Simplicity

 

Gluten-free pasta with Tofu & Veggies

 

Mario Batali posted a recipe for a simple pasta dish two weeks ago.  Spaghetti with Oil and Garlic.  It reminded me of my college and post-college days when I tired of marinara.  I learned how to make a rather tasty sauce full of veggies, making it high in nutritive value.  Either I made it too much or my taste buds changed because I stayed away from tomato sauce for a long time.  During those years I preferred my pasta tossed with basil, oregano, and parmesan.  One night I had 22 friends from church over in my tiny studio apartment (don’t ask how we all fit because I have no idea) and I made this simple pasta for them along with some grilled garlic bread.

After this reminder from Mario, I decided it was time for that simple dish again.  While the Tinkyada pasta was cooking, I sautéed some firm tofu, tomatoes, spinach, zucchini, and garlic.  I topped it with shredded hard Romano cheese when I plated our dinner.  It was delicious and certainly more nutritious than just herbs and cheese.  It wasn’t layered with different flavors and textures, but that isn’t the point of simple dishes.  Is it?  I savor levels of complexity in my food when I have it, but not all the time and most definitely not cooking it myself day after day.

Sometimes, simple is best.  And easiest.

Living In Gratitude

 

Thanksgiving 2009 at my best friend's house.

 

I am a planner.  I’m such a planner, my husband makes jokes about it.  I make jokes about him not planning in return.  My fastidious planning keeps us out of places like The Bates Motel at 1 o’clock in the morning, looking for a vacancy.

Between moving and starting a new job that gives me unpredictable hours I have seriously lacked in the planning portion of Thanksgiving this year.  We were expecting Caity to visit us but plans fell through since I wouldn’t be seeing much of her if she did.  I knew I was going to make 3 things though.  Turkey.  Mashed potatoes.  Cranberry sauce.  Those are the 3 things I make every year.  The sides normally vary.  If we are at my mother-in-law’s, she fixes the turkey.  I usually make the dessert, too, but I haven’t had the time to experiment with gluten-free pie crusts.  If I feel it on my day off Tuesday, I just might.

I do have several recipes from some of my favorite gluten-free bloggers printed off to look through and figure out which ones to make.  And honestly, if I don’t have a big feast, I’m okay with it.  All the leftovers would be nice though since I work all weekend.  If this past weekend is any indication, I won’t be in the mood to step foot in the kitchen those days.

Mom adds some whole cloves to the ham

 

I’ve blogged before about how life has changed in so many ways for me.  A year ago, I was in my best friend’s kitchen helping her get out the dishes, serve ware, linens, and small appliances in preparation for the big day.  We made several dishes ahead of time so there would be enough time to sit around and enjoy the company of family and friends on Thanksgiving.  It was a joy to be in the kitchen with her and Mom (her mom, for those of you who don’t know I call her Mom).  It’s not often that it happens and I enjoy every minute of it.  That day, I was thankful to be with them.  To have best friend like, Stick.  One that I can go months without talking to and have it be like it was just yesterday when we do talk.  One that I can be creative with.  One I am comfortable with in silence.  I was thankful for Mom being my second mom and being so encouraging and loving.  I was thankful for time I got to spend with My Little Obi-Wan (you can see his arm reaching for the raw veggies on the table in the picture above).  A little guy eager to show me the words he knew on his alphabet chart (he has autism).  His giggles when I’d spin or toss him around and ask for “More, please!”  His smiles when he’d see me holding my camera and exclaiming, “Picture!” as he posed.

I may not have Thanksgiving planned out to a T this year, but I’m always living in gratitude.  I hear so many people grumble about what they don’t have and they focus so much on it, that they forget what they have.  I stopped thinking about what I don’t have and pining for it.   Okay, except for moving back home, but it doesn’t consume my thoughts or being.  I focus on what I have and all the stuff I don’t have doesn’t matter.  As Elton John sang, “I have all that I’m allowed.”  When a stumbling block gets thrown in my way, I give thanks for what I have that will either move it or get me around it.  I remind myself daily of my gratitude.  I’m alive.  I’m healthy.  I have loving friends and family.  I have a husband that provides and puts up with me because he loves me dearly.  I have a roof over my head.  I have my faith in God to lead me on these strange paths I’ve taken.

 

My Apple Pie (glutenous version)

 

Jason Mraz posted an article he read on his blog two years about gratitude.  Gratitude should be practiced every day, not just the 4th Thursday in November.  To sum up, it’s like “Crap in. Crap out.”  Whatever you have inside you that you’re thinking, is what you’re going to express.   Boss yells at Dad, Dad thinks about it on the way home.  Dad yells at Mom when he gets home.  Mom thinks about it while cooking dinner and yells at Son.  Son thinks about it and yells at Dog.  Living mired in all that negativity really isn’t living at all.  You miss all the good stuff around you.  You miss seeing your family and friends for who they are and what they do for you.  You miss the joy in the simple things like multi-colored blooms in Spring.  Beautiful multi-colored sunsets.  The brightness of the moon.  The smell of pikake lei as you step off the plane.  The taste of love in a meal cooked by someone else’s hands.

Are you living in gratitude?  If you aren’t, what’s stopping you?  It costs nothing and rewards you handsomely!

