Monday, February 28, 2011

11: Taking Stock


Eleven weeks to go and the countdown is really on. Soon I'm going to be counting down on two hands... ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five... you get the idea.

This weekend my sweet hubby and I got the unique opportunity to steal away for a night. Just he and I. I and he. He and me.

We dropped the kids off at grandma's, drove an hour to the north, stayed at a B&B and made up for lost time gazing endlessly into one another's eyes, cuddling in the corner booth of a fancy restaurant, and whispering the lyrics of early 1990's love songs in one another's ears. More on this later.

Back to the topic at hand, Taking Stock.

Being away from home for the weekend, you tend to eat out at every meal, which reminded me of the little grocery spending project I'd been working on for the past seven months. It dawned on me that I haven't really taken stock of how my $150 per week grocery budget was holding up against the stressors of the busyness of the final semester of grad school.

At the beginning of the project—way back in August—I was watching all of my receipts very closely each and every week. I realize I haven't done that in awhile. I guess I've gotten used to identifying which items meet the budget and which to avoid.

So I became curious and decided to take a peek at the receipts for the month. This is what I found:

In looking at January 2011 as a whole, it appears that I went over the food budget by $18 per week. Works for me. Just so long as I have enough spices to make my beloved chai twice a week, I'm good. And by the way, a chai loving sister just did a quick calculation of the chai spices she bought for my Masala Chai concentrate, and she's guesstimating it comes to about $1 per quart for the finished concentrate. Oh yeah baby! I knew there was a reason I started brewing my own chai at home.

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I was kidding about this weekend's endless gazing and fancy restaurant cuddling. But I was totally serious about this part...

Bon Jovi - Bed of Roses

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Creamy Mushroom Quinoa Chowder (Dairy-Free)

If I was ever stranded by myself on a lost deserted island and I could only choose one CD, one pair of flip-flops, one book and one warm soup that would be in never-ending supply, I would choose Gregory Alan Isakov—That Sea That Gambler, Rainbows, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and this here Creamy Mushroom Quinoa Chowder. 

For years, this was our family's favorite soup... of all time. The kind of soup you would choose to take with you if you were going to be stranded on a lost deserted island. Was is the operative word here. It was our favorite soup, that is until we took the dairy-free oath in our household. What was a cream loving group of people to do without heavy cream? Trust me, I tried it without the cream. It was not good. So the recipe was lost to grow old by itself in the back of my recipe file.

Until last week, that is. I made this soup three different times last week. Yes, in one seven day period I made this three times. Yes, I did. I've fallen in love all over again.

The secret to the creaminess is a little something called cashew cream. I've been hearing about cashew cream for years now. But I was scared. Somehow this sounded difficult, expensive and less-than-tasty. Don't ask my why I thought those things about my beloved cashew cream. For now I know, cashew cream is the answer to all my prayers. 

Funny, but just yesterday a friend forwarded me a link saying "When I saw this post I immediately thought of you." I see that someone else feels the same way I do about creamy mushroom soup with cashew cream! Check out Joy the Baker's recent post on a a really similar version of this soup. Looks fab!

And now... the soup that will accompany me everywhere I may go in my life. Including a lost deserted island.

Creamy Mushroom Quinoa Chowder

Ingredients:
1 C quinoa, toasted
4 TBS olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
16 oz package button mushrooms, chopped
4 TBS molasses
6 C chicken broth
2 C cashew cream (2 C raw cashews + 2 C rice milk or water)
1/2 tsp salt 
pepper to taste
fresh chives

The Preparation Method:

Toast the quinoa in a dry, heavy skillet over medium heat until fragrant.

In a large soup pot, saute the onions in the olive oil over medium-high heat until caramelized, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the mushrooms.

The toasted quinoa.

And the molasses.

Stir well to combine and cook until mushrooms are limp about 10 minutes.

Add all of the chicken broth.

I love the Better Than Bullion brand. I think you'll love it too.

Stir it all together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until quinoa is cooked.

In the meantime, make your cashew cream. It's super easy. Don't be afraid. Watch...

If you are planning ahead, you can soak the raw cashews in water for many hours. Overnight is good. But 2 hours works too. And if you didn't think about soaking ahead of time, no worries. Just put the raw cashews in the blender with the liquid and you're all good.

Strain the water out.

Place them in a blender or food processor.

Add rice milk or water.

Enough to cover the cashews.

And blend until smooth.

