Redemption Song

{If you’re hoping for a recipe for the 4th, this probably isn’t it. But check here for a bunch of past summer recipe suggestions – there are plenty of things to be grilled, especially my favorite burgers!}

I’m not about to delve into my years as a young, semi-hell-raising teenager; on occasion, my mom reads this blog. But I’ll share a few tidbits.

In my family, I was the smart, oddly-dressed, middle child who, according to my sister, was never grounded and always got her way. Rightfully so, my senoir superlatives were as contrasting as apples and oranges: “most likely to be a millionaire” and “most retro”. Clearly, I failed to live up to the former, and in terms of the latter, I only occasionally wear polyester pants & platform shoes; in fact, the most retro I get these days is wearing a sleepytime t-shirt from the 90′s. And truthfully, I wasn’t grounded often. The key to avoiding such punishment is simple – don’t get your ass caught, sista.

I went through what you might call a hippie phase, and then a grunge phase, and then I couldn’t decide so I just went with both. Amidst the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin there was Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I rocked the “60′s retro-wear” on some days and my dad’s flannels and corduroy pants for the days I jammed to Jeremy and Porch. For a few months I shaved the back of my head and I still can’t figure out the point in that. Somewhere, Bob Marley fit into these crazy years too, but fortunately for me (and others) I never had the desire to abandon hygiene and “grow” dreadlocks. There’s still time for that…

I like to think that my musical choices haven’t changed, but have instead broadened. I still break out the grunge rock somewhat regularly, but less often do I find myself singing Sugar Magnolia or breezing through Songs of Freedom. I’m not sure I’d use the term evolve here, in fact I know I wouldn’t, because that implies a sense of improvement and lemme tell ya, you can’t improve upon that stuff. In fact right now I just changed my Pandora station to reggae. What the hell.

Now for the transition you’ve all been waiting for: in contrast to music, food choices do evolve, or mature. Remember the tomato story? Exactly. And sometimes you really get smacked in the face, front-on, by something you thought you hated, despised even, but then months later you realize how nutty you were, how naive, or maybe quite simply how horribly this certain ingredient was prepared.

This dish here is a perfect represention of food evolution, or redemption. The first time I made quinoa, I almost spit it out because it “felt weird”. Then I learned how to cook it. And remember my diatribe about escarole? Well, ignore it. When I pulled it out of the CSA box last week, I stared at it, wondering how many sleepless hours I’d endure if I just casually tossed it in the garbage. The answer? too many, because food costs good money and wasting it is lame. So I sucked it up and found a good hot preparation for some of it that was reasonably yummy (and not overly bitter), and then used the rest of it in the recipe below instead of the suggested spinach. Maybe I got a bad batch before, or maybe this batch from a local, organic farm was just better. Either way, both quinoa and escarole have redeemed themselves.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have leftovers to eat and jammin’ to do.

Quinoa, Bean, & Escarole Salad w/ Smoked Paprika Dressing
Loosely adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2010; serves 6-8

ingredients
1 1/2 c red quinoa (regular works too), rinsed & drained
4 c chopped escarole or other bitter green
1 can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1 can white beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1/2 unpeeled English cucumber, halved and sliced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
3 T fresh oregano, chopped
3 T fresh basil, chopped
1 c crumbled feta cheese (~5 oz)
1/4 c Sherry wine vinegar
1 T sweet smoked paprika
1/2 c olive oil
2 T lemon juice
salt and pepper

instructions
place quinoa in large saucepan and add water until quinoa is covered by 1 inch. bring to boil and reduce heat; simmer on med-low for 15 minutes. drain, if needed and let cool completely (toss out on sheetpan and refrigerate if needed).

combine lettuce, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and feta in an extra-large bowl. add cooled quinoa and toss gently.

in a small bowl, whisk vinegar and paprika together. slowly add olive oil, whisking constantly until incorporated. season with salt and pepper. pour over salad and mix. add lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

Finding My Second Wind

Butternut Squash Salad
I will be talking about that bowl of loveliness in a moment – I promise.

