My Chic Brown Bag

Friday, March 29, 2013

   I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something radical- I love procrastination. Love, love, love it. People complain about it as though it's a terrible, shameful personality flaw. But really, what's not to love about the act of putting off an obligation in favor of a more pleasurable activity? Come on. Nothing, that's what.

   Of course, we all know the old adage 'too much of a good thing is a bad thing,' and that applies to procrastination. It's one thing to put off that presentation for work just long enough to enjoy your tea break and quite another to pretend you had no idea the presentation got moved up a week and you haven't even thought of a topic yet. That's just not cool.


   I do believe our old friend procrastination has a big hand in why many people find it difficult to prepare lunches to bring to work. After all, just the act of putting that sucker together is admitting that another work day looms ever near. It can seem like just another chore on a never ending to do list, or simply not possible if you've put it off until just before rushing out the door.

   Once I was out of college and lost the convenience of returning to my dorm room or apartment for lunch, I quickly learned the highest quality choices and foods couldn't be found in the cafeteria or local eatery. Even though I've now been brown bagging it since medical school, I'm certainly not perfect at it. There are occasional meals here or there that find me in the salad line behind every other resident and patient in the hospital. On these days I'm inevitably left with a belly ache and funky taste in my mouth (just what's in those industrial salad dressings anyway??).

   The habit is actually very easy to get into because the rewards are so great. There is no denying that the food you make in your own kitchen is better for both your body and your taste buds. With a little practice and maybe some error, finding a group of old reliable recipes designed to make leftovers is not such a hard thing. I have found that I look forward to our weekly Sunday night 'lunch prep' dinner with great anticipation. I do believe it strokes our deep animal instinct to stock up food- a proverbial acorn in our squrriley cheeks.

  One of the fun parts of our Sunday dinners is not only that we don't have to worry about lunches for a while, but we also get to dress that first meal up a bit. Since I generally have more time on the weekend for cooking projects, this can be anywhere from a fancy dessert, or, more likely, a fancy bread. Steve and I don't have much in the way of a sweet tooth and between the two of us we probably only eat one or two desserts a month. But bread? Bring it on!

   For this Sunday night dinner, I have vegan chili for you. It is rich, flavorful and very easy to put together. Beware, you will need a big pot to cook it in.

    To accessorize our chili, I've been working on a vegan cornbread recipe for quite some time. It took me a while to get it just right (the lack of eggs was a hurdle) but this is golden, corny perfection if I do say so myself. The trick is adding some form of acid- in this case vinegar. Altering the pH of your batter will allow it to rise and have a light crumb, which is why we add eggs to our baked goods. Not only does the vinegar give the final product a delicious cultured buttermilk flavor, but by changing the acid base balance just a touch, eggs become unnecessary.

   The other day I discovered some forgotten buttermilk in the fridge and offered to make the old fashioned cornbread; Steve requested 'that vegan one' instead! A true endorsement and I was more than happy to oblige. Hope you enjoy.

More Veggies Chili
Adapted from Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Kitchen

This is an incredibly versatile recipe- we've made it several times now and every pot is slightly different. Try green cabbage instead of red, if you don't have kale around try collard greens, swiss chard or spinach, switch out one of the beans for a different variety- you get the drift!

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 white onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced (if you prefer a milder chili, remove and discard the seeds before dicing)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 large portobello mushrooms, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 small sweet potato, diced (don't peel it- the skin is very flavorful)
2 cups red cabbage, thinly sliced
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 quart vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed  
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups chopped kale, packed
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

   Toast the cumin seeds in a large dry pot or dutch oven over medium heat until very fragrant- about 2 minutes.  Add the olive oil, onion and jalapeno pepper. Saute, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened. Add the chili powder, mushrooms, zucchini, potato and cabbage. Saute 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
   Add crushed tomatoes, broth, water, beans, maple syrup and salt. Cover with a lid and simmer for 25 minutes. 
   Stir in kale and simmer until just barely wilted, about 2 minutes. Turn heat off and stir in cilantro. Taste, season with additional salt if you wish.
   Serves 8 generously.    

