Dutch Oven Dinner 1/9/2016.

Dutch Oven Quinoa with Veggies.
Dutch Oven Quinoa with Veggies.

Well, talk about easy. This is just my basic quinoa of 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water and 1 tsp. salt, maybe a little extra virgin olive oil for some richness…and a few veggies. Probably about 2 carrots, petite diced, 2 stalks of celery petite diced, half an onion petite diced and 2 cups of kale, cut small. I don’t really chop things much — hate to butcher stuff on the counter top and leave all those good veggie juices behind. I just try to cut things in such a way that they’re fairly small on the first go-’round. Oh, and I added 2 tsp. tumeric here. I use that as much as I can. I think I could have added a whole tablespoon and will next time. That’s it: put on the lid, cook for about 15 minutes, and dinner is on the table.

Making conscious choices: behavior changes thought

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I like the Bible. I think it has a lot to say.

Today I watched a TedTalk from someone who started out thinking that the Bible is pretty irrelevant to our lives today but who opened himself to an opportunity, to follow the rules in the Bible as literally as possible: My year of living biblically by AJ Jacobs, author, philosopher, prankster and journalist. I’ll let him tell his own story. It’s well worth a listen.

Now the irony of this humorous but thoughtful presentation is that the man spent quite a bit of time, it seems, visiting with Christian fundamentalists as his source for living people who take the Bible “at its word”. And yet…AJ Jacobs is Jewish. Agnostic and not practicing, to be sure, but Jewish. He could have spent a lot of time, very profitably, in an orthodox Jewish community among people who take the Bible “at its word” in another way and who follow the rules in the Bible every day and every moment of their lives. Maybe he did, but he didn’t mention that in his presentation.

If he had visited with this community, he might have reduced his task somewhat from the outset. Jacobs came up with 700+ laws. Traditional Judaism recognizes 613. Many of these 613 commandments, 365 positive and 248 negative, cannot be followed today. Some apply only to agriculture in the Land of Israel. Some apply to the mechanisms of government in a theocratic state that doesn’t exist today. Some apply to Temple sacrificial worship and priests. The Temple no longer stands, and the priesthood is a ceremonial institution only. The 19th/20th century scholar known as the Chafetz Chayim identified 77 positive commandments and 194 negative commandments to observe outside of Israel today.

Here are some insights Jacobs did mention from his experience that I share:

First and most important: behavior changes thought. This was true for me. There may be only 271 commandments for me to follow, not 613, but that’s still a lot! And I noticed that in trying hard to follow these commandments in my life, my worldview began to change.

Here’s an example: Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. For about 26 hours each and every week, no work, including cooking. That doesn’t mean you sleep. The time is structured with three meals, ritual activity in the synagogue and the home, study time, rest time, time to take a walk or visit with friends and family. The time comes to a conclusion with a ritual. A theme winds through the day, and it is one of harmony and hope.

Before I began to observe the Sabbath fully, shopping and cooking everything before the holiday, turning off my phone and my computer and beginning and ending the space in time with candle lighting rituals, I wondered how on earth I’d ever be able to take 26 hours out of the week. Six months later I smiled knowingly when non-observant or non-Jewish friends enjoyed a meal in my home on Shabbat and, feeling the indescribable atmosphere of that sacred space in time, told me how much they’d love to do this in their own lives but didn’t see how they’d carve 26 hours out of their busy weeks.

You just do it. You prepare for the day, then turn off everything and just . . . stop. For 26 hours.  And then you start to fill that space in time you created with the candle lightings, the meals, the specific rituals at prescribed times, the study, the walks, the visiting and the rest. Priorities and practices start to realign themselves.  What was important yesterday isn’t today. And the truth is, when Shabbat is over, there is a residual effect. Everything changes. That’s why the tradition is that when every Jew celebrates Shabbat three times in a row in all its particulars, Messiah will come. It’s that world-changing.

The second idea that struck me is “don’t ignore the irrational.” I get what Jacobs was saying, but I don’t like the way he’s saying it. He was talking about ritual, and he used the example of a Martian coming to earth and seeing two rituals, Jacobs’ practice in the course of his experiment of wearing a beard and what he imagined to be “biblical clothing,” which he first described as “irrational” — and someone lighting a birthday cake full of candles. Which behavior would the Martian see as irrational? Probably sticking a lot of wax candles into something you hope to eat and then lighting them, right? The truth is, both practices have meaning for the people who engage in them — yet one we accept, the birthday candles, the other, a religious practice, we reject as irrational. They’re both irrational, and that’s ok, says Jacobs. It doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful.

