Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Look Book

A fashionista I am not.  I don't have the time, money or geographical advantages necessary to get caught up in fashion these days, but I still love things like New York Magazine's Look Book and the little look books I see on great fashion-oriented blogs.  A new mom in Vermont I may be, but I am still a girl at heart.  Plus, fall always gives me that back-to-school feeling that just makes you itch for a makeover... a new little something to make you feel freshly put together again.  So, here's my own little VT mama Fall '09 look book, just for fun.

We have:
*At centerstage, the 7 for All Mankind Ginger Jean, recommended by the bananas-master herself. Ain't no jean wide enough indeed.  I love how dark and sophisticated these jeans look, great for work or play.
* On the left, the Me&Ro iolite teardrop earrings. So lovely. If I ever won the lottery, I think after taking care of all my responsibilities, I would go ahead and just buy one of everything from Me&Ro.  Their stuff is all so simple and beautiful, and very "Namaste, I'm just back from a yoga retreat and looking very zen chic and effortlessly earthly yet hip... would you like to see me do full lotus?"  Enviably gorgeous.
*Below, Frye Boots.  Campus 14L.  Frye, in my mind = timeless, classic, American style.  I imagine pairing their boots with almost anything makes you look like you've just stepped out of the pages of the Sundance Catalog (in a good way), or like you're just about to run off with some very inappropriate guy (also in a good way).  I have one pair of Fryes and have had them re-heeled twice, as I just wear them and wear them.  When they break in, they are as comfortable as being barefoot.  I'd like to think if I ever have a daughter, these are the kind of heirloom pieces she'd be stealing from my closet in 20 years.
*On the right, the oversized and delicious scarf and sassy little sweater combo from White + Warren, purveyors of simple cashmere loveliness, looks like a little slice of winter heaven to me.  I love the idea of just being swaddled in cashmere, and how the model's face seems to say, "I'm so comfortable, I can dare to be this smug."  Also, my fashion guru friend Vicky always recommends "a little pop of color", and I think this pair does the job beautifully.
*And last but not least, the Patagonia Micro D-Luxe 1/4 Zip top.  Because you can take the girl out of Vermont, but you can't take Vermont out of the girl, and I will always, always be a Patagonia junkie.  You have to stay warm somehow.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Action Plan

There are so many reasons why I need to get back in shape from this pregnancy. 
1) Pants. The lack of ones that fit. 
2) A chronically bad/weak back which needs some strong core muscles to hold it upright and support it.
3) Insomnia.  The little guy finally starts sleeping through the night, and suddenly his mama can't.  I can't seem to turn off my brain at night no matter how exhasted I am.  I toss and turn to fall asleep, and have been waking up two and three times in the night with thoughts, worries, and plans for the future crowding my brain, and one ear open for that middle-of-the-night cry, even when it never comes.  I know I need that healthy exhaustion that comes from a hard workout to make my body overrule my mind and just rest in the twilight hours.
4) Confidence.  My body feels so out of whack, and having already felt like that for about 9 months prior to the arrival of the little man, well, that is a long time to go without feeling particularly cute.  I'd like to bring back the cuteness.  I am sure the husband wouldn't mind that either (me feeling cute that is, because he claims he still thinks I am cute even in my current state of out-of-whackness, and I love him for that).

Anyway, I am ready to get serious about all of this.  But how?  HOW?  All you working mamas out there, please tell me how.  I know from my past adventures in fitness that the real key to getting in shape is a resolute will, a mental commitment, an action plan; but every time I set about creating such a thing right now, I am overwhelmed by the how of it all.  My particulars are that I work 5 days a week; two of them from home, three of them in an office in a small town sans gym.  I commute nearly an hour to and fro on those three days, so that I end up being gone from my boys roughly 7:30am-6pm, and I'm none too eager to run out the door again once I am home.  I found a Bikram Yoga class in town that meets at 6pm on Mondays, a day I am home all day, but that is an hour at which I am usually dealing with dinner, and enjoying catching up with the husband, and dealing with the little dude as he slowly turns into a pumpkin (5-7pm = arsenic hours in our house). I got a Tracy Anderson Post-Partum workout DVD, thinking that the woman who got Madonna and Gwyneth back in shape post-babe would be the key to my success, but a) our one TV is in our open-plan living room, meaning I'd have an audience for my efforts, and I really don't want that, seeing as b) the one time I went ahead and did the whole thing, I found myself swearing out loud for the duration.  It wasn't pretty.  Nor was my first run back... more audible swearing ensued.

