Why is it that people feel the need to write sayings on clothing, pillows, wallpaper, plates, absurdly small dog collars, cat food bowls, and generally every object found in a child’s room? My husband and I used to live next to a family with a stencil above the doorway that read: “have I told you lately that I love you?”. Oh, crap- no you haven’t, but now that it’s permanently written above the doorway, I’ll always remember that you do love me! I’m sorry, but there’s no way that this kind of blatant gesture of paint on a wall can be interpreted as genuine (at least to me). And why is it necessary to begin with? Do we really need to be reminded of these things so that we don’t forget to “live, love, laugh”? I can’t even imagine living in a house like our neighbors…
You wake up to the sound of the alarm and slowly open your eyes, but then the bronze letters above your bed reading “dream a little dream” lull you back to sleep. Twenty minutes later, your dog licks your cheek and you grab a decorative pillow to protect your face, but then you notice the writing embedded in the needlepoint “cold nose, warm heart” and you suddenly feel guilty. You slide into a pair of slippers that say “pink isn’t just a color, it’s an attitude” and walk into the kitchen, feeling sassy. Your cats are already standing impatiently beside their bowl “cats make everything purr-fect” so you pour them some food, then heat up some water for tea. The backsplash behind the stove say’s “the queen doesn’t cook” so you fix your tea and decide to wait for your husband to make breakfast while you sit in the den. Then you notice a plaque above the television that says “king of the remote” and you’re suddenly annoyed with him for waking up later than you. Feeling lonely, you wrap yourself in a blanket that says “mother is another word for love” and the next thing you know, you’re crying on the couch and have forgotten all about your tea, which is in a mug decorated with the phrase “instant human: just add coffee”. It somehow seems like a lie to have tea in such a mug, so you waddle back to the kitchen in your blanket and dump the tea out in the sink and put the coffee pot on. Next to the bread basket is a cake stand painted with the words “life is short, eat dessert first”, and it suddenly occurs to you that you no longer care about your diet anymore, and besides, “well behaved women rarely make history” stares back at you from the plate in your hand (you know this doesn’t mean “stuff your face you rebellious woman” but you’re feeling emotional and need some sugary support). Third cupcake in hand, you sit at your computer and smile at a framed picture of your best friend with sparkly letters that reads “if friends were flowers, I’d pick you” and you decide to write her an email, explaining how you have inexplicably eaten three cupcakes, cried, and felt both guilty and empowered all in the course of the last hour. Solution? I think you already know…
In the spirit of sentimentality, let’s make some cozy, sit-by-the-fire and watch The Sound of Music butternut squash soup. Butternut squash is my favorite winter squash variety, and with it’s natural sweetness and velvety texture, it’s just perfect for a yummy soup.
Cozy Butternut Squash Soup
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 3 inch cubes
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 T dried parsley
4 cups stock (Imagine No-Chicken stock or homemade)
1-2 T apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s Organic)
sea salt & black pepper to taste
In a heavy bottomed stock pot (I use an all-clad copper corepot and I love it!), heat oil on medium flame and add squash, onions, celery, parsley and the bay leaf. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper and saute for a few minutes, then add the stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover with lid, reduce flame to low, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup (remove the bay leaf first!) in batches, and return to pot. Gently reheat if needed and add the apple cider vinegar and more salt and pepper to taste. If you prefer a sweeter soup, you may add 1-2 T maple syrup instead of the apple cider vinegar. Serve with a crusty loaf of sourdough bread to 4 sentimental unicorns as starters or 2 sentimental unicorns as a main.
