If You Are New To This Blog…

Amy Julia Becker asked me to write a little introduction to what my blog is about (it appeared on hers yesterday) but it occurred to me that it is a good introduction to those of you who may be new to the blog.

Plus, here’s a new picture of me that I haven’t yet uploaded to my “About Me” page:

Stone-Headshot

When I started my blog (almost exactly!) two years ago, it was called Eat With Joy, which became the title of my book. The blog started out as being mostly about issues related to food and body image from a Christian perspective, and I usually have posts related to some aspect of these at least once a week.

One of the most popular posts from the early days of my blog is called “My Audrey Hepburn Problem.” In it I discuss my youthful admiration of the film star, and how I (very unfortunately) conflated her reputed kindness and philanthropy with her (very unusual) good looks.

Another post that gives a good sense of the kind of writing I do on the blog is “The Cultural Evolution of Candy Land.” It all began when I laid out my old Candy Land game (circa 1980s) next to the 2010, and was shocked by how thin–and sexualized–the characters had become. It grew into a series including My Little Ponies and Polly Pockets as I noticed the trend in other toys, more or less concluding with a post on why it matters whether a toy is thin and sexy (or not.)

I write about the books I’m reading at least once a week (Mondays often feature book reviews) and sometimes post simple, family-friendly recipes.

And because I’ve been living and working in Malawi, Africa–where my husband and I teach at a Christian seminary, and where I occasionally volunteer as a labor doula–there are occasional posts about the state of maternal health globally, pictures of animals seen on our travels, and thoughts on wealth, poverty, and gratitude for all of God’s gifts: not just the edible, but the beautiful, the hilarious, and the eminently re-readable.

Evangelicals Climate Change Brownies (with recipe)

A few weeks ago, my family and I had the pleasure of welcoming a bunch of people who were on a trip to Malawi to learn about how climate change is affecting folks here. I’d been in touch with the group’s leaders, including Ben Lowe of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) about how possibly to meet up with the group as they traveled, but as plans finalized I realized I wouldn’t be able to do that, as I’m phobic both of driving here and of taking public transport. Plus, our car had been less than functional for QUITE a while. (Though it is doing fine now.)

Anyway, as I looked over their itinerary, I realized that they’d likely be passing right by our house as they made their way from the south back to the north. So I offered our house as a rest stop, knowing, as I do, that American style rest stops are pretty much non-existent along the road they would be traveling. What bathrooms do exist are…well, maybe it’s better if we don’t talk about that. Suffice it to say that I was happy to offer my bathroom for everyone’s use.

My kids were so excited.

Jonathan Merritt looked at my kids’ Lego creations and, I think, wished he had time to stop and build a few himself.

Jenny Yang asked Aidan to play his violin (which he did.)

Karen Swallow Prior delivered a hug from my buddy Ellen.

And Leroy Barber told me that my brownies may have changed his life.

It was fun, if brief. It made me wish that in addition to conferences, where we all stay in hotels, drink too much coffee, and rush from session to session, people working in similar fields and in similar ways could somehow visit each other in their houses. It’s nice. It feels right, somehow.

I prepared a number of things to eat that day (how could I not!?) and here is the recipe that Leroy said changed his life. Which of course isn’t true, but which made me smile.

Life-Changing, Hopefully Not Climate-Changing Brownies

Preheat the oven to 325 F

Prepare an 8” x 8” pan by lining with parchment, buttering the parchment, and dusting liberally with granulated sugar, shaking off the excess.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt together:

10 tablespoons butter

1 and ¼ cups sugar

¾ cup + 2 tablespoons Dutch-process (fair trade, if you can) cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon salt

Whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool 10-15 minutes. Beat in two eggs, ONE AT A TIME, beating thoroughly after each addition.

Stir in 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract and beat in 1 cup all purpose flour until just blended.

Pour into prepared pan and bake at 325 F for 20 minutes. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack before attempting to cut.

Pancit Bihon (Rice Noodle Stir-Fry with Lots of Vegetables)

A few weeks ago we were in South Africa, and I was so excited to be able to go into a HUGE grocery store so that I could get, among other things, rice vermicelli noodles so that I could make what is one of my very favorite things to eat: pancit bihon! I made it the day after we returned and am trying to hold myself back from making it again. Tonight.

