Friday, February 27, 2009

Food Friday: Veggie Hot Pot with Cheese Triangles

Behold, my new* Le Creuset dutch oven:

*New to me, from the wonderful world of eBay

I have wanted a Le Creuset dutch oven for a long time, but they are SO expensive. Like, ridiculously expensive. The dutch oven you see above would be $250 brand new. I mean, come on, people! It's just outrageous! I had checked eBay on occasion, but they still go for around $150 or so, which to me, is no bargain. I can live without one, I said to myself. And it's been fairly true. I have lived peacefully without one for years, in fact, and all was going well until a few weeks ago. It was then that I came across this recipe for a scrumptious-looking veggie stew. It looked fabulous, so I went to the store and bought all the ingredients. But then, when I went back and read the whole recipe (which, incidentally, you should always do before you go buy all the food), my world came crashing down. Step # 3 reads: Bring to a boil, stirring. Cover and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.

Umm... what? No can do, Mr. Cookbook Writer. My 8-quart soup pot cannot go into the oven due to its siliconey handles (yes, I just made that word up. It's appropriate here because I don't know for sure if they are, indeed, made of silicon.) In fact, even the recipe photo shows the stew in a Le Creuset dutch oven so I figured I was in trouble. After thinking on it for a few days (I didn't have all the time in the world, you know... spoiled veggies are a sad thing), and analyzing the volume of the soup, I concluded I could probably cook the soup on the stovetop until it boiled, and then transfer it to my Pyrex casserole dish and put it in the oven to bake. Not ideal, of course, but it could work. The problem, though, is that my puny Pyrex only holds 2 quarts, and I figured this soup would be around 4 or so. Well, I guess I could split it between my 9x13 Pyrex and my round Pyrex casserole dish with a lid. That could work. So, that's what I did. While I was cooking on the stovetop, I put both my empty Pyrex dishes in the oven to warm up, and then when the stew was ready I transferred it and popped it in the oven. It turned out just fine.

I would not recommend this, though, because it was extremely hot, and I was lucky to have a husband there to help me handle the heavy pot full of boiling soup and the scalding hot glass casserole dishes. There was a lot of hot stuff being shuffled around that kitchen and I have been known to have a few kitchen accidents. I have even had one since making this soup, if you can believe that. (FYI, you can peel your finger with a potato peeler, just in case you were wondering.) Also, it's a pain later because you have to take the stew back out of the oven and stir in the beans, then return to the oven. Stirring in a casserole dish is not easy, but it's doable. My point is that it worked out okay, so you don't HAVE to have a cast iron dutch oven for this. If you don't, just do what I did, above, and make sure you have plenty of pot holders on hand.

After I made this stew, it was less than a week before I had found a good, used Le Creuset dutch oven on eBay. I got it for only 50 bucks, which I think classifies this as a screamin' deal. I can justify this, because I am cooking a LOT these days, and it's one of those invaluable kitchen tools you'll use more than you ever thought (I've only had it a week and I've used it twice already). But if you are in the market for one, there are some other, cheaper brands that carry enamel coated cast iron. I did a lot of research before I finally settled for the most expensive, but I think the Lodge brand is a close second. It's still pricey, but not nearly as much as Le Creuset, and it's American-made which is nice (Tennessee-made, in fact.) I read horrible reviews of Martha Stewart's version, which is outrageously cheap (obviously for a reason). Anyway, on to the stew!!

This stew is quite good, and perfect for a cold winter evening. I do have a couple of comments, though. The cheese triangles on top of the soup had an odd consistency to me. I think next time I'll cut back on the flour by about 1/2 cup or so. And if that doesn't work, then I'm going to try these instead. Also, about celeriac (a.k.a. celery root): I didn't have any trouble finding this at my local grocery store. It's actually quite good... it's a big knobbly-looking root that has white flesh and smells like celery. The flavor, while similar, is much milder than celery. It can be difficult to peel and chop, so plan a few extra minutes of prep if you've never dealt with one before. I think it was worth it, because it added a nice texture and slightly different flavor to the soup. But, if you're too lazy to deal with that, or if you can't find celery root, then just use regular celery instead. In fact, you can actually sub any of your favorite vegetables in this stew, as long as the total weight remains the same. Just remember that firmer veggies will need some extra time to cook, or just chop them a little smaller.

