salad argentina style, heaped on a pizza

Salad Argentina Style

I fall in and out of love with salad. When I make the effort to create a really good one, I wonder why I ever eat anything else. But when I’m lazy and do the same old same old, and I wonder why I bother.

When I travel, I expect hit and miss. Over the last few years, I’ve had great success with simple salads in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland. In Italy, surprisingly, I had some plates of green as depressing as anything I’ve seen in the US. In the Caribbean and Colombia, I resign myself to getting my fresh raw produce via smoothies. The tropics are not conducive to glorious greens; often, the only lettuce I see is a  hydroponic variety devoid of flavor and texture.

So when we decided to hit Buenos Aires for a couple of weeks this winter, I thought, well, I’m not going to expect much. Most people, including many Argentines that we met along the way, equate Argentina with beef. In fact, if you say “carne,” Spanish for meat, in Argentina, beef is assumed. I figured for a vegetable, I’d probably be offered pork.

I have never been so delighted to be proven wrong. Salad Argentina-style, at least in BA, is a glorious, creative wonder. Certainly, it helps that we were there in the height of summer. The climates of Argentina and Uruguay remind me of those in the California where I grew up: sunny, dry-ish, and fertile. Geographically, the soil is rich and good, not needing a bunch of weird treatments. Farmers get respect.

Most importantly, food tastes like it’s supposed to, and salads taste green. My first one arrived not as a salad, but as a pizza from La Pharmacie, a restaurant near our 10-day home. A crisp crust spread with a dense tomato sauce and thin slices of melted mozzarella featured a lush layer of peppery, tender-crisp raw arugula on top. Meaty, fruity olives perched on top. The great thing about this meal: I didn’t think I was ordering a salad, but I got one anyway, and I also began to completely rethink the concept of pizza. Why shouldn’t it just be a crispy base for a ton of fresh vegetables?

Salad Argentina style-a pizza topped with fresh arugula from La Pharmacie in Buenos Aires

I intentionally order a salad from Cabernet restaurant in Palermo. This beauty featured tender crisp mixed greens surrounded by paper-thin, perfectly ripe pears, sprinkled on top with hazelnuts and blue cheese. (Sorry about the light here, but perils of restaurants, etc.)

Salad Argentina style-a pear-hazelnut-blue-cheese-arugula combo

Back at Pharmacie, this Caprese was simple and stunning, with sweet roasted peppers in crimson and saffron, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and plenty of basil. (And, needless to say but I’ll say it anyway, non-optimal light.)

Salad Argentina style-the wonderful simple caprese from la Pharmacie in Buenos aires

Salad Argentina-style: A few guidelines

Here’s what the salads had in common:

  1. A base of flavorful, thoughtfully chosen greens. Optimally, get the best you can find, wash them yourself (rinsing a lot, bc the good stuff is dirty), spin them dry, and pile them on the plate—or the pizza.
  2. Something sweet. Roasted peppers and roasted cherry tomatoes were favorites, but fruit, particularly pears, were frequent add-ins as well.
  3. A little cheese. If you’re vegan, you’ll skip this. But having access to really excellent cheese is one of the reasons I never can quite commit to being a vegan. There simply isn’t a substitute for the creamy yum of farm-fresh cheese.
  4. Something savory. Olives of all kinds, or artichoke hearts, or bamboo hearts (easier to get down here). Or nuts. Usually not all of those things, which allows the flavors to shine.

It’s not so different from the directions in the salad post I’ve already done. The main thing is, Salad Argentina helped me snap my winter-dulled palate back into life. As I get back in cooking mode here, these faves from other cooks can brighten up your late winter kitchen. Because admit it: You gotta be a little tired of soup at this point.

Tieghan at Half Baked Harvest is always rock solid—I actually just typed “rock salad,” which I sort of like. This recipe for broccoli and avocado salad is excellent.

I haven’t tested this vegan salad made from spiralized sweet potatoes (from Laura at The First Mess), but the combo of chipotle with miso seems like a spectacular transition one for early spring—which, they tell me, is coming.

