Category Archives: Cooking

Spaghetti Revisited

I have been a pasta lover all of my life. Growing up, my “birthday meal” every year used to be Mom’s macaroni with cream sauce and a salty slice of ham. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a pasta I didn’t like – e.g., lasagna, cannelloni, tortellini, pasta alfredo, pasta with sausage and peppers, and, of course, spaghetti and meatballs. Yet, as a processed food, pasta isn’t all that healthy. And red meat has fallen out of favor given that a substance it produces during digestion – trimethylamine N-oxide or TMAO – may elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, what’s a pasta-loving gal to do? Make a few substitutions to my old spaghetti recipe!

FIRST: I substituted spaghetti squash for pasta. When cooked, this mild-flavored vegetable looks rather like a serving of angel hair pasta. I enjoy eating it plain with just a light dousing of extra virgin olive oil and Mrs. Dash seasoning. It also makes a perfectly good base for pasta sauce and compares favorably with the Real McCoy. One cup of spaghetti squash has a mere 42 calories versus 220 in noodles. Spaghetti squash also delivers quite a few essential vitamins and minerals.

To roast spaghetti squash in the oven, start by pre-heating the oven to 375°. Then:

spaghetti squash cut and cored
Cut the spaghetti squash lengthwise in half and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
spaghetti squash ready for baking
Place cut-side down on a lightly greased or nonstick cookie sheet. (I use a nonstick liner.) Roast until tender, about 35-45 minutes. A knife should pass easily through the rind and flesh.
scraping the pulp from spaghetti squash
Use a fork to scrape out the flesh in long strands. When cooked “just right,” the flesh releases all the way to the rind yet doesn’t taste “mushy.”
spaghetti squash ready to eat
Voilà! You’re ready to eat!

If you’re short on time, you can slice, core, and grease the spaghetti squash, and then microwave it for 5-15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash and the microwave’s power output. Or, a pressure cooker can steam a whole, 2-lb spaghetti squash in about 15 minutes. Whatever cooking method you use, make sure you do not overcook the squash! You want the strands to have a little stiffness when cooked.

SECOND: Plant-based ground beef alternatives have been around for decades. They typically involve some combination of beans, grains, vegetables (e.g., mushrooms, kale), nuts, seeds, and/or tofu. I’ve tried a bunch of these recipes with varying degrees of success. None came close to replacing the good-old-fashioned ground beef that sizzles on the outdoor grill or cooks up nicely in a tomato sauce… until now.

In 2011, Stanford emeritus professor Pat Brown founded a company called Impossible Foods with a mission “to save meat and earth.” A biochemist and pediatrician by training, Dr. Brown was alarmed at the collapse in global biodiversity as a function of our excessive use of animals for food. He recognized that folks wouldn’t readily give up what they love to eat. So, he decided to create a plant-based product that tasted, smelled, and acted meaty.

spaghetti revisitedAfter years of research and development, the company’s signature product – the Impossible Burger – was launched in July 2016. Version 2.0 was released in January 2019. Impossible Burgers are available in select grocers and fast food restaurants. You can buy grill-ready patties or a block of ground meat substitute. From a nutritional standpoint, the Impossible Burger compares favorably with lean ground beef. A 4-ounce patty provides 240 calories, 19 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbohydrate, and 14 grams of fat. Having tried the patties and found them tasty, I used a ground block in my favorite tomato sauce to good effect. (I doubt anyone would know that I’d made the substitution!)

For those who are lactose intolerant, you can make a “vegan parmesan cheese” to top off your spaghetti by grinding a cup of cashews, a half-cup nutritional yeast, and some salt-free seasoning (e.g., Mrs. Dash Garlic and Onion) in a small food processor. I’ve used this concoction often and find it reasonably tasty. But I also allow myself the indulgence of freshly grated Parmesan cheese from time to time.

Beans! Beans! Beans!

