Archive | Cooking RSS feed for this section

Introductory Nutrition

17 Jul

The one class I took this summer was Introduction to Nutrition. A standard requirement for every nursing school and most PA programs. The summer course was a condensed version. Instead of three months, it was over a course of five weeks. Note to self to never sign up for one of those condensed courses again.

I wasn’t sure what a Nutrition course would entail. Foods? Diets? Disorders? Why did every program require this class? THIS course was an overview of what can in and of itself be a degree program. We studied macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), the way the body processes and uses them, disorders that arise from them, the standard American diet (acronym SAD!), and food issues around the globe. We also had to track everything we ate through nutrition software and submit reports on our health and our diet.

From the first class, I was a little irked at my professor. I could tell 15 minutes in that she was a vegan and that she wanted us to be vegans and that every subject that we discussed would circle back to her main thesis: meat/dairy is BAD, EVIL, WRONG. I was angry that she seemed to be forcing an ideology on her students instead of teaching us the subject matter.

Maybe it was the condensed nature of the course, but I slowly began to drink the vegan kool-aid. Vegan diets lead to a reduction of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. I read a study that put vegan blood in a petri dish with aggressive cancer cells, and the blood KILLED the cancer cells. Blood from meat eaters (even healthy ones) only killed a tiny percentage of the cancer cells. The vegan blood killed almost all of them. Outside of the health aspects, I was affected by the environmental impact of meat production and the treatment of the animals in these facilities. I felt enormous guilt that I spend all day taking care of animals, then I spend money eating animals that were tortured their entire lives. I had also developed skin issues over the last year. A combination of acne and rosacea that only seemed to be getting worse. I saw two dermatologists who both told me the same thing. “This is caused by dairy, red meat, and alcohol.”

So I gave it a shot. I could do it. I could be vegan. But about a week in, I found myself leaving the grocery store with a bag full of hummus and veggies. Outside the store was a taco truck. I stopped and looked at the menu. Quesadillas, tacos, tortas, burritos. All full of meat and cheese. Not a vegan option in sight. About ten minutes passed as I stood there in my trance of cataloguing all the delicious things I was giving up. Cheeseburgers, wings, pizza, tuna melts, BBQ, hot dogs, chicken tacos, turkey sandwiches. grilled cheeses, brie on crackers. I felt so sad. Yeah, I was eating a lot healthier, but what’s the point of life if I can’t enjoy anything. As Dr. G told me, “We all dig our own graves.” Something is going to kill you one day, and it’s all about making choices with the risks we are willing to take.

I brooded on my diet for about a week. I tried to come to terms with what I believe, what is best for me. I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe that eating meat is morally wrong. But I do think the way we produce meat in this country is. A couple of years ago I vacationed on a cattle ranch in New Mexico , where I got to see cattle roaming free, living a happy life with plenty of fresh air, quality medical care and healthy, natural feed. They had a good life, and I felt no guilt about eating them. But unfortunately that’s not the life that the majority of livestock in this country lead. That being said, I couldn’t go vegan. I just don’t know how. There had to be some type of in-between.

So I created an allowance for myself. 5 instances of dairy/eggs per week. 3 instances of meat (including fish). Two weeks in, and I think it’s going well. I’m still eating a mostly vegan diet, but when I’m out with my friends, I can have a buffalo wing. Or I can have a small ice cream cone on a summer day. At least I know I’m reducing my intake and making sure it stays low. Since I decided to do this I’ve noticed that my skin has almost completely cleared up, I’ve stopped having stomach issues, I need less sleep at night, and I feel as though I’m forced to eat more fruits and veggies which is never a bad thing. Overall, I think it’s going swimmingly.

I’ve also noticed a lot of push back from the people around me. I’ve had some friends dramatically scold me for my new diet. They tell me that I’m not going to get enough protein (not a problem if you eat smart), or that I’m being annoying/crazy, or that it’s worthless, that my eating less meat isn’t going to make that big of a difference. I don’t understand why people get so defensive about MY eating choices. So I’ve decided to stop talking about it, to just do my own thing, eat my own way, and let that be. I earn my paycheck, as modest as it might be, and I choose to divert my money away from meat/dairy and toward more whole foods. That’s my choice. My small difference to make in the world.

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

-Edward Everett Hale

Advertisements

29 Before 29: Make Jambalaya

8 Dec

In my 29th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

This year for Thanksgiving, I got to go back to Reno and spend the week with my parents. It was a rare treat as traveling to Reno from New York is a full-day affair. I hadn’t been back in two years, and I was shocked by how much I enjoyed my respite in the desert. Shopping with mom, watching football on their beautiful new entertainment unit, cuddling with their new dog Holly, karaoke at 2am in downtown Reno with my ladylove Danguole, and of course lots of eating.

