Archive for September, 2008

Cheap Trick

Yesterday, I found myself watching numbers on the Dow plummet and silently wishing I knew anything about money.

Cindarella and I emailed back and forth, lamenting the state of the economy. “I am going to have to buy COVER GIRL”, I whined.

I am…not great with money. My bills are paid on time and in full, I sporadically throw some money in savings, and I have worked really hard to live without using a credit card. That, my friends, is about it. Budgets? What are those? I have no idea where my money goes, frankly. My economic philosophy goes something like this: I check my online account, see I have “x” amount of dollars until I get paid, and spend accordingly. Please feel free to add “money management”, alongside driving and tact, to the list of things in which I do not excel.

I am a very lucky girl. I know this. Though I may need to make some changes (for instance, figuring out what I spend my money on), I will never starve. I have a secure job and I am paid well. My bills will not pile up and tightening of the purse strings means buying more yellow beer and laying off the Nars.

Yet, that doesn’t mean we aren’t all feeling it…or will soon. (This the the point in this post where I ask everyone to refrain from political screeds, m’kay?) Looks like it time to revisit some recipes from the past; tried and true meals that are tasty and make a minimal dent in the wallet. Please feel free to mock my photos from the earlier days and poke fun at my unfocused writing. I was not always the Lemmonex you see today.

Here is Cooking on a Budget 101…

Breadline Beans: Beans are always cheap…and this one is also vegetarian and can be thrown together in about 20 minutes.

Frittata: Making a frittata is perfect as you can throw anything in there. Have a nub of cheese, some random vegetables festering in the crisper, and left over sausage from brunch the previous day? Use it all…

Pasta with Eggs and Asparagus: Pasta and eggs…you should always have those on hand. All you need to pick up is a bunch of asparagus.

Banana Bread Oatmeal: Oats are pennies and everyone always has some bananas around…this is a another way to use up those bananas that are looking a little black.

Chicken with Spicy Asian Black Bean Sauce: No special ingredients needed here; most stocked pantries have all these ingredients on hand and the final result is delicious.

Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Pizza: Pizza crust may be one of the most cost effective things to make; all you need is some flour, water, honey and a packet of yeast.  I topped this pizza with caramelized onions and gorgonzola, but you can use whatever you have on hand.

Pesto Pea Soup: A bag of frozen peas and premade pesto? Simple, cheap, easy.

Stuffed Red Peppers: The lack of meat keeps this recipe cheap (and healthy). Whatever pepper is on sale can be used and almost all the vegetables in this recipe can be swapped out for whatever you have on hand/what is priced the best.

Asian Chicken Burgers: Ground chicken, natch, and a bunch of other pantry staples come together to make a flavorful burger.

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Breaking the Law

I have a bizarre and wholly unfounded fear of the police.

Besides one near run-in with the law (which is a story we shall save for another day), I have managed to keep my official record shockingly clean. Being a bit of a social outcast with an overeagerness to please in high school kept me out of a fair amount of trouble. And since then? I can only attribute my clean nose to an excessive amount of good luck. I have never robbed a bank or done anything unethical, but as an impulsive woman with a defiant streak, I have made my fair share of questionable decisions. As I type this, I am knocking on enough wood to fill a lumberyard.

Alas, this fear of the police has zero basis. An ex would become agitated every time we would drive past a parked police car or walk past a cop on the street; I would reflexively tense. Their mere presence causes a clenching of teeth and a tightening of fists. My response to them makes me seem guilty, even when I am minding my own business. I have a few guesses where this fear comes from–a father who loathes the police, a general disdain for authority–but I hope this is an affliction I outgrow.

In actuality, I should be ten times more fearful of the foodie police. I speak out against bacon, I use Splenda and Egg Beaters and I like really trashy junk food. These are not things any self respecting foodie should admit to…but what can I say? I am a rebel that way.