Blacks beans. Kidney Beans. Pinto beans. Chickpeas. Navy beans. Lentils. Green peas. These luscious legumes (and more) figure prominently in the daily diet of the healthiest, longest lived people on the planet. They are a mainstay of a whole foods plant based diet.

Here are just a few of the reasons why I love them:

  • kidney beansA one-cup serving offers 14-18 grams of high quality protein.
  • They’re high in fiber which helps dilute the caloric density of a meal, creates a sense of fullness, and dampens the appetite. Higher fiber consumption is associated with lower cancer rates in the rectum and colon and is linked to healthier gut flora.
  • They’re loaded with vitamins and phytonutrients. (The darker the color, the more the nutrients.)
  • They have a low glycemic index – i.e., they slow the rate at which glucose is absorbed in the bloodstream. As such, they’re especially good for persons with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and/or weight management issues.
  • They’re naturally low in cholesterol and fat.
  • There are lots and lots of delicious ways to prepare beans leveraging cuisines from all over the world!

Dr. Michael Greger of tells us that legumes are the most important predictor of survival of older people globally.

Despite their impressive credentials, beans have come under attack by some nutritional consultants. Why? Beans contain lectins which provide a defense against microorganisms, pests, and insects. Lectins enable raw beans to pass through an animal’s digestive system intact, thereby enabling it to germinate in the soil when eliminated. As such, these consultants argue that beans give our digestive system a rough go of it and should be avoided.

Here’s where that logic goes wrong:

  • First: We don’t eat beans raw. They’re hard as rocks and might even break our teeth! And they wouldn’t be tasty even if we managed to chomp them down.
  • Second: Beans lose their lectins when properly prepared. One method calls for soaking the beans for at least 5 hours, rinsing them off, and then boiling for 30-45 minutes. If lacking time to soak the beans, they can be cooked in a pressure cooker for 45-60 minutes.

In other words: If you cook beans to the point where they’d be considered edible, it should be more than sufficient to destroy the adverse activity of lectins. For more information, see How to Avoid Lectin Poisoning on

What Happened to Home Cooking?

“You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”
— Harry Balzer, Food Marketing Researcher

If you pay a visit to the Center for Disease Control’s website, you’ll run into some rather alarming statistics about obesity in the United States:

  • Between 1999-2000 and 2017-2018, the prevalence of obesity in the US increased from 30.5% to 42.4%.
  • Obesity-related medical conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. These conditions are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.
  • The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008.

In a 2003 study, a team of Harvard economists tied the rise in obesity to “reductions in the time cost of food, which in turn has allowed more frequent food consumption of greater variety and, thus, led to higher weights.” A 2014 study by Drs. Monsivais, Aggarwal, and Drewnowski showed a positive relationship between the amount of time spent on food preparation and diet quality as reflected in the daily intake of vegetables, salads, fruits, and fruit juices.

So what caused us to abandon healthy food preparation? Laura Shapiro, a food historian, provides answers in her book Something From The Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America.

canned foodProduction of processed food geared up in the early- to mid-1940s to support the armed services during World War II. As the great conflict drew to a close, food manufacturers had substantial capacity to produce freeze-dried, frozen, and canned goods without a ready market to consume them. They turned their attention from military to civilian appetites and supported their product offerings with heavy advertising.

Despite valiant efforts to entice home cooks with the promise of convenience, sales of processed foods did not take off. Ten years into peacetime, households spent only $.07 per food dollar on frozen and canned goods; that figure rose to $.14 in 1960. It was progress, but certainly not the “home run” that industry insiders anticipated. Early offerings did not satisfy American taste buds. Household freezer capacity had a dampening effect on market demand. But the biggest obstacle proved to be the prevailing notions of a woman’s value.

home cookingFrom time immemorial, women have been judged by their ability to cultivate a happy home life for their families. Through home cooking, they demonstrated their care, concern, and affection for their families and friends. Housewives of the 1950s and 1960s equated “convenience foods” with shirking their responsibilities as homemakers. Moreover, the quality of their home-cooked meals reflected their social standing. Middle class housewives aspired to the ideal of “gracious living.”