I know I need to start slowly and work my way back, but that really isn't my style.  I tend to go to extremes. I need to just get back out there and do it, but can't quite get my mind around shoe-horning this into my schedule and my day.  And while this is the subject of countless women's magazines and blogs, somehow none of it feels relatable to my experience and my life at the moment.  Soon Baby J will be able to roll in the jogging stroller (his head is currently too wobbly), and that will help (maybe?).  Until then, if anyone has ideas about how to fit this element into a tenuous work-life balance, I am all ears.  In the meantime, elastic is my friend.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Soups

It was a perfect fall weekend in Vermont.  Saturday was sunny and crisp and perfect for walking in the woods.

Sunday it rained.  It was a great day for going out to brunch, and then cooking all afternoon.  I love to make big pots of soup on Sundays.  With a bunch of chopping and simmering, you can have healthy, grab-able lunches and/or easy dinners all week.  This weekend, my mom came up, and hit the Portsmouth Farmers' Market on her way.  She arrived at the market as it was closing, so she just rushed to grab as many veggies as she could as the farmers were starting to pack them away.  She arrived with an amazing bounty of organic beauty:

And we came up with two soup ideas to put them to use:
White Bean & Kale Soup

1/4 lb. guanciale (you could also use pancetta)
1 large yellow onion, peeled chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large bunches of green kale
2 cans of white beans (we used 1 of Cannellini and 1 of Great Northern, both organic)
8 cups of chicken or veggie broth

The special ingredient here is this Niman Ranch guanciale.

The husband is a tad obsessed with specialty Italian pork products, and tracked this down at an amazing butcher shop on our last trip to New York City.   However, any quality pancetta from your market could take its place.  So, we started by chopping the guanciale into small pieces, and then we browned it over medium-low heat in a heavy enameled cast iron pot.

When it was brown, we removed it with a slotted spoon and let it drain on some paper towels, and discarded almost all of the fat, but left the sticky brown bits in the bottom of the pan and added the chopped onions to that to brown and caramelize on medium-low heat.

In the meantime, I prepped the rest of the veggies.  I peeled and chopped the carrots, and removed the stems off of two large bunches of green kale (from our friend Laura Neale's Black Kettle Farms in Alfred, Maine) before chopping that as well.  Removing the stems takes some of the bitterness and crunchiness out of the kale.

Once the onions were caramelized, I added the carrots to saute for a bit, maybe 5 minutes or so.   
You'll notice a pot change happens here.  I love my Le Creuset dutch oven, and nothing caramelizes onions quite the same way, but I only have one (so far) and today was a 2 soup day.  So, once this step was complete, I moved the veggies to a normal soup pot to begin caramelizing the onions for soup #2 in the LC.  Anyway...

With the carrots cooked in a bit, I then added the 2 drained cans of white beans, the drained bits of guanciale, all of the chopped kale.  I threw the top of the pot on for a few minutes to let the kale steam down a bit.

Then I added 8 cups of veggie broth (I'd have homemade if I was really on top of my game, but there is only so much a woman can do), stirred the mix well, turned the heat down to low.  We then let the whole thing simmer for about an hour until some of the broth cooked off and the kale was really soft and the guanciale has more or less disintegrated.

The finished product is incredibly hearty and flavorful, and didn't need any additional spices at all, due to the powerful flavor of the guanciale.  If you used pancetta, you may want to consider adding salt and pepper to taste.   This recipe should serve 8-10, or make many lunches and dinners for a couple for a week.  Enjoy!