One of the nights I was home, my mom and I collaborated on producing a beautiful Jambalaya recipe.

My adorable mom and your little sous-chef Holly.

My adorable mom and our little sous-chef Holly.

I adore a good jambalaya. It’s a perfect comfort food. All that starch from the rice, good flavorful protein in the shrimp and sausage, healthy vegetables, a kick of spice. We used this recipe from Barefoot Contessa, and my mom and I spent a lot of time debating whether Ina Garner is creepy or not. She’s a great cook, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something insidious about her.

Before adding the rice. So colorful!

Before adding the rice. So colorful!

Cooking at my parent’s house is such a treat. So many beautiful bowls and gadgets. Everything is so clean and organized. My mother’s kitchen is a Type A heaven. There’s also something so nostalgic about cooking with my mom. One of the million things I’m grateful for in my upbringing is how much effort my mother always put into having a healthy home cooked meal for us almost every night. I always wanted to help, and she would give me an innocuous task that she knew I couldn’t mess up, like spinning the water out of the lettuce or rinsing the vegetables. But I’m an adult now, and she lets me chop! She lets me stir! We consult and confer! It’s that amazing transition from your mother being your guardian to your mother being one of your best friends.

IMG_2174

Look at this beautiful spice drawer. The organization and cleanliness makes me weak in the knees.

It turned out pretty good. The shrimp lacked as much flavor as the rest of the dish but overall it was everything I wanted jambalaya to be. And leftovers! Being young and poor, it’s important to me to make foods that heat up well the next day, so I can get the most bang for my buck. I think the jambalaya would reheat well. Of course, I never got to test that theory as we were soon swept away in the binge eating of Thanksgiving. I gained almost 5lbs while I was home. A successful trip indeed.

Finished product.

Finished product.

 

29 Before 29

15 Sep
Birthday girls

Birthday girls

I happen to share my birth date with one of my closest friends in New York, Quincey. A while back the two of us were talking about possible ideas for our birthday. We laughed and said we should do a week-long celebration dedicated to the amazingness that is us. But the more we talked about it, the more it made complete sense.

Our birth date happens to be marred by a national tragedy which over time has affected celebrations negatively. In addition to that, we both moved a lot as kids and spent many childhood birthdays in a new town without friends. So this was the year to make up for it. Cabaret, Karaoke, Softball, $1 beers, Ice Cream Cake, Cupcakes, Shake Shack, Happy Hour, Czech Beer Garden, Dancing. This was a week-long celebration for the ages, and my liver, stomach, legs, vocal chords are still recovering.

Now that life is slipping into normalcy, it’s time to embrace the new year’s list. I dropped some things that just weren’t happening. I brought back some recurring standards. And as far as new items go, I went big and small. Some overly ambitious and some devastatingly simple.

THE STANDARDS

1. Visit a new state- 13 down, 37 to go!

2. Visit a new country- Due to my supposed risk averse nature, I was unable to travel last year. But this year my goal is somewhere in Central America. I have to break in that new passport.

3. Visit a new baseball stadium- I’m so close to so many stadiums, it’s a crying shame that my number is so low. 7/30.

4. Read Catch-22– Every year I dedicate myself to reading one classic that I’m embarrassed about not having read.

5. Make Jambalaya- My new recipe challenge for the year.

6. Eat Ox Tail- My new adventurous food choice of the year.

7. Eat Ethiopian- You really can’t have too many adventurous food options. I’d be happy with doing an entire list of food.

LEFTOVERS FROM LISTS OF YESTERYEAR

8. Be an extra in a TV show or movie***

9. Go Scuba Diving***

10. Go Sailing***

11. Go to a Gun Range***

12. Do a Juice Cleanse**

13. Go to a Dog Show**

14. Visit a Whiskey Distillery**

15. Go to a Live Taping*- My new goal for this is to see “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver. I have such a nerd crush on him.

16. Ride a Mechanical Bull*

17. Take a Trapeze Class*

18. Eat at Serendipity*

19. Go to a Monster Truck Show*

THE NEW LIST

20. Sing at Live Band Karaoke- I love singing karaoke. Some might even call it a passion. A week ago, I delivered a drunken, impassioned performance of “All That Jazz.” I’m ready to step up my karaoke game.