Processed food advertising capitalized on this sentiment by reworking its messaging around creativity, not convenience. It encouraged homemakers to forego the unnoticed drudgery of meal preparation and invest their time on the finishing touches. For instance: “Don’t worry about baking a cake from scratch. Spend time glorifying it!” Using  so-called “foolproof” formulations, homemakers were also relieved of the stress of an imperfect result.

The inaugural Pillsbury Bake Off of 1966 embodied the industry’s new approach to marketing. The allure of national recognition and appreciation for homemaking skills drew thousands of women to the contest. Flour sales skyrocketed, and women eagerly anticipated the annual event and its companion cookbook.

Meanwhile, the post-war era brought profound changes in women’s attitudes toward paid employment. Six million women served their country by joining the work force during WWII. In a 1944 study, 80% of those employed said they had no wish to leave their jobs after the war. As Lillian Gilbreth noted: “The businesswoman or industrial worker has one job. The housewife has a dozen.” While 3 million women were let go when able-bodied veterans returned to work, the percentage of women working outside the home came close to its wartime high by 1953. Paid employment gave women more challenges, more respect, and more money. The latter contributed mightily to the post-WWII economic boom. By 1960, 40% of women with school-aged children worked outside the home.

Columnist Poppy Cannon supported this sea change by showing readers how to conduct their domestic lives with intelligence, grace, and a modern sensibility. Far from demonizing those who found fulfillment outside the home, she developed strategies to help them live comfortably in both worlds. Interestingly enough, the data showed that women working outside the home were no more likely to avail themselves of processed foods than stay-at-home moms.

Humor became an effective way to bridge the gap between the image of the “perfect housewife” and the reality of the modern woman. Shirley Jackson captured the struggle of the homemaker who narrowly escapes disaster in Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons. Erma Bombeck was the reigning queen of domestic chaos for over 30 years. Her I Hate to Cook Book gave women permission to put a “good enough” dinner on the table without agonizing over it.

cuisineThroughout this period, haute cuisine remained the province of men under the assumption that remarkable cuisine was beyond the capacity of ordinary housewives. Julia Child dispelled that myth. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she had no tolerance for the snobbery that accompanied highbrow cooking. She took up the mantle to teach American cooks how to prepare exquisite meals and proved that anybody could cook like a gourmet chef. Her seminal cookbook – Master the Art of French Cooking – became an unbridled success as did her television show, The French Chef.

Unfortunately, the food industry eventually prevailed in its goal of capturing the American palate. Convenience foods have become so prevalent that the average home cook spends a mere 3.5 hours per week on food preparation, down from 17-18 hours per week in the 1950s. As noted earlier, this change has clear implications for our general health.

Given the prevalence of obesity and the chronic health conditions that accompany it, a return to home cooked meals merits serious consideration. However, the responsibility for healthy eating must transcend the gender divide; working women (whether paid or unpaid) cannot shoulder the burden alone. Ideally, food planning and preparation is a team effort that affords all household members an opportunity to contribute while spending quality time with one another in the kitchen.

What To Do When Cooking Feels Like a Chore

“Cooking involves an enormously rich coming together of the fruits of the earth with the inventive genius of the human being.” – Carol Flinders, co-author of Laurels’ Kitchen

sharing a mealThis week marks 15 months since we went into quarantine. For our household, that’s 15 months since we’ve taken a break from home cooking and eaten a meal at a restaurant (excluding a few guilty-pleasure pizza runs!) As one who typically enjoys cooking, I’ve found the extended stretch without the occasional break to be burdensome, especially since we’ve not had the pleasure of external company to share meals.

I’m not alone. For those working full-time jobs and raising families, it’s hard to keep up with household chores (including grocery shopping and cooking), spend quality time with family and friends, and squeeze in a little “me time.” The food industry’s hefty marketing budget plays right into our overburdened sensibilities by encouraging us to go easy on home cooked meals in favor of quick-fix processed foods and take-out. And by stimulating our taste buds and reward centers with sugar, salt, and fat, the food industry makes sure that we’re happy to go along with their program.

