September 21, 2013
First let me open with this: when you are told by FEMA that you are in a 100-year floodplain, and your mortgage company requires you to buy flood insurance, the appropriate response is, ‘Oh, ok. Let me read up on that so that I 1) have some knowledge about what one should do if caught in a flood and 2) know exactly what is and what is not covered by flood insurance. The correct response is not ‘Yeah, yeah, 100-year floodplain, whatever.’ Last week was certainly an interesting one in Boulder and many surrounding communities. Boulder’s average annual precipitation is just over 20 inches. In six days we got over 17 inches of rain — over half of it in one day.
Last Wednesday night we had our first hint of what was to come from a badly leaking window and a running sump pump. An hour later, our basement was flooded with two inches of water. We brought several things up to the garage, and lifted other things up to higher perches in our crowded basement that admittedly looks like it might feature in an episode of Hoarders. We knew that boxes being saved for future shipping needs, as well as just about anything paper was probably a goner already, so we didn’t bother with those, and left them on the floor in the water.
We went to bed hoping the sump pump would empty out the water overnight. Which it did. But it kept raining on Thursday. Just before dinner time, the basement once again flooded with another two inches of water. My husband pulled the pump from our fountain in the backyard for extra pump power, and MacGuyvered that up to go out a basement window. But rain kept coming, and the water kept getting higher. We went down to try to lift things up even higher, but on several of the heaviest items (the 100+ lb ones), we said ‘well, it’s insured – what happens happens’. (This was mistake number…whatever number we’re up to — personal items are NOT covered by either the flood insurance with FEMA or homeowners insurance). And so it kept on raining. And the level in the basement kept on rising. At one point, the toilet started overflowing, filling the basement with even more water (and no doubt all the other things that come out with sewer water). So we abandoned the basement, and turned its power off, aside from the outlet near the ceiling where the sump pump was plugged in.
Shortly after that my husband let fly an expletive and said ‘Look at the street!’ Look at the street, indeed! But it could no longer technically be called a street. It was rather hard for any of us to get great pictures since it was dark and creepy out, but these do a fairly good job of illustrating why I was rather freaked out that night. Our former street was now a rapidly flowing river.
And a picture that shows a little perspective on the depth of the river:
What was even more disturbing was what was going on two houses further upstream.
We stood on the lawn in the rain and watched the river for a while with our next door neighbors, then came in and caught a little tv to try to take our mind off things. Around midnight we decided to go to bed, hopeful that the river would be gone in the morning. Luckily, we had our street back by the time we woke up on Friday morning.
There were a few things we didn’t have, however – since our basement flooded to over the doorknob on the door at the foot of the stairs, we had no furnace, no hot water heater, and no hope for successful flushing in the restrooms. So we headed out for breakfast and supplies (we discovered that during the night our makeshift plumbing for the 2nd pump had broken and was merely putting water back in the basement via a different window well). Once we returned with extra pipe, we were able to MacGuyver an improved drainage route with an assist from our neighbor and a couple of his tarps.
Our basement had flooded to about four feet. At this point we started calling around to see if we could find some professional help from people who actually had a clue how to clean up from a flood. It took five calls, but we got a slot at #4 on the list of a company coming out from Overland Park, Kansas. Fortunately with our increased pump power it started to drain quicker, and actually emptied out the basement by the next day. But with a basement full of soggy stuff, we were still totally up for help.
Then came the time where we found out what our flood insurance actually covered. It covers cleanup, and as the foreman of the crew helping us said, ‘basically what would be left if you picked up your house and shook everything out.’ Minus any finished basement features including carpet, tile, and quite a bit more. Alrighty then. Now we know. So, long story short (and still not over yet), the cleanup crew hauled out carpet, drywall, a multitude of trashbags, a parade of college-era furniture, electronics and stereo equipment. Antimicrobials were sprayed, dehumidifiers deployed, windows opened. Furnace and hot water heating companies, trash haulers, and insurance companies were called.
We’re still working on cleanup, and will be for a while, but honestly – we still have our house, we can still get to our house, and we still have the vast majority of our possessions. We are so much better off than so many people in the surrounding areas. There were several deaths, many people still missing, and so many people have either had their homes destroyed, can’t get to them, or can’t get out of their mountain town. We are very fortunate.
