Wednesday, September 17, 2014

lime meltaway cookies (we are melting in the heat)

This evening we went for a walk and it was beyond hot out. So warm that I kept waiting for that moment when our forward momentum would stir up some kind of breeze or cool air, but no, it was like marching through honeyed heat.

I commented to my husband that this kind of heat reminds me of the opening chapter of "To Kill a Mockingbird". He responded that it reminded him of the scene in the "Great Gatsby" where they all decide to go into the city and it is so unbelievably hot from the weather and the tension in the room between Tom and Gatsby. I loved that we could have this kind of discussion (and shout-out to our high school English teachers!)

So, it is hot and I am just longing for fall. Today I sat down with my stack of beloved October/November issues of Martha Stewart magazines that I have collected over the years, and put yellow post-it notes on all the recipes and inspiration that I am just storing up. Until then, it is just hot.

Last weekend we had a friend over for dinner and I decided I wanted to make a nice little cookie to go along with a bowl of berries for dessert. My husband has been loving limes lately and I decided to take inspiration from that. These days, my first stop for recipe ideas/direction is the Smitten Kitchen website. Sometimes I just get that feeling that the internet is too big to be trusted. Like, if I google something, who knows what ill advised instructions will come up? However, I know if Deb has posted a recipe, it has been appropriately vetted and tested. Also, she has her recipes organized in the most helpful fashion. Check out the index here.

It was on her site that I found this recipe for lime meltaway cookies. If you're not familiar with a meltaway cookie, I think they can be best described as a little crumbly shortbread-like cookie that is so full of citrus zest it is almost too puckery but that wonderful sourness is tempered by a lovely outer coating of powdered sugar. I do not think I have ever had a homemade lime meltaway cookie, but I recall someone used to send my Grandma special little bags of a gourmet cookie line version and we loved them.

I am pleased to share that these cookies are completely worth making from scratch. I baked them and rolled them in powdered sugar while dinner prep was wrapping up and somehow we ended up with a West Wing episode on in the kitchen and so, pre-dinner, my husband and I and our dinner guest ate cookies and watched TV. (I never did get around to putting together the accompanying bowl of berries).  It was one of those lovely relaxed Saturday evenings. We all agreed that the cookies were very good. The next morning, I woke up wondering if I was accurately recalling the cookie from the night before and so I snagged one with my morning coffee. I was pleased that it really was that lovely.

The great news is the recipe makes a ton- I think I ended up with about 4 dozen of them - and they keep very well.

The original recipe is to use "key limes" but I have neither the patience to track down or juice those darlings, so the directions below reflect that I used regular limes.

lime meltaway cookies

12 tablespoons room-temperature butter
1 cup confectioners sugar (divided into 1/3 cup and 2/3 cup- you don't use it all at once)
grated zest of 1 regular lime
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (apparently 2 cups is just a little too much)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

1) With a hand mixer or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attached, whisk together the butter and 1/3 cup of the confectioners sugar until it is fluffy.

2) To the butter sugar mixture, add the lime zest, juice and vanilla. Whisk until combined.

3) In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together: flour, cornstarch and salt.

4) Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until combined.

5) Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a round log about 1 inch in diameter. Roll in parchment paper and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

6) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice dough into 1/4 inch thick rounds and place about 1 inch apart on parchment paper lined baking sheets (take care to keep the remaining dough in the fridge until needed.)

7) Bake cookies until just pale golden, about 15 minutes. While the cookies bake, place the other 2/3 cup of powdered sugar in a shallow or ziplock baggie.

8) Remove baking sheet from oven and allow cookies to cool, ever so slightly, on wire racks. But while still warm, toss, roll, dredge in the powdered sugar. The heat of the cookie with melt the powdered sugar just enough to form a soft coating. Cookies can be stored in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

roasted pears and a persistence in celebrating fall

Make fun of me all you want, internet, I love fall.
Unfortunately, I live in southern california and we do not really have fall weather. Things will get cooler for a little bit around November/December but nothing close to what the rest of the country has. However, I persist in my celebration of fall things, regardless of the green palm trees around me. Case in point? It was 106 today and I was trying on fleece pullovers at Patagonia (which a friend affectionately refers to as Pata-gucci, as in fancy). Also, last weekend I roasted a turkey breast and made a lovely turkey soup. I feel this all shows commitment to my love for fall. In addition to the turkey cooking, I made a large batch of steel cut oatmeal to sustain me for a week of breakfasts.

