A Gnocchi for my Peas

I shelled a lot of peas on Friday.  They’re so sweet and perfect!  I needed to make something fun…

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 large sweet onion

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 1/2 cups of shelled peas (and their pods)

1 bunch of asparagus

1/4 pound crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/4 cup white wine

1 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

2 Tbsp fresh thyme

1 pound gnocchi

Directions

Boil pea pods with 3 cups of water while you’re doing the rest…

Boil lightly salted water for asparagus.

Begin pot of water for gnocchi.

Wash and cut asparagus into 1 1/2-2 inch pieces.  Drop into boiling water and blanch for 2-3 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cool water.

In large skillet, heat olive oil.  Add onion and garlic and stir  soft and fragrant.  Add asparagus, peas and mushrooms.  Toss until well-coated with onions, garlic, olive oil.  Add wine and cook until wine cooks off a bit.  Season with salt, pepper and thyme.

Cook gnocchi.

Ladle about 1 cup of water from pea pod pot and about 1 cup from pasta water into the vegetables.

Strain gnocchi and toss with vegetables.

Serve, if you like, with fresh grated parmesan reggiano and a giant salad.

Squash & Carrot Soup

This velvety-smooth soup was inspired by a trip to Bellefonte PA’s Gamble Mill Inn.  I tried to recreate their delicious special and think I came darn close!

1 Butternut Squash, peeled and cubed (or one 16 ounce cleaned and cut)

5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-2″ pieces

4 tbsp tbsp olive oil, divided (or 2 tbsp Wegman’s basting oil and 2 tbsp olive oil)

2 shallots, minced

1/4 cup white wine

1 tsp dried sage

1 tsp coarse salt

1/2 tsp coarse ground pepper

5 cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup soy or almond milk

Toss squash and carrots in basting oil or 2 tbsp olive oil and roast in shallow pan for 40 minutes (until soft and starting to carmelize) at 350 degrees.

In large soup pot, saute shallots over medium heat in 2 tbsp olive oil until just soft.  Add sage, squash, and carrots and mix until coated with oil.  Add wine and mix until alcohol begins to cook off, 2-3 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, and broth.  Let simmer to merge flavors, about 20 minutes.  With an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth.  Stir in soy or almond milk.  Add extra broth to achieve desired thick or thinness. Add extra salt and pepper to taste. (I like extra pepper.)

Old Bay (VEGAN) Zucchini Cakes

My garden is delivering BIG and, unsurprising to anyone who’s ever had a garden or known someone who has, the cliched summer favorite, the zucchini, is among the most prolific.

Today, it was just Em and me for dinner, so we decided to innovate our own version of zucchini fritters.  We loved them with a side of fresh salad with lemon dressing.

Ingredients

2 cups grated zucchini

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Egg replacer for one egg (1 1/2 tsp egg replacer whipped with 2 Tbsp water)

2 Tbsp melted Earth Balance

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Old Bay seasoning

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground pepper

flour for dusting

vegetable or canola oil for frying

Directions

Mix all ingredients together well in a medium bowl.  Make small balls of zucchini mixture and pat down to desired thickness–I like about 3/4 inch.  I’ve made these big enough to be a “burger” and as small as 2 inches across.  Dust both sides with flour.

Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil in large, non-stick skillet.  Place patties into.  Wait until edges are golden brown, then flip, browning the other side.

Serve with vegan sour cream, or, for non-vegans, plain Greek yogurt.  Or serve on a bun with all your favorite toppings:  lettuce, tomato, etc.

Makes about 6-3 inch cakes.

Green Grass and Dandelions

I’d forgotten about this post.  I wrote it two years ago and stumbled on it today. It’s that time of year again and as Emily looks forward to college in the fall, and Audrey turns 15 today, it makes me a little nostalgic….

As soon as warmer weather hits, I, like many I know, get the itch to make things beautiful.  Last weekend, I spent 8 hours cleaning up, digging up, and planting up my front yard.  Every morning, I get tremendous satisfaction seeing that the new things are still alive and the old ones are thriving.  I’m aching to get going in the backyard… the weather needs to warm up a bit again.  Soon.

In the midst of the planning and planting, I find myself  pondering my lawn.  About four years ago, we used a chemical lawn care company to turn our grass into a lush green carpet.  I was never entirely comfortable with the idea of chemical fertilizer, but the compliments were enough to assuage my cognitive dissonance and I convinced myself to buy into the claims that the stuff they sprayed on the lawns–the stuff that stunk like chemicals–was surely all right.

Would we die from this stuff?  I don’t know.  Probably not.  But the larger question was:  Do I want chemicals sprayed all around my house, around my children, for the sake of an artificial standard?

I know… lawns are the stuff of summer.  When I envision the scene, it’s loaded with soft focused close-up images of toddlers’ bare feet in deep, green, soft grass.  There’s enough lemonade and puppies and sprinklers for everyone.  The image is Americana.

When I was a kid, our lawn was a conglomeration of dandelions and clover humming with honeybees; occasional blades of grass filled in the rest.  Our next door neighbors were far more diligent than we.  The mrs. would be on her hands and knees with a screwdriver, prying out the golden dandelions and dropping them into her large metal bucket.  The mr. would thatch every spring and fertilize.  Their lawn was beautiful.  A carpet of July heaven.

We didn’t walk on our neighbor’s lawn, much less play on it.  They discouraged it for fear it would be ruined.  And who could blame them?  If I worked that hard on my grass, I’d be protective of it, too.

And so, the neighborhood kids played Kick the Can and Capture the Flag and Red Rover and Running Bases at our house; and we did it barefoot and we stepped on bees and cried and had my mom slather her baking soda paste on the bottoms of our feet and out we went again, running well-worn paths along the shortest distances to “base.”  Yes, we knew the neighbors had a beautiful lawn, but it never occurred to us that ours wasn’t.

