Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Sugared Walnuts

Continuing on my quest to try the recipes I’ve been collecting, I ambitiously set out to make my first ever risotto. As I have complained previously, ingredients readily available elsewhere are sometimes difficult to find in my small midwestern city. However, since even in my town, people have not only heard of but actually eat risotto, I expected no trouble. Three grocery stores later, and I returned home with two boxes of pre-packaged risotto, after having read the directions to know the rice was separate from the seasonings, so I could use it in my dish. (I complained incessantly for several days, which paid off in that I believe I now have a “local” source for Arborio rice…Sam’s Club!)

This dish was time consuming, but not difficult. I was not pleased with the garlic: since you add it to the squash uncooked, and it basically only warms, it tasted raw. I will need to experiment with adding it sometime during the cooking process. The recipe suggests 20 minutes of stirring and adding the liquid, but I found it took more like 30.  It was worth it, though!

One serving of my first risotto!

Roasted Potatoes with Oregano and Lemon

After homemade soup, potatoes are tops in comfort food. For most of my life, I just assumed they needed to be eaten as a side with a meat entree. Luckily, I’ve reconsidered that credo. I have wanted to try this recipe for a while, but in a small midwestern city, the options can be somewhat limited – we rarely have fingerling potatoes available in the grocery stores (though they are abundant at the summer farmers’ markets). Yesterday, I discovered small Dutch gold potatoes and snapped them up. The main dish: potatoes. The side: mixed baby greens with crispy pancetta and smoked gouda. Honestly, I didn’t think the dish could smell better than the scent of roasting potatoes and fresh oregano, but the dash of lemon juice at the end made my mouth water!

(Recipe can be found on recipe tab, above)

Pasta with (Black) Kale, Caramelized Onions, and Parsnips

The thing about living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is that there are three choices for grocery shopping and they are all supermarkets (and the three includes WalMart and Target). No Whole Foods. No Trader Joe’s. No local cooperative (unless you drive to Iowa City). Therefore, like many things readily available in other markets, there is no black kale to be had in this town, unless one grows it oneself. Luckily, this recipe is delicious with regular kale!

This is parsnip week at my house, so there will be parsnip and apple soup later in the week. I had never cooked with parsnips as a featured item before making this pasta. I discovered that, like carrots, cooking brings out their sweetness. I also learned that they should cook somewhat longer than the recipe suggests, unless you want them to be crunchy rather than crisp.  If you use this recipe, I recommend not skimping on the seasonings or it tends to be on the bland side. As always, find the full recipe on the recipe tab, above.

Florentine Hash Skillet

The recipe for Florentine Hash Skillet was found in an article (in Eating Well magazine) on healthy, fast breakfasts, and is a rarity I couldn’t pass up:  a recipe for one serving!  Of course, I also couldn’t pass it up since it has just 226 calories and is a good source of vitamin A, folate, calcium and iron. Oh, AND it takes about 10 minutes to make, start to finish!

As usual, I deviated slightly from the original recipe.  First, I had fresh spinach so I used that rather than frozen (I cooked the potatoes a little by themselves since fresh spinach didn’t need the same time in the skillet that frozen would have required).  Also, as you can see from my photo, I added some additional vegetables to the recipe.  I had sliced mushrooms, diced red peppers, seeded grape tomatoes and sliced black olives (left over from homemade pizzas with friends the night before).

I don’t use any kind of rating system, but rest assured, all recipes I post have been delicious enough to be deemed “blog worthy”.  This one is no exception!

(Full recipe can be found on the recipe tab, above)

Wherever I go, there I am!

One day last week (like Alexander in the children’s book by Judith Viorst),  I was having a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good day I updated my Facebook status to say, “I don’t mean to be a whiner, but today totally bites.”  That evening, I had a voicemail from one of my oldest friends.  She said, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I was so happy to see your Facebook status!  You’ve been so chipper for so long, I was beginning to wonder who you were, and what you did with my friend!”  Was there any way to take that message other than to laugh and admit she had a point?

Dear readers, I have often shared that my life has changed materially in the time since I began this blog.  It is true, I am happy for probably the first time in my adult life.  The kind of happy that penetrates deep below the surface of daily ups and downs.  The type of happy that prevents me from writing depressing status updates or complaining incessantly about minutiae.  I am “big picture” happy — and that is a really great place to be.