I wouldn’t use the word irrational about ritual. It’s a language. If we speak English and don’t understand a word of, say, Cyrillic, it will sound like gibberish. That doesn’t mean it’s irrational, just unintelligible until we learn the language. Ritual focuses our energy. Ritual is intentional unlike habit. Ritual creates meaning.

We said that behavior changes thought. Ritual is organized behavior.  It’s a non-verbal language, something I like to call “body language”. When we engage in ritual behaviors and speak in particular ways, we shape our consciousness. Isn’t that what all of life is about, from childhood in our parents’ homes to school to immersion in a culture? While we may all have different ideas about how much we need to structure our children’s lives, we can probably all agree that we can’t just let children grow up willy nilly. Turn on the news any night of the week and see the results of thoughtless immersion in American culture these days, and consider your options.

We are all, every one of us, shaped by our context. No matter how much we like to think we are independent thinkers, none of us is. Through ritual behaviors, we can shape our context in a particular way, surround ourselves with particular consciously chosen messages. So I agree with Jacobs, don’t discount ritual. What I wouldn’t say is, “even though it’s irrational.” I would say, don’t discount ritual, because it can be a powerful, positive force for shaping your life and worldview.

Dutch Oven Dinner 1/8/2016.

cauli_kale_dill
Cauliflower, Kale & Dill Soup

So here’s another easy thing I like to do: pureed soups. So easy. So good. So healthy.

I just chunked an onion and put it into my Dutch oven, then a cauliflower broken up (2-3 pounds), 5 or 6 large leaves of kale cut into pieces, 1/4 cup of fresh dill, 2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. Szeged hot paprika. I added 2-1/2 cups of water, turned on the heat, brought it to a boil, turned down the heat to simmer, put the lid on the Dutch Oven and cooked it until everything was soft. Then I whizzed it in my VitaMix, and voila! Soup. I garnished it with a bit more chopped dill and a squirt of extra virgin olive oil.

My little dog, Rafi, likes to lick out my dish after I finish. The soup is Havanese-approved.

Dutch Oven Dinner 1/6/2016.

Dutch Oven Potatoes, Cabbage, Onion and Carrots.
Dutch Oven Potatoes, Cabbage, Onion and Carrots.

So these meals are nothing special, just playing around with my new Dutch Oven. I like the feeling that if I’m going to add heavy metals to my diet, it’s iron that I’m getting. Always was low on that.

This simple dinner consisted of potato (one large, with the peel on, of course), cabbage (half a small head), onion (a whole one), two carrots, some fresh ginger minced, salt, pepper and tumeric.

Dutch oven dinner 1/4/2016

Pasta_Mexican_prep

I’ve never done the one-event pasta thing, cooking the dry pasta in with the rest of the ingredients, so this was a first for me in a couple of ways. I should have trusted the recipe I started with on the water. It didn’t look like enough, so I added more. In addition, I didn’t have a lot of the ingredients called for in the starting recipe, so this was basically free-form. I’ll tell you what I did, and I’ll tell you what I’d do differently.

Pasta_Mexican_dish

MEXICAN DUTCH OVEN PASTA

  • Black beans, dried, 1/3 cup
  • Frozen corn, 1 cup
  • Plum tomato, 1 large, petite diced (about 1 cup)
  • Red bell pepper, 1/2, petite diced
  • Red onion, 1/4 large, diced
  • Whole wheat rotini, half of a 13.2 oz. box (probably 1+ cup)
  • Jalapeno, 1 TB minced
  • Hot chili powder, 1 tsp.
  • Salt, 1 tsp.
  • Tomato paste, 2 TB.
  • Water, 2 cups

So as you see, I put all the ingredients right into the pots except the tomato paste and water. Then I stirred all together in the water, put the lid on, and simmered it for about 15 minutes until the pasta was done.

As I said, I added extra water – 2 cups would have been about right. Since it was a little too much liquid, I added the tomato paste so it would be a bit saucier. The jalapeno and chili powder were a substitute for some ingredients I didn’t have. It was good for me but too spicy for more tender tastebuds.

So here’s what I’ll do next time: stick with the two cups of water. Leave out the jalapeno and chili powder and add some chipotle in Adobo sauce.  I might even wait until it’s finished cooking on that chipotle and try adding it to some Hamilton Creek Just Mayo and adding that sauce to the dish. Yes, I think I’d like it that way.

Love this cast iron cooking. I’ve had one 10″ skillet for, oh, 40 years that I use all the time, but my Dutch oven lets me do lots of things I couldn’t do before.

