Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whole Wheat Biscuits with White Gravy

As I may have mentioned before, I grew up on a farm, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere, in a 600 square-foot house where the electricity worked - sometimes.

Going back to visit my parents occasionally, I'm still often surprised to find the electricity functioning flawlessly, the floors redone, or other upgrades slowly introduced as my parents build their beautiful, "forever" home out of the quirky little farmhouse I called home as a child.

Years later, regardless of the urban home where Zach and I now live, with a garage, I still occasionally catch myself noting an otherwise subconscious, pervasive awareness of my "farm girl" roots. Whenever I'm helping a post-op orthopedic patient out of their wheelchair when they return from the OR, and I catch a skeptical glance directed at my genetically small-boned frame from a big burly guy when I motion to him to lean on me, I always reply, without thinking or hesitation, "I'm a farm girl - I'm stronger than I look." My patients always, invariably, break into laughter, and then, reassured somehow, fling their weight unhesitatingly onto my shoulders. And, thankfully, we haven't fallen down yet.

I'm a farm girl. I'm stronger than I look.

I savor long hikes or or runs in the mornings, across pavement now, yes, but I still fix us biscuits and gravy for our weekend brunches - healthy, light biscuits and gravy, but Southern, down-home farm biscuits and gravy still!

Whole Wheat Biscuits with White Gravy

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 T sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup 1% milk or soymilk
1/4 cup butter or light vegan marg, melted

1 lb. lean turkey sausage, casings removed, OR 1 lb. "sausage style" soy crumbles, such as Morningstar Farms brand
2 T dried onion flakes (very useful for a good little burst of intense onion flavor)
1/3 cup whole wheat flour, rounded
4 cups 1% milk
1/4 tsp poultry seasoning, rounded
Dash of hot sauce
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
~ For the biscuits, stir together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pour in the milk, and stir until just combined. Stir in the melted butter or vegan marg, again until just combined. You will now have a very light dough - I usually give it a very gentle knead or two just to bring the dough together.
~ Scoop the dough by 1/4 cup-fulls onto the baking sheet. At this point, I set them aside until the gravy is nearly ready. When you're ready to bake the biscuits, transfer them to the oven and bake for 15 minutes - until golden brown.
~ For the gravy, coat a large skillet with cooking spray and brown the turkey sausage or soy crumbles over medium heat, using a wooden spoon to break up and crumble the sausage into small pieces.
~ When the sausage or soy crumbles are browned, reduce the heat to low and stir in the onion and flour, just until well combined.
~ Pour in the milk, poultry seasoning, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce, stirring well and using the wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the skillet. (This is usually the time I slide the biscuits into the oven...)
~ Increase the heat to medium, and stir the gravy constantly until thickened.
~ Serve the biscuits topped with a generous helping of glorious gravy!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dark Chocolate Pecan Blondies

With all the glorious bounty of fresh summer fruit, it's been delightfully easy to continue maintaining our "mostly fruit desserts" resolution. I can't deny, though, that I still often I feel compelled by the urge to bake, and I do always love the challenge of creating more healthful alternatives to traditional confections. This weekend, since we were driving to South Carolina on Saturday evening to join our friends Emily and Aaron in celebrating their 3rd wedding anniversary,

I had the perfect opportunity to play with flour, some dark chocolate and the oven!

Great minds think alike (or maybe Emily and I just know each other too well after having been roommates for 3 years back in college :-), because Emily also treated us to a batch of perfectly fudgey brownies (when it comes to the fudgey vs. cakey brownies debate, I am always decidedly on the side of fudgey brownies) with a flawless dark chocolate ganache...

My contribution was a bit on the blonder side...