Justyn LOVED this soup. We'll definitely make it again. It makes a lot, too, so we got several meals out of it which is always a bonus.

Vegetable Hot-pot with Cheese Triangles
2 tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp mild chili powder
1 lb potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (I didn't peel mine because I wanted a "rustic" stew)
1 lb celeriac, peeled and roughly chopped (see note above)
1 3/4 cups carrots, roughly chopped
1 3/4 cups trimmed leeks, roughly chopped
3 cups brown-cap mushrooms, halved
4 tsp plain flour
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree (I used plain ol' tomato sauce)
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
14 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
springs of fresh thyme, to garnish (optional)

For the topping:
8 tbsp butter
2 cups self-rising flour (see comment above, maybe only 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp snipped fresh chives
5 tbsp milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole and fry the garlic and onion for 5 minutes, or until beginning to brown. Stir in the chili powder and cook for 1 more minute.

2. Add the potatoes, celeriac, carrots, leeks, and mushrooms. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.

3. Gradually stir in the stock with the tomatoes, tomato puree, thyme and seasoning. Bring to a boil, stirring. Cover and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, make the topping. Rub the butter into the flour with hands; then stir in half the cheese with the chives and add plenty of salt and pepper. Add just enough milk to make a smooth dough.

5. Roll out the dough until it is about 1 inch thick. Cut into 12 triangles and brush with milk.

6. Remove the casserole from the oven, add the beans and stir to combine. Place the triangles on top and spring with the remaining cheese. Return to the oven, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes. Serve garnished with the fresh thyme springs, if using.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Strippin' Down

It was probably only the second week we lived here when we started hearing that Portland has a reputation for strip clubs. Apparently they're all the rage here in P-town (I forgot to mention that one in my nickname post.) We heard rumors of a pirate-themed strip club, a vegan strip club, even a karaoke strip club (a.k.a. stripparaoke). And, apparently the best steak in Portland is at Union Jack's. (One local resident told me this, although I highly doubt he conducted a scientific survey.)

I, personally, had never been to one before, but like they, say, "When in Rome..." so we went. Sorry, male readers. I do not have photos for you.... they really frown on that. Plus I was too busy grimacing through the $1 lap dance I got, which the "friends" we went with so graciously bought for me. I don't really have good stories to tell you about my experience. I mean, it was a strip club. There was a lot of nakedness, and a lot of cigarette smoke.

Anyway, it seems Portland's reputation is deserved. As of 2005 (the latest data I could find)Portland had more strip clubs per capita than anywhere else in the country, including Las Vegas AND San Francisco. At 7.4 strip clubs per 100,000 residents, Portland leaves Vegas and SF in the dust at only 5.8 and 2.2, respectively.

I did find out that there is, indeed a pirate-themed strip club, and a Vegan joint (whose slogan is "meat on the pole, not on the plate".) The karaoke strip club also exists, as does one specializing in sushi and a club for early risers ("we open for breakfast at 7am!")

Why on earth are there so many, you ask? I'm not really sure, but most things I've read suggest that Oregon's constitution protects strip clubs under the free speech clause, which is supposedly one of the most liberal in the country. Several attempts have been made to limit the clause, but every time it's on the ballot it gets voted down. I guess Portland likes their naked chicks.

So, if you like naked chicks, too, then come visit Portland and we'll keep you busy for a while.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Food Friday: Quinoa and Black Beans

Justyn hates quinoa. Which is saying a lot. I mean, this is a man who will eat practically anything. He ordered a seafood platter in Cannes once on a business trip, and the whole thing came out totally raw. Now, if that had been me, I would have been like, "Can you take this back and cook it, s'il vous plait? But noooo. He ate it. All of it. To this day, there are only 3 foods he will not eat: beets, eggplant, and quinoa. So, like I mentioned last Food Friday, one of my goals is to find ways to cook foods I don't like so that I DO like them. This includes foods Justyn doesn't like, and I thought quinoa was a perfect place to start.

