Thursday, March 19, 2015

screen break

Guys, it's spring break eve day, here in the ridiculously mild Pacific Northwest, and I'm enjoying an unprecedented pause in work. That's right. A pause.

I finished a bunch of editing jobs, am between LitReactor classes, am at the tail end of a business writing agreement, my latest novel (for adults!) is out on submission, and I'm awaiting feedback on a draft of the second Empress Chronicles book, and I just finished and submitted a longish short story. Plus, I just revamped my website, turned in taxes and spent several hours in an idiocracy-esque hall of mirrors with various corporate entities getting to the bottom of their slapdash billing systems.

Okay, okay, I haven't written a blog post in over a month and I've chilled big time on social media. So there's that.

I can't remember a time in the last thirteen years (even during trips abroad, where I was still working) when I allowed myself a wee break. When I wasn't writing or editing something, or working with clients on one project or another. It feels fragile, this interstices. As much as I'd love to just breathe and let go, I have to admit, I feel odd and vulnerable.

Tonight, I put my kid on a plane for a soccer tournament in SoCal, and tomorrow Kirk, Ruby and I are taking a weekend road trip. We'll be home Sunday night, and planning to staycation the rest of it. knee-deep in soil. Maybe take the skis for a run if it does, indeed, snow up on the hill.

I'm giving my eyes a rest. And my brain. They deserve it.

When's the last time you took a breather from the screen?

Sunday, February 08, 2015

epic love stories

Wow, somehow it became February. Thank the gods I don't have to post about food anymore. I'm going to post about love instead.  And chocolate. (Contest below!)

What's everyone doing for Valentine's Day? I'm thinking of pulling the trigger on one of those fancy prix fixe reservations at a swanky restaurant for me and my guy - because, how often is VD on a Saturday? (Actually, duh, we know the answer to that  - give or take a leap year.)

So, aside from the possible foie gras torchon and bon bon-popping, I'll spend part of the day as usual: hammering away at the keyboard, and living in the dream of my novel-in-progress (which is, for now, Empress Chronicles II).

The air is certainly thick with love in February, and it's making me a tad sentimental. For a while, maybe five, six years ago, I had this tagline emblazoned on my website. Do you remember it?


Somehow it disappeared or got rolled over by the Mac truck of updates, quickly and unaesthetically rendered in favor of "call to action" - you know, the whole "buy, buy, buy" thing.

Well, I'm here to say, I stand by that statement, the love story one, and I'm hoping to swim my way back to it in 2015. I want to embark on a journey of love. The epic saga of heartbreak and humanity.

I have a good start. For one, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond recently called me up to opine on one of their Dear Sugar Radio topics. The theme was "deal breakers" and the particular advice-seeking letter involved the dilemma of "alive boyfriend jealous of dead one." Give it a listen, let me know what you think.

The invitation to chat with the Sugars made me think about my very favorite love stories. Lately, I've been on this Liane Moriarty kick. I love all of her books. They're funny, true, and accessible. But in another chamber of my heart dwells the "epic saga" type love story, and I'm sort of ashamed to admit, my top three of this sort are all written by men:


McEwan's Atonement, Stegner's Angle of Repose, and Spanbauer's I Loved You More. That's the answer for the "if you were deserted on a desert island with only three books" question. Yikes! Do I have to revoke my vagina? I hope not. I mean, I also love, love, love other ones written by women. Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, for instance. And J. Courtney Sullivan's, Maine.

In the car yesterday with my buddy Teri Carter, driving back to the airport from our week long writing retreat in the desert, we revisited a conversation we'd had the night before. There'd been this question posed: "If you suddenly were given the chops to write an amazing example of any type of book, what territory would you conquer?" I'd dashed off the idea of a Lorrie Moore type smart, literary short story collection, but on deeper thought, in the car, I amended my answer to: the ultimate epic love saga.

When I think about lasting impact and the sort of story that moves through my bones and settles in my heart for the long haul, stories of love and loss that don't tie up in the romance trope of "happily ever after," are sacred to me. I just finished writing a book that, I think (I hope!) conveys an alternative to the typical girl-gets-boy ending, but my appetite is whetted for more. More!

As Tom Spanbauer recently said in an interview, "I have to have a dream. I have to have a dream, and for me the dream is the next book, and if I don't have that dream it just turns into ordinary drudgery."