Yotam Ottolenghi creates such glorious, flavorful salads. If you love vegetables, get his book Plenty. This salad introduces what for me was a revolutionary idea: mix herbs with impunity. Don’t worry so much about the grams, just look at the proportions: about 2 parts cilantro (aka coriander) and parsley to 1 part basil and dill, 3 parts arugula (rocket), and 4 parts some type of young lettuce; just be sure you get something with flavor. Play with the nuts and seeds. Know that when Brits say mange tout (it means “eat all”), they mean “snow peas,” because sometimes they forget that they hate the French (which is sort of adorable). Use the recipe as a jumping off point, and discover joy and wonder on a plate.

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new-fashioned cobb salad, lunchfor my paleo experiment

My Paleo Experiment

So here’s why I undertook this paleo experiment:

I will not lie. I love carbs. As a kid, I thought meat was weird: the texture, the smell, the way it looks. But alas, a woman who lives by carbs alone becomes, at least in my case, a low energy woman. Additionally, being a woman of un certain age, as the French so delicately put it—or “cinquenta-misterio” as a Cuban friend says—I don’t love the layer of blub that collects below the ribs.

Regular readers (thank you, by the way) know or have probably guessed that I am not a huge meat fan and that I AM a huge Clean Eating magazine fan. In addition to a lot of very fine recipes, every issue features a one-week menu plan. Ooooh, I’m such a sucker for a menu plan. To this day, I have never followed one all the way through because they usually have a) too much chicken, or b) too many leftovers. Foodwise, I love novelty.

But in the January/February issue, they provided a paleo plan, and I thought, ok. My paleo experiment can begin.

Now one thing you should know is that I decided to tackle this one prior to a road trip. We went to the west side of the state to see S’s family, and we typically bring all of our food, because the part of Michigan that we’re going to isn’t exactly Clean Eating Paradise. So everything was put together the day before and orchestrated to be portable. Since the road trip was Wednesday-Thursday, that’s where I started.

Here’s what I ate, along with a very honest evaluation, and a wholly personal end verdict.

My Paleo Experiment: The Morning

Breakfast: Chia Pear Puddingchia pear pudding, breakfast for my paleo experiment

Can you tell by the way I tried to tart that photo up—flowers, a pretty bowl, photoshop—that chia pudding is just damn ugly? It’s a weird color, a slimy texture, and not much in the flavor department even with a very ripe pear added. The chia seeds are supposed to make this filling, and I guess they do, but you know what? There is way too much good food out there to subject yourself to stuff you don’t like. And I know some people totally dig the chia. They like the way it sort of slips down your throat like an oyster. So, my chia-loving friends, more for you!! I’m not making this one again.

Mid-morning snack: 2 Garlicky Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms with 1 Tbsp. Kimchi

garlic-kimchi-crab stuffed mushrooms, snack for my paleo experiment

I hate fermented food. Steve loves sauerkraut and kombucha and is altogether quite virtuous in the food department, but I think both those things are gross. Kimchi’s a little better, because the spiciness masks the ickiness. As is often the case, it’s a texture thing with me, so I chop the hell out of the kimchi. In this case, I mixed it in with the crab, which was from a can and not an insanely expensive batch of lump crabmeat, which of course I’d prefer, but I’m not insane, which I believe is a requirement if one is going to pay for lump crabmeat at something like 30 bucks a pound. This was surprisingly yummy and filling, so huzzah to a new high protein low carb snack, except I have to have the damn crabmeat. I dunno. I think a lobster tail would be cheaper.

My Paleo Experiment: The Afternoon

Lunch: New Fashioned Cobb Salad

new-fashioned cobb salad, lunch for my paleo experiment

Ok, this salad ROCKED. It’s easy for me to get out of salad mode because frankly to make a good one takes some effort, but this was completely worthwhile. The only thing I changed was to not add the water to the dressing, because as I’ve said before, adding water to salad in any way is dumb.