Dried, uncooked quinoa

You see, quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah") has a lot going for it. It originates from South America, where the Incas called it "the mother of all grains". It's one of the few non-animal products that actually constitutes a complete protein. Protein intake is something we flexitarians and vegetarians have to be careful about. I don't want to get too academic here, but basically protein is made up of smaller units called amino acids. Most animal products contain a good balance of all eight of the "essential" amino acids (those our body can't produce on its own) while most vegetables are lacking in at least one of the essential amino acids. For example, grains tend to be low in lysine while legumes are low in methionine. This means in order to get all the essential amino acids in your diet, you need to eat a wide variety of vegetables so the amino acid deficiency of one protein source is made up by another. This is one reason that eating beans and rice together is so popular, and why people refer to beans and rice as a complete protein.

Anyway, quinoa contains an almost perfect balance of all eight essential amino acids necessary for human tissue development. Some other types of wheat are high in protein, but common grains like barley, corn, and rice have less than half the amount of protein as quinoa. Only half a cup of quinoa will provide all the protein content necessary in a child's diet for a whole day. It also contains albumin, a protein found in egg whites and many animal tissues. In addition, quinoa is completely gluten-free and easy to digest, which is great because so many people now have a gluten allergy or sensitivity. It's a good source of fiber and phosphorus, and is high in magnesium and iron. For all these reasons, quinoa is quickly regaining its status as a superfood, and is actually being considered by NASA as a crop for their CELSS (Controlled Ecological Life Support System) program for long-duration manned spaceflights.

Whew! Okay, done with the technical details. So, Justyn and I eat beans and rice a lot. Honestly, at one point we were having it at least once a week, sometimes more. It's easy, it's cheap, it's fast... what more can you ask for? Well, I'll tell you. I could ask for a little more variety! Justyn's mom bought some quinoa when she was here for Thanksgiving and when she mentioned cooking it, Justyn's face got all twisted up and he was like, "Quinoa?? Ehhh... gross." So I still had it sitting in my pantry and I figured I would try to find a good way to cook it, to change his mind. (Insert evil laugh here.)

One of my favorite resources for recipes is All Recipes. Their ingredient search is so great to find last-minute recipes or recipes for specific ingredients you need to use up. So I came across this recipe for quinoa and black beans, and I thought it would be perfect (with just a couple of changes). Familiar, but different.

One special note, though: soak the quinoa and rinse it before you cook. Some websites will tell you to soak overnight, or for a couple of hours. I only soak mine for about 10 or 15 minutes and it's fine. You see, quinoa has sort of a bitter coating on the outside called saponin (it acts as a deterrent so birds don't eat the crops). In fact, you'll notice when you soak and rinse your quinoa that the water is sort of sudsy. It's so bitter that some people believe the rinsed water was once used for cleaning. Yuck! Anyway, some people have an aversion to eating quinoa because of this bitter taste, but just a little soak and rinse will do (until the water is fairly clear, not cloudy). Plus, soaking will cut down on your cooking time later, making it even faster than cooking rice! Some boxed quinoa will say "pre-rinsed" but I think it's still a good idea to just give it a little swish under the water in case there's any residue.

There are lots of other ways to use quinoa, and I'm sure you'll be seeing some from me soon. You can substitute it for pasta or rice in soups, or add it to salads. It has a fairly mild, nutty flavor and will generally soak up the flavor of whatever it's cooked in (like rice). Don't be afraid to season it up! It can come out sort of bland if you go too easy on the spice.

I served this with sliced avocado and some diced tomatoes on top. It's also great with salad greens stuffed in a pita pocket or tortilla with some salsa, and served warm or cold. It's easy to pack for a lunch, and keeps well in the fridge. Enjoy!

