Our Week

Last Friday, we hosted John’s flight for dinner and a chance to wind down from the week. We enjoyed this super simple (albeit not the healthiest!) recipe for pulled pork, my great-grandma’s giant oreos, and a big cranberry walnut couscous salad. I’m learning how to efficiently feed the masses! 

We spent the weekend enjoying the lovely weather with Kaia. We can’t believe how tiny she used to be or how fast she has become.
We also attended the first student squadron Combat Dining Out which was, to say the least, interesting. Dining Outs are usually very formal military events, but this evening was designed to be a mock version of that. We were to wear uniforms from any service/era and come prepared for water balloons, a ridiculous obstacle course, and BBQ. 
We stocked up on the first peaches and nectarines of the summer. Our kitchen smells amazing! 

We have roses in our front yard- who knew?! I’ve been appreciating them on our windowsill.

John hit the first bird of the year for Columbus AFB. Thankfully, it was a small bird and hit the wing of the plane, not the canopy or the inlets. It’s pretty scary what a bird can do! 

Kaia and I spent a lot of time at the lake on base- I bring course work and she swims, chases dragonflies…. 

and cuddles.  There’s something almost refreshing about a cool, wet dog on a hot day. We’re supposed to make it into the 90’s this week, but the locals say that’s nothing compared to what’s ahead. We’ve resisted turning on our air so far because we were told that once it goes on, it’ll stay on through October. Hello, summer!

Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Apricot and Sage Stuffing

2013? Seriously?

It’s been a whirlwind month. I got home from South Africa (more on that to come), we had Christmas with our families (also more on that to come) and moved to Mississippi (definitely more on that to come). It’s been raining nonstop for a week, which means we haven’t been too motivated to get much done in the way of unpacking and organizing. Instead, we’ve been playing plenty of board games and I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen.

We had this for dinner the other night and, although it wasn’t the first time I’ve made it, I was struck by how fast it all came together. 30 minutes from gathering the ingredients to sitting down to eat? I’ll take it! As per request, here’s the recipe, adapted from Terry Walter’s Clean Food. You could probably use just about any small squash; the original recipe suggests buttercup. The stuffing is excellent as is, but I’m sure you could swap out ingredients as needed. For example, mirin is sometimes hard to find- it’s a sweet, white cooking wine common in Japanese recipes.

Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Apricot and Sage Stuffing

2 small acorn squashes
2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing the squash
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable stock
6 shallots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
6-8 dried apricots, chopped
2 T chopped fresh sage
2 T chopped fresh parsley, plus whole sprigs for serving (I’ve used cilantro before, too)
1 T mirin
zest of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds (I definitely used more, but we really like almonds)

Preheat oven to 375

Wash the squash and cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds and rub the skins with olive oil. Place open side down on a parchment lined baking pan. Roast for 25 minutes or until soft throughout. Turn off heat, but leave squash in the oven to stay warm until it’s ready to be served.

In the meantime, combine quinoa in a pot with water or vegetable stock and a pinch of salt. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed (this should take 10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.

In a dutch oven (a.k.a. large pot) over medium heat, saute shallots and celery in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft. Then add the apricots, sage, parsley and mirin and saute for another 3 minutes. Fluff the quinoa and add to this mixture. Add lemon juice, zest and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and saute until heated through. Fill individual squash bowls with stuffing, garnish with toasted almonds and parsley sprigs and serve. Delicious!

Community Supported Agriculture

Every other week for the last nine months, we’ve been parking in an alley and meeting strangers behind a building who provide us with an enormous box of produce. I think it might be my new favorite way to grocery shop.  
California basically has a year-round growing season. Logically, you’d think that in a state that grows an enormous percentage of the nation’s produce, it would be pretty easy to find fresh, local fruits and vegetables. Well…. sort of. The closest farms are mostly found in the central coast- many hours away from where we live. In general, it seems most of what is grown in those regions is shipped out. And what’s left is very pricey, as anyone who tries to shop for organic foods understands. The farmer’s markets can be nice, but you really have to plan ahead and get there early. Then we signed up for a CSA. 
Community Supported Agriculture programs can be found all over the country. I first heard about them from a family whose children I used to babysit. On at least one occasion, they sent me away at the end of the night with a check and a big bag of turnips. I’ll take it! 