So now a little food, since this is a food blog. I was not in a great mood for cooking over the weekend. So I was really looking for something easy to throw together that was still healthier than the snack food I’d been eating off and on between phone calls and cleaning. I cooked some heirloom beans one day, since that was pretty easy. We had nearly a whole carton of rice left over from our delivery from Tra Ling’s the previous night, and I had a pepper and some onions in the fridge. I picked up a can of fire roasted tomatoes, and decided I’d make something like dirty rice. But, unbeknownst to me, I had no clue what dirty rice was – dirty rice is dirty because of chicken liver or giblets. I prefer my rice to be dirty from curry or tomatoes. So I went with tomatoes.
Post-Flood Whatever Bean Tomato Rice
2 cups pretty much any kind of cooked beans
2 cups cooked rice – white, brown, wild, whatever
1 can fire roasted chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper – red, orange, or yellow
1 cup chopped onion – white, yellow, or red
2 cloves minced garlic (or be lazy and use garlic powder)
1 tsp olive oil
hot smoked paprika or just paprika
Aleppo pepper or other dried red pepper
Heat the olive oil over medium in a large skillet. Saute the bell pepper and onion until tender. (If using real garlic, add it a few minutes after the bell pepper and onion.) Add the tomatoes, and about 1/3 cup of chicken stock. Then add some chili powder and paprika, and a bit of the Aleppo or dried red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Taste and adjust as desired. Then turn the heat up and let it cook until the liquid reduces down.
* I can’t take credit for ‘Boulder Floodie’ – that was my friend C’s suggestion – thank you, C!
June 8, 2013
Handling breakfast and lunch for the Body Fat Loss Contest I’m taking part in this summer has been relatively simple. I make large batches of healthy items like bulgur or boiled chicken breast ahead of time, then pack that along with fruit, vegetables, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other items to take to work. But dinners take a little more planning, since it’s not just myself eating. I’ve done scrambled eggs with sautéed pea tendrils, whole wheat flax pasta and tomato sauce with clams, meatloaf made with antelope or bison, and a few other healthy standbys. This past week I planned one meal short, so needed something to make Friday night that wouldn’t take too much effort, because after a tiring week the last thing I wanted to do was spend a long time cooking.
Enter the frozen barramundi we get from Costco. (I’ve been reading recently about imported seafood, and the lack of inspection done as part of importing. My husband has done some reading on Costco, however, and how they do some of their own inspection, and maintain relationships with their suppliers. So at least for right now, I’m going to go with that. Plus there has never been any fishiness to the barramundi we’ve gotten, nor has it ever been freezer burned.) I had bought a large bunch of green beans which we had yet to eat, so that was easy to figure out. But I needed some kind of grain dish. I happened to have some campari tomatoes (my go-to out-of-season tomato – hydroponically grown, and quite delicious, actually), and since I’ve got cooked bulgur on hand at all times now, it dawned on me that I could throw together some tabbouleh rather quickly.
The barramundi is ridiculously easy to make. Once thawed, I just rub both sides with a small bit of olive oil, then salt and pepper both sides, and bake it at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. For two servings of tabbouleh, I used 1+1/3 cup cooked bulgur, six campari tomatoes, seeded then chopped, a large handful of chopped fresh parsley, 3 chopped garlic cloves (I like it garlicky!), 2 tsp of olive oil, 4 tsp lemon juice, 2 Tbsp ground sumac, a little urfa pepper, and salt and pepper. I just steamed the green beans.
When I looked down at the finished plates, I realized that it actually looked like a picture that you’d see in an article on healthy eating! But more importantly, it tasted wonderful, and really was healthy.
April 13, 2013
After sampling the chicken skewers with chermoula at the preview for Fresh Thymes Eatery, I was inspired to make some chermoula myself. A marinade or sauce in North African cuisine, chermoula varies greatly from recipe to recipe, but the common ingredients are generally cilantro, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. (Although there were a lot of recipes I found online which resulted in a reddish or orangish sauce, so clearly not all use cilantro).
