Two women seeking equality in a state where some couples are more equal than others.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

MI Love: What's Always in My Fridge?

So I recently posted about kitchen staples, with a focus on affordable and space-saving dry and canned goods. I did promise that at some point I'd address things for the refrigerator. So what do I think I should always have in the fridge?

1. Plain Greek yogurt

I like Fage - get whatever percentage milkfat you prefer. My favorite is 2%. Greek yogurt can be substituted for sour cream or ricotta in baking, or even thinned with milk and used in place of buttermilk. It's also delicious to eat plain or with chopped fruit, of course. I also use it in moussaka topping (with egg and cheese) instead of using cream.

2. Eggs

I eat a lot of eggs - I'm basically trying to eat them every day. We usually poach or fry them, but scrambling, omelettes, or even quiches are great options too. They're cheap and nutritious.

3. Cheese

I admit to eating cheese. I like Babybel because it's easy and portable and not too expensive. But I usually have other types of cheese - smoked gouda, fresh mozzarella, feta (Bulgarian-style is my favorite - it's creamier and more flavorful), sharp cheddar, goat cheese . . . the important thing is to have a plan for how you will finish it if you buy a lot. Oh, and I always have some kind of Parmesan for fresh grating. This is another great secret ingredient.

4. Jam

Lately, I'm in love with fig jam, but I also love marmalade, strawberry jam, and others. These can be added to salad dressings, thinned into glazes, or eaten spread on other things. Try a little fig jam and spicy mustard on an egg and bacon sandwich. You might be surprised how delicious it is.

5. Coconut or Almond Milk

Rebecca is lactose (or casein or milkfat) intolerant, so we keep other non-dairy milks on hand pretty much all the time. These can usually be substituted in baking recipes, although I wouldn't try them in chowder or cream sauces.

6. Yeast

I should post my focaccia recipe if I haven't. I make it regularly and people are always impressed, but it's not that hard. You of course can keep yeast in envelopes, but I buy the jar and keep it in the fridge because it ends up cheaper in the long run.

7. Barbecue Sauce

We've been really into the Brownwood varieties of this lately - cherry and Yankee bourbon especially. Barbecue sauce is an easy way to add flavor. My mother-in-law actually adds it to chili instead of making her own seasoning blend. You can also throw it into taco meat, beef stew, or even toss a little in with greens you're simmering or sauteing.

8. Strawberries (or Grapes)

During the summer, I try to make sure this is true. If you've followed the other staple suggestions about cheese, olives, and pickled jalape~os, strawberries are one of the last items you'd need to throw together an impromptu cheese plate for a gathering. Crackers or crostini are also a good idea, but you could even use tortillas chips or rice cakes. Grapes would work for this instead of strawberries. I actually just had a gorgonzola and grape pizza at Crispelli's that was amazing.

9. Salty meat

My vegan friends will disagree with this, but my paleo friends will support it. When I started taking one of my medications, I found that I actually needed to increase my sodium. I also have trouble getting enough calories some days because my stomach is easily upset. Bacon (I like Kowalski) or salami (I like Hoffman's Hard) help with both of these problems. Prosciutto would also be good if you don't mind how expensive it is - I could put prosciutto in almost anything . . . but I don't. If you buy it, get it from a reputable deli and have it sliced so thinly that light passes through it. It's so flavorful, you don't need much, especially if you're combining it with freshly grated Parmesan or fresh herbs. I recommend the deli at Produce Palace International in Warren (mostly because I used to work there). If you decide to get this from Holiday Market in Royal Oak, please ask for John Suarez and tell him that you would like it thin but not shaved, you want to see the first slice, and you would like papers between (just kidding, don't really do that. It's a deli employee joke.).

Again, this is not exhaustive, but it gives you some idea how to play the remnant game successfully or to be ready for impromptu entertaining.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MI Love: Kitchen Staples

So I just posted about using up remnants and avoiding trips to the grocery store. Many of you have expressed . . . surprise . . . interest . . . in how many seemingly fancy meals I manage to throw together. I have to give some credit to my mother's "Domestic Training Week" growing up. We had to meal plan, grocery shop, and execute the cooking for a week every summer, along with select other household tasks. It was a good way to make us appreciate her and prepare us for life on our own.

From that, I learned the value of following recipes and meal planning. I still do both of those sometimes, but I also keep some things on hand in case I want to alter or ditch my meal plan for a given day. Here is a list of items I usually keep on hand, divided into basics (items you won't be surprised at) and "secret ingredients." I'll share some surprise uses for secret ingredients or why I like them.

Basics


Flour
I like unbleached white and wheat flours. Obviously, flour is great for baking, but it can also be used for thickening sauces and the like.

Oatmeal
I like old-fashioned style, but quick cook are good too. Oatmeal can be added to a lot of different baked goods to change the flavor and texture as well as increase nutritional content.