An average week’s bounty.
For $25, we get a box of fresh, straight-from-the-farm, organic fruits and vegetables. Each program typically works with a handful of farms directly and many, like ours, donate a portion of the earnings toward community gardens, healthy, more ethical growing practices, and local schools. 
I won’t take the time now to try to convince you why fresh, local and organic are important- there’s a ton of information out there already. I do think it’s very important to be educated and aware of what you are putting into your body. It’s a bit of a shame that “organic” has become a trend for the cultural elitists when, ideally, it should be a more accessible way for all of us to live healthier, more sustainable lives. If you haven’t already, I’d definitely recommend the documentary Food Inc. (learn more here: http://www.takepart.com/foodinc). 
Perhaps what I love most about our CSA share is that it forces us to be creative, to try new recipes, and to experiment with ingredients we may never have used before. We’ve enjoyed bright pink and purple potatoes, rainbow chard, mysterious, delicious fruits, carrots of every color and an abundance of greens. I began making our own stock (which I learned is super, super easy!) with any extra peelings/leaves and we were able to compost any additional waste after that. My only wish is that our subscription included the option to purchase farm-fresh dairy and eggs!
Because we only have a few weeks left in Los Angeles and need to eat everything in our fridge, freezer and most of what is in our cupboards before then, I picked up our last share this week. I think we’ll enjoy these fruits and vegetables a bit extra, knowing that the search for all things local and fresh will be significantly more difficult after we move.
 I’ll be spending a bit of time surveying our prospects through the sites listed below and I’d encourage others to do the same!  It’s a great, easy way to eat healthy, fresh foods and support local farmers. Win-win. 

“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine
 or the slowest form of poison.” -Ann Wigmore

Costly Cinnamon Rolls

When I woke up this morning, all I wanted was a cinnamon roll. A hot, fluffy, lightly frosted cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee. It’s been rather warm here the last few days and I’ve been trying to avoid heating up our apartment with the oven, but this was a truly desperate situation. After finding, at last, a recipe that wasn’t going to take hours, I cranked the oven to 400 and began mixing up the dough. 
Halfway through the preparations, I realized I was short one egg. Knowing that the dough was only supposed to rise for fifteen minutes, I quickly hopped on my bike (because our car is in the shop) and rode to Trader Joe’s. I came out of the store five minutes later and my bike was gone. My locked bike. Stolen in broad daylight in front of a grocery store. I feel as though I’ve finally become a Los Angeles resident. 
I walked around the building a few times, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy and half hoping to see someone with my bike. Of course, I have no idea what I’d do in that situation. Yell “HEY- THAT’S MY BIKE!” and hope that the thief would feel sorry and offer to return it? Right.
I half walked, half ran home, fearing that my cinnamon rolls would be doomed due to over rising. I prayed for the person who felt it was ok to steal my bike (now my last mode of transportation other than my own two feet) and tried my darndest not to be angry, though my confidence in the decency of people has been a bit tarnished. 
Long story short, we filed a police report and were able to sort things out with our insurance company in one painless phone call (how often does that happen? Thanks, USAA!). Given that we bought my bike used for about $100 and they base insurance claims on current market value, I will most certainly be able to get a decent new bike. And, wonder of wonders, after all of this mess, the cinnamon rolls turned out! 
It may have been 4 PM and long, long past when I’d hoped to be enjoying breakfast,
but the coffee and cinnamon roll were still good!

In case you want to try them, here’s the recipe (adapted from Valley Ridge recipes at http://valleyridgerecipes.blogspot.com). Just make sure you have enough eggs before you mix the dough. I think I’ve learned my lesson. 
Mix these and let stand for 15 minutes: 
1 3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup and 3 T sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
3 T yeast
Then add these:
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
5 1/4 cups flour
Mix everything together for 10 minutes and then let the mixture stand for ten minutes. Then roll the dough out into a rectangle (or a shape roughly similar to a rectangle) and drizzle with melted butter and cinnamon sugar (I used about 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon). Carefully roll up and then divide into individual rolls. Bake at 400 F for 12-15 minutes. 
For frosting, mix 4 oz. cream cheese, 1/4 cup softened butter, 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Actually, you could probably cut this recipe in half and still have plenty, especially if, like me, you’re not a huge frosting fan.