Friday, September 30, 2011

Scones for What Ails You

Do you ever wake up with a heartsick feeling for no apparent reason?  Yesterday was one of those days for me.  I spent the morning like I remember feeling as a homesick ten-year-old at sleep-away camp for the first time; a little sad, a little lonely, and like something heavy was sitting in my heart and gut and wouldn't budge.  A double latte didn't help.  A hard run didn't help.  So, I turned to my go-to comfort activity, baking.
Perhaps it was the rain, but I was in a scone-ish mood.  I felt like kneading, but not like participating in anything as complex and scientific as bread baking.  I felt like something sweet, but nothing as cloying as cookies or blondies.  Also, we are visiting friends this weekend, and I wanted to bring something lovely, homemade, and a little out of the ordinary to them, and so these scones were born.  Sure enough, after clobbering some dough and letting their sweet aroma fill the house, I felt much better.  Standing mixer + oven= therapy.  With a rainy weekend in the forecast around here, try these to cure whatever may ail you!
SMJ's Cure-What-Ails-You Currant Scones
Makes 8 scones
2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dried currants
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter or Earth Balance, cut in about 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sanding sugar, pearl sugar, or granulated sugar
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and currants until combined.
3) Scatter the chopped butter over the top of the dry ingredient mixture and beat on low speed until the butter is pebbly in the flour, with some small stone sized butter lumps remaining.
4) In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, sour cream and whole egg until combined.
5) Pour the wet mixture into the flour mixture and beat just until the dough comes together.
6) With your hands, lift the dough from the bowl and start turning it over to collect the flour in the bottom of the bowl.  Turn the dough again and again until all the remaining flour is mixed in.
7) Turn the dough out onto a baking sheet and pat it into an 8-inch circle about 1-inch thick. Brush the egg yolk evenly over the entire top of the dough circle. Sprinkle the sugar evenly across the top, then cut the circle into 8 wedges. (At this point, the unbaked scones can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 week. Proceed as directed, baking directly from the freezer and adding 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time.)
8) Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the entire circle is golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes, then cut into the pre-scored wedges and serve.  Scones will keep well for up to three days.  Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

1) This recipe is an amalgam of several scone recipes I found, with a nod to what I had in the fridge and my personal preference in flavors, but the primary inspiration was Joanne Chang's Currant Scone recipe from her Flour cookbook.  Flour is a phenomenal Boston bakery that you must visit if you are in town.  Wear elastic-waist pants when you go.
2) I used whole milk because that is what we keep on hand for the little dude, and low-fat sour cream because that is what we had on hand from our black bean extravaganza. Feel free to try the recipe with whatever percentage-of-fat dairy you have in the house,  I'd just advise that one or the other NOT be low-fat.  This is baking, after all.  Let's live a little.
3) It goes without saying, but take off any rings before hand-mixing sticky doughs!  Doughy bling is not a good look.  
Have a beautiful weekend!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I have always loved the back-to-school, starting fresh feeling that autumn seems to bring.  The cooler days make me feel like starting new projects, getting adventurous in the kitchen, and shifting my closet towards cozier styles.  Here are some of the current inspirations I've stumbled upon for the new season...
Kitchen Inspiration
I want to cook:
And one last cobbler, before it is all apple crisp, all the time...

Sartorial Inspirtation
I want to wear...
Effortlessly elegant scarves
A cool wrap bracelet, like this Chan Luu one I spied on a mom at the playground the other day.
Longing to decorate with:
Natural elements brought indoors, like these eucalyptus branches.
 One bold-colored piece of furniture in an otherwise neutral room, like this awesome turquoise table/desk.
 Dinner by candlelight, with rustic votives in Mason jars. 
Photo credits, top to bottom: Food&Wine, Dinner:A Love Story, Smitten Kitchen, Jennifer Causey via Simply Breakfast, Style Bakery, Laws of General Economy, Cupcakes and Cashmere, The Selby in Your Place, Apartment Therapy.
 What are your fall inspirations?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Slow Cooker Cuban Black Beans

