Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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Whole 30, Whole Life

I’ve learned that oatmeal gives me terrible heartburn. I’ve learned that eating a breakfast loaded with fat is just fine by my stomach and body. I’ve learned that processed foods have cut hours of food prep out of our lives on a daily basis. I’ve learned that when you’re cleaning-up after every meal your kitchen is at once more clean and more dirty depending on how accessible the surface and where it’s placement is in relation to the stove top. I’ve learned that meal planning has nearly eradicated the thought “What do I want to eat.” from my brain. And when there is only one thing to eat, I eat it and feel happy about it regardless of how well I like it.

Jeannine and I moved in together March 1st. We are in the process on doing home rennovation. We are planning a wedding. As though this context were not challenging enough we added having a go at Whole 30 food plan on March 13th. For thirty days we would consume no added sugar, no legumes, no grains, no dairy. This forbidden list effectively removed all processed and packaged foods. All of them. All desserts. All grain based breakfast items. All the cheeses, the yogurts, and the cottage cheeses. All the pastas and the pastries.

Upon embarking Jeannine was hoping this experiment would alleviate her GERD symptoms, her hip pain, and trim down a bit. I was along for the ride thinking that I had no food allergies or sensitivities or ill effects from my dietary choices. I was hoping to shave off a few pounds, but otherwise I had no expectations.

That the American diet is saturated with soy, corn, and wheat reflects more on food subsidies and profit margins than it does anything else. Dollar bills drive the percentage of our calories these substances. If the things we put in our mouths greatly determine our health, we should probably allow something other than a large corporation’s profit margin determine our diet.

By all measures this isn’t working well for most of us. Americans are obese and sick. And these outcomes seem to be a feature of the American diet, not a bug.

I didn’t need convincing that exploring extensive diet changes might teach us new and valuable lessons. So, although I was skeptical of the testimonials of the diet curing an absurd number of symptoms. But hey, if you count up the cells in your body and the organisims in your gut, we are mostly the organisims in our gut. Our human cells are a fraction of what makes our bodies. Maybe those critters do drive or influence multiple bodily systems.

We got the books, and followed the meal plan for the first week. One aspect of this new reality became immediately clear. The trip to the butcher and the grocery store would need to be planned to the smallest detail. Otherwise we would be making daily shopping trips to fetch missing ingredients. We both work fulltime and daily grocery trips would not be sustainable.

The first list took me roughly three hours to compose. Never before had I needed to make every single meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner from scratch without the aid of boxed or ready to eat foods. The days of walking into the store and putting whatever appealed to me into the cart would be banished for the near future.

Prior to this diet I rarely prepared meat at home. When I assessed the many pounds of meat on my list, I thought the best place to get either local and/or sustainably raised meat was Avril Bleh’s on court street. Of all the positive things to come of this experience, getting to know and trust the jovial buys behind the counter at Avril Bleh’s is my favorite. From the first moment on, the guys were knowledgeable and helpful. When I was unsure of what I needed they would ask all the right questions to get us to certainty. Their pricing for local/grass fed beef is competitive with larger grocery chain’s organic offerings, making it obvious that their superior service and product were worth the weekly trip.

After what can only be described as a middle-aged Friday night and Saturday morning spent gathering groceries, we were ready to go. Another aspect of this new reality became clear. After just two meals, I knew I would spend far more time in the kitchen for the next thirty days. And, that I did. Prior to Whole 30 we spent an average of an hour a day doing food prep and cleaning. After Whole 30 we spent an average of three hours a day prepping food and cleaning.

Three things surprised me in the first week. I felt alert and sharp at all times of the day. After lunch fatigue disappeared. My sleep improved. And I could get less of it and still feel alert all day. I also ceased to feel bloated, and my incidents of over-eating dwindled to none. This was particularly surprising because my perception was that I was eating a ton of food. I always ate just until I was full, but I was used to eating no breakfast and a light lunch. Going from that to eating substantial breakfasts and lunches it seems a pretty dramatic uptick in food consumption.

