How we eat vegetables. (Fall CSA: week 4)

I’ve had this post simmering for the past few days but, goodness, Momma can’t get a moment to post  Lu has made herself quite comfortable in her new home and as a result, I spend the majority of my day separating the two girls from each other, the younger girl from the dog, and saving the dog from the older girl. My life is a living version of the fox, goose and grain riddle.

Life has been hectic and sometimes that means things like health and nutrition fall to the way side. But one of the many, many great things about having a CSA share is the abundance of fresh produce in the kitchen. That means I have no excuse but to make meals laden with vegetables and I also get a chance to be creative.

Fall CSA Week 4: sweet potatoes, eggplants, radishes, bell pepper, tons of banana peppers, patty pan squash and loads of romaine.

And I’ve been creative, let me tell you. We’ve been getting more or less the same items each week and while they are delicious and of great quality, I’ve had to find new and interesting ways to keep dinner fun.

Last night, at my friend Amie’s suggestion, I tried my hand at ratatouille. Or, as I like to call it, “throw every orphaned vegetable in a pot and simmer.” We aren’t big eggplant fans in this house and ratatouille is the best and healthiest way I’ve found to serve it. I don’t really know what makes a ratatouille just that, but here is what I used:

  • 2 eggplants
  • 2 banana peppers
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 patty pan squash
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with juices
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • fresh basil

I chopped all that needed chopped and sautéed everything (except for the tomatoes) in 2 tablespoons of coconut oil for about 20 minutes. I added the tomatoes and 6 or 7 chopped/ripped basil leaves. Cover and simmer, simmer, simmer. I served it over basmati rice for the gluten-intolerant amongst us (and is apparently lower in arsenic, J noted).

Heaven on B’s little spoon.

I’ve had a few people ask what we’re eating now that we’re gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and light on meat. We’ve been eating a lot of autumn-inspired salads (thanks to our CSA romaine) so I’ll do a post on those soon. Hearty soups have been handy but it’s been hard giving up the homemade crusty breads. We use a lot of vegetable “filler” in our meat items to spread out the meal. When you’re dropping $8 on a pound of beef, you have to find ways to stretch it! For instance, we did tacos with gluten-free shells and added four carrots, a can of black beans and a can of diced tomatoes to the meat mixture and had enough to eat for days. So, eating with these dietary restrictions doesn’t have to be at odds with our lifestyle as selective omnivores.

How do you make a meal stretch? 

I like roasting or smoking a whole chicken on a Sunday and having enough leftovers for several other quick meals.

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Butternut Squash Soup.

If fashion can have “hot” colors for the season, I find it to be perfectly logical that a kitchen can have “it” vegetables for a season. I’m making a bold statement and declaring butternut squash to be the hottest vegetable for autumn.

Wow, that sounds incredibly lame.

And yet it’s so true. When wracking my brain for tasty and seasonal meal ideas, I keep going back to this flavorful, colorful and versatile fall squash. It’s made its appearance on our table on several occasions this year and it’s only mid-September. We are such fans, our fall garden even has it’s own row of butternut squash.

Far and away my favorite butternut squash dinner is butternut squash soup with apples and carrots served with a hunk of crusty, soft-centered bread. I’ve been experimenting with the basic 5 minute artisan bread recipe with moderate success. The loaves taste great but aren’t looking very pretty.

Back to the recipe at hand.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Apples and Carrots

– 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 1/2 lbs), peeled, seeded and chopped
– 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
– 1 granny smith apple, peeled and chopped
– 1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
– 2 TBSP oil (EVOO or coconut)
– 1/2 tsp garlic powder OR 2 garlic cloves, minced
– 1/2 tsp salt
–  5 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
– 1/2 tsp nutmeg
– 1/2 tsp cayenne powder (optional)

In a stockpot, saute the squash, carrots and onion in the oil until onion becomes translucent. Add salt, garlic and apple. Saute another 5 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low boil, cover. Cook until vegetables are soft, approximately 20 minutes. Using a blender, puree the soup in batches (an immersion blender can also be used). Return to the pot, stir in nutmeg and cayenne (if desired). Keep warm until ready to serve. Garnish with additional nutmeg.