I love beans.  They are a tasty and inexpensive source of protein and fiber with possibilities for endless incarnations in everything from salads to burritos to fancy sides.  On Sunday, dare I say it, I may have made my best pot of beans ever.  And thanks to my slow cooker, it was ridiculously easy.  New England is experiencing a bizarre-o global warming heat wave at the moment, so rather than craving all things pumpkin, I found myself hankering for something island-inspired, and so these Cuban black beans were born.
Photo via Technorati
I often find that bean recipes lack the depth of flavor I am looking for in a main dish.  To remedy this, I went big with some ingredients that pack a punch, using a whole bunch of cilantro and six whole garlic cloves in this pound of beans.  Don't be afraid!  The result is an assertive, delicious, authentic tasting dish that stands out as an entree and will steal the show as a side.
Slow Cooker Cuban Black Beans
1 lb dry black turtle beans
1 large sweet onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1 8 oz. can chopped green chiles
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
3 slices bacon, diced (Optional! Veggies can omit this ingredient, you may just want to add a bit more salt to your recipe.)
1 large bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Rinse beans and soak overnight.  Even though the slow cooker will cook them completely without this step, if you soak, drain and rinse your beans before cooking them, some of their gaseous properties leach out and are removed, and you'll experience less stomach upset from having a big bowl o' beanies for dinner.  Highly advised.
2) Drain and rinse your beans.  Place in slow cooker and cover with water. 
3) Add all other ingredients except the cilantro.  Start with about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  
4) Set slow cooker to 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high.  
5) With an hour left to go in the cooking time, add the cilantro, and taste to adjust for salt and pepper.

I served these beans as our Sunday dinner with basmati rice, sour cream, chopped avocado and hot sauce for garnish (Warning: taste first before adding hot sauce!  These beans have quite a kick without it, the hubs and I just love our food practically on fire).  They would also make a phenomenal side for any Caribbean or Latin-inspired dish (I'm thinking jerk chicken, fish or tofu, a citrus-y slow cooker Cuban chicken I like to make, spicy shrimp, or shredded beef tacos), and the beans would also be very tasty inside a quesadilla or burrito.  This is one of those Sunday suppers that can truly live on through the week in many different meals without anyone tiring of it. 

Finally, one more shout out for my slow cooker.  I'm a little obsessed with it, as you can tell. Here's why: I chopped things for about 10 minutes on Sunday morning, opened a couple of cans, pushed a button and walked away.  As the day went on, the house filled with the most incredible aroma of spicy goodness. Then, all I had to do to make dinner was put on a pot of rice, and we enjoyed a delicious and healthy meal with almost no effort and very little clean-up.  I cannot think of a better piece of kitchen equipment for families and all busy, working people!
Viva Frijoles!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall Mom Uniform

Fall Mom Uniform

I went for my run this morning in shorts and a tank top, but I know those days are numbered as a chill continues to creep into the Boston air.  Fridays are a perfect time for a bit of virtual window shopping and the change of season has be thinking about my fantasy fall mom uniform.  What you see above is just one version of it, but involves some of my favorite things: a striped Anthropologie cardigan, beautiful Me&Ro earrings, and glittery Toms because why not?  I've shown EmersonMade's gunmetal skinny jeans before, but the more I look at them, the more I want 'em.  I also love the detail on the scarf and the delicate shirt from Calypso, one of my favorite shops of all time.  For good measure, I've included some Fresh Eye Cream I'm coveting after trying a sample recently.  What mom wouldn't want a little help in the under-eye area?  I'm also thinking it is time to take this anti-aging stuff a bit more seriously with my 35th birthday just around the corner.  The Fresh Lip Treatment is from their new Passion line, another treat I'd love to try.  Finally, I fell in love with the engraved Mama ring from St. Kilda after seeing it on Cup of Jo a few weeks ago.  The ring is delicate and sweet, and would be the perfect gift for a new mom. Pulled all together, I love this collage of sweet and whimsical fall loveliness.
Happy Weekend Everyone.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Indian-Inspired Butternut Squash Soup

Barely a week had passed since our busy summer came to an end and my family was collectively exhaling into fall, when my mom fell and broke her arm last weekend.  She's very active at work, at home and at play, and while she's putting on a brave face about it, this injury is definitely going to put a kink in her fall.  This morning she had to see an orthopedic surgeon to find out what the healing process will entail, so I thought that the little man and I would make a quick run up to New Hampshire and meet her afterward to bring some good cheer and nourishing soup.