Duet with Quincey

Duet with Quincey

21. Paint Nite- I know this is suburban and faux-creative, but I want to do it. I want to somehow paint a pretty picture and pretend I’m an artiste.

22. Go sky diving- I hesitated putting this on the list. I’ve hesitated putting it on for years. I’m concerned I might pee myself or have a similar humiliating experience.

23. Fencing Lesson- I took an archery lesson a couple of months ago. If the place wasn’t so far from me, I would have considered going back. Something so fun about medieval weaponry.

24. Learn to play the ukelele- I learned that my paternal grandfather used to play the ukelele. It’s a family tradition I’d like to carry on.

25. Go whale watching- I didn’t realize how much I wanted to do this until I missed an opportunity last week. I want to experience the majesty of those mammals.

26. Do a knitting donation project- I took down my “Pay for someone’s meal” item, because I’m just too shy. But I wanted to replace it with something charitable.

27. Go white water rafting- I fear this will go the way of my go scuba diving item. It’ll never happen.

28. Visit a horse ranch- I’ve recently started working with horses, and I forgot how deep my love for them runs.

29. Visit the United Nations- I had to add one New York touristy option.

 

 

Cooking with Chrissy

27 Mar

That’s what I’d call my cooking show if I were every offered one by the Food Network. But that’s ridiculous, because I’m not that good of a cook. But it doesn’t stop me from talking aloud to myself when I cook, pretending there is a camera on me.

I love going out, and I do it quite a lot. But going out as much as I do makes staying in that much more wonderful. One of my favorite things to do when I have a night in to myself is to cook.

It’s odd that so many people in my generation don’t know how to cook for themselves. Not even that they don’t know how, but they almost seem proud of it. I think for women it’s some sort of defiance against traditional roles of domesticity, and for men it’s falling victim to gender stereotypes. I recently had an inebriated gentleman telling me how he knows how to cook, how he could cook amazing things for me. I could tell by the look in his eyes that I was supposed to be impressed, that most girls swoon. All I could think was, “I cook fine on my own, thank you very much.”

I used to be one of the masses that survived on boxed mac and cheese and microwave quesadillas. Then I went to Prague and met a girl in our program named Shauna. She was older than most of us by a couple of years and loved to have us over to cook us dinner. The first time she cooked for me, personally, I was blown away. Roasted potatoes, steak with homemade sauce, sauteed vegetables. I hadn’t had food that good in such a long time. She told me about how she was dating a guy in the military when she was younger and taught herself to cook on a hotplate he had. Her skills grew from there.

As soon as I got back to the States, I set out teaching myself to cook. No classes, no Food Network, no fancy cookbooks. I just found some recipes on the Internet that seemed doable and went from there. I’d say the first year of cooking I averaged 50/50. Half of the things I made were decent, and the other half were hopelessly flawed. I think this is where most people give up. They make a couple of bad recipes and decide they just don’t have the cooking gene. Not true! It’s like making a batch of pancakes, the first flapjack is always bad and must be tossed. Likewise your first lasagna might be watery, your first stir fry might be completely bland, you might burn the chicken the first time you bread it. You learn what not to do, you figure out little tricks, you figure out what you LIKE in food, and best of all you learn a way to add creativity to every recipe you touch.

Tonight for dinner I tried out a recipe for Chicken Parmesan that I found on epicurious.com. Not a difficult recipe but the results were amazing.

2013-03-27 20.18.46This was unbelievably delicious, I stuffed myself to the brim, and I have two lunches worth of leftovers. But the thing about cooking, it isn’t just the end result of a satisfying meal that makes it worth it. It’s the process. I like to put on my Professor Longhair/Muddy Waters Pandora station, pour myself a modest alcoholic beverage, and wear my polka dot apron. I shimmy around my kitchen, shaking my butt to the blues, taking swigs of my drink when I have a moment. It’s easily one of the most relaxing, enjoyable things to do at the end of the day.

Today was an average day at work, and there is nothing particularly stressful or bad going on in my life. But during those times, cooking becomes so important. Eating is such a primal need, and when I set out to make a recipe, my brain kind of shuts off all other worries and concerns. It’s comforting to know that sauteeing garlic and onion in butter is going to create a heavenly aroma, that breaded chicken is going to beautifully sizzle over medium heat, that if your soup is too thin, grab a bit of corn starch and fix it.

If you don’t know how to cook, don’t worry. You are totally salvageable. Just grab a recipe and start going.