The second soup was a smorgasbord of most of the other veggies my mom grabbed on her sweep through the farmers' market and basically just involved a whole lot of chopping: 
End of Summer Veggie Soup

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
6 Italian onions or shallots, peeled and sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 large handfuls green beans, snipped and halved
9 ears of corn, shucked and with kernels removed from cob
8 tomatoes, chopped
1 large bunch of basil, finely chopped
4 cups of veggie or chicken broth
Olive oil

We started by sauteing the 2 kinds of onions together in a glug of olive oil until they were nice and caramelized, maybe 10 minutes.  We then added the carrots and sweet potato, and let that all cook together for another 10 minues.

In went the corn and green beans for a 5 minute saute-fest.

Finally the tomatoes.

And last but not least, the broth and basil.

We let this all simmer together for about 20 minutes, and then we tasted it, with the intention of adding spices.

It didn't even need a single one!  Not even salt or pepper.  This soup just tastes absolutely light, sweet and pure.  It is like summer kissing you goodbye, and just feels so healthy to eat.  If you wanted to, you could add some salt, or maybe a little freshly grated parmesan cheese on top, but it just doesn't need it.  This tastes like the kind of thing you would eat on a yoga retreat, and come home feeling fabulous.  It was also very easy to throw together; the only labor intensive part was the chopping. I highly recommend trying to recreate this before we are all up to our ears in root veggies for awhile. 

Happy Sunday!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Five things I miss about San Francisco

Over the years, I've lived in and visited a lot of places, and it is hard not to get nostalgic about some of my favorites.  So begins a series I am going to call "Five Things I miss about...", to give an outlet to my strolls down memory lane. This Friday evening, watching the Red Sox in Vermont, I am missing San Francisco, where I lived right after college.  What do I miss the most about SF?

1)  Sundays
When I lived in San Francisco, Sundays went something like this:  either get up, throw the surfboard in the back of the truck, and meet friends at Lindamar beach in Pacifica to attempt surfing (I never did get very good at all, but sure had fun trying); wake up, hang out with the roomies for a bit and go for a run in Golden Gate Park from our apartment in the Richmond down to Ocean Beach; or sleep late, wake up a bit rough around the edges from a fun night out and head to Perry's on Union Street for a big, hangover-helping brunch, complete with bloody marys.  A little shopping around might follow, and then in the evening, my friend Minh had a great Sunday tradition of cooking a bunch of home-cooked Vietnamese (or other delicious) food for a small group of friends, and we'd follow his feasts by watching first-run Sex and the City episodes (this was round about Season 3 era).  A better way to spend a Sunday I have never found.  What I miss the very most about SF is my people there, and these memories include almost all of them, which make those Sundays in my mind extra sweet.

2)  Moss Acupuncture

My friend Jen Moss is a very gifted healer.  Her Traditional Chinese Medicine practice is infused with her calm spirit and amazing style.  Every time I have back pain, or a cold, or a bad mood, or anything just isn't quite right with me physically or mentally, I curse myself that I am 3000+ miles away from her needles.  I would consider moving back to San Francisco for the sole purpose of being near to her healing services.  If you are in the SF Bay Area and feeling at all out of whack, get yourself to Dr. Moss, stat. 

3)  Lululemon on Union Street

Lululemon makes the best yoga gear on the planet, hands down.  I love all of their different pants and tops, and though they are pricey, they are so worth it as they are stylish and just last and last.  Also, their free tailoring service is priceless for a 5'2" mama who always has to have everything shortened.  And I love their reusable shopping bags covered with inspirational quotes like "Dance, Sing, Floss and Travel." Lululemon is actually a Canadian company with stores all over the place, but I just have a soft spot for the Union Street outpost.  The one in Boston is tiny, up a zillion flights of stairs in a random building downtown, and I was flipped a serious amount of attitude by the salesgirls there the one time I visited.  The SF Union street spot, conversely, is spacious and open, with big dressing rooms with chalkboards mounted to the door where they write your name while you are occupying (which really appeals to my inner sense of territoriality) and the people could not be more helpful (answering such questions as, "Do you think I will gain weight in my butt while pregnant?"  Oh, I had no idea.).  I could drop a pretty penny on Groove pants at the Union Street store any old day, and it somehow seems uniquely SF.