But first, I have to talk about this:

New blog header

Don’t you just adore it?! Don’t you want to hug it and squeeze it and call it George?! I sure do. Luckily, I have a very creative friend who was willing to put some brain power into making me a fancy new header. I’d become a little bored with the “google images” and also felt a little guilty (a little) for stealing images of pretty pictures I didn’t take…

You’ve heard me talk about my buddy Jennifer (aka JSimps, or sometimes just Simps), right? Jennifer recently started her very own design biz using Etsy, and she uses her blog, Second Wind Studios, to talk about her new creations and various other things. I’m sure she’d love to design a new header for you too, if you’re in the market for one! She also designs invitations (yes, for weddings too!), cards, pottery, etc. Head on over and chat with her – she’s very nice!

cubed butternut squash

I finally came out of my sickness slump on Friday, following a trip to my Jewish internist a few floors down. I only see him when I’m desperate, which is due simply to my aversion of taking medicine unless all else fails – it did, once the cookies were gone. Aside from my one annoyance with him, which is his inability to read anything in my chart before walking in (yes, I know…big whoop), he’s a pretty nice guy. I only wanted to punch him once at this visit – right after he made the assumption that I was a nurse because I’d switched specialties (pediatrics to cancer), because surely I wasn’t a doctor.. and what is a genetic counselor, anyway? Meh…
But the meds slowly relieved the ickiness, and by Friday I was feeling more like a 6 than a 3, which was good since the parentals were en route. Yes, my (divorced) parents, for whatever reason decided it’d be a good idea to drive up together from North Carolina for a weekend. Who flies these days, anyway – right?! Well, 17 hours later, they were here (yes, 17…. starting from Wilmington, meeting up in Fayetteville, & making pit stops at various intervals), and both were in need of a stiff drink!
Unlike most divorced parents, they can stand each other for a few days (with a few wise quips at each other thrown in for good measure), and they even choose to without any coercion. So visit they did, and cook I did thanks be to the z-pak, the aforementioned cookies, and a lot of sleep. They are super-easy guests in that right – no touring the city or fancy restaurants required, just visiting and eating whatever I make them!
roasted squash with cranberries and pine nuts
For dinner one night, I insisted on using butternut squash as a side dish, in some way. I’ve seen them in the stores and at the markets, and have literally been fiending for the nutty, creamy vegetables since last year. My friend Jenn from The Whole Kitchen recently blogged about a tasty squash salad, and I found a version that reminded me a little of her Colorado find. It had everything I love – chipotle pepper, homemade ranch dressing, said squash, dried cranberries, and nuts. How could I go wrong?

For most of you – this salad will be nothing short of nirvana. I’m serious. For me, it was too -although my salad nirvana was achieved sans lettuce. Being a supertaster and all, I am highly sensitive to bitterness (hence the need for added flavor in my coffee & pure hatred of brussel sprouts). Though I’d never tasted escarole, I always like to try everything once, so I went with the recommended lettuce for this recipe and gave it a shot. I could have easily been eating aspirin, and attribute it to the escarole bitterness (which in lettuce doesn’t usually bother me – I love arugula, frisee, and endive) coupled with a spicy dressing. Next time I make this salad (and there will be a next time), I’m using romaine, and you should too. I’m saving escarole for other salads with more sweetness to counterbalance that hefty bite. Pops & Chris ate all (or most of) the lettuce, mom left some behind and ate around it like me.

Maybe she’s a supertaster too?

Romaine & Butternut Squash Salad w/ chipotle-ranch dressing
Adapted from Cuisine at Home; serves 8

ingredients
1 1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled & cubed
2 T evoo
salt & pepper
1 clove garlic
1/2 c mayonnaise
1/4 c buttermilk
2 T fresh lime juice
2 t honey
1 1/2 t minced chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce (San Marcos, gluten-free)
8 c romaine lettuce, chopped
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4 c toasted pine nuts

instructions
preheat oven to 400 F. cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. toss squash with oil, salt, and pepper. roast on the baking sheet until browned, 25-30 minutes. cool to room temp.


mince garlic with 1/2 t salt to form paste then place in bowl. add mayo, buttermilk, lime juice, honey, and chipotle. mix and blend with immerision blender until smooth (or puree in food processor). season as needed. refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 2 days.


toss romaine with desired amount of dressing. toss in squash, cranberries, and pine nuts.