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Quinoa in Quarantine

God I love carbs! Yes, I just stated the obvious because…Who doesn’t? my love of starchy grains and root vegetables is the main reason I could never, back in my dieting days, do Keto or Atkins for more than a few weeks.

Not only do carbs bring me pleasure, but brown rice, oats, and potatoes also offer a cornucopia of nutrients and fiber, whether their incarnation on my table is creamy, fluffy, or crispy. That’s because they’re carbs of the complex variety, in a different league from white carbs like pasta and white rice.

Even so, complex carbs were something I regulated. It’s just the law of my middle-aged metabolism. They don’t process in my body the way broccoli does (if only).

But enter march 2020, the coronavirus makes its way around the entire circumference of the globe and we’re all told to stay home. Not such a horrible thing if you’re a homebody to begin with. But if you’re a mover and a doer and kind of attached to your job and its attendant income, this coupled with the mortal threat to one’s health can add up to a precarious and sticky situation where food, whiling away free time, and wellness are concerned.

That being said, let me make one thing crystal clear: this is NOT the time to rectify the stress-eating with a strict and horrendously cruel diet. That’s a set-up under normal circumstances. Under Corona circumstances, you’d simply be asking for a freefall into the abyss of dieters who have shamefully tumbled off the wagon.

Shame is the last thing we’re striving for here, and in a word, if you want to acknowledge any kind of goal or intention during these tumultuous times, may I suggest the concept of balance. It’s broad enough to be non-threatening and definite enough to give you something to shoot for.

I often like to think of balance in terms of things I would like not to do, as in: inhale a bag of fritos, or make donuts part of my repertoire, or order a pizza the size of a Monopoly board with a side of buttery garlic knots. It’s so much easier to clarify what I want when I’m clear on what I don’t want. Not that all of the above doesn’t have its gastronomic appeal, but I know, through much trial and error, that my body will not appreciate the ensuing after effects of poor digestion, bloating, and extreme thirst. So what’s a carb lover to do??

Enter quinoa. The undisputed champion of complex carbs. More expensive than rice or potatoes, it’s an ancient grain hailing from the Andes mountains and has significantly more vitamins, fiber, and protein than brown rice. Inspite of this impressive resume, I can feel your interest waning and I get it. I even ADMIT that quinoa on its own is a yawn. But it’s a little known fact that under the right alchemization, it can be YUMMY!

In my cookbooks and on my archives here, there are recipes for Chocolate Quinoa Cake, Quinoa Muffins, even quinoa pancakes. Recently, though, I was craving a savory treat. Something akin to polenta, but with a healthier bent.

As it usually does, quinoa pinch hit for the simple carb BEAUTIFULLY! For this particular batch, I made it thin because I wanted a base for Eggs Benedicts, but you can also spread the better into an 8×10 pan if you prefer chunky squares of polenta.  I often enhance the flavor of quinoa polenta with pecorino cheese, but fresh chopped rosemary is also wonderful.

Hope you give it a shot and enjoy the nutritious ride! Your body is already thanking you in advance!

Quinoa Polenta

About 6 servings



Ingredients:

3 cups cooked polenta

2 eggs

2 tablespoons light oil

½ cup grated pecorino cheese

1 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. The batter should be very thick, but spreadable. Spray an 8×10 pan with cooking spray (or 9×13 if you want the polenta thin). Bake for 25 minutes and check to see if it’s firm in the middle. When firm, turn oven off and leave in a cooling oven for another 10 minutes to set. Serve warm.



Confinement: A Few House Rules

Take a breath, slowly. Then another. Stay in the moment. And don’t try to change too much too soon. This is the advice I give readers and clients. It’s sound wisdom anytime, and during this time of heightened uncertainty and strangeness, it is CRUCIAL.

Spending more time at home without the comforting rhythms of usual routines, minus the personal contact we now realize is crucial to wellbeing, and with the repetition of news loops running on the TV, computer, or just in our own minds can mean increased frequency of stress-eating and perhaps nutritionally poor food choices. I think most of us have been heeding the comfort-call of simple carbs this past month. These choices will inevitably be followed by panic, remorse, and the use various strategies to throw the engine in reverse.