Pasta
I pretty much always have some kind of whole wheat pasta on hand. It cooks up quickly and can be combined with so many different things, but it keeps for a long time. I've been known to pull the macaroni out of macaroni and cheese boxes if I ran out.

 Potatoes
These can also be used to thicken soups and are a great option if you have someone coming over who is gluten intolerant. They're also dirt cheap usually. I like red potatoes or sweet potatoes usually.

Tomato paste/sauce or pasta sauce
You can add this to a lot of different things to add umami to just about any savory dish. Throw a spoonful into a gravy or a stock for extra richness.

Dry beans
Dry beans take up little room, are super cheap, and can be flavored in many ways. The downside is how long some of them take to cook. However, they are nutritious as a source of minerals and protein and can be great if you plan ahead a little.

Rice
Yet another staple that's cheap and can be used for gluten intolerant guests.

Celery, carrots, onions, and garlic
 These aren't really pantry items, but as veggies go, they keep a while and are pretty versatile. They're great as aromatics, for stock, in stir fries and soups, and much more. They're also almost always fairly inexpensive.

I'm sure I'm missing some things, but that will get you started for sure.

Secret Ingredients


Ground flaxseed
I'll add this to baked goods to increase lightness, add flavor, and vary nutrition. It's also great in smoothies.

Good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
I like the Ghirardelli kind, although my favorite is Kallari, a single source from Ecuador. It's difficult to find and quite expensive. You can try a few and see what you like. Most people think of this for baking or maybe a beverage, but you can use it to add richness to smoothies, chili, pulled pork, taco meat, and much more. Just keep in mind that chocolate doesn't really like being worked at high temperatures, so add this close to the end after things have been removed from the heat.

Sun-dried tomatoes
I used the Trader Joe's ones because they're cheap and available. Three ounces of sun-dried tomatoes are equivalent to four pounds of fresh ones, so this is an easy way to add flavor to stocks, pastas, stir fries, soups, and much more. I'll even add them to a tomato base - as the dried tomatoes simmer in the liquid from the fresh ones, they absorb juice, help with the reduction, and intensify the flavor. These take up little room and don't have to be kept in as fussy of a condition as fresh tomatoes.

Adobo sauce chipotle peppers
These come in a little can, often in the Mexican aisle of the grocery store. A little goes a long way. Most recently, I added some to a stock that I then simmered leafy greens in before sauteing in lemon butter. Part of that can also went in with pulled pork, and a bit of the sauce went into taco meat.

White balsamic vinegar
This is also pretty cheap at Trader Joe's. It's an option as a substitute for lemon or lime juice because it has a light fruitiness to it, but it keeps longer than citrus juice and is probably cheaper ounce for ounce if you're using fresh fruit. I love making salad dressings with this, but you could also put it in marinades.

Olives
The saltier the better, in my book. I'll dice these up and toss them into sauces rather than salting the sauce. I find that the olives add a richness and flavor that is hard to duplicate.

Pickled jalape~os
I took a liking to these when I was in Mexico. I throw them on sandwiches, but I've also tossed them into pasta if I was short on other ingredients, or they can top pizza, go in stir fries, and even hit soups and salads. Of course, if you want to be traditional, you can put them on tacos.

Mushrooms
The stems make great stock base and the tops accent moussakas, lasagnas, slow cooker recipes, stir fries, and much more.

Spicy mustard
Stir this into a topping for potatoes that you roast in the oven, add to pulled pork or chicken, or even consider mixing with barbecue sauce to top pizza. I like Brownwood kream mustard or their wing sauce.

Smoked paprika
Okay, so I should probably do a separate post on the most important contents of my spice rack. However, I only recently discovered how much I love smoked paprika, so maybe you were also under the impression that paprika has no flavor and exists only to add color to potato salad and deviled eggs. Smoking brings out the flavor of paprika. Basically, anything that would be good with bacon on it would be better with smoked paprika - in fact, I've used a dusting of this on a crostini appetizer in place of bacon or prosciutto for vegetarian friends. This is also good on anything you're too lazy to grill over hardwood charcoal.

I think that's enough for now - after all, you don't have to come see me for dinner if I give away all of my secrets. But I should probably do another post about choosing herbs for a balcony and what spices are worthwhile to have on hand. I should probably also talk about what perishables I usually use and why. Stay posted.


MI Love: The Remnant Game

I've been trying to reduce food waste and expenditures lately. I wouldn't say that I'm where I want to be, but I'm trying to work with what I have and what's in season rather than randomly conjuring up a dish out of a cookbook. I've had to do this more because of our community supported agriculture share at Faith Farm CSA in Detroit. So far, I've found a few rules that help this go better:

Have a theory or recipe base for the dish.


