My secret weapon against feeling green.

No, this is not my confession of organizing an underground rebellion against all things ecologically-friendly; because that would just be strange, especially considering my husband’s line of employment. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, right? (Though, technically, it’s usually me feeding him.)

By green, I mean the color you turn when you feel like you’re going to lose your lunch. Hug the toilet. Wretch up your toenails.

For my whole life, I have despised puking. Growing up, if I had a stomach bug, I would just lay in bed, awake and miserable for hours, just to postpone the inevitable. People would say things like, “If you just do it already, you’ll feel better.” But that logic fell on deaf ears; I hated puking more than I hated lying there in misery. My friend Nan and I once discussed our mutual loathing of the act, and realized we would both have “phantom nausea,” sometimes for days, when we knew a stomach bug was making its way around the community.

Last night, I awoke at around 1 am with that dreaded feeling. I didn’t feel great going to bed, but at that middle-of-the-night moment, I knew what my future held. The nausea was coming in waves, and my stomach was in a tight knot. The main difference between last night and a similar night a few years ago is that I knew there was a solution that didn’t involve holding my own hair back: my secret weapon is apple cider vinegar.

My friend Caroline told me about this a few years ago, this tonic that has released me from even phantom nausea. Since I’ve been using it, I’ve not once had to sleep on the bathroom floor. Even during times when my whole family was taking their turns in bathrooms, under the control of that season’s dreaded bug, I was puke-free.

Sometimes when I share this tonic with a friend, their response is: but your body needs to wretch, it needs to get rid of something. But I say, nope, I don’t buy it. It’s like a fever: your body has them for a reason, and we let them go as long as we can without medicating. But if my kid is utterly miserable, I’m going to give them ibuprofen. If the body needs the fever to go high, it will do so even if medicated. The same with vomiting: if my body really needs to get rid of something, it will do so even if I give it a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Otherwise, I’d rather skip the whole process and get some sleep.

So last night, I got up, made my way downstairs, and poured myself a tonic. I sat and sipped it while looking aimlessly at my computer screen, finding nothing better to do than tweet about it:

And just like every time I do this, I sat there thinking it wouldn’t work. I drank the whole glass and didn’t feel better. But I sat for about 10 more minutes, and realized how tired I was, that I’d rather be in my bed. So I went back upstairs, still feeling a little queasy, and then woke up 5 hours later to the sound of my 2-year old screaming for granola.

Which, for once, was a welcome sound.


Tonic for Nausea

  • 6-8 oz glass of water
  • 1 Tbsp raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar (I use Spectrum or Bragg’s)

Pour vinegar into glass of water, and sip entire glass. Nausea should dissipate within 20-30 minutes. Repeat as necessary.

* If you have been exposed to a stomach bug, you can drink this tonic 3x a day to avoid getting the bug.


This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Beef and Black Bean Chili

I was talking to some friends the other night, about fair skin and blue eyes. In our house were a couple of Swedes (one bona-fide, one of descent via Wisconsin), a Dutchman (my spouse, of descent, via Pennsylvania) and myself (British and Spanish, of descent, via Mississippi — that one’s a long story, especially if you get my Dad talking about it). All of us have blue eyes and blonde/red coloring, and all of us have a low tolerance for very spicy foods. We also, as a group, agreed that we’d rather bundle up in winter than stifle in summer.

Don’t get me wrong. I am actually a very cold-natured person, and will wear thermal long-johns under my jeans all winter long. In the dead of February, I am just as likely as my olive-skinned neighbor to long for the green of spring. But somewhere in my DNA is the gene that not only thinks getting warm in winter is easier than cooling off in summer; that escaping cold is more fun than participating in water sports — but also makes me inherently attracted to long-cooking foods. I can appreciate and love the garden-ready fresh foods of summer, but take the most comfort and joy in the soups, stews, roasts, and rich flavors of fall and winter. Like layers of clothing, I prefer layers of flavors that can only be acquired by drawing them out of the depths of their parts over hours of oven or stove time.

And nothing can so easily feed a crowd as a huge pot of simmering soup, stew, or chili. One-pot meals are usually very cost-effective, and most of the work is done far ahead of time, so you can be cleaned up and ready to serve when guests arrive. Last week, we had neighborhood friends at our place for dinner, and I made the season’s first batch of chili. This one is adapted from my favorite vegetarian cookbook, The Grit Cookbook (oh, would they shudder to think of my adding beef to their recipe). You can eat it straight-up, or use it in a burrito or as topper for smothered nachos. Up the heat if you like, by adding more cayenne — I’d blame my mild version on my kids, but you can refer to the first paragraph to uncover the real motivation(s).