I feel that too, do you? What are your favorite epic tales of love? Share yours in a comment below, and on February 14th I'll randomly pick a winner, and send you a box of bon-bons from Alma Chocolate!


Monday, January 26, 2015

omg vegan sweet potato brownies

You guys! Thanks to that Averil Dean girl for the link to Ella - (Averil, we're gonna make the beet-potato soup tonight). I made these vegan, gluten-free sweet potato brownies, and they are, as advertised, delish.

You all have to make them. Seriously. They taste decadent. Totally satisfying, fully anti-inflamatory, plant-based and fat-fucking-free. (The food's free of inflamatories, but the language? Not so much.)

That is all.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

the egg and I

This morning, we officially became former backyard chicken keepers. For the past four-and-a-half years we've had a variety of chicks, pullets and hens, and in some seasons we were fully-stocked in nature's most perfect food.

Say what you want about cholesterol, but the balance of protein (7 grams, high-quality), fat (of the 5 grams in an egg, only 1.6 grams is saturated), and disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin shown to reduce age-related eye issues (macular degeneration) have caused the medical poobahs to reverse their stance on egg as enemy.

Plus, the choline in eggs is brain food; i.e. thought to help keep memory problems at bay.

I loved my chickens. Particularly the only one left after four-and-a-half years that wasn't killed by Ruby or a faulty nervous system. We sent our "production red," Chelsea, off to her retirement home today, in the back of a Waldorf family-owned trailer, along with her coop, food, etc... And, as if psychic, she left us with a farewell egg (after not laying for two months). Carson just made French toast with it, this very last egg from the Boundary Street back yard.

It's bittersweet, this decision to give up on urban chicken farming. The dog, travel plans, the attraction that raccoons and rats have to all the stuff of chickens - all of these considerations weighed in on our choice to fly the coop.

This is the second time I had a stint at chicken-raising - the first time I actually lived on a farm, so it seemed more natural to keep chickens. It's unlikely that I'll ever be moved to give it another go, and that makes me sad. It's kind of like a reverse bucket list: things I'll never do again. Some sort of admission of mortality.

But enough of that maudlin crap.

This post is in honor of chickens everywhere. For their valiant service, their industry, their embodiment and demonstration of every chicken aphorism known to the world. Long may you cackle. Forever may you lay.

Omelettes, anyone?

Friday, January 23, 2015

put a beet on it

How's the clean eating going? It's that third week of January slump, right? Maybe your toe isn't better yet. Maybe you have a slightly scratchy throat. Maybe you're looking outside at the gray sky and longing for sunshine. By "you," I mean "me," of course. I'm a writer - that happens.

I haven't been 100% clean, let me tell you right now. Still have my fun-size York Peppermint Patty addiction (and, curses, I found a "cleaner" version - they sell them all over town, and they are my new martini.) But I think I'm about 80% compliant. What helps is that I live in a city where healthy eating is pretty damn easy.

Speaking of easy, today, I want to talk about a product that takes the mess out of one of my favorite nutritionally sound foods. Trader Joe's Baby Beets. They're in the veggie section, cooked/peeled, ready-to-eat and super low in calories, high in nutrition. (I sound like an infomercial, I know...)

Lest you think that they're only palatable when paired with a half-pound of chevre, here's how I consumed them over the past 24 hours:

Breakfast - atop Tillamook Farmstyle Honey Peach Yogurt (with a sprinkle of raw cashews) - 200 calories.

Lunch - Power salad - again tapping into the convenience of TJ - Kale, microgreens, baby spinach, beets, ready-to-eat pom seeds, 2 ounces fully-cooked grilled chicken breast strips, a half-ounce of crumbled goat cheese, a Tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette. So good! 200 calories.

Dinner - Looking pretty on a plate of fettuccine (I scraped the Alfredo sauce off in favor of a half tsp butter and a sprinkle of parm cheese). A bit more caloric, this dish. 450 calories, but super filling.

I think I deserve Happy Hour tonight.