I became aware of what a craving felt like and how it differs from hunger. I would become hungry in the hour leading up to my meals. But I would crave a sugary treat in the evenings after dinner. It took a couple of weeks to figure out how much I needed to eat a lunch to feel full until close to dinner time. And on the days that I ate too little I would feel very fatigued in the late afternoon. And I found that my instinct was to get a sugary snack. I realized that this instinct had less to do with hunger and more to do with my habit of combating drowsiness with bursts of sugar.

The Whole 30 book describes the first 12 days as being challenging due to your body moving from running on carbs to running on protein and fat. I didn’t experience much of this. But Jeannine and I did seem to go through a bout of allergies in the first couple of weeks. I’ve read on message boards that some people think these symptoms might be part of your body detoxing, it just happens to be doing so through your sinuses and respitory system. Because both of us suffer from spring allergies, we can’t really know what was at the root of these experiences.

In week two I considered the effects of the diet on out budget. We took a hit. We went from spending about two hundred dollars a week at restaurants and the grocery to spending and average of two hundred and fifty dollars a week. But we were also eating higher quality food. We went from eating pizza and Indian carryout to eating grass-fed local filet, fresh scallops, and organic wild caught fish and loads of fresh fruits and veggies. Not a bad trade-up for an extra fifty bucks a week.

Consolidating the grocery list got easier by the time we rounded on week four. We missed our desserts and pizza, because who wouldn’t? But I had to admit I was feeling considerably better without it. We also found ourselves to be about six pounds lighter each. I have never felt so full and satiated while losing weight before.

By the time we moved into the reintroduction period, we both agreed we wanted to eat at home like this all the time. The recipes were excellent. We both enjoyed foods we didn’t think we liked. And we liked the way we felt enough that we wanted to continue. We will still enjoy the occasional pizza or Indian carry-out. But we will enjoy them a bit less often. We will still go out to eat with friends. We will still enjoy a glass of wine here and there. But whole 30 is turning out to be more like whole life.


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The Jams

I’ve had little to write about cooking. I didn’t can last summer because of the move I was planning for the beginning of August. Because all of my early belongings needed to fit in my hatchback car, I didn’t make any elaborate recipes in Seattle. I had only rudimentary kitchen gear. I roasted lots of meats and veggies with some fresh herbs and spices, as the only equipment required for that is a pan.

The jams I made this summer were in small enough quantities, that I didn’t need to water seal them. I wanted to experiment with some different flavors. No one needs six or seven jars of a failed experiment.

I picked blueberries and black raspberries the same morning. I knew I wanted to use honey and lavender with the blueberries. For the black raspberries, I was thinking vanilla and lemon.

But I thought another woody spice would add some depth. Although I love cinnamon, I wanted something that would be less recognizable. I ended up with some peppery dry allspice.

First, the bad news, I didn’t measure anything. I just added ingredients to the pot until it tasted good. But I will tell you the process I followed for both of the jams and what I will do differently next time.

I washed the blueberries and tossed them into pot whole with a little water. I squeezed out a very generous amount of honey, by the looks of it about a half cup to around 6 cups of berries. I made a tea out of the lavender and strained out the blossoms.

After the berries cooked on medium heat for a while the berries started to break down and burst open and take on the consistency of a very runny jam. Then I adjusted all the flavors. I added more honey and sugar, the lavender tea, and the allspice until Jeannine and I thought it delicious.

Jeannine in a flash of inspiration pulled off a portion of the blueberry preserves and added some vanilla spiked bourbon. Both of the varieties of jam cooked until they thickened. Then we put them in jars for storage in the refrigerator.

I followed a similar process for the black raspberry preserves, only we strained out the black raspberry seeds. There I cooked the berries in water for some minutes to leech out as much of the flavor from the pulp and seeds as possible. Then we added the lemon, allspice, and vanilla, bean husk and seeds to taste.

Picture of black raspberry jam on the stove

All the lovely flavors! All of them!

I didn’t use pectin. This posed the biggest challenge for the seedless black raspberry jam. All the natural pectin in that fruit is in the pulp and seeds. Without them I was worried that it would never set.

That fear proved unfounded. In fact, the only thing I would do differently on all of the jams is cook them less, so that they would have set a little less tightly. In the case of the blueberry preserves, those were just a little more set than I would like for mixing into yogurt or spreading on waffles (my primary use of jams).

