Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dal With Rice and Vegetables

    Today is the first snow of the season where I live. It's not coming down very fast. It's more of a dusting than a squall, which is what I would prefer for it's drama, but a dusting will do. At the least, it is enough of an excuse to let me curl up and spend the whole day doing couch related activities, like reading, watching dvd's, and maybe doing a little hand sewing. I have a pair of pants that will be out of season if I don't get them hemmed before spring. Spring is pretty far off though, so I don't expect I'll be doing any hemming today. It's only the first snow, so I don't want to get over ambitious. It's probably best to put it off. It will give me something to do during the next snow storm.

   Cooking is still on the agenda though. But before I tell you about what I am making, I want to tell you about my day yesterday. I spent the afternoon yesterday at the dentist. I had my root canal removed, and one of my mercury fillings. I go back tomorrow to have the other one out. This is part of my- beat cancer boot camp- plan. We all know mercury is toxic, and I believe, as do many others, that having mercury in your mouth harms your immune system, as it leaches from the filling into your membranes. Root canals are also a problem because they are dead teeth. They have no blood supply, so they often contain dangerous bacteria. I've been reading about these dangers for decades, but who wants to spend a lot of money taking out teeth and fillings that you have spent a lot of money having put in. Well...since I have cancer. I do! I am doing everything I can think of to make my body wake up and do the right thing-STOP! making cancer cells.

   Mercury removal must be done safely, otherwise you could release more mercury into your mouth and cause a toxic overload. I thought I was going to have to go to Tijuana (yes Mexico) or Montreal to have it done. Safe removal is not the standard practice, and I was having a hard time finding someone in the U.S.. Then I discovered a dentist in Groton MA who does it. That's only an hour and a half away! 

   When I arrived they took a full mouth X-ray and then explained the procedure. They start by covering your face with a thin white cloth . I was given pure oxygen to breath through my nostrils. Then a rubber/latex dam was fitted into my mouth to prevent any particles or vapors from hitting my mouth. They also put charcoal under my tongue to absorb the mercury in case any vapors get through. The dentist and his assistant wore heavy duty gas masks during the procedure. The kind you see people wearing to protect themselves from nuclear fallout. They also had me hold a vacuum tube that was vented to the outside of the building.  All this for one little blob of silver mercury. And this thing has been sitting in my mouth for decades!

  When they were done with the filling and root canal removal they gave me far-infrared waves to the site to stimulate healing, and sent me home with homeopathic  remedies for pain, inflammation, and bone trauma. I feel fine today, and have no pain. It cost me a lot of money, but really, given my situation-I'm worth it. 

   Now back to the couch...I mean cooking. I hope I didn't lose you with my little public service announcement about mercury, because I am making a delicious dal that you will want to hear about. With this hole in my jaw I knew that soup would be the easiest thing to eat today, and given that I love dal and could eat it everyday, and have in the past, what else would I be making on a snowy day like today. It's warm and comforting. It's substantial and filling. It's nutritious and delicious. And it reminds me of India...ahhh India-warm sunny India.

   So here we go. I am calling this dish dal-ish. It's actually more like khichri because it has vegetables and grains cooked into it, but because I used quinoa instead of rice, it didn't seem right to call it khichri. Plus I figured not everyone knows what khichri is, so I thought it best to lure you in with a dal recipe. I'm rambling I know. I do this when I talk too. 

Dal With rice and Vegetables 
Serves 5-6

Dal ingredients:
1c. moog dal
1/4 c. basmati rice (or quinoa)
6 c. water
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 medium onion chopped 
You can use any combination of vegetables you like. I used what I had, but cauliflower, potato, and peas would be nice also. Carrots are a good addition.
4 plum tomatoes chopped
1 bunch of spinach chopped
1/2 c. peas
1 1/2 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
cilantro to garnish

Tarka ingredients
1T. olive oil
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 T. chopped onion
1 chopped green chili (optional)

   Start by rinsing the moong dal beans very well. You want the water to run clear. Do the same with the rice.
   Add the dal and water to a heavy bottom pot. Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Skim off the foam from the surface as they cook for the first few minutes. Then add the rest of the dal ingredients. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hr. This is like porridge. Everything is well cooked. Give it a stir once in a while to be sure it is not sticking. Add water as needed to keep it from getting pasty. You can adjust the consistency to how you like it, thin like soup, or thick like porridge. 
   You can make the tarka when the dal is almost done. Just heat the oil in a small frying pan. Add the seeds, and red pepper. Stir for a few seconds, then add the onion and cook until starting to brown then add the green chili (if using). Stir for another minute.
   Remove the dal from the heat. Taste and adjust the salt. Add the tarka.
   Top with cilantro and serve. A wedge of lime on the side is always nice.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Braised Cabbage and Caraway

    Let's try that again.