Quinoa and Black Beans
adapted from

1 teaspoon vegetable oil (you can saute onion in water too, very easily if you want to cut fat)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa, soaked and rinsed
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
1 ripe avocado, sliced

1. Heat the oil/water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned.
2. Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with vegetable broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15-20 minutes,
3. Stir frozen corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans and simmer until warm. Top with cilantro (if using) and diced tomatoes. Serve with sliced avocado for color.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cat Walk

Last week I was downtown, sitting at a red light during lunch when I saw this:

It was quite cold, actually, and the poor cat looked absolutely terrified to cross the street. The MAX was coming, cars and pedestrians were everywhere, not to mention bicyclists speeding by. I felt really bad for the poor feller. Then a few days later when I was downtown (near the same spot), I saw the guy walking down the street with the cat riding on his shoulder. WTF? Weird...

It just goes to show you, you never know what you'll see in Portland.

Although, I have seen a cat on a leash before, in what you might consider an even stranger locale. About 5 years ago Justyn and I went to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs (a beautiful place, if you've never been):

When we were youngsters.

Anyway, we were just sitting on a rock and admiring the blue blue sky, when we saw this lady walking her cat:

I use the term "walking" quite loosely here. The cat was actually like, scaling rock faces and stuff. It was crazy. So of course, we went straight home and bough a leash for Oliver. He didn't like it, and the whole scenario went something like this:

The thing with Oliver is, that I think he just doesn't like having something around his shoulders. I put a t-shirt on him once for a Halloween costume and he freaked out. I sure wish I had a video of that. It's one of the few times in my adult life that I almost wet myself from laughing so hard.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Accountability 101

I'm all about accountability here, friends, and it's confession time. Remember how I got up on my soap box last week to talk about how I was going to eat less meat, and that it's healthier, better for the environment, etc.? Well, I'm off the wagon. This is what I had for dinner Friday night:

Yes, that's pepperoni.

And then for dinner on Saturday night, I had this:

Yes, that is a STEAK.

But, to my credit, I also had a nice salad:

Justyn wanted to put anchovies in it, and I said NO. So there.

And I also had some roasted asparagus, one of my favorite green veggies:

And for dessert I made baked fudge:

This stuff will change your life. I am not kidding. I'll get into that in a minute.

By the way, if you've ever wondered what happens when you beat whipping cream too long, this is it:

Kinda looks like cottage cheese, huh? But it still tastes good!

Okay, so here's what happened. Justyn and I were talking about what to do for Valentine's Day, and as usual, we decided to stay in and make ourselves a nice meal instead of contributing to the mass ripoff that happens every February 14th. Not only is it cheaper, but as you know I really enjoy cooking and it's actually a fun, romantic experience to get in the kitchen and rub elbows with your sweetie. I told you Justyn has been craving steaks ever since I started to mention becoming a part-time vegetarian, so I figured it was a good opportunity to give him what he wants. (And so maybe he'll lay off the whole red meat thing for a while.)

(I realized I skipped the whole pizza thing and it was intentional. I have no excuse other than I love love love pepperoni pizza and we had no groceries.)

Anyway, we started cooking and I suggested Justyn get the steaks out of the fridge so they could come up to room temperature (always a good idea when you're cooking steaks, in case you didn't know.) So he put them on a plate and moved them to the dining room table to get them out of the way while we started preparing the salad and veggies. I was in the living room looking up the recipe for dessert when I turned around and saw Oliver (our cat) up on his hind legs in the dining room chair literally CHOWING on one of the steaks. Like seriously, he had totally mutilated one half of one of the filets, and already had it off the plate and almost off the table. I screamed, Justyn turned and we both ran over and started yelling at him about how he almost single-handedly ruined our Valentine's Day dinner. Did you ever see the movie A Christmas Story? Remember how the dogs from next-door get in the house and eat the Christmas day turkey? It was sort of like that.

