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Food

Art of Disguise: Sneaking Vegetables Into a Carb-Lover’s Diet

I might as well be watching Game of Thrones, blasting EDM and owning a cat I so hardly recognize myself: for the last several months, I’ve eaten ZERO vegetables. (Fine, zero may be an overstatement, but it’s been capped at, like, six total bites.)

Once a staple of my diet – I’ve literally been known to call kale chips my favorite food – vegetables have totally lost their luster for me this winter. And you can’t really blame me: New York City isn’t particularly known for its farm-fresh produce this time of year.

The farmers’ markets have been hawking nothing but cabbage, onions and last fall’s potatoes, and the perfect summer tomato is still a full fiscal quarter away. (Don’t @ me. I know its actually a fruit.) I even asked my west coast bestie to stop sending me salad recipes calling for “fresh spring greens” out of crippling jealousy. Bib lettuce may be paving the streets of San Francisco but it’s still an unattainable luxury in this concrete jungle where it definitely doesn’t yet feel like May.

But I’m wearing my spring bandana!

But (wo)man cannot live on carbs/meat/dairy/fruit alone, and I know I’ve got to find a way to add more veggies into my diet whether or not the arugula seeds I planted in my upstate garden ever poke through. Even if the off-season variety is boring as all heck, they’re still crucial for the fiber, nutrients and reduced risk of chronic diseases they provide, and I’ve got to convince myself to eat some.

So I’ve been doing everything I can to add more vegetables into my diet, or — let’s be honest — treating myself like a four year old in a bid to disguise all the healthy stuff I’m sneaking past my lips. For example:

  • To trick myself into eating carrots, I made this “carrot cake” smoothie, which, weirdly, was surprisingly good.

  • To trick myself into eating cauliflower, I made this cauliflower-crust pizza, which would have been better covered in pepperoni and/or build on top of a real pizza crust.

  • To trick myself into eating kale and sweet potatoes, I doused my Dig Inn “salad” in mac and cheese (no regrets.) 

Fortunately, my local upstate farmers’ market reopens on Sunday after a dark four-month hiatus, and hopefully it inspires me to love green things all over again. But in the meantime, at least I’ve been getting my green in other ways…

How do YOU sneak more vegetables into your meals?

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Food

Celery? More Like Hellery

I try not to get political on this blog, so I’ll leave her position on the minimum wage, carbon emissions and whether or not The Lion King is `gay propaganda’ out of here. But regardless of your personal leanings, I think we can all agree former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has the most controversial and offensive favorite food of all time.

It’s celery. Barf.

I know, I know, celery is supposedly “the healthiest food in the world,” and its marketing team has done an excellent job convincing consumers they burn more calories chewing it than they take in. But let’s be real here for a second: It’s terrible. It’s fibrous and stringy and smelly and gross, and unless it’s doused in ranch dressing or peanut butter or cream cheese with raisins, it should be avoided at all costs.

Much like trying to do floor stretches when you live with a needy Swiss dog.

At least, that’s my take. Apparently the rest of the world doesn’t despise celery as much as I do, making me wonder if celery is my cilantro — a totally innocuous flavor for most that for some reason tastes to me downright offensive. I can handle it raw, like in a tuna salad, but throw celery into a sofrito or a stock or a mirepoix, and I swear it overpowers the entire thing. Sorry, world: This vegetable gets no love in my book.

So imagine my distress when I opened my CSA two weeks ago to discover the biggest head of celery this blogger has ever seen.

Stalks have not been enlarged to show texture.

I pride myself in successfully polishing off each CSA fully before the next one arrives, so when I first saw that bad boy 11 days ago, I put my disgust aside and came up with a game plan to put it to good use. After googling “celery recipes for people who don’t like celery,” I decided to make several celery-starring dishes to hopefully discover I’d been wrong about it all along. I found these three, which seemed totally out of the box and maybe just the kick I needed to finally understand this vegetable’s appeal:

  • Braised Celery with Tomatoes, Chickpeas & Bacon (link)
  • Challah, Mushroom and Celery Stuffing (link)
  • Celery and Fennel Gratin (link)

They were going to be delicious! They were going to be life changing! They were going to change my mind about celery once and for all!