In modern times, the most oft-sought strategy has been the diet. No secret that I gave it up years ago, but its evergreen allure still looms large in our collective psyche. Even though it’s now-common knowledge they not only don’t work, but dig us further in the trap…they still beckon us to give it another shot, like Lucy holding the football for an eternally naïve Charlie Brown.



The clever diet industry, however, has adapted to consumer cynicism, concealing the useless strategy of going on a diet under the guise of sensible trends or ‘Hear-Ye, Hear-Ye’ health mandates. I won’t name any names because you may be taking refuge in some of them, or are perhaps, even found them to be helpful. I only wish to remind you that the conventional wisdom of the diet industry, best-selling authors, talk show hosts, etc. should NEVER usurp your own wisdom. Who knows your body better than you? No one! Ditto for the mind and heart.

Springtime is the perfect time to shed our skins, outdated habits, ways of thinking, and belief systems that no longer serve us. Not that we can’t learn from one another; of course we can. Just don’t flip your own innate ability to discern what feels good to you to the off switch. Take new information in if you’d like…and see if it’s a fit. What better time to try on a new way of being?

What’s something you are ready to shed?

I’ll go first: worrying about the future and obsessing on carb intake…

Brown Rice To The Rescue

During this unprecedented time of global lockdown, depending on whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you’re either aglow with contentment or climbing the walls. Even a life-long bookworm like me is having challenging moments. While I’m content to curl up with a memoir or writing project, there’s no denying that the why of our lockdown is disturbing to the core.

I’ve limited my news-watching, but also refuse to lift off into la-la land. What I see on TV and on the internet often freezes me in my tracks with dread. I take the necessary steps to protect myself. I check on loved ones and urge them to do the same. I say prayers for the afflicted and medical and military personnel on the frontlines doing the brave work of heroes.

Sometimes I find tears welling up out of nowhere. Or sudden irritability gushes forth like Old Faithful and I’m silently criticizing everything from politicians and celebrities to the ads on TV (which have swiftly switched gears to capitalize on the nation’s collective anxiousness).

And as a longtime emotional eater, I observe myself. For me, this is a sort of emotional temperature-taking throughout the day, done without criticism or scorn. I simply notice what I’m feeling and when helplessness or frustration may (as they sometimes do) propel me to seek comfort in food. There’s no doubt our present-day situation is napalm for the emotional eater. Lots of time on one’s hands coupled with stress and uncertainty can spell a beeline for the comfort food.

Bill and I have noticed on our most recent grocery shopping expeditions that the cookie and candy aisles are decimated while the produce section is chock-a-block with fruits and vegetables. Interesting. And not surprising. Salads were never my go-to comfort food, and they probably never will be. That’s why, when it comes to fine-tuning comfort-food tastes towards whole foods instead of processed junk food (and that takes good old-fashioned time) it’s best to cater (no pun intended) to your personal preferences. I’ve largely accepted that I don’t like raw vegetables. I’ll eat salads to be virtuous, but they’re something I’d rather do without. Instead, I alchemize the world of vegetables into soups and stews, and there are lots of delicious recipes in my archives here.

Today’s missive is about touting one of my new favorite clean comfort foods: Hot cereal. Don’t laugh! Think about it. Hot cereal is an unsung (and often improperly rendered) hero that, when made the right way and with the right accompaniments, can nourish and satisfy…WITHOUT skyrocketing your blood sugar or decimating your liver. With the majority of my adult life spent as a hardcore binge-eater, I’m amazed I never needed a transplant. So now, I spend my days eating foods that nourish me thoroughly which I also happen to enjoy. Take it from an experience yo-yo dieter, nutrition is just a hologram if you don’t enjoy what you’re eating.

