Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Inspired by Sofra's Parfait: Wheat Berry, Yogurt and Kumquat Compote

It is a delight to dig into a nutty, creamy parfait and know that it is ridiculously healthy. Inspired by a dish that I had at Sofra in Watertown, I have been regularly making this for breakfast and lunch. At Sofra, they used grano, Greek yogurt and a fruit compote. I have swapped out wheat berries for the hard-to-find grano and use non-fat Greek yogurt. The simplest way to do this is to use fresh fruit or a store-bought compote. But I delight in creating the compotes themselves, often trying to take advantage of the fruits at Russo's in Watertown. This week, for example, I made two, both sweet and tart. For the first, scarlet rhubarb with a hint of ginger. The second was a gorgeous kumquat-lemon. Once cooked, the wheat berries last in the refrigerator all week. My son loves the wheat berries with a bit of maple syrup and milk. I have also used them in savory salads mixed with lemon, olive oil and chopped vegetables. But the parfait is what I eat after going to yoga or before starting out on my day.

To make the wheat berries, simply simmer 1 cup wheat berries in 3 cups of water for about an hour until tender. Drain and let them cool in the refrigerator. You can store them in the refrigerator or in the freezer.

Simply layer the wheat berries with the yogurt and fresh fruit or any fruit compote. You can eat it immediately. However, if you keep it in the refrigerator for about an hour, the wheat berries gently absorb some of the fruit and yogurt, making it even more delicious.

For the rhubarb compote, I simmer 4 cups of chopped rhubarb with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. I cook the mixture on low heat until the rhubarb collapses. Other times I throw in thin slices of ginger.

For the kumquat compote, I simmer begin by slicing the kumquats. I try to remove the seeds as I do so. I then simmer about 2 cups of kumquats with 1 cup of sugar and the juice of one lemon. Again, I cook this on low heat until the mixture reduces slightly.

Both compotes will thicken as they cool.  I use them as jams, on frozen yogurt, and to drizzle on hard cheeses.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Learning from Debra Samuels, Author of My Japanese Table

After I read and cooked from My Japanese Table, I knew I wanted to talk to author Debra Samuels. Not only had I read her work for years in the Boston Globe, but her voice was so warm and genuine in the cookbook. In our hour long phone conversation we talked about our sons, cooking for children, the joy of Japanese food, the impact of the earthquake and about writing.

On Writing My Japanese Table: Ms. Samuels has been going to Japan for almost 40 years.  The more she learned and understood the food and culture, the more she wanted to learn how to cook it at home. In many ways, this book is the result of her trips to Japan, through the generosity of friends who shared recipes with her, and through practice teaching in Boston.

On Writing a Cookbook: My Japanese Table is Ms. Samuels’ second book.  She noted that there is more freedom as an author to write an ethnic cookbook then writing in a mainstream newspaper. Why? Because, as she noted, “an editor is pretty vigilant about a person having to buy so many esoteric things.”  However, she also noted that she tried to use ingredients that were accessible to most cooks. She also made sure to use unusual ingredients in multiple recipes.  The herb, shisho was the main exception to her rule because she loves it so much (and it grows abundantly in her backyard.)  

On Writing:  Ms. Samuels highlighted a few tips that have helped her to grow as a writer. First, she uses the Pomodoro method which she explained as writing straight for 25 minutes without stopping. Yet she also noted that she regularly throws out about 50% of what she writes!  She tries not to look at subjects that other people have written about because “there is just so much original work you can do on the same subject.” Finally, she noted that the toughest editors are often the best teachers. In her case she said that they helped her to learn how to “tighten" her writing and to use “descriptors in a way that conveys what you want.”  

On Suggestions for Japanese Stores, Restaurants and Ingredients: Ms. Samuels recommended Ebisuya in Medford or New Deal Fish Market in Cambridge for fish. She also pointed me to the new (and fabulous) store, Miso Market which opened in Porter Square. It is an adorable shop, filled with a wonderful assortment of organic and microbiotic products.  They had a diverse selection of soy sauce, seaweed, rice and a very helpful staff. Other sources for Japanese ingredients include the Japan Village Mart in Brookline Village or Sakanaya in Allston. She suggested approaching these stores, or a larger store like H-Mart with a cookbook that lists ingredients. She also steered me towards the Asian Market Shopper. This app makes it easier to shop at stores where ingredients may not be listed in English. Although she more typically prepares Japanese food at home then eating out, she did note that she enjoyed the restaurant Shiki in Brookline.

On Sushi: I spoke to Ms. Samuels in August, prior to an alarming Boston Globe report about the fish industry in Massachusetts. However, even then she noted that she typically bought fish for sushi at Ebisoya or New Deal.  I was fascinated by the fact that she prefers to buy superfrozen (as opposed to fresh) fish as it is safer.

On Preparing for Children: One of my favorite sections of her book was on O’Bento.  Bento are Japanese lunch boxes as well as a style of preparing food. Ms. Samuels noted that bento are wonderful for children.  I knew immediately that both my sons would be drawn to the fact that with Bento they could get both variety and have all their food separately. (They are young children after all!)  While she offers a lovely and detailed section with images in the book, she highlighted a few things in our conversation. First, that the best way to tackle Bento is to use Sundays to make a variety of staple foods that can last the week. For example, by taking the time to cut cheese in cubes, cooking corn and pasta, you can create multiple dishes that can be mixed and matched over the week.  One day those items could be on a salad while another day they could be separate. She was also a fan of cooking mini-meatloaves in little silicone cups. She noted that they could be frozen and then placed right in a Bento box. By lunch, they would be defrosted!  She also emphasized that fresh vegetables such as tomatoes or edamade provided color and nutrition.  The delicious yakisoba recipe in her book can be served cold (as long as you leave out the pork).  However, she pointed out that some Bentos boxes themselves have multiple layers to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. For a fabulous visual (direct from her book), you can go to her blog post on Bento Boxes here.  Bento boxes themselves are now widely available everywhere from H-Mart to Amazon.