They didn’t happen.

My next CSA comes tomorrow, and for the first time this summer, I’ll pick up a new box with one giant, unused vegetable still sitting in my fridge. To be fair, it hasn’t gone totally untouched: in addition to the above photo shoot, I also tossed a handful of the leaves into a veggie broth this weekend as an act of good faith. Of course, that made the broth taste like death, in my humble opinion, and I immediately regretted the decision, but at least a little of the celery went used.

So I’ve got to know, good people: is there a way to cook celery that honestly tastes good? I suppose I’d scarf it down if I filled it with shredded buffalo chicken and blue cheese (mmm brilliant idea, Anne), but I’d love to find a use that doesn’t completely negate the health benefits of the ingredient itself.

How do YOU celery-brate this unloved vegetable?

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Food Recipes

Getting the Most Out of Your CSA

Aside from TGIF and BYOB, there are few acronyms I love more than CSA. No, I’m not talking about the Controlled Substance Act or the Confederate States Army or my Crazy Seasonal Allergies. I’m talking about Community Supported Agriculture, or the season that I think rivals Christmas and Arbor Day as the most wonderful time of the year.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a CSA is a program in which consumers can buy seasonal vegetables directly from the farmer by paying an upfront cost and collecting a box of produce during pre-scheduled pick-ups. Unlike a farmers’ market, where you choose exactly what you want to buy and in what quantity, a CSA delivers what’s fresh that week and in a quantity proportional to how good the harvest was.

The pros of this arrangement are the farmer gets upfront cash to do the planting and the buyer is forced to try new veggies she might not normally buy. The downside is a poor crop means less take-home food for you, while a bumper* crop means you’re sometimes stuck with 6 pounds of kohlrabi you don’t know what to do with.

*Does the phrase ‘bumper crop’ remind everyone else of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ too? Ok, good.

Still, the rewards far outweigh the risks in my opinion, so when my company advertised a summer/fall of bi-weekly deliveries brought straight to my office, I couldn’t resist. And unlike two years ago when I bought a share and split it with a friend, this summer, I’m planning to go it alone. Why? Because I’m trying to eat more vegetables and haven’t yet found my new Queens Greenmarket. Also because when you share, it’s really hard to split a single spaghetti squash, and I’m selfish.

The first pick-up was this past Tuesday, and OH THE BOUNTY. It’s still spring, and that means mostly greens for now. We had several things I recognized, like head lettuce and bok choy and scallions and kale, but also some things I definitely had to google, like tatsoi.

Some people who buy CSAs say it’s hard to use all the ingredients, especially the unfamiliar ones, in the two weeks before the next box arrives. But with a little creativity and forward planning, it’s completely possible to eat every last ounce. Here are my best strategies for getting the most out of your summer CSA:

  • Remove the greens. First thing first (well, after taking the required CSA instagram photo), remove all the green tops from root vegetables, like radishes and carrots and kohlrabi and turnips. Sure, they look pretty as a whole unit, but the greens will keep sucking moisture out of the roots while they sit in your crisper. After you snip off the tops, feel free to keep the leaves for another use. Turnip greens are great in soups, and carrot tops make amazing pesto. Don’t be bullied into using everything though — I’ve finally admitted to myself I don’t like radish greens (too fuzzy!), raw or cooked, so I allowed myself to toss them on Tuesday. Don’t judge me.

  • Eat softer things first. You may be tempted to crack right into the sweet potatoes, but try to use your faster-to-wilt veggies first. That means lettuces right away, followed by other leafy greens and delicate produce. I only get a share every two weeks, so it’s important to save some of the heartier things for week two, like the squashes.

  • Work veggies into every meal. This is a good rule of thumb all the time — don’t eat any meal without adding something grown — but it’s especially important as you try to use up veggies before they rot. Sautéed tatsoi (basically Asian spinach, I learned this week) makes a great bacon and egg accompaniment, turns out.