So there we are, standing and looking at a half-mutilated steak trying to figure out what to do. And because nothing gets in the way when it comes to Justyn and a good quality steak, he rinsed it off, cooked it, and ate it anyway. Gross, huh? I think so... but it did get completely cooked afterward, so.... I guess that makes it okay? He said it was very tasty, so all's well that ends well, I suppose.

Anyway, about the baked fudge. First of all let me say, "Thank you, Pioneer Woman." This is yet another amazing recipe from Ree Drummond, the same creator of my blackberry cobbler recipe which you may recall from last summer. I was a little nervous about making it because she said it may be hard to know when it's done cooking. You see, you want it crispy on top like a brownie, but the toothpick shouldn't come out clean. But it also shouldn't jiggle in the middle or be runny at all. Now, those of you who know me, already know without me telling you that these instructions are not to my liking. I need things to be clear-cut. But, after baking mine for 50 minutes, they came out absolutely perfect. It was so easy to make and so unbelievably tasty. If you like chocolate and need a good dessert recipe that will impress your guests and you, yourself, then you should make this as soon as possible. I'm serious when I say it will change your life.

Mmmm... gooey chocolatey goodness.

See? Not runny!

Pioneer Woman's Delicious Baked Fudge
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 heaping tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 300 - 325. (I baked mine at 300 for 30 minutes, 315 for 10 minutes, and 325 for 10 minutes).

2. First, beat eggs until light in color. Next beat in the sugar until just combined. Now add cocoa, flour, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Mix gently until well combined.

3. Pour the batter into four large ramekins or one 8-inch square baking dish. Set the ramekins or pan into a larger pan halfway full of water.

4. Place in preheated oven and bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until upper crust is crispy and the rest of the batter is firm but not set. Toothpick should come out... not clean, but mixture should not be overly runny. If you pull it out of the oven and have second thoughts, stick it back in for 10 minutes.

5. Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Oh, one more tiny little thing. Then for lunch yesterday I had this:

My conscience is sufficiently cleaned. Thanks for listening.

P.S. Make the fudge. I'm serious.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Food Friday: Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Zest

Since I've become a flexitarian, I have discovered a TON of new recipes I want to share. So I've decided to post one each week, on Fridays. This way you can try them yourself at home over the weekend, when you don't have an excuse not to cook. :)

For my first "Food Friday", I'm going out on a limb with a fab recipe for brussels sprouts. For those of you who are about to stop reading because you don't like brussels sprouts, hear me out. You've never had sprouts like these and you just might change your mind.

Justyn loves brussels sprouts. He could just steam them, add a little salt & pepper, pop them in his mouth and be happy. Me? Not so much. This is not good for a marriage - for one person to love one thing, and the other person to not even like that thing. So, as a result, I am constantly trying to find new ways to make brussels sprouts so that I like them. (And bless his heart, Justyn has tried just about every way possible to make them, too.) I've already told you that I grew up being a picky eater, and I don't want to be a picky eater anymore. So, I will search high and low to find a great recipe for something that I don't like, so that afterward I can move that food from the "do not like" to the "like" column.

You see, the thing is, that I really want to like brussels sprouts. They're so cute, and healthy too. My problem is twofold: first, I have a really small mouth. Like, seriously, I had to have 4 permanent teeth pulled when I was a kid just so my teeth would all fit (not to mention the 4 wisdom teeth I had pulled a few years ago.) So, popping a whole sprout in my mouth is not fun. Sidenote: You'll probably start seeing this pattern with me where a lot of foods are concerned. I like pretty much everything to be bite-sized and well-chopped. It's why I avoid burgers and wraps, and I eat my pizza with a knife & fork. Anyway, the second part of the problem is that the sprouts are usually dryish and bland in the middle. We've tried to address these problems in our preparation: we've halved them, quartered them, steamed them and drenched them in butter, roasted them with olive oil - you name it, we've tried it.