It seems like many in their wonderful community are already rallying and bringing my parents meals, so I wanted my soup to stand out in the mix.  My parents usually subsist largely on salad and seared fish for dinner, and I know they've received lobster mac and cheese and an exotic chick pea-almond-pineapple stew this week, so I thought I'd bring something more like the simple fare their bellies are used to (and if some of said lobster mac and cheese "accidentally" replaced the soup in my cooler bag, well, oops!).

I went on a fall veggie shopping bender at the grocery last week after the cold snap had me craving all things squash and cider, so I had a large butternut squash on hand as the soup's base.  Still, I wanted to give it a little interest, a little special flavor, and not just have it be your run-of-the-mill fall soup.  I've been loving the Indian spice Garam Masala lately; it translates to mean "warming spice" and is a blend of things like cloves, cumin and coriander seeds, cardamom pods and cinnamon.  Garam Masala gives a delicate, sweet/savory Indian flavor to dishes, and I thought with some coconut milk, it could make a squash soup special.  Funny that many of those spices echo those in "pumpkin pie spice", making them a natural accompaniment to squash.  Yes, these are the things I think about in my spare time.

I tinkered with various amounts of Garam Masala in the mix, and finally came out with a beautiful soup that I really love.  Most of my favorite recipes feature bold, hit-you-over-the-head flavors, but this soup is very delicate and almost aromatic.  It is most definitely warming and healing, and the perfect thing to bring to someone feeling under the weather.  With cold season on the way, keep this one in your back packet!

SMJ's Indian-Inspired Butternut Squash Soup
1 butternut squash, halved and seeded
1 sweet potato, holes poked into it with a fork 
1 sweet onion, peeled and quartered
2 leeks, halved lengthwise and thoroughly rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can light coconut milk
4 cups veggie broth
2 teaspoons Garam Masala
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 heaping teaspoon tomato paste* (optional)
1) Heat oven to 375F.  Place all prepped veggies on a baking sheet and drizzle thoroughly with the olive oil.  Roast for about 90 minutes or until fork tender.
2) Removed skins from roasted vegetables and roughly chop.  Place in large soup pot or Dutch oven.
3) Add liquids and blend with an immersion blender until smooth (note: if you don't have an immersion blender, you can do this process in batches in a blender or food processor).  Stir in spices and tomato paste and adjust to taste.
*One note about the tomato paste: as I adjusted the soup's spices, I just felt something was missing.  Knowing that a strong tomato flavor is common in some of my favorite, similarly spiced Indian dishes like Tikka Masala, I added a bit of double concentrated tomato paste from the tube we keep on hand in the fridge.  I loved the addition, but it is not necessary.  If you buy your tomato paste by the can, it is probably not worth busting into one for this subtle addition.

This soup would be especially delicious served with warm, buttered naan and a crisp, sweet salad (I'm thinking butter lettuce, sliced apples and goat cheese).  However, I'm delivering this batch with a dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies because, let's be real, sometimes chocolate is really life's greatest cure-all.  Time to hit the road!

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Day in the Life

The time is 2:12pm.  So far today I have: woken up.  Brewed coffee.  Brewed the husband tea.  Unloaded the dishwasher.  Made the beds.  Started a load of laundry.  Changed a poopy diaper.  Served the child breakfast.  Packed the hubs a lunch.  Downed a cup of coffee.  Washed the breakfast dishes.  Taken out the recycling.  Gulped a little bit more coffee. Dressed the child.  Caught up briefly with a girlfriend on the phone. Run four miles.  Inhaled a bowl of cereal. Taken the quickest of showers.  Taken the boy to music class (which includes, but is not limited to, jumping up and down, singing ridiculous songs, salsa dancing, coaxing the boy out from under the counter where the instruments are kept, more dancing while holding a 30 lb. child, more jumping, and trying to keep the child from destroying the teacher's piano).  Returned home.  Vacuumed the house.  Fed the child lunch.  Packaged a large pot of chicken chili I made yesterday into dinner and lunch sized portions for easy grabbing.  Prepped my lunch. Changed a poopy diaper.  Read a story and put boy down for nap.  Inhaled my lunch.  Furminated dog.  Bathed dog with conditioning shampoo. Cleaned bathroom.  Taken out trash. Done lunch dishes.  Returned e-mails.  And now I sit down to blog...