My very oldest friend (by which I mean my first friend; she’s only 2 and 1/2 years older than I am!) Sarah and I have always loved to cook and eat together, from the time we were eight and ten years old trying to make things out of children’s cookbooks in our mothers’ kitchens which NEVER seemed to have the right ingredients for anything we wanted to make. I can remember making weird no-bake cookies that I think were something like peanut butter rolled together with cornflakes (ew) and also making chocolate-chip pancakes and ALSO, once, during the summer, eating an entire bag of chocolate chips together while watching Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea marathon-style, because it was too hot to bake, anyway.

So one of the last times I was at Sarah’s house I was nosing around her cupboards, because that’s what we generally do upon entering each other’s houses. I do it because I’m looking for junk food that I know Sarah might have that I might not buy for myself but will certainly eat; she does it in order to rearrange my messy cabinets. Incidentally, Sarah is a lot like my husband in this particular regard. They can’t understand how I can STAND to rifle through things to find what I need, and they love to rearrange closets and cabinets and then to stand in front of their work saying, “see? Isn’t that better? Are you going to KEEP it this way, Rachel?”

(No. Can’t say that I will.)

But I digress. When I was in Sarah’s cupboards last, I found some rice noodles. “Ooh! I love these! Let’s cook something,” I said. “Pancit!” she said. “I have a recipe from Jeremy’s aunt.”

Jeremy’s family is Philipino, and pancit is a very essential dish. You can think of it, basically, as a rice noodle stir-fry to which you can add any number of vegetables and even meats if you like. What you must not leave out is the cooking of the noodles IN BROTH and in the pan in which you’ve stir-fried the vegetables. I would not dare to claim expertise in a cuisine that I scarcely know, but that techniques seems to be what gives the pancit its special taste. It’s pancit bihon when you use rice noodles. If you use flour noodles–like lo mein noodles–it’s called pancit canton. Sometimes people make pancit with two kinds of noodles, but I think I like pancit bihon the best.

And so…feel free to change the quantity and variety of vegetables. Don’t omit the onions and garlic, but, beyond that, just try to include a cup each of three different vegetables of various colors and textures. Sugar snap peas or snow peas would be a good addition, as would bean sprouts if you like them (I don’t). You should also feel free to use leftover vegetables…just add them later in the cooking process so that they don’t get soggy. As with any stir-fry, the general rule is to put vegetables in the pan in descending order of cooking time: carrots toward the beginning; spinach at the end.

Pancit Bihon

neutral cooking oil (corn or grapeseed)

1-16oz package rice vermicelli

1 cup red onions, diced very finely

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup carrots, shredded coarsely

1/2 cup celery, diced finely

1 cup cabbage, sliced into fine ribbons

1 cup green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 cup cooked, shredded chicken (optional)

soy sauce and oyster sauce (oyster sauce is optional, but tasty; add a pinch of sugar if you use only soy sauce)

fresh cilantro, lime wedges (optional)

several cups broth (chicken if using chicken; vegetable if vegetarian)

  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high until a drop of water sizzles
  • Pour over several teaspoons of cooking oil, swirl to coat the pan, and add onions. Cook and stir until onions are just starting to brown. Then add carrots and celery, stirring often.
  • When carrots and celery are just starting to soften, add green beans and cabbage and garlic and stir continuously until vegetables are nearly cooked through but not soggy. Add meat if using.
  • Remove vegetables and meat to a different pot or bowl and pour two cups of broth into the hot skillet, scraping the bottom carefully to loosen browned bits. Stir in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce.
  • Break the rice vermicelli into the hot broth and cover, stirring occasionally, until noodles are cooked through (5-10) minutes. You may need to add more broth.
  • When noodles are cooked through and broth has been absorbed, add vegetables/chicken back to the skillet and toss together. Taste, adding more soy sauce, oyster sauce, or salt as needed.
  • Garnish with optional chopped fresh cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

Delicious!

Spring (Roll) Recipe: NOW, not January, is the time for eating seasonally.

Okay, maybe not now-now, as people here often say when they mean “at this very moment,” but spring is surely the time for taking up the practice of eating (at least some things) that are local and seasonal. Now’s the time to find a CSA (some of them even deliver, which can be so convenient) or plant an itty-bitty garden, if you can spare the space and effort. Even if all you’re able and willing to grow is a pot of herbs on a windowsill, by all means, do it. 

Do it for this recipe alone. You may be thinking that it is weird to eat a bunch of herbs all together, but once you taste the cilantro, basil, and mint in these rolls, you’ll see it’s not weird at all. The peanut dipping sauce is pretty much all-season; it’s equally good with spring rolls as with rice and cooked veggies and strips of grilled meat, chicken, or fish (and even with tofu, if you like tofu. I do, especially with peanut sauce.)