... or so I thought... until a few weeks ago I came across a recipe in one of my vegetarian cookbooks for "Chinese Style Brussels Sprouts". I looked at the photo and thought to myself, "Those don't look like brussels sprouts. That looks like salad." I proceeded to read the recipe and discovered that the sprouts are thinly sliced - or "hashed," if you will. I was immediately intrigued for obvious reasons. In theory, such a preparation method could potentially address both my my issues. So, I tried the recipe and didn't care for the spices much. (For those of you who don't know, Chinese five spice powder tastes just like licorice - yuck!) But the texture was amazing and they were very flavorful so I filed it away in my "to be tweaked" recipe pile.

Less than a week later, I was browsing food articles on The New York Times website, and I saw this heading: The Brussels Sprouts Taste-Off. How serendipitous! It was yet another recipe for hashed sprouts with different spices and seasonings - just what I was looking for.

This is a great alternative green veggie recipe if you're tired of steamed broccoli. The chopping takes the longest, but once that part is done these actually cook very quickly. Be sure not to overcook them - they'll lose their bright green color and start to taste slightly bitter. Also, don't skip the zest thinking the lemon juice soak is sufficient. The zest really adds a nice brightness to the dish. Brussels sprouts are a great vegetable for vegetarians or others who don't eat much meat. They are an excellent source of protein (unlike many other veggies) and are also an excellent source of vitamin C (1/2 cup is over 60% of your DV). They also provide some vitamin A, Iron,and a smidge of Calcium.

Hashed Brussels Sprouts With Lemon Zest
Adapted from The New York Times

Yield 5 servings
Time 25 minutes

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus grated zest of 1 lemon
1 pound brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds or poppy seeds (I used poppy seeds)
1/8 cup dry white wine or vermouth (I think you can sub chicken or veggie broth if you don't have wine - just don't oversalt it)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Place lemon juice in a large bowl. Cut bottoms off sprouts, and discard. Halve sprouts lengthwise, and thinly slice them crosswise. The slices toward the stem end should be thinner, to help pieces cook evenly. As you work, transfer slices into bowl with lemon juice and toss frequently to coat. When all sprouts are sliced toss them in juice and separate leaves. Leaf separation is important for cooking time. (Recipe can be prepared to this point and refrigerated, covered, for up to 3 hours.)

2. When ready to serve, heat oil and butter over high heat in a skillet large enough to hold all sprouts. When very hot add sprouts, garlic and seeds, and cook, stirring often, until sprouts are wilted and lightly cooked, but still bright green and crisp, about 4 minutes. Some leaves might brown slightly.

3. Add wine, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Turn off heat, add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the lemon zest, reserving a little for top of dish. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with remaining zest and serve.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthentine's Day

Ahh... Valentine's Day. Isn't it sweet? A time to celebrate love. It's a season of flowers and chocolate, of candy and romance, of candles, bubble baths, and expensive dinners.

It's also Oregon's birthday, and this year (2009) is Oregon's 150th birthday, or sesquicentennial for those of you who like big words. I remember Tennessee's 200th birthday, which was in 1996. (Wow, Oregon is a youngster!) I don't remember a whole lot about the Tennessee bicentennial, except that they changed the license plates for a while.

I'm not really all that into history, actually. Honestly, I usually find it pretty boring (especially to read) and so if you fall asleep reading this I'm really sorry. But, how often can you write about a sesquicentennial??!!

Okay, actually, 2009 marks lots of other sesquicentennials. It is also Boulder, Colorado's 150th birthday this year, and the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Why don't you read some Darwin Awards to celebrate?? (Coincidentally, today would've been Darwin's 200th birthday, as well as Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday.) Sidenote: Why do people say it "would've been" his 200th birthday? Like, it "would've been" if he had lived an abnormally long time? I don't understand that (even though I just did it myself.) And even though the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War isn't until 2011, the University of Richmond in Virginia is so excited they're just gonna go ahead and start celebrating now. The American Dental Association is also celebrating its 150th year, as is the city of Iola, Kansas. It's also the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I guess that's how you're supposed to say it, though it is easier to just say "he would've been 150"), and the 150th birthday of America's first zoo - The Philadelphia Zoo. There are actually a lot of others, and I could go on... but I'm kind of bored with it now so I'm sure you are too. The point is a lot of shit was going down in 1859.