Now you have cashew cream. Boy, that was easy wasn't it!

It's about now that the soup should be about finished cooking. The quinoa is finished cooking when it looks like it has come undone, a bit unraveled. Grab your handy immersion blender.

And blend away to your hearts content.

You're done blending when the soup is smooth.

Add the cashew cream.

Stir it around. Add salt and pepper to taste. And presto...

The creamiest darn dairy-free soup you've ever tasted! Garnish with fresh chives if you like. I didn't have any by the time I was taking pics of this dish. It's good none-the-less.

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This post is dedicated to my dear sister who comes off of a 40-day fast today. The remarkable cleansing her body has done astonishes me. She's going to need something gentle for her system. Love you sister!


Train - Hey, Soul Sister

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Crock-Pot BBQ Chicken Perfection


I'm reposting this recipe because it is so dang divine. 

My husband's face lights up when he walks in the house and smells it cooking.

In fact, last time I served this meal my husband kept referring to it as nothing short of “perfection”. 

He asked me if I had a name for the dish. I told him yes, I did. It's called Crock-Pot BBQ Chicken

"Oh no, no, no," he lamented. "That won't do. You need a good name for this. It's perfection."

"Ok, I'll call it Crock-Pot BBQ Chicken Perfection then," thinking this would do the trick.

To which he replied, "That's not a suitable name. It's not just the chicken, it's all of it... together. That's what makes it so good."

"How about Perfection in a Pot?" I offered.

"Oh no, no, no," was his response once more. "This is not about the crock-pot. Nor is it about the chicken. It's about all of it... together. It's hearty. It's tasty. It's easy. You need a really good name."

I've been thinking about this for days now. And this is what I've come up with—Perfection on a Bed of Rice with BBQ Chicken and Slaw. That's kind of a long name, I know. 

So maybe something a bit shorter. How about Jump for Joy BBQ Chicken. 

Or perhaps something a touch more lengthy would adequately describe it—Make You Want to do Cartwheels in the Middle of your Meal Crock-Pot BBQ Delight.

Anyhow, whatever you want to call it, next time you want to put your feet up while dinner cooks itself you know what to try. This Cartwheel Inducing, Jump for Joy, Perfection in a Pot on a Bed of Rice with BBQ Chicken and Slaw is nourishing, simple to prepare and surely a crowd pleaser.


Crock-Pot BBQ Chicken Perfection with Judith's Slaw

You'll Need:
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
12 oz BBQ sauce
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 TBS Worchestershire sauce

The Preparation Method:

In the base of a large crock-pot, whisk together the BBQ sauce, Italian salad dressing, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce.

Trim excess fat off chicken breasts. Place meat in the crock-pot. Stir to coat with the sauce.

Cook on the high setting for 3 - 4 hours or on the low setting for 6 - 8 hours.

Just before serving, take a large spoon and shred the chicken. It will fall apart on its own when stirred around. Mix to coat well with the sauce.

Serve over brown rice with a hearty portion of Judith’s Slaw on top.


It is done when the chicken separates easily.

Serve over brown rice with a hearty helping of slaw, or in a taco shell with slaw on top.

You can make this up to one day in advance. 

Take your time, drink a little wine, and stir it up girl.

Judith's Slaw

You will need:
1/2 head of cabbage
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 TBS rice vinegar
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp sugar

The Preparation Method:
Combine mayonnaise, rice vinegar, celery seed, salt and sugar. Mix well.

Shred the cabbage into thin pieces. Simply cut the head of cabbage into quarters and start slicing into thin strands. It shreds itself.

Dump cabbage into mayo concoction. Stir it around. Coat cabbage well. Refrigerate. Done.


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Something else that makes me want to do cartwheels in the middle of my meal... this song.

Jack Johnson - Better Together (Kokua Festival 2010)

Monday, February 21, 2011

12: The Final Phase of Birthing a Grad Degree


In the thick of it. Down in the trenches. Knee deep.

Whatever name you may have for it, we’ve found ourselves here. It has been precisely eleven weeks since I last took tally of where we were on our journey towards that glorious day in May. You’ll know it has arrived because you’ll see me dancing in the aisles of that stadium as my dear husband walks across the stage to receive his hard earn diploma. 

Last time I stopped long enough to think about it we were nearing the halfway point of the year with 23 weeks left until graduation day. Now, with only 12 weeks to go, we find ourselves knee deep in the final semester of this four-year journey that has seen us through highs and lows, excitement and grief.

