Category Archives: Feed Me

Salmon fishing in New Jersey

We left Seattle nearly six months ago, and the shock has still not worn off. We live in a quaint Jersey town (which I, in my ignorance, didn’t even know was a thing). It was settled nearly a century before the country gained independence.

There are Victorian mansions with ghosts, colonials with Roaring Twenties finishings that have withstood the test of time — which, in our present moment, offer a reminder of the glory days — and a storybook village that checks all the boxes: organic store, local bookshop, Italian pizzeria, Italian pastaria, vegan bakery, local coffee shop, a two-screen movie theater, Starbucks.

The people are creative and engaged. There is a local mercantile, a coworking space abuzz with photographers and writers, and a school where adults can take classes on a variety of trades, languages, and topics. There is a nearby forest reservation with a school for kids to commune with nature, and there is a humanist society that offers children classes on morality. On Saturday, the local library is hosting Ken Burns. I feel like I dreamt this place up.

And yet… I miss the sound of the rain falling pitter, patter on the rooftop shingles. I miss the moist air scented with sharp pine, a warm hug from the universe while you hunker down in your raincoat and squint through the water to see where you’re heading. I miss serious coffee shops with bespectacled, darkly dressed customers reading paper books and sipping warm cups of joe with the interest of a vintner sampling her first barrel. I miss the local food. I miss salmon.

(Today’s Daniel Tiger episode suddenly feels so apropos: “Sometimes, we have two feelings at the same time, and that’s okay.”)

Our town grocery (i.e. Amazon’s Whole Foods) had a special on farmed Atlantic salmon and I decided to give it a go — mostly to see whether I could taste a difference from the stuff pulled out of PNW waters. Salmon is so plentiful there that you can watch streams of fish gliding up the ladders of the city locks during migration season, melding together to form a metallic wave akin to sheet music.

This East Coast variety was a pale pink in comparison to the brilliant orange of Northwest salmon, and it definitely didn’t have the bold flavor of the latter either. Still, I did make a delicious dinner of it.

I soaked a cedar plank, massaged garlic oil on both sides of the fillet, sprinkled kosher salt, paprika, mustard, black pepper and dried oregano. I baked it at 425 until the smoke alarm caught whiff of my ignited cedar, pulled out the plank and finished the job on foil in a total of about half an hour. It went over a pile of cous cous, nestled in sauteed spinach, and coated with a generous drizzle of a fig vinegar-agave reduction. Of course it didn’t need all that (garlic, salt and pepper would have been enough), but B was home early and the kids were enjoying his company during bathtime, so I had fun.

I improvised, I cooked for myself, and it was delicious. The crispy salmon skin cracked in my mouth with a burst of saltiness and umami, bringing to my senses the illusion of a bite of Puget Sound.

An illusion only, of course, because the salmon was raised on a farm. And I, my friends, am 10 miles from the Turnpike.

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The trials of feeding toddlers (kale & mushroom quiche)

One of my biggest struggles as a parent is feeding my kids. But if you were to observe our family, that wouldn’t be immediately obvious. The kids are healthy eaters. They tell me when they are hungry. They don’t snack much, they eat at mealtimes, and they are gaining weight appropriately.

Yet feeding them is a great source of stress for me, perhaps because of a sense of weighty responsibility. I feel like I must expose them to nutrient rich foods, expand their culinary world, and hit all the right targets on the nutritional pyramid or wheel or what not every day. I keep telling myself to “let go,” let them eat, and just relax. But I still find myself getting tense as the weekend begins to end and I know I must go for the next grocery run, plan the next set of meals.

There is SO much advice out there from doctors and nutritional experts on how to address this challenge (and I’m not alone in feeling like it’s a challenge). The one that has been most useful for me is to think of meals in terms of responsibilities: I have the responsibility to provide the food, and they have the responsibility to eat it. No force feeding, no bribing, no “you must finish everything on your plate, or else.” If they ask for more of one thing that was served (white rice! bread!), offer it. That works — most of the time. I still usually coax them into taking a few more bites, or to eat the protein on their plates.

Preparing home-cooked foods takes work. I rarely, if ever, pull out a frozen meal, microwave it, and serve it to the kids. I make their mac and cheese from scratch — beginning with a roux. So it can hurt a bit when my son takes a bite (or a whiff) and says, Ew, I don’t want to eat this. It’s yucky. Sigh. I take a deep breath in, steel myself, and begin the evening negotiation. Just five bites, I’ll say, and then watch him resist the urge to gag as he takes down five teeny, tiny crumbles of food. Okay, how about some cookies and milk? #fail

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Weeknight chicken: Vietnamese style

Credit: Emily and Matt Clifton, Serious Eats


I love this recipe because the marinade is so sharp that it doesn’t really need more than 30 minutes to set. I’m not the kind of person to *ever* remember to marinate the meat hours in advance, let alone on a weeknight.

With this recipe, you mix everything together in a bag, let the chicken soak the juices, then lay it out on a baking sheet to cook. Dinner is ready 40 minutes later, with your stovetop free for making rice or a side (I opted for eggplant basil — yay summer veggies still at the farmer’s market) or for you to just sit down and chill until the meal is done. I could see tossing some winter veggies (squash, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, etc.) in oil and putting them in a roasting pan alongside the chicken for a full meal made entirely without stirring a pot.