Christine (the Fresh Thymes chef) mentioned sumac when talking about her chermoula. So being a sumac fanatic myself, I wanted to include that in mine, despite the fact that the majority of recipes I found online were sadly sumacless. (Seems like it should be a word to me, given my love for it.) Sumac is a spice made from the dried fruit of a bush native to the Middle East, and is frequently used in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s a gorgeous redish-maroon color, and tastes very lemony, but with a more complex flavor I can only describe as somewhat like the taste of red pepper flakes without the heat. I buy mine in a huge container that I use extremely liberally in the dressing I make for Fattoush.
I wanted my sauce to be lower in fat than most recipes I found online, so it turned out like more of a paste, but still tasted completely delicious. I used a recipe I found on whatscookingamerica.net as a starting point, and used more cilantro, less olive oil and lemon juice, and added sumac. The result was a gorgeous vibrant green, which seemed perfect for spring.
adapted from a recipe on whatscookingamerica.net
makes about 3/4 cup
2 cups fresh Italian (flat) parsley
2 cups fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 medium cloves garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground sumac
1/2 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red chile flakes
1 pinch saffron*
Put all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until a paste forms.
* Technically, you should soak the saffron for a couple of hours in warm liquid, but I just soaked it for about 10 minutes, then drained it, and added it to the processor. If you want to maximize the taste, soak it in a tsp or so of warm water well before you start on the sauce, then break up the saffron threads and add the liquid to the processor.
I made two dishes using my chermoula during the week. The first was scrambled eggs with oyster mushrooms, spinach, and chermoula, and the second was baked halibut with chermoula. The sauce (paste) worked wonderfully with both of them. Another keeper!
April 7, 2013
This past week I was lucky enough to attend an event previewing the concept and food of the soon-to-open Fresh Thymes Eatery. Natural Chef Christine Ruch shared her long-time dream of opening a healthy take-out market, as well as some incredibly tasty food. Fresh Thymes Eatery will be located in the former site of Elephant Hut, in the Boulder Steel Yards on 30th Street, between Pearl and Valmont. In addition to the take-out option, there will be tables and counter seating on-site.
By now, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a fairly household term. But Community Supported Restaurant (CSR), which is Fresh Thymes Eatery’s model, was new to me. I read about it, and thought it was a great idea – community members pay an up-front sum, which is used for start-up and operating costs, and throughout the year are given amounts to spend in the restaurant, as well as other membership perks. I love the idea of helping to support a local restaurant that serves natural, healthy food from local sources, just like you would support a farm through a CSA membership. (A membership is not required to dine at or purchase food from the restaurant.)
But it isn’t just the CSR concept that I like. The style and quality of the food is incredibly intriguing. Chef Ruch, who was diagnosed with celiac disease as well as other food allergies wants to provide a place where people with food sensitivities can eat without going through a litany of questions and substitution requests. She also wants to share her passion for natural, healthy, nutrient-dense food. But those who shy away from ‘healthy/natural/hippie food’ need not fear. The vegetarian items are full of bright, bold flavors that any carnivore would be hard-pressed not to appreciate, the gluten-free baked goods are excellent, and Fresh Thymes will also serve locally raised meats.
The food theme for the evening was late spring (using produce that will be in season in June, when the restaurant is due to open), with a Mediterranean influence.
We got to sample two lovely fresh salads. The first was a Sugar Snap Pea and Heirloom Radish Salad, and the second was Asparagus and Roasted Red Pepper Salad. Both featured fresh vegetables and bright, vibrant flavors.
One item I truly fell in love with was the Sweet Spicy Date Relish, served with Tangier Street Bread. The relish was a perfect combination of sweet, spicy, and salty. I snagged a small jar of that from the take-home sample table and nearly polished it off in two days.
I’ve always loved lentils, and the Arugula Spinach Pesto with Beluga Lentils was delicious. (I could see this being a perfect take-out item for lunch during the work week.)