Creamy, dreamy, and constructive…

There are actually several versions in my archives, but my new favorite is rice-based. Brown rice, that is. Quite simply, it’s one of nature’s most perfect foods. And don’t get hung up on the fact it’s a carb. It’s a complex carb (not a white one) and that means it comes with fiber, nutrients, and even a little protein. And according to my wonderful nutritionist, Nancy Guberti, it’s also anti-inflammatory. Now, it is a carb, which doesn’t mean license to go nuts, but when I want something warm, creamy, and comforting, this fits the bill.

It may seem like a lot of work to mill it from scratch but you’ve got nothing but time right now, so what better opportunity to see if hot cereal might be your new go-to. And as far as time investment into food-prep goes, the way I look at it is: when I’m the one doing the processing in my kitchen, it means I’ve eliminated processing that would otherwise take place at a factory, so who’s the winner?

There really aren’t a lot of rules for hot cereal, other than, make the base non-dairy if you can. Flavoring is up to you. Today, I used a blend of cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Turmeric is wonderful as well. I take my hot cereal unsweetened, but if you want, add some maple syrup, honey, or Stevia. Oh, and you can even up the nutrition with chia seeds, ground flax seeds, or hemp heart seeds. Trust me, your body will love all this and ask you why you didn’t do this sooner. And…this freezes beautifully, giving you yet another option for healthy fast food.

Brown Rice Cereal:

2 cups cooked brown rice

about a cup of warm unsweetened almond milk

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Blend all ingredients in a Vitamix or blender until smooth. Depending on how thick you like your cereal, adjust the milk – I like it on the thinner side. Bake in a covered crock until warm and bubbly or heat over medium-low heat on the stove, stirring occasionally.

Love, love, LOVE my Vitamix!

I prefer baking it, but that’s just me…

Lemon Risotto

With life being what it is today, both Chef Bill and I are finding it not only easy, but therapeutic, to turn to our outlet-of-choice: cooking! That means whipping up some of the old stand-bys, as well as creating recipes anew.

You may remember from my first book, Clean Comfort, and past blogs, I kinda have a thing for Risotto. Always have. I grew up in the 70’s and that meant dinners rife with never-should-have-been-invented convenience foods like Minute Rice. Naturally, when I had my first hypnotic bite, circa age 30, of that creamy wonder known as Risotto, it was a transformational moment.

Yes, it’s a simple carb, the kind I usually advise be regulated. And sure, it takes a more time and effort to make, but it’s time I find enjoyable. Some people choose jigsaw or crossword puzzles, or perhaps a game of darts or shooting hoops to elevate into a state of concentrated focus and temporarily leave the world and all its attendant messes behind. I’ve always done this at the stove, and the nature of cooking short-grained Arborio rice requires focus and patience to achieve that magical Goldilocks middle ground of soft but still structured rice. This can take practice and it’s humbling. But that’s another reason I adore Risotto. The hunt for the end-game instills me with a sort of sweaty-browed pride. I have to work for the reward. Sometimes, the outcome has been less than stellar, but it only serves to sharpen my skills and infuse me with resolve for the next venture.

With this extended time we all have at home, what better opportunity to give a Risotto recipe a go? Truth be told, as a writer who works from home and have for years, my life isn’t all that different now as it is for some, but I still consider the imposed slowdown a gift. I appreciate my home more than ever, I savor each meal, as well as each can and jar in our pantry. And when I created this new lemon-infused riff on the Italian standard, it reminded me it was time to follow the lead of so many inspiring citizens of the world I’ve seen since things have shifted into an unignorably intense gear: it’s time to step up the sharing and caring…in whatever way I can. A new recipe’s a nourishing start, and I hope you not only enjoy it, but find the process a pleasant distraction.

If not for my evergreen love of butter, this would be a flawless vegan recipe. And if you want it to be, simply use a vegan margarine or vegetable oil of choice. Where heavy cream once rocked my world, there is now coconut milk. The addition of coconut milk makes the dish even more creamy and because only one can is called for, there’s no overwhelming coconut taste.

This one is for Great Lakes Collagen: