a happy garden & a harvest roast

garden harvest 7/7/13

The garden is thankful for the love we have shown it this year, and I am thankful that it is thankful, because look at this beautiful produce! This was our first harvest of squash, beginning of the tomatoes, first jalapeño, and finally decided to pull the garlic that’s been chugging along since last fall.

Along with taking a greater interest in gardening lately, my boyfriend Forrest and I decided to build 4 raised garden beds, fill them with nutrient-rich compost and soil, and surround the entire garden with a deer fence, overall providing a huge improvement in looks and prosperity.

It was a slow, cold spring, and I would stare out my window at the garden every morning, daydreaming about the day when it would be lush and thriving, out-of-control with tomato vines, when it would have too much fruit-producing energy for me to keep up with. And the day is here—it has been here for several weeks—but now we are getting deep into the heart of the summer harvest, when my basket is a rainbow like the photo above.

fence-building around the garden

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Cajun oven fries!

crispy Cajun oven fries

I am about to write a post that came about from a trip to Five Guys and Subway. Never in envisioning my ‘healthy cooking blog’ did I think something like this would come up. But inspiration finds you in unexpected places, I suppose.

So here we were, my boyfriend and I waiting out the thunderstorm in a (particularly awesome) tavern before a great night of baseball: the Nationals vs. Orioles at the Nats stadium in DC. I had the thought of maybe grabbing a sandwich at Subway across the street rather than paying $12 for a greasy something-or-other in the stadium. Forrest was in, although he decided to go all in at the Five Guys next door. I admitted to him that I did love their fries—way back when I ate hamburgers—so he promised to share with me all the little fries I desired, as they stuff an entire brown bag full of them. What a treat!

The fries – their cajun seasoned ones which I had never tried – were greasy but delicious, with a much more ‘homemade’ taste than any other fast food fries I’ve had. And the cajun seasoning was just meant to be with them. I knew I’d be cooking up a healthier version as soon as I got home.

And that was that. Inspiration for my next recipe came to me from a greasy burger joint outside a ballpark. Although I love cooking and eating foods that are inherently healthy (kale salads, lentil stew, etc..) there is a great satisfaction that comes from ‘healthifying’ something that’s typically not so great for you. So here are some oven baked fries, smothered in Cajun goodness, thick and tender and crispy enough to rival any fast food joint.

Nats v Orioles, photo by Forrest

crispy Cajun oven fries

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really good falafel

really good falafel

I really miss my falafel bar in Charleston. Can’t believe it’s been a year since my college graduation and FIVE years since I was a freshman, exploring and orienting myself around that amazing little city. A city with a wonderful, wonderful food scene. New restaurants were popping up on the narrow historic downtown streets every other day it seemed, having to compete in a food culture that demanded unqiue, eclectic, quality eats. And the day I saw the new Patat Spot Friet & Falafel pop up on one of the streets that ran right through campus, I was psyched. This girl is a falafel lover.

Plus this wasn’t just any order of falafel – you could get it grilled or fried, in a pita or on a bed of greens, and then head over to the ‘Garden Spot’ and fill your plate with over 20 toppings ranging from pickled beets to baba ganoush to tabouli. I surely did my best to keep them in business.

falafel

Anyway, just reminiscing about how great I had it back in the day. Now I have to make it all myself and provide all the toppings?! Ugh. Fortunately, making falafel is pretty simple and the finished product is so worth it. I’ve probably used a different falafel recipe every time and this combination of ingredients definitely makes for the best, as does soaking and cooking my own garbanzo beans. Much better texture and easier on the digestion. I also wanted to experiment with baking vs. pan frying — both turned out equally delicious. When the time came to serve, the only form of bread in my house was corn tortillas so… I made do with a falafel taco. Not bad! If you’ve got pita, by all means use it or serve over a bed of spinach or romaine with a 20+ topping salad bar, ideally ;) Continue reading

shrimp fried… cauliflower?

shrimp fried cauliflower 'rice'

Cauliflower ‘rice’ has been on my to-make list for a long time, but for some reason I always imagined it being more of a time-consuming hassle than it is. Truth is, it’s much quicker than cooking rice! I know people are always skeptical of using vegetables in place of typically-called for ingredients, but I am not shy when it comes to this… beet and black bean fudge squares, anyone? :)

This dish is just like your typical fried rice, except that the “rice” is finely chopped up cauliflower for a super-nutritious, lower carb, higher fiber take on the classic dish. You can tell it’s not rice – the cauliflower bits resembling something more like couscous – but it acts like a base for asian veggies and sauces and soaks up the flavor just as rice does.

I have nothing against brown rice and I sure do love myself a side of it when I’m out, but it’s easy to eat way more than a serving size when they stuff an entire take-out container full of it.

Now imagine being able to chow down on a giant bowl of this fried cauliflower rice without one bit of guilt! I see it as a giant warm salad, cause that’s what it is – vegetables topped with a bit of protein and a light sauce. Yum. Now we can have the addicting Chinese carry-out taste, while actually feeling good about our health while we eat it.

shrimp fried cauliflower 'rice'

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Back home to comfort (food)

egg<3

It’s always something I look forward to after travelling: returning to my kitchen and to my comfort food. Comfort food – often synonymous with indulgence food – for me is actually the healthy, nutritious, veggie-full meals we eat in our house*. It’s comforting because it satisfies both mind and body, and I crave it when I’m away from it for too long. Traveling in a country like Colombia, where green vegetables are not (at all) the forefront of the cuisine and I’ve eaten one-too-many deep fried empanadas ….makes me long for the salads, stews, curries, fritattas, stir frys, and all other veggie-centered dishes that are a regular at home.