   I don't even want to tell you what came before this recipe. Okay...if you really want to know....I was making something totally different,  but I screwed it up. I dumped the dry uncooked rice into the wrong pot, and since there is no way to retrieve rice from a pot of soup, I added the boiling water from the pot the rice was supposed to go in to the wrong pot too, and hoped for the best. It came out okay, but it was not something I wanted to post. It was no longer soup. 

   After that mucked up mess, I was in no mood to go to the market for more supplies, so I decided I would make do with what I had on hand, which was a cabbage and a few carrots. I turned to my Polish heritage, and went straight for the kapusta ( I hope that means cabbage).

   I don't know what inspired me to search my heritage for this recipe. I never make Polish food. I usually go with Indian. Maybe somewhere in my mind, with Christmas day just ahead, I was thinking of babci (grandmother).

   We always spent Christmas Eve at babci's when I was young. The whole family, all the generations were there. The house was full of people coming and going, and the tables were laden with plates and platters of food. Being a shy child, I was always afraid of getting lost in the commotion, so I stayed close to my mother, and observed as the spirit of Christmas took hold, and filled everyone with joy and laughter. 
   I don't think this recipe is strictly Polish, but it is delicious. I am going to make it for my dad to go with all the leftover Christmas ham he is sure to have, and see what he thinks.

   You are probably most familiar with caraway seeds in rye bread.  The pungent little seeds have an earthy, sweet, light anise flavor, with a hint of citrus.  They are related to fennel seeds, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds, and like them, they too marry well with cabbage and tomatoes. 

   This dish is both sweet with the distinct taste of caraway, and tart from the addition of apple cider vinegar. It can be served as a side dish, or over rice. If you wanted to add beans, garbanzo beans would be nice.

Braised Cabbage and Caraway
serves 4-6

1T. olive oil
1 medium onion chopped 
3 cloves of garlic chopped
1 medium carrot chopped small
1 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
3/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 medium cabbage finely sliced (about 8-9 c.)
14 oz can of whole tomatoes chopped
1c. water
1 tsp. salt- start with less if your tomatoes are salty
1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 T. apple cider vinegar
lemon wedges to serve (optional)
parsley to garnish (optional)

   Start by heating the olive oil in a heavy bottom pot. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes.
   Add the garlic, spices and carrot, and cook until the onions start to turn golden at the edges. 
   Then add the cabbage, tomatoes, salt and pepper.
   Add half of the water and stir this around a bit. Cover and continue to cook, adding water as needed. You can cook this for as long as it takes to reach your desired softness.  I cooked mine for about 12 minutes. 
I suggest not adding all of the water at once, because I like my cabbage with a little bit of structure left to it, and I want it dry rather than soupy. You could cook it until it is really soft  and limp, if that's the way you like it. 
   After it is done cooking remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cider vinegar. Taste and adjust for salt, and vinegar. I like to add a good squirt of lemon juice to my bowl for extra brightness. A sprinkle of parsley and an extra drizzle of oil would be nice too.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Middle Eastern Butternut Squash with Beans

   The question is - what am I going to eat for Christmas dinner. I'm the only almost always    vegetarian, vegan leaning, and pretty close to wheat free person in my family, so even though I do most of the cooking, I tend to cater to everyone elses eating habits, which means a big plate of meat in the center of the table, surrounded by a few traditional vegetable dishes, and a basket of warm rolls. This is fine with me. I am content with a plate of sides, but there's nothing special in that, so this year I am looking for something that feels more like a meal in itself to sit beside the meat. This squash dish is a definite contender.

   My family is eating ham for christmas, so I think if they try this they will like it, and find that the sweetness of the squash with a hint of spice is familiar enough, and is a great compliment to the salty meat. They will probably wonder what the beans are doing in there though, and will certainly question my judgement when they notice the olives, but that's okay, there will be peas for the picky eaters, and I will be more than happy if there are leftovers. I know this will taste even better the next day. In fact, I may even make it a day in advance.

   This recipe was adapted from Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite (Mitchell Beazley 2014). The only reason I adapted it from the start was because I didn't have exactly what I needed on hand, so I substituted a couple of things, and then as I was prepping everything it reminded me of another recipe I made long ago with pumpkin and olives. That's how the olives got in there.  If you don't want to add olives, that's okay, but I think their salty briny flavor with their slight bitterness is perfect, and they make it seem even less ordinary/traditional, and more holiday/special. 
Lemon from my own tree
   I wish I knew of an easier way to peel butternut squash. I always worry I am going to lose a finger to the initial cutting into of the squash, and that one little clumsy slip of the knife while attending to the peel could easily lead to a severed artery or something. It is, I think, the most dangerous of vegetables, but so worth the risk. Maybe I should ask my friend Jenna if she has any squash peeling tricks, because after writing about my avocado mashing trick in my last post, I asked her if she knew about this. She did. Apparently it was so obvious that she never thought to tell me, leading me to post my discovery like I was a genius or something. In the future I will be running my genius discoveries by Jenna before posting them. 

