Monday, July 28, 2008

Random Thoughts About Food

Apples have been saving my life!

I like food a lot. But because I'm hugely pregnant, and it's a zillion degrees in my kitchen, AND because I spent a good deal of time this summer in Maryland, the food situation has been, overall, kind of depressing. Sure, there have been highlights: my sisters and I stopped at a Taco Bell on Rt. 13 in northern Delaware for chalupas and cheesy potatoes nearly every time we drove to Maryland. And speaking of Mexican, there's a fantastic authentic Mexican restaurant not too far from my dad's place in Salisbury, Maryland. And there have been quite a few very decent cheeseburgers and hot dogs parked in my gut this summer as well. I do like a wide array of cuisines, and I enjoy cooking elaborate meals, but with all of the above-mentioned factors, it hasn't been possible. But I'm a fairly easy going gal, and the simple things in life, like Taco Bell and burgers, are some of the best.

Oh, my beloved Chalupa...

Since we got back from Maryland last weekend, we realize that a) we haven't had a decent home-cooked meal since sometime in May, and b) this kid could come at any time. One day earlier in the week, Glen sent me a sweet email from work, expressing that he was glad to have me back home now, and that he's missed taking home-cooked leftover lunches to work. He hates the cafeteria. This made me yearn even more to get creative in the kitchen this week, but unfortunately, I had a load of deadlines (which also interfered with blogging, dammit), I'm struggling with swollen ankles and general discomfort, and it's just so damn hot that cooking seems torturous.

Plus, I have had WICKED acid reflux in the last couple of weeks, most likely due, at least in part, to my steady diet of hot dogs, hamburgers, and chalupas over the last few weeks. The acid reflux wakes me up in the middle of the night, and my esophagus very literally feels as if it's aflame, and I just want to cry: in sheer pain, but also because of a broken heart, because my beloved food and reliable body have betrayed me. I eat Tums by the fistful, and I am quite sure they stopped working about two weeks ago. I thought about asking for something more substantial, but I know that the indigestion is hugely my own damn fault, for eating such terrible foods, and, well, getting myself pregnant in the first place. Plus, this kid is due any time and I'd like to think I'm strong enough to just get through. So, I made a bit of an effort to eat better — which is always a good idea — and, in the last week, I've had yogurt, cereal, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and I still woke up in the middle of the night, in utter digestive agony. Waking up in the middle of the night because Honey Nut Cheerios and rice milk have set my guts on fire is wrong, and I might as well eat hot dogs and chocolate cake, dammit.

So, I read some more about acid reflux and indigestion, and was surprised to find that apples are supposed to help: not only do they neutralize acid, but they are supposed to be relatively gentle. I was highly skeptical, but I'm not a huge apple fan: they are one of my least favorite fruits. I also read that red licorice and gum are great for indigestion because they stimulate the salivary glands, and spittle, apparently, is the first line of defense against vile acid. I was spewing fire after lunch, late in the week last week, and Glen called, and I mentioned the apples, and licorice, and gum to him, and he picked some up for me on his way home. It wasn't hard to jam a bunch of licorice into my pie hole, even though it wouldn't have been my first choice of sweets; and gum is non-offensive, so I had some of that after eating the Twizzlers. But apples? I just don't really like them much. I love them cooked, in pie or cakes; and I love apple cider. But I find eating apples as-is to be relatively unpleasant. But, since last week, I've been doing it. Every day since Glen brought them home, and I have not had a single Tums. I have not woken up in the middle of the night writhing in pain from the reflux. I'd like to attribute it to the Twizzlers, but since I devoured nearly all of them within the first day, I'm thinking my overall better feeling is due to the apples, which I have been eating consistently, but at a much slower pace.

I want to mention this, because I feel like a new woman. I know that pregnancy poses specific problems: the baby grows and the stomach gets pushed around, and there's less room to park cheeseburgers (or cheerios), and food and stomach acid has a tendency to ride back up the esophagus. But the fact that apples have helped SO WELL would make me bet even if you're not a pregnant chick, and you suffer from indigestion or heartburn or acid reflux, that apples would work. I am starting to love them.

I am starting to love apples because I spent a week eating relatively bland "safe" foods, and still experienced hell in the middle of the night, and now I'm not. I'm loving them because even though my ankles are swollen, and I am uncomfortable, and it is stinking hot, I really want to get cooking. Glen — in case I haven't mentioned this — has a kitchen appliance addiction: we have a wok, and ice crushers, and toasters and blenders galore. We have a rice cooker, and a juicer, a Kitchen Aid mixer, and a fancy panini press. And yes, we also have a rotisserie. I've been daydreaming about that rotisserie. And Indian food. And good bread. And dipping sauce.

This is why I love apples: not only have they (oh, I hope) cured my reflux, but they've given me confidence to not only tackle a good, homecooked meal, but an intense one at that. On one of the nights in the last couple of weeks I was up burping fire, I watched a few cooking shows, with envy and longing. One of the cooks used a mortar and pestle and mashed up a fantastic-looking blend of garlic and herbs, and then — kind of horrifyingly — took a whole chicken, and wriggled her jewelry clad hands in between the skin and the flesh, and smeared around her seasonings. She didn't want them to burn on the outside of the skin; she wanted the flavor to infuse the flesh. Watching her dig around that chicken carcass the way she did made me uncomfortable, but I have not been able to get the image of the final product out of my head: it looked to be one, perfect, succulent chicken.

So, I got thinking about this woman's technique, but don't quite have the fortitude for the grizzly work of separating skin from flesh with my own hands. Glen does, though. Also, we have some awesome Indian sauces from Canada, and, so, on Saturday night, he rubbed some Tikka Masala in between skin and flesh of the chicken, and impaled the poor creature, and closed the rotisserie door.