*Notes: This recipe requires overnight soaking of dried black beans. It also makes a lot, so be prepared to feed a crowd or freeze the leftovers.


Beef and Black Bean Chili
(adapted from a recipe in The Grit Cookbook)
serves 16

The Beans

  • 1 quart (about 2 pounds) dried black beans, picked over and rinsed
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar

Place rinsed beans in a large bowl, and add enough warm water to cover by 2 inches. Add the lemon juice (or vinegar), and stir to combine. Let sit at room temperature overnight (up to 24 hours). Drain beans (discard soaking water) and rinse thoroughly.

  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Place soaked beans in a large stock pot or dutch oven, along with the onion, garlic, and spices. Add enough water to cover by 1 1/2 inches. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are very tender (cooking time will vary; count on 1 or more hours). Add water as necessary to keep beans covered.

The Rest

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1/4 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
  • 1 cup shredded carrots (about 3 carrots shredded on large holes of box grater)
  • 2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp salt

After beans have been cooking for about 45 minutes and are close to being tender, sauté ground beef in a skillet until no pink color remains (careful not to over-brown). Using a slotted spoon, remove beef to a bowl and set aside. Using rendered fat from beef (adding olive oil if necessary to make about 2 Tbsp), sauté green pepper, celery, and onion until onions are translucent and vegetables are tender.

When beans are very tender, add beef, cooked vegetables, and the rest of the ingredients to the pot (no need to thaw the corn). Stir to combine, bring to a very low simmer, and cook for another half hour. Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt if necessary.

Serve topped with grated cheddar, sour cream, green onions, etc.


Eating on the road

We spent a solid 23 hours on the road last week, driving to see my family in Mississippi, making stops along the way to spend comfortable nights and eat a few home-cooked meals with good friends and more family. If you’ve spent any time at all road-tripping with small children, you might recognize the string of whiny complaints that dot the interstate landscape, things like:

How much further?

Can we put in another movie?

I want a snack. I don’t like anything in our snack bag.

There’s too much stuff in this car. I can’t move — why did we have to bring so much stuff?

And that was just me talking. Tim decided this week that I am, by far, the grumpiest road traveler in our family. I wish I could defend myself against his accusation, but it’s unfortunately true. I think there must’ve been a time in my life when the term “road trip” connoted adventure and excitement; a readiness for the unexpected and willingness to roll with whatever punches the road threw in our direction. A time when late-night driving was the way to go — just drink more coffee, roll down the windows, and turn up the music to ward off any inclinations toward drowsiness.

Actually, no. That was never me.

I have always hit a wall of sleep at a certain point after dark — so driving late at night was never an option. I have always gotten carsick in the back seat, and could never stomach reading, knitting, or clipping my fingernails while riding in the passenger seat — leaving me to sit, and stare straight ahead, hoping that the book-on-CD we checked out from the library was a good one (it wasn’t).

And, while for most of my life I was willing to grab dinner at whatever restaurant met us at the end of an interstate off-ramp, now I can’t stomach that, either. While I haven’t boycotted all fast-food completely, after watching Food, Inc., it’s become increasingly difficult for me to eat the food that is most often available at interstate exits. It’s not so much the preparation of the meal that’s bothersome (though I’m not so naive to believe this isn’t also a valid concern), but the CAFO source of the meat I’d invariably be eating. It just makes my stomach turn. In some ways I’m glad this is the case — but at the same time, it can make for difficult eating on the road.

Yes, we do pack picnics, and this is one cheap and sure-fire way to handle my restaurant wariness. But the timing isn’t always right, and it’s hard to organize a handful of home-prepared meals at both ends of a long trip. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta stop somewhere and eat.

Which is what we did last Sunday night. We rolled into Nashville at dinnertime, and decided to drive into town a ways to see what we could find. Tim and I were both thinking burritos — and just as we were about to count our losses and head back to the chain deli we passed, we saw a brand-new Chipotle in a shopping center. I’d been curious about the burrito place for a few months, ever since my sister-in-law said she thought I’d like it, and more recently after reading an article about their advertising strategies (they have no agency, intentionally) in AdAge. Chipotle claims to be fast food with integrity.*

Walking through the doors, the atmosphere was immediately calming to my road-raged soul. The place was possibly the cleanest fast-food restaurant I’d ever been in — and while it was a brand-new location (complete with new logo, which I heartily applaud, after too many years of using a should-‘ve-been-retired, early-90s typeface), I think a lot of that clean-feeling came from the sparseness of the eatery. The signage is simple, the colors muted, and the wall behind the foodprep/ordering station was covered in nothing but to-the-ceiling white subway tile. Only a magnetic strip of chef’s knives lined the back wall, and while boxes of paper products were piled high in one corner, even they seemed to take their place neatly.

