One Year Later…

I give myself Saturdays to do nothing, or more precisely, I don’t do anything that I don’t want to do. Mostly, this means I wake up without the screaming of an alarm at 5am, walk the dog, and do the weekly menu planning until Whole Foods opens at 8am, and then do the grocery shopping before it gets crowded. On this very Saturday one year ago, Miracle joined our family. Our hearts were still aching after losing Turbo, but sadist that I am, I had to dive right back in so that I would not come home to an empty house. Unlocking the door to a dog who is always happy to see you is a magical thing that says more than anything – “welcome home.”

Those first few months with Miracle were not pretty. She loved us immediately, but was desperately sad while we were away and restless at night. Mark and I struggled in a fog of exhaustion for months. We had a taste of what life is like for parents of newborns, who catch sleep when they can, or not at all, because Miracle needed a lot of soothing. But a year is a good stretch of time – enough for a hound to gain confidence that we’ll always come home to her, and for us to get to know this clownish beast we share our home with.

Also, on the second hound, we’ve turned into complete softies. Miracle helped herself to snoozing on the furniture not long after she came home. The moment you make a few moves in preparation to leave the house and – BOOM – Miracle is on the sofa, in your seat and glaring at you…daring you to kick her off, as if to say, “If you think you’re leaving me – fine, but I’ll be right here in your spot on the couch, all day long.” I can’t argue with that. We’re gone 12+ hours per day during the week, and if she wants to chill on the furniture, I am not going to stop her. Softies.

The hound can also be persuaded to join us for a run. In the early days, running was one way we could manage her separation anxiety. Now, we use her more as an excuse to stop for a few seconds and dither around before continuing on our way. It works for all of us.

One year later, we’re so glad that Miracle joined our family. She’s a lovey little hound, always scheming for a belly rub or snuggle on the couch. Her bursts of play, endless squeaking of toys and high speed laps around the house keep us laughing. Welcome to the family, dear hound.

I’ll have a new recipe or two for you in the next couple of weeks…I hope!  In the meantime, here are a few old favorites that have been gracing our table in the last couple of months:

  • Fennel, Apple and Orange Salad – Fennel, granny smith apples and oranges are a few fresh ingredients that can be relied upon to brighten up any meal in the dead of winter. I could eat this salad daily and not get tired of it.
  • Tomato Sauce with Butter – A simple, classic sauce that makes enough for several meals, freezes well, and is a savior for getting a quick mid-week meal on the table.
  • DIY Kind Bars (grain-free granola bars) – These little tasty treats have been a near constant companion, since discovering that I am sensitive even to gluten-free oats. A little bit sweet and a good source of protein, these bars are getting me through weeks when I need to travel for work.
  • Indian Spiced Red Lentil Soup – This pot of soup is dead simple, and takes few ingredients, but it makes for a hearty bowl of soup that warms the belly on the coldest of winter days.

Thank you to everyone who has commented, written, posted and tweeted me, asking when I’d get the next blog post up. I’ve missed our conversation here – and I hope to be back more often in 2012!

Shaved Fennel Salad with Apples, Oranges & Lemon Vinaigrette

4 days until I visit my parents. 1 week until I start my new job. 2 weeks until Shauna (aka Gluten-Free Girl) comes to visit. 3 weeks until the Indy Half Marathon. It’s been a wild ride these last two weeks, so thank you all for your comments, thoughts and prayers for my momma.

Mom is home from the hospital and recovering well. Her next step to fully re-gaining her health is to change her eating habits a bit to keep those arteries clear. I’ll be heading to Michigan this weekend to teach Mom a few things from my repetoire. I’ve sent my parents a couple of nutrition books to help them get started and my favorite kitchen tool – a fancy rice cooker.

The new “smart” rice cooker is my ultimate time hack to get through the week. On Sundays, I make a batch of steel cut oats for breakfasts and a batch of some other grain to use with a couple of dinners during the week. I’ll even cook dried beans in it, because I can walk away and not worry as it bubbles away. If you don’t have one of these wonderous machines – invest. You won’t be sorry.

Special thanks to everyone who shared their healthy eating challenges on the last post. We’re all battling the same foes of finding the time to cook – along with meal planning, motivation, picky eaters and managing expenses. I’m noodling ideas for the “Back to Basics” series, and hope to get the first post to you next week, to share my strategies for making the time to cook without going crazy. If you have more healthy eating challenges you’d like me to tackle, drop me a comment below.

In the meantime, I’m making this fennel salad my mom’s first dietary assignment. At the end of winter, when I’m tired of every single root veggie out there, fennel is a bright, crisp counterpoint that gets me excited for the local growing season ahead. I love the crunch of thinly shaved fennel, with its slight sweetness and licorice-like flavor. Fennel is perfect for salads, has fiber for clearing out arteries, a hefty dose of the B vitamin, folate, that helps to maintain blood vessel walls, and potassium for lowering blood pressure to help prevent strokes. Sounds perfect for mom, right?!

But better than all the amazing nutritional qualities, fennel is delicious. This bright, crunchy, sweet salad is the kind of thing I could happily eat every day while I wait for the farmer’s markets to re-open.

What’s your favorite way to eat fennel? Share your fennel-filled ideas in the comments below, OR share your healthy eating challenges.