I understand completely how we’ve become a nation characterized by unhealthy eating habits and the associated poor health outcomes. We’ve “drunk the Kool Aid” (literally) and bought into taking short-cuts in the kitchen with an expectation that the medical establishment will take care of our health woes when they arise. Given the latter may take years to show up, why not enjoy life now?

Having tended to my parents’ health needs in their final years, I have a clear sense of how disease robs a vibrant person of life. While modern medicine did the best it could for my dad and mom, it still fell short of remediating their conditions. As a result, I’ve opted to change our household’s eating habits before they result in a turning point for the worse. The payoff thus far has been remarkable. Both my husband and I have dropped nearly 30 points each on total cholesterol through natural means. Our weight has stayed within the “normal” range, and we feel great!

So how do you stay the course when so many influences conspire to thwart your best efforts?

FIRST: I’ve set up a chopping/slicing/dicing station in front of my TV. As that’s the most time-consuming aspect of meal preparation, I’ve found a way to entertain myself while doing it. Most of the shows I watch do just fine with a continuous audio track and regular peaks at the screen. And as a side benefit, I’m not tempted to snack out of boredom while my hands are busy preparing food.

SECOND: I cooked my way through 10 healthy cookbooks and taught myself how to make delicious meals using whole foods and very little fat, salt, or sugar. I use lots of spices and generally make each dish stretch out to two or three meals. (Leftovers generally taste better than the original meals!) I balance more time-consuming entrées with easy-peesy ones so that I’m not spending an inordinate amount of time cooking.

THIRD: I don’t keep junk food around the house. If it isn’t there, I can’t eat it. And if it takes effort to go get it, I’ll make do with a readily-available healthy alternative in my cupboards or refrigerator. The only exceptions to this rule are bags of corn chips which we open occasionally with Mexican-themed meals. We LOVE corn chips!

FOURTH: We’re in our third season of purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). As I’m not one to waste food or money, I always figure out how to use all of the fresh food that we purchased, which keeps us eating healthfully. I feel good about supporting local farmers and honor the work that they’ve chosen to do. It also feels good knowing that the food was prepared without chemicals and traveled a few miles instead of hundreds of them to get to our table.

FIFTH: We savor the taste of good food and the wonderful aromas that waft through our home. They’re the rewards for prioritizing kitchen work and treating that part of our lives as sacred. And now that we have a growing circle of COVID-vaccinated friends, we’re enjoying the fellowship that comes from feeding body and soul together.

How I Learned to Love Cooking

In my last post, I talked about our recent decision to buy a share in Community Supported Agriculture. It’s something we’ve been wanting to do, and it’s a good year to do it. But, of course, when you get all that fresh produce, you’ve got to figure out something to do with it!

i love cooking

I wasn’t born a cook and was never much interested in it. I took up the mantle as a teenager to help my parents. They both worked full time, so I pitched in and got dinner on the table as they returned home from their days’ labors. But it was all pretty mundane stuff, and Mom did all the grocery shopping and planning.

My cooking and eating habits stayed pretty basic throughout college and grad school, and I became a frozen dinner, fast food, and dining out aficionado during my working years. I was really, really busy and didn’t want to spend much time in the kitchen. Now and again I’d build up a head of steam and prepare something amazing. But the day-to-day grind of meal preparation just didn’t interest me.

In summer 2015, I read Chris Guillebeau’s book entitled The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose To Your Life. In it, he reflects on his 10-year quest to visit every country in the world and encourages readers to identify adventures that will enrich their lives and satisfy inner longings. I took his advice and opted to prepare every recipe in the most challenging cookbook on my bookshelf.

In truth, I didn’t have inner longings around cooking. But I’d just seen the movie Julie & Julia and figured this quest would be something that I could manage on top of all my other responsibilities.