You know those fancy food blogs where the house is so perfect and there's no crumpled up napkins lying around, or, if they are, they're lying around artfully, somehow? This isn't one of those blogs.
You know those fancy food blogs where the house is so perfect and the table is so retro-fabulously beautiful and things are out of focus, but in a good way, and there’s no crumpled up napkins lying around, or, if they are, they’re lying around artfully, somehow? This isn’t one of those blogs.

Spring/Summer Rolls and Peanut Sauce
For the Rolls:
8 sheets rice paper
8 soft lettuce leaves
4 ounces thin rice noodles, soaked until tender (but not mushy)

A quantity of vegetables:

  • Grated or julienned carrots, cucumber, avocado, radishes—be creative!
  • ½ cup each fresh mint, cilantro and basil leaves torn into pieces. (If you lack one of these, feel free to omit one or the other, but it’s really best with all of them; see above!)

Soak 1 sheet of rice paper in warm water for 10 seconds or so, then lay out on a kitchen cloth. Place a lettuce leaf in the middle, and fill it with a finger size portion of noodles, a bit of each vegetable and some of the fresh leaves. Roll up the rice paper wrapper like a burrito, closing in both sides. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, making sure not to allow rolls to touch, or they will stick together. You can wrap them in a damp towel and plastic wrap and serve within an hour, with peanut sauce (my favorite) or go easy-lazy style with a simple dipping sauce of equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar with a couple tablespoons of sesame oil stirred in.

For the Peanut Sauce:

Chop finely and sauté together in 2-3 tablespoons of neutral oil
(like corn or grapeseed) until tender and fragrant:

  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch piece ginger
  • 1-2 stalks lemongrass (optional)

Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon turmeric and stir to coat, 1 minute.
Then add:

  • 1 can (organic is best, if you can!) coconut milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons brown or turbinado sugar (you can also use maple syrup; or substitute 1/4 cup hoisin sauce and reduce soysauce to 1-2 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ½-1 cup non-hydrogenated peanut butter
  • Ground cayenne pepper to taste

Simmer, stirring constantly to keep from sticking and adding water to achieve the desired dipping consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings and serve liberally over everything.

{Shameless plug: adapted from a recipe in my new book, where you’ll find more non-guilty, joyful reasons to eat seasonally as well as fun, tasty recipes that are healthy and fresh without being nutso about the whole thing}

How weirdly long and thin does the Stone Doctor's arm look in this photo? Feed that man!
How weirdly long and thin does the Stone Doctor’s arm look in this photo? Feed that man!

Beer-Batter Your Vegetables

If you can believe it, there’s a pretty decent little Italian restaurant here in Zomba. Not, like New York Italian, but Italian-from-Italy-Italian, which means there’s no deep-fried chicken cutlet smothered in mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce and served with spaghetti and called “Chicken Parmesan,” and, alas, no New York-style pizza, but which means that all the pasta is fresh.

One of my favorite things to get there is an appetizer listed as fritto misto–battered and fried mixed vegetables; whatever’s in season–they’ve had green beans, carrots, zucchini, onion rings, eggplant, and okra. They serve it with several dipping sauces, including a sweet ketchup-like “tomato sauce,” a sort of chili-mayonnaise, and a very spicy sauce that I can’t resist tasting just so I can suffer a little.

The other night I was staring down several zucchini that I wasn’t sure what to do with, and I decided to try making a little fritto misto of my own. I found a great beer batter recipe online, and tried it on onion rings and spears of zucchini. It was very, very tasty; very light and crispy, owing to the baking powder and the bubbly beer.

So here’s how to make your own, with whatever vegetables you please.

You’ll need:

  • several cups of vegetables, cut into small spears, sticks, or, in the case of onions, rings, tossed with one tablespoon or so of flour

Mix together–it’s OK if it’s lumpy:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup very cold beer

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a pot suitable for frying over medium-high heat. In the US, I use grapeseed or coconut oil for frying. Here, I use what I can find, which was, I think, sunflower oil this time. Not ideal, but it works fine. You want the oil to be deep enough to keep things sizzling but not so deep that they’re floating.

Dip each vegetable piece individually in the beer batter and place in heated oil, turning as necessary (use metal tongs) until all sides are golden. Drain on paper towels, and serve with your favorite dips.

(Why not try Sriracha-Lime Mayo, or a simple dip of equal parts rice vinegar and soy sauce with a few dashes of sesame oil and a squeeze of lime?)