, hilariously green, have no refined sugar, and are a good way to sneak in the extra vitamins.
Today was the Grand Opening of Greengrocer Foodhub’s storefront in Bloomfield! I missed the ribbon cutting this morning, since the baby was sleeping, but both kids and I made it over there mid-afternoon. We got “a beet the size of your head,” zucchini, cucumber, raspberries, apples, broccoli, snap peas, cider, and sausage…. most of which were things picked out by my 5 year-old. I hung back to the side of the store when we were done, and I let him bring the basket up to check out, as well as my credit card. It was so sweet to see him get to take care of the whole process, and he was really proud of himself.
Check it out if you’re local! 27 Cartaret St. Bloomfield. They’re open 9-7 Saturday and 10-5 Sunday.
What did I do with my delightful haul? I finally made beet & zucchini pakoras! I shredded (most of) the giant beet, 2 zucchini, and a large carrot. To that, I added a batter made of flour (the original recipe called for chickpea, but I used all-purpose), cumin, garam masala, and salt. Then, I fried them in oil. They’re basically middle-eastern beet latkes. I got the recipe out of a “Farmers Market” cooking magazine that I bought this summer.
They’re supposed to be served with mint yogurt, but we used sour cream. They were delicious.
The other elements of the meal: broccoli & snap peas with hummus, and chicken salad for the grownups (made with a Wrong Direction Farm chicken that I roasted this morning) and tuna fish for Little Chef, who was opposed to the red onion in the chicken salad.
(This is going to be a personal post. If you’re just here for the food, feel free to skim on by.)
I came to this season with the best of intentions, though didn’t I say that last year, too? I looked forward to this summer; a baby that would graduate to purees by the end of August, a bigger, more comfortable kitchen, no caretaking responsibilities outside of my immediate household, and most importantly, no morning sickness. I was ready and raring to go.
I forgot how hard it is to have a baby, and I discovered how differently hard it is to have two. To be in this season of being unable to finish a thought, to be ready to switch gears on demand at all times. To be so needed so much of the time. To be so tired.
So, so tired.
When people ask how I’m doing, my answer is pretty much always somewhere in the “okay” spectrum, and ultimately that is true. I am okay and will be okay. But oh, brother, has this been hard. And there have been many times in the past few months that I’ve felt very not-ok.
So, the posts have quieted. The cooking goes in waves; some days, I feel creative and motivated. Perhaps it’s a day I have a sitter. Perhaps it’s a day the baby mostly slept through the night. Some weeks, most of the share gets blanched and frozen. Some days, I look at my plate and say, “Well, this is good, but no one needs to see a 12th picture of my green beans and corn.”
The corn has been so abundant this summer. For that, I’m grateful.
If you’re following my instagram (@omgcsa), you’ll know I’m still alive and cooking. Blogging takes some time and brain space that I haven’t always been able to muster this summer. School has begun, though, and while that means that I’m working during some afternoons, it also means that my eldest is away at Kindergarten all day, so I’ll do my best to post some of the better meals I’ve conjured up this summer.
Fall is upon us. I hope to really start decorating today; it’s my favorite season. Halloween is my favorite holiday. While I love the eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and corn during high summer, I am happy to slide down into squash, potatoes, and greens.
I’m already thinking about next year. I planted some tomatoes and peppers this year, but they did not do well. It’s our first year in this house, and I misjudged the amount of sun that my back yard gets. The planters will be in a different location next year. Soon, I’ll start plotting out what will go where. I didn’t dry many herbs this year; I had a lovely closet that I used off of my kitchen in the old house. I still haven’t quite figured out where I’ll hang the herbs here. My window boxes never quite made it to sills. I’m not in the flow of the shape and size of my new refrigerator and freezer. (It’s a side-by-side, which is also different for me. Plus, we’re down 1 fridge, since we had a garage fridge in the old house.) I’m still figuring out the best use of pantry space and of cupboards. Our composter is ordered but has not yet arrived. I still have missing cookbooks that are likely in the boxes that I still have to unpack.
It’s hard to be patient with myself. It’s hard to wait for all of the dust to settle on the landslide that life has been in the past year.
If you’ve stuck with me through all of this, I’m grateful for your readership. If you’re new to the blog, I promise it’s not all confessional all the time. I’m here for the food just as much as you are.
I started off with just a concept in my head – lentil curry – and I ran with it. I cooked the lentils in stock until they were tender, and boiled this week’s cauliflower until it just started to soften up. I then transferred all of that to a chef’s pan with a bunch of spices – curry powder, onion powder, garlic powder, ginger, paprika, cinnamon – and let it simmer for a few minutes. I added the leftover corn from last night, cut from the cobs, and half a can of coconut milk. I tested for taste and added salt and some more garlic, onion, and paprika. This I served with basmati rice and a quick raita.
My understanding of raita is that you’re supposed to strain the yogurt first, to make it thick, but I’d forgotten to do that ahead of time. So, I just used plain yogurt (which I got through Wrong Direction Farm, who partners with my main CSA) and salted cucumber chunks, and it tasted perfectly fine. (Mediterranean Harvest is my original source for how to make raita, by the way.)
We had naan for a side, but that was pre-made. I also took the 4 adorable purple bell peppers that I got from Snapping Turtle Farm and stuffed them with hummus and chopped cucumbers. My 5 year-old especially appreciated that part of the meal.
I love meals like this, where everything is flavorful and filling, but doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve eaten a brick. Cheers to a well-spiced vegetarian meal.