Over the last four years, among other things, we’ve:

seen our family grow by one

received Celiac Disease diagnosis for two

endured Shingles, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, debilitating Eczema and Asthma

watched our babies turn into school children

welcomed backyard chickens

adopted a full-on gluten-free dairy-free lifestyle

witnessed countless doula babies breath their first breath

attended the marriage of my closest sibling

traded in our beloved Subaru for a vehicle with third row seating (families of five, bring it)

and lost my beloved grandmother.

First things first, I must say that our present situation really isn’t all that bad. There are worse things than sending a husband through grad school while trying to manage a growing family. But from where I stand it feels… hard, impossible, never ending.

Somewhere around the 20-week mark I was chatting with a student in my childbirth class one night as we were folding up the backjack chairs. He recalled his days in grad school (without kids in the picture) and how it started to feel exponentially difficult towards the end.

The pressures of work plus school plus the prospect of the future made him equate this phase of his life to the Transition Phase in labor. (We did just conclude a childbirth class, mind you, where we talk about things like uterine contractions, the fundus, vaginas, the Ferguson reflex, meconium and the like.)

It’s true. The second to last semester of school was feeling so similar to the transition phase of labor when the mother is close to being fully dilated and the contractions amp up in frequency and intensity and a physiological fear overtakes the body. I can’t do this anymore. Can’t we just stop this nonsense and try again tomorrow? Whose idea was this anyway? I give up.

And now that we’re so close to the very end of this seemingly endless journey, I’m starting to get a similar feeling to when we were in the Pushing Phase of labor. Even though the end is so close you can almost taste it, certain sentiments rise up that can be hard to reckon with. Push, push, push. Get ‘er done. I don’t care anymore, I just want to be finished. Are we making any progress anyways? It doesn’t feel like this is working. Am I going to feel like this forever? Just GET IT OUT.

If I wasn’t a childbirth educator, I might be duped into believing that this phase of life might never end. That it will feel like this forever. That we will always be in the labor pains of birthing something new and grand.

But I am a childbirth educator. And I know for certain that Second Stage Labor does not last forever. That the grad school baby will come out, and relatively soon, at that.  That each and every study session that is behind us is another step closer to the end. That once the baby is out, everything will change in an instant.

And... that I will one day see my husband again for more than a two hour time block every few days. 

That one day we will enjoy so much family time together that we’ll get sick of looking at one another. 

That one day we will gaze into each others eyes and there will be a certain clarity there that only comes from getting enough sleep each night. 

Twelve weeks to go my friends. Twelve weeks to go. I trust it will be over in a blink.

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In times like these, this song makes me feel really happy! And makes me laugh! And makes me want to dance!

Hair - I Got Life

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pork Chops and Apple Sauce — All Grown Up

I'm a fan of pork chops and applesauce. What can I say? This must be a leftover affinity from the days of my youth. I do believe that most people who—at one point or another—have had to scrimp and save have partaken in this cultural phenomenon.

It's cheap. That's true. But some people around here cringe upon first mention of this famed 'scrimp and save' dish. So the other night I was looking for a way to make my pork chops and applesauce more grown up. More sophisticated if you will. I found it.

(This recipe was adapted from this one over at www.marthastewart.com.)

Pork Chops and Apple Sauce — All Grown Up


Ingredients:


1 cup milk or milk alternative (I used Blue Diamond unsweetened original almond milk)
1 tsp salt
4-6 pork chops—loin or shoulder, bone or no bone, whatever your preference
freshly ground black pepper
3 TBS olive oil, split (or 1 TBS olive oil and 2 TBS butter if you wish)
1 large white onion, sliced
3 apples, cored and sliced
1 cup cider beer, white wine or chicken broth

The Preparation Method:

Begin at least three hours early by preparing a milk soak. Mix one teaspoon of salt into one cup of milk. Double if necessary to cover all the chops.

My pork chops have always been tough. Throughout my adulthood I could not make a tender pork chop to save my life. But that is changing, my friends, that is changing. Read on.

Cover the chops with the milk and salt mixture. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours. This will make the meat super tender in the end.

Now that the meat is relaxing with the milk treatment, you can prep the onions and apples. Thinly slice both and set aside. (Opps, looks like I forgot to take a picture of the sliced apples. I must have gotten a little carried away taking pics of the chops. They are pretty darn good looking.)

