18 June 2010

Needing reminders to slow down.

I guess these "new outlook on life" dealies take more than a day to really sink into one's thick skull. And trust you me, my skull is plenty thick. I give the word "head banger" a whole new meaning when you watch me fumble around in the low-celinged office that I work in. My head is throbbing just thinking about how many things I've hit it on, or have fallen on it. And still nothing has budged all that much.

So here I am, in the sidewalk along 14th street, on the way to the subway. I'm stuck behind this guy who's ambling. Not because there's anything wrong, but mainly because he's spending an awful lot of time looking up at the buildings and the surroundings and the rest. I wanted to just shove him aside and plow on through, but I didn't. I slowed down for a minute, found an opening, and walked around him.

Attitudes may change, but walking speeds are important to maintain. I may be working towards being kinder and less angry, but I've still got places to be!

17 June 2010

Taking my time.

I have a tendency to look at mass transit as a speedy means to an end, rather than a comfortable and easy way to get to and from the places I need to get to. For example, I will often sacrifice personal comfort to get there faster. I know which trains run express where, and for how long on all the routes I take regularly. I will cheerfully switch from express to local back to express again, so as to avoid having to wait for a slow train in between stops. Today, I decided to flip it around, and see if I couldn’t ride in such a way as to maximise my comfort and give myself enough time to relax before getting to work.

So far, not so bad at all. I got onto the 1 train this morning, rather than walking directly to the A. Surprise surprise, it was running express to 168th, which meant that I not only had a fast ride, but also a comfortable one, because I got on at the front of the train (even though the exit platforms at 168th are towards the back). There weren’t that many people on that particular car, and I was able to set my bag down next to me, and stretch my legs out a bit. Once I got out at 168th, I took my leisurely time to get to the lifts (because there is no stairway connection to the upper platform), walking all the way from the front of the platform to the back to get to that bank of lifts.

By the time I got there, everyone who had jostled for position up front had already gotten onto the lift and dropped down on the upper platforms. I was there by myself, with about four or five others. Nice. We had a big empty lift to ourselves, where we all had plenty of breathing room. Very very nice. This time, I walked all the way to the back of the platform to get onto the back of the C train (local). I generally just wait for the A, and take it straight down, standing at the car furthest to the front, because that’s where my exit is at West 4th. Today, I wanted to stretch my legs and relax, so I got on the C until 125th street, where the A pulled up after the C arrived. Funny, that. Again, instead of going towards the front, I stayed far in the back.

Good choice. I’m typing this from my comfortable seat, on my relatively empty car. Most of the seats are empty. No obnoxious street preachers hollering about damnation and hellfire. No beggars. No crappy “dance” performance that make people in epileptic seizures look good. Nothing. Just a nice, quiet, clean car. And now here’s my stop. Where I will exit in my own sweet time, and walk to my exit, and not have to wait behind slow or annoying people.

I like this plan.

14 June 2010

Had to make breakfast

Last night, before going to sleep, I soaked about two cups of beans in cold water. Why? Because I needed to get a handle on this whole eating more healthy thing that Steve and I started. No time like the present, right? I've already switched our rice to brown rice instead of white, and already the changes are evident. I don't have to go back to the rice pot quite as frequently as before, because I'm able to stay full longer after a meal of brown rice and beans, versus white rice and much of anything else. Frankly, white rice is as bad as white bread, and it wasn't doing me any favours.

Again, because the fridge was looking a little scant from the weekend (I tend to make the most elaborate stuff on Saturday and Sunday, so that I'll have enough of those dishes for the week, then I do a catch-up mid week feast where I do more of the same), so it was cabbages, some leftover yucca curry from last week, carrots, and those beans. Onions have gotten grotesquely expensive, but for whatever reason, I'm able to find ginger on offer nearly every time I go to the store.

Over the weekend, I also invested in a non stick skillet, because I'm trying to watch my fat intake as well. When I can really feel the fat, and know that it's there (for example, when frying pita bread in a little olive oil before serving it up with the hummus), I'm happy to use it, but when I don't really notice the difference in the end product, I feel like I can very well just skip it as much as possible, and get my calories in places that count. To do this, the non stick skillet is quite a handy tool to have on hand, which is why I splurged a little (OK, a lot) on the skillet. It was marked down to $40 for a 12 inch heavy skillet with a nice non stick coating on it. It can handle high heats, and is oven and dishwasher safe. Mind you, I don't have a dish washer, except for the two legged variety, but I wanted dishwasher safe because it'll tend to be a bit more durable than those delicate things.

Anyway. This morning crept up on me, because it's been overcast, so I didn't get up until nearly 6 am (and I was asleep by 9:30). As soon as I got up, on my way to the washroom, I drained the beans, and put them on to boil. I figured that if I needed a few minutes to do my morning ablutions in any case, might as well have something going at the same time. It barely took me a couple of minutes to get the beans onto the stove. After I got out of the washroom, it was 30 minutes later, and the water in the bean pot was cheerfully bubbling away. I threw on a pot onto the back burner, and dumped in the yucca curry, along with two roma tomatoes and some cabbage. I also threw in some extra water, so that it becomes a stew like thing. Then, while that was doing its own thing, I quickly chopped up the rest of the cabbage, and a few carrots, and got the nonstick skillet heating.