Easiest bread ever! Dutch Oven Spelt Ciabatta.

Whole wheat Ciabatta!
Spelt Ciabatta!

Fresh out of my new cast iron Dutch oven. I can’t wait to cut into this bread with Andy tonight!!

There are so many reasons to make your own bread. I can’t even count them! Not the least of these is the way commercial breads are made, not according to traditional (and intuitive) bread-making knowledge. Without getting into a health shpiel at this point, I’ll just say that a lot of our gluten issues would probably resolve if we made our own bread the old-fashioned way.

If you ever hesitated, thinking it’s just too time-consuming…think again! This bread is incredibly easy. It’s a bonafide fast food. So without more ado:

SPELT CIABATTA

  • 1-1/2 cups organic wheat flour (white)
  • 1-1/2 cups spelt flour
  • 1-3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. yeast
  • 1-1/2 cups warm water

Add all the dry ingredients to a large bowl. Stir in the water until all is blended and comes away from the sides of the bowl. Don’t over-stir. I added a few drops of extra virgin olive oil to the bowl and rolled the somewhat sticky bread ball in it. Cover with plastic and leave out on the counter for a minimum 12 hours. I left it for 18 hours.

When you’re ready to make the bread, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the uncovered Dutch oven and the lid in the heated oven for 30 minutes.

Turn the bread out onto a well-floured board. Pat down and fold in thirds, turn and fold in thirds again. Roll slightly to make a ball.

Place the ball, seam-side down, into the Dutch oven and cover. Bake in the covered Dutch oven for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, and bake another 5 minutes.

When I cut into the bread later this evening, I’ll add a picture of what that looks like. In the meantime, I’ll salivate some.

The bread was delicious. I think I'd like it with larger (and more) airholes tho. Will try it next time with a 3:2 flour:water ratio.
The bread was delicious. I think I’d like it with larger (and more) airholes tho. Will try it next time with a 3:2 flour:water ratio.

P.S. I spent some time reviewing Ciabatta recipes. Authentic Italian recipes use a Biga, somewhat like a sourdough starter. I might try that sometime, but I’m going to work with this method for awhile first. I like this way because it’s one-step. I do want to try adding more water, though. Many of the recipes seem to have about 2/3 the amount of water as flour, I.e., for 3 cups of flour, 2 cups of water. This should make a much looser dough with larger (and more) air holes. I also want to incorporate some of Monica Shaw’s techniques, especially adding seeds to the crust. You can check out her version at smarter fitter.com. I’ll keep you posted! 

Two New “Salads” for 2016

A Beautiful and Delicious "Thanksgiving Medley"
A Beautiful and Delicious “Thanksgiving Medley”

I watched Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food on PBS earlier this week, and I thought that part of what we need to do is revise this style of thinking that calls veggie dishes either a “side” or a “salad.”

In the new style of eating recommended by people like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, in which 80% of your diet should be veggies, there is no longer such a thing as an entrée or a main part of the meal. I like to eat Middle Eastern style, with a collection of veggie concoctions, all equally significant on my plate, for nutrition, for eye appeal and for taste.

But old habits die-hard, and I’m not sure what to call these lovely dishes … so for the time being, they will have to remain, like the dishes on those extraordinary Middle Eastern Mezze tables, salatim or salads.

That picture at the top of this page…that’s a dish I made for Thanksgiving, simple and delicious.  It contains Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cranberries and pecans, an unlikely combination.

I roasted the butternut squash and pecans separately, each with some cinnamon and maple syrup. I also roasted the Brussels sprouts and when they were almost finished, threw the cranberries onto the Brussels sprouts roasting tray for a brief moment. I folded all four ingredients together and added a little more syrup, cinnamon and a bit of salt to taste. It was the perfect Thanksgiving dish — or anytime.

Italian style potato salad.
Italian style potato salad.

This Italian Style Potato Salad and the Thanksgiving Medley above were both inspired by recipes I found on Pinterest. The Potato Salad is one I made as part of an Italian style vegan Shabbat dinner, the same one that featured that amazing vegan pesto and Tuscan Bean Soup.

I used three kinds of new potatoes in the salad: purple, yellow and red, cut them into quarters and cooked and cooled them separately. I also cooked some 2″ cut green beans and set them aside to cool along with the potatoes. When all were cool, I put the potatoes and green beans into a bowl, added some chopped Italian parsley, sliced red onion, pitted Calamata olives and quartered grape tomatoes. I folded all together with a little extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt and Italian seasonings (oregano, marjoram) and a bit of crushed red pepper.

Yes, this kind of food makes it easy to be vegan.