The sound system piped in Radiohead-esque music, and the lighting was ample but not brash. Tim said he felt like we just walked into an oxygen bar. Even the patrons seemed uber-cool. But then again, we were in Nashville… Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban could’ve walked in the door at any second.

But on to the food. I know that the claims of packaged foods and restaurant chains can be misleading — but I somehow believed the signs above that told me about Chipotle’s self-claimed integrity: “…whenever possible we use meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones. And it means that we source organic and local produce when practical. And that we use dairy from cows raised without the use of synthetic hormones.”**

Now, it’s clear from the statement that there’s no guarantee the beef in my burrito was from a cow that lived life on the wide-open pasture; but there’s something to say, I think, for the effort of trying to use humanely treated animals (they are a bit vague about what that means in their literature), and for insisting that, say, 100% of their chicken is from animals who were given no antibiotics. And this isn’t a new-fangled gimmick; they’ve been doing this since day one.

But the fact that they attempt to source humanely-treated animals or local produce isn’t the only plus; the food just tasted good. It was fresh, and simple. Tasted — dare I say it? — homemade, like something I’d concoct on a Thursday night and feed my family. It was well-seasoned, and clean; nothing to suggest it’d been sitting around in MSG all day. The guacamole may have been the best I’ve ever paid for, and while I must forgive them for putting cilantro in all of their rice, I also realize that most people who favor America’s take on Mexican food would expect that, and enjoy it (what is wrong with you people?).

The only drawback is that I don’t recall ever seeing Chipotle listed on any interstate exit road sign. There are 800 across the US, but I’m guessing most of these are in suburban or metro areas, tucked away near shopping malls and large parking lots. Perhaps one day we’ll enter the 21st century, get some form of GPS, and plan our trips around a fresh take on fast food. The alternative — Chipotles showing up Starbucks-style on every corner — is much more convenient, but much less appealing, and would probably mean a loss of said integrity.

Plus, I’d then have to stop my whining about at least one aspect of road-tripping. And I’m not quite ready to let go that small and decidedly immature outlet of passenger frustration.


*This might be old news to many of you. If so, my apologies for being so behind-the-times. As I’ve mentioned before, we just don’t get out much.

**Quote taken from Chipotle’s website as of October 19, 2010.

Asking forgiveness

We are currently in Mississippi, visiting family and friends. It’s the weekend of my 20-year high school reunion; and while for a variety of reasons I won’t be attending the main event, I did crash the first part of it last night (a football tailgate), and hung out with a couple of girlfriends afterward.

I was informed that, at one point after college, I tried to encourage a friend of mine to drink beer (rather than a mixed drink, maybe?) because she needed to “embrace the cheapness of it.” She swears that beer in question was Bud Light. I have to believe her, if for no other reason she probably has a much better memory that I do (perhaps this is one I repressed?).

On a weekend when the memories of 20+ years ago are discussed at will — recalled with glee, giggles, eye-rolling, forehead-grasping, and head-shaking — this is the standout memory that haunts.

For as she told me this, we sat at a table in an Irish pub; I had a Guinness in my glass, and she had water.

I think I ruined beer for her.

Home fries

Who named these? Must they be modified by that adjective in order to separate them from the usual — as in, restaurant fries?

This weekend — a first, I might add — the modifier was truer than usual. We made them from the sweet potatoes (the ones Tim dug from our backyard). A few waxy goldens were thrown in the mix too, as I couldn’t bear to eat all two pounds of the sweets in one sitting (also couldn’t manage to cut into the one that looks like something I should be scooping after walking a dog). But those were from our CSA, which means they were grown next to someone‘s home here in Indy. I think the 5-mile rule qualifies them.

Since we have proven ourselves more than once to be habitual people, I’ll confess that we eat home fries just about every time we grill burgers or dogs. And since we grill burgers or brats almost every weekend in the fall, suffice it to say we eat a lot of home fries. Cheap and easy, with only 20-minutes forethought required. A heavy cast-iron skillet is a big plus, and a tablespoon of duck fat is even better.