When I was a kid I adored the single serving instant oatmeal flavors like "brown sugar" and "cinnamon apple". They were so loaded with sugar that I even loved to eat them raw. I have transitioned in my oatmeal tastes and now appreciate the nutty texture of steel cut oats. My only complaint being how long it takes to cook, which is why making a big batch on sunday evening and reheating smaller portions for the weekday morning is a win for me.

But I must admit, that while I no longer favor the instant oatmeal flavors, I do appreciate a good serving of brown sugar alongside my slow cooked oatmeal.
Having recently ended a month of no sugar, I wanted to see if I could reintroduce oatmeal without as much sugar and keep it interesting, flavorful and cozy. To go with the oatmeal, I had a bag of pears I put to good use by roasting in the oven with just a smidge of sugar and lemon juice and some butter.

I followed Molly Wizenberg's recipe here, with my only difference being that I started the pears out with about 1/4 cup of water in the bottom on the pan.

What I ended up with was fork tender pears, glazed with just a bit of sweetness and perfect for tucking into warm oatmeal. The caramelized edges softened up and kinda melted into the warm grains, creating perfect pockets of sweetness. I found myself so looking forward to breakfast because I think one of the powerful things about food is how it helps us feel cared for. That sense of nourishment and caring is not limited to when others cook for us, but can also be found when we make food for ourselves. I have started commuting into work in downtown LA one or two days a week (I take the train) and this week I carried along a little serving of oatmeal and pear with me, to heat up at my desk. After the bustle and anonymity of the ride in, it felt nice to have something so comforting.

I hope you're able to create the space you need this week to nourish both yourself and those you love. And if you have recipes/rituals that you look forward to each fall, I would love to hear about them!

Monday, September 1, 2014

drinking coffee without milk- my thoughts on a month of whole 30

I debated (big time) about whether or not to share/write about my experiences on a month of eating "Whole 30". For those of you unfamiliar, here is more info, but I describe it as eating non-processed "whole" foods to help reset eating habits. Basically, it is eating veggies, meat and fruit for a month. No grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol or sugar (except where sugar is naturally occurring in fruit/veggies).

My disclaimer to this story is that I have never been a fad diet person. I have never done a juice cleanse or gone vegan or eschewed gluten (one glance through the blog archive of recipes makes that pretty clear).

I write this from day 30 of this experience. I have learned quite a bit and it has helped me in some different ways. I thought I would share a few notes for those of you considering a whole 30 challenge or for those of you just curious:

So, how did I arrive at the decision to do whole 30?

  • My eating habits had been declining. Whereas once I tried to make reasonably healthy choices and not overdo it too often, that was no longer the case. I found that when I paused to review what I had eaten that day, veggies were not showing up in those reflections. I was eating a lot of sugar and all my clothes were feeling too snug. In July, I developed both a terrible ear infection and a bizarre skin condition that turned out to be an autoimmune disorder (don't worry it wasn't serious or contagious). But it all made me pause. Sitting in the doctors office I realized that I was ready to do something different because clearly the way things were going was not working. A theory I often ascribe to is that people do not change until they are ready to change. So, I had just hit that point where I was ready to change. 

What have I learned through this experience?