Dark Chocolate Pecan Blondies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup butter or light vegan marg
1/4 cup applesauce
1 3/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pecans, divided
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips, divided

~ Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 8X8 baking pan with cooking spray, followed by a dusting of flour.
~ Stir together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
~ In a large, microwave safe bowl, melt the butter or light vegan marg.
~ Whisk the applesauce and brown sugar into the melted butter or marg.
~ Vigorously beat the egg whites and vanilla into the brown sugar mixture.
~ Stir in the flour mixture until just combined.
~ Fold in 1/4 cup pecans and 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips.
~ Pour the batter into the baking pan, and scatter the remaining pecans and dark chocolate chips on top.
~ Bake for 35 to 40 minutes - until the batter is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.
~ Serve warm or cooled...


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cue the Music: Getting to Know Me...

Gina of The Candid RD, a gorgeous blog full of Gina's extensive and delicious nutrition knowledge, just posted a fun interview-style survey entitled "Getting to Know me," and I had such an enjoyable time reading her answers that I decided to take her up on the invitation to her readers to answer the questions on our own blogs! I also want to pause for an enthusiastic moment and highly recommend Gina's knowledgeable, colorful, energetic blog! She's written extensive posts on everything from fiber to farmed vs. wild salmon - a girl after my own heart!

(One of my favorite photos from the last time I was in Israel, Fall of 2006... It's been too long... We're saving up for the plane tickets, a little at a time!)

Getting to Know Me...
(Does anyone else suddenly have the urge to start singing the soundtrack from The King and I? :-)

What is your current obsession?
Fresh strawberries. Pineapple. Cantaloupe. Avocados. More strawberries. I love summer!

What is your weirdest obsession?
Our cat, Fritz, is obsessed with shoes - specifically dragging our shoes up the stairs even though Zach's shoes are nearly as big as Fritz is. Now that's a weird obsession...

(Fritz sitting in his homemade cardboard box cat bed, looking very innocent)

Myself, I'm obsessed with cold breakfast cereals. If I'm home alone for lunch, I almost always have cereal, and I've mentioned before that when Zach is out of town I sometimes have cereal for supper... *sheepish expression* Zach worries that cereal is an inadequate lunch, but I think plain shredded wheat, skim milk, homemade peach yogurt, and a banana are both nutrient dense and tempting, no? :-) And I promise that most days I have salads for lunch... :-)

Starbucks or Peets?
Oh dear, I've never been to a Peets either! I would likely say Starbucks anyway - Earl Grey Tea Latte with skim milk, please... :-)

What's for Dinner?
Jalapeno chili, homemade whole wheat bread, and a salad with spring greens, almonds, raisins, and balsamic vinegar!

What would you eat for your last meal?
I'm the mushy type, so it's hard for me to write this without choking up, but definitely my Grandmother's black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, and cornbread.

What was the last thing you bought?
Oh dear, this isn't exciting at all... Shampoo. It was, um, raspberry shampoo... On sale... Hmmm, still not very exciting. Well, the most recent interesting item I purchased was a 1.5 pound wedge of Parmesan cheese at the bulk foods store...

What are you listening to right now?
Birdsong and the washing machine cheerfully washing clothes... The CD currently in my car is Arm's Way by Islands. Awesome!

What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
I absolutely cannot decide between Marble Slab's Cake Batter ice cream or Godiva Belgian Dark Chocolate... Trust me, I've been trying to pick a favorite between those two for years! A noble quest, I believe... :-)

What do you think of the person who tagged you?
Although I only know Gina through the blog-world, I am so glad I "met" her across the web - I truly admire her knowledge and joyful spirit!

If you could go anywhere in the world for the next hour, where would you go?
To Israel with Zach, to have supper in the old city of Jerusalem, up the stone steps and around the corner from the Western Wall, sitting at a cafe table beside my favorite falafel stand (the one where, uncertain about the role of French fries as a side dish, the stand owner tucks French fries into your falafel-filled pita...)

Which language do you want to learn?
In terms of learning a completely new language from scratch, it's always been one of my dreams to learn Russian, captivated as I am by the beauty of the language and it's literature. I'm still determined to do so, although my tentative attempts have proven to me that the task will likely take me a while! More immediately, I'm working on improving my Spanish, which is functional but far from eloquent!