If you don’t know me, or if, like my relieved friend above, you stay up-to-date through electronic means and infrequent chats, you might not be getting an accurate picture of how my newly happy self interacts with the world.  Those who see me daily were less surprised, I am sure, to read my complaint!  Being happy doesn’t mean I have stopped expressing emotional ups AND downs, or that I have magically overcome all hurdles in my emotional, physical, or professional life.  Far from it.

Example #1:  I am able to go for relatively lengthy periods of time having what I would call a “right relationship” with food.  I eat and truly enjoy fresh, healthy food prepared by my own hands.  In fact, this begins to feel so right and so normal for me, that I start to believe that I have conquered the old “wrong relationship” of using food to feed my emotional needs — I mean, anyone can overcome an ingrained, lifelong coping mechanism, right?  And then a really difficult hurdle pops up and I find myself eating my way through a Thursday night and most of a Friday.

Example #2: Negative self-talk is something most of us have experience with.  I have sometimes taken it to the extreme of hatefully loathing self-talk.  (If I heard someone say to another person the things I’ve said to myself, I would be unable to refrain from physical violence.)  Even on good days, I sometimes catch sight of myself in a mirror and that voice in my head starts in:  “You think you look good?  Who are you kidding?  No wonder you’re alone. Look at you, who would ever be attracted to that?”

Example #3: When I have a bad day at work, I am tempted just like everyone else is, to rail against the other people who are clearly, patently, responsible for my bad day. Some days I totally give in to that temptation, and suddenly the number of miserable people multiplies exponentially. Who doesn’t start to feel worse when they spend time with Debbie Downer?

But the big difference about these situations now, what causes me to seem so changed to my old friends —  none of those things defines me, nor do they set my agenda for days and weeks to come.  Fell off the food wagon?  I’m no easily bruised peach, and I’m certainly able to catch up to the wagon and jump back on!  Talking smack at myself?  It may not always be easy, but I tell that biach to shut up if she doesn’t have anything constructive to offer.  Having a bad day at the office?  Get in line! Or better yet, stop complaining and find something productive to do.  I really have learned to stop my negative spirals and bring my spirit and mood back up to even keel.  Some days I can do that immediately, others it takes longer.  But I do get there, and that is the biggest gift happiness brings to my life.

So, to all my friends who have wondered where the real me went, SURPRISE! She’s still here.  She’s just the new and improved version: more resilient, more self-confident, less cranky…most, but not all, of the time.

Autumn Dinner

My parents, who are visiting from New Mexico, joined me in picking up this week’s fresh produce from Abbe Hills Farm (near Mt. Vernon, IA).  My friend Sara and I have split a share in this Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm this summer, and we are in the final month of weekly treasure troves.  Today’s haul included a watermelon, 5 winter squash (acorn, butternut and another kind I don’t know), 8 hot peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, bok choy, a stir fry kit, eggplant, parsley, arugula, collard greens, kale, okra, onions.

After a brief wander in Mt. Vernon, we ate lunch at arguably the most famous restaurant in eastern Iowa: The Lincoln Cafe.  Fresh, organic, local cuisine, a concept imported to Iowa via New York by a talented chef.

Later, while my folks took a late afternoon nap, I walked around my neighborhood and the university campus, enjoying the brisk fall afternoon.  Inspired by the incredibly delicious menu at the Lincoln Cafe, I was determined to make a dinner primarily with items fresh from Abbe Hills Farm.  The result was a meatless menu of truly fresh ingredients:

  • Salad of fresh spinach, arugula, leaf lettuce, red bell pepper and toasted pecans.
  • Roasted spiced acorn squash
  • Baked eggs in tomatoes
  • Garlic bread

I had not tried the squash or egg recipes, but had torn them from the most recent issue of Everyday Foods because they looked delicious to me.  As it turns out, they ARE!  The dinner was warming, filling, and bursting with flavor (my entire meal also came in under 500 calories) – perfect for the cool, crisp evening.

We loaded our food up on plastic cafeteria-style trays (I couldn’t resist them when I saw them on the sale shelf at Target) and ate while watching the Hawkeyes take on the Nittany Lions.  Believe me when I say life rarely gets more comfortable or comforting than that!  Please check the recipes page if you are interested in trying these dishes.

Right now, still pleasantly sated from the meal, I have a pie pumpkin baking in the oven for tomorrow morning’s baked pumpkin oatmeal (another new recipe).  Who knows, if breakfast passes muster, you may find that recipe here as well!

Happy fall eating.