24 June, 2013

artichokes for 2

I've been wanting to follow up those last 2 posts with a recipe but it's been a hectic few weeks. But now summer is here, and I kicked it off with my family, gazing at the super moon, and admiring some photography. Believe it or not, I'm looking forward to a month of studying and a break from the hospital. A cup of coffee and sunshine streaming onto my textbook instead of three-hour morning rounds, a load of online practice questions instead of the daily public questioning that one can never be adequately prepared for, and the freedom to step away from it all in search of inspiration, a wholesome meal, or a few sun salutations.

In that spirit, here is a nice simple recipe, perfect for sharing with a friend.

My mom always served steamed artichokes with Hollandaise sauce, which is delicious but full of fat and its need for precise, careful preparation intimidates me. This is a healtheir, easier alternative but just as full of flavor. Eating it is messy and completely occupying, so there's no room for multi-tasking or any distraction greater than a pleasant conversation.

Artichokes for 2:
 2 artichokes
6 cloves garlic peeled
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
a few springs of rosemary or thyme

Cut the stems off of the artichokes so that you have just about 1 inch remaining and a nice flat bottom. Pull the leaves open a bit so that you can shove the garlic cloves in, scattering them through 3 different layers and 3 different areas of the artichoke.

Fill a pot with about an inch of water, add a good pinch of salt and the fresh herbs, and set the artichokes in it. Ideally, the water won't quite reach the lowest leaves, the artichokes will balance well on their own, and a lid will fit over them without touching. But if any of those don't quite work out, it will probably still all be just fine.

Bring the water to a simmer, cover, and let steam for 30 minutes - 1 hour, depending on how small and tender the artichokes are. I usually try to pull out a middle leaf at around 30 minutes to see how well-cooked it is, just be careful not to burn your hands! Just put it half-way in your mouth and bite down softly with your front teeth; it should be soft enough that the meaty part near the base easily scrapes off.

When they're done, place each artichoke in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as salt and pepper if desired. Serve with an extra bowl or plate for discarding the leaves.

In case you haven't eaten an artichoke before, you should know that the center is the best part! When you get to the point where the leaves become translucent and prickly, stop eating, scrape those leaves and the soft fuzzy stuff underneath them out with a spoon, and eat the heart just as it is, sopping up any of the olive oil and vinegar that remains.

02 June, 2013

thought for food. part 2

Clearly, many people are struggling to navigate the world of healthy eating trends, trying to figure out how to feed their bodies and souls, confused by all the options. Here is my favorite thing I've read about it: "the terrible tragedy of the healthy eater" - it's hilarious! And talk of the microbiome is going mainstream, thanks to the New York Times and Michael Pollan. But eating well is about more than just what we eat, it's also about how we eat, so that's what I want to talk about in part 2.

Fortunately, this is much more straight forward, and it basically boils down to taking the time to appreciate your food. Ideally, we would do this through every step of the process - from purchasing whole ingredients or actually growing them, to preparing a meal from scratch, to eating it mindfully. Usually when I hear people talk about these ideas, it conjures up this image of some do-it-all woman making her own homemade sunscreen, with a chicken coop in her backyard, friend of all the farmers at the weekend morning market, cooking 3 meals a day for her family and baking her own bread each weekend. She probably has an awesome blog with 100s of followers, too. It's beautiful, terribly impractical, and probably nonexistent.

Fortunately, you don't have to treck out to a farm or become a gardener or a gourmet chef. Food appreciation can fit into your everyday life. Even simple weekday meals  can be eaten mindfully. When we know a bit about where our food comes from or have taken the time to pick out the nicest bunch of radishes at the supermarket, it's easier to relish it a bit more. When we take the time to cut and wash those radishes, we begin to think about how nice it will be to eat them. When we eat more slowly, without music or television as a distraction, we enjoy it more and we eat less.

To me, sharing food and recipes is a big part of this as well. I think the most wonderful thing about this bubble of food blogs is that it encourages just that. Similar to church women's leagues creating cookbooks, I often feel like I have a community of like-minded people writing about their love for food. It's a community that has introduced me to all kinds of new ingredients, like spelt flour, chia seeds, and ramps. I also think cooking for others is a very powerful thing. It fulfills a desire to nurture and to give in the most fundamental way. It also exposes people to things they might not try otherwise, like quinoa (really, some people don't know about quinoa yet!) or simply a vegetarian meal. In fact, it's one of my favorite things to do, and I wish I did it far more often.

I recently read a summary of the characteristics of a group of Greeks who tend to live much longer than most people. A few of the "10 ways to live to be 100" are: take naps, stop worrying about being late, grow a garden and eat from it, 'get it on', walk daily, be part of a spiritual community, and surround yourself with people who do the same. Even if you won't live to be 100, don't those sound like ways to have a happier life in general? Taking the time to enjoy your food is the same. It's good for you, and you will enjoy it. Win-win.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. But it's definitely worth striving for.
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