Monday, May 30, 2011

a new project...

Last week I got a call from my boss about a grant to combat childhood obesity that she is applying for. 

Our company is dependent on families with disposable income signing up their children for extracurricular activities. But deep down, my boss understands the power of food. In her words: "We can teach *insert name of wealthy Austin neighborhood* kids to make crepes all day long, but we have the chance here to make a difference."

Oh happy day.

If the grant comes through, one of my weekly classes in the fall will be a free afterschool enrichment program for a lower income school. Added bonus, the school will more than likely be in my 'hood. East Austin livin' ain't just for hipsters, you know.

As my spring classes wind down, I'm spending a lot of time working from home researching recipes. I wanted to write about this process so I can think it through a bit more and also because I find it pretty interesting. This week I will be doing a test run of the below mentioned recipes recording the difficulty, cost, and taste. I will try my best to post some pictures along the way.


For the grant, I've been asked to develop four recipes (2 savory, 2 sweet) that are simple, healthy, and inexpensive. The recipes should also be substantial enough to feed a whole family. Since my company's purpose is to provide children with hands-on cooking experiences, the recipes obviously have to be something kids can be involved with making and will eat. I also have to consider the demographic of the neighborhoods and what parents would actually try.

Possible recipes- Savory:

Lentil tacos
Posole with beans and corn tortillas
Corn pancakes with fresh salsa
Lentil Sloppy Joes
Sweet potato and black bean chili

Possible recipes- Sweet:

Sweet potato mash
Summer fruit salad
Pumpkin empanadas
Oatmeal carrot cookies


This is something I've daydreamed about since starting work with this company. Outreach is where my heart is, and I'm more than a little excited about this prospect. But as I look and plan and try to advise other people on what to eat, I realize I must tread lightly.

Food is such a personal choice. I don't appreciate people picking on the husband for being vegetarian (light-hearted picking, mind you, but still I know it gets old). In the same way, I make it a point to not scoff at people with different food preferences or get on a soap box about what I will and won't eat. I have my own reasons for the food choices I make, but in my experience no one appreciates unsolicited opinions that are that big. So, when faced with the challenge of advising people what to eat who come from a completely different socio-economic and cultural background than myself, I have to consider the different meanings food can have.

For me, crafting a well rounded vegetarian meal is a way to unwind. Going to the grocery store and seeking out fresh vegetables, chopping and dicing, taking time to simmer and smell and taste as I go along...the entire process is relaxing if not meditative. Eating, too, is a special moment in the day. Something we attempt to sit and savor, regardless of if we are having dinner at home or eating beet fries with an ice cold Lonestar at a bar. These things mean so much to me that I find ways to devote even more time by reading books about food, writing about food, and having a job involving food.

This isn't the case for everyone, nor should it be. Food is a necessity, something we must have to sustain ourselves. Is it really feasible or fair for me to suggest to a tired, overworked parent that an hour spent chopping and roasting eggplant (which their family may or may not eat) is more valuable than time to sit and relax? Honestly, I'm not sure. It is a luxury to be able to give this much attention and time to food, and while it makes for healthier families and better budgets, the fact is that is not the society we all live in. 

 This is why I cringe at the word "foodie." This is why I don't truly believe you can have a real appreciation of fine food if you never step foot in your kitchen. As fun as it is to indulge in extravagant, expensive, beautifully prepared meals, when it comes down to it food is sustenance and a necessity. We all have to eat.

Michael Pollan said it best, "To have healthier food, we must invest more money or more time." I have that quote in my kitchen and I look at it everyday to remind myself that time spent cooking is indeed worth it, even when I'm feeling tired or lazy. I'm attempting to approach my recipe planning with that in mind. If you're interested in food at all, I highly recommend this article, that dicusses the class differences inherent in our food system much better than I ever could.

Wish me luck! If you have any feedback or suggestions I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"i'm here darling to enjoy the party"

I originally published this post last week, but Blogger decided to delete it. first post in months and the internet makes it disappear? Should I take this as a sign?

the song: "Hello" Martin Sloveig and Dragonette

Well hello there, beautiful.

It has been a long time. I just wanted to check in and let you know that a) I'm still alive and b) I'm still cooking. Like...a lot. In addition to cooking with my kiddos every day and cooking at home often as often as I can, my life now also includes developing recipes for my job. 