In keeping with my seitan-ic theme, I will introduce you to the devil himself…the lord of dessert, candy and all things sinfully sweet. Yup, you guessed it…the devil’s name is Sugar. I know, I know…kind of a sweet (no pun intended) name for a supposedly badass fallen angel, but like so many things that sound deceivingly harmless (sanitary napkin, telemarketer, gynecologist, community marketing agent (see Hawaii post), department of motor vehicles, the I-95, enema, irreconcilable differences, “don’t take it personally”, “It’s you not me”, “I need to see you in my office”, “you’re not fat, just big-boned”, etc., sugar is the wolf in little red riding hood’s cape. And it comes in many forms to further confuse you: white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, raw suger, turbinado, sucanat, sugar cane, cane syrup solids, corn syrup, aspartame, fructose, and sucrose. Don’t be fooled by this little white powder. It is right up there with cocaine, heroine and all of my other favorite drugs…sounds great, right? Not so much…this little guy goes into your system, and like a drug, spikes your blood sugar and gives you a rush, a moment of bliss, a fleeting energy, and perhaps candy-coated wings & visions of purple bunnies hopping all over the yard (wait…that’s not sugar, that’s something else, and you should probably stop doing it right away). You’re probably thinking, fine I get it, but it’s not unnatural…I mean it comes from a plant, right? True, and if you gnaw on a piece of raw sugar cane, it’s not so bad because you’re eating a food in its whole form, which includes all of the vitamins, minerals and other things that your body recognizes, and can therefore assimilate for proper digestion and absorption. That is not, however, the form in which most people eat sugar. The sugar found in nearly everything from soda to cereal to gum (and even in those “natural” energy bars that you think are so good for you), is a crystalline chemical that’s been refined and processed to the point of being an “anti-nutrient” (translation: your body leaches vitamins and minerals from itself in order to absorb the sugar). The sugar cane (or beet) is pressed into a juice, then refined into molasses, and then further refined into a crystalline chemical that is NOT food, and is completely alien to our body. So what? Well, it’s one thing when you take a drug and know that it’s harmful to your health, but it’s quite another to blindly consume mass amounts of something that you think is okay. Sugar is a slow poison, but it’s as addictive as any narcotic. 95% of all Americans are addicted to sugar in one form or another, whether it’s artificial sweeteners, so called “natural” sweeteners, or good old white sugar. Consumption of sugar causes weight gain, tooth decay, and a slew of other illnesses that would take me half the day to list including diabetes, hypertension, many types of cancers, deterioration of major organs, and suppression of the immune system. Solution? Stop eating it.
Easier said than done, I know. Like any addiction, it’s hard to stop…
Say goodbye to your venti, no whip, extra hot, nonfat chai latte in the morning with a low-fat blueberry muffin. Wait…WHAT?! I know, I’m totally ruining your whole day. But I’m telling you, sugar is the reason you can’t lose weight, the reason you feel like a truck hit you at 3pm everyday, the reason you become irritable (actually, I’m not sure about that…you might just be a pain in the ass naturally), and the reason why you think you’re just one of those people who “have a sweet tooth.” You don’t have a sweet tooth, you have a full on, psycho drug addict “I must give into my cravings” / “I eat cake behind closed doors, under my blanket with a flashlight” sugar addiction!
The good news? There are some sweeteners out there that aren’t as evil (they’re frenemies with the devil…it’s complicated), and may be incorporated, conservatively, into your diet. They include: raw honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and coconut nectar.
Craving something sweet already? Don’t worry, I have the perfect solution: a dessert recipe without sugar in it! Hooray! Every unicorn you serve this to will be convinced that the sticky, syrupy goodness dripping off of the sides of your cinnamon-infused luscious pears is caramel or some other sinfully sweet sugar demon, but rest assured, it’s just fruit! Yes, fruit contains naturally occurring sugar, but it also has vitamins, minerals, and all the goodness needed for your body to happily absorb the sweetness without causing harm to you!
Cinnamon Poached Pears
2 pears, peeled & stems left in place, then cut in half lengthwise
1 small container of Organic Apple juice (without any added sugar, just apples!)
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1/2 cup fresh blueberries (optional)
fresh mint to garnish
In a medium saucepan, place halved pears cut side down in pan. Pour apple juice over top until pears are almost submerged, about 3/4 of the way. Add the cinnamon sticks and cloves and turn on flame to high. Bring up to a boil, then turn down flame to low, and simmer to a poaching temperature (a little higher than a simmer with a few bubbles popping occasionally) for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick can easily pierce each pear. Remove pears, cloves, and cinnamon sticks from poaching liquid and place on serving dish. Turn up flame and bring liquid to a boil and reduce until liquid becomes a thick syrup. Serve pears as is or slice from stem to bottom and fan out, then drizzle with syrup and garnish with fresh blueberries and mint. Makes enough for four unicorns suffering from sugar withdrawal.
