Market Tastes

This past Saturday morning we made our usual foray to the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market.  Such a perfect family activity as the market is on the edge of the lovely fountain and playground area that we love to visit.  Fun for everyone.  While the boys pootled around the play area, I picked up fresh trout for dinner, some meat from our favourite Greenwood Farms stall and a punnet of these little beauties:

I also gathered up a pound of these quirky little fingerling potatoes that do sometimes look like pudgy little fingers:

I baked the fish with a basil and lime sauce – using up the ailing basil from the windowsill.  They were joined on the plate by the potatoes, combined with a chilli-mint sauce using the orange mint I have sprawling over the tub on the balcony and some broccoli that I lightly sauteed in shoyu for a few minutes after they were cooked.   A light and flavoursome summer meal that rounded off the day nicely.  (Though not quite right for tempting our little man who is pretty ill right now and very much off his food.  Well, worth a shot, and at least the parents were happy!)

Yesterday I was keen to find some way to make good use of the beautiful aubergines.  So I made a sort of ratatouille-style stew that was perfect over rice for dinner last night while the carnivore ate Japanese chicken curry.  The stars of this dish were the remaining fingerlings, the little aubergines and a jar of wonderful home-canned  tomatoes that our friend Denise left when she moved to Toronto in May.

Here is my cobbled together recipe:

Fi’s Market Stew

1/2 lb baby aubergines – chopped

1/2 lb fingerling potatoes – chopped

6-8 mushrooms – sliced

1/2 green capsicum – diced

1/3 summer-sized courgette – sliced

1 large can tomatoes

7oz cooked chickpeas

herbs to taste (I used basil and oregano from the garden)

1/2tsp cumin

2 cloves of garlic – minced

Sautee all veges in pot for a few mins until they are nicely soft and toasty.  Add the spices and tomatoes.  Simmer slowly for about an hour (add some stock if you need to…there was enough water in my can of tomatoes to take the whole hour to reduce).

Serve over rice.

Lets just say that this was so tasty I gobbled it down before thinking to whip out the camera…and that it was a sort of stewy mess, so you can imagine it well enough, it was not too glam, but a great way to use up the market fresh yumminess.

Instead, here are the boys enjoying peach-filled crepes on the rotunda steps at the market while a band plays jaunty little tunes in the background.  A lovely way to spend the morning!

Not Eating Animals So Much…

Seventeen years ago I read this book in conjunction with a community consultation on the issues surrounding World Hunger and what we could/should be doing to make a difference:

I am still inspired by Frances Moore Lappe.  She prompted me to refrain from eating meat as a humanitarian choice, not for health or animal rights reasons.  I came away convinced that there were powerful forces at work in the economy of food that made for some disturbing consequences for those in less developed nations.  Having grown up in a culture where over-consumption had already become the norm, I felt compelled to do what little I could to lessen the impact of our preference for meat at every meal.

I wasn’t terribly militant or evangelical about my choice.  I would discuss it with anyone who was interested, but I didn’t feel compelled to convince anyone to follow my lead.  Food is a critical tool of social cohesion and I was keen not to appear too inflexible or preachy.  But disavowing meat was both an unlikely transition (here is the girl who had described herself as a meatatarian in her early teens as she only ate three vegetables) and dreadfully simple once I realised that I never really ate much ‘real meat’ and that veges were actually pretty tasty.  Having said that, I can appreciate that to a real carnivore, removing meat from the plate leaves very little else of intense flavour…

So, I married a carnivorous atheist (me, the protestant vegetarian) and set about being accommodating and creative about feeding him in a meaty, nourishing and satisfying manner so that he would not feel too alienated by my choice to maintain my meat-eschewing ways.

Then he stumbled upon this book:

…and our lives may never be the same again.  Whew!  Because lately, living on a limited budget and being surrounded by people like Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Pollan who are all railing against the insidious and devastating effects of the industrialisation of food, especially in this country, has made me feel increasingly uneasy and wistful for a less meaty experience in the kitchen…

And when this began happening in our family:

…suddenly what I was putting in the shopping basket, where I was sourcing our food and what I was placing on our table became SO SO much more important.