Mango Chutney

30 Dec

imageWelcome to a lazy Sunday in Queens. I have been a complete recluse of late, and as I’m typing this, I’m realizing by “of late” I mean one week. I haven’t gone out in one week. I’m used to going out a lot, and the last week, my bed and a pile of books is just much more appealing to me.

Today I decided to break the spell of constantly ordering in by cooking something in my crock pot. It’s a crock pot kind of day. Throw something in there, get a bunch of stuff done around the apartment, then have a beautiful home-cooked meal. I decided upon a “Sweet Chicken Curry.” I put on my winter coat and began the 10 minute walk to the nearest grocery store.

A word about my neighborhood. I live in a little-known area of Queens that is the intersection of Asian, Indian, and Latino communities. Everyone in my building is Chinese, and most everything around me is Chinese in one way or another. The markets are small and niche, they have plenty of rice noodles, but no cheese. I need cheese in my life, so I typically walk the 10 minutes to the Latino neighborhood that has a somewhat larger grocery store. It usually has what I need, but it is also niche and doesn’t have major things like fish.

So I arrive at the grocery store and find everything on my list, except mango chutney. I needed half a cup of mango chutney. I started beating myself up. How could I be so stupid as to pick a recipe with an ingredient so classicly Indian. Of course my Latino grocery store wouldn’t have it. They have bags of rice labeled “Arroz” not “Basmati.” I had left my cell phone at home (because I sometimes need to prove to myself that I’m not a slave to it) and was trying to rack my brain for what I could use to replace it. It’s just a jelly-like thing, right? Could I use jam? Could I use fresh mango and extra curry powder or something?

Then I realized how silly I was being. It’s a 15-minute walk from that grocery store to an Indian neighborhood. I can tough it out. So I put some “Exile on Main Street” on my ipod and began the journey. I stopped in every grocery store along the way, just to check and was amazed at what I found. There’s this gigantic Asian supermarket close to me with an amazing fish and meat market, free samples of dumplings, every sauce imaginable. It made me realize how foolish I am to spend so much time on American foods and not taking advantage of what is around the corner from me. I make it to the Indian markets and wander in and out, finding mint chutney, mango puree, pickled mangoes, and even more specialty markets I wish I’d taken advantage of sooner.

So I stop into my seventh market of the day, scour the aisles, until I found a promising section with glass jars. There it was, the above jar. I thrust a mittened fist in the air in victory. I was the idiot white girl in line at the all Indian-store and absolutely all smiles.

My spicy chicken curry is slowly warming in my crock pot, and I feel so accomplished today. I’ve been reading a lot of books about redemption lately, about people going to far away places or doing crazy things to save themselves. But sometimes even the smallest adventures are equally redemptive.

Being Vegetarian

20 Mar

For Mardi Gras, Brian and I went to a Creole place in Hell’s Kitchen. For a reasonable admission fee, there was an all-you-can-eat Cajun buffet, Hurricane drinks, and a live Cajun band. It was a hoot!

After I had gorged myself on fantastic jambalaya, I set to work on the crawdads. This requires both hands. Since we were standing, Brian held my plate as I ripped their little bodies in half and devoured their insides. Fat Tuesday is such a lovely holiday.

“I’ve decided to give up chips for Lent. What are you giving up?” Brian asked me. I looked up at him quizzically, crawdad juice running down my arm, my mouth stuffed.
“I’m not religious. I haven’t given anything up for Lent since I was a teenager.” I told him.
“You have to give up something. How about alcohol?”
“Who are you kidding?”
“Coffee?”
“I don’t drink it that often to begin with.”
“C’mon! You have to give up something.”

So I thought about it on my way home that night. Maybe meat? I was a vegetarian for 8 years after all. And my diet of late has been unhealthy in the predominance of the presence of meat. Yeah. I’ll give up meat!

Fast forward one week. Brian and I are on a quest for some food in the Lower East Side.

“I know a really great Mexican place near hear,” Brian says.
“Do they have vegetarian options? I decided to give up meat for Lent.”
“What?! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“You wanted me to give up something!”
“Yeah, but not something stupid. Meat is delicious. Why are you doing this to me?”

So, as I write this, I am at the halfway point. 20 days down. 20 to go. And it sucks. How on Earth did I do this for 8 years? Why did I do this for 8 years? In the last 20 days, I feel like I’ve missed out on so much. I feel like my diet is severely lacking. Meals are not nearly as filling or satisfying. I respect anyone who has the commitment to live a vegetarian lifestyle, but, whoa, it is not for me. It’s not that I eat a ton of meat, but I eat enough that I am certainly noticing its absence.