Have some expectation of how you want the thing to come out and how you're going to serve it. I made a fruit salsa with mint in it a few weeks ago. It was killer, but the flavors were so bold and unusual, and I hadn't planned what to use it for, so I ended up pitching more than half of it.

Stick to one seasoning palette.


Even if you're not using the same meat or vegetable as a recipe, decide whether this dish is going to have a central Mexican, southern Italian, northern African, Indian, etc feel. Use spices consistent with this. It's all the better if you can think about the flavors you're already incorporating and help to round them out. Some of my biggest failures were when I didn't stick to one palette. There was an everything pizza that got pitched because it had too many flavors even for me.

Keep staples in your pantry/fridge.


Having a certain number of staples at all times can really affect how well you're able to use other ingredients such as fruits and vegetables that are close to spoiling. Of course, everyone's ideas of staples are different, but find yours and make sure you don't run out. I'll post a list of some of mine (that might surprise you) in a subsequent entry.

Make stock.


So much this. Making your own stock is delicious, cheap, and healthy. Not to mention the fact that you can customize it for the dish you're planning (assuming you follow the above tips, that shouldn't be a problem). This is a great way to squeeze the last bit of life out of slightly dried out herbs, veggie ends, animal bones, etc.

Hope that helps! Let me know what your secrets are for reducing food waste.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reflections on the ALS Challenge: Why I'm not Dumping Ice on my Head (but you should if you feel called)

When I first heard about the ALS challenge, I had misgivings. In some ways, I'm still concerned about some of the underpinnings, but ultimately, ALS is a terrible disease and this might be the thing that finds the cutting edge cure. And that would mean a huge number of families that wouldn't have to suffer anymore. I am all for families not suffering. So keep on dumping buckets of ice, as long as you are also donating and remembering that while this might be fun/funny to you, people suffering from ALS are not having fun. I will not be dumping a bucket of ice or donating to ALS, because there are other organizations to which I'd rather donate.

The real reason I have a hard time with this is because my family is suffering from mental illness. My brother died of depression (some people call it committing suicide) two and a half years ago (see this post for more about that: http://committinginthemitten.blogspot.com/2012/01/his-absence-my-absence.html). At the time, I wanted it to be in the national news. I wanted there to be a facebook campaign. I wanted to see changes in policy that would have gotten him the help he needed. I longed for a day when psychiatric medications wouldn't have so many side effects, when they would work faster, when insurance would have covered everything he needed regardless of network, when there was a drug that wouldn't cause suicidal ideation in young adults.

Robin Williams just died of depression, too, and social media blew up. However, I didn't see any campaigns to reform insurance policies about mental health. I haven't really seen changes in the last few years in communication between mental health professionals and primary care providers. Dietetics isn't covered automatically for mental health reasons, even though it could help. I can't find any clinical studies about mental health that aren't completely based on either psychotherapy/CBT/other talk therapies (which are good, but insufficient) or pharmaceuticals that can cause CRAZY side effects. When I was on Seven Corners, the insurance given to AmeriCorps volunteers and Fulbright students, mental health was only covered for three visits, and within an hour drive of my house, only one provider was covered. Mental wards are basically prisons, not places of healing.

But deep down, many people either believe that mental illness is incurable/untreatable, or that it's not even a medical issue. Some believe that it may be the patient's own fault, and therefore they deserve to suffer. This differs from ALS, where patients are correctly perceived as unfortunate victims of a terrible disease. Depression is a terrible disease. It has physiological roots. Patients shouldn't have to suffer. They shouldn't have to be ashamed. They shouldn't worry that if they (or a loved one) dump a bucket of ice over their head (or some other viral media campaign) and announce that they have a mental illness, people will assume they are unstable, dangerous, unreliable, etc. They shouldn't worry that when they share their diagnosis with a primary care provider, they will be passed off because they are too difficult to "manage." They shouldn't be "managed" at all - they should be treated, cared for, healed.

So raise 8.3 million for charity in one day. But maybe consider spreading it around. Maybe consider voting for better healthcare for everyone. Maybe be willing to pay more in insurance premiums so that someone's loved one - maybe yours, maybe even you - can see a therapist when they need it. Maybe insist that the NIH fund the research that pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to do.

Maybe just dream of a day with me when there are more options and no stigma for those with mental illnesses. Maybe just that.

MI Love: Generosity

Some years, Detroit is listed as the most charitable city in the country as measured by proportion of income given to charity. This is one measure of generosity, but of course there are other ways to be generous. This is a list of a few that I've been thinking about lately.

1. Be generous with smiles.


Someone once told me that the smile I give someone might be the only one they get that day. I'm not talking about smiling because a man on the street told a woman to (that's ridiculous), but smiling at people you know or even respectful strangers is a lovely, easy way to be generous.

2. Be generous with praise. 


When someone does a genuinely good job, praise her. I'm not talking about flattery (which will get you everywhere, but is fake). I'm not talking about praising people for doing everyday things they should be doing. But when someone tries hard or performs excellently, don't hold back.

