Monday, December 31, 2012

It's Almost 2013: Looking for a Resolution?

The ball drops in less than 24 hours... are you looking for a resolution or project to kick off the new year? How about resolving to stock better foods in your kitchen?

Full disclosure: I started this project before New Years. If I hadn't then I'd have nothing to show you today. Nevertheless, this is a good project for the season if you're the resolution-making type, or for any other time of year if you're not.

Reimagining Your Pantry

When I recently started making more deliberate choices about the way I cook and eat, I realized that an overhaul on what I stock in my fridge and pantry was becoming increasingly necessary. So, being an artist, I began with the question: What does a healthy pantry look like?

Step 1. My first task wasn't making a list of foods to buy or toss. It was looking online for photographs of other peoples' whole food pantries. Specifically, I looked for photos where people had their ingredients organized in pretty jars or cans, or colorful veggies laid out on their counters, even store displays- anything I might want to see in my own kitchen. I created a folder full of Kitchen Inspiration, and distilled that down into what a designer would call a Mood Board:

Even if you're not an artist by trade, try starting there. Having a visual understanding of what other healthy kitchens look like might give you a sort of blueprint to work from.

Next comes the dirtier work:

Step 2. Remove all the "empty" stuff from the pantry. In my case, I didn't throw any of this stuff out. I hate wasting food, even if it is just empty calories. Instead, I put it all in one place; two of my good friends just moved to Germany and left behind a metal basket, which I filled with items like white bleached flour, refined sugar, fake sweeteners, Kraft mac & cheese, Ramen noodles, etc. I let it live on top of the fridge so we can see it get used up and actively watch new food items take its place.

Food prison

Step 3. After making room in step 2, I made a list of Kitchen Essentials- these are healthy (mostly) whole foods I want on hand, some of which will specifically replace their emptier counterparts (replacing white flour with whole wheat, for example). The list was built on the premise that whole food is always preferable to processed, and that it's good to keep a variety of plant-based foods in one's diet. Here's the first second draft of my list, which is affixed to the side of my fridge as a reminder for grocery store visits:

[download as printable pdf]

To preemptively answer a couple of questions or comments you might have after reading the list: yes, I do currently eat meat and fish (hence the chicken stock and sardines), although I'm increasingly trying to make plants the focus of my diet for reasons I'll unpack later. And yes, my list still contains some nutritionally-lacking offenders like rice and pasta. I'm trying to make the transition to healthier eating more of a gradual change than a jarring restrictive punishment, especially for my husband's sake, and those were some foods we felt we weren't quite ready to do away with yet.

From there, just keep going. At some point, you'll realize your pantry and fridge look completely different than they used to, and you're unconsciously choosing to use more nutritious ingredients in your cooking. This is what one of my own cupboards looked like as of a week ago:

Things are much improved, but I'm excited to do this again in a month and see an even bigger difference. Note: Since I can't really justify the cost of buying a lot of mason jars, I've been saving glass and plastic containers and re-purposing them; that almond container up there is about 4 bites away from becoming a vessel for hummus. I'll post more updates in the future on the pantry progress.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Baked Citrus Holiday Ornaments

Like most people I know that decorate for the season, I leave my holiday decorations up through New Years, so I contend that it's not too late to post this:

My husband and I were on a pretty tight budget for gift-giving and decorating this year, so we ended up doing a lot of handmade/homemade stuff. I found this recipe for Homemade Citrus Ornaments on the Whole Foods Market website, and decided to try them out.

Without copying everything verbatim from the Whole Foods site, you cut your citrus fruit into thin slices and bake them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for 2-3 hours, turning them every half hour or so until they're dried out (but not burned).

I was pleased by how simple and uncomplicated they were (and how warm my kitchen was with the oven running for several hours). A little spare picture hanging wire and ribbon turned these fruit slices into festive ornaments and gifts for my family. And we ground up the ends and spare fruit bits in the garbage disposal to disperse their sweet smell throughout the kitchen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Indian-style Sweet Potato and Lentils

A new Winter favorite. This recipe is adapted from one I found on (where I'm a frequent lurker). Sweet potatoes were in peak season the first time I made this recipe, and I had lentils left over I had to use immediately. Great timing.

Indian-style Sweet Potato & Lentils

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, minced or grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cooked lentils
  • 2 cups stock (use vegetable broth for vegetarian version)
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cups (or 1 bag) whole fresh spinach greens
  • 1/2 of a small can of tomato paste (about 4 oz)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Salt & fresh-ground pepper to taste

(Pre-prep) Soak lentils for 1 hour, then simmer until they're just soft.

Add olive oil, minced onions, and garlic to a pot or large saucepan. Cook until the onions begin to brown. Add the tomato paste, turmeric, garam masala, salt and peppers into onion mixture and stir until thoroughly coated.

Stir in stock, sweet potatoes and lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes until sweet potatoes are fork-tender and flavors are well incorporated- the stew should be thick and condensed down so that there’s not too much liquid broth left. Lastly, add the spinach and cook until just wilted.

Serve immediately if possible. This recipe makes 2 or 3 portions if served without rice or bread. If served with rice or bread, this recipe easily makes 4 portions.

I’d also like to note that this recipe was one of the first I discovered on my quest to convince my husband that so-called “healthy food” can taste good. We’ve all been brainwashed by packaged low-fat substitutions for so long that we’ve forgotten things that are good for us don’t have to be poor imitations of real food, or flavorless mush. Needless to say, both of us have been quite pleased with this dish.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Whole Grain Raisin Muffins

Without further ado, I'd like to begin with a recipe. It's not really Winter-specific (I'm still learning about seasonal eating), but I began making these in the winter, so I feel like now is a perfect time to share them.

Whole Grain Raisin Muffins

  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tray with a small amount of olive oil.

Combine flour and dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in center of the mixture, then pour in the honey, cream, oil, vanilla, and egg; stir it all together with a spoon until evenly combined. Lastly, stir in the hot water until the batter becomes creamy. Let the batter stand for 15 minutes.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tray and bake for 20 minutes, or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in the center. Remove the muffins immediately after baking and place them on a wire rack to cool.

Yields 12 delicious, lightly-sweet muffins. I like to freeze what doesn't get eaten right away for a quick breakfast or snack.

First Post: An Introduction

Welcome to my new blog, The Fork and Brush! I’m Cynthia, a 29-year-old artist and fantasy illustrator who also enjoys cooking and crafts.

After years of being useless in the kitchen and generally unhealthy, I got fed up and learned how to cook. These days I have a passion for making good food, with an increasing emphasis on promoting wellness and eating with all the senses.

Here’s some of what you can expect to see in this blog:
  • Lots of pictures of food.
  • Recipes, mostly good for you, which I’ve tried in my own kitchen.
  • Craft projects and ideas.
  • Stories about food and other things that inspire me.

I hope you enjoy my ramblings, or at least stay for the pictures.