AND, I’ve been cheating. I’ll tell myself, “I’m not religious. Who cares?” But I made the commitment to give something up, and I hate not following through on something. I had beef chili on Ash Wednesday. I had made a huge pot a couple of days earlier, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. I ate jambalaya last Friday with my friend John. But riddle me this. How can you expect me to go to Jones Cafe and NOT order the jambalaya? I’m pretty sure John would have disowned me, and John is one of my favorite people in New York. So, no. THEN, I had lotso meat on St. Patrick’s Day (more on that adventure in a later post). Also, I’m leaving for Japan soon (Have I mentioned that?), and I am NOT missing out on ANY culinary adventures.

I have learned to eat more vegetables, and I have seen how far I have come since reintroducing meat into my diet 2ish years ago. Man oh man, though. Easter Sunday is going to find me with a burger and fries. You can count on that.

26 Before 26: Cook a Fish Dish

6 Feb
image

Drinking wine out of mugs? You betcha.

In my 26th year of life, I am attempting 26 new things that I’ve never done before. Full list here.

Thursday night, Brian and I made plans to get together to watch the new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. A week or so ago, we spent an evening drinking wine and eating Oreos, watching previous seasons on Netflix. The show is awesome. It’s hilarious and extremely low budget. After our respective bottles of wine were finished, we started writing down our favorite RuPaul quotes.

“Sharpen your claws, baby. It’s a jungle out there!”

Thanks Ru!

So for this week, it was my turn to host the viewing. I decided to use this opportunity to knock another item off my list. After all, I have 24 items left and only 8 months. Where is this year going?!

For Christmas my mother bought be Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It’s the most thorough cookbook I’ve ever used,which is great because I have no experience with French cooking. I decided to cook the simplest dish: Fish Filets Poached in White Wine (Filets de Poisson Poches Au Vin Blanc). My Julia recommended using Sole, so I went to a fancy grocery store near my office. They had it….at $28/pound! Not. Happening. So I went with the Hake, which was still pricey at $12/pound, but this was my first ever fish dish!

I have to hit four different grocery stores in my neighborhood to come up with the various ingredients necessary, and I finally get home to start cooking. I had skimmed over the recipe beforehand, but now that I read it more carefully, I realized that the recipe did not include the sauce. I thought it was fish in a white wine sauce, but no. I hollered a profane word and looked through the cookbook for the simplest sauce I could fine. I decided on a basic white sauce (Sauce Bechamel), and I ran to the corner store to grab some flour to thicken the roux.

Brian arrived in the nick of time, and I put him to work stirring. Cooking is not a difficult task, but when you become over ambitious, like moi, you find yourself trying to saute brussel sprouts, monitor the poached fish, and stir a roux to the appropriate level of thickness.

It all came together, though. The brussel sprouts were amazing, just due to the fact that brussel sprouts in a shit-ton of garlic and butter will always be amazing. The fish was perfectly cooked, although I found a couple of bones in the piece I ate, and the roux was a bit bland. I think I needed more salt/pepper/seasoning/something. But, honestly, neither of us got food poisoning the next day, and we enjoyed our meal. So, sweet success!!

We shared a bottle of Merlot that a vendor gave me at work, split a sleeve of Oreos for dessert and watched the drag queens argue and fight. As Ru would say, “You’ve got to know who you are, and flaunt it. All. The. Time.”

June 8, 2011

17 Jun

ANOTHER long day at work. I felt soooo hungry by the end of my shift, and all I wanted was a huge pizza all to myself. But I didn’t want to be unhealthy, and I had a bunch of basil and mozzarella just sitting in my fridge. What’s a working girl to do?

Homemade pizza? YES!

May 31, 2011

12 Jun

Back to basics. I had been eating crap for months now. But I finally buckled down, bought some kitchen supplies, some fresh tomatoes, some fresh basil, olive oil and made myself an old pasta stand-by. It was just a tomato/basil pasta deal (if you couldn’t figure that out from the ingredients.) But it felt so good to be cooking for myself again. There is something so relaxing about preparing oneself a meal at the end of the day. I also curled up with “Just Kids” by Patti Smith. I read it in a matter of four days. So good!

March 11, 2011

13 Mar

The final push for Travis studying for his test! He takes it on Monday, and I’m sure he’ll do great. He was planning on putting in some long hours at the office to study, so I made him some S’more brownie study snacks. Super easy! Make regular brownies and half way through baking add graham crackers, crumbled chocolate bars and marshmallows to the top, resume baking. The best part was how the marshmallows actually roasted in the oven.