Whew!  Let it be known this is not a typical Monday for me.  Usually the husband and I spend one day of the weekend doing all of the household chores together, dividing it all more or less in half.  However, as this funky economy and our current life would have it, our personal labor situations have changed, with the husband picking up an extra job on the side and my own part-time work coming to an end for the moment.  With him working twice as hard outside the home, I feel it is my duty to work twice as hard inside the home, taking on all (or almost all) "home engineer" responsibilities (cooking, cleaning, erranding), so that we regain the large part of our weekends to connect as a family and rest.  We had this kind of "normal" weekend this weekend, and it was truly glorious.  I'll gladly shoulder a bit more housework on a Monday or a Friday if it gains us the kind of deeply replenishing weekends we need.

Why am I telling you all of this?  As I went about my morning, I was deep in thought about my station in life at the moment.  With my contract work, my sister's wedding and this busy summer now over, this is the first time in a long time I have had to exhale and reflect.  And for the first time since my son was born, my only duty is to care for him and run our household.  Concurrently, a hot topic thread has popped up on the local mom's listserve I subscribe to; called "The Grass is Greener", this thread has turned into a really interesting dialogue between stay-at-home, work-at-home and work-outside-the-home moms about how we've come to these decisions in our life and all the complex emotions around them.  I live in a very diverse community where moms post to the list about topics ranging from complaining about their maids to wondering when their food stamps will expire, so you can imagine the crazy collage of thoughts and experiences on this topic.

Coming to this station in life and perusing this thread on the listserve, I've become really pensive about my choices, as they are.  We fully thought that I would continue on in full-time employment when we moved here, and in many ways our life would be a lot easier if I had been able to land the hot city job we both thought I'd find.  My job hunt here was tough, however, and the cost of childcare in the city astounding.  By default, I've ended up on the home front. However, I gain a deep and abiding sense of peace in being home with my son, and am happy in many ways that things have shaken out this way.  It's hard for me to admit that, because I feel guilty (that I should want to work and somehow be working outside of the home) and freaked out (that time out of the workforce will make it very difficult to return and greatly diminish my earning potential), while feeling simultaneously relieved and incredibly overjoyed to not be in the work and daycare slog right now and to have these precious days with my son. At the same time, I constantly feel that I should be on the hunt for that elusive part-time, work-at-home, flex-hours job that every mom dreams of; and I am... I hope to spend this fall deepening my writing practice and hopefully finding ways to make it more lucrative, and I've applied for some of these dreamy positions, but they are few and far between to find on the job boards.

An interesting sub-topic within this Grass is Greener discussion has been if a SAHM can be a feminist.  Interesting, that.  The husband and I were both raised by rabid feminists; one of whom was a working mom throughout her kids' childhoods, and one of whom stayed at home for eighteen years before returning to the workforce.  We're both heavily influenced by their decisions in so many different ways.  I think of myself as a feminist, but at the same time, I do make my husband a lunch every day.  Are these two things mutually exclusive?  I make his sandwich while he walks the dog, a chore I'm grateful he takes over, as the dog-pulling kills my back and the pre-caffeine poop-scooping is not for the faint of heart.  We're on a budget, and me throwing some turkey between two slices of wheat while my coffee brews saves us up to $50 a week on lunches bought out.  So, there you have division of labor, there you have a wife with an eye to the bottom line, yet somehow I am embarrassed to admit to you that I do this small housewife-y thing each morning.  Sometimes it feels like every decision within my life as a SAHM is so loaded, it can be paralyzing.