One of my friends had gone to the doctor, who said that his numbers weren't looking so great, and that he'd have to change his diet and lifestyle, because he was pre-diabetic. After talking to a nutritionist, he does things like use a paper towel to wipe on a thin layer of oil onto the cooking pot, and then proceed as normal. This is especially ideal on a nonstick skillet, because nothing sticks in any case. So, I wiped on a bit of oil, and popped my mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafoetida, and sesame seeds. It worked just fine. I don't know why I was so afraid of cutting out that fat, because I'm familiar with cooking and should have been able to do do it a long time back.

But, no matter. Dwelling on past mistakes is time that is better spent on correcting future ones. By the time the seeds were popped, I'd also managed to get the curry leaves off the stalk from my freezer. My mother sent me a large batch a while ago, and I've started to use it a fair bit more, because they're there, and they're tasty, and they're loaded with iron and the rest. In went the curry leaves with the seeds, then in went the carrots. While those were getting tender, I poured myself my first glass of water for the day (I go through a fair bit of water, because being in a kitchen tends to dehydrate you if you're not careful). The carrots cooked up to a turn in about five minutes, which meant that the cabbage went in just as I was ready to drain the beans. They took a total of about 45 minutes from start to finish. I did the same exact spicing technique that I used for the cabbage with the beans. Instead of making the beans like a soup as I normally do, I drained off the water, and made them dry roasted on the stove.

Finally, towards the end of the cooking process for everything I threw in a very large load of ginger. You see, at the restaurant, it's often quicker to have something pre-chopped, so that you're encouraged to use it. At home, the same thing tends to happen, so with things like ginger and garlic, I have a bit of it sitting around in my fridge.

Put it to you this way. You know how when you're in a rush, and want food slammed down in a short time, this is not the time that you want to be fiddling around with peeling garlic, or grating ginger. You want to put on the pot, get your spices in, and then move forward. Any delays that you go through are going to slow you down. It's why I prefer to just mince up a large load of ginger at once, because then I'll be encouraged to use it, and I've only dirtied up the food processor one time. I tend not to do the same with garlic, because I generally just throw the clove of garlic in whole, so I just need to peel it. However, if I did tend towards minced garlic, I'd have a load of that ready as well.

Here's the caveat. At the restaurant, when I chop up a bunch of garlic or ginger, we'll go through it in a day or so. At home, it takes a bit longer, so be mindful that you'll need to go through the stuff when you have it in your fridge, or else it'll go bad. It's just an excuse to be more generous with it, right? I certainly get no complaints about having a generous hand with the ginger or the garlic.

Once the beans were cooked to a turn, and the cabbage curry was done, and the yucca stew was cooked, I just had to warm up the rice (in my case, the rice stayed hot in the pot, because my rice cooker keeps rice fresh and hot for three days), and eat. By around 7 am, everything was put together, and ready to go.

If you really break down the amount of time I spent in actual physical work, it's more like 20 minutes of intense cooking, and 30 minutes of letting stuff park on the stove and cook. I had my breakfast at 7:30~ish. It's currently 11:30, and I'm still feeling satiated. When I used to have white rice at breakfast time, I would start feeling hungry again in another two hours, making me have to sort something else out. And of course, by then I'd be at work, and surrounded by lovely things that are just crying out to be eaten, and I'd eat that as well. Then when I get home, I'd eat yet again. More white rice. Then, I'd have more food just before sleeping, because I'd inevitably get hungry in a couple of hours after my last meal.

Overall, we've been following the more careful diet (as in, cutting back on cooking fat, and switching to more whole grains and green vegetables) for about a week, and haven't noticed a change in the quality of our meals. It's still as tasty as ever, because spices are fairly easy to use, and neither of us misses the fat, because we're not actually restricting anything. There's plenty of food, and many options in the fridge at any given moment, so even snacking times are healthy. Then, when we want a treat, like a freezer pop for hot days, it's not that big a deal.

Let's see how far this goes, right?

08 June 2010


This dish is a basic cabbage & carrot soup. I wanted to keep it really simple, so I threw in some water, fenugreek seeds, and carrots, and let it all come up to a boil. Then, when the water was boiling, I threw in some turmeric, a bit of salt, and some red chile flakes. I dropped down the heat to medium low (gas burners are wonderful things, no?) and went to chop up the cabbage. I roughly chopped the cabbage, and added it to the pot when I could see through the fenugreek seeds. The seeds take the longest to cook, and I wanted them to release their thickening powers before adding anything else. Then, I added in the cabbage, and let it all cook together for roughly five minutes or so. I turned off the heat, and stirred in about a cup or so (for roughly 2.5 litres of water) of coconut milk. For a dish with so few components, it was very tasty.