Unfortunately I didn’t get good pictures of the Chicken Skewers with Chermoula Sauce, which were completely delectable. The chicken was flavorful enough on its own with lovely Mediterranean flavors, but the Chermoula Sauce was divine. (Chermoula is a Mediterranean sauce usually made with parsley, cilantro, garlic, lemon, cumin, paprika and olive oil). This rendition was wonderfully flavorful and demanded seconds. The final item was a dark chocolate tart, with a crust made of almonds and cashews.
After sampling the food, I decided to buy a membership to support Fresh Thymes. It’s like joining a CSA, but you don’t have to figure out what to cook each week (and there’s no risk of not using up all your vegetables before they go bad). Additionally the memberships, which are good from one year up to three years depending on membership level, provide food and perks year round, so it’s not just a seasonal venture. You can view more details on the Fresh Thymes webpage, and can purchase a membership via PayPal.
February 4, 2013
I finished up my week of eating only real food this past Sunday, and it went pretty well. It turns out it’s definitely possible to do, but takes a little extra preparation up front, and a lot more label reading and thought. I was secretly hoping that I would get a good start on dropping the 5 extra holiday pounds that seem to find me every year, but that actually didn’t budge – nor did I really feel any different by the end of the week. That led me to conclude that either 1) it takes more than a week of ‘clean eating’ to really see any effects and/or 2) I don’t really eat all that badly to begin with.
There are a couple of things that make me think the latter is true (and the first is probably true, too): First, my evening meals were really no different than the things I normally make – I usually cook dinner with whole ingredients. Second, during the work week I take food and eat during the day, and that food usually includes organic cereal made with whole wheat, dried fruit, nuts, and organic fat-free Greek yogurt — none of which are particularly horrible. The big changes I made to my day-to-day eating were 1) no low calorie/ low fat/ high fiber/ high protein/ ( highly processed and added to) ‘Alternative Bagels‘, 2) no Luna fiber bars (or any other kind of bars), 3) no Guiltless Gourmet baked tortilla chips with Kraft Fat-Free Cheddar Cheese to make nachos, and 4) no over-snacking on dark chocolate or other sweet dessert items.
Despite the lack of any huge revelation at the end of the week, I am completely glad I did this, and I do plan to make some adjustments to my diet going forward:
- Unless every ingredient is whole or organic, or all the spices are listed individually, I’m going to try to avoid foods that list more than 5-10 ingredients. There were several things that I normally buy that I think should have been perfectly allowable, but just had more healthy ingredients than 5. But some of the items I checked out at the store (lower-fat cream cheese, for instance) literally had around 20 ingredients, only 8 or so of which I could identify in any way. That’s just kind of gross when you think about it.
- I’m going to investigate preservatives a bit more, and allow those that seem relatively safe, but try to avoid foods that seem needlessly preserved or use mysterious preservatives or those for which the verdict is still out. Given the fact that a full time job makes it difficult to cook everything from scratch, and some time-saving is necessary, I’m not going to bar a food item if it includes say, citric acid.
- I’m going to think a bit more about whether the foods I’m eating are really nutritional, or if they’re just empty calories. I won’t cut myself off from nutritionally useless things like half of a dessert when eating out, or the above-mentioned baked tortilla chips completely, but I was eating them more than once a day, which I’d like to stop.
- Now that I discovered it’s possible to make bread with literally ALL whole wheat flour that’s still light and tasty, just by adding a mashed potato, I’ll probably bake with more whole wheat.
And now, some pictures of my dinners last week:
I’ll post a recipe for the above dish later on.
The recipe for Curried Shredded Chicken and Potatoes is on my recipe page — BUT I used real coconut milk for it instead of the ‘lite’ chemical concoction I used for the original recipe.
This salad was really simple. Make a bed of kale, red cabbage and carrot, then add 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, 1/2 cup cooked heirloom beans, and dress with Espresso Sesame Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette (I used honey instead of maple for this week).
When I don’t have summer-fresh tomatoes I just use a couple of cans of organic diced tomatoes for my home-made tomato sauce. Here’s the recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Heirloom Tomato Sauce.
This was boneless chicken thighs coated with berbere (a spice combination I make from Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe) and then grilled. The potatoes were just tossed in olive oil then salted and peppered and roasted in the oven. We also had an arugula salad on the side.