  • Sincerely love fruits and veggies again
    • I found that I fallen into that trap of relying on fats and grains to make me feel satisfied. It took a few days to shake this off and re-discover that I genuinely love a good chopped salad and few things are as satisfying as a great piece of fruit.
    • I still hate bananas though.
  • My body works for me, I don't work for my body
    • At the end of week two, my husband and I went for a very long hike up a local mountain peak. It was amazing to realize that two weeks prior, I don't think I could've done this. For me, the whole point of exercise and eating well this past month is to learn that I want to be able to do things and not be limited because I am out of breath or on a sugar crash. I want to be able to say "okay body- let's go do this" and not hear back "uh, yeah, you've been feeding me nothing but garbage, so no, we can't make it up that ridge to see the beautiful view."
  • That I really love to cook
    • I was concerned that because I wasn't creating these indulgent delicious dishes, that I would just get bored and the kitchen wouldn't be as fun. It was nice to see that wasn't the case. Not all dinners were home-runs, but within my own self-imposed restrictions of whole 30 I found the creativity to put together some dishes we loved. 
  • Eating out/ food culture in general is not catered towards helping people make good food choices
    • There were times that I would have working lunches and there would literally be just one item on the menu that I could order (and I'd still have to ask them to hold back a bunch of stuff). Granted, the whole 30 restrictions make things tricky, but I was genuinely surprised at how few times there were good food options. (And I live in southern California!) That said, I never had to skip a meal or "force" myself to break a meal because there weren't good choices. Most often, it just came down to planning ahead and reminding myself "You're choosing to do this and it's not like you've never had a french fry before or never will again."
  • Sometimes, I can be part of that food culture problem. 
    • Until I was on this side of things, I didn't realize that me bringing in a big cake or a plate of cookies and sending out an email blast to all my co-workers about it could be an insensitive thing. Now I get that and feel badly about the times when I was not sensitive to the needs of those around me.
    • Don't worry, I still plan on bringing in the occasional treat but will try not to put it where someone would have to walk by it 35 times a day. I don't want to be a "sugar pusher". 
    • Also, the occasional treat may mean a mint lime watermelon salad. Who said that isn't a treat?

What helped keep whole 30 going?

  • Partnering with my husband in this challenge and splitting grocery/cooking responsibilities.
    • It felt like a team effort and the whole "team" mentality is very motivating. When one of us was weak and ready to given in, the other person would step up. Plus it was fun to joke with each other about just how hard it was to walk past the cheese display at trader joes. 
  • We stopped watching TV/Movies for the month too.
    • Yeah, August was like a whole detox month for me. I think changing multiple behaviors (eating/tv/exercise) all at the same time was very helpful. Sometimes changing one thing is more disruptive (does that make sense?) Plus, no tv meant more motivation to get out of the house and less commercials reminding me of all the food I wasn't eating.
  • I got a fitbit a few months ago.
    • I really loved keeping track of my steps. During August, I had the goal to hit 10k steps daily (about 5 miles). I think during a time when it sometimes feels like restricting oneself, I think it's helpful to have a distraction in another (albeit complimentary) direction. 
  • One night a week we would get salads to-go, and take the dogs to the park. 
    • It completely helped to have a break on a weeknight and have someone else (ie a restaurant) do the dishes.
  • Planned fun events for the weekend.
    • Nothing would be sadder than sitting at home on Saturday morning watching other people's brunch on my instagram feed. We went on hikes, to the beach, to a concert, etc. Often times we needed to bring snacks for ourselves and, I am not going to lie, eating bananas and nuts while everyone around you has a Dodger dog was a little rough. Another low point? At an outdoor concert watching people with icy cool bottles of rose wine. That one nearly broke me.

Did I lose weight?

  • Yes, but the amount is not as important as gaining new eating habits. Also, weight loss is not necessarily the best indicator of a healthy diet (remember when people were eating only cream cheese and bacon for breakfast in those crazy zone diets?). Long-term, I feel like I now have the tools to make better eating choices. 
So, if I am not going to talk about weight are there any positive physical effects I will share?
  • I did not realize how truly crummy I was sleeping before. But around day 10, I started sleeping like a rock. I now fall asleep and stay asleep much better than I think I ever have. I attribute this to less sugar and more exercise. It has helped my daytime outlook quite a bit.
  • More even energy- I used to really crash in the afternoons and evenings, but I am feeling more even keeled.

Now what? Am I only going to share recipes for hempseed cookies and broccoli spinach wraps on the blog?

  • Heavens no. If you're looking for a specific whole 30 meal guide and recipes there are lots of great blogs out there already doing that. I love baked goods and yummy things and have no plans to change that. What will change is how often I eat them and, most importantly, the portion of them I have. 
  • However, I also do not want to contribute to a food culture that says only fattening things are delicious and worth celebrating, so on the blog I am going to make a conscious effort to share some dishes and foods that I love that, if we had to label it, skew more towards healthy.
What are you going to eat tomorrow (day after the whole 30 challenge is over)?
  • For sure I will be putting some milk in my coffee. Also, have a piece of chocolate. I really miss chocolate. 
Do I think everyone should do a whole 30 challenge?
  • No, I haven't joined a cult. I will say that challenging myself to change my behavior and learn new things is very energizing and I am glad that I did it.