Rose was just recollecting with great affection all the times when she would return to the house, exhausted after a full day, and know she could count on me to have a pantry full of tasty things to eat. “And you always had a nice hot bowl of stew waiting for me,” she murmured dreamily. “Awesome stew.”
Real-life friends reading this account will be understandably puzzled. But it’s true, every word.
All right, I may have omitted one teeny-tiny piece of context.
what my stew looked like
what I looked like when I made it
That’s right. When my children reminisce about their mother’s wonderful home-cooking, they’re talking about a computer game.
I make up a serving of this simple vinaigrette almost every day for my lunchtime salad. I could make a bigger batch to keep in the fridge, but there’s something very satisfying about stirring up just enough for the day. So quick, so tasty.
To make a single serving, I slosh a tablespoon of olive oil into a bowl, letting it overflow just a little—a tablespoon and a splash, we’ll say. Then a squeeze of mustard, stir stir stir, and a scant tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Dash of salt, and we’re done. Especially good with some gorgonzola crumbles in the salad. I’m eating that now, which is what made me think of posting this. Delicious!
Yesterday we had our Journey North Mystery Class wrap-up party. Huge fun all around: each family revealed its Mystery City location and we celebrated with a feast of dishes from the far-off locales. (Even the one American city in this year’s batch is far-off from us here in San Diego.) I won’t say more about the secret locations, since I know some of you are participating in your own groups and may not have had your big reveals yet. But ohhhh, was the food good.
I’ll give this much away: Beanie’s and my contribution were these Icelandic pancakes (pönnukökur).
(Beloved Carl Larsson print hiding a snarl of electrical cords.)
Here’s the recipe we followed, and here’s a delightful video demonstration by Icelandic cook Margret:
At the end of the video she demonstrates the most common ways to serve the pancakes: sprinkled with sugar (as we did above) or spread with jam and a generous dollop of whipped cream. I didn’t think the cream would hold up at a potluck, but you can be sure we’re going to give that version a go very, very soon.
*My sweet broom is in bloom, lightening my heart not only with its sunny blossoms but also the way it puts one of my favorite Scottish ballads into my head every time I glance its direction.
Tomorrow Jane, Rose, and I are off on a new adventure—a Peterson family first: open house at the university Jane plans to attend in the fall. Talk about blinking. Seems only last week this happened:
I bragged about my granola and Charlotte asked for the recipe. It’s a bit tricky, because this is the one dish I make where I don’t measure anything, I just eyeball it.
9×13 baking pan + stick of butter + 350 degree oven. You can melt the butter right in the pan in the preheating oven, or you can speed things up and melt it on the stove, whatever you like.
To the melted butter in the pan, add about 2/3 cup honey. Or less. Or more. I like it sweet-ish but not too sweet.
Then dump in some old-fashioned (not quick) oats. Um, a quantity might be helpful here, but I have no idea. Six or seven cups, maybe? I fill the pan to about an inch from the top. I think. You know, until it looks like a good-sized batch.
Then I add sunflower seeds (raw, unsalted), flax seed, and lots of chopped almonds, walnuts or pecans (or a mixture).
A sprinkle of cinnamon.
Mix it all together, making sure to scrape up the honey from the bottom and work it into the oats.
Toast at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. (Stir once or twice in between.)
I think the lesson here is that I should be kept far, far, far away from the kitchen during the week taxes are due. Tonight it was the asparagus: I put some in a pot to steam in a little water, and then somewhere between buttering the bread and slicing the red bell pepper, I forgot about it. For a good twenty minutes.
See, the first thing that happened was the Worcestershire sauce came out much faster than I expected. Much, much faster. And since I was pouring directly into the mixing bowl, well, what was I going to do? Throw out all that perfectly good egg and milk and bread that was supposed to go into the meatloaf?
The second thing that happened was that the Worcestershire sauce turned out to be a bottle of liquid smoke.
So, um, yes. I threw out all that perfectly good egg and milk and bread that was supposed to go into the meatloaf.
I think the real question is: why do you still let me loose in the kitchen?
His chocolate book proved just as interesting and illuminating.
Published in 2003 (which is to say, on the cutting edge of the chocolate-has-health-benefits revelation), Chocolate Unwrapped is a close look at what chocolate is, how it’s produced, what role it has played in history, and—the best part—exactly why it is good for us. I knew a good bit of the history, having researched cacao and cocoa for a book myself many moons ago, but I enjoyed the thoroughness of Rowan’s examination.
What I appreciated most was the in-depth look at antioxidants—what they are and why we care. I mean, we’ve all been inundated with the ANTIOXIDANTS GOOD message these past five or ten years, and we’ve seen dozens of lists of antioxidant-rich foods. If you’re on Facebook you’ve probably had those darn acai berries rubbed in your face more times than you can count. “Although everyone has heard of antioxidants,” Rowan writes, “most people have only a hazy conception of what they are.” Bingo.
“What,” he goes on to ask, “is so magical about antioxidants? How can they help prevent such a wide range of diseases?” The answer has to do with free radicals—something else I knew about in a hazy FREE RADICALS BAD, ANTIOXIDANTS GOOD way. But the science of it isn’t hazy at all.