So Akira has lead us lately on a journey of local discovery that I think will take us all summer long…and will hopefully spill into our new life beyond Missouri…To find local meat providers who do not use exploitative and harmful farming practises and provide more sustainable produce that will nourish us and keep us healthy.  It means a dramatic alteration in our diet.  As the person who plans the meals and sources the food, I have enjoyed the challenge of finding new sources and inspirations.

I am looking forward to the beginning of the Clayton and Tower Grove Farmer’s Markets in May.

I can’t wait to cook up some meat for Akira that makes him smile again – we are hoping that in April we will source it from the wonderful Greenwood Farms, and that might be ongoing through the summer from the markets.

Slow Food and the Fair Shares CCSA have been great places for ideas, and I was amazed (and happy) to find meat from this farm in our local supermarket – things are looking up!

A Little Older

At the end of last week I got a little older.  It was a quiet sort of day, spent moseying around the library in the morning, chatting to my mother and sister in NZ online in the afternoon and then going out for a coffee with Kazuo.  Unfortunately, he slept through the early dinner time I had planned to spend at one of our local pizza restaurants, so we had takeaway Chinese at home instead – anything so Mama would not have to cook!  It was actually much more relaxing as we could just potter about at our own speed.  We are yet to secure the services of a babysitter, so date nights are usually in at our house anyway.

But the next day was a weekend morning and we began with a birthday Gooey Butter Cake tea party for three (Dada had to be on camera duty):

I learned to figure skate as a child, and since it is both mid-winter and Winter Olympics season, and since I have been off such activities for a year or so due to pregnancy et al, I was dying to get back on the ice while the local rink was still open.  The forecast was for snow on the night of my birthday, so I was anticipating a gorgeous snowy landscape in Forest Park.  Instead, it was a shockingly wonderful 15degC outside and we could shed some layers and really enjoy being outdoors.  Although several friends joined us for the afternoon, my ice rink companions were the lovely Laura and Julia:

Here we are gliding about – it was a short trip, but so so wonderful!   (We were also joined by our friend Dave on the ice, but somehow he managed to dodge the photos.)

The big treat of the weekend was my thoughtful, and oh-so-much-more-tech-savvy husband securing Not Working it’s very own domain.  So here we are at our new home, I hope you didn’t have any trouble tracking me down!  I was also lucky enough to receive some delights in the post, here are a little sample – the button brooch from friends in the UK, the Manuka Honey hand cream and bath salts and the little fridge magnets from NZ.  They have all been a hit with Kazuo too and I am feeling very grateful for everyone’s kindness.

I am feeling a little older this year, perhaps something to do with perpetual tiredy-ness, and perhaps something to do with coming slowly to the end of another marvellous decade.  I am not sure I feel my age yet though – I seem to be coming to most of life’s major milestones and responsibilities rather later than some and maybe that is keeping the feeling at bay.  In any case, although I felt somewhat less inclined to make an ‘event’ out of this birthday, it was still a lovely weekend of feeling appreciation for the daily miracle of being alive and having connections with people I love dearly. Today those thoughts are somewhat tempered by the memory of the passing of my beloved father in 2007 – but deepest gratitude goes out to all of you who are still actively a part of my life, whether near or far…

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata

What is the most important thing in the world?

It is people, it is people, it is people.

Pancake Tuesday

Last night we had a traditional Shrove Tuesday feast.  For an atheist, the carnivore definitely subscribes to more of the religious feasts than I would have expected.  And for a carnivore, he eschews meat even when on offer surprisingly often.  So I prepared a little feast of savoury (mushrooms, cheese, sundried tomatoes) and sweet (maple syrup, strawberry jam, nectarines, bananas, chocolate and frozen yoghurt) and we had a pre-Lenten supper.  Kaz was not a fan of the crepes…but munched away on the fillings.  It was a tasty treat and an easy tea.