So, here's a little sidebar info just for the hell of it:
  • Low in calories (provide only 45 kcal/100 g), and contain zero cholesterol and small amount of fat. Its nutrition benefits come particularly from fiber, vitamins, minerals, and unique plant derived anti-oxidants.
  • The root is rich source of phytochemical compound, glycine betaine. Betaine has the property of lowering homocysteine levels within the blood. Homocysteine, one of highly toxic metabolite, promotes platelet clot as well as atherosclerotic-plaque formation, which, otherwise, can be harmful to blood vessels. High levels of homocysteine in the blood result in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and peripheral vascular diseases.
  • Raw beets are an excellent source of folates. It contains about 109 µg/100 g of this vitamin (Provides 27% of RDA). However, extensive cooking may significantly deplete its level in food. Folates are necessary for DNA synthesis within the cells. When given during peri-conception period folates can prevent neural tube defects in the baby.
  • Fresh tubers contain small amounts of vitamin-C; however, its top greens are rather excellent sources of this vitamin. 100 g of beet greens provide 30 mg or 50% of RDA. Vitamin C is one of the powerful natural antioxidants, which helps the human body scavenge deleterious free radicals one of the reasons for cancer development.
  • The root is also rich source of B-complex vitamins such as niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6) and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
  • Further, the root compose of moderate levels of potassium. 100 g fresh root hold 325 mg or 7% of daily requirements. Potassium lowers heart rate and regulates metabolism inside the cells by countering detrimental effects of sodium.


 Any other beet fans out there?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

staff of death


You guys who know me know I'm not a zealot, right? I'm like the opposite of that. Live and let live. Variety is the spice. To each his, well, you know.

But the more I embrace the idea behind "clean eating," the more trouble I have with the way food comes to us. Economics and science together have created a default in which compromised food is cheaper, more available, and easier to store than whole food, and nowhere is this more apparent than in grain products. 

I won't get into boxed cereals and snack foods, because, we all know they're loaded with sugar and preservatives, but something I looked into the other day has me all riled up. As though I'm a zealot! Which I'm not. I promise. Well, maybe I am. Here's the scoop:

Fresh bread, homemade bread, is amazing, right? But if you don't eat it right away, it'll sprout mold. Within a half-week, you'll need to toss it. Let's face facts, it's just not realistic for today's busy household to make bread twice a week. So, what's the next best thing?

In the Pacific Northwest, I'd say Dave's Killer Bread (which comes in several varieties) is probably your best bet. Or visit a bakery with a reputation for good, preservative-free bread. But, more than likely, if you have kids, they want that soft bread that makes excellent cinnamon sugar toast or PB&J sandwiches. Why do you think it's so soft? Some tricky whitening potentially asthma-causing chemical called azodicarbonamide. It's a dough conditioner that, in addition to whitening and softening the bread, helps the machinery run smoothly at the bread factory, and the loaf last forever on the grocery store or pantry shelf. 

Oh, and here's another fun thing that's been okayed by the FDA. DATEM, otherwise known as Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides. Yet another dough conditioner - this one helps bread look prettier. More uniform.  A 2002 study  on rats showed DATEM to cause "heart muscle fibrosis and adrenal overgrowth."

There are other nasty preservatives in bread, too. Here's a link to the full article from the blog of one of my most trusted sources, Fooducate

I had Carson read the article before breakfast this morning. "How about French Toast?" I said. I pulled out a loaf of his favorite store brand bread with a special sticker on the front claiming the bread was made using a baking process called "Tender Twist" - while also claiming to be made using whole grains. (the ingredients panel is shown below). I also offered him the one non-heel slice of Dave's Powerseed that we had left. It felt somewhat stale. He sniffed them as though he was a sommelier. 

"One of each," he said.

Once the bread was dipped in an egg-and-milk batter, sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with maple syrup (the real kind), and dotted with blueberries, he said he couldn't tell the difference taste-wise, and gobbled them both up. So I asked him if he would be willing to do without the azodicarbonamide-laden bread with the flour that had been taken apart and put back together again (that's what the term "enriched" means, btw), and he agreed to try it for a month. Looks like we'll be sampling our way through Dave's selection.

Baby steps, right?

Any label war stories out there? What lies bring out the zealot in you?
 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

happy book birthday. to me.

We interrupt healthy eating for an important announcement.This time last year I awoke to The Moment After. Or, as Tom Spanbauer has so articulately described, "The moment that after, you're different."

I was different because my debut was officially "out" - and my debut, just to mess with me, has the title The Moment Before.

