Curry night

IMG_3835While admittedly not the same as our favorite Indian takeout, this recipe for channa masala is easy and tasty. I have a feeling the difference is partly due to the amount of butter involved and while I will always love the real deal, it’s nice to have a healthier option as well. We served it with brown rice and creamed spinach, in the spirit of palak paneer.

The spinach was a surprise hit, especially given how simple it was to make. I was a little intimidated by the thought of making a béchamel sauce, and was terrified that I was going to burn the roux, but thankfully, it ended up being far easier than I expected. The way the sauce thickens when you add milk is like a little bit of kitchen magic. I didn’t measure anything but I think it merits bare bones instructions, if not an actual recipe – I’m certainly planning on making this again.

  • Steam a bunch of spinach and roughly chop it
  • Make a roux (more on that here) and add cream, milk, nutmeg, salt, and pepper
  • Add spinach to sauce and heat to combine

An easy winter stew

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I first tried Naturally Ella’s sweet potato and chickpea stew last spring and remade it the other week for my parents, who ended up loving it. The spices turn everyday ingredients –  sweet potatoes, garbanzos, tomatoes and kale – into something much more exotic. It’s also one of those great recipes where the leftovers taste even better the next day, making it perfect to pack for lunch.

Moroccan Spiced Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas

Adapted from Naturally Ella

Serve with quinoa or brown rice and top with yogurt. 

Time: 45 minutes (15 minutes prep, 30 minutes cook)

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pepper, to taste
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 16 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup vegetable broth (I used bouillon and water)
  • 1 bunch kale, roughly chopped

Instructions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and saute until it begins to turn soft and translucent, about 6 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and spices. Saute for 1-2 more minutes, stirring so the spices don’t burn.
  4. Add sweet potatoes, tomatoes, garbanzos, and broth. Cook for about 20 minutes until potatoes are cooked through.
  5. Add kale and cook for 3-4 more minutes.

 

Friday night dinners

The other day, I read this wonderful article on Friday Night Meatballs and instantly fell in love with the concept. In a nutshell, the author has been opening up her home every Friday night and offering a family dinner.

Everyone is welcome – old friends, new friends, work friends, friends passing through town, etc. Guests can bring side dishes but it isn’t necessary. Dietary preferences are accounted for. The only rules are RSVP by Thursday night and they cap the guest list at 10 adults. She writes about how this has simple act has increased her sense of community and enriched all of their lives

In college, food has become far less of a communal activity for me. Of course, I still go out to eat with friends and we have tried to cook together as well, but it isn’t easy. “Entertaining” usually takes the form of a party or occasionally a potluck. I don’t think I’ve ever served dinner for more than a few friends. I love the idea of setting one night a week aside to enjoy good food with people I care about. It’s often hard for me to make time to see all the people I would like to see and I think it’s important to make my relationships more of a priority in my life.

The only question now is what to cook. The author and her husband make meatballs every week and I definitely see the appeal of having a regular dinner menu – as she points out, the cooking process becomes streamlined and you become a master at whatever you are making.

However, meatballs are far from my forte, and I can see myself getting bored with making the same thing every week. Friday Night Pasta seems like a good alternative – it’s cheap and allows me to vary the sauces depending on my mood, the guest list, and what is in season. We could do pasta salad or pesto with summer veggies when it’s warm and baked macaroni and cheese or lasagna as it cools down.

The weekly time commitment and cost are a little scary to me, but I believe this may be one of those things where what you get out is far more than what you put in.

Little changes, big impact

Happy place
Happy place

I’m not a fan of the phrases “detox”, “cleanse”, or “clean eating”.

I find them to be vague, physiologically inaccurate, and usually a front for a weight loss scam. Your body has a natural detoxification system – it’s called your liver. For me, a healthy diet is a balance of foods that are good for your body and others that are good for your soul.

While I don’t like the idea of cleanses or diets, I do believe in reevaluating my behavior and making changes if the way I have been acting isn’t serving me to the fullest extent (a good principle for life beyond food as well).

My diet has varied quite a bit this summer. There were a few weeks of stress-eating large quantities of dark chocolate (oh hey Trader Joes Pound Plus bars) followed by weeks where I honestly didn’t have time to eat anything other than salad.

I’ve been pretty consistently tracking my diet using MyFitnessPal and it’s been interesting to see how the way I’ve felt, both physically and mentally, has changed along with the way I eat.

I’m the first to admit that I can be a creature of habit. For a while, I had gotten into a routine that was really working well for me. Lately, I’ve noticed my good behavior slipping and habits that don’t work as well for me are popping up instead.

My game plan is to try to reincorporate some of the good habits I had picked up earlier this summer to get myself back into a place where I’m feeling my best. I know this next week is going to be an especially rough one and I want to make some changes to make it as easy as possible.

  • Go for a walk in the morning. Moving around in the morning, even if it’s just for 20 minutes, makes me feel like I’ve started my day on the right track.
  • Cut back on the coffee. One of my problems with coffee is that I like to have something sweet along with it. I’ve been spending a lot of time studying in coffee shops lately. Coffee and a pastry has become a regular afternoon habit instead of an occasional treat.
  • Get my sugar from fruit instead of refined sugar. This was one of the changes that had the biggest impact. I noticed that once I got used to having less sugar, refined sugar actually tasted too sweet and I didn’t crave it any more. Now that I’m back to eating more refined sugar, the cravings are back and it makes me feel awful.
  • Keep tracking my food. I really like that it helps hold me accountable.
  • Stock up on healthy snacks. Yogurt and fruit has been a big one this summer.
  • Focus on self care. It may sound silly but when I invest time in myself and my body, it reminds me to appreciate myself and care for myself in other aspects of my life as well. I’ve been using a simple homemade body scrub (used coffee grounds+sugar+canola oil+vanilla extract) in the shower lately and it makes my skin feel incredible. Body lotion before bed is another nice way to take care for myself.
  • Make sleep a priority and take a few minutes to relax before bed. In college, I’ve drastically reduced my recreational reading and I like the idea of taking 10 minutes to read a book for fun before I go to sleep.