4) The Ferry Building Marketplace 

The glorious refurbishment of this foodie mecca actually hadn't happened yet when I lived in San Francisco, but I have come to love it during my visits back since then.  The Ferry Building is just a gourmet wonderland.  Any amazing ingredient you could ever dream of is there, from Rancho Gordo beans, to Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, to truffle salt.  The Imperial Tea Court sells an incredible Yunan Gold Tea that the husband loves, and one of my favorite afternoon-in-San-Francisco memories involves oysters and bubbly at the Hog Island Oyster Company.   I would basically like to move into the Ferry Building and live there.

 5)  Sushi Ran

Best sushi outside of Japan.  Period.  And I have never been to Japan, but I am willing to wager that Sushi Ran could give many a Tokyo sushi spot a run for their money as well.  Saketini + Ahi Poke = Heaven.  Oh, Sushi Ran, I miss you so.

I can't wait to introduce the little guy to this wonderful city.
Cliche, I know, but I do believe I kind of left my heart there.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sniff, sniff.

This morning was hard.  Baby J has his first cold, and we had to make the call on whether or not to send him in to daycare.  He's actually on the tail end of this little fall bug that everyone around here seems to have, but that seemed all the more reason to keep him home.  I didn't want him just on the edge of getting better and then to have to spend another day in the germiness of daycare and get worse again.  Plus, you know that feeling when you're sick and all you want is to be in your own bed?  I can't imagine having no voice, no mobility, no ability to blow your own nose and be in that situation, without your mom and dad and dog to make you feel better. 

However, my mental struggle went something like this: he didn't have a fever, was in a great mood, and was really fine, just a little stuffed up.  I know that as flu season commences, many more bugs will plague our house, and I'll eventually need each and every one of my hard earned sick days to stay home when he is actually sick (or I am!) and needs to go to the doctor or otherwise.  I've been working to organize a big meeting tomorrow, and I telecommuted Monday and Wednesday.  My face needed to be seen in the office to put the finishing touches on my meeting prep and, let's face it, to make sure all my colleagues know I am still pulling my weight.  I wonder if every working mom feels the extra need to prove herself all the time this way.  I just have this very visceral drive to prove that nothing has changed, even though absolutely everything has, and everyone knows it. 

We ended up deciding to send him in.  I called to check on him midday, and he was sleeping the day away, hopefully resting himself so that his little immune system can kill this off for good.  His teacher thanked me for sharing him with them, as she feels his peaceful nature makes her feel more peaceful (I quote!  I swear I am not exaggerating!).  You can't beat that, right?  We feel good about our childcare, and we have a tough little guy, and somehow I know we'll all get through this experience together.  Still, though, days like today are hard on this new mama.

On a more practical note, how to deal with our stuffy little lad?  We've got the medieval device that is the above pictured nasal aspirator.  And this saline spray seems akin to some sort of water torture to me, but does the job.  He just seems to give us this look like, "Why the HELL would you spray water up my nose? Are you people insane?", when we are actually using the thing on his little nostrils.  He is also getting hip to our techniques, and firmly turns his head in the other direction when he sees either of these things coming his way.  And the little guy is strong!  It takes both of us to administer either one of these snot-sucking remedies. Our only other trick right now is to stick him in a steamy shower with one of us, and let the hot water do its work.  None of it is completely effective.  There has to be another way!  Mamas and Dads out there, if you have any other decongesting tricks, I'd love to hear them.

    Life's so much better when everyone is healthy!  

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos

Life has changed.  With Baby J around, I certainly have less time to play in the kitchen than I used to, and I also can't be quite as freewheeling with the grocery budget as I once was (as a foodie and organics junkie, I can do some pretty serious damage at the grocery store).  With these lifestyle changes in mind, I am going to be focusing more on making simple, inexpensive weeknight recipes, and this one is a definite favorite.  I'd say you can put this whole meal on the table for less than $10 (less than that, even, if you skip the fancy-pants flaxseed, multigrain tortillas, but I can't help myself).