Red Thai Curry

We had a killer curry for dinner last night.  The last time I made such a concoction I nearly died, choking on water I was gulping down to mitigate the fire at  the precise moment that Akira cracked a joke.  I sucked too much water into my lungs, I thought I was drowning (so did the baby…he looked VERY worried for a long time after!)  So, this is not for the faint hearted.

I guess this is not strictly a recipe, since I am no Thai cooking school graduate.  It is a general set of principles I follow, to concoct something that approaches the very fine red curries we had when backpacking round Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam in 2005.

The best Penang Curry was had on Koh Samet, perhaps the most romantic meal we had – on little low tables with hurricane lanterns, under a large tree that was right on the beach.  The food was prepared at a restaurant across the road and the waiters ran across the road with our meals.  Sitting under the stars with the waves practically lapping our feet – magic.  Akira proposed to me on this trip, and I had my wedding dress made in Vietnam, so brewing up a Thai curry always holds a melting pot of mythical memories for me.

Anyway, the Delmar Loop is awash with Thai curry houses, our favourite being the very strange Thai Pizza house.  We have yet to sample the odd delicacy that is the Thai Pizza, since we are always seduced by their pick-and-mix style noodle bowls.  In true US style, the restaurant offers curries in varying degrees of hotness, from 1 – 5.  Akira usually orders a 5-strength.  So it is with some satisfaction that I have managed to out-5 the local Thai restaurant by using a few simple ingredients from the local Chinese grocers.

I’ve been buying tiny Thai tins of curry paste by a company called Maesri.  One tin is meant to do one curry with only one tin of coconut milk.  DO NOT fall for this trick.  I did once…it is amazing, but evil, in it’s hotness!  So, I use one tin of Maesri Red paste, two tins of whatever cheap coconut milk is on offer and mix up the sauce in a separate pan.  Then I chop up and saute the veges I am using (last night was a concoction of broccoli, yellow and green capsicum, carrots, courgettes, onions, potatoes and tiny brown mushrooms).  I add fresh ginger, garlic, coriander, a little salt and liberal splashes of fish sauce to the veges while they are being sauteed.  Then I add most of the sauce to the veges and let them simmer while I cook about a cup of white rice.

Finally, just as we are about to eat, I fry some tiny cubes of chicken for the carnivore, and add the reserved curry sauce to them once they are done.  Then I throw them on top of his rice and vege-sauce mixture.  Hey presto, hot, hot, hot red Thai curry.

New Year

It seems a little silly to be recording my New Year’s Resolutions now, in February… But so far 2010 has kinda caught me by surprise and for a number of reasons, I have gotten off to a very slow start.  So here I am, bearing in mind that it is also the start of a decade, resolving afresh to do all the usual things (be better with money, eat well, exercise more blah blah blah) and also hoping to take a longer view of my aspirations.

I’ve also been reflecting on my thoughts at the start of last year, when I was heavily pregnant and everything seemed to be on ‘pause’ while we waited to see who would arrive and how he/she would impact on our lives.

This year we are in limbo again as we look ahead to the end of our time in the US and try and imagine where we will end up next.  Once again this is totally determined by Akira’s career choices, which is fair since that is why we made the big move to come here.  But I am hoping that this year might bring some clarity for me in terms of potential career-changing new directions.

So what am I resolving to be purposeful about as we enter 2010?