Excuse me, but did you just require that I have duck fat in my ice box?

I did. And while I do hate asking for obscure ingredients in recipes, my hope for all of you is that you can at some point find a provider of good-quality duck fat. We, of course, get ours from Chris at Goose the Market. He sells it by the pound, and I usually by a 1/2-pound tub of the pristine, creamy fat, and immediately freeze it in 1-Tbsp measures in an ice cube tray. When I’m ready to make home fries, I grab one lump, and add it to my pan to melt with the olive oil and butter. It really makes a difference — the fries are crispier, with a richer flavor (yes, even with just one tablespoon!). I learned this trick from someone French-like (probably David Lebovitz).

And don’t be afraid of all the fat. Most of it will be left in the pan after you scoop out all the fries, and goodness me, but how else are these things supposed to taste good without a heavy dose of it?

If you’re in need of spicy, toss the hot, still-greasy fries with an herb mixture (we like dried thyme, cumin, a little cayenne). Don’t forget plenty of salt, and of course, pass the ketchup.


Home Fries

  • about a pound of sweet or waxy potatoes (or mixture), scrubbed well, unpeeled, chopped into bit-sized pieces
  • large, heavy-bottomed skillet (cast-iron works best)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil*
  • 2 Tbsp butter*
  • 1 Tbsp rendered duck fat (optional)
  • salt, pepper, other seasoning

* The amount of fat used can vary. You need equal parts butter and olive oil in enough quantity to generously coat the bottom of your pan.

Heat butter, oil, and duck fat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the potatoes (they should be in a single-layer in the pan) and cook, stirring frequently, for about 15-20 minutes. The potatoes are done when browned and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Using slotted spoon, scoop from pan and let drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. Toss with salt and seasoning immediately, while still hot and greasy (fine-grain salt works best).

Serve with plenty of ketchup for dipping.



This post is part of the Tuesday Twister at GNOWFGLINS.

[Not-so] small potatoes

Sweet potatoes.

Dug from my backyard!!!

While I feel warranted in my mild overuse of exclamation points, I must now explain the irony of my success:

[Exhibit A]:

A fern, in my house. I bought this fern to top a funky plant stand I found at an estate sale (is it normal to find a plant stand first, and then decide that to properly display the stand, I am forced to buy a plant?) It looked like this a mere 2 months after I purchased it, and has continued to grace my stairway, in all its dead, brittle glory, for three months since. (Cross-reference this post for more on how I “just don’t notice” dead plants.)

Conclusion: Keeping plants alive is not my forté.

Back in early June, we had just moved into our house, and I was at the Farmer’s Market. I was still in that state of new-house euphoria, filled with a baseless hope that somehow, in a new house, I’d become a good gardener. One of the farmers at the market was selling sweet-potato starts — five for a dollar.

I like sweet potatoes! I should grow some!

And so I brought them home. Where they sat, in a jar of water, for almost a week. And one morning Tim said, “If you don’t plant those they’ll die.” And so I went outside, and dug some holes in a wee space between our two small garden boxes, and stuck them in the ground.

And they grew, and we successfully ignored them for the rest of the summer.

Then one day, again in his voice of eternal wisdom, Tim said, “If you don’t dig up those potatoes before the first frost, they’re gonna be toast. Although I doubt there’ll be much to dig up; you’re supposed to mound potatoes when you plant them.”

(Um, ok, husband. Could you have maybe thought to tell me this four months ago when I planted them at your rightful beckoning? Oh, and thanks for the vote of confidence.)

And then I still let them sit in the ground.

So Tim came home last night, and I saw him outside, but didn’t know what he was doing. Then he came inside, carrying two pounds of sweet potatoes.

[Exhibit B]
The evidence that Tim thought there wouldn’t be anything to dig up. He dug so close to the vines coming up out of the ground, that he sliced two in half.

[Exhibit C]
Maybe I’ve changed one too many diapers in the past 6 years, but this one looks a little creepy. We’ll still eat it.

Conclusion: Between the two of us, one eternally lazy gardener and one slightly apathetic gardener, miracles can still happen. Either that, or sweet potatoes are like cats: they are happiest when mildly ignored, laying in the sun.

The sweetest squash

Petite zeppelin delicata,
stretching your stripes
like the airship
of your calling

In the company of cousins butternut
acorn and pumpkin
you never raise your voice,
(though your words are clear and to the point)

And underneath that unassuming sternness
is a sweetness that can,
fill a dinner plate with the whole of autumn.