What's shaking out of both this listserve discussion and my own thoughts on the matter is how important it is to stand by the decisions that feel right to you.  For me, right now, it feels right to be home and right to take on the responsibilities of running our home.  It feels right to use this time to try and tease out what I want next in my career and try to push progress along in whatever incremental steps I can manage.  It feels right to make my husband a sandwich.  The thing of it is to somehow keep everything in balance.  To find time to nurture my child and my marriage, and also my professional aspirations, my physical self (see: four mile run squeezed into this manic Monday morning) and my friendships.  Most days, at least one of these things has got to give, and it is damn near impossible to prioritize what should go first. 

I think the best thing we can do for each other as modern moms, modern women and modern feminists is to keep talking about these pressures and choices as openly as possible, and to not judge anyone on how they choose to execute their own particular brand of life.  I take so much solace in the community of moms in my life and in the diversity of our experiences.  I'm also interested in how the division of labor shakes out in homes without children.  These are loaded topics and the more we share of them, the less fearsome they become. 

For me, for now, the boy is waking from his nap and I could use a cup of tea.
Tell me, what does your balance look like?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Taking Care

Happy Friday!
This week has been all about picking up the pieces and putting our household back together after our exhausting/festive travels north.  I've been feeling run down all week, and just trying to take it easy and take the best possible care of my myself so I can get us all back to normal.  I've been resting, hitting the sack early, drinking plenty of water, kombucha, coconut water and mint tea, and cooking healthy food.  One of my best new healthy food finds has been the highlight of most of my breakfasts this week...
Ezekiel 4:9 English Muffins from Food for Life are my new breakfast fave.

The muffins are dense and flavorful, made entirely from sprouted whole grains like millet, barley, lentils, soybeans and spelt.  Sounds like disgusting hippie fare, I know, but I assure you they are incredibly tasty. They're also packed with fiber and protein, and so much more filling and satisfying than your average breakfast carb.  Meanwhile, they only weigh in at 160 calories a pop, comparable to a slice or so of boring sandwich bread.  These muffins aren't new to the market, they're just new to me, and I wish I had found them sooner.  
 They're phenomenal just topped with a little Earth Balance.
  Or with some cheesy scrambled eggs (my fave is one whole egg + one egg white + Cabot 50% Light cheddar, salt and pepper).  
I'm also loving them with good old PB&J.  I've been noshing on one of these and a indulging in a little extra caffeine to get myself in gear, then enjoying spending the whole morning outside with the little guy, getting us back in our daily groove.  I'm so grateful for this time I have with him, and ready for our fall routine to begin next week.  With the new but familiar crispness in the air, it feels like things are about to start fresh.  I love that back-to-school feeling.

I've had some requests to share wedding photos here, and if you can believe it, I am sad to say I did not take a single one!  Obviously I couldn't capture anything during the ceremony (too busy standing beside my sister and bawling my eyes out), and afterward I was too nervous about my toast to think about taking snapshots.  Once the toast was over, I was so relieved that I had a celebratory martini, and then spent the rest of the night on the dance floor!  I am hoping that some of my sister's friends share some photos soon that I can post here, or else I'll see if my sister will let me post a professional shot or two when we get those.  In the meantime, I can offer you this winning photo from this morning...
 Sweet boy.
Take good care of yourself this weekend, and I'll be back to normal posting next week!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


It is Wednesday and I am still in recovery mode from my sister's wedding festivities.  After three nights back in my own bed, I'm still feeling like all I want to do is curl up for a nap by mid-afternoon. With the help of a triple-shot latte, however, the little guy and I managed to get out the door and spent this morning outside in the park, where I finally had a chance to reflect a bit on the last several days.

I realized I'm so slow to bounce back this week not only because of having so many late nights in a row (not at all used to that), and running around so much all week long (very used to that) but because of my tendency to intensely absorb all the emotions going on around me.  I know I am not alone in this.  I also know lots of people who are able to participate in other people's lives without feeling as if they are experiencing every emotion as the person directly in its wake.  For me, I feel so directly connected to everyone in my family, and am so sensitive to what happens around me, that I walk away from experiences like the past weekend feeling not just like a bridesmaid who tore up the dance floor and could use a rest, but also like the bride, the groom, the father-of-the-bride giving away his third and final daughter.  I feel like my husband who ran all over chasing our little guy, and who I swear probably did the equivalent of a marathon by the end of the weekend, and I even feel like my other sister who is probably so turned around by jet lag right now, she doesn't know which way is up.