In the novel - which is set in Portland, Oregon - there are several scenes that feature the iconic Voodoo Doughnut shop, so where did I stage my launch party? Yup.

My buddy Tom Spanbauer and me!
As lovely as the "magic is in the hole" doughnuts are, on my book birthday, I thought I'd amend my plan to eat cleanly all month and celebrate by buying an array of fabulous confections, and just sample a bite of each. Variety being the spice of life and all. But instead of Voodoo, I bought this six-pack of donuts at Blue Star. Why not spread the wealth (and the calories, and the fat)?


Whereas Voodoo is clever and edgy, Blue Star is foodie and gourmet. And a bit more expensive. Their brand is quality forward, as opposed to Voodoo's hipster grunge. Watch the Cooking Channel video above if you want to have a foodgasm. Truly.

For today's celebration I chose lemon poppy seed buttermilk, Mexican chocolate, blueberry basil, Maple bacon and my favorite, a lemon glazed cinnamon. And I'm not sorry.

What's your secret favorite indulgence?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

to sauce or not to sauce

I love a good sauce, don't you? One with locally-sourced organic ingredients that elevates your food to haute cuisine?

Here are two Portland sauces that work wonders for your broiled salmon, huevos rancheros, taco night or Thai noodle dishes.

Marshall's Haute Sauce: Yum! And look at all the stuff they put in that tiny bottle! You'd be hard-pressed to replicate it without investing in some fairly expensive ingredients. I sampled some of this the other day, and I swooned. (Their website seems to be undergoing some sort of hacking/safety issues, I'm getting the "are you sure" message when I click there - but the url is marshallshautesauce.com if you want to give it a go.)

On the Thai side, one of my go-to favorite food carts in Portland is the infamous Nong's Khao Man Gai downtown. I've been going there for years - even before every major food magazine
hailed them as the next-best thing to sliced gluten free bread. A couple years ago they started selling their sauce, and I typically have a couple bottles in my pantry at all times.

That said, here's an unexpected consequence of my January, 2015 experiment: I'm trying to not only eat clean, but look at the economics of my eating. As fabulous as the sauces are, they are a bit pricey. And I say that not to complain. They are worth every penny! But after I curtailed my grabbing-lunch-on-the-go habit, it started this domino effect where I'm confronting my "eating out" budget as well as my grocery store spending.

So yesterday, instead of pouring $3.50 worth of bottled sauce on my wild salmon (which I buy in bulk once a year, directly from Alaska thanks to a friend with contacts), I squeezed half a lemon on it instead. Drizzled a bit of olive oil, and waved the salt & pepper grinders over my fillet. Broiled for six-and-a-half minutes, I have to say, it tasted fantastic. Fresh, I guess, is how I'd describe it.

That's not to say I'll forever abandon the yummy sauces, but it was a good lesson for me. Simple can taste just fine. Also, I think my palate is getting sensitized to seasonings again - recoiling at extra sodium and such.

The best thing about that salmon is - it's fantastic high-quality, low calorie protein. I can eat it every meal. Truly.

What's your favorite condiment?

Monday, January 12, 2015

all ducked out


Here are the fruits of my labor for our potluck Championship Game dish. You get the color thing, right? The overwhelming Oregon yellow/green, dwarfing the Buckeye red?

Kiwi, banana, pineapple, mango, orange segments with a smattering of out-of-season-and-therefore-shitty strawberries.

So, this is my first post-resolution beer fest and I expect there will be many options. Pizza? Burgers? Oh my God, nachos, even? Will I remain a clean eater, or will I jump into a vat of cheese sauce whilst sucking Jell-O shots?

I'll report back. Happy football! Are you watching, too?


Friday, January 09, 2015

more food, more fun



All right clean eaters club, here are some ideas for the week ahead. You'll see a mix of links and recipes and a download/printable shopping list at the end if you'd like. I'm just throwing out ideas. A few pretty pictures. We're in it for the pictures, right?