  • Master some easy go-to dishes. It’s good to have a few recipes up your sleeve that can use multiple veggies at once. Bonus points if you can make it ahead and freeze it, so you have it for week two. For some people, that go-to dish is a hearty soup or a bisquick pie. For me, it’s quiche. I’ve already eaten most of one, and a second is cooling in my icebox as we speak.

  • Don’t fear the pickle. One way to get your vegetables to last longer is to preserve them. I don’t do anything fancy that will last til next winter like I’m a modern Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I do like to pickle my radishes. They’re so easy and so delicious, especially on burgers or tuna sandwiches or by the forkful. Here’s the recipe I use.

More ambitious cooks might have other tips for getting the most out of their CSAs, like making jams and canning and freezing things through the off-season, but I’m not that fancy. Fancier folks, what else do you recommend to get the most out of your CSA? (And how can I control these Crazy Seasonal Allergies?!)

Categories
Food

Celery-brate Good Times

I spent the first several years of my adult life largely avoiding the vegetable aisle, and not just because I had an innate fear of Jim Henson’s singing produce.

Source: http://blogs.disney.com/ and my nightmares
Source: http://blogs.disney.com/ and my nightmares

Raised in a typical American household of the late 80s and early 90s, my earliest memories of vegetables were microwaved broccoli florets, steamed lima beans and frozen peas – nutritional powerhouses, no doubt, but not the kind of introduction to plant-based sustenance that kindles a passion. Sure, I relished helping my mom grow a backyard garden each summer and loved a buttery ear of corn as much as the next kid, but it’s no surprise that one of my earliest memories involved sneaking away from the kitchen table to spit out a mouthful of dilled-carrots that my four-year-old self simply wasn’t having.

Throughout childhood, I mostly filled my five-a-day fruit and vegetable quota with fruits, and that general apathy toward the green stuff continued into college. Every evening at the dining hall, I’d build a side salad to accompany my carby-cheesy entre, but I’d rarely do more than pick the croutons (read: goldfish) off the top before retiring to the sundae bar. The trend continued during my early years as a New Yorker, where stir-fried eggplant from my favorite the Chinese take-out spot was the only crop to make it past my lips. Well, that and the garnishes to my bloody marys. What? It was an indulgent time.

I spent about 23 years of my life actively evading vegetables. And then, one day, that all changed, and I know exactly the dish that changed it for me: a plate of roasted Brussels sprouts prepared by my favorite cousin for a meeting of our book club at my first New York apartment. The preparation was simple — the sprouts were quartered, tossed with olive oil and sea salt, and baked until crisp in a high-temperature oven – but the outcome was sheer decadence. That momentous Monday I realized vegetables could be delicious, and thankfully, I’ve never looked back.

In the years since, my appreciation of vegetables and the sheer diversity of flavors they offer has grown and grown. As a first step, I started shopping the outside aisles at the grocery store. Two summers later, I enrolled in a CSA to get delivered farm-fresh vegetables twice a month. Today, Ben and I grow herbs and tomatoes in our very own outdoor mini-garden. And of course, I still order 38-ounce bloody marys. You know, for the antioxidants.

My brother knows what's up.
My brother knows what’s up.

But of all the ways I’ve found to bring fresh vegetables into my life, my favorite is still the original: the farmers’ market.

If you live in New York City, the odds are good you have a Greenmarket within 10 blocks of your apartment at least one day a week. The odds are also good that you should be buying pretty much all of your produce here, rather than at the grocery store.

Why, you ask? First and foremost, farmers’ markets only sell seasonal food that was likely harvested within the last 24 hours, meaning whatever you take home will be higher in nutrients and in flavor than grocery store items that have been in transit for days. Likewise, less travel time means a lower carbon footprint, plus if you have questions about how something was cultivated, you can ask the farmer right on the spot. In my experience, farmers’ market vegetables are less expensive, and since the carrots and beets often come with the tops still on, you basically get two vegetables for the price of one. Most importantly, farmers’ markets make for amazing Instagram photos.

photo 1 (76)
Hashtag blessed.