On Her: To learn more from Debra Samuels grab one of her two cookbooks (which would also make wonderful holiday presents!) She has written My Japanese Table and The Korean Table  Her website, Cooking at Debra's, offers a wealth of information full of recipes, articles, pictures and lessons.

A few last points. First, a thank you to Ms. Samuels for taking the time to talk. More importantly, an apology to her for the prolonged delay in this post. That being said, if you haven't done so already, buy My Japanese Table. I am turning to it more and more frequently. The recipes are absolutely delicious, but yet, healthy enough to be able to take one more helping of miso-glazed eggplant or that wonderful yakisoba!

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Simple Swap: Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and Kripalu's Maple Walnut Scones

These flaky, tender, sweet scones were one of the highlights of my trip to the Kripalu Yoga Retreat Center.  So, I was delighted to see that the recipe for these delicious maple walnut scones were just published on the Kripalu blog. I will admit, the amount of shortening helped me to understand why they were so scrumptious!  As I have discovered through Heidi Swanson's blog, 101 Cookbooks, whole wheat pastry flour is a secret ingredient for creating wholesome and light baked goods, and Chef Deb Morgan clearly knows that trick. I swap it out for white flour in cookies and have been consistently pleased with the results. The key, though, is to make sure to use pastry flour, not regular whole wheat flour. The good news: whole wheat pastry flour is easily available at Whole Foods. Or, you can just head out to Kripalu as I plan to do soon.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Food, Foliage and Finding Balance at Kripalu Yoga Center

One of the most defining parts of my life as a single parent is that, realistically, I spend all my time taking care of others. There is no one else to do my dishes, to cook the food, to do the shopping or cleaning or decision making. To spend two days at the Kripalu Yoga Retreat Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, then, was a retreat in the best sense of the world. During those 48 hours I was completely and utterly transformed as I spent time in an incredibly beautiful place, eating delicious food without having to do a single dish. This was my second visit to Kripalu.  And so much of what I remembered was true. It is a peaceful and serene setting.  However, being there at the height of fall foliage was spectacular.  I was also lucky to be a part of a transformative Writing Workshop with one of my idols, Marge Piercy and her talented husband, Ira Wood.  The yoga classes were both energizing and healing.  Ironically, the food hadn’t been memorable on my past visit. Yet this time, I was struck by the utter deliciousness of all of it. I am not sure if the quality was better or if my tastes were changed, but I loved all of it. 
Each meal included warm breads and ample buffets filled with the most delicious vegetable preparations.  There were bowls of warming cauliflower soup, beautiful squash corn bread, huge platters of sautéed seasonal vegetables and a beautiful salad bar.  (There were meat choices as well, but I never made it beyond the veggies.)  I ate some meals in the “quiet room” and others perched outside, watching the clouds shift over the Berkshires.  I never felt overly full, but was completely satieted. Eating so little processed sugar, so little coffee and so many whole grains made my body shift.  There maple walnut scones were a perfect example of how healthier baked goods can still be delicious.
And, in fact, since my return, I have tried to continue to stick with tea, whole wheat pastry flour, whole grains and sugar substitutses, like agave nectar. 

I keep trying to figure out how to return to Kripalu. But, truth be told, the irony of Kripalu is that it isn’t cheap. I stayed in a dorm room with 5 other women. They were as quiet and respectful as one would want. Yet, for a bunk bed (along with 3 meals, access to the grounds and classes), for just one night is no less than $185.  So, Kripalu can not be a regular part of my routine.  But to know it is there is a blessing.

The Kripalu Yoga Retreat Center is in the Berkshires

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

FoodieMommy Shifts Once Again

I began FoodieMommy almost 6 years ago, when my first son was born. FoodieMommy was intended as a resource for other new parents, for parents of children with food allergies and, most of all, as a way for me to share my successes during the transition to parenting.  By the birth of my second son in 2008, my oldest had grown out of his allergies and FoodieMommy became a place for me to share recommendations for restaurants, food stores, trips, artisan crafts and museums.  I was lucky to be a part of an evolving food blog world and to enjoy its benefits. Yet in 2010, life evolved again, as I became a single parent.  And, in fact, it is just in the last  6 months that I been able to settle into this life.  For me, that has meant balancing three things. First, my sons. To be the best mother I can for them means being present when they are with me. Together we bake donuts and pretzels and rolls. We take walks, create art from recycled materials and build with homemade playdough. Yes, I still cook for them. My oldest (almost 6!) still eats 4 things: hot dogs, edamame, hamburgers and noodles (as well as bread, fruit and cucumbers!), while the youngest (almost 4) enjoys anything I make, from brisket to Japanese donburi. When they are with their dad, I find balance by doing what I love and need: yoga, taking walks, watercolor painting, drawing, writing and, yes, cooking. Finally, I work, teaching each day.  The main point? That as the blog world has grown, as my life has reconfigured, I have both lost some of the motivation, energy and time to devote to FoodieMommy.  What does this mean for my blog? I don’t know.  It is still here, and I will write when I am inspired by a place, a food, a product. But it will not be as regularly as I did before. So thank you, dear readers, for your devotion and patience.  And welcome to 2012.