Sometimes being this tied to the emotions of others is a beautiful thing, and sometimes it is a huge drain.  Like most things in life, the ideal is probably a happy medium, a balance I have yet to find.  However, feeling so phenomenally tired this many days after returning home has made it clear to me that I need to seek that elusive brand of caring that isn't quite so co-dependent.

When I traveled in Southeast Asia with two girlfriends in 2001, we spent ten days at a silent retreat at a Buddhist monastery.  There was no talking, reading, or writing allowed for the full ten days except for one opportunity to meet with one of the monks and discuss any topic we chose.  After a week of silence, your inner voice becomes very clear, and I knew exactly what I wanted to ask when given the chance.  The Buddhists (or at least the Theraveda Thai Buddhists I learned from at the retreat) believe in non-attachment, or the idea of impermanence, as one of their core beliefs.   I tried to imagine what my life would look like if I could master total non-attachment and not become so emotionally involved in things that don't directly, personally concern me; the notion was both exhilarating and terrifying.  I asked the monk how you maintain non-attachment to those with whom you are intimately attached without living in a monastery.  What followed was a complex answer...

This monk recommended a "compassionate detachment" wherein the love and energy that you give to those around you is not tied directly to your own consciousness.  You should act with love, care and grace, but with an eye on the larger picture.  She said that sometime the greatest gift you can give to those you love is not give of yourself, even when this feels counterintuitive, because if you cannot give them the whole of your energy, it is then best to keep the whole of your energy focused upon wherever it is being called to a higher use.  When always acting with caution and care, you can live in this compassionate detachment and maintain loving relationships without being swallowed whole by them.  This conversation was obviously idealized and ten years ago to boot, but still it sticks with me, as does the fact that I am probably farther from this kind of balance than I was a decade ago (being a wife and mother really kind of complicates the whole non-attachment thing, I must say).

Considering all of this in the shade of the trees this morning, suddenly a Kahlil Gibran poem popped into my head.  Actually, what popped into my head was Sweet Honey in the Rock's musical version of the poem, but these are the lyrics:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you, but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

To me, this is so profound.  This is it, really.  Everything that you love is not yours, it is Life's.  My sisters, my parents, my husband, my son, all have their own path that I am merely watching.  I can house their bodies but not their souls, and my soul too has its own path.  As a mother, I want to keep this poem right where I can see it, and if you strip the parenting messages out of it and think of it as a way to relate to the world and those you love, it is kind of like the perfect execution of the advice I received from that Thai monk so many years ago.  Love, but don't give yourself completely over to the point where you have nothing left for yourself.  Protect your energy, protect your path, that you may have more to give in a compassionate detachment that doesn't wring you dry.

I told you I was still a bit delirious.  Time to step away from the computer and take a rest.  We will return to things like recipes for taco salad tomorrow.  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Off to Vermont

The time has come!  My little sister is getting hitched, and bright and early tomorrow morning we will load approximately 400 pounds of toddler, cooking and wedding gear into our Volkswagen and head for our beloved Green Mountain State.  The festivities are about to get underway, and while I wish I was the kind of blogger who would be posting up-to-the-minute photos on food, fashion and scenery at this shindig, alas, I am not.  I am the kind of blogger who will be too busy sipping gin and tonics and sneaking covert puffs of her uncle's cigars to blog this week.  There are meals to cook, make up to apply, cousins to chase and speeches to be delivered! So, I'm planning to focus on the week at hand, and take a little break here.  I do, however, promise a recap post and return to regular posting next week.   

Before I take this little week's blogging vacation, I just wanted to say thank you to all the new readers who have found their way here this past month.  There's definitely a new crop of you, and I love it! I especially want to offer my gratitude to the new commenters!  While I am not always the quickest at replying in the comments sections, I read and relish each little bit of feedback on this project, so thank you.
I'm off to pack.
Wishing you all a wonderful week!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Start With... Sweet Potatoes

Just in time for the start of the school year, welcome to my new recipe series, "Start With..."