Still need convincing? Consider this: cancer cells need nourishment to survive and grow…and guess what their favorite thing to eat is? Yup, you guessed it…sugar. In fact, many people undergoing treatment for cancer are encouraged to go on a sugar-free or sugar-moderated diet. Why not start now?
My husband (Don Draper) works in the golf industry (translation: he works weekends and now I hate the summer). In fact, he is the reason we moved to Hawaii in the first place; to learn the ins and outs of the industry, otherwise known as “how to keep rich men happy in the great outdoors”. The short answer? Give them alcohol, a set of metal clubs and rubber balls, and a motorized vehicle. It’s the simple things. Of course many women (including myself) like to play golf as well, but let’s just say the golf club experience is a little different for us girls. The first problem is the locker room. Unless you have a map of the underground, it’s nearly impossible to find the ladies locker room. “Go down the stairs, turn left, and follow the corridor to the end of the hall, just past the laundry room”. Gee, thanks, I can’t wait to see the view. The ladies locker room is typically saturated in some shade of pink with flowered, pouffy cushions and little bottles of scented creams and plastic hair brushes (because we love pink, soft things like bunnies and puppies and we’re very sensitive to dark colors and loud noises). The men’s locker room? How could you miss it; go straight through the damn entrance and it’s right in front of you with a stuffed deer head above the doorway. What happens inside is a mystery of course because the women aren’t allowed in such places (I’m fairly sure, however, that the men are honing the blades of their swords, suiting up in chainmail, and eating raw meat). After lacing up my tasseled, white golf shoes and popping up my collar (so that you know I went to private school), I emerge from the locker room, and run into a laundry woman. Oops, I’m still downstairs…she gives me directions.
Out on the driving range, men stuffed in pastel polo shirts, shorts with animal prints, and sock-less loafers are demoing the latest clubs and congratulating each other on being masters of the universe. I love the smell of freshly cut grass, the crisp thrusting sound of a club across a tee as it sends a ball into flight, the muddled thump of the ball as it lands on a moist green…and the laughter of old men quoting Caddy Shack and telling racist jokes. What more could a woman ask for?
For a couple of years, Tom and I did the whole “following the season” thing, where you go south for the winter so you can continue to play golf (translation: a never-ending winter of work for Tom). At first, I was excited about this idea because it meant that we were going to spend the entire winter in Florida. Sounds pretty amazing, right? Wrong. As soon as my flip flops touched the warm sand, I realized that Florida is full of semi-retired, retired, or semi-dead people who eat egg salad sandwiches, play bridge, and eat dinner at 5:00pm. Needless to say I had to get creative…
Solution? I Read the entire Twilight series and became so withdrawn from reality that when Tom came home at night, I looked at him with disappointment. “You really wish I was a vampire, don’t you?” he asked. Yes, I replied, I really do…
Speaking of vampires…let’s make some Evil Seitan Stew! This stew is filled with sinful red wine, seitan himself, and tons of naughty vegetables. Seitan (yup, pronounced just like our old buddy, the devil) is a delicious meat alternative made from wheat gluten that’s packed full of rebellious protein. I love making stews, so even though it’s still warm outside, I am channeling my inner autumn princess and forging ahead in the 70 degree weather. I think you should do the same.
Evil Seitan Stew
1 package seitan, rinsed, squeezed & sliced thin (I use The Bridge seitan, which is locally made in Middletown...Hooray for CT!)
2 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 T Organic Earth Balance butter (Earth Balance will become your new best friend because it tastes like butter, but without the nasty dairy and cholesterol)
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
5 small potatoes (I use yukon gold), quartered
2 cups butternut squash or sweet potato, chopped in small chunks
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups stock (homemade or Imagine No-Chicken Stock)
1/4 cup + a few splashes dry red wine, divided
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup tamari or shoyu
1 cup button mushrooms, chopped
3 cups, loosely packed kale, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
Sea salt & black pepper to taste
2 tsp arrowroot (look in spice section of Whole Foods for this thickener, which isn’t GMO and heavily processed like cornstarch)
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and cook for a few minutes, until softened. Add the potatoes, squash, garlic, wine, bay leaves, and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. While it’s simmering, take out a saute pan, heat the remaining oil and butter over medium-high flame, and add seitan. Cook for 2 minutes, then add a splash or two of wine, and salt & pepper. Use a wooden spoon to gently detach seitan from pan and flip over, cooking for a few more minutes until golden brown. Set aside to cool and tell that unicorn to stop sampling the stew! Add the tamari/shoyu, mushrooms, kale, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in arrowroot and cook until stew begins to thicken. Add seitan to reheat, and serve with crusty bread or noodles! Feeds 4 unicorns after a tough round of golf.