I’m proof positive that gourmet cooking takes a LOT of time in the kitchen. Mercifully, Spike provided able assistance and saved my proverbial bacon on numerous occasions. (Of course, he had a vested interest in food getting on the table!) But it turned out to be a lovely way to spend our evenings together. We spent more time talking and less time vegging out in the front of the TV.

I learned that cooking from scratch was far more flavorful than cooking with short-cuts. There is a material difference in taste between fresh herbs and dried herbs and between bottled garlic and fresh garlic – well worth the incremental food preparation time. Moreover, those complex recipes turned out to be mouth-wateringly flavorful, and it wasn’t as hard to prepare them as I feared they might be.

The quest has introduced Spike and me to several new ingredients – e.g., celery root, chanterelle mushrooms, spaghetti squash, calvados, gruyère cheese, to name a few. By stretching our boundaries, we became much more familiar with the inventory at our local grocers and in the farmer’s market. I’m awestruck by the bounty of food that we enjoy in the Pacific Northwest!

I’ve learned to suspend my tendencies toward perfectionism and beating myself up when things don’t go well. We had a few mishaps in the kitchen, and we sampled a few recipes that didn’t send us over the moon. Oh well! No big deal! I have confidence in my ability to improve on my technique and the discernment to know when it’s not worth the effort.

I’ve since worked my way through 8 other cookbooks and am closing in on 1,400 total new recipes sampled. Being a “test kitchen” takes the drudgery out of meal preparation and helps turn ordinary evenings into date nights. Spike still helps me in the kitchen, and we still enjoy a good chat while we’re cooking.

I’ll look forward to the day when our social distancing restrictions get lifted, and we can have friends over for dinner again!

Community Supported Agriculture

As noted in an earlier post, my husband and I are dedicated locavores who regularly patronize the Beaverton Farmer’s Market. I love milling around the fruit and vegetable stands, and it is great fun to interact casually with all the other locals who share our enthusiasm.

Our favorite weekly pastime has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The usual crowds will not allow for a safe distance to prevent viral transmission. We don’t want to roll the dice and hope that we’ll avoid infection or weather it successfully should we succumb. Since we’re still committed to supporting local farmers, our next best strategy is to buy a share in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

community supported agriculture

Farmers create CSAs to establish patronage for their wares. In return for advance payment for a season’s worth of produce, they provide a weekly allotment of fruits, vegetables, flowers, or other items at designated pick-up locations. This arrangement helps them manage their cash flow and handle marketing efforts before spending really long days in the field. Their shareholders get ultra-fresh, ultra-healthy, chemical-free food along with exposure to new vegetables and new ways of cooking. They also develop relationships with the farmers who grow their food.

In the best of all worlds, farmers receive a great income for their labors, and shareholders reap the bounty of a delicious harvest for however long the season lasts. Should nature conspire against the farmers and yields run lower than anticipated, shareholders agree explicitly to get a little less value for their dollars. That’s where the “support” comes into community supported agriculture. It’s a commitment to support local farmers in plenty and in want. I think it’s a fair and reasonable deal. They put themselves on the line every year to provide for our bodily nourishment. It’s only right that we put our dollars on the line to provide for their financial security.

Whether you are a patron of a farmer’s market or a CSA shareholder, you are in partnership with Mother Earth and the future generations that she’ll support. By purchasing organically grown, locally produced fruits and vegetables, you’ll contribute to:

Attentive care of the soil on which life depends: According to a Cornell University study, it takes 20 years for less than a millimeter of soil to replenish itself naturally. Organic farmers help Mother Nature along by ensuring that they do not needlessly deplete the soil’s nutrients and by planting nutrient-rich cover crops to replenish this living organism. Cover crops also protect the land from top soil run-off. According to the United Nations, poor soil management globally accounts for loss of a third of the world’s arable land and could reach a point of crisis within the next few decades.