The black raspberry preserves were so set as to approach hard tack candy once refrigerated. In my concerns about the lack of pectin I significantly over cooked it. In both cases, there’s a moment were the liquid shifts from behaving like water to behaving like syrup. I think I should have pulled both of the jams off as soon as this transition happened. It’s that moment when abrupt stirring stops splashing up in tiny droplets.

Side note, we made these popsicles with the black raspberries. They were delicious. I will try making this with peaches soon. Partially because they will be good but also to ensure I use those stupid popsicle molds at least one more time. I hate buying kitchen goods that only do one thing. HATE IT.

The black raspberry vanilla popsicle

There were delicious. I am ruined for popsicles now.

Now that I have executed my experiments, I am ready to make larger batches next year and put some jams on the shelf for winter. I also anticipate canning more black raspberry pie filling next year. That process is a massive pain in the ass, but it’s a lovely thing to have black raspberry pie in December.

black raspberry and blueberry jams

Eating the jams on waffles is the best part.

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Black Raspberries: My Wounds Are Not From Branding Cats

Asynchronous communication and instant gratification makes nature’s ridged timing feel foreign. Strawberries gleam on the grocery store shelves at all times of the year. So, when black raspberries come in season the scramble to pick them in those precious few days is jarring. Maybe it’s that I grew up picking fruits and tending my grandmother’s garden, that I find this limitation reassuring. No matter what technology throws at us, black raspberries are only in season for moments.

Dale Stokes Berry Farm was just as lovely as I remembered it. The raspberry bushes were just as cruel as I remembered them. They give up their fruit but only after their thorns draw blood.

Two of us picked 13 pounds of berries in 2 hours. This was sufficient to make 2 batches of jelly, 3 quarts of pie filling, one pie with about 4 cups of berries left over to freeze.

One batch of jelly was made according to the instructions on the Sure-jell packaging. I went off the map with the second batch. Last year we tried out a sugar-free black raspberry chipotle lime jam. I wanted to repeat this, but I found that the link to the recipe is now broken (see last year’s blog here).

I purchased some sugar-free Sure-jell pectin. And while I followed the instructions in terms of how much prepared juice I used and cooking instructions, I made everything else up as I went. I used the juice and zest from about 2-3 limes, 6 dashes of cheyenne pepper, and one cup of orange blossom honey. Bear in mind that I was mostly tossing things in and adjusting by taste.

My concerns about the jelly setting up enough were valid. That quantity of honey is significantly less than what the Sure-jell package recommends. Like the dependencies between Elvis and The Colonel, pectin working with sugar is not to be underestimated in terms of jams and jellies setting. While the jelly is a bit runny, it won’t make your PBJ a total mess. Imma call this good enough. The coolest thing about drawing down the sugar in the recipe is the herbal notes in this jam shine through.

I prepped the pie filling in the same way discussed in last year’s blog. Only, I was completely prepared for the Clear-jel to behave very poorly. It didn’t disappoint. I settled on a process of moving the pot on and off the burner while violently stirring. This was after my efforts to find the right burner temperature were thwarted numerous times.

Later in the day we enjoyed the pie, while watching the World Cup at an English Pub. Somehow this seemed appropriate. It was wonderful. But I wouldn’t have expected to turn out any other way. Because black raspberries. 20150704-20150704-DSC_4889 20150704-20150704-DSC_4890 20150704-20150704-DSC_4882 20150704-20150704-DSC_4892 20150704-20150704-DSC_4893 20150704-20150704-DSC_4895

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Pan-Searing Fish: I Ain’t Scared

I love fish. I love pan seared fish in particular. I’ve been afraid to try pan searing because this is the sort of thing that Ina Garten would describe as looking complicated. The pan has to be the right temperature. You have to shake the pan and ensure the fish slides across the heated surface to ensure no sticking. To use breading or not to use breading?

I few months back I bought a gorgeous set of stainless steel pans. That was the first step to success in pan-searing. This won’t work as well with Teflon or otherwise coated pans.

I snagged a couple of wild-caught Atlantic tuna steaks on a whim. I chose tuna because it’s a little denser than my other options. I thought that would hold-up to my novice pan searing attempts better than the other filets present.

