January 28, 2011

variety is the spice of life...

I'm a few days away from the end of the detox diet, and really, it hasn't been a bleak food existence for me. I'll admit, though, as an omnivore (rough translation-I like to eat all kinds of food), I have had...cravings. What's on the list of things I've missed? First, I'd say my homemade yeast breads, which I've missed as much for the therapeutic process of making them as eating them. I'd add cheese, that all-purpose food enhancer, as a close second. Hmmm...bread, cheese...okay, third would be pizza. Finishing the list is wine, and of course, chocolate.

When I can choose whatever I want to eat, I have to admit that I often get stuck in a rut. So sometimes an imposed limitation can foster creativity. It liberates you from following your usual routine and forces you to find a solution, and you experience something new. In jazz music, a player is bound to follow the chord changes of the song, but when improvising over those changes, the only boundaries are the extent of a musician's skill, knowledge and imagination. In music and food, variety keeps life spicy.

What are some things I'll probably do differently after the detox? I'll try to eat much less refined sugar. I haven't missed it terribly, and with options like fresh fruit, medjool dates and honey, I don't need to. I'll focus on eating more vegetables and fruits on a daily basis. I've also discovered raw chocolate, and I'd like to try some new recipes with it. But overall, varying what I eat works best for me.

There are, of course, simple dishes that remain true over time. You can make little improvements, like reducing the amount of meat and increasing the amount of vegetables, but the foundation is still sound. The following dish is one of my favorite things to fix that always makes me feel good. It's not a strict recipe, but more of an improv on fresh, whole ingredients. Feel free to jam with whatever vegetables and meat or fish you like. Just keep it real.

January 21, 2011

got almond milk?

It's nearing the end of week two of the 21-day detox diet, and in just this short period of time I've added quite a few things to my expanding food lexicon. What I used to think of as alternative is becoming a more varied way to eat, with many delicious discoveries. I'm also continuing to learn how to use whole food as a way to allow the body, as much as possible, to heal itself.

One of those new discoveries is homemade almond milk. It's a simple recipe, made by soaking the almonds for several hours, liquefying the almonds with fresh water in a blender, and then straining out the almond pulp. The leftover liquid is the almond milk. The taste is slightly sweeter than cow's milk, and can be sweetened a little more with honey or soaked pitted dates. It's easy to make, free of additives found in store brands, and cheaper if you buy your almonds from the bulk department in the grocery store. It's full of nutrients and fiber from the nuts, and you can vary the richness by changing the amount of water you add. I like the taste of the almond milk without the honey or dates added, which makes it more versatile for cooking, but you can add one or the other if you prefer a little more sweetness. The almond pulp, leftover from the straining process, can be used in smoothies, desserts, or dehydrated and ground into almond flour.

Soaking the almonds before making the milk is key to getting the best nutrition from the milk. When the almonds are soaked in water for several hours and then drained and rinsed, the anti-nutrient properties are removed from the skins of the almonds, and the milk is made more digestible for sensitive stomachs.

January 14, 2011

cold mornings, warm cereal

This week I was going to post a recipe for alioli (garlic mayonnaise), but instead will be going on a short detour to do a 21-day food detox. Yes, 21 days. To some of you, that may be a walk in the park, and to others, well, you probably wouldn't go near that park. A short list of things I'll be taking a break from are dairy, eggs, wheat, chocolate(sigh), alcohol, and refined sugars. The full list is a bit longer. Looks like the homemade garlic mayo will be a bit delayed...

The mornings have been especially frigid, and after walking my dog outside, I wanted something warm and filling. But since I started the detox diet this week, an obvious choice like oatmeal (on the list of what not to eat, as well as any grains containing gluten) wasn't an option. The good news is that there are several grains I can eat-brown rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, amaranth. Among those, millet serves as a warm breakfast cereal, so my first morning I made a millet porridge. Since I wasn't sure how to cook it, I consulted How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman and combined tips from his recipes for "Oatmeal or Other Creamy Breakfast Cereal" and "Millet Mash." As a non-dairy alternative, I used homemade almond milk as the cooking liquid (recipe for the almond milk on my next post), but you could use whole milk. The millet takes about 30 minutes, so if you're in a hurry, you can cook it the night before and warm it up the next morning. For toppings I added chopped dates, fresh blueberries, drizzled honey, and sprinkled freshly ground cardamom (shown below) over everything.

January 7, 2011

post-holiday pancakes

Here's another delicious use for that leftover cranberry relish, and any sweet potatoes you might have too. It's a kind of post-holiday pancake, if you like. I adapted the recipe for pumpkin pancakes from Good To The Grain by Kim Boyce, a fantastic cookbook for baking with all types of whole grains, such as amaranth, quinoa, and kamut, as well as more common grains like rye, corn, and barley. Instead of pumpkin pureé I used a sweet potato that I microwaved until tender and puréed it. I didn't have any kamut flour as called for, but I did have whole-grain spelt flour, a mild, sweet flour closely related to wheat flour. And because it's my quest to eat as whole grain as possible, I used white whole wheat flour instead of the all-purpose flour. I also like to grind my own spices using a spice grinder or fine metal hand grater, which adds intensity of flavor and fragrance to the pancakes.

I use a seasoned cast-iron 10" round griddle because I prefer it to teflon. You don't have to use a cast-iron griddle, but it gives the pancakes a nice texture. To simplify the batter scooping process, I use a #12 spring-loaded scooper, available in several sizes from your local restaurant supply.

January 5, 2011

scones to go? make it so...

Scones are a great "to go" breakfast food. I make a batch at least twice a month, and they are a favorite of my husband's to take on his way to work. Years ago we bought the cookbook Fields of Greens by Annie Somerville. It has a great basic recipe for Oatmeal-Raisin scones. I like to change it up from time to time, substituting different fresh or dried fruit for the raisins, such as dried apricots or currants or fresh blueberries. I've even usedfruit jams or jellies as well. Instead of the unbleached white flour called for in the original recipe, I've used regular whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour. I'm currently using white whole wheat flour, a lighter textured and milder tasting whole grain flour.

I like to make these scones by hand because it gives them a softer texture than when I've used a mixer or food processor. It's simpler and I enjoy the slower process, because it feels like I'm crafting an edible piece of art.

We had some sweet cranberry relish from Central Market leftover from the holidays, and my husband tried a little on pancakes I'd made. That inspired me to think of how else I could use the relish. Below is the recipe for Cranberry Oatmeal scones, keeping the flavors of the season around just a little longer.

January 3, 2011

to cook or not to cook? there is no question...

Welcome to "the musician, who cooks."

The title of this blog has two meanings. The first is pretty obvious. I am a musician who cooks. It's a daily pleasure, a road back to health, and fairly cheap therapy.

The subtler meaning refers to an older term used among musicians. To "cook" meant to play really well, or was used when the music being played had a great energy happening.

Music and food are two essences of my life. Both can create community and allow space to enjoy the moment. Like good music, good food is an immediately gratifying and visceral experience.

I'll be wandering through this territory, always trying to find my true north. The focus will be on food that is whole and real, what is inspiring me at the moment, and ingredients that may slightly vary from the norm.

I hope to include you in my journey. In the words of Norah Jones' song, "Come away with me..."