Protection of our groundwater and marine habitats: According to the US Geological Survey, roughly 25 metric tons of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium flood U.S. soils annually to boost yields. The excess leaches into the soil and contaminates our groundwater. Moreover, the runoff contributes to algae blooms in our major waterways, oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico which disrupt our marine ecosystems.

Reduction in use of pesticides and herbicides: According to the NIH National Library of Medicine, the U.S. consumes ~1 billion tons of pesticide annually, and in 2014 alone, farmers sprayed enough glyphosate to apply 0.8 pounds per acre of cultivated cropland. While these products boost yields, they carry a hidden cost in the integrity of our natural resources and our health.

Reduction in CO2 emissions and their attendant impact on global warming: Food travels within 50-100 miles of your table, not hundreds of miles by plane, train, or automobile.

Tens of thousands of families have joined CSAs over the past few decades. In fact, they’re so popular in the Pacific Northwest that I had a difficult time finding a farmer who had available shares for purchase. Suffice it to say, I’m glad that I finally got off the dime and signed up for a June through October season. It does the planet, the farmer, and my household good!

Becoming Locavores

LOCAVORE: a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food

I feel really, really blessed to live in the Willamette Valley. Our summer weather is spectacular: not too hot, not too cold. We’ve got the Pacific Ocean out West and the Cascade Mountains to the East with lush farmland in between… and some calming forests for good measure. It’s a little slice of paradise.

We’re blessed with a wealth of famer’s markets throughout the Greater Portland Metro Area. We try to get to the Beaverton Farmer’s Market every Saturday during the Summer Market (May through October) and at least monthly during the Winter Market. I love being around all the organically grown fruits and vegetables, and I honor the hard work that goes into producing them. And though we’re mostly vegan, we do partake of the grass-fed beef and pork as well as free range poultry from time to time. Fresh food really does taste better. And it’s all available right on our doorstep.

Beaverton Farmer's Market

A friend joined us for our weekly Farmer’s Market visit. She noticed how much more we pay for all that food relative to the average grocer. Here’s why we do it:

  • The average meal in the United States travels 1,500 miles from the farm to the plate. That effort consumes a lot of fossil fuel (of which there is a diminishing supply) and pumps a great deal of carbon dioxide into the air (which is bad for breathing and has been linked to global warming). The growers who support the Beaverton Market live and work within 100 miles of their fruit and vegetable stands.
  • Because grocery store fruit and vegetables travel a substantial distance, they must be picked while unripe and then gassed to ripen during transport. It just doesn’t taste as good and may not be as nutritious. (To their credit, many of our local grocers are doing a better job sourcing produce from local growers.)
  • Factory farms that generate ultra-cheap produce may engage in practices that result in resource depletion, soil erosion, water and air degradation, and food contaminants (e.g., pesticide residue). By shopping at the Farmer’s Market, we get to know the farmers and the methods they use to grow their crops. It’s better for our bodies and better for the planet.
  • Farming is hard work; the advent of industrial farming has been economically brutal for the “little guy.” In 1900, 40% of the population lived on farms; today no more than 2% do. Just since 1960, the number of farms has declined from 3.2 million to ~2 million. We want to support the folks who are still committed to this work. We’re voting with our wallet!
  • I like having a weekly reminder of our need for exercising stewardship of the good earth that we’ve been given. As Wendell Berry says: “Agrarian farmers know that their very existence depends on their willingness to receive gratefully, use responsibility, and hand down intact an inheritance, both natural and cultural, from the past… The land is a gift of immeasurable value… It is a gift to all the living in all time.”

Won’t you join me at the farmer’s market?

We Completed Our Quest

Spike and I crossed the finish line on the Fields of Greens cooking quest on July 2, 2016, 10 months and 2 days after we began. It was a great experience for both of us. Here are a few values that emerged on the journey.

The Value of Commitment. When making the decision to be “all in” with the quest, it pretty much eliminated the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I conversation about preparing the recipes. I just figured out a way to do it and discovered culinary territory that I simply would not have explored otherwise.