I dug up this recipe. I followed it to the letter. I was even careful to see that the olive oil was smoking a bit in the pan to ensure that it was hot enough.

It turned out beautifully. The fish didn’t stick, although shaking it free of the pan immediately after placing the steaks in was completely necessary. I shook the pan when I turned them too. But the crust that formed on the steaks was super. And that cilantro relish mentioned in the recipe is really spectacular. I will make up a batch of that with all fatty fish. It’s bright and flavorful enough to stand up to the fat in salmon or tuna and augment them perfectly.

I served these with a baked sweet potato. It just so happened that I had them on hand. So, this wasn’t in intentional pairing. But the caramel sweetness of the potato was a wonderful contrast to the spicy fish and cilantro relish. We topped all of that off with greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. It was a lovely meal, and I am looking forward to pan searing a lot more fish.


Crock Pot Adventures

I bought my first slow cooker at the beginning of the winter. Mostly I wanted a slow cooker to aid in existing recipes that I make. When we make and can apple sauce, it’s easy to have a crock pot to the side slow cooking the apple butter. We do the same with pumpkin butter. Oh, and if you’ve never eaten pumpkin butter, you’ve never lived.

I was dubious that I would find enough delicious vegetarian recipes to make constant use of the slow cooker, but I was completely wrong. Here’s a sampling of my favorite recipes with my comments. And here’s some of the recipes that I will try in March.

  • Veggie Minestrone – This recipe is DELICIOUS. I didn’t realize how much I love minestrone until I had my first bites of this. I make no modifications to this recipe. The only thing you might want to note is that I use my own veggie broth and my own home canned tomatoes. Without the parmesan rind, this recipe can easily be vegan. As a cheese lover, I always add it.
  • Veggie Gumbo – This recipe is hearty and warms any winter chill. Pair this with some rice and it’s a satisfying meal.
  • Chick Pea and Butternut Squash Curry – This curry is creamy, and unlike many of these recipes, you can throw the chick peas in the cooker dry. Plus, it’s not necessary to saute the veggies before they go in the pot. For how easy this is, it’s amazingly good.
  • Madras Lentils – Like the recipe above you can throw the veggies in without a saute, and the lentils go in dry. I thought I would need to embellish the spices in this recipe to get it flavorful enough for me. I was shocked at how great this tasted, as is.
  • White Chili with Roasted Poblanos and Quinoa – This recipe is super healthy, but it requires considerable prep work. I modified the recipe by cutting the amount of beans by half. For my taste, I wanted more pepper and spice flavors in the chili, and the most direct way to do that was to cut down on the starch. After that modification, the flavors were better balanced. Also, be careful with the poblanos. The amount of heat they pack can vary pretty significantly. Make sure you taste before you Tabasco.

Here’s what I will try out in March:

With spring around the corner, I have two things that I would like to make before canning season starts. I want to make fig jam, although I know that will be dependent of if I can find fresh figs. Check out this recipe. I also want to make a second batch of yellow mustard. That mustard was the shit, and now that I know how good and easy home made mustard is French’s just isn’t cutting it. Then bring on canning season, also known as summer.

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Brussels Sprouts: Some Recipes That Look Bad Are Bad

I love Brussels sprouts. I almost always order them out, when they are on the menu. I decided it was time to perfect my own preparation of them. I made two recipes. The first was a great success; the second was not.

At my first attempt, I chose this recipe from Martha Stewart. I have made many of her recipes, so she gets my implicit trust. Plus, I didn’t have a lot of fancy ingredients on hand, so the simplicity was appealing.

The sprouts turned out great. I stood at the fridge eating the sprouts out of the bowl cold when I was looking for a snack. This early success might have lulled me into what happened next.

I was looking for a Brussels sprout recipe with balsamic vinegar. I have a delicious aged bottle of balsamic that would be lovely in this context. After perusing several recipes, I settled on this one at Food.com. I was suspicious of the sugar immediately. But I put away my doubt after a quick look at the reviews. Plus, recipes surprise me sometimes. Admittedly, they surprise me infrequently. I gave this a go in spite of my misgivings.

Those little alarm bells that jangled in my mind when I looked at the sugar content in that recipe were spot on. Let’s just say caramel dipped Brussels sprouts isn’t a thing for a very good reason. My mind was saying I was eating a vegetable, but my mouth was saying it was a rum soaked raisin.