I’ve made this recipe twice and it’s been a winner across the board. My husband enjoys the flavor, as do the kids. I love the complexity of the fish sauce, which can smell a bit as the chicken bakes (my kiddo complained) but doesn’t overpower at all in the finished product.

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Instant coffee: Patriotic and immigrant


NPR has a great story on the history of instant coffee, which was apparently a welcome novelty by WWI troops marching into battle.

The people credited with inventing it are a Japanese-American chemist who invented soluble coffee powder and a Belgian-American named George Washington who mass produced it.

After the war, the product was marketed to households as coffee you can have whenever you want. We always had a jar of Folger’s growing up, and it was the only kind of coffee in the house for my entire childhood. Seattle and Starbucks really introduced me to coffee culture in the 90s, and my obsession has grown from there.

In Pakistan, where my parents immigrated from, Nescafe instant coffee is laboriously whipped with a small amount of water before it’s added to hot milk to make a homemade version of a latte. It would be neat to hear about how other cultures have turned something as simple as instant coffee into something a little more akin to the magic of a freshly brewed cup of jo.

More from the article:

Soluble coffee was notably used on the front lines. Soldiers stirred it into hot water, gulped from tin mugs, and called it “a cup of George,” after the company’s founder — whose name was apparently familiar to at least some soldiers. In a letter from the front that Pendergrast quotes, a soldier wrote: “There is one gentlemen I am going to look up first after I get through helping whip the Kaiser, and that is George Washington, of Brooklyn, the soldiers’ friend.”

Read on.

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Desi food service dishes up nostalgia

One of my goals as a writer has been to bring together my passion for food with my interest in immigrant stories. My recent article for KCTS 9, the PBS affiliate in Seattle, did just that by highlighting a South Asian meal service that provides weekly home-cooked meals to an audience that includes many of Seattle’s recent tech transplants.

Because of companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google, so many Indian and Pakistani immigrants have come to the Pacific Northwest over the last decade. It’s one of the most visible shifts that stands out to me having returned here after spending that time on the East Coast. In many cases, the tech workers are here on visas and must wait to bring family over.

Coming from a communal society like that of South Asia, the people I interviewed for this story told me it’s a real adjustment to have to do everything alone. In New Delhi, Priyanka Wadhawan, who works at Amazon, tells me she had her parents and other family nearby and that they often shared meals. She had a cook to help prep food, and she never actually learned howt o cook until coming to the U.S. Now she loves cooking simple Northwest fare like salmon, but she leaves the heavy duty, laborious work of South Asian curries to Turmeric ‘N More, and says that owner Sadia Bukhari is like her local mom. When Wadhawan had a baby, Bukhari even sent her soup spiced with herbal remedies known in South Asia to help mothers heal postpartum.

Check out the story.

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Berry-beet smoothie

spelt
Spe.lt is a useful tool if you’re trying to calculate calories. It has a fairly extensive database of branded and natural food products that pull up quickly as you type in the quantity and type of food you’d like to look up. What’s nice is that you can build a list, so you can input a bunch of ingredients that went into making, say, a smoothie, and it will add up the total nutrition facts. (My Fitbit app also does this, but that requires a lot more button pushing than this simple interface does.)

The image above lists the calories for two 12-oz. servings of a berry-beet smoothie I made this morning for me and B, who showed me this site. It isn’t perfect, so some things are an approximation, but the list also serves as a handy recipe in case you’re wondering how to make the smoothie. Just drop everything in a blender and give it a whirl. Note that the item listed as “plain” is actually plain yogurt. Full fat, in my case, because I love whole-fat dairy.

What are your go-to smoothies? It’s easy for me to fall back on some variant of the smoothie above, or a peanut butter-banana version I also consume often. I’d love more ideas!

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Is it time to give up salad?

Salad

Pixabay


You might know that lettuce is mostly water and contains little in the way of nutrition. But did you know that cucumbers, radishes and celery share lettuce’s nutritional futility? Or that we may be wasting precious resources growing the vegetable equivalent of Dasani water bottles?

This Washington Post piece is enlightening, if a tad provocative:

Lettuce is a vehicle to transport refrigerated water from farm to table. When we switch to vegetables that are twice as nutritious — like those collards or tomatoes or green beans — not only do we free up half the acres now growing lettuce, we cut back on the fossil fuels and other resources needed for transport and storage.

Now, I think cucumbers are really refreshing in summer, and I enjoy salads a lot. Greek salads some to mind, because without the lettuce and cucumbers, they are little more than a tomato with onion slices, olives and feta cheese. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good way to fill up on a hot day, or that they might help satisfy a craving without busting the calorie count. A bed of lettuce is a great accompaniment to protein and a substitute for carbs, but I think the article offers a good rule of thumb for avoiding salads that are unhealthy. Yes, there are salads that are packed with more calories and saturated fats than fast food:

Next time you order a salad, engage in a little thought experiment: Picture the salad without the lettuce, cucumber and radish, which are nutritionally and calorically irrelevant. Is it a little pile of croutons and cheese, with a few carrot shavings and lots of ranch dressing?

That’s a useful exercise to keep in your back pocket. What else is going in your salad? I just had one for lunch that, minus the lettuce, was a vehicle for figs, cranberries, blue cheese, avocado oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. That isn’t all that nutritious, now that I think about it. One way to make a salad count is to consider swapping out lettuce greens for spinach, kale, collards or other dark greens that do offer more nutritional benefits. And pack on the nuts and lean proteins that, ultimately, are going to fill you up.

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