The Value of Encouragement. I hit one noteworthy low point when I nearly lowered my standards for completion. The sticking point was our lack of an ice cream maker and my resistance to buying one. So I thought I’d skip the affected recipes along with a handful of others while I was at it. Hats off to my friend Rebecca for cheering me on AND letting us borrow her ice cream maker. For the record: The Meyer Lemon Ice Cream and Mandarin Orange Sorbet were unreal! Not to be missed!

bryan and amandaThe Value of Sharing. We realized early on that the quest would go slowly if we had to eat all of the food that we prepared. So we started inviting people to dine with us given fair warning that they’d be noshing on food we’d never made. Suffice it to say, the fellowship was even better than the food… and the food was really good!

The Value of “Oh Well.” We had a few mishaps in the kitchen, and we sampled a few recipes that didn’t send us over the moon. Oh well! No big deal! I have confidence in my ability to improve on my technique and the discernment to know when it’s not worth the effort.

A Lesson in Freshness

When I started this quest last September, I gave myself permission to make “a reasonable approximation” in lieu of a precise rendition of all of the recipes. I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get all of the ingredients locally or be willing to pay a King’s ransom for them. I wasn’t sure that I’d have the time to prepare everything from scratch. And as I don’t like to waste food, I’d allow myself use of reasonable substitutes if it made sense to do so. For example, I wouldn’t buy three types of lettuce for a salad if Spike and I wouldn’t have the time or inclination to eat all the excess.

Fortunately, I’ve yet to find an instance where I couldn’t get an ingredient at a local grocer. Admittedly, some are pretty spendy, especially when purchased off season. But for the most part, I’m able to remain faithful to the recipes as written. And when I’ve intentionally veered off course, the world didn’t come to an end.

spinach cannelloniThis week’s “aha” moment in freshness surrounded pasta sheets. I’d never cooked with fresh pasta before; I’ve always opted for the standard dried stuff. But there was a big difference in taste between this week’s cannelloni made with pasta sheets and the one I prepared a couple of months ago using dried manicotti shells. Pasta sheets hold the stuffing together without being overbearing in the taste department. The resulting dish had a far more nuanced flavor. So, I guess I’m a convert to fresh pasta sheets now. Just need to keep an eye out for them as they aren’t available at every grocer.

The Quest Begins

I just finished reading Chris Guillebeau’s book entitled The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose To Your Life. He reflects on his 10-year quest to visit every country in the world. In his travels, Chris met scores of kindred spirits whose quests enriched their lives and satisfied inner longings.

By Chris’ definition, a quest:

  • Has a clear goal and specific end point
  • Presents a clear challenge
  • Requires sacrifice
  • Is often driven by a calling or sense of mission
  • Requires a series of small steps and incremental progress toward the goal

A core premise of the book is that there are adventures awaiting us all.

For the past 20 years, I’ve had the Fields of Greens vegetarian cookbook on my bookshelf, and yet I’ve only made a few of the recipes (all delicious). I’ve decided that my quest will be to make all 284 recipes (or a reasonable approximation thereof) between now and December 31, 2016. This undertaking will be no small feat. The recipes are challenging and leverage a whole host of ingredients that I’ve never used before.

spring vegetable curryHaving made this decision at 4:00 pm last Tuesday, I opted to make that evenings’ meal my first undertaking. I set off to the store to buy the ingredients for Spring Vegetable Curry with Sri Lankan Spices accompanied by Basmati Rice and Mango-Papaya Chutney. I found everything I needed at New Seasons and then dashed home to start cooking.

Spike arrived a little after 6:00 pm to find the kitchen in a state of complete disarray. (I really should have a taken a picture of it!) I told him about the quest while assuring him that meat would remain a factor in our diets. He then offered to help… thank goodness! With four hands hard at work, we finally got dinner on the table at 7:30 pm. It was WONDERFUL! Clean-up took about an hour.

Admittedly, I choose one of the more challenging meals right out of the gate. However, I expect to get more efficient with food preparation once I get the hang of it.

Stay tuned!