After a minimum two hour milk bath, pull the chops out. (Clearly these chops do not reflect having spent any time at the milk baths. They were my first attempt chops, who did not get the milk treatment. They were as tough and dry as a hard wood door. My next attempt was with the chops in the above picture. They, on the other hand, were easily cut with a fork and smooth as butter.)

Anyhow, the process is the same from here on out. Sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper on both sides.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large heavy skillet, cast iron ideally. Place the chops in the pan over high heat.

Brown throughly on one side, then flip. Continue to brown on the second side. Browning the chops should take approximately 8 minutes or so.

Remove the chops to a plate standing by.

Pour the remaining 2 TBS olive oil or 2 TBS butter into the pan.

Add the sliced onions and apples. Saute until the onions begin to caramelize and the apples begin to soften.

Pour in the beer, wine or broth.

Add the chops back to the pan.

Cover all of the chops with the apple and onion mixture. Continue to cook over medium heat until the pork is tender and cooked through, about 15 more minutes. Turn halfway through.

Serve the pork chops with the apple and onion mixture over the top and rice or mashed potatoes on the side.

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Craig Campbell - Family Man

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Day 11 ~ Chai Concentrate Storage ~ 12 Days of Homemade Chai

For the past two weeks we've been on a journey together discovering the ins and outs of homemade masala chai.

Let us take a moment to pause and reflect:

Day 1 introduced us to all the goodness and joy that is to be had when cupping a warm mug of sweet and spicy milk tea between the palms of our hands.

Day 2 highlighted the amazing healing power of the majority of the spices in this drink.

Day 3 included a basic understanding of one of the cardinal spices of masala chai, cardamom, and why I sometimes spit and make my son proud.

Day 4 made me believe that I was a Chai Wallah in a past life.

Day 5 now keeps me from sneezing all over my kitchen.

Day 6 is making me think of snowboarding. Perhaps it is the beautiful shape of that star anise that is causing me to dream of the stars in the big mountain sky the last time I went night skiing.

Day 7 made me stop whatever it was I was doing to stare at another of nature's magnificent designs. 

Day 8 has got me thinking of snowboarding again. Perhaps it is because the ginger in my chai makes me think of fireworks which is making me think of the fireworks in the big mountain sky the last time I went night skiing. Yes, night skiing is pretty darn cool in my book.

Day 9 got me thinking that twelve days is possibly ten days too long to write on any single topic.

Day 10 reminded me why I'll write on my favorite topic for as many days as it takes, because this topic is just too dang sweet to skim through.

Day 11, well here we are, talking storage.

A few observations about storing chai concentrate:

Glass or ceramic containers are ideal, especially since I pour the boiling hot mixture directly into the storage container. I feel less toxic this way.

The concentrate tastes remarkably better after it has sat in the refrigerator overnight.

It stores for up to one week in the refrigerator.

It makes good sense to make a batch that will last about a week to maximize your brewing efforts. In your calculations, do remember all of the friends who will be stopping by for a spot of afternoon tea. Brew extra for them.

Day 12 will reveal the method to my madness.

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This woman's voice is magnificent! Have a listen, friends.

Adele - Rolling In The Deep

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 10 ~ Sweeten Her Up ~ 12 Days of Homemade Chai

I have been known to like a few sweet things in my time.

Mom, if you're reading this you might want to skip ahead to the next post. I know, I know—Sugar is nice on the tongue but goes straight to the hips. Puts pimples on my face. Lowers my immune system. Has no value. Does no good. We don't like to talk about it.

But I'll be honest with you. I like it. There comes a point with everything when enough is enough. Need I remind you of my discovery of the Burnt Sugar Almonds a few months ago.

All things considered, the chai isn't quite right unless we sweeten her up a bit. Just the right amount of sugar and the right type helps to bring all the flavors together nicely.

I use pure cane turbinado sugar. This type of sugar is not heavily refined—nor is it stripped of the natural presence of molasses—like refined white sugar is. The resulting flavor is rich and full of depth.

I have not experimented with all of the umpteen possibilities when it comes to sweetening my chai. Have you? I'll be curious to hear what you've tried in terms of adding sweetness. Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments section below. (And if the system won't let you comment—as I hear is the case sometimes—feel free to send me an email instead, dancewhileyoucook@gmail.com)

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I was just listening to an old Dead tape in my kitchen while writing this post. Funny that this super happy song came on just as I was wrapping up.