What have I learned? I won’t trust reviews on Food.com from this point forward. I don’t know how that recipe got 5 stars. The only explanation I can come up with is that said reviewers will like anything that tastes like candy.

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That Day When I Cooked All Morning

I bought a couple of cushaws a week ago. I had one last year, and attempted it as a substitute for pumpkin. That yielded mixed results. I liked the flavor of the squash enough to give it another try this year. This year I looked up recipes that called specifically for cushaw. I just realized that I was struggling with whether cushaw should be singular or plural. The cushaws I got were enormous, so all my recipes only called for part of a cushaw, so I will stick with the singular as is often used for another large gourd, butternut squash.

Cushaw. This monster is about a foot and a half tall and about a foot across at it's base.

Cushaw. This monster is about a foot and a half tall and about a foot across at it’s base.

Enormous cushaw!

Enormous cushaw!

I wasn’t sure how all these foods would mix together, but they turned out a delicious fall veggie-friendly, Southern-inspired meal that went perfect with blogging and watching football. I whipped up the following:

Pinto beans flavored with cloves and cinnamon
Buttermilk Cornbread
Beet greens
Roasted spiced cushaw (This wasn’t complicated enough to require a recipe, I will explain what I did below.)
Cushaw pie for dessert

For the most part I followed the recipes listed above. Here’s where I went rogue. I used dried pinto beans as opposed to canned kidney beans. I cooked the pinto beans in my last jar of homemade veggie broth. When they finished cooking, I held the broth aside and then used that instead of the water that the recipe calls for. I also only had about 3 cups of cooked beans, which was slightly less than the 3 and 1/2 cups that would have come from to cans of beans. I cut the cinnamon and clove by half. I cut this back because I wanted the flavor to be subtle. Plus, I knew I could always add more if desired. Cutting back the cinnamon and clove turned out to be an excellent idea. I used some of the heirloom tomatoes that I canned this summer in the recipe as opposed to store-bought canned tomatoes. My tomatoes were packed with garlic cloves, so that probably amped up the garlic flavor of my beans.

The pinto beans in the pot. I think this is the best way I have ever had pinto beans prepared.

The pinto beans in the pot. I think this is the best way I have ever had pinto beans prepared.

For the beet greens, I didn’t use bacon. I used canola oil to caramelize the onions, and then added a bit of Bragg’s Amino Acids. The bacon should add umami and salt, and Bragg’s is a pretty good veggie substitute for both of these flavors. I also didn’t have a full lb of beet greens, so I cut back the rest of the ingredients to compensate.

The beet greens.

The beet greens.

The roasted spiced cushaw wasn’t complicated. I just cubed the cushaw and tossed it with butter brown sugar and Saigon cinnamon. I measured nothing. I will say this, cushaw has a very delicate flavor, so cinnamon can overwhelm it quickly. I really just put a couple of dashes of it on the whole pan of cushaw. I roasted the cushaw at 400 degrees until it was easily mashed with a fork. Otherwise I followed the other recipes.

I was pleasantly surprised with my feast. All of the flavors of the meal worked really well together. The greens were salty and acidic. The beans were rich and savory. The roast cushaw was sweet and creamy. Everything tasted wonderful on it’s own, and each dish complimented the other. I think the sum of the meal was greater than any of the parts on their own.

My feast of beet greens, cornbread, roasted cushaw, and pinto beans.

My feast of beet greens, cornbread, roasted cushaw, and pinto beans.

The cushaw pie was delicious. I really enjoyed that the recipe didn’t have cinnamon. The nutmeg and allspice made the pie taste more decadent than a standard pumpkin pie. It’s also different enough from pumpkin pie, that it would make a nice alternative for a Christmas pie once everyone has had their fill of pumpkin at Thanksgiving.

The cushaw pie right out of the oven.

The cushaw pie right out of the oven.

The cushaw pie set-up pretty well. But I let the pie cool completely before cutting it. I think that's crucial to avoiding a sloppy mess.

The cushaw pie set-up pretty well. But I let the pie cool completely before cutting it. I think that’s crucial to avoiding a sloppy mess.