Don and I stopped using chemicals on our lawn two years ago and it’s not perfect anymore.  It’s thinning and the dandelions are dotting themselves recklessly throughout.  I don’t know how the neighbors feel about them and I don’t have the time or inclination to yank them.  I’m remembering the beautiful impromptu bouquets these named weeds became when I wanted to tell my mom that I loved her.  I remember how magical it was to blow their soft, fuzzy orbit of seeds away in the wind.

I guarantee that when my kids are grown, they won’t remember the state of beauty of our lawn.  They’ll remember tag and soccer and volleyball and zip lines.  And maybe it’s not too late to get a dandelion bouquet.

Curried Red Lentils and Sweet Potatoes (over rice)

I knew I wanted lentils, I knew I had to do something with my sweet potatoes.  So… THIS!!!

I loved it and more importantly, so did Don and Emily (Audrey hates most things, so no, she was not a fan).

Ingredients

3 1/2 cups water

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 medium or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into bite-size chunks

1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced

1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp curry powder

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup coconut milk

2 generous Tbsp brown rice syrup or light brown sugar

1 ½ cups red lentils

1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly cut

2 cups water

1 cup coconut milk

2 cups jasmine rice

Instructions

Bring 3 ½ cups of water to a boil.

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, saute onion, and salt in oil, stirring until onion is soft.

Add sweet potato, ginger, garlic, curry powder, bay leaf and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add boiling water, coconut milk, syrup or sugar, and lentils.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the lentils break down and the sweet potatoes are tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in basil.

While the above is cooking, bring  2 cups water and 1 cup coconut milk to boil.  Stir in rice, reduce to simmer, cover and let cook for 20 minutes.  Do not remove lid until close to done.

Serve lentils and potatoes over rice.

My Mom was a Lunch Lady

Elementary school lunches were amazing when I was a kid.  Sure, I took a packed lunch about half the time, but the hot lunches were pretty extraordinary.

And they were made from scratch.

My mom worked in our school cafeteria, arriving at 7:30 everyday to cook alongside the other hair-netted, white-aproned ladies to make lunches that weren’t just like homemade, they WERE homemade (just at school).

From baked chicken and real mashed potatoes to green beans and pizza (dough made right there, flour, water, yeast and salt), we ate real food.

Then came the 1980s and ketchup was declared a vegetable.  Today, very little actual cooking is going on in school cafeterias and pizza counts as a vegetable (thanks to the powerful food lobbies) despite the admirable efforts of the Obama administration.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost our “food way.”  I don’t know exactly when it happened, but my mind goes to Lunchables as being the symbolic moment, if not the actual one.

Somehow (maybe all the advertising?), we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that prepackaged, processed food was a solid, efficient substitute for the real thing.  We believed that we deserved a break from all that shopping and cooking.  We accepted all the additives and preservatives, and even accepted our own ignorance about what actually constitutes a chicken nugget.  Over time, this acceptance has come back to bite us in our big, fat, diabetic asses.

Much of this discussion is reflected in the broader dialogue of the nation right now:  are we better when the government invests in certain things that lend to the well-being of society as a whole or aren’t we?

I think we only need to look back to some of the most successful, prosperous times in our history to know the answer.  When did we lead the world in health, education, transportation and technology?  When we, as a nation, saw that it was good for us all to invest in those things collectively.

School lunches are one small piece of this puzzle.  But this piece speaks volumes.  When we cut corners and sacrifice quality for cost, we take short-term ease over long-term success.  (Though I would argue that this concept of “ease” is a myth.  Food preparation is not that hard.)

Certainly, school lunches aren’t to blame for all of our current health problems, but they signify lowering of standards all the way around.  From what parents deem acceptable nutrition to trimming opportunities for physical activity, we choose to believe that cutting corners for time or ease is worth it.

I heard a story on NPR  a few days ago that illustrates how there are people out there fighting the good fight.  And I think lots of parents are on board.  But for those who aren’t or can’t for whatever reason, we have to think about our responsibility to society’s kids as a whole and create a meme that bucks the processed food trend that has taken hold over the last 20 years or so.  That food is about nutrition as much as or more than anything else needs to be out there as a visible, tangible idea.

The results are in.  We know that kids who eat better are healthier, behave better, and do better in schools.  There is growing scientific and anecdotal evidence that kids who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, for example, behave and focus better when processed, dyed foods are pulled out of their diets.

While we push our schools to do better, we must do better.  Fresh, whole foods should be the norm in our homes and in our kids’ lunches.  If it comes in a box or some plastic package ready to eat, we should reject it.  We have the ability to set high standards as norms for our kids and to call out reckless advertising as deviant and abnormal.  And maybe one day as our voices are heard, the lunch ladies of today will be looked at with as much affection and regard as the lunch ladies of our youth.

Red Lentil Vegetable Soup

I just looked in my cupboards and fridge last night and, after spotting my red lentils, decided on this soup.  It’s become my new favorite.

Ingredients

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 small to medium sweet onion chopped

3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 celery stalks with leaves, chopped

1 cup red lentils

2 small or one large zucchini, chopped

1 cup cut green beans

1 28 oz. diced tomatoes with juice

6-8 cups vegetable broth

2 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp fresh pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried parsley

Directions

In a large pot, cook onion, carrots and celery in oil on medium high heat until just soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes.

Stir in lentils and zucchini, coat with oil and juices.

Stir in tomatoes and spices.  Add 6 cups of broth, stir, and let simmer until carrots are just tender, about 1 hour.

Add more broth if soup is too thick.  Enjoy with wine, bread, and for non-vegans, some parmesan cheese.