BRUNCH IDEAS FOR THE WEEKEND
Banana-Buckwheat Pancakes

Veggie-Feta Quichlettes (make after milking almonds)
6 servings; each serving 285 cal. A bit high in fat, but the good fat (mostly). Low carb. UPDATED

Almond Meal Crust:
  • 1 3/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped (optional)

Vegetable Filling:
  • 5 large eggs (or 6 medium), whisked
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup feta (or ricotta) cheese
  • 1 cup Swiss chard, rinsed and chopped
  • 1/3 cup orange pepper (or other sweet peppers)
  • 2 tablespoons red onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • pinch salt 
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped 
  • grated nutmeg (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan or line it with silicone baking cups.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the crust until you get a wet, crumbly dough.
  3. Divide the dough evenly among the 12 muffin cups, and press the dough firmly into the bottom of each cup.
  4. Bake the dough for about 10-12 minutes, until the edges of the dough start to brown.
  5. While the dough is baking, mix all the ingredients for the filling in a medium-sized bowl.
  6. Once the quiche crusts have been baked, remove them from the oven and reduce the heat down to 375ºF.
  7. Pour the filling evenly onto the baked crusts.
  8. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and the filling is firm to touch.
  9. Let the quiches cool before removing them from the muffin pan to ensure that the crust does not crumble. Grate fresh nutmeg over them.  





OTHER BREAKFAST RECIPES
Piña-colada smoothie
Fill a 2-cup measure with ¼ mango; ¼ pineapple chunks; ¼ frozen coconut (cut off of a popsicle); ¼ almond milk. Blend. Yum! (add whey protein powder if you want – for after a workout)

Curried eggs [ or tofu] (4 servings)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion/diced
½ small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger root, minced
¼ tsp coriander
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon cilantro, minced
8 eggs [package of drained tofu cut into cubes]
Heat oil in a skillet and add the onion and pepper. Saute for 5 minutes then add garlic, ginger, spices and cilantro, saute another minute. Add eggs [tofu] and stir until done. Serve with whole grain toast/fruit-first jam.

Breakfast tacos (2 servings)
4 tortillas
½ pound ground turkey
½ yellow onion
Peppers of choice
4 oz feta
Fistful of cilantro, minced
Squeeze of lime
Dash of cayenne pepper and white pepper
Pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon canola oil

Preheat oven to 400°
Saute the onions and peppers in oil, add spices
Meanwhile, place tortillas on baking tray, sprinkle feta and place in preheated oven. Watch closely
Assemble meat mixture on tortillas once they’re golden brown and the cheese is ever-so-slightly melted/toasted




LUNCH IDEAS
Here’s what I’ve settled on 3 X week (it’s slightly more than 300 calories if you toast up a small slice of bread with it)

Rotisserie/lettuce/pom-mango-cashew Salad
2 – 3 oz rotisserie chicken breast meat
3 fistfuls of lettuce
¼ cup chopped mango
2 Tablespoons pom seeds
2 Tablespoons chopped cashews
1 ½ Tablespoons Suzy’s Salad Dressing (60 calories)

French Lentil Salad (I made one for lunch recently. It was great! – Buy the ready to eat lentils at Trader Joes!)

DINNER IDEAS
Tilapia Tacos

pan-toasting quinoa
Quinoa Corn Kale Fritter Cakes (makes 4 servings)
¾ c quinoa (toasted for 5 minutes in 1 Tablespoon canola oil)
1 ½ c water
½ cup frozen corn
1 cup kale (chopped)
2 Tablespoons minced minced onions
2 eggs (beaten to within an inch of their lives)
¼ cup buckwheat or other flour
½ cup green onions, chopped
½ tsp white pepper
1 tsp salt
Canola oil as needed
Add the water to the toasted quinoa, bring to boil, cover and simmer 12 minutes
Transfer to large bowl and mix in frozen corn to cool
Meanwhile, blend the kale and minced onions in a food processor (or immersion blender)
Mix blended stuff with eggs and flour and salt/pepper
Combine with quinoa mixture and make the batter
These should resemble fritter/pancakes when you fry them.

Tuna Steak seared two ways
It’s Jamie Oliver!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8liwbhzihU4

Spicy Tofu w/ Broccoli

I love watching and listening to Sanjeev Kapoor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_QNVGDMK58

Red Beans and Rice
I love this video – it shows the step-by-step method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7h6rnVvuSP8
Note: use tofu or ground turkey instead of the sausage for healthier outcome


Whew, what are you making for dinner this weekend? I’m probably going to take the weekend off from the blog, but would love to hear how it’s going with you!