*don’t get me wrong, ‘comfort food’ to me also means all things chocolate ;)

I also return home inspired by the many foods I’ve sampled, techniques I’ve observed, new spices and textures and flavors I’ve discovered. So I’m off the plane and anxious to cook, whether it’s Colombian arepas or a comforting veggie-ful lentil curry.

Here’s a little bite of the food in my life since I came home… just a little detox from empanadas, fried plantains, queso, queso, and more queso.

quinoa falafels over greens & carrot-orange-ginger juice

Quinoa falafels with tahini sauce via Sprouted Kitchen, & fresh carrot-mango-orange-ginger juice

kabocha squash lentil curry

I-could-eat-this-every-day Kabocha Squash Lentil Curry via Pinch of Yumover kale with toasted naan

Jamie's sourdough boule

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My sister’s sourdough boules… maybe ate a little too much of this, but who can resist warm, crusty, chewy, fresh baked bread?!

sourdough boule with apricots + almonds

homemade butterfingers

And in lieu of store-bought Easter candy, we made homemade vegan butterfingers, which blew us all away with their spot on texture and peanut buttery goodness. Continue reading

Smitten with Salento

birdwatching & coffee sipping at Sacha Mama, Salento

If there’s a place encompassing my idea of perfection in Latin America, it would be the town of Salento. In this little coffee town of Quindio, Colombia, everything is just right.

the lovely town of Salento

The town itself is quiet, but not sleepy. People there are super friendly, but not in your face or pushy. The colonial-style buildings are colorful but not flashy. The main street in town is lined with local artisans selling beautiful handcrafted goods (woven sweaters and ponchos, copper jewelry, pottery, sculptures, planters, etc) – not plastic keychains and cheap souvenirs. They grow the best coffee in the world, and they’re in love with it. Aside from the pure coffee that is grown, roasted, and brewed by the people who know coffee best, local shops sell coffee-infused everything – cookies, caramel (cafequipe), liquor, chocolate-coated beans, you name it.

I never expected to encounter a landscape so utterly ideal and flawless – but here it is. Any direction you look, lush green mountains roll into the distance, scattered with palms and tropical flowers and trees, dairy cows and horses. Needless to say there is ample space to hike and run and stretch your legs, which will surely be strong and toned with all the steady hills and winding dirt roads. If this were a town in the States, no doubt it would be taken over by young outdoorsy hippies like many Colorado, Oregon, and California towns these days (not to be stereotypical ;) But instead it’s populated with local artisans, coffee farmers, cowboys, and the small population of backpackers who come (often staying longer than planned) and go.

The climate is like none other I’ve encountered. There can be intense sunshine, cool fog, rain, lightning, and silver-lined, pillowy clouds all in one day. The tropical vegetation suggests it is humid and wet, but in fact the air is a perfectly comfortable not-cold, not-hot, not wet nor dry. It’s obviously the coffee plant’s ideal climate as well. The horses and dogs are hearty and well-fed. The cows here look genuinely happy – but really, how could they not be?

happy Salento cows

Valle de Cocora
Valle de Cocora, home to the world’s tallest palms

It doesn’t hurt that the hostel I stayed (and then volunteered) at – set amid a 200-acre picturesque dairy farm – feels more like a big cozy house than a hostel; like a communal living space where everyone cooks together, plays together, and lounges together. It’s safe enough to walk the 15 minutes home down a dirt road by your lonesome after dark (and that’s not just me being risky, it really is safe). I’m usually cautious about carrying valuables with me, but this is the first place in Latin America I’ve felt good about taking my ipod with me on a run (in Colombia of all places, to all you skeptics ;)

And as if I couldn’t enjoy my stay in Salento any more, there is a cafe that will deliver brownies filled with a thick layer of homemade peanut butter, right up to the door of the hostel.

Pedro's coffee, from jungle to cup
Visiting Pedro’s finca, Sacha Mama, where we harvested, processed and brewed our own coffee, from jungle to cup :)

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12 days as a chef in Colombia

Casa Loma

Casa Loma: a wooden hilltop hostel in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, overlooking the little town of Minca, the mountains, the coastal city of Santa Marta, and the Caribbean sea all at the same time. Sounds like a paradise, yeah?

view from Casa Loma
view from la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range

So when I found an opportunity to volunteer here in exchange for a tent and meals, I was in. And let me just say it’s a good thing the other volunteers and I knew anything about cooking, because we were in charge of serving breakfast and dinner to 20+ guests each day… not to mention the little town has no supermarket and neither the stove nor the oven in our 4’x5′ kitchen were adjustable.

It was a challenge, but certainly an enjoyable one  :)

Casa Loma eats

Breakfast mostly consisted of lots of local coffee, fresh juice, homemade arepas and eggs — not too hard. We rotated roles as the dinner chef each night, merely given the rules that the ingredients can be bought in town and to include a vegetarian option. Although I love cook and I do it all the time, when put on the spot about what to prepare for 20 guests (using the very limited variety of ingredients available in town)… my mind went blank! Continue reading