Fennel, Apple & Orange Salad
Serves 8 as a side dish

2 bulbs fennel
1 granny smith apple
2 navel oranges
3 T white balsamic
1 T lemon juice
1-2 T Dijon Mustard (Mustard Girl is my favorite)
5-6 T olive oil
pinch of salt & pepper
1 tsp poppy seeds
3 T toasted slivered almonds

  1. Take the first orange and slice the stem and bottom ends of the orange off – about ½” on each side. Set the orange on the cutting board and use a sharp paring knife to silde your knife down between the white pith and the orange flesh to remove thin slices of the rind, while removing as little of the precious flesh as possible. Rotate the orange as you go to remove the pith, then once you’ve got most of the pith removed, pick up the orange and slice off any lingering pieces of the white rind.
  2. Hold the orange in a cupped hand, and gently slide your paring knife into the orange alongside one of the section membranes, slicing top to bottom to the center of the orange. Repeat the slicing motion on the other side of the orange section, and when you’re done a slender wedge of orange should pop right out. Repeat with the remaining sections of the orange, and place the orange slices in a bowl & set aside. Repeat the process with the other orange.
  3. Make the dressing: Combine the white balsamic, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and poppy seeds in a small bowl. Whisk for a minute. Slowly drizzle the olive oil in while whisking, adding a total of 4 T oil. Taste the dressing, and if it is still too tart, drizzle more oil in until the dressing is balanced to your taste. Set the dressing aside.
  4. Slice the fennel: Slice the green, woody stalks off the top of the fennel bulbs, leaving the white bulb. Reserve the stems. Use a mandoline with the thinnest slicing blade and place the cut end of the fennel bulb against the blade and shave the bulb into thin ribbons. Repeat with the second bulb and scoop the shaved fennel into a big mixing bowl.
  5. Take the granny smith apple and using the same blade on the mandoline, slice the apple into thin circles, stopping when you hear the blade hit the core. Rotate the apple to the other uncut side and slice again until you hit the core. Rotate two more times to slice the last two sides of the apple. Next, take your chef knife and slice the apples into matchstick sized pieces, then scoop into the bowl with the fennel.
  6. Give the dressing another quick whisk, then pour half of the dressing over the fennel and apples. Use tongs to gently toss the fennel and apples to lightly coat the whole salad. Add the rest of the dressing, and toss again. Finally, add the orange slices and toasted almonds and gently toss together before serving.

Note: The salad will keep pretty well overnight for leftovers, though there will be a fair amount of liquid in the container the next day. Re-toss and add another squeeze of lemon if the salad needs a little extra oomph.

How to section an orange:

Slice the ends off, then guide the paring knife between the flesh and the pith to skin the orange. 

Gently slide the knife in along the edge of the section webbing.

Slide the knife along the section membrane on the other side.

Free the happy little orange section from the orange, and repeat until you get all the sections off the orange.

Tomato Soup with Fennel

Last week, I finally got around to reading Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life. Molly is one of my favorite food bloggers, also known around the web as Orangette. I’ve made dozens of her blog recipes, and her husband’s chana masala is the gold standard recipe in our home now. I don’t know why I waited so long to read the book…I’ve had it for months. Molly feels like a friend after reading her blog for years and reading the book made that connection feel even stronger. A Homemade Life is a sort-of food memoir – she uses stories about food to share her life, celebrate milestones, and each chapter is punctuated with a homey recipe.

After reading Molly’s recipe for tomato soup with fennel, I immediately bookmarked the page so I could make a pot as soon as I finished reading. I love tomato soup – as a kid it was the comfort of Campbell’s, served for Saturday lunch with a grilled cheese sandwich and popcorn to garnish each spoonful of soup. When I lived in Washington at Holden Village, I rejoiced when cream of tomato soup was on the menu, and theirs is still my go-to recipe today. But Molly’s soup may be a new contender for my favored pot of comfort soup.

There’s nothing too fancy here – we’re talking slicing an onion and two bulbs of fennel, saute and add the tomatoes and herbs…but the simplicity is the thing. The fennel and tomatoes are magical together – the familiar anise-like flavor is there in every bite, but the tomatoes and slow simmer make the flavors complementary, rather than a harsh bite of raw fennel. Mark prefers his soup more toward the “stoupy” side, as in – more like a stew and less like a soup, and this filled the bill perfectly. We enjoyed the leftovers for lunches all week, and I brought along a small container of quinoa to add to my soup as well, so that I wouldn’t be starving by 3pm, since a bowl of this soup is very light on calories.

What’s your favorite way to eat tomato soup (or fennel)? Share your stories of your favorite bowl in the comments below!

Tomato Soup with Fennel
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life
Serves 6

2 28oz cans of whole, peeled plum tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
2 fennel bulbs, stems removed, cut into quarters and sliced thin on a mandoline
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 tsp dried celery leaves, crumbled (optional)
2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
2 tsp whole fennel seeds
3 cups water
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar

  1. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, butter, onions and fennel. Stir to coat the veggies, then saute for 5 minutes, until the onions just begin to soften. Add the garlic, thyme, celery leaves, fennel seeds and pinch of red pepper flakes – stir.
  2. Pour the cans of tomatoes into a large bowl and get your hands in there and crush the tomatoes. Pour the tomatoes into the pot along with 3 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil, then uncover and reduce heat to low to simmer for about an hour, until the fennel is meltingly soft, and the soup has thickened a little. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Pour half of the soup into a blender – cover the blender with a paper towel (instead of the lid) and puree until smooth. Add the puree back to the pot and stir. Add the tsp of sugar and red wine vinegar and stir. Taste, adjusting the seasoning as needed with extra salt, sugar, vinegar and pepper as needed. Serve.
153 cal per bowl, 60 cal from fat, 6g fat, 970mg sodium, 370mg potassium, 21g carbs, 5g fiber, 9g sugar, 4g protein