“Why are you a vegan?”
I woke up this morning filled with hope, a bluebird on my shoulder, and a perfect cup of black tea. Then I tried to purchase Radiohead tickets at 10am on ticketmaster.com…Sold out…but mysteriously available on Stubhub and other sites for the reasonable price of $600+. Are you kidding me Radiohead? I love you, but your whole “download our music for free” thing doesn’t jive well with this “given to the highest bidder” ticket nonsense. Now I feel cheated, and my bluebird has turned into an obnoxious bluejay, and my hope has morphed into the Obama variety. My tea however, was still perfect: a 5 minute steep of black assam, splash of soymilk, a touch of raw honey, and a cat hair or two (for protein obviously). So what if I can’t go see my favorite band this week? There are an infinite amount of activities I can partake in on a Wednesday night in Greenwich. Perhaps I’ll spend $100 on a plate of steamed veggies and a glass of wine at an overpriced restaurant or stay at home with my beasts and watch the Lord of The Rings trilogy literally play out in my own apartment. Speaking of which, at the present moment, Dragon (Samwise Gamgee) is lost in Mordor (closet under the stairs). I always know when she’s lost because of her particular mew. Dragon has many mews. The “I’m lost” mew sounds like a question, as if she’s saying “Hello? Is anybody out there?” or in cat language “Purrr-raaoooww?” I usually reply with “Dragon, I’m over here.” Since I’ve rescued her, she has managed to get lost in room corners, paper bags, closets, and sadly…open spaces. Frodo (ring-bearer and savior of Middle Earth) never gets lost and is generally quiet and introverted…with one exception: silverware. For some unknown reason, the sound of silverware clanking against itself turns Frodo into a bizarre creature who makes cackling noises and twitches his tail as though he’s developed a neurotic tic. It’s gotten so bad lately that when he even sees me opening the dishwasher, he begins to cackle; a pathetic “reh, eh, eh” sound that attempts to convey his great suffering. Toast (Sauron) makes all of the typical dog sounds, including the three syllabled whine “hymph, hymph, hymmm” and the “I hear something”, bug-eyed, ears glued back muffled half-bark “boooufff!”.
My point in all of this? Proving that I have a fulfilling life with or without Radiohead tickets.
It’s lunchtime and I still feel defeated so I don’t feel like cooking. Solution? Miso Hungry Salad! This masterpiece of a dish is so easy to make, and will impress all of your friends because you can use health term zingers like “probiotics”, “apple cider vinegar”, and “vegan”. They will think you are a goddess in the kitchen even if you’re planning a coup on ticketmaster.com and haven’t made up your bed yet.
Miso Hungry Salad
for the salad:
1 large head of romaine lettuce or lettuce of choice, washed, spun & chopped (tip: chopping lettuce is so much easier when you slice once or twice from the root to the tip of the lettuce head, then turn horizontally and chop until you reach the root)
1 cup cooked or 1/2 can garbanzo or black beans, washed and drained (I use Eden organic brand when using canned beans because Eden doesn’t line their cans with Bisphenol-A, a known carcinogen)
1/4 cup red onion, minced
Optional additions: 1 small cucumber, deseeded and diced, 1 avocado, pitted and diced & a handful of sprouts
for the dressing:
1 heaping tablespoon of the following:
Brown rice miso (I use South River Miso = so freaking delicious you could eat it out of the jar & it contains probiotics that will fill your body with healthy bacteria)
Apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar)
Tahini (I use Once Again organic tahini)
2 tsp Penzey’s Fox Point seasoning (or you can use a blend of sea salt, shallots, chives, garlic, onion & green peppercorns)
splash of water
3 T extra virgin olive oil
In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except oil. Using a whisk, slowly stream in oil and mix until emulsified. Dressing should be thick, like a caesar or blue cheese dressing, but without any of the nasty dead fish or moldy cheese. Pour dressing over salad ingredients, toss, and serve to one or two ticketless unicorns.