I’ve made this recipe both using the cayenne and omitting. I tend to get a bit spice-happy with the cayenne so taste it as you add because it has some kick. With or without, it’s delicious.

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Oh goodness, granola!

I don’t have much time to write today because my house is a disaster and E is starting soccer tonight (!) so I need to stop being a procrastinator and get crap done.

BUT.

I had to take a minute and share a fantastic granola recipe. I love the combination of oats, nuts, maple syrup and some good ole healthy fats. For the convenience of life with two small children, I typically like granola bars but this loose granola is really good and versatile. With the perfect combination of salty and sweet, it fills me up and I’m not left hankering for something else. I like to serve it over a cup of Fage greek yogurt for a post-run lunch that’s full of protein, fat and fiber.

The bowl looks huge next to my mouse and keyboard. I’m not that gluttonous, I swear.

I made a few slight adaptions to a recipe from my sweet friend Amie (who really should start a blog to share all her amazing homemaking skills), who adapted it from a Food Network recipe. So, no kitchen mavens here, just folks with particular tastes.

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That Vegetarian Thing, Part Deux.

So, apologies to those of you waiting for this post with baited breath. To read my first installment on living a vegetarian lifestyle, click here. But to summarize, eating as a vegetarian was easy enough but socially it could be awkward. A lot of people get defensive about their food choices upon hearing about mine. Which is fine. Outside of this blog, I really don’t share my opinions unasked but I think that, generally, if you’re asking my opinion, I shouldn’t have to defend it. So, my skin is getting a bit thicker and I’m perhaps becoming slightly jaded on the whole topic.

As a society, we eat too much animal protein, plain and simple. Our portions have gotten larger. We love the all-you-can-eat joints. Some folks eat meat three times a day. Physically, your body just doesn’t need all that meat. But buying a pound of ground beef at your local Publix is a cheap way to feed a family of four. I get it. But a lot of people don’t realize the greater, non-monetary cost of eating this way.

We imagine our meat and eggs are coming from a place like this:

Red Barn Beauty

But they don’t.

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That Vegetarian Thing; Part Un

I’ve been sort of dreading writing my recap of our 30 days as vegetarians.

Not because it didn’t go well but because I knew it was going to take a lot of time and energy to recap such a changing experience. I learned so much over the course of the month, I have a lot to say so I think it’ll be best if I break it into a few different posts. I suppose I’ll talk first on the social aspect of being a vegetarian.

As I mentioned in my initial postabout our little 30-day test drive, our main motivations were money and health. Those haven’t changed but I now know there are huge economical, environmental and ethical reasons, also.

I’m really, really glad that we abstained from eating meat while taking the time to really educate ourselves. Yes, I suppose I could have educated myself without becoming a vegetarian. But there is something to be said for drastically changing your lifestyle so you can step back and study it objectively. I spent many evenings reading, skimming and pouring over information about the animals we eat, how those animals are raised and killed, the repercussions of eating meat and how others have made it work.

J being a smartypants vegetarian.

The hardest part – and I think J would agree – is the social aspect of being a vegetarian. It was really easy to be vegetarians in our home. But when our meals included non-vegetarians, things got tricky.

Pretty early in, neighbors kindly invited us to dinner and I had to have the awkward, “Uh, so we’re kind of vegetarians now. Oh, and my daughter can’t eat dairy, either. So we’re sort of vegans, actually. But, we eat eggs. But only ones that are local and farm-raised. So,  good luck finding something to make us for dinner. Thanks for the invite!”

That’s not exactly how the conversation went, but I still felt awkward. They were incredibly understanding and kind and made us a delicious meal.