Afternoon snack: Chocolate Energy Bites and a green apple

chocolate energy bites, snacks for my paleo experiment

I was so satisfied from the salad and mushrooms earlier that I decided to save these for dessert, bc I do like a little sweetness after dinner. Also, obviously, I couldn’t find a green apple. When I did have them, they were also excellent. The recipe for these is at the bottom of this one for Golden Milk Cheesecakes, and those things are ridiculous and you need to make some as soon as you have the ingredients.

My Paleo Experiment: The Evening

So along about dinner time, I’m thinking, hey, I can really get with this whole paleo thing, because so far, everything but that chia pudding has been fine. And then we get to….

Dinner: Roasted Vegetables with Chicken Sausage

roasted vegetables with chicken sausage, for my paleo experiment

And this was terrible. I’m sorry, so sorry to report it. It’s partly my fault. I didn’t skin the sausage, and that’s just stupid. In trying to hew as closely to the original as possible (in the name of SCIENCE), I actually followed a recipe instead of listening to my instincts. I acted, according to the philosophy espoused by moi on the website, completely against my principles. For heck’s sake, I know how to roast vegetables. I also knew that the parsnips I was finding were absolutely horrible, but I tried to cook them anyway.

I ended up with a barely edible mess. Steve and I sort of soldiered through a little bit of it, then put it aside (I did find a way to use it by chopping it fine, which always works, and turning it into a quiche filling) and ate our little chocolate bites later. Though honestly, we weren’t that hungry, so it worked out ok.

My Paleo Experiment: Day 2

Next day: For breakfast, there is no way I’m going to bake an egg in an avocado. Also, I realized how much I hate breakfast that isn’t a smoothie. We all get into these little ruts, but honestly, we stay in some of them because they work for us. So I guess in that case, they’re not ruts so much as they’re nicely-worn paths. But I did have egg and avocado for breakfast. On the road, I had one of those cheesecakes, a reward that  I needed, because I was starting to feel that weird aggressive edginess that I feel whenever I eat too much protein. Carbs make you nicer!!

For lunch, the listed meal was a bag of broccoli slaw stir fried with pork, which I don’t eat (except for that occasional bacon temptation which I can completely live without). I had to use up the extra crabmeat, so I put that in and the result was about as good as it sounds, which is not good at all.

And then we were home, and I said, hell with it.

My Paleo Experiment: The Upshot

So my paleo thing didn’t really work. I imagine you can do vegan paleo but….you know, I just think food’s too fun to get quite that rule-bound.

But still, I have an event coming up and would like to be in a little better fighting shape. So my experiments will continue, and I’ll be reporting back to you. And if you should try this or another plan and get interesting results, please report back to me.




LCF Update 1-8-18: Happy New Year

Hello, my adorable paczkis and persimmons! (And if you don’t know what a paczki, prounounced “poonch-key” is, wait til Easter in Michigan, though I personally don’t understand them AT ALL.) This LCF Update 1-8-18 is the first of the year, and the first in a few weeks. If you’re reading this, you survived 2017, and that is truly celebratory.

Yesterday, I whipped up a recipe called The Best Dairy- & Gluten-Free Mac & Cheese, and I can’t find it on the Clean Eating site, so you may have to skedaddle to your nearest magazine purveyor to pick it up. We found it thoroughly tasty. (If you do follow the link above, you will find a veritable trove of very good recipes.) I don’t avoid dairy or gluten religiously, but I figure it can’t hurt to take a break. My primary alteration was to replace half the pasta in the recipe with roasted cauliflower. The sauce needs roasted garlic and squash anyway, so I just added the cauliflower to the sheet.

vegan, gluten-free mac and cheese is part of the LCF update 1-8-18

It’s not my recipe, so I won’t give it away, but it did feature coconut milk (the fatty kind from the can, not the sort of worthless stuff from the box), the pureed squash and garlic, and soaked cashews. Fortunately, we have a Vitamix now; we finally bit the bullet after using a friend’s. I’ve tried to make cashew substitute cream sauces before and they made me sad, and were also sort of grainy messes. This sauce was pleasant and smooth. Here are the veggies and reduced amount of gluten-free pasta before adding the sauce.