What is your favorite color?
My answer is always black. However, this statement usually leads to a brief argument about optical physics, a topic which I am not qualified to debate quite so passionately. Depending on whether one is thinking in terms of refraction or absorption, black does not refract visible light (leading some to inform me that black is not a "color" per se), because, instead, black absorbs all frequencies of visible light (leading me to reply that black is therefore arguably all colors, one of the many reasons it remains my favorite color). I've given this entirely too much thought, as I'm sure you can tell... Regardless, when it comes to clothes, eyeshadow, cars, and general optical philosophy, black is always my favorite color. If I'm decorating a house or planting flowers, however, I default to my second favorite color, purple... (*high five, Gina!* :-)

What is your favorite piece of clothing in your own wardrobe?
Oh goodness, that's a hard question... I sympathize completely with Gina's words about being a student on a budget (or a recently graduated, soon to be once again student, in my case... :-) and therefore not being able to justify purchasing new clothes... I can't remember the last time I went clothes shopping for myself! (I do love picking up clothes for Zach every once in a while - it works out perfectly that he doesn't like clothes shopping, but gets all excited about new clothes, while I love clothes shopping for him... :-) I still have entirely too much fun mixing and matching funky outfits from my recycled, mostly second-hand shop clothes collection, though, and I think my hands-down all-time favorite single piece of clothing is a pair of perfectly fitting jeans that I found at a second hand shop for only two dollars... There's nothing quite like the nearly-elusive ideal pair of jeans...

What is your dream job?
I am so fortunate to be able to say, the job I have right now - working as a nurse in a hospital, spending whirlwind nights and days helping people recover, sometimes watching people die, crying and laughing with patients, deciphering Doctors' illegible orders, holding hands, saying "big stick, sorry" while starting lots of IVs, cleaning giant gaping wounds, trying to make pain go away, walking 2880 steps each day at work (thanks to a pedometer, I counted!), and loving every minute of my 13 hour shifts.

What is your worst habit?
I am so indecisive about small decisions... I know it drives Zach bonkers, although he's so patient with me. Sometimes he has to "bribe" me into making decisions, such as "If you pick the movie we're watching this weekend, I'll make the salads for dinner..." I'm trying to work on my small-decision making, really, but I find it quite challenging as I tend to be analytical about decisions, and, well, with small decisions there's nothing of major impact to analyze, leaving me and my mental algorithms at an impasse. Major decisions, though, such as "Should I change careers?" No problem!

If you had $100 right now, what would you spend it on?
I'd put it towards our next mortgage payment on the house, which is due again at the end of the month... I know, so boring and pedestrian of me.

Do you admire anyone's style?
Yes! You've heard me mention before how my friend Kathleen is so winsome and glamorous? She's my style inspiration - both in terms of grace and elegance in navigating life, and in terms of clothes and fashion!

What are you going to do after this?
I worked last night, but I haven't gone to sleep yet because because I'm off work today and I want to savor every glorious moment! I'll probably take a tiny nap, then clean the house, and then meet Zach for lunch at a Japanese restaurant near the hospital where he's currently rotating! Yay for surgery days when Zach gets a longer lunch break if the O.R. isn't too booked!

What are you favorite movies?
I Heart Huckabees, Miracle (yep, the Disney hockey movie :-), the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Medicine Man (an obscure early 90s Sean Connery movie), all of the Original Series cast Star Trek movies, and definitely, definitely, Pride and Prejudice, both the miniseries and the newer movie.

What is your favorite fruit?
Glorious, glorious fresh pineapple...

What is your favorite book?
If I had to pick just one, William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! However, I've had four favorites that have been close to my heart for years and years: Absalom, Absalom!, of course, and also Shakespeare's Othello, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Of books that I've read for the first time very recently, I'm awed by John Dufresne's Louisiana Power and Light.

Do you collect something?
Zach and I collect books, in mammoth, out of control quantities... We have, I jest not, thousands of books stored on shelves, windowsils, and decorative piles all around the house... I actually think I have a book-collecting problem...