Here is the recipe:

Middle Eastern Butternut Squash and Beans
serves 6 (if served with a grain)

2T. olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
4 garlic cloves finely chopped (more if they are the small inner ones)
1 tsp. of red pepper flakes (more if you want to feel the heat)
5 plum tomatoes chopped ( I used canned)
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. tomato paste
1 butternut squash (about 2 1/4 lbs.) peeled and chopped
2c. water
15 oz. can cannellini beans drained and rinsed
3 slices of lemon (1/4 " thick))
olives (about 15)
salt (start with 1/2tsp.)
lemon juice to taste (I used 1T.)
a handful of torn mint leaves 
   Heat 1T. of oil in a dutch oven ( or whatever you would normally make a stew in). Saute the carrot and onion until the onion starts to brown. Add garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin and cook for a minute more.

   Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a minute before adding the chopped tomatoes.

   In another pan heat the other 1T. of oil and sauté the squash cubes until golden brown and starting to soften. You will probably need to do this in two batches, and truthfully, I did one batch and then just threw the rest of it into the pot raw. It probably gives it a nicer flavor, but I just wasn't in the mood for this extra step. 

   Add the squash to the onion mixture along with the salt, water, olives, and lemon slices. Diana had you adding zest, but next to cutting up winter squash, zesting is my next least favorite thing to do, so I just threw in a few lemon slices. Voila. 
   Bring this to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer covered for about 30 minutes. Add the beans and continue to simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. It is done when the squash is soft and it is thick  and stew like.

   Remove from the heat. Adjust salt and lemon to taste, and sprinkle in the mint.

   I've always liked tomatoes and winter squash. Their acidity balances the sweetness of the squash. The brighter acidity in the lemon lightens this dish up just a bit.
   You could serve this over couscous, quinoa or bulgur wheat.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ovarian Cancer Update/Inspiration

   Well, here I go again. My ovarian cancer is active, and my doctors want me to do more chemo to try to stop it. I found out a few weeks ago when I went in for blood work earlier than I was scheduled to because of some suspicious pains I was having. Nothing major, but I knew something wasn't right. I knew it was the cancer.

   This seems to be my routine. For the past three years, just as the holiday season approaches, just days before Thanksgiving, I am told "you have cancer or, the cancer is back". Gee thanks. Well I guess I should be thankful that it let's me enjoy my summers before it sets me back on the road to chemotherapy. Of course my doctors want me to start chemotherapy right away, but I'm not ready. I'm close to ready, but not yet willing to subject my body to more poison, at least not until I feel I have no other option, so I am putting myself through beat cancer boot camp. This means more juicing, more supplements, more research, an even more restricted diet, and finding a way to take pleasure in it all. If I can't stop the cancer on my own, at least I will know that I did everything I could to strengthen my defenses against the poisons the doctors have to offer.

   I read the following quotes a while ago, and filed them away for times like these, when I feel myself being tempted to accept that this might be the end in a way that feels too close to giving up the fight, because some days I am so exhausted that I think resignation would be a relief.  But I know I don't have it in me to give up. I believe in the power of hope. It's all I've got. It's all I need.

   Words like these help.

" I can't believe I've come this far 
to only come this far"

"Keep the faith. The most amazing things happen
when you are about to give up."

      I also find that testimonials from people who have beat cancer  are helpful and inspiring, so I have included a couple of links for those of you who are interested. For an online testimonial from a man who treated his cancer with supplements  click here.  For a compilation of testimonials in book format, there is the  book "Radical Remission, Surviving Cancer Against All Odds" by Dr. Kelly Turner Phd., which is enjoyable and inspiring to read
available here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sweet Potato and Stuff

    Ha! Today I inspired myself. I can't believe I didn't figure this out sooner. Maybe most of you already have, but  typically when I need some mashed up avocado, I scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash it up with a fork. No more! Now I do it right in the shell. Brilliant.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Lemony Lentils

    Lentils are my favorite answer to the question -what can I make that is quick, easy, and delicious? Plus, they're not fussy and make great leftovers. 

Lemony Lentils
serves 4

1c. black or green french lentils
2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic 
3c. of water

2T. fresh lemon juice
1T. olive oil
1 tsp. grates lemon zest
1/2 tsp. salt
a few grinds of black pepper

2 scallions sliced
2T. chopped herbs, plus a few sprigs to garnish - I used dill, but I also like parsley and mint

Rinse and drain the lentils. I like to soak mine overnight, or at least a few hours before cooking.

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan.
Add the lentils, garlic, and bay. Simmer until done. Usually about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile mix the oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice together. Add the salt and pepper.

When the lentils are tender and cooked through, drain well. Remove the bay leaf. 

In a bowl add the lentils, dressing and fresh herbs. Mix well, and taste. Adjust salt and lemon to taste. Serve