This recipe breaks a few rules, for sure. Instead of the normal all purpose flour, I kept it healthier with the use of whole wheat flour. I swapped out one of the eggs with egg beaters and threw in some unsweetened cocoa powder for added flavor. This was a really tasty, healthier version of banana bread that I would definitely make again. (Thought next time, I may add an extra banana…) I was so pleased with how this came out that I made the decision to pawn half of the loaf off on Ryane lest I devour the whole loaf within a matter of days.

These broken rules garnered some excellent rules…and thankfully, no one was arrested.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Banana Bread

Adapted from All Recipes

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs (or one egg and 1/4 cup egg beaters)
1 cup mashed bananas
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

In a large bowl, beat oil and honey together. Add eggs, and mix well. Stir in bananas, sugar, and vanilla. Stir in flour, cocoa and salt. Add baking soda to hot water, stir to mix, and then add to batter. Spread batter into a greased (I used Pam) 9×5 inch loaf pan.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 1/2 hour before slicing.

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O.R. You?

When I was a little girl, I had a bump on the back of my neck. It was about the size of a lima bean, hard and tough under the surface of my skin. My father would rub it and call me “Lumpy”. When I was 13, it changed shapes.

Though determined benign, the decision was made it should be removed. I was brought to a Belgian pediatric surgeon and a date was scheduled. Being a severe asthmatic, it was decided it was best not to put me under. I was pumped full of morphine, wheeled in to the OR, and the doctor got to work. I was awake the whole time, high as a kite. I remember thinking he sounded like a French Mickey Mouse.

Dr. Mouse didn’t get the whole tumor. A new, jagged scar emerged and I was left with an even bigger lump. Another surgery was scheduled with a new doctor.

This time, local anesthesia was the chosen route. The doctor chatted as I was injected with Novocaine; it stung much more than I anticipated. As he began the surgery, I felt him quickly cut my neck open. He paused.

“Holy shit”, he said. These are words one never wants to hear when laying on an operating table.

“Umm, excuse me?”, I asked.

“This is larger than I thought. It’s really big”, he replied.

I felt him pluck it out and heard him plop it in to a specimen cup for testing. I asked to take a look. He laughed and asked if I was serious. I assured him I was quite serious; I wanted to see it.

The nurse walked it over. It was about the size of a ping pong ball, white and ridged.

I glanced over, peered in to the cup and said, “It looks like cauliflower”.

(Note: I may be a little obsessed with cauliflower lately…especially prepared this way. The cumin and paprika make it smoky and the chili powder gives it a touch of heat. I found this needed a little more salt than I usually add, so use a generous pinch. It is a simple side dish, unexpected and tasty. Hell, forget side dish…I ate a huge bowl of this for dinner one night this week.)

Roasted Cauliflower

One head of cauliflower, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon coriander

Pinch chili powder (or to taste)

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Mix oil and all spices together in large bowl. Add cauliflower and toss until coated with oil and spices. Cook in oven for 35-40 minutes, tossing several times during cooking.

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On Notice

Last night, I went to the Ben Folds concert at DAR Constitution Hall. Yesterday was a bit of a rough day, a perfect storm one may say, where about 5 things came to a head. Individually, these things would have merely annoyed me, possibly solicited an eyeroll and quick gchat bitch session. Combined, though, these matters left me a bit surly. I spent the day reminding myself that things are looking up on the job front (I’ve been interviewing a ton) and, as an added bonus, I would be able to dance away all the frustration at the concert. I am really taking this new positive thinking thing out for a spin.

Oh, Ben. Ben, Ben, Ben. Why must you test me so? This concert was terrible, simply awful. EJ, my concert-going companion, says it far better than I could, but I have never been so offended or disappointed by a concert. This was, hands down, the worst show I have ever attended. He played just shy of 90 minutes, with the first 70 minutes spent playing music from his album that will not be released until next week. He played 4 songs EJ and I knew; 4 songs from a catalogue that has spanned close to two decades and has afforded him a pretty nice life. It was a slap in the face. Look, I understand self indulgence, truly, but this was too much. He didn’t engage the audience; in fact, he was almost petulant. He was lacking in charm or any sort of showmanship. About halfway through, I looked over at EJ and whispered, “If this were a date, I would be desperately texting you telling you to come up with some emergency”. What makes it worse is I feel my memories of former shows, previously recounted fondly, have been sullied. I would have much rather taken the $55 dollars I spent on that ticket and had a few bottles of wine with EJ; she respects me, my time, and my money. Also, she doesn’t sing songs about “bitches” with opinions and how they are nuts.