On Monday, I taught an amazing class at a lovely school. My seven children were enthusiastic and well behaved. We started the day by making pizzas and ended with (my favorite!) carrot oatmeal cookies. The best part was knowing that they really got it. One of my little guys was adament about not trying an oat cookie with carrots until they came out of the oven smelling delicious. He then ate two and told me it was the best cookie he'd ever had. When his mom came to pick him up, he told her "You know, I didn't think I liked it. But then I tried it. And guess what? I did like it!" Four years old.

Call me sentimental. Call me a sucker for cute kids. Call me whatever you want. Moments like that make me feel really really good.

After class, my afternoon job was to test out a tortilla soup recipe. I haven't felt inspired to take pictures while I'm cooking in weeks. But the combination of these beautiful multi colored tomatoes and my first garden peppers was too beautiful to pass up. Summer food isn't my favorite, but it is awfully pretty. Fitting, too, because my very first recipe to write about was tortilla soup. (Full disclosure...the one I did Monday was better.)

When I quit my old job almost a year ago, I didn't really know what to expect. I wanted to work with food. I wanted to do something that made a difference. Something that would inspire and motivate me without exhausting me. I didn't realize I would find this. We're still a small and struggling company, so we'll see how long it lasts. But I plan on giving it everything I've got for as long as I can.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop my head in. I'm really trying to make time to write again. So with any luck, I'll be seeing you again soon...


Thursday, March 10, 2011

"i'm working, i sweat but it's all good"

the song: "I'm Good I'm Gone" Lykke Li
the food: Migas

It's nice to feel inspired.

I'm happy to say that I'm feeling quite inspired this week. I've recently discovered the library (sounds silly, but it has been a revelation!) and am reading more than I have since college. The weather is absolutely perfect- cool, fire pit worthy evenings and bright afternoons perfect for outdoor beer sippin'. My job is going great and spring break is so close I can taste it. Of course, spring break means SXSW. And south by means I have days and days of sunshine, good friends, and hot tunes to look forward to.

Life is good.

As if all that wasn't enough, this weekend I made migas. I've made migas before in various forms, but these were different. I set out to make restaurant worthy migas, and I came pretty darn close. There are a few things to which I owe credit.

First, the homemade tortilla strips.

Gah, I hate frying. Not because it is unhealthy, but because I'm so bad at it. So naturally, I set off the fire alarm while frying these tortilla strips. I also splashed oil up on myself and yelped and cursed more than once during the process. But you know what? It was totally worth it. Because at the end of all of that, I had this to show for it.

Truth be told, I had about double that amount to show for it. But then I sprinkled them with a little salt and ate them. It's amazing I left any tortilla strips for the migas, really. Way to show self restraint, Emily.

Speaking of self restraint, my second tip for good migas is to not skimp on cheese.

I mean really...why would you? It is the easiest way to ensure delicious migas (or anything for that matter). Don't be shy about it. Cheese is your friend. I used plain ol' cheddar, shredded it myself, and piled it on in layers as I was cooking the eggs. If you were having migas in a restaurant, I assure you they would be have more salt and fat. So don't feel bad. If you need to, call me and I'll talk you through it. I can justify cheese all day.

For my final suggestion, I have an actual cooking tip. You see, I had an advantage before I even dreamed up these migas because my parents taught me long ago the proper way to cook eggs. It's simple. Cook 'em sloooow. Treat them gently. Scrambled eggs are an easy thing to rush through. I've been guilty more than once of letting my hunger get the best of me, cranking up the heat and hurrying along the egg scrambling. But not this time. So friends, when you make this recipe, please don't spend all that time sauteing peppers and shredding cheese just to rush through cooking the eggs. Your migas deserve better.

adapted from Homesick Texan

5 eggs
splash of milk (about 1 tablespoon)
vegetable oil for frying tortillas
3 corn tortillas, cut into strips
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced peppers (I used red and green bell and homemade/grown pickled jalapenos)
1/2 - 1 cup shredded cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Add enough vegetable oil to a large skillet to coat the bottom. Place skillet on medium-high heat and add tortilla strips to skillet. Cook for about three minutes, turning once. Remove the tortilla strips and place on a plate covered with a paper towel. Keep remaining oil in skillet.

