What’s for dinner? My mystery meals

These days, I just never know what’s going to end up on my plate for the evening.

With recently having to acclimate to feeding two people over a week’s time, my former two-meal plan which I usually prepared on Sundays no longer carries me through the week. With little time during the week for either of us to take a meaningful trip to the supermarket, we’re often left having to get a little creative in the kitchen and cook on the fly when supplies run low. Since we are not a pre-fab food type of couple, it can make things difficult in our busy lives that we have to find time to prepare something. Yet we both find it a sexy challenge to root through the cupboards to come up with something rivaling a gourmet restaurant meal.

As a character on the TV show Six Feet Under once said, “Cooking is alchemy!”

So tonight was one of those lean nights. After work, a 10-minute shopping spree and $20 later, I was on the way home tonight with only a couple of items to throw in a frying pan for dinner with nothing else in the fridge worth mentioning. Or so I thought. At this point, I still only had the vaguest idea of what this concoction would be. I knew it would be some version of a stir fry over some brown rice noodles I’d had sitting in the cupboard for awhile. Stir fry’s, particularly, have become our best friend. They are quick, easy, and we’ve found that just about anything works when cooked together and thrown over rice, quinoa, or noodles.

To start off with, I cut up a white onion and let it fry in the pan with a generous portion of low sodium soy sauce and a good dash of vegetable stock. I washed a carton of pre-cut mushrooms and stirred to steam cook with the onions. Hmm. Still looked empty. And rather unappealing, not to mention tasteless. The mouth-feel likewise would have been atrocious.

So, back to the fridge.

There were all manners of odds and ends. Hmm. Half a zucchini? Why not. Leftover yellow squash? Sure! A dash of turmeric. A bouquet of cilantro. Chopped up leftovers of a red bell pepper. The last few leaves of a bunch of kale from last week. A not so subtle sprinkle of garlic powder.

Aahhh. Getting there. Smelled quite intriguing.

Ah well, I was hungry, and the rice noodles were waiting. I took the pan off the stove, ready to serve. That was until I stumbled over the package of soyrizo (vegan chorizo, or spicy sausage) laying on the counter. I had bought it specifically as the star of the show and had forgotten all about it! I had seen it so many times at the market, so tonight I gave in to the urge to give it a go.

Snip snip of the plastic casing. I squeezed the pulpy innards into the pan, and stirred until everything was piping hot again. Hmm, what else was missing? I rummaged through the spice cupboard. A container of black sesame seeds winked at me. A good few shakes went into the pan, and stirred.

DinnerAh. Dinner yet? I poured the cooked concoction over the noodles. I then sat down to one of the best impromptu meals I’ve ever made. I even managed to make three meals out of the mixture to carry us through the next couple of very busy days. I had slapped together a creation that I had completely made up as I went along. Something I’ve learned to excel in.

Why is it the greatest things we make or do are usually done by the seat of our pants? Best part of tonight’s dinner is, it was completely vegan, organic, and gluten-free (well, except for the soy sauce). It was colorful, tasty, bright, and I would definitely make again!

By the way, it was the first time I’d ever had brown rice noodles. L.O.V.E. I could almost give up pasta completely with this stuff! I am still a pasta junkie trying to dry out my addiction, though.

And thus it goes, these days, as my companion and I forage through our pantry and fridge in lean, pre-market spree times to generate something to keep us fed between work, class, and sleep. And we never disappoint each other. What’s in your mystery meals? Ever had one become an instant favorite?

Bon apetit, friends!

The fresh connection

The fresh connection

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I brought home our first-ever CSA (community supported agriculture) care package from an area organic farm. A CSA is simply an agreement where you pay a local farmer a certain amount for a set period of weeks, for which in return you get a weekly bag of the farm’s crop. They get the monetary support they need for daily operation, and you get a very healthy reward. Win-win for everyone.

When I ever got this bag home, I swore it was related to a clown car. The food just DID NOT stop coming, or so it seemed. This bag was simply BRIMMING with goodies, with even some greens I couldn’t identify. But that never scares us away. It just makes it more fun!

There were fruits, veggies, greens, spices… everything you could ask for. Two weeks later, I’m still trying to get through the last of it. And it was only $25.

Also let me tell you that when it comes to food, nothing says fresh better than taking your produce out of your “shopping bag” (pay no attention to the WHOLE FOODS logo on the side, does not indicate origin!) and each item is still covered with dirt and silt from the ground. They were probably only a few hours old out of the earth.

Aaaaaaaah!

Still think it’s expensive to eat SOUL-fully? Search for yourself to find local organic farmers in your area, and see if they either have Farmer’s Markets or offer CSAs. I don’t think that you would regret it.

A locavore’s holiday: National Farmer’s Market Week

In case you didn’t know, this coming week August 5 – 11 is National Farmer’s Market Week. All hail the mighty American farmer! Locavores, unite!

Believe me when I tell you, farmers don’t do what they do for the money. Well, they try to. But for smaller farms, it’s becoming harder and harder to break even these days. It’s almost the American dream to be able to make an honest day’s work simply tilling the land, and reaping the fruits of your labor as they ripen. It may seem easy – throw a few seeds in the ground, watch them grow, sell the results.

But it’s the overhead: Cost of land, paying workers, buying equipment, cost of water, and your yields being at the mercy of the elements that makes farming a tough trade to make a living. Many ranchers and farmers have to take second jobs just to make ends meet.

That’s where we, the consumers, come in! With health and wellness concerns taking hold of our modern-day culture, it makes sense that “locavore” is making its way into the community vocabulary. Especially in a dwindling national economy, buying locally grown produce has put Arizona “you-pick” or CSA-certified farms on the map of modern-day shoppers, urban and rural alike.

Why? There are several fantastic reasons.

First of all, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Food that is locally grown spends less time in the back of a truck; causing less damage to the food. When food is stored for long periods of time, the cells in the fruit begin to break down, causing wilting or bruising and the loss of nutrients. The sugars in the food also turn to starch, which makes the food tougher, and not as flavorful” (Sue Baic, British Dietetic Association, 2007).

So, that means two things: Despite the healthier aspect, when farmers sell directly to consumers, they cut out “the middleman,” so to speak, and get the full value for their produce upfront, which also weighs a little lighter on the consumer’s coin purse, as well. Secondly, it cuts down on emissions from fewer trucks taking produce to long-distance locales. So you’re paying the farmer directly, from the vine to your hand, instead of the high dollar signs at the market due to costs of transportation and related constantly fluctuating gas prices. Consequently without much effort, you’re doing your part in living a little ‘greener.’

Thirdly, paying the local farmer helps keep that money circulating at the community level. It helps support local jobs on the farm, or other related, regional costs the farmer needs to pay.

Wow, right? Why haven’t we always been doing this?

Don’t know where there are any local farmer’s markets? No problem! (And no excuses 😉 ). The Arizona Farm Bureau and the USDA have a wealth of information about the schedule and locations of markets in the state of Arizona, as well as a great graph on the USDA site about growing seasons and what produce is harvested when.

In this modern world, we’ve become so removed from where real food comes from. So this week, do yourself (and food growers!) a favor: Shop local, fresher, healthier, greener, and cheaper, all in one place – at the food source. Win-win for everybody, and is a great big thank you to the hard work our farmers go through to get that food on our tables.

Happy Farmer’s Market Week, everyone!

Don’t always have time to make it out to an area farmer’s market? Do the next best thing! Buy produce at the stores grown locally. Every time I’m at the market, for example, I pick up these sprouts, grown and shipped from only the next town over. Shop local this week! Show your support for food growers in your area.