  1. I may need to change the title of the blog as this is the year for returning to the paid workforce in some manner.  Ideally I would like this to be ‘part-time’ so that I can still be primarily focused on caring for Kazuo.  But the increased costs of being resident aliens (we are now ‘substantially present’ here!) and childcare may impact on that decision.  With this in mind, I have applied for a work permit this week, so it will be a few months yet before I can seek out employment, but we are making progress on childcare options for Kazuo…so Not Working may take a change of direction…
  2. I did what I could to stay somewhat politically engaged over the past year and hope to at least maintain my regular attendance at Amnesty International meetings.  Whether I can sustain any more active involvement really hinges on the outcome of point 1.
  3. We need to totally trim down our food outgoings…at the same time that Kazuo is ramping up his solid food intake – sheesh!  So, more creative ideas need to kick in really soon (have been rather meticulous about this lately… doing OK so far) for healthy food that we all love, that is nutritious and appetising and that keeps down the costs.  Being a working mama may erode this resolution… and it seems like a tall order – but imperative nonetheless.
  4. The weather is really cramping my exercising style – last year it took until September to lose the baby weight, but it DID go…now I need to lose my winter layer!  I am keen to get Kazuo and I back on my bike in some fashion in the Spring.  Perhaps Akira and I both need to join a gym…
  5. I still wanna get crafty for cash…I have a few ideas but they do require capital and time, both of which are still a little scarce.  But after the Fall craft shows in STL last year, I felt newly energised.  So need to make this a priority I think.
  6. I would like to become a slightly more chilled out individual this year – I know that seems unlikely, but it might be good for all concerned.  So I guess I need to look out some me-time things that make me feel connected to others, and to myself…yoga? date nights? getting arty/crafty? more weekend girly time? naps?…ideas anyone?
  7. Time for doing the things I love…reading, watching films, listening to music, going to theatre…hmmmm I need to make these things somehow fit into family life.
  8. Kazuo is my number one priority these days…so it is only fair to say I am pretty much resolved to help him grow into a happy little guy.  Guess that goes without saying though…
  9. Become a little more other-centred again.  Life became very insular when adjusting to the newness of parenting, but we are getting a little into the swing of that now, and should have a bit of a hiatus before we consider whether we will go down that route again, so I think that in considering paid employment and any ‘spare’ time I may have, I am keen to think about how I might make my time count for those in less abundant circumstances.
  10. Cultivating wonder was a priority last year, and as I had imagined, Kazuo gave plenty of opportunity for that to happen. Getting outside into the natural world and continuing to foster that wonderment is also important for me right now.   I wish to combine that with an increased sense of gratitude this coming year…

So, that is enough I think.  The year ahead will be galvanising for me personally, for our family life and for Kazuo’s development.  I look forward to seeing how it will all pan out, and hope that having at least some sense of purpose will help when things seem a little murky.

Birthday Party Preparations

It’s party time at ours in a few hours.  Enjoying the calm before the storm!

Here is the cake – spicy pumpkin chocolate chip with cream cheese icing.

Here is the happy little birthday boy – before he gets totally overwhelmed by everyone, and overloaded with sugar.

Out for a walk now to clear our heads – have a happy afternoon all.

Smoky Lentil Goodness

Tuesday was a cold sort of day and I felt like a little Autumnal Lentil warmth.  I had in mind to make a French-style puy lentil stew that I made a while back (recipe pending) because I loved the nutty texture of the little hard lentils.  But when I went to the cupboard, all I had were some red lentils I bought a few weeks ago to make some food for Kazuo.  He wasn’t a fan – not ready for that gritty texture I guess – so they were languishing.  They would have to do… though they would not really suit the lentil stew recipe I had in mind.  So I did some inventing.

Susan at Fat Free Vegan makes frequent use of Liquid Smoke – an ingredient I had never heard of before. But I was grateful to her for the idea, and really happy to have stumbled across it at the supermarket last week.  So Tuesday was the day for trying it out.  I splashed some into  the Beans and Rice I made for dinner and I thought it could become the signature flavour of my lentil dish.  I may have been a little heavy handed – and for some of you the quantity might need a little adjusting down, but it was perfect for me.  So I created a smoky stew that will do for several more lunches to come and went great with some wholemeal toast.

Smoky Lentil Stew

1 C dried Red Lentils

1 C Vegetable Stock

3 C Water

1 cubed Potato

1 sliced Carrot

1 tin (440g) Chopped Tomatoes (I used onion and garlic flavoured so I could cheat on not adding these things)

3 – 4 sliced Mushrooms

3 – 4 sliced stems of Celery

1 T Liquid Smoke

Pre-cook the potato and carrot together in water – either in microwave for 4 – 5mins or for 10mins in a saucepan on the stove.

Saute the remaining vegetables in olive oil, add some dried herbs and then the potato & carrot.