Veggies and pasta for vegan mac & cheese, featured in the LCF Update 1-8-18

Served with some coleslaw on the side, we had a dinner we were very happy with.

vegan, gluten-free mac & cheese in the LCF update 1-8-18 I’m on a curry kick at the moment; given the extreme cold we’ve been facing here in Michigan, it’s thoroughly hitting the spot. So you can watch for that in the next few days. Meanwhile, here are the non-cooking choices of the week.

LCF Update 1-8-18: Reading

Just finished Waking Lions, by the Israeli novelist and psychologist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. The latter half of that job description shows in the character development. The book focuses primarily on three people: a neurosurgeon, Eitan, who runs over an Eritrean immigrant while tooling around in his SUV, then drives away; his wife, Liat, the cop who ends up investigating the hit and run; and Sirkit, the husband of the man Eitan kills, who witnesses the accident and then devises a highly unusual blackmail scheme.

Here’s a fascinating interview with the writer. (And while you’re at it, throw the Guardian a little love if you’re able and inclined. This very excellent publication has become my source of choice, and I’m seeing stories there that simply don’t get covered in the US newspapers.) AGG’s points about how those in places of privilege simply fail to see those decidedly unprivileged are sharp and apply everywhere. As I write, I see that the US is now showing the door to 200K Salvadoreans. Like the Eritreans in Waking Lions, they are being sent into hell. We’re a nation of immigrants, a nation that forgets easily how many of our ancestors were fleeing very bad conditions. Waking Lions serves as a grim if beautifully -written reminder of the desperation that precedes flight, and that so many of us so simply refuse to see.

LCF Update 1-8-18: Watching

It’s always a joy to watch Saoirse Ronan act, and casting her as Lady Bird is one of the smartest moves Greta Gerwig could have made. I can’t rhapsodize about the movie the way everyone else has; where others are going nuts over its simplicity, I find it a little safe. But it’s light years better than Juno, and Gerwig has written some altogether beautiful scenes, including one in which an older nun—not, in probably the movie’s boldest move, a caricature, but a really lovely character—asks Lady Bird if love and paying attention are not the same things. I did miss the brio and love affair with movies evident in Noah Baumbach’s films, particularly the Modern Love sequence in Frances Ha, which Baumbach basically copied almost frame for frame from the extraordinary Leos Carrax movie Mauvais Sang. But I catch myself. Gerwig is herself, and here I am saying, oh, she should do it this way. Lady Bird’s a case where, even though I didn’t love it, I won’t miss the next thing Gerwig writers and directs. May she continue to bloom.


Borgen, an LCF Update 11-30-17 pick

LCF Update 11-30-17

So I took a week off, because I’m assuming y’all have plenty of stuff to pay attention to besides my newsletter during Thanksgiving week. In fact, I have a policy of NOT posting photos of my feast. The point, for me anyway, is to share it with my family. And I hope all my readers had as excellent a week and feast as I did, which brings us to this week’s edition of LCF Update 11-30-17.

I decided to do something unorthodox this year. Typically, I spend from about Halloween onwards in a state of ever-declining food debauchery. There’s the candy on Halloween, then the gearing up to Thanksgiving, and then, what the hell, ChrismaKwanzaKah lickety split. So why even TRY to be good?

I think this is a sign that I’m growing up: I now cleanse because it makes me feel better, and I really don’t like the way I feel when I overindulge. My discipline, so effortless in the wake of one of my quarterly cleanses, all too soon begins to slide away. A pleasant glass of wine on the weekends turns into a glass every night, then a glass and a half, then half a bottle. The cleanse’s importance isn’t so much in giving my liver a break—although of course that happens—as in resetting my understanding of what it means to simply and sincerely enjoy my food and drink with calm and clarity.