Today,  I arrived at my neighborhood market with $18 in Sacagaweas (thanks, gatorade vending machine, for making the second half of my nine-mile run today much heavier by only dispensing solid metal change) and left with two giant bunches of beets, tri-colored carrots, a giant zucchini, four ears of corn and a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread, because, come on, I’m human.

That list of vegetables didn’t get your mouth a’watering, you say? What if I show you what I made with them?

The beets I sliced thin on a mandolin, tossed with oil and sea salt, and roasted in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes to make beet chips.

photo 4 (47)

The zucchini I grated and mixed with a half cup whole wheat flour, half a red onion, an egg, 2 tsp baking powder, a half cup shredded Parmesan, red pepper flakes and salt/pepper, then pan fried and ate with greek yogurt and a squirt of lemon. It was adapted from this Food & Wine recipe, except the brilliant addition of cheese was all my idea.

photo 3 (64)

The carrots I roasted with olive oil and sea salt until browned, then tossed with pesto made out of the carrot tops themselves. Doesn’t look like much, but this is probably the tastiest thing I’ve ever created.

photo 1 (77)

It’s not yet dinner time, and I’ve already consumed two pounds of zucchini, four beets, and a cup of carrots — quantities of vegetables that would have seemed comical to my earlier self. Come to think of it, I’ve even so many vegetables today, I forgot to have any fruit. Ah well. There’s always dessert.

What creative and delicious ways have you worked more vegetables into your diet?

Categories
Food Recipes

Local Fare

Today proved to be one of those formulaically beautiful spring days that compel New Yorkers by the droves to swarm my (read: everyone’s) farmers’ market to fill their reusable bags with seasonal greens and camera reels with seasonal photos.

Ah, what the hell. If you can’t beat them, join them, right?

A staunch advocate of the locavore movement – when convenient and comparably priced, that is – I’ve been sustaining on Tri-state winter staples like apples, bosc pears and sweet potatoes since November in wait of the first spring harvest, and my God, I’m ready for some variety.

Thankfully, in the words of classic literary hero Rafiki, “It is time.”

Today’s bounty at the Union Square Greenmarket included an array of early springtime offerings from ramps (i.e. wild spring onions) to turnip greens (i.e. turnip greens).

Too often a creature of habit when it comes to my vegetable selections – my genetic make-up is probably 90-percent kale at this point – I forced myself out of my comfort zone and bought a new kind of green at today’s market: broccoli rabe.

To be honest, I’m not really sure what to do with it, but a little olive oil, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper can never be wrong. Unless broccoli rabe is one of those poisonous greens you have to cook thoroughly to avoid sure and sudden death. In which case, cooking it my way might be wrong. Stay tuned for an update and/or obituary.

Speaking of playing dead – gratuitous niece photo anyone? Ok, I guess if you twist my arm.

How are you celebrating the flavors of spring? And who is with me for Operation Puppynap? Sorry future defense attorney. This scheme is decidedly premeditated.

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Food

Five a Day

Most of the advice I internalized in 1991 was probably flawed.

For instance: If your distant cousin arrives at your Chicago apartment straight of the boat from the fictionalized island of Mypos, you should absolutely bring him on a double date with the girl you want to marry. No wacky antics with ensue; no way, no how.

Likewise: If your wife dies and leaves you raising three young girls alone, the best solution is to invite her playboy brother, your comedian friend and his beaver puppet to come live in your San Francisco basement. Totally sound parenting advice.

(Clearly, most of my formative memories were made on Friday nights on ABC.)

But while the Foster-Lambert model of how best to integrate a blended family under one roof may not be worth simulating in your own post-divorce reality, at least one piece of advice I gleaned in the early 90s still holds true today:

Eat five fruits and vegetables a day.

(You may be asking yourself: did I need such a long-winded reference-laden lead-in to that statement? Did Feeney need to apply for a high school principal vacancy the same year Cory and Shawn graduated middle school? I rest my case.)