After everything is softened, add the Liquid Smoke and saute a little more.

Then add the dry lentils and the tomatoes and stock.

Stir for a bit and finally add all the water.

Keep on a moderate/high heat and simmer (adding more water if necessary) for 20 – 25mins.

Take off the heat and let stand for 10mins – then gobble it down with some crusty bread or whole wheat toast.

Gratitude

I am inspired at the moment by the thoughts of the everyday wonder of ordinary life, and of trying to make a habit of being a little more thankful.  This was also brought home to me last night as we sat and discussed the Science on Tap event that Akira took our friend Christine to – on the Science of Happiness…  It seems that most people perceive themselves to be happy about 60% of the time – I am not sure really what that means, it seems a little inflated (if you consider that the rest of the time you are either unhappy or neutral… would have thought one would feel neutral a little more often…), but I do think we are lucky to feel so on top of things, and long may that continue.

And I am also very much inspired by the spirit of thanks in Amanda Soule’s recent blogs on the subject of gratitude.  As she says, a little gratitude goes a long way, especially when things are not going too well… though thankfully for us, things are in good shape just now.  Something I am grateful for… what else?

Today I am grateful for pretty robust health for all of us, for sunny Sunday afternoons with baking in the oven a baby sleeping in his bed and the prospect of maybe a little more kicking up the beautiful autumn leaves before the day is done.

Leaves to Kick

I’m also grateful for the kindness of friendship – those persistent friends who have stuck with us through the upheaval of making room in our lives for Kazuo this year and still invite us over/come for dinner/bring us a meal/meet for coffee or just make time to hang out with us and allow for the joyous shouty disruption of our little monkey.

Halloween

 

I am thankful to the god of small things for tiny incursions in my life – whether that be babies, butterflies, little tasty treats or ladybirds – small things have given me a lot of joy this year.

Butterfly

I’m also grateful for time, afforded by not having to/being legally able to work right now, to enjoy learning to parent our wee lad and to get as creative as I can to make sense of my time-rich/cash-poor lifestyle as a result.  There is much more… but that is enough to be going along with today… perhaps I will manage to give thanks for something every day in this month of thankfulness… there’s a challenge!

Autumn Squash Risotto

Tonight we are having our good friends Jon and Julia for dinner and our lovely friend Christine from Leeds is staying with us for the week… it is grim and rainy but a satisfying kinda day as the dinner is ready (just a Thai Curry and Thai Bean cakes… something for another day) and the baby is sleeping and I have a few minutes to myself as the leaves make their final drifts off the trees outside.

I wanted to tell you about my latest Autumnal additions to our risottos… and it was Julia’s visit that prompted me, because last time she came, a few weeks ago, with her marvellous parents who were here on vacation, I made them all risotto.  This is nothing too new in our house, I began throwing risottos together many years ago, and although there is something somewhat laborious about sticking close to the risotto as the starch builds up around the mingling of the wine and stock and rice, it is one of the tastiest and most comforting foods I know.  The harvest is just coming to an end here and our friend Tarah had generously donated one of her allotment-grown squashes to our vege bin, so I felt compelled to make it into something tasty.

Here are the raw materials for the risotto.  I am not going to give you quantities, largely because I just make the risotto until it feels about right.  But I used Arborio Rice, a cheapy Sauvignon Blanc, chopped green capsicum, a couple of cloves of garlic, sliced mushrooms, about half of the squash cubed and sauteed with the capsicum, mushrooms and garlic and the tasty addition of sage to round off the flavours of autumn.  I have to admit to being fully influenced by Paola in The Netherlands who said “How about a comforting butternut squash risotto seasoned with fresh sage?”… mmmm, a great idea that was as delicious as I had expected.

The Basics

Here is a bowl from our dinner with our friends a couple of weeks ago… the ample shavings of parmigano don’t really expose the golden glow of the squash, but it did indeed feel very autumnal and a perfect foil for all the wonderful colours exploding on the trees outside our window.  Warming, seasonal and totally appetising.

Risotto