Steve managed to find some sweet potatoes and bell peppers (both of which I hate to eat, but enjoy cooking because they're so pleasing to look at) at the store on Manager's Special. At any decent food store, you'll find various little bags of vegetables priced at about $1, with about two or so pounds of vegetables. They'll frequently feature ingredients that are fairly expensive at full price, so it makes sense to take advantage of those Manager's Special bags. The neat thing is that you never know what you'll wind up with, because each store and each day has something a little bit different.

Because I wanted to control the sweetness of the sweet potatoes, I added many different spices. After the oil in the wok got very hot, I added fennel seeds, ajwain seeds, and cumin seeds (in that order). When they were done popping, I added the sweet potatoes, and tossed them in the spices and the oil very quickly, so as to get everything coated and evenly heated through. When the potatoes started to steam, I dropped down the heat to medium low, and covered it tightly with the lid. This gave me time to chop up the peppers.

Because red bell peppers have more sweetness (and sugars) than the green ones, I chopped up the green bell peppers a little more roughly, and in slightly larger pieces than the red ones. Every five minutes or so, I'd go back and stir up the potatoes, so as to prevent sticking (for about 20 minutes or so). When the potatoes were about half cooked, I stirred in the bell peppers, some thyme, and salt. I tossed everything to combine the ingredients thoroughly, and put the lid back on. While the whole thing cooked for a few more minutes (I needed another 10 minutes, but that's because the sweet potatoes were roughly cut; a smaller dice would make it quicker cooking). The pan dried out a few times, so I added a bit of water to keep it from sticking. If this were white potatoes, I wouldn't need to bother, but because sweet potatoes have so much sugar in them, you need to be careful to keep them from sticking to the pan and to keep them from burning.

At the end of the cooking process, I added some minced garlic, and turned off the heat to let it cook the garlic with the residual heat in the pot.

I found Brussels sprouts in the store for 50¢ a pound, which is very cheap. I decided to do a very quick cooking, with mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, and crushed coriander seeds (in that order). Once the seeds were popped, in went the trimmed sprouts. These Brussels sprouts were extremely small, so I didn't bother to cut them into smaller pieces. I'd say they were a bit smaller than a ping pong ball.

Anyway, on with the food. Once the sprouts started getting translucent, I stirred in some dijon mustard, white miso, salt, soy sauce, minced garlic, and lots of red chile flakes. To dissolve the miso, I threw in a couple of tablespoons of water, while stirring constantly. I turned off the heat, and let them cook in the residual heat of the pot.

It may seem like a fair bit of food to cook in one day, but if you notice, there were large gaps during the cooking processes of all the dishes. The quickest one was the Brussels sprouts, so I did them last. The longest cooking was the sweet potato dish, so I started on it first. Essentially, while one dish is parked on the burner over a lower heat, I can start working on the next dish that will have to do the same thing after I get it started.

Here was my work flow, so you can follow along at home if you want to.

  1. Pour cold water into a pot, and add fenugreek seeds. Place on stove over high heat, and walk away.
  2. Peel and chop sweet potatoes. Heat wok, add oil, add spices, add sweet potatoes. Toss toss toss. Slam on lid, walk away.
  3. Slice carrots into even slices. Throw into pot with fenugreek seeds, and walk away. While you're at the stove, this is a great time to stir up the sweet potatoes.
  4. Chop up bell peppers. Set aside.
  5. Chop up cabbage, set aside. Go back and stir the sweet potatoes.
  6. If you're as fast as I am with the chopping, you'll also have time to trim up the Brussels Sprouts right now. If you're not, you'll have time later. Either way, we need to get stuff into the pots on the stove. About 15 minutes should have elapsed by now since you put stuff on the stove.
  7. Dump cabbage into pot with carrots, add other seasonings, drop down heat, close lid.
  8. Add bell peppers to the pot with sweet potatoes, and stir thoroughly. Drop down heat, slam on lid, walk away.
  9. If you haven't trimmed your brussels sprouts, go for it now. You have 10 minutes before anything else needs to happen. If you have already trimmed your brussels sprouts, set a timer for 10 minutes, and go clean up around the kitchen. By now, you probably have a sizeable mess in the sink from all those vegetables you've chopped, trimmed, and peeled. This is also a good time to get yourself a glass of water, because by now, all this walking away stuff makes you thirsty! The cook must not collapse from dehydration, so remember to keep yourself drinking water.
  10. Splash water into the sweet potato pot if needed, and throw in some coconut milk into the cabbage pot, and turn off both burners. My stove is small, so I needed to clear off the stove to cook the brussels sprouts. If you have a non-idiotic kitchen layout, and have a reasonable sized stove, you can probably cook the Brussels sprouts at the same time that you cook the other dishes. However, having three burners running at the same time is a very good way to pass out from heat exhaustion, because your kitchen will start feeling like an inferno.
  11. Cook the brussels sprouts from start to finish. If you have beautiful tiny ones like I did, you'll have them done in 10 minutes. If you're cooking them much longer than that, they get overcooked, and mushy. Ew. When you're at the step where the Brussels Sprouts are just parked on the stove, go back and clean up a bit more.
I hope this gives you a few ideas of your own for what to do with the new vegetables coming out in the market now.