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos
Ingredients (pictured here with my lovely assistant):

1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
1 sweet potato
1 can black beans
Olive Oil
Spices (we use our own blend, but it could be approximated with some cumin, cayenne and chili powder) + salt and pepper to taste

Plus embellishments:
Cheese (we like Cabot Sharp Cheddar... did you know it is lactose free?  Bonus!)
Sour Cream
Chopped scallions
Hot Sauce

Start by chopping the onion, peeling the garlic, and peeling and grating the sweet potato.

Next, heat some olive oil in a heavy skillet.  Add the chopped onions and press the garlic into the pan as well.  Saute for about 5 to 7 minutes until the onions are translucent, like so.

Add the sweet potato and continue to saute until it cooks down and caramelizes... about 10 minutes.  The crunchy, sweet browned bits are the very best part of this dish, so take the time to let it cook down, and stir frequently to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Next add the drained can of black beans and spices to taste.  Stir together, and let the mixture cook for about 5 more minutes to let all the flavors meld.

This makes a healthy, dense, and satiating filling for burritos.  I set up an assembly station of toppings, and we make our own. 

The final product:

Don't ask me how I folded this bad boy.  It wasn't pretty.  I am a chronic over-stuffer and will never learn my lesson.   There were tons of healthy veggies and protein stuffed in there, though, so I am not apologizing.

It was especially delightful cooking this meal with this guy keeping me company.  Easily the most delicious thing in the kitchen:

We agreed that this meal was extra tasty, and it was on the table in less than 30 minutes.
Take that Rachel Ray.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A few of my favorite things

Even as I typed the word "products" into my initial post, my head started swimming with all of the directions such an idea could go in, from aromatherapy to entertainment to baby doo-dads.  I started brainstorming, and wanted to give an introductory smattering of some more things I love, just to lay the groundwork for what is to come...

1) Lunaroma  Burlington, Vermont's one and only aromatic apothecary, and one of my favorite places on earth.  I have taken many a friend on a pilgramage to their little purple Burlington hideaway and created a global posse of Lunaroma addicts.  You would die if you really started looking into some of the crap that goes into skincare products these days.  There was a certain upscale, seemingly natural brand that I used for most of my 20s, and I was shocked to find out how much cancer-causing goop most of their prodcuts contain when I checked out the Environmental Working Group's review of skincare products.  Spend a few minutes searching your favorite mass-produced products on that site, and you will be surprised by what you find. Lunaroma, on the other hand, uses natural and organic essential oils to create their delicious products.  You could probably eat most of them on your toast for breakfast.  My personal favorite product of their's at the moment is this one:

Smells like a freshly sliced cuke, absorbs in immediately, and makes you feel like you've been to a spa.  Love it.  I have yet to experience a Lunaroma product that is less than perfect.  My dream would be to work at their new Maui outpost. 

2)  The Barefoot Contessa

I actually considered asking Ina Garten to be Baby J's godmother.  In the early days when I felt like I was just doing nothing but nursing him around the clock, we more often than not were stationed on the couch in front of the Food Network, with Ina soothing us while whipping together a gratin.  Something about the cool, clean zen of her East Hampton kitchen and her butter-filled comfort foods made me feel like everything was going to be okay.  Her guacamole and "perfect roasted chicken" are two of "my" most popular dishes among friends and family.  I aspire to own all of her cookbooks (currently I have the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and the Barefoot Contessa at Home, but my sights are set on the Paris and Parties editions as well).  Ina, I love you.

3)  Cookie Magazine  I have always been, as my friend Angella calls me, a "magazine whore."  I just can't get enough of light reading.  As a new mom, this is my new favorite publication.  Cookie features a little bit of all the things I find myself thinking about these days:  mom concerns (vaccines, daycare choices, gear for tots), cooking, home design, fashion and beauty, and with a smattering of celeb stuff just to keep you feeling in that cheesy loop.  And they seem to understand that their readership is chronically sleep-deprived; the articles are quick and easy to skim and digest, but not so fluffy that you feel you've wasted your precious time reading them.  

4)  BravoTV  I can't help myself.  I am flatly obsessed with Top Chef.