I’ve been using the Conscious Cleanse program for a few years now. Jules and Jo have put together an excellent user-friendly schedule that lets you gradually get rid of foods that aren’t so great for you. You ease in, dropping one or two non-optimal substances a day: sugar, coffee, gluten, etc.  Conscious Cleanse with Jules and Jo, reco'd in LCF Update 11-30-17

There’s a version on gaia, the Netflix of yoga and meditation, that pairs each of 14 days with a yoga practice; the version from the official CC site is more extensive and offers more support. I really like their 80/20 plan, something a person can actually live with. You only have to eat like a saint 80% of the time, and you can eat like the pig that we all occasionally are the other 20. If you want to give yourself a present just for getting through 2017—truly, something that deserves a Major Award—do this. I have no affiliation with either gaia or Conscious Cleanse, btw. Just spreading the word.

Eating with a palette limited to super healthy ingredients is a pleasure—except when you’re in a restaurant. Steve reminded me that we’re supposed to go out this week, so we changed it to a dinner party. Stumped as to what to fix, I suddenly remembered my good ol’ Holy Mole Bowl; nobody missed the gluten, dairy, or sugar.

Holy Mole Bowl, reco'd in LCF Update 11-30-17

Then I found this mocktail—no booze while cleansing—and hopefully no one will miss the tequila, either. It’s the Restorative Turmeric Elixir from Cooking Light, and really, the sugar was unnecessary.

Restorative Turmeric Elixir, a pick from LCF Update 11-30-17

Photo by Jennifer Causey

This week, Quick Pickled Veggies; I served them aside the Mole Bowl because they truly go with everything. We’ll also be looking into the art of roasting vegetables over the weekend. The variations for roasting veggies are truly mind-boggling, limited, as they say, only by your imagination. I know of no better way to get non-veggie eaters happily chowing down on cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. And cooking them is so damn easy, you really don’t have an excuse.

LCF Update 11-30-17: Reading

I read The Changeling by Victor LaValle in 2 days, despite its 400-page length. An epic about a young, borderline broke Manhattanite who sells used books, it riffs on lots of stuff, but mostly the creepy Maurice Sendak book Outside Over There. I thought I knew where it would go, but it right-turned all over the place and honestly went kind of off the rails at about the 2/3 mark. I finished it because I had momentum, but can still give it a “Good Time, No Alcohol Required.”

Prior to my date with Mr. LaValle, I thoroughly dug The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, which I read in a few days over the lovely quiet weekend following a hectic last week. Remember that video that went around in the aughts, where it showed an asteroid hitting the earth? Scared the bejeebies out of my son and probably about a billion other people. Well, Winters has made an asteroid hellbent on hitting Terra Firma a character in this detective story. It’s noirer than noir.

The Last Policeman, a pick featured in LCF Update 11-30-17

I like my mysteries mournful. The characters in Last Policeman have reason to be crippled by sadness, and Winters provides us with a tapestry of how people handle the burden. Protagonist Henry Palace decides to just keep doing his job in the face of increasing suicides, one of which he believes was actually a murder. Meanwhile, scientists know exactly when the asteroid will hit, six months from when the book takes place. There’s nothing to be done. Nothing. But in some people, hurtling destruction brings out their best; Palace is one, as is one young woman who simply smiles and says, “I like my life.” On the surface, a light read, but a deeply thought-provoking one that continues to stick with me.

LCF Update 11-30-17: Watching

Steve and I finished the last season, #3, of Borgen, the fine Danish drama set in the world of coalition politics. The show’s greatness completely outweighs the insane dullness of that description. Superb acting, tight writing, and we both smiled ruefully when episode 10 wrapped perfectly and we waved a fond goodbye to Birgitte, Katrine, and Torben. Also, I want to live in Denmark.

Here’s a fun article about the show, though it does have spoilers for seasons 1 and 2. Really, you should just try to track it down, although it’s not that easy to find; we got our copy from the library. Anyway, the producer says that given how few shows Danish TV produces, they felt lucky to get a third season. We feel pretty lucky, too.

