April 28, 2009

Call Me Couscous

On the plus side of separation and divorce is the opportunity to fix a few things and get them right the second time around. Takes a while - a good, long while - to figure out what those things should be, exactly. It's an iterative process, and one I'm going through with some measure of success and a nearly equal measure of failure.

Here's one I'm determined to get right.

Lesson 1: Make time for you.

It’s okay not to be at the top of your list, but you should at least make the top five. A stressed out mom is a grumpy mom, and even the best of us a need a break.

Given the massive changes in my life in the last few months, I needed a big huge gargantuan break. So, last weekend, I took one. Invited a friend to hop a train with me and headed to NYC for food and art and a little Broadway.

Which brings me to couscous.

My part of the world is a quick train ride from NYC. But if you've ever spent much time on Amtrak, you know the food is, well, bleh. And that's being charitable.

So I packed a lunch. A grown-up, not-your-average-lunchbox lunch. No plain Jane turkey sandwiches for me on my grown-up vacation. Went recipe trolling on foodnetwork.com and came up with something that I thought might work: Moroccan Chicken with Apricot Couscous and Green Olive Sauce. Changed it up a bit, because no one in her right mind should ever spend an hour and ten minutes making lunch. Used boneless, skinless chicken breasts and covered them in a very intense, home-ground spice rub ... then rinsed off the rub once everything was cooked and cooled. Used regular old tortillas instead of wasting time hunting down lavosh.

Grown-up food does not have to be exotic. Just has to fake it well.

Couscous in a wrap is not something I'd ever have thought of on my own. I frankly figured the texture would be a little odd in what was basically a sandwich (and if you've read me on couscous before, you'll get that). But it went so well with the other bits, it made that wrap worth eating. Celeb chef Tyler Florence doesn't usually impress me much, but that worked.

So, the wraps were good. Set a nice, adult tone for a nice, adult weekend. Managed to stay away from the giant Toys R Us in Times Square, avoided the M&M store, and even kept my distance from the world-renowned Natural History museum. Instead, I toured a grown-up museum full of grown-up art, ate lots of grown-up food, and even had a grown-up drink or two.

Even better, though ... I had two meals worth of phenomenal leftovers waiting for me on my return. The couscous and all its flavors had a chance to meld and soften, the olive sauce settled into salty, tangy comfort, and the chicken found its juicy goodness.

I'll make that again ... then wait two or three days to eat it. Without the tortillas this time.

April 21, 2009

THE Tuna Salad

So, no surprise here, I am a mom. Mom of three, in fact, and quite proud of it. I also look like a mom of three. Gave birth to all of 'em myself and have the scars, stretch marks and cellulite to prove it. And for the past decade or so, I've been happily convincing myself these are badges of honor.

I am also now a not-quite-single mom who is considering reentry into the dating universe after 15 years. Frankly, unless you've been through this experience yourself, you cannot possibly imagine the sheer terror involved in putting yourself out there again. Dating was hard enough before I looked like this. And I can only imagine the challenges of dating now that I do.

To that end, I've been trying - at least a little, when I have time - to eat more healthfully. Lately that's meant that I've scaled back the late-night binge eating, and I'm trying to stay away from the macaroni & cheese and chicken nuggets. The kids may get McDonald's, but not me! Well, maybe a fry ... or two. But that's it!

Today, in an effort to be healthy, I sat down to make myself a salad. Checked the fridge. No lettuce!! How does one make a salad without lettuce? Oh, sure, there are ways ... but my creativity was stifled for a minute. Just a minute, mind.

And then I came up with it - the Ultimate Tuna Salad. High in protein and veggies. Not a refined carbohydrate in the bowl. Satisfying. Full of flavor and crunch. And I just gobbled it up in about 30 seconds. Hope it's to your taste.

1/2 red pepper, chopped (though my red pepper was admittedly the largest I've ever seen, so you may want more)
2 whole carrots (or about 10 of the minis), chopped
6-8 sweet baby gherkins, chopped
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
1 can hearts of palm, halved or quartered and sliced
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried tarragon (rubbed in the palms)
salt & pepper to taste
1 can chunk light tuna packed in water, drained

Dump it all in a bowl and mix. I would have added a quarter cup or so of pepitas if I'd had them around. Maybe some corn. This would be fun to play around with a bit.

This iteration, though, was definitely good enough for me. The crunch and the soft, the salt and the sweet - it just worked. I want more. My cats are going nuts, as well - though I think that's all about the tuna.

This should probably serve 4. It's going to give me just two meals, though, I can tell that already. And please don't tell me that eating healthfully also includes portion control. That particular rule does not apply today.

April 2, 2009

It's All About the Texture

My au pair doesn't like couscous.

This is a surprise to me. I mean, it's couscous. Cooks up in minutes, minimal on the flavor spectrum, nice and easy. On the starchy sides scale, it's easier and about as interesting as plain rice or potatoes. And she's a plain food kind of girl.

Still, no go for her on the couscous.

I'm starting to think that half the world's likes and dislikes have more to do with texture than flavor.

All his life, my not-yet-ex-husband vehemently protested the addition of onions to a dish, sometimes crying allergies if he couldn't get his point across to wait staff. We were married a decade before I figured out the secret. I was making soup from scratch one day and desperately wanted the onions in it ... so I sauteed them, ground them to a pulp in my food processor, and put them back in the pot. Two whole onions, and not a single complaint from the peanut gallery. In fact, the dish got raves and a request for seconds, even thirds. I realized that, much as he might like to think otherwise, the issue was never one of flavor. It was simply the fact of the onion, its clearly observed presence, and its texture, that set off this intense reaction.

My lovable Aspie has always chosen his food - with the exception of permafaves pizza and macaroni & cheese - by their texture. I think this is a symptom of his hypo-tactile sensory integration issues. He needs stimulus. So when it comes to food, he wants hard, crunchy, tough or chewy. Or tongue curdlingly sour - yes, a taste, but one that produces a physical reaction.

I'm not much different. I will eat almost anything, but there are some foods - well, two, to be exact - that I avoid like the plague. Rye bread with caraway seeds, because little hard things that get stuck in your teeth simply do not belong in bread. Or in anything, for that matter. The second? Cottage cheese. The lumps get me every time. Actually, it reminds me of this coconut ice cream - I think it was called magpuno? - that I had when I lived in Manila as a kid. Little soggy pieces of frozen, grated coconut. It felt a lot like eating worm ice cream. Ick.

Couscous I can handle. Worm ice cream, not so much.