Free radicals are molecules gone bad: they have had one of their electrons knocked off, or have had an extra electron forced upon them, so they have a charge. But (as we all remember from chemistry class), molecules don’t want a charge, they want to be neutral, so free radicals search their environment for a place to unload their extra electron, if they have too many, or steal an electron if they are one short.
Of course, the molecule victimized by the original free radical now has a charge of its own. So what does it do? It turns around and does the same thing to its neighbor. A chain reaction occurs that continues until something else comes along to intervene.
Now picture a free radical in your body. If it steals an electron from one of your cells, you then have a chain reaction of radical cells in your body. If it attacks your DNA, so much the worse. Cells don’t respond well to having their molecular structure altered. Cancer is just one of many diseases resulting from this. Blame free radicals for everything from wrinkled skin to memory loss, immune system deterioration, and arthritis….The average DNA receives 10,000 “hits” from free radicals per day.
Well, that cheerful information is enough to send me running to the fridge for my favorite comfort food. Fortuitously, it turns out that’s exactly the right move to make.
Enter the antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals in several ways. The polyphenol antioxidants in chocolate are molecules composed of a ring of six carbon atoms. Some of the bonds between the carbon atoms are double bonds, but a single bond between carbon atoms is all that’s necessary for the molecule to hold together, so polyphenols can easily “shuffle” their bonds to have one free to latch onto a charged particle that comes along—like a free radical. They then carry the free radical out of the body with them when they are excreted through normal processes.
As you can see, your body needs a constant supply of polyphenols and other antioxidants to continously eliminate free radicals from the body. Chocolate is one of the best places to get this supply.
This is where Elaine shoves Jerry: GET OUT! I mean, it’s a bit of a jump from “ANTIOXIDANTS GOOD and chocolate’s got ’em” to “chocolate is one of the best places to get this supply.” Oh but listen:
A bar of dark chocolate has twice the antioxidant content of a glass of red wine and seven times that of green tea. What about fruits and vegetables? They don’t even come close. Oranges have 750 antioxidant units per 100 grams, kale 1770. Blueberries, poster-children of the antioxidant world, have 2400. And dark chocolate? More than 13,000.
Of course, as Rowan points out quite clearly, the cocoa bean is actually the seed of a fruit. And when he says “dark chocolate,” he means the darker, the better—certainly not milk chocolate, so full of sugar and milk powder that the actual cocoa content may be quite minimal. His examination of the history of chocolate illuminates the path the seeds traveled that led to their being so heavily diluted with sugars and fats that it is practically impossible for a contemporary Westerner to think of chocolate as anything but dessert (ergo a wicked indulgence).
Also discussed is chocolate’s famed (and quite factual) mood-lifting power, containing as it does a number of brain-affecting chemical compounds, including caffeine (in minimal quantities, however), theobromine (another mild stimulant), seratonin, tryptophan, and PEA (phenylethylamine), a chemical which, “like speed and heroin…triggers the release of natural opiates in the brain, which brings on feelings of ecstasy.” As if that weren’t enough, there’s anandamide, a “pleasure chemical” found in chocolate that is “almost identical to the THC in marijuana.”
(Bonus children’s literature connection: according to this book, anandamide was named for the Sanskrit word for bliss. In junior high, I was dead set on naming my firstborn daughter “Ananda,” after the awesome dog—stay with me—in Madeleine L’Engle’s novel, A Swiftly Tilting Planet. According to Mrs. L’Engle, the word meant “that joy in existence without which the universe would fall apart and collapse.” I thought that sounded like a pretty fine name for one’s child. A bit much to measure up to, perhaps, but I planned to call her Nan for short—an homage to Anne Shirley Blythe, of course.)
Anyway: Chocolate Unwrapped: fascinating book, another excellent source of discussion between my children and me, and exactly the justification I needed for my mid-afternoon daily dose. And, yes, for me, where chocolate is concerned, the mantra has always been: the darker, the better. Free radicals, begone.
Today was another sick day for me. The kids are much better, though. I could have cried with relief when Scott told me he was staying home from work today to take care of everyone. Here at the darkening end of the day, I think I’m finally seeing a glimmer of wellness in the distance. I still have no voice and a cruel cough, but I’m getting better. Hurrah.
Sick or no, we took a fun little spontaneous stroll through an interesting topic today: bento boxes. In Harvest Moon your character is given a box lunch every day, and Rose was curious about what exactly a box lunch IS, and I told her about bento and starting looking up links, and oh my, the internet is a wondrous thing.
This isn’t a bento but it may be the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life, EVER. (Remind me to tell you someday about my family’s deep affection for My Neighbor Totoro, which I think is my favorite animated movie of all time.) (You see how Totoro brings out the extreme declarations from me.)
Bento Box has some good background, especially the page about bento staples.
We are almost always home for lunch, but these beautiful pictures give me much food for thought (ba dum bum) about simple ways to bring more beauty to the table and make healthy foods appealing. Not that all of the links above are about simplicity…there’s some pretty elaborate artistry happening there. But the principles are worth pondering.