What is your favorite smell?
Fresh baked bread, and, before the bread is in the oven, the scent of proofing yeast! Thank you, Steph - I'm so glad I'm not alone! :-)

What are you most proud of?
The fact that I've always, once I knew a decision was right, followed my dreams and instincts even when family members and friends have levied upon me everything from doubtful looks to shouted criticism. If I had listened to skepticism and hadn't followed what I knew was true for my journey in life, I never would have found my dream job in the career where I belonged, Zach and I wouldn't have purchased the fixer-upper house with kicked-in doors and no working toilets that is now our gorgeous, peaceful home, and I might not have gone to hear the Red Stick Ramblers play on a Tuesday night in Baton Rouge when I was supposed to be lesson planning for the course I had to teach the next day and consequently I might not have met Zach... but I did, all of these things, and my life is infinitely fuller and filled with joy as a result.

How many times do you press the snooze button before you get up?
I confess I don't press the snooze button at all - I'm one of those people who, when required to get up at a certain time, will fling myself out of bed at the first tone of the alarm. Zach usually presses the snooze button 2 or 3 times if he reachs it first, though... :-)

Cats or dogs?
Both! :-) There's a kitty sitting in my lap right now as I write this...

What do you dislike about yourself?
Physically, there's a reason you'll rarely see a photo of me with my hair pulled up (even though I always wear my hair up in a French twist at work) - I don't like my ears! They're just a little too big, if you ask me...
Personality wise, see "indecisive about small decisions," above... Sigh...

What do you like best about yourself?
Physically, I like the fact that I'm really tall! Very useful for reaching glasses on the top shelf and climbing over fences...
Personality wise, I'm glad that the one thing for which I want to be remembered is compassion, even though some people tease me for being a softy. I'm soft-hearted. And I laugh a lot. I'm grateful for both of those traits.

Complete the following: Love is...
Love is knowing that whever my love is, now that I've found him, is home for me... and knowing that one thing, that simple, pure thing called love, is my everything. The rest is just tables and chairs.

Back in the kitchen, Zach and I are going bulk foods store this weekend, so I have a feeling all the mozarella, parmesan, and tinned tomatoes from my previous trip are about to make an appearance on the blog soon... Especially since the tomato plants in our garden are hinting that we should use up the tinned tomatoes before we're innundated with fresh ones!

Till next time... Cheers!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Zach's Garlic Lime Barbecue Sauce

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I shall say that yesterday truly ranked among The Great Weekends of All Time. Despite working on Saturday night, I had such a great night at work that I arrived home Sunday morning feeling energized rather than exhausted, so instead of scooting into bed to take a nap I changed into shorts and a tee-shirt, and Zach and I drove to a nearby park to play tennis! It had been 4 years since I last played, so I was more than a little rusty, but it felt sensational to run, leap, and volley in the morning sun.

Returning home, we showered, changed, and then had a grilling afternoon! One of our favorite weekend pastimes has rapidly become an elongated, unhurried, leisurely afternoon beside the grill, sharing crisp cold IPAs and chatting about everything. When Zach grills I become the sous-chef, which I love. I prepped trays and trays of veggies on the patio table while Zach worked his magic with a marinade and basting sauce he began concocting three days in advance...

Zach's Garlic Lime Barbecue Sauce

* Zach is a completely intuitive cook, somehow always having a nearly psychic sense of the amounts and flavors to combine, and thus his recipes - and sauces in particular - emerge without any ingredient quantities to note, despite my attempts to watch and approximate his measurements. Consequently, this recipe entirely employs the "to taste" method... :-)

** Onion juice and garlic juice are 2 of our favorite ingredients for powerfully flavored marinades and sauces... Zach highly recommends them!