During the last paragraph I decided not to write in detail about the history of Oregon's statehood (I mean, seriously, one blog is not enough to cover 150+ years of history, folks.) If you're really interested, check it out for yourself. If you're not really interested I'll give you the highlights: Thomas Jefferson (a.k.a. "TJ") took $2,500 and hired his secretary, Meriwether Lewis (back when secretaries were men) to explore the land the US got from the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis needed some help so he hired a veteran army officer, William Clark to come along and they set out in the spring of 1804. Clark was an experienced surveyor, mapmaker, frontiersman and Indian negotiator so he was well-qualified. (Man, check out those qualifications! I would like to put "mapmaker and frontiersman" on my resume.) They went back to TJ with their reports of the area and how great it was. People gradually started moving west, the Oregon Trail happened, yada yada yada, white people kicked the Native Americans out, Great Britain and the US fought over the territory, blah blah blah, and then Oregon became a state on February 14, 1859.

There are a few really interesting things about Oregon's history, though: for about 90 years (between 1861 and 1951) it was against Oregon law to marry someone of a different race. In 1844, the territory mandated that slavery was illegal, but if there were any "free" slaves lurking around, they had to leave. The largest cities in Oregon (Portland, Salem, Eugene, and Bend) are all extremely liberal, but the rural areas of Oregon are extremely conservative. I, personally, think this political strife makes Oregon a fun and interesting place to live. But some people are not so happy about it. There have been several attempts by some groups to secede from the state.

So, in honor of Oregon's 150th birthday, there are several events going on around town. You can go on a horse drawn elk viewing tour, swim 150 miles, go birding, paddling, or you can attend a spiffy soiree, which currently has 14 confirmed guests on Facebook. Some celebration! But, Seskie the Sasquatch will be there, so it is tempting to go just to meet him in person:

But the thing everyone seems most excited about is the beer. Rogue Brewery has developed a special commemorative brew to celebrate the sesquicentennial. It's a limited edition, so get it while you can. Deschutes is also brewing 2 special beers with 100% Oregon ingredients for the celebration. Hopworks Urban Brewery has also come up with a special IPA, and McMenamins is brewing a special cream ale that will only be served at Saturday's Birthday Bash at the Crystal Ballroom. With all these new beers floating around, I have a feeling there's going to be a lot of beer-drinking going on Saturday night, and not much swimming or romantic dinners.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Vegging Out

So, when I first started this blog, one of my intentions was to write about my goals to become healthier and more active. Aside from my brief excursion into running, I haven't really lived up to this task, especially given this, this, and this. (Not to mention the chocolate pecan pie with bourbon I mentioned here, and the recipe for Mississippi Nilla Mud Cake I mentioned a while back but have been too ashamed to post.) After all, you can take the girl out of the South, but can you take the South out of the girl?

Tennessee was ranked 47th in the list of healthiest states in 2008, and Oregon was 16th. This study takes a lot of things into account, like access to health care coverage, etc. so it's not really a fair comparison. So, I will also quote the American Fitness Index for 2008, which ranks cities according to how active and fit their citizens are. Portland is #7 on the list, Nashville is #23. So, while the cities do rank closer together, there's some obvious room for improvement.

I did not grow up on a healthy diet (don't worry Mom, it's not your fault). I was the world's pickiest eater and have a vivid memory of sitting at our dining room table in the dark after everyone had gone to bed because my mom told me I couldn't get up until I ate all my green beans. I absolutely hated green beans with a passion (and anything else green for that matter) until I was in college when I started eating green beans by the can because it was easy and cheap. (Of course even then, they were boiled on the stove for about 30 minutes with 2 or 3 cubes of beef bouillon, but that's beside the point.) Finally I think my mom gave up and just started making the same 3 or 4 meals every week: Hamburger Helper, Tuna Helper, Salisbury Steaks with gravy and rice, and spaghetti (notice - not many veggies, and certainly nothing fresh.) I refused to even TRY new foods, including salad, and I didn't eat my first salad until Justyn and I were dating and I was 22 years old. (He refused to date a picky eater, lucky for me.)