But some people can be really sensitive about their eating habits. Communal dining is a huge part of relationships in every culture. Celebrations, first dates – even funerals – typically revolve around getting together and breaking bread. By telling people I’m a vegetarian, it sometimes feels like I’m breaking the sense of camaraderie and a lot of people become defensive about their own eating habits. As if my informed decision not to eat meat means I think they are cruel and barbaric in their decision to. Not entirely the case. If you have researched and educated yourself on where your food comes from, I can’t pass judgement on your decisions. But more on that later.

When we decided to go meat-free for July, we didn’t really think about J’s family coming for a 9-day visit. While we miss our families terribly, we are spoiled to live so far away when it comes to our lifestyle choices. Our families support our decisions but we don’t have to spend much time considering if our decisions are compatible with theirs. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to sustain a vegetarian lifestyle when sharing a table with others. J’s family are pretty conscious omnivores and were respectful of our decisions. But it’s hard to feed 9 people (4 of whom were kids) all with different dining styles and preferences without using meat. Most of our meals were vegetarian but a few nights, we had dinners made with beef from a local farm. As a family, you have to make compromises and this was one I was comfortable with, given the situation.

But, generally speaking, is it worth the social awkwardness worth being vegetarian? Absolutely.

Girls are waking up from their (very short) afternoon naps, so I’ll continue this later.

We’re going to visit family next week and I’m unsure how we’re going to handle the 13 hour drive north. If it were just J and I, we would just pack food instead of stopping at restaurants to eat. But the girls will need to get out of their seats occasionally and there aren’t any fast food restaurants I’m comfortable eating at. The route we take doesn’t have any real rest areas, either. Any ideas?

Bruschetta with Kelsey D’s made my week.

Remember when I told you that I’ve never won anything? Not entirely true.

Earlier this month, I won a giveaway over at The Midwest Maven for a jar of Kelsey D’s giardiniera. A jar a-wha?!

Folks. If you’ve never spent time in the midwest, book yourself a flight. Check out the sights, the sounds and the eats. Amongst the yummy goods you’ll encounter, if you’re lucky, giardiniera will be among them.

Kelsey D’s is a Chicago-based company and makes a giardiniera (which is, appropriately, Italian for “gardener”) that uses a blend of fresh, garden-grown peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery and gherkins marinated with oils and spices. It’s a traditional Italian condiment but is yummy enough to be added to really any style of cooking. It’s pronounced  “jar-di-NAIR-a” but it doesn’t matter because your mouth will be full of the stuff and no one wants to hear you speak with a full mouth, anyway.

These bad boys have been hanging out in my pantry since the beginning of the month because we’ve had so many guests and sometimes I just don’t want to share with different dining palates, we held on to them until we had time to experiment.

After tonight’s meal, I’m disappointed I missed three weeks of my life, during which I could have been enjoying Kelsey D’s. But incredibly, selfishly glad I’ve managed to hoard the stuff for myself (and a few bites for J, when he begged).

Tonight, I made the most delicious bruschetta I’ve ever had the pleasure of introducing to my belly. I didn’t follow the Kelsey D bruschetta recipe because a.) I’m a poor planner and b.) it used salami. But if I could toot my own horn, I would. It was that good.

Lizzy’s Bruschetta (ft. Kelsey D’s giardiniera)

2 TBSP olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 can organic, diced tomatoes in tomato juice
1/2 c. chopped green pepper
2 tsp italian seasoning
smidge of sea salt
dash of ground black pepper
1/3-1/2 c. Kelsey D’s giardiniera (I used “hot”)
1 baguette
2 slices provolone cheese (optional)
additional olive oil for brushing
dash of ground black pepper

In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the garlic. Saute for a minute. Add the tomatoes and their juice, green pepper, italian seasonings, salt and pepper. Let simmer for about 5 minutes. Add a healthy portion of giardiniera, 1/3 to 1/2 a cup. This stuff is good so you can’t really use too much. Let simmer for about 5 minutes.

Simmer, simmer, simmer.