 

Chili Takes The Chill Off

 

My version of my Papa's chili

 

One of the great traditions I grew up with was Papa’s chili.  Every year that we visited for New Years we’d go across the street to the family friends’ for their New Years Eve party.  As I grew older I was more able to appreciate the games the adults played like Pass The Scissors and Sweep The Corn.  It was a special time as I realized it wasn’t just a party, it was a gathering of friends and family to bring in the new year.

The next day was even more special.  Papa would fix a huge stockpot full of chili.  By huge I mean, his stockpot was twice maybe three times the size of mine.  As an adult, I had to get on my toes just to be able to peer in to the pot and I”m 5’2″.  The day passed with us asking many times over, “Is it ready yet?”  The anticipation wore at our patience, as did the smell.  This was love.  Papa didn’t have many dishes he cooked for all of us.  At the stove at least.  He’d happily grill a steak for us.  But this was a day long affair of browning the meat, stirring the chili, and letting it slowly simmer for hours.  Papa wasn’t the most patient of people when it came to food.  I heard from him more than once, “Where’s my dinner, Marie?”  And yes, sometimes he was sitting at the table fork in hand.  This is what made the chili even better.

Papa always had a sleeve of saltine crackers next to his bowl.  He’d crush a handful up in the chili and mix it in.  Good stuff I’m tellin’  yea.  Granny always made sure to make some rice for us, too.  It was a rough decision.  Do I eat it with crackers or rice?  I once tried it with both and it just wasn’t the same.  The last time I had Papa’s chili made by him with help from my husband and Uncle was in 2000.  We were all visiting for Christmas and he went ahead and made the chili before New Years.  It was a special occasion after all.  By this time, he was legally blind and suffering from Parkinson’s, as well as a suspected minor stroke (the latter Granny confessed to me later when she and I were playing chess away from prying ears) which is why he received help.  He never let anyone help and protected his treasured recipe for many years.

One time in college, my grandparents either called me or I called them, I can’t remember which.  Chili came up in the conversation and Papa gave me the beloved and much coveted recipe.  I felt special being the first one to whom he imparted the recipe.  My mother and aunties weren’t so happy about it.  My mother tried to repeatedly convince me to give her the recipe.  I promised Papa I wouldn’t give it to anyone and I kept that promise.  Years later, he eventually gave them the recipe, too.

As I have done with so many recipes, I eventually made his recipe my own.  Instead of just using kidney beans, I use a mix of kidney, pinto, and cannelini beans.  I also use more spices than he did.  He used a mix of ground meat and I use just ground beef.  I always alternated between using flour to thicken the chili like he did and using cornstarch.  My husband likes when I use flour because it is thicker.   The picture above was from our New Years Day party this year.  I used cornstarch this year because I was expecting a friend with Celiac to be there (I made a flourless chocolate cake that he loves, too).  This was 2 months before I went gluten-free.  However I make the chili, it’s one that always gets compliments.  My last New Years in Hawai`i before moving to Kentucky I made the traditional pot of chili and had friends over.  One friend showed up hungover and looking like he slept on the street.  After eating he declared it a hangover cure.  I once told that story to a friend who came to our New Years parties in Louisville and she dubbed it “Hangover Chili.”  She even asked if we were having Hangover Chili the day after Derby.  No such luck for her.

 

Black, pinto & kidney beans

 

Recent years have seen me use dried beans instead of canned.  Not only are they cheaper, they have more flavor.  At least for me.  Last week I decided I wanted some chili even though it was in the 70s.  I didn’t realize it was going to get that warm when I planned the menu.  I had to do a quick soak of the beans because I forgot to soak them the night before.  It struck me before I had them covered in hot water that I chose a mix that looked red, white, and blue (sort of) on Veteran’s Day of all days.  Semper fi, Papa!

I also decided to experiment with a veggie chili after enjoying Carrie’s Black Bean and Butternut Squash Chili.  I enjoyed the heartiness the addition of the veggies made to the chili making it a real comfort food and giving it more substance to take the chill off on cold days as well as keep you full.  I used kabocha squash in this one.  Squash in chili is still weird for my husband.  As he said when I asked how it was, “It’s not bad.  I’m just not used to it.”  I’m not either, but I’m thinking kabocha is pretty awesome in chili now.

 

Veggie Chili

 

Debi’s Gluten-Free Veggie Chili

1 cup dried beans, soaked & drained

1 cup – 1 1/2 cups ketchup

4 cups + 2 cups water

2 tablespoons cumin

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 small onion, diced

3 tomatoes, rough chopped

1 medium zucchini quartered and sliced about 1/2″

2 yellow peppers, large dice

1 small or 1/2 large kabocha squash (skin left on), large dice

2 tablespoons cornstarch

salt to taste

Combine beans, ketchup, 4 cups water, cumin, chili powder, & cayenne in a large pot.  Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.  Add onions & tomatoes and simmer another hour, at least.  Add remaining veggies.  Make a slurry with the cornstarch and 2 cups water and add to the chili.  Stir well and simmer another hour.   Salt to taste before serving.

While I haven’t really looked for a gluten-free cracker to eat in my chili I served it over brown rice.  I enjoy Mary’s Gone Crackers, but I don’t have an inclination to find something more processed like the saltines or soda crackers I used to eat.  I still make every attempt to make my meals whole food and gluten-free friendly.