But, there is always an upside: I could be Spike Mendelsohn. Now, despite some personal reasons, I think Good Stuff is…pretty good stuff. The burgers are a gooey delight and the shakes are divine.  (Seriously, I still dream of that marshmallow shake.)  Spike’s presence has pissed some people off in DC.  He has had to deal with complaints about the inconsistent quality of his burgers, ridiculously long lines at his place, and a general disdain by some in the restaurant community for his fame-whoring and courting of reality TV. (Rumor has it that they are shooting a reality show in the restaurant starting soon.)  Well, looks like Spike is getting hit with a different kind of reality: Good Stuff has been cited with several serious health code violations, including storing beef in the ally outside of the restaurant.  Spike, you done and screwed up good.  I understand the hand washing thing–it happens and I am a realist–but meat in an ally?  You are already a walking target…don’t make it easy to pick on you.

Yes, I know taking solace in the pain of others isn’t exactly in the spirit of “positive thinking” but it sure helps me.  It could always be worse.  Poor Spike…kinda.

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Play Ball

"Lem never thought boys had cooties." --MamaBear

In kindergarten, my parents enrolled me in Little League. My memories of this period in my life are vague, but I do remember prancing around the outfield, executing perfect split leaps when I was supposed to be watching the ball.

I am not what you would call athletic. Coordination is not my strong suit. I could never run fast, nor was I ever in possession of a very long attention span. My mom was trying to do the right thing by keeping me active, but it was not in the cards for me. I much preferred choreographing elaborate dance routines to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” in my front yard. I understood the complex and nuanced relationship between Baby Houseman, Johnny Castle, and Johnny’s tight, high-waisted pants and felt the need to express it through dance.

So, while most girls in my town enrolled in softball, I ended up playing soccer. The fast pace suited me better. As I gained weight, I was stuck on defense, instructed to look big and scary, and act as human blockage against the goal. I wasn’t that great, but was oddly fearless about being kicked, rammed and pummeled. I had a good enough time, but I always wanted to play softball with all the pretty, popular girls.

I never really learned how throw a softball, so I am really sorry I am doing it now. It is a little sloppy, I know. I think even though this is a bit of a lightweight effort, I know you can forgive me. Sometimes, even the stuff that may be a bit….weak still has its merits. I am sure you are thinking pancakes seem like a pretty lame offering, but I implore you to give these a fair shake. Also, my blue cornmeal pancakes are heaven-sent, so I think I have some pancake street cred. Using low fat buttermilk adds a bit of tang to these pancakes, while the whole wheat flour keeps it healthy and adds a very pleasant nutty undertone. Using both baking powder and soda really makes these puff up…they are almost reminiscent of flat muffins. The apples and cinnamon are a classically delicious pair and I could not help but throw in some vanilla. Vanilla makes almost any sweet concoction better. I used reduced sugar syrup and didn’t feel an ounce of guilt as I ate these.

Maybe this isn’t a softball after all. Thank God I never really learned how to play with those popular girls. I hear they are all boring, anyway.


Know what isn’t boring? My column over at So Good.  Go see what I am eating today.

Apple Cinnamon Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes

Adapted from Cooks

1 egg
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. low fat buttermilk
1 granny smith apple, finely diced
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Beat egg until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients, mix only until smooth. Spray nonstick gridle with Pam. Pour about 1/4 cup batter on to pan and flip when edges bubble. Cook for additional minute. Serve warm.

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Taking a Stand

I am about to say something I know is going to piss some people off.

I don’t get the whole bacon thing.

I think bacon has jumped the shark. There, I said it.