Vegan Cornbread

Be sure to use white balsamic vinegar- the red stuff would just be weird. Apple cider vinegar probably would work well too if you prefer it.

1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar (use 1/3 if you prefer a less sweet cornbread)
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened soy milk (I prefer Silk brand)
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 scallions both green and white parts, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (thawed if using frozen)

   Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray an 8 X 8 inch baking dish with cooking oil and set aside. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the soy milk and vinegar. Allow to sit and thicken. Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda and salt until evenly incorporated. Add the oil and soy milk/vinegar mixture and mix to combine. Add your scallions and corn, mix to combine.
   Spread the batter in your prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Serve hot!
   Makes 9 squares.


On Balance

Saturday, March 23, 2013

   The concept of balance is being tossed around a lot these days. It is a popular topic of discussion among many of the blogs I routinely follow, and considered an important factor for healthy living by the preventative medicine physicians I respect and emulate.

   The message is generally dripping with well intentioned instructions to exercise regularly, avoid television, watch what we eat and sleep eight hours (no more and no less) every single night. Basically, we are told that balance is struck when we are able to overcome our daily obligations in favor of activities that bring us closer to the physical and mental ideal.

   But what does it really mean for most of us? I'm sure I'm not alone in a job that takes up the majority of my day and ties me to a desk most of the time. Or that I have obligations at home such as a needy dog (her eyes practically scream 'I can't walk myself!!' as I walk in the door), laundry and grocery shopping that prevent me from routinely doing holistic, soul enriching activities. As much as I would really love to be that bendy, hip girl with incense on her yoga shrine and home made lavender infused pillows at her bedside, most of the time I'm just not that person. And you know what? I'm perfectly ok with that.

   It just isn't the stereotypical well rounded modern day woman who I really want to be. I like having a small amount of chaos in my house. I like that sometimes I'm too tired to exercise when I get home and I don't beat myself up for snuggling on the couch with my dog instead. I like that when the weekend rolls around I don't feel the least bit badly for sleeping a full twelve, glorious hours or that maybe instead of reading that latest hip biography everyone's talking about, I would rather watch the rain fall on my backyard. And I know I don't need to tell you how how much trashy reality TV can feel like meditation!

   Finally, it feels oh so good when I forget about how much fiber and protein my breakfast contains and reach for something that has, yes, chocolate!

   Maybe the bottom line is my balance includes chaos and occasional idleness. It includes deciding not to exercise and sometimes choosing trashy TV over activities that enhance my self knowledge. It is part healthy and part indulgence.

   Come to think of it, maybe that's just balance, period.

   As for the cookies, they speak for themselves. They are no bake and therefore delightfully quick to put together. They are cute and a little nubbly. They have that slight chew that I love in a peanut butter cookie but also a hint of salt and chocolatey darkness. I love that they are sweet and gooey but also vegan. They are part good for you and part excess- just what the doctor ordered on a morning you may be craving a little chaos and indulgence... we can self reflect later!

Chewy Raw Peanut Butter Cookies
    Credit to Ashlae of  Oh Ladycakes for original recipe

2 cups rolled oats (the old fashioned kind, no quick cooking)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (half this amount if your peanut butter is salted- or if you are using non kosher, regular salt is very harsh)
1/2 cup natural chunky peanut butter
10 medjool dates, pits discarded
6 tablespoons almond milk (or non dairy milk of your choice)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

   In a food processor fitted with the S blade, process the oats and salt until you achieve a coarse meal. Add the peanut butter and dates and process until they are fully incorporated.  Add the almond milk and chocolate chips. Pulse until the dough starts to come together. Transfer to a bowl and knead the dough with your hands until it forms a ball and the chocolate is evenly distributed. Roll 1 tablespoon sized pieces of dough into balls and place on a sheet of parchment or wax paper. Use a fork to flatten them into disks, leaving behind a fork impression on top. Cookies will keep in a sealed container for four days at room temperature, or two weeks in the fridge.
Yields about 2 dozen.