Add onions and peppers to the skillet and cook until peppers are just soft and onions are slightly browned. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs and milk in a separate bowl. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Turn the heat on the skillet down to low. Add egg mixture, making sure peppers are evenly distributed. Do not stir! Allow to cook for at least a minute or two. When the sides of the pan are beginning to look a little firm, gently lift up the cooked sides of the egg, allowing the uncooked portion to reach the pan. Repeat until eggs are mostly cooked along the sides but not quite cooked on top. Add a layer of tortilla chips and cheese and gently fold eggs in on themselves. Repeat until the eggs are just cooked. The whole process should take about 7-10 minutes. 

Top the migas with more cheese and tortilla strips. Serve immediately with flour tortillas, salsa, and refried beans. In our house, this serves 2.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"tame our ways if we start to devise something more"

the song: "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" Sufjan Stevens *

Seems like Wednesday is as good a day as any to get personal. 

I've told you before about the two sides of Emily. First, there is the "I-care-about-food" "I-plan-ahead" "every-meal-must-include-more-than-one-vegetable" Emily. She writes this blog 95% of the time. She also writes the weekly meal plan on a dry erase board on the refrigerator. 

The other side of me wins free rounds for my girlfriends by correctly identifying mystery beer presented by an overconfident bartender, debates a life well lived in the rain at 2 am, karaokes in random bars in Longview, and dances as often and as late into the night as possible. In her wildest moments, she throws caution to the wind and eats a bowl of cereal for dinner.

I'm going to take a minute and let you think about which Emily you like better. Whose blog would you rather read? Honestly, the verdict is still out for me.

Lately, I've been (too?) easily convinced to abandon our meal plan for the above mentioned bowl of cereal or extended happy hour snacks with friends. Deep down, I know that's ok. Life is a series of ebbs and flows and just because right now I'm not cooking as much doesn't mean it will never come back. Right now, I enjoy our full and busy life. But I can't help but feel guilty when I have to send the husband to work without leftovers from last night's dinner.

As traditional as it sounds, it is my job to manage our house** and what to eat requires the majority of the planning. So this month, I'm trying a new approach. Rather than a meal plan, I stocked the house with easily prepared, healthy staples during this week's grocery trip. It's not the easiest switch. Last night I found myself scrambling and worrying that our meal would not be substantial enough. But I need to get into this habit, because things aren't going to change anytime soon. SXSW is only 2 weeks away.***

Part of having a healthy relationship with food is being able to roll with the punches. When we get too attached to a certain way of thinking...whether that's rigid meal planning, or a huge list of 'I won't eat this' or 'I only like that' takes the fun out of eating. I doubt my food challenges are over for the month (um- we're only one dinner in), but I do hope it will allow me to fit more home cooked meals into our life. As always, you can keep track of our progress here. And just maybe over one of those dinners, the two Emily's can come to an agreement.


* Sufjan, this album still makes me swoon like the first day I heard it.
** Because I only work part-time and because I love food. Not because I'm the girl.
*** The music part of my South By starts at this party with some of my favorite people ever. Won't you join me?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"baby, you've got to be more discerning"

the song: "This Modern Love" Bloc Party

I woke up this morning with a plan to clean house, but was quickly distracted by this Serious Eats post about Modernist Cuisine. Now, you know me...I'm wordy, not visual. But these photos stopped me in my tracks. I thought you might enjoy them too.

 I'm a simple girl. My taste in art is questionable at best. But I'll ogle pictures of food all day long. Cooking is truly a beautiful thing. These photos resonate with me because these images actually exist in the kitchen. While cooking, if you take time to notice, you can loose yourself in all kinds of gorgeous moments. 

The best part is that these shots aren't made in Photoshop. Apparently the studio is fairly low-tech and the photographer is just out of art school. The wok picture above was achieved by (wait for it...) cutting a wok in half and then tossing noodles in it. Is that not amazing?

The beautiful 6 volume cookbook is due out next month. I rarely use cookbooks, but would happily have this on my coffee table for the art alone. If you have an extra $500 lying around, you can pre-order your very own copy here. You can also do what I'm doing and dedicate a few minutes of your morning to art appreciation. It might just inspire me to make lunch, too.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"i dance in dirty pants, a drink in my hand"

the food: whole wheat pasta with cauliflower & chickpeas
the song: "Dirty Pants" Smog

In my cooking class this afternoon, we made a whole wheat orange raisin muffins. While perusing the recipe, I commented to my coteacher that the muffins would be earthy. My elementary kids (kindergarten through fourth grade) picked up on our talk and asked me what it means when something tastes "earthy."