Now that I live in Oregon, it's easy for me to blame the state I lived in for my sorry diet and lack of exercise, but it's not really fair. The truth is, it's just the way I grew up. I was never particularly active - I didn't play team sports or even competitive sports. I tried gymnastics for a while but it didn't stick, and I really wanted to be a cheerleader but that didn't work out either time I tried. I grew up in Louisiana and we spent most of our time poking around in the creek for crawdads, or fishing, riding our 4-wheelers around in the mud, or pulling each other around in cardboard boxes (yes, we really did that). Anyway, my point is that while Justyn was in Colorado skiing and snowboarding and kayaking, etc., and eating every vegetable his mom could figure out how to cook, I was in Nashville trying to figure out how to make my bangs stand up higher, dancing around my room to Debbie Gibson and spritzing myself with Exlclamation! perfume while the smell of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese wafted down the hallway.

I mentioned around Thanksgiving that Justyn's mom came to visit and that she is an amazing cook. Honestly, she has mad kitchen skills that I never even knew existed. The amazing thing about her is that she can just look in the refrigerator and make up stuff using what is available. I have never been around anyone like that, and it is crazy to watch. I truly think that watching her in the kitchen is equivalent to watching Picasso paint a masterpiece. She made some impressive meals for us while she was here, and so after she left there was a definite void. So, I decided that I could also do these wonderful things. But then we started traveling for the holidays, yada yada, (insert excuse here) and I lost momentum.

Then a few weeks ago, I saw this video by Mark Bittman (the guy who wrote the How to Cook Everything cookbooks) and it blew my mind. Note: This video is long (20 minutes) but it is SO WORTH WATCHING. I'm not going to get into the crazy statistics he mentions... just watch it... PLEASE. My regular readers know I'm a self-professed tree-hugger, and to be honest (and admittedly stupid) I have never linked what I eat with the environment. Soon after I saw this video, I was reading one of the many food blogs I follow, and he started talking about being a "part-time vegetarian". Now, Justyn has always told me I would make a great vegetarian (remember the chicken truck incident)? So when I read this, I thought it was a pretty good idea for me.

Okay, okay, don't get freaked out. I know some of you are thinking now I've really gone off the deep end, and my once-subtle liberal tendencies are now spiraling out of control. And I know that Oregon has a reputation for being "the land of fruits and nuts" where a bunch of granola-eating hippies walk around with no bras and armpit hair, but hear me out. I mean, there are some good, intelligent arguments for doing this: it's cheaper, it's healthier, and it's better for the environment. I mean, seriously, how can you go wrong? It's even got a cool name: flexitarianism. Some would say that "omnivore" pretty much covers it (i.e. one who eats meat AND vegetables), but I think "flexitarian" has a nice ring to it. It shows that you are making a conscious decision to be aware of what you eat, and make a concerted effort to decrease your meat and packaged food consumption.

Then I started looking around and I realized I have four (yes, four) vegetarian cookbooks that I have never so much as cracked the binding on. (They were all gifts from Justyn's family, of course.) So, thinking on these things and realizing I had a pretty amazing arsenal with which to begin my foray into veggie-land, I figured I had no further excuses to put it off. I haven't been keeping track of my exact statistics, but I'm pretty sure in the last 2 weeks, I've eaten meat about 3 times... a pretty strong start, I think! Incidentally, and for those of you who are wondering, Justyn used to be a vegetarian before he moved to Nashville. Now he keeps telling me he wants a big juicy steak. I guess you can't take the South out of the man either, even if he only lived there for 6 years.