3. Be generous with gratitude.


I'm a pain in the butt sometimes. I guess we all are, but I can be difficult and needy. I need the pharmacy to stay open an extra minute so I can grab my meds on my way out of the last appointment of the day. I need people to wait a minute while I take an important call. I need more tables and chairs in my classroom, and the custodian has to help me get them. When someone does something nice, I am working on being generously grateful and showing it. Of course, this increases the likelihood that people will help me next time, but it's also the right thing to do.

4. Be generous with flexibility.


If there's one thing I have learned from teaching test prep and showing up to various locations, using other people's classrooms, and having an ever-changing schedule, it's that flexibility is a virtue. I try to make things work no matter what. For two weeks of a GRE class, this meant using a tablecloth to project onto because we didn't have a proper screen. I joked a little about this with my students, and they accepted it. This doesn't mean that I always do what someone else asks (I was once asked to move a class of twelve students with a half hour to go), but I consider accommodating whenever possible.


Friday, August 8, 2014

MI Love: Motor City Brewing

Apparently I'm on a roll with these MI love posts. I'm also getting used to the idea of eating alone at restaurants because of all this 30 hour shift business Rebecca is working at Henry Ford Main's trauma surgery unit.

Tonight I went shopping with a fabulous friend, Molon, who has great taste in shoes and also seems to be a lucky charm for the store stocking my size. Then I picked up our CSA share (I really need to do one of these posts about Faith Farm CSA). And then going home to an empty (except for two very loving cats) house seemed like too much, so I took myself to dinner at Motor City Brewing in Midtown Detroit. I was happy to see that there were open seats by the counter next to the kitchen area. I love watching the staff shape the pizza dough, deftly top it, and pop it in the oven. They have a legit brick oven and their dough makes a perfect thin crust.

I spent a while looking at the menu and then ordered what I always do - the roasted pear and fig. It has caramelized onions, gorgonzola, and . . .  roasted pear and figs. I didn't know how much I like figs until I had the fig hazelnut compote at Traffic Jam and Snug (and I should do a post about them too). My Chaldean students explained how to make fig jam last year, but once I found it at Horrock's, I haven't tried it.

I have tried other things from the menu, and all of them have been amazing, but I keep coming back to the tempered sweetness and the creamy, slight bitterness of the gorgonzola on that thin crust.

Oh, the brewery part. I'm not really into beer, but Rebecca loves some of their brews.

The only warning I can provide is that parking near Motor City's front door is limited. There's more off an alley around back, but it's a little tricky to find.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

MI Love: Rose's Fine Food

This is a little belated, since I went to Rose's on Sunday with Rebecca on our first official date in a long time. What a wonderful day it was! We had beautiful weather, and we got to go to church together without needing to leave early for me to get to Ann Arbor for work later in the afternoon. Afterward, we drove down to Rose's Fine Foods, which is on Jefferson near Belle Isle in Detroit. Rebecca had seen an article about it - they funded their startup on Kickstarter and focus on local foods.

This place is incredibly charming - every review mentions the reclaimed wood tables, which are lovely, but we sat at the counter on another recommendation so that we could watch people prepare the food. The menu is limited, but everything was fresh and creative and local. Platters of the baked goods sit out on the counter, just asking to be ordered (we indulged in a cinnamon roll and a yeast doughnut that turned out to be glazed with orange marmalade - sooo good).

I ordered the ESD - Egg Sandwich of the Day, which on Sunday came with spicy aioli and thinly sliced pickles on the most perfect biscuit I have ever eaten. It was golden, buttery, and tender, but still stayed together enough to work as a sandwich.

Rebecca had the lamb meatball sandwich. She only let me have one bite, but oh my goodness, it was scrumptious. It had a rich tomato sauce and the right amount of cheese.

Did I mention that it's a no-tipping restaurant and that the employees are paid a living wage? I didn't think this would affect the service in a town as friendly as Detroit (I mean, really, if you haven't been to Detroit and greeted random strangers, you really need to). I'd read that the service is better, but it seemed hard to believe. And yet, I was wrong. I started laughing after the fourth person asked me if I wanted more coffee in a five minute span after I was almost done with my meal and had decided I didn't need more coffee.

Basically, every day since then, I've tried to find an excuse to go back - but I've been reasonably busy with work and they're only open 9am-3pm (the biggest disappointment).

There was so much laughing, and smiling, and light, and love.  It was a beautiful day with beautiful food and a beautiful woman. Our life and marriage have been hard lately as we adjust to Rebecca's new job and the fact that I'm taking more responsibilities with the Princeton Review, and it was an easy, calm, wonderful reminder of how much we love each other, how much we love Detroit, and how amazing some moments are in Michigan, even when things are challenging.

And that's committing in the Mitten.