The concept of five-a-day has been drilled into us since the launch of the 1991 ad campaign, and yet, I’d venture a guess that at least three-quarters of my adult friends don’t hit that mark. (Wikipedia says more than 90-percent of Americans don’t reach the recommended intake, but I’m giving more of my friends the benefit if the doubt.)

And at the most basic level, I understand why. You can order in a bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel, but try ordering in a seasonal fruit salad and you’re going to find yourself with a cup of grapes and out six bucks.

But with a little planning and creativity, the 5-a-day challenge is absolutely within reach. And more importantly: it’s worth the effort. Not only does it keep Michelle Obama off your back, but it helps keep you feeling full and hydrated, since fruits and veggies are jam packed with water and fiber and vitamins and goodness. In fact, with running, I attribute my commitment to eat more fruits and veggies with my ability to maintain my 30-pound weight loss, and that’s no small feat.

So without further ado, here’s my advice on how to get your daily plant count to five:

  • Start early. Muffins and bagels and cereal are the stuff of most American breakfasts, but if you’re waiting until noon to initiate your vegetable count, you’ve already lost 6 hours of possibilities. Instead, aim to add at least one serving of fruits or vegetables into your morning routine. For example, if you’re an oatmeal eater like I am, rather than just adding sweetener and milk and calling it a day, add a mashed banana and tablespoon of peanut butter (plus sweetener and milk, if you like your oatmeal like I like mine), and BAM – by 6 a.m., you have a delicious bowl of banana-nut goodness and only four more servings to go. You can even sneak veggies into that same bowl of oats. This morning, for example, I added a half-cup of canned pumpkin (not canned pumpkin pie filling, but the pure-pumpkin stuff) to my oatmeal, plus a hearty dash of pumpkin pie spice and some milk/sweetener, and I suddenly had a breakfast that tasted like Thanksgiving AND earned me a vegetable point. Other possibilities include adding frozen or fresh berries to yogurt or cereal, stacking sliced tomatoes on your egg sandwich, dropping a heaping cup of greens into your smoothie, or – if you demand a muffin – making your own. I’ve been known to make a batch of these bad boys over the weekend and enjoy them all week, and while one carrot-raisin muffin may not include a complete serving of fruits and veggies, it will certainly bring you closer to your goal than a slice of coffee cake would have.
  • Snack early and snack often. A constant grazer, I need multiple snacks a day to maintain my energy, and I’ve found this is the best way to supercharge my veggie count, particularly at work. An apple at 10 a.m.? One down. Baby carrots and hummus at 2:30 p.m.? We’re at two. If my options are walking to the vending machine in my building or venturing outside to the grocery store for a snack, the lazy girl inside me is inclined to opt for the former, so I make sure to stock my desk drawer and office fridge with a number of options first thing Monday morning that will last me all week. Tip: if you buy five apples on Monday, you’ll be inclined to eat one a day simply so you don’t have to worry about what might happen to them if left at work over the weekend. Having fruits and veggies within reach at home is also key. I know a smart woman (not me) who chops up bell peppers and celery and carrots on Sunday nights and stores them in an airtight container in her fridge all week. That way, when she gets home from work and is aching for a snack, it’s actually easier to grab a handful of pepper strips and dip than it would have been to open a box of Thin Mints.
  • Make your vegetables delicious. If you grew up in the 90s (and I assume you did, or else you wouldn’t have made it past the first 100 words of this post), you probably ate a lot of frozen peas, steamed lima beans and microwaved broccoli florets. That’s what people ate during our childhood, and that’s why we all grew up thinking vegetables were vile. Fast forward to 2012 and the offerings of locally grown fruits and vegetables have simply skyrocketed. Case in point: I had never heard of kale in 1994; I made baked kale three times this week. Brussels sprouts were little more than a punch line in 1996; last week, I ordered them as a side dish to my Stella at a NYC bar. If you try to reach your 5-a-day chowing down on celery sticks, you’re going to burn out fast, but if you get creative with sourcing and seasoning and a couple well-placed slices of pancetta, you’re going to be much more likely to see this challenge through.

How do you sneak fruits and veggies into your diet? And can we all agree Dinosaurs was a strange addition to the TGIF line-up?