Enough for this week. See you soon.

kale, stemmed and ready for slicing

Kale: How to Love It Again

I first encountered kale at a Portuguese Christmas dinner. But not like this.

kale, stems removed, ready for the knifeSo a little background—but if you want to jump past the story straight to the cooking, click here. My first husband was half Portuguese on his mother’s side, but looked entirely Portuguese. The German half of his genes always eluded me, probably just as well given that neither of us ever got along with his father. His mother didn’t either; when I met Karl, they’d been long divorced. Karl was born in New London, CT, then moved to New Milford before coming to New York to act. He made his living as a bartender. I knew him for exactly 5 years. We met on July 10, 1984, and he died on July 10, 1989. He was fond of saying, “The 80s are NOT my decade.”

Since my family was all in my native California when Karl and I were in love in NYC, we would spend Christmases with his mom and her many Portuguese relatives and friends near Danbury, CT. That entailed a huge Portuguese dinner, complete with Bacalhau, salt codfish, and a lot of other stuff I wouldn’t eat. Alas, I grew up picky, and before I learned to eat—which was about when I learned to cook, a few years later—even true love couldn’t get me to sample food I deemed “weird.”

But one dish passed my muster: Kale Soup. You cannot, at least in my experience, go anywhere with Portuguese cooks and avoid kale soup. It is wonderful stuff, the green leaves stemmed, rolled into tight cigar-shaped rolls, and sliced into perfect ribbons, alongside grated potatoes cooked to disintegration, and spicy linguiça sausage adding a tiny amount of fire and savory fat to the mix.

The holy trinity of kale, potatoes, and pork unite ever and again in cuisines around the world; when meat is scarce or simply opted out of, kale and potatoes do just fine. But what separates cooks who did kale before it was cool is the cutting technique. Karl’s Portuguese relatives knew this; apparently, most prep cooks dishing up inedible lacinato salads at high-end delis across the country do not.

Because kale is sturdy. Hell, it’s downright tough. It’s a winter crop, and it’s been growing for literally millenia. Dinosaur kale is a thing in more ways than one—as in, not only does it look like the stuff that friendly stegosauri tread underfoot in those 19th century engravings, they actually chomped it down.

You, my poppets, should not feel as if you need T-Rex choppers to finish your kale salad. Yet often, I do. My son brought home a bag of pre-cut kale from Trader Joe’s the other day; the leaves had been cut, but the stems kept intact. People, those stems could dent a molar. Meanwhile, those clueless prep cooks referred to earlier merrily tear the leaves into 1-inch squares and then toss it with a simple dressing. Time after time, I’ve seen kale salads languishing, unfinished, on otherwise clean plates. They looked like a great idea, but nobody had the stamina to chew, chew, chew more than a bite or two.

So here’s how you get the kale-traumatized back into the garden.

Kale: Two Musts

  1. Chop finely. You can do the cigar style roll, which isn’t difficult at all and looks impressive. Or you can just de-stem, stack, and chop. But cut it fine, whether you’re going to cook it or eat it raw. The only time I can countenance tearing the leaves is if you’re going to make chips, which alters the texture to a shattery crunch. For either cooked or raw dishes, I reiterate, CUT IT FINE.

shred kale by slicing it finely

2. Pamper any kale you intend to eat raw with a little oil and salt massage. You don’t need much of either. Then just put on a short-ish song—Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs is a good one—and rub, rub, rub the toughness away. (BTW, if you’re adding cabbage to the mix—a combination that works nicely and that I’m seeing fairly often—don’t massage the cabbage along with the kale unless you like really soft cabbage. I don’t. )

pamper raw kale with an olive oil and salt massage

Kale: The Treatment

I do love this stuff, so it will be coming up a lot. For now, I leave you with my favorite super simple sauteed kale…

sauteed kale, simplest side ever

and an easy salad.

kale, served raw in a salad

Either makes a welcome addition to your holiday table, a relief from the truckloads of starch and sugar, and a bounty of fiber on a day that can be a bit rough on the belly.

And watch over the next couple of months as I revisit my first husband’s family soup, as well as incorporate these glorious prehistoric leaves in other surprising ways.

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