Everyone in this country has gone bananas for bacon. It has become a catch phrase, something to fall back on. You ask someone how their day is, and it is common to get a response such as “Well, would have been better with bacon”. At brunch, people make jokes about ordering bacon with their bacon. An obscene amount of space on the web is dedicated to this pork product. There are bacon shoes, bacon skateboards, and bacon band-aids. Even the Japanese have gotten in on the trend:

My foot…it is down. I am stomping it violently; listen closely and you can hear me. Seriously. We need to latch on to another food product with unabashed zeal. Don’t you think this hurts sausage’s feelings? What about all the other delicious meat products out there? They deserve our love, too.  It doesn’t have to even be meat. I think cauliflower is seriously underrated.  I say we start a cauliflower craze, a cauliflower t-shirt line.  Cauliflower Mania, bitches!

I am trying to understand, though.  I mean, a whole country cannot be wrong.  I couldn’t let healthy eating month pass by here without a salad, so I decided to tempt all of you by throwing some bacon on there. The presence of the bacon means you have to love it, right? Following trends always pays off.  My tramp stamp and Women’s Studies degrees worked out well…ahem.

I have to admit…maybe bacon does deserve some of the attention it is getting lately. This was a darn tasty salad; simple to make, yet interesting and sophisticated.  I know what you are thinking: bacon is not healthy.  Well, in excess and alongside an omelet, yes.   I used two slices of center-cut bacon here, which is leaner, and it is the only fat.  If a few slices of bacon can convince you to eat a huge salad, I can get on board with that. I used balsamic glaze as dressing, which is 20 calories and 0 fat per tablespoon, which also keeps it healthy.  I am obsessed with this balsamic glaze, which I found at Whole Foods, and really recommend you try it, but a balsamic vinaigrette would work great here as well. And the figs?  Awesome.  They are in season and tasty as all hell.  I finished this salad wondering why I don’t eat them more.

So, bacon, I gave you your due.  You are tasty…oh yes, you are.  Still, I am kind of over you.  It is not you, it’s me.  Sorry.

(Note: this is a pretty classic salad, but this recipe reminded me I really needed to make my take on this.)

Bacon and Fig Salad

2 strips center cut bacon, cut into bits

2 figs, quartered

2 cups mixed greens

2 Tbs balsamic glaze

Salt and pepper

Brown bacon and drain on paper towels. Place bacon bits and figs on greens. Drizzle with glaze. Salt and pepper salad.

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On Shame

“Can I tell you a secret?”, I whispered. We were discussing a mutual friend.

“Yeah, of course”, my friend Preppy replied.

“Nevermind…nevermind. I can’t say it”, I shot back.

“Oh, this means you really want to tell me.”

“Well, ok…I had a dream about him once. Like, one of those dreams. A dream where, when I woke up, I wanted to just jump in a pool of bleach and pretend it never happened. It was awful. Awful.”

Preppy was, at this point, doubled over in laughter, taking pleasure in my pain.

“This isn’t funny! I have never had those kind of thoughts cross my mine about him. Oh GOD. You cannot tell anyone.”

He found my distress amusing, and frankly, so did I. I knew it was one of those things one cannot control, but it didn’t lessen the shame.

“Oh, you know. Just think of it like a bad acid trip…or maybe you ate a bad jalapeno or something. Don’t worry,” he reasoned

“That’s it! I ate jalapenos recently. I am absolved. Dude…never talk about this again,” I pleaded.

“Talk about what?”, was his wise response.

(Note: This is a tasty cornbread, made more interesting by the addition of jalapenos and green onions.  I edited the original version of this recipe slightly; I added an extra tablespoon of sugar and cut down on the jalapenos.  And it is light!  Perfection.)

Jalapeno and Corn Cornbread

Slightly adapted from Cooking Light

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 egg whites, lightly beaten

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup frozen whole kernel corn

1/2 cup sliced green onions

1 medium-sized minced jalapeño pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

Vegetable cooking spray

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients; stir in corn, green onions, jalapeño pepper, and garlic. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.

Spoon batter into a 9-inch square pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 30 to 35 minutes or until done. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack.

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