1 T butter or light vegan marg
1 onion, minced
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Brown Sugar
Liquid Smoke

Lime Juice
Minced garlic
Garlic Juice
Onion Juice
Cajun Seasoning

~ To make you basic barbecue sauce, saute the onion in the butter or vegan marg in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until the onion is limp and translucent. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the ketchup, cider vinegar, and brown sugar, honey, mustard, and liquid smoke to taste.
~ Remove the barbecue sauce from the heat, allow it to cool, then stir in generous splashes of lime juice, minced garlic, garlic juice, onion juice, Cajun seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste.
~ Your resulting sauce will be glorious for marinading pre-grilling and basting during grilling... We use it to coat chicken, tofu, tempeh, hamburgers, asparagus, mushrooms, and my personal favorite, thick slices of eggplant! It's also delicious for making baked dishes in the oven too, such as baked chicken, baked tofu, or baked eggplant...

(Our kitties want to wish a very Happy Father's day to Zach, their Human-Dad... :-)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Broccoli with Oregano Infused Olive Oil

Before I begin, I must digress and tell y'all about the incredibly cool present that Miss Brenda, Zach's mom, gave us for Christmas last year - a vintage Tupperware microwave steamer!

Not only does this clever tool appeal to my fondness for all things vintage kitchen-ware (some girls long for vintage Oscar de la Renta dresses, I long for vintage Pyrex), but it makes veggie steaming the absolute easiest process imaginable... and, during sticky summer days such as these (it's reached 98 degrees already this morning!), I don't even have to fire up the stove-top to steam something light and lovely and green...

(One of my favorite vintage Fire King dishes... :-)

We're especially fond of steamed broccoli, and while we often are in raptures over the simple flavor magic that occurs when steamed broccoli is sprinkled just with lemon juice, salt, and pepper, last night our herb garden called as I was transferring the broccoli into the steamer.

Our garden soil's natural condition is pure Georgia clay. Thick and red, Georgia clay is capable of rapidly alternating - depending on the weather - between a fiercely sticky paste that threatens to entrap the soles of your shoes permanently and a rock solid mass that can rival concrete in its durability. I've been slowly, one step at a time as the budget allows, attempting to improve the soil quality in our garden beds, and while we now have happy tomato plants for the first year one particular variety of plants has grown with unbridled enthusiasm from the very, clay-laden beginning: herbs. Our rosemary bush catapulted from 6 inches to 3 feet in height in one season, our chives are threatening to spill over into the rose garden, and the basil is nearly as tall as the tomato plants. As fast as we can dry, store, and give away herb bouquets as presents, our herbs keep multiplying! I love sitting by the herb garden in the evening, drawing inspiration from their ability to thrive - with great joy de vivre, it seems to me - even under less than ideal conditions.

Our latest addition to the herb collection is a jaunty little oregano bush, and since it too has doubled in size since I planted it a month ago, I figured it wouldn't mind if I trimmed a few stalks to enliven our broccoli...

Broccoli with Oregano Infused Olive Oil

1 1/2 lb broccoli florets
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley (or the same amount dried)
2 rounded T coarsely chopped fresh oregano (or 2 tsp dried)
1 tsp anchovy paste (optional - leave this out for the veg/vegan version)
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

~ Steam the broccoli according to your preferred technique, and transfer to a large serving dish.
~ Take 1 T olive oil from the 1/3 cup, place the 1 T in a small saucepan or skillet, and pour the rest of the olive oil into a food processor.
~ In the 1 T olive oil over medium high heat, saute the garlic until it's nicely golden brown.
~ Pour the browned garlic into the food processor, along with the parsley, oregano, anchovy paste if you like, salt, and pepper. Whir this glorious mixture together until well-blended.
~ Drizzle the herb oil over the steamed broccoli, and serve warm...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Humble Food: Asparagus and Potato Soup

This morning, I'm thinking about asparagus - the epitome of spring and summer, light, airy, pungent, green, earthy, a slender, mysterious seasonal gift.

Asparagus and I have long had a complex relationship. My favorite vegetable, and Zach's as well, is always asparagus, but asparagus masquerades as a bit of an elitist, just oh so slightly but noticeably less economical than, say, the hale and hearty green bean, which will happily, crisply, and satisfyingly follow one home from the farmer's market for a mere dollar or so a bag.