"You know," I said to my group of thirteen aproned foodies-in-the-making "It's when the food has a nice texture in your mouth, but is also really simple and natural. It kind of tastes like dirt." The reception to my answer was less than enthusiastic.*

My coteacher came to the rescue, as he often does. "Granola bars are earthy," he offered, "And you all like granola bars, right?" Good save. I'm happy to report that the majority of my kiddos ate the muffins that were indeed very dense and "earthy." 

It was an honest mistake. As a gardener, I genuinely appreciate when I can taste the dirt in my vegetables. Perhaps my afternoon conversation inspired my meal this evening. The husband is out stretching creative muscles, so I decided to treat myself to a special solitary meal. A meal to show myself a little love. A reminder that a night at home in pajamas with a cat in your lap and a can be pretty freaking awesome. The pint of Scottish Ale was a nice touch as well. 

This particular dinner featured homegrown cauliflower and parsley with grainy chickpeas, tart feta, and a hearty dose of garlic. It is the definition of "earthy." It's dense and simple all at once. I find it extremely satisfying; I kept going back for one more taste of the cauliflower/feta/chickpea combination. If you can manage a big crunchy grain of sea salt in the same bite, more power to you. This dish would actually be delicious without the pasta, as well (I was planning ahead for lunch leftovers for tomorrow, otherwise I would have left it out.)

Whatever ingredients you add, use the freshest/highest quality you can get your hands on. This goes for the olive oil and salt, too. And please don't overcook your vegetables. Roast the cauliflower until the florets are just tender. Saute your herbs and garlic just until fragrant. Most importantly, take a minute to really taste it while you eat. Earthy, right?

Whole Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower, Chickpeas, & Feta

1 large head cauliflower, separated into florets
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1-2 large garlic cloves, diced
cracked red pepper, to taste
small handful parsley (or other herb), chopped
salt (preferably large sea salt)
about 3/4 cup whole wheat pasta (I used penne)
olive oil
1/4 cup feta cheese

First, roast your cauliflower. Toss the florets with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, then spread evenly onto a roasting pan or baking sheet. Roast at 425 degrees for 15-25 minutes depending on size of florets, until just tender and slightly browning.

In the meantime, cook your pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add your chickpeas, parsley, garlic and cracked red pepper (I like quite a bit). Stir until herbs and garlic are just fragrant, about 30 seconds, then turn heat to low. Add cauliflower and oil from roasting pan and stir gently to combine. Stir in pasta and remove from heat. Add feta cheese and salt to taste. Serve immediately or at room temperature.


*Note to self: In future classes, don't suggest to children that what they are about to make tastes like dirt. Also, eight year olds have no appreciation for mouthfeel.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"i can feel it in the air"

the song: "When (and if) the Big One Hits...I'll Just Meet You There" the pAper chAse*

Valentine's Day, Schm-alentine's Day. Am I right? I mean, everyone knows this "holiday" was just created to sell cards and make people spend needless money on empty calories and fluffy things.

Ok, is my cynical cred intact? Good. Now come closer and let me tell you a little secret.

I actually kinda like Valentine's Day. 

Please don't tell my cool friends.

Today marks the 10th (count 'em, tenth) Valentine's Day the husband and I have spent together. Our very first date happened right before Valentine's Day in 2001, when we were babies. He brought me Hershey's kisses in a Chinese takeout box. We've moved and graduated and bought a house and gotten jobs and quit jobs and become such grown ups in the last ten years. 

But incredibly enough, we're still in love. We're still best friends. We still support each other even though we're completely different than we were when we met. Heck, we're really different from when we got married. But it still works. All my humanness-- however flawed it might be-- somehow matches up with all of his. No, it hasn't all been a piece of cake (food idiom!), but looking back on the last 10 years, I'll say it's all been pretty damn great.

So that's that. Happy Valentine's Day!  


*This sweet little song about the end of the world was the very first song we saw at our very first concert together.