I have an embarrassingly encyclopedic knowledge of the "cheftestants" and the dishes they cook.  I adore Padma Lakshmi.  And even though my husband wants to stick a pen in his eye every time he hears her trill "I. DIE.  Bananas," Rachel Zoe is my guilty pleasure.  Oh to own that many perfect pairs of wide leg jeans...

5)  Anneke Jans

A great restaurant is more than delicious food and great service; it creates memories that live on in your mind and become part of your mental happy-place collage.  Anneke Jans is this for me.  It is located in the small town in Maine where my parents live, about an hour from Boston.  I have never had less than a perfect meal there.  My favorite one was this summer when my mom insisted that she watch Baby J and my sister (in town all the way from Cali) and I go out to dinner.  We perched at the bar for several hours, I savored my first post-pregnancy dirty martini, and we ordered every appetizer on the menu, which included the best crab cake I have ever eaten.  What could be better?  You Bostonians looking for a weekend getaway must make your way here.

I could go on and on.  It is actually a great mental exercise to think of all the things that bring you pleasure!  More of this to come...

Breakfast of Champions

Steel cut oats are one of my all time favorite breakfasts.  They are cheap, easy, healthy and delicious, and a little bit goes a very long way.  If you prepare 1 cup of dry steel cut oats on a Sunday evening, it makes enough prepared oatmeal for a full week of breakfasts, which are way more tasty and satisfying than those instant oatmeal packets you can buy at the store (and way more economical as well).
The method is simple:
Boil 4 cups of water.

Add one cup steel cut oats (these are from the bulk bin at our local food co-op).
Turn the stove to simmer, and go do something else for ~45 minutes while it bubbles away and absorbs all the water.

It comes out looking like this:

Not the most attractive, but I promise the most delicious!
In the morning, scoop 1/2 cup into a bowl, add a 1/4 cup or more of milk or soy milk and microwave for 2.5 minutes. 

The mix goes from gloppy to creamy and dreamy.

What you now have is a high-fiber empty canvas for further deliciousness.

Some of my favorite things to add to the mix:
- blueberries, cinnamon and brown sugar
- smooshed banana, chopped medjool dates, slivered almonds
- mixed fresh or frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries) and a drizzle of honey
- PB&J oats... a little blob of peanut butter or almond butter with a little blob of high quality preserves (I love Bonne Maman Wild Fruit)
- sliced peaches and a sprinkling of granola
A whole work week of filling yumminess, and way more satisfying than cold cereal.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Please allow me to introduce myself...

I've always loved to write.  But now that I find myself juggling a baby, a job, a husband and home, I feel a need to find a little corner for self-expression more than ever before.  The world probably doesn't need one more mama or food blogger, but I've got lots to share and want to give you a little slice of my life.  After years of roaming the east and west coasts, I've spent the last 5 years settled in in Vermont, putting my husband through law school, and trying to figure out what my adult life is going to look like. 

Some things I love:
1) Lists.  If I can find reason to put things in a listy format I will.  A bit obsessive, but so satisfying.
2) Food, cooking and cookbooks, of which I have far too many and covet more.  The Vegan Gourmet and How to Cook Meat sit side by side on my shelf; I'm pretty non-discriminating.  Here I'll include recipes and cooking ideas and general ruminations on yumminess.
3) Products.  For babies, yoga, outdoor adventures, hair, skin, cooking, and more.  I'll share and review my favorites, and go hunting for more.
4) Being green.  My husband and I both work in jobs related to environmental action, and yet I'm not as green as I would like to be, and want to make myself accountable here for getting greener and more educated on what I can do to improve my footprint on the planet. I'll share whatever ideas I cook up with you.
5) Being active.  But let me tell you, after having an 8.5 pound baby boy 5 months ago, getting back in shape is a cruel joke.  I love to try new ways of getting fit, from different types of yoga to races that will challenge me to run more.  As a new mom and a working mom, I'm not sure how all this is going to fit in my new life and I'll share that here as well.  All I know is that winter is coming, and I still don't fit into any of my cold-weather pants, and something must be done.  Stay tuned.
6) And these guys, who make it all worthwhile:

Thanks for reading!