Still, I long to unite asparagus and green beans in our kitchen, celebrating all of the verdant produce so fortuitously at hand.

Consequently, my all-time favorite home-wisdom kitchen tip comes from the mother of one of my mother's dear friends, a stalwart woman who still runs her family's farm at the age of 87. Recall those thick, woody, tenacious asparagus stems one is instructed to snap neatly off and discard before grilling, roasting, or otherwise preparing one's asparagus? Save the stems for a healthful, creamy, intensely green asparagus soup, and one can have two whole meals, both economical and celebratory, from one, dare I say, appealingly humble bunch of ethereal asparagus...

Asparagus and Potato Soup

2 large potatoes
1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cups vegetable broth
Woody stem ends from 2 bunches asparagus (each initial bunch approx 1 lb.)
1/2 tsp tarragon
1 cup 1% milk or soymilk
Minced parsley and chives

~ Bake/cook the potatoes however you prefer (in the microwave is fastest). Cut them into 1" cubes, and set aside.
~ In a large soup pot, saute the onion in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion is limp and translucent.
~ Add the broth and asparagus, cover, bring to a boil, then boil gently for 45 minutes - until the woody asparagus stems are nice and soft.
~ Transfer the asparagus, a couple of ladles of broth, and the cubed cooked potatoes into a food processor, and puree until the mixture is creamy and smooth, taking care to leave an outlet for the steam. (This may need to be performed in 2 batches.)
~ Stir the pureed potatoes and asparagus back into the broth, along with the tarragon and milk or soymilk.
~ Gently reheat, then serve sprinkled with minced parsley and chives!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Baked Red Beans with Polenta

While I am filled with enthusiasm for both my job and Zach's new undertakings during his clinical rotations, which began this month, I am still working mostly 12-hour night shifts, and Zach is now working 10-hour day shifts every weekday, and thus during half the week we aren't able to see each other at all, simply passing on the metaphorical highway as I drive to work while Zach makes his way home. Thankfully, my 12-hour shifts mean I only work 3 or 4 days a week, but still, this morning as I walked Zach to his car, we looked at each other for a moment and then laughed ruefully - "See you in a few days?" said Zach? "See you on Wednesday," I sighed.

On the nights when I'm working, such as tonight, how I miss us cooking supper together, or Zach bringing his homework to the kitchen so he can keep me company as I bake and saute... I've always known our time together was precious, but oh how do I now miss the luxury of seeing each other every day. We have certainly been apart before (y'all might remember the enormous quantity of pinto beans I erroneously cooked while Zach was at Air Force training for 5 weeks), but it's always a despondent time. On the brighter side, though our challenging new schedules will surely make us appreciate the joy of each other's presence all the more.

Tonight the best I can do is leave Zach a fridge full of tantalizing supper dishes and a love note on the counter, but last night I hummed and seasoned in the kitchen, Zach sat at the table doing research on his laptop, red beans and tomatoes simmered on the stove, and all was right in my world.

Baked Red Beans with Polenta

1 1/2 cups quick-cooking grits or polenta (same thing, really :-)
6 cups water
1 T olive oil
1 lb. ground turkey OR 1 lb. tempeh, crumbled
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
4 oz reduced fat cheddar cheese, diced into small cubes
Minced parsley
Additional cheese, for garnishing

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
~ In a saucepan, bring the 4 cups water, seasoned with salt and pepper, to a boil.
~ Stir the grits/polenta into the boiling water, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 7 minutes, raising the cover to stir frequently. Remove from the heat, stir one more time, and set aside.
~ In a large skillet, saute the ground turkey or tempeh and the onion in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the turkey or tempeh is browned and the onion is limp and translucent.
~ Stir in the bell pepper, kidney beans, and tomatoes with their juice, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until thickened a bit and heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
~ Spread half the cooked grits/polenta in the bottom of an 8" round casserole dish.
~ Pour the kidney beans mixture on top.
~ Sprinkle the cheese over the kidney beans mixture.
~ Spoon dollops of the remaining grits/polenta atop the cheese, using a round biscuit cutter to shape the polenta dollops into pretty circles.
~ Sprinkle sea salt and fresh ground pepper on top of the final grits/polenta layer.
~ Bake for 25 minutes - until lightly golden brown.
~ Serve garnished with minced fresh parsley and a bit more cheddar cheese...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Spring Pasta with Mushroom Cream Sauce

I was supposed to be off work yesterday, but instead I was offered an equally tantalizing option - to work an extra day shift, in the ICU.