Grateful Dead - Sugar Magnolia

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day 9 ~ Loose Leaf Assam Tea ~ 12 Days of Homemade Chai

We might be taking some liberties with our version of Masala Chai, but we can do that, because it's ours. That's the point of this whole 12 Days of Homemade Chai series.

Get to know the spices. Get to know your preferences. Make it how you like it because you are the brew master. Or should I say, The Brew Master.

Yes, you are the one in charge of the intricate flavorings, the way the spice sits on the tongue, and how much caffeine you pack into each cup.

I like to think that the drink I brew at home each week is inspired by those Chai Wallahs of long ago. Add together some spices, some milk, some sugar, and some tea. Boo-yah. Masala Chai.

In my opinion, it is imperative that I use a distinctly Indian tea leaf. I've tried all kinds of black tea and none pack the punch quite like Assam.

This leaf grown in the world's largest tea growing region, the state of Assam, is known for its body, briskness and malty flavor. All of which are characteristics that compliment the chai concentrate perfectly.

Let it be known that black tea will turn bitter if steeped for too long. Therefore, the tea leaves are added to the concentrate at the very end of the process, left to steep for a maximum of five minutes, and quickly filtered out with the rest of the spices. 

Buying loose leaf Assam tea in bulk is not only cheaper than buying it in prepackaged tea bags, but it offers a distinctly different flavor. 

The main difference between loose leaf teas and bagged teas is the size of the leaves. Whole tea leaves contain chemicals and essential oils that can evaporate when crushed into tiny pieces for the bags. When the tea leaves are left whole and are let loose in the hot water they will expand, swell and unfurl. An entirely different richness is garnered from this process. 

Loose leaf tea is an essential component of the chai concentrate. It is so very worth it to find a grocer who stocks loose leaf Assam.

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A completely different region in India, but all this talk about Assam and India makes me think of this really great movie I saw once. 

Darjeeling Limited Soundtrack - Bombay Talkie

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 8 ~ Ginger Fireworks ~ 12 Days of Homemade Chai

Ginger, baby. Ginger. I spent many a morning trying to nail down the precise addition that ginger brings to my chai. Cup after cup, I would swirl and swish. Spice, yes. Fruity sweetness, yes. Fireworks, fo' sho'.

It took me awhile, but I finally put my finger on it. Fireworks. In my mouth. Every sip. That's exactly what the ginger adds. Bright. Sparkling. Tingly. Just one more layer of complexity added to the overall blend.

There are many different ways to include ginger in our favorite drink. Try one or all in your recipe until you arrive at the perfect level of firework action for your mouth.

Option A.) Crystallized ginger. This dried out version keeps on the spice rack much longer than fresh ginger keeps in the refrigerator. I store it with all my dried chai spices so that I've always got a ginger option, should I forget to pick up the fresh stuff on my weekly grocery store excursion.

Chop it into small pieces and add it along with the other spices to the rolling boil. Crystallized ginger brings out the sweetness while muting the spiciness of fresh ginger. This is a great option for folks who enjoy a slight ginger flavor without that zesty kick you can expect from the fresh stuff.

Option B.) Fresh ginger. Sliced or chopped. It doesn't matter if it still has the skin on it. You'll be straining all of the spices out at the end anyway. This offers a nice balance of both sweet and spice to the drink, without either being overpowering.

Option C.) If you're a ginger lover, and you can claim it loud and proud, pressed ginger juice is the method for you. This is the grand finale of fireworks displays (in your mouth). The easiest way that I've found to get fresh pressed ginger juice is to grate and press. 

Begin by coarsely grating the ginger root.

Pop it into a garlic press.

Squeeze the juice out.

This was my meager attempt at getting an action shot of the juice streaming out of the garlic press. I can't seem to figure out how to capture a good flow. Any help on this topic would be much appreciated. If you've had success when it comes to snapping a picture of a flowing stream of liquid, leave your ideas in the comments section below. Thank you, kind helpful readers.

And there you have it. Fresh pressed ginger juice. 

I'm curious if you have other ideas on harvesting the spicy good stuff. This is my preferred method, but it does require a bit of a time commitment. It has been known to be the most time consuming segment of the entire chai crafting process. Please do share your thoughts and tips on this topic in the comments section below. Thank you, kind helpful readers.

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I've only heard this song about a million times and never knew what the heck she was singing in the refrain. Now I know.

Katy Perry - Firework

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