When the mixture begins to simmer, slice the baguette into 1/3 to 1/2 thick pieces. Brush each side with olive oil and place on a cookie sheet. Add a pinch of sea salt to each piece and bake in the oven at 375° for about 10 minutes. Spoon a healthy amount of the tomato/giardiniera mixture on each piece and put back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and, if so desired, add a small piece of provolone (or mozzarella) to each piece and continue to bake until melted. I made a few without cheese and they were also very, very good. Serve hot, warm or even room temperature because any way you eat them, they’re awesome.

Yes, my cookie sheets are that ugly.

No words. Just delicious. And crunchy. And savory. And…

Today is July 31 and, subsequently, the end of our 30 days of vegetarian eating. I can’t say I really noticed and don’t foresee a big change in our habits once the clock strikes midnight. But more on that tomorrow…

Have you ever had giardiniera? What’s your favorite Italian food?

I’m a Techie Twerp.

Sometimes I spend more time tinkering around Wordpress than I do actually blogging. I sat down this afternoon and again this evening to write an update on our 30 days sans meat but instead spent my time adjusting widgets and themes and OH, catching up to 2008 and joining twitter.

I feel so technologically inept.

The worst part is I just don’t have the time to learn all the tricks and tools of the trade. Between switching to a Mac, beginning a blog and now, joining twitter, I know how my parent’s generation felt when the internet boomed and suddenly everything was all AOL, LOL, and TMI. I feel dumbbbb. And like everyone else magically knows how this whole social media world goes round and I’m all Whaaaa? Can I fax it to you?

Someone please tell me I’m not alone.

I swear I wasn’t this dumb when I worked in PR. I’m amazed at how much social media has changed since I left the workforce in late-2009. Shoot. (Say that with a southern drawl, sheeeeewt).

So, with that, follow me on twitter! Watch me make a fool! Click that little button over there —>

As for my originally intended post, our 30 day vegetarian diet is going swimmingly. J and E are camping tonight (someone obviously put on their crazy pants this morning) and despite my reservations, received my blessing to have hot dogs on the campfire.  Something about the experience, blah, blah, blah.  Not the hill I wanted to die on.

I made the most fantastic meal last night – veggie fried rice – but was too busy stuffing my face to take a picture. It was so, so, SO good, I will most certainly be making it again and will actually note the ingredients and measurements to post. In fact, I may scratch my plan for take out and eat the leftovers tonight (for the second time today).

How tech savvy are you? Any yummy, vegetarian camping foods?

Scaling back the adventure and tasty summer treats.

Our first week is almost over and I’ve found the transition to a meat-free diet to be pretty easy.  I don’t find myself craving it and we have enough variety in our diets that I haven’t gotten bored. We’re still eating very balanced meals and have managed to stay away from packaged convenience foods with the exception of the occasional veggie burger.

The biggest issue I’m facing is with my ego.  After a few failed dinner attempts,  I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am no vegetarian Ina Garten. Yet.

Usually, I can hold my own in the kitchen. I can deconstruct and combine recipes and swap in our preferred ingredients. I can get a taste rolling around in my mind and find a way to create it. But cutting out meat has forced me to step outside of my cooking comfort zone and try recipes that use a lot of new and unusual ingredients. Some ingredients have sent me across town to five different stores and without being too familiar with them, I can’t really say it’s worth the effort or if they are easily omitted.

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30 Days Veggie: I’m a poor planner.

Yesterday, was the first day of our family’s little 30-day vegetarian trial run. I’ve bookmarked a ton of tasty, plant-based and dairy-free meals and now have a kitchen stocked with vegetarian essentials. Loads of veggies, polenta, tofu, nutritional yeast (which I didn’t even know existed)… Mother Hubbard’s cupboards are certainly not bare. Despite this, it’s clear that, once again, we aren’t great planners.

At the end of the week, we made several meaty dishes to use up the remaining meat in the freezer. Great idea in theory but we were left with a bit of leftovers. And as much as we suck at planning, we really hate wasting food. So after a vegetarian breakfast (easy), we came home from church to a bonanza of left-overs. So, on my first day as a vegetarian, I ate a hamburger. Fail.

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