I often spend Sundays cooking a variety of things for us to eat throughout the week, and learned long ago that if I just make, say, a pot of soup, neither of us want anything to do with said soup by Wednesday.   My "Start With..." idea comes from the notion that you can make one versatile big batch item to start with on Sunday, and let it live in many different incarnations throughout the week, each so diverse from the last that your family will hardly recognize it's reappearance.  This week, for example, I made a big pot of chile verde on Sunday, which reappeared as carnitas burritos on Tuesday.  Ideally, a Sunday dish would have even more ways to vary in appearance as the week goes on, and in the name of that efficiency and creativity, I bring you "Start With..."

To kick us off, I'm starting with something gloriously simple, and found in every toddler-having home I know... the humble sweet potato.  
It's hard to think of another vegetable that packs such a nutritional wallop while simultaneously being nature's answer to dessert.  Sweet potatoes are an unsurpassed source of Vitamins A and C and beta-carotene, as well as being high in fiber and anti-oxidants.  They even have anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to your digestive system.  And as the cereal commercial says, "don't worry, your kids will eat it." Finally, these tubers are dirt cheap, even in organic varieties.  A nice-sized organic sweet potato can make a filling dinner and only set you back about $2.  I love these beautiful taters!

So, in honor of the start of September and the return to cool weather and all things root vegetable, this week let's Start With a tray of roasted sweet potatoes.
Cube six large, organic sweet potatoes, toss with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper, and roast at 350 for an hour until soft on the inside and slightly crisp on the outside.  Allow to cool before storing.  
Start with your roasted sweet potatoes and then...
Make a quick weeknight soup!
- puree two cups of roasted sweet potatoes with two cups chicken or veggie broth and a splash of milk or cream, and season with a bit of paprika and cinnamon for a classic sweet potato soup.
- puree two cups of roasted sweet potatoes with one cup broth and one can of coconut milk + a teaspoon of Thai red curry paste for a spicy Thai twist.
- puree two cups of the sweet potatotes with four cups of broth, one 4 oz. can of green chiles, two teaspoons chopped fresh ginger, one-half cup creamy peanut butter and allspice to taste for a quick take on a West African peanut stew.
- buy a prepared soup (I love Trader Joe's Creamy Tomato) and throw in a handful of sweet potatoes for added flavor, texture and nutrition.

Make a tasty entree...
Like black bean and sweet potato burritos...
Just smash your roasted taters and warm in a frying pan, stirring in a drained can of black beans, cumin and paprika to taste, and some chopped cilantro.  Roll in a tortilla and serve with sour cream, salsa and guacamole if you are feeling fancy.

Or make like one of my favorite local cafes and build this incredible sandwich...
Roasted sweet potatoes (you'd need to slice your cubes into thin pieces) layered on great bread with sliced red pepper, avocado, jack cheese and sprouts.  This cafe spreads the while thing with a phenomenal tahini-poppy-yogurt spread I have yet to recreate, but you could improvise with any number of creative condiments, including good ole mayo.

Or get out your nori, sushi rice, some sliced avovado and a tatami mat and roll some tasty vegetarian sweet potato sushi.

Use the sweet potato cubes as croutons to give a salad heft.
One of my favorite salads is sweet potatoes tossed with baby spinach, goat cheese, dried cherries and chopped tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette.  Serve with a great crusty bread, and you have dinner.

And, of course, you can use your sweet taters as a killer side for any number of quick weeknight dinners...
- crisp quickly in a pan and dip in ketchup alongside veggie burgers (or regular burgers) as rustic and healthy french fries.
and serve alongside a simple grilled pork chop or piece of chicken.
- chop and saute swiss chard in olive oil with a clove of minced garlic, add a handful of sweet potatoes and a generous handful of parmesan for a quickie gratin to serve with fish or another light protein. 
- drop sweet potatoes into a baking dish, drizzle with maple syrup, cover with marshmallows and bake until marshmallows are toasted for a fast, weeknight version of everyone's Thanksgiving fave.

Start with sweet potatoes and the possibilities are endless!
What's is your favorite sweet po' creation?