Now, I confess I was a bit nervous as I headed off to work yesterday morning - one does not normally work in the ICU a mere 3 months after graduating from nursing school, and one does not normally work in the ICU after one has only been working at their first nursing job for only 5 weeks, but the ICU at the hospital where I work was short-handed, and I suppose they were willing to take what they could get - and I was more than willing to sign on for the ride.

I was initially supposed to simply assist the regular ICU nurses with their workload, but after only the first two hours of my shift - a hazy stretch of time during which a patient coded, a patient passed away, and a patient had to be shocked with the defibrillator to restore a normal heart rhythm - the supervisor asked me, with a slightly suspicious sideways glance, if I would be willing to take a patient of my own (because of the need for minute-by-minute care, the normal full work load for an ICU nurse at our hospital is only 1 or 2 patients anyway). I soon realized the supervisor was wearing a sly expression because I was about to spend the next fourteen hours tending to a disoriented, combative patient who did her continual utmost to rip out anything she could reach - IVs, catheters, Oxygen tubing - with her teeth, all the while screaming obscenities at full volume.

How does one explain to someone, who is not in the frame of mind to comprehend your words, and who could not receive sedatives or even relaxants due to heart and kidney conditions, that the needles and strange tubes sticking out of her body were necessary, and supposed to be there? Over the course of the day, and into the night, I improvised - I talked to her, held her hand, repeated calming explanations again and again, knowing she wouldn't understand them, and sometimes resorted to leaning across her with one arm while using the other hand to type my required charting and documentation into the hospital computer I'd pulled into her room.

When I finally shuffled through the door at 9:30 last night, having left the house at 5:30 that morning, I found Zach and our friends Emily and Aaron awaiting me with a surprise dinner party! Never once complaining that they'd had to wait until such an inordinately late hour for me to arrive, Zach had fixed his famous, comforting rice and gravy, Emily and Aaron brought a glorious chocolate cake, and they all had some very welcome chilled hard cider ready in the fridge... :-) My contribution to the evening was a spring mushroom pasta dish I had whipped up the night before, inspired by a whole glorious 2 pounds of mushrooms I'd brought home from the grocery...

How fortunate am I, to have a job that inspires, exhilarates, and exhausts me - and how even more fortunate am I to have such a remarkable welcome awaiting me at the end of the day...

Whole Grain Spring Pasta with a Mushroom Cream Sauce

3 T butter or light vegan marg

1 onion, chopped

4 oz button mushrooms, sliced

4 oz portobello mushrooms, sliced

3 T whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1 tsp paprika

1 rounded T ketchup

1 tsp rosemary

1/3 cup 1% milk or soymilk

12 oz whole grain pasta, cooked according to package directions

Minced parsley

3 or 4 generous handfuls of mixed spring greens

~ In a saucepan over medium heat, saute the onion in the butter or vegan marg until the onion is limp and translucent.

~ Add the mushrooms, and continue to saute until the mushrooms are limp and the onions are brownish.

~ Reduce the heat to low, and quickly stir in the flour, just until the mushrooms and onions are well coated.

~ Stir in the broth, paprika, ketchup, and rosemary, increase the heat again, and bring the mixture to a boil.

~ Let the sauce simmer for around 5 minutes - until thickened a bit.

~ Lower the heat, stir in the milk or soymilk, and reheat gently.

~ Fold the sauce over the whole grain pasta, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

~ Garnish each serving with parsley and a liberal helping of spring greens, and serve and enjoy!