The poor fella didn't stand a chance.

I put on some basmati rice, and was pleased to find we had some frozen garlic naan (an Indian flat bread — you would love it, and if you haven't tried it, you must). I also figured we'd need a more elaborate sauce to pour over the chicken and rice, so I found inspiration from the list of ingredients on the jar of Tikki Masala, and made some more, using tomatoes and scallions and lemon juice and garlic and coconut milk. After the sauce simmered for a bit, I added some Indian cheese, called Paneer, which is a hard, white, cow's cheese, with very high heat tolerance (like Haloom [which I wrote about here, back in March], you can abuse this cheese a bit on the grill or frying pan, or even just toss it into a sauce, and it won't melt). This is some VERY good stuff, and if you've been too afraid to try Indian, for fear of curry or spice, Paneer Tikka Masala is dish for you: it is generally a mild, savory, creamy tomato dish, though you can kick it up with some peppers (I added a few to the sauce, but kept the bulk of them to the side for Glen to garnish his plate; I like spice, and have been emboldened by my new friend, the apple, but I'm just not THAT much of a risk-taker).

Here's a picture of the sauce as I was preparing it; and the cheese, as I was cutting it up; just before I dumped it in.

Homemade Tikka Masala Sauce: mostly it's tomatoes, coconut milk, garlic and onions.

Yummy, yummy paneer about to get cut smaller, and then tossed in the pot o' sauce.

The chicken finished up, and wow, it smelled so good, and at the bottom of the rotisserie were some pretty fantastic juices, which we dumped into the simmering sauce on the stove, and as much as that's oh-so-wrong from a fat perspective, I'm about 9 months pregnant, and am not terribly worried about fat right now. Plus, it really, really made the sauce so much better. The skin got a wee bit more brown than we anticipated, but we were not disappointed at all.

Rotisserie Chicken. Good stuff.

I popped the naan into the oven for a few minutes while we assembled our plates, and here's the finished meal. This is Glen's: his plate looked more attractive because he added both fresh green hot peppers, and fresh tomatoes.

Glen's dinner.

It was wonderful to eat a really good home-cooked meal, and one with some serious indigestion-giving properties. But, afterward, I ate my apple, and had no problems at all. We packed up 6 meals for Glen's lunches, and have some chicken left over for sandwiches, to boot, and we're happy about that. Glen even more so: he won't have to eat at the cafeteria at work. We plan on doing some more cooking and eating and freezing tonight, and if our meal makes me as happy as Saturday night's Tikka Masala does, I'll be sure to let you know.


Anonymous said...

Bleh. Apples aren't on my list, either. I wonder whether you'd get the same effect from applesauce. It's cheap, it keeps and it's totally non-offensive.

Michael Liddy said...

Although I love apples in any form, you can make a simple "chunky" applesauce by cooking the slices up in a saute' pan with a little water and add brown sugar and cinnamon at the end to taste. That's it. The natural pectin found in apples acts as the thickener and should yield similar results for the "acid reflux" thang. It's the insoluble fiber that absorbs the acid and takes it down the digestive track that makes you feel better...and apples are also a dandy natural breath freshener. Isn't all of this painfully interesting!!!

By the way...that dinner looks SO DAMN GOOD!! Glen, you're a lucky man. - ML

Chrissy said...

Thanks, Anon and Michael for the tip on applesauce, and Michael, thanks for the science behind my gastrointestinal joy right now. While I always appreciate a good tip, I'm sorry to say I'll likely pass on the applesauce, especially since the apples on their own are doing so well, and are no longer killing me to eat. I'm not really a very fussy eater -- at least I don't see myself that way -- but there's something about applesauce that makes me think of babies and nursing homes. I have good teeth and don't mind using them, you know? There's something about eating foods that could be ingested via straw that just makes me slightly uneasy, and applesauce fits squarely into this category for me.

Mr. CleƤn said...

You should ask your doctor about Nexium.

You and Glen should open up your own Indian restaurant.

That rotisserie thing gave me the creeps a little bit...

...I have few qualms about eating meat, but to see my food standing up, albeit headless and featherless, is unsettling to me. Along similar lines, I don't like food that looks at me when I eat it.

I'm having a tough time reconciling these beliefs with my assertion that the yumminess factor in any meat is in direct proportion to the amount of suffering the animal endured in order to become my dinner.

Anonymous said...

I like food.

Andrea said...

OMG - I had no idea you've been pregnant all this time! HUGE CONGRATS. We are all looking forward to it.

Excellent looking dish my dear. Where are you getting your paneer?

Andrea Schwartz Scott and kids

Chrissy said...

Thanks, Andrea. Kept the pregnancy quiet for so long kind of out of fear, and it's been a long, eventful year. So, I've been able to focus on other stuff.

Glad you mentioned the paneer because I meant to write about where to find it, and forgot. Glen and I affectionately call the paneer-monger "the evil Sikh." Not nice, I know, but if you've been in Subzi Mandi on Quakerbridge, you probably know why we call him that. I don't really think he's evil, just a bit stern. I like that in a clerk. Most of the time. He also may have the best deal on saffron in the area, if you're looking for that.

Anonymous said...

OMG-that looks sooo good!! My Mr. Clean has it right, when are you opening a restaurant!?!?!

Being a rabid apple lover, I don't get the not-liking-apples thing...but to each their could also try apple cider vinegar...good for many ailments...seriously! A little of that in a small glass of cold water or in a small glass of apple juice or cider would probably help too. When in indigestion pain though, I usually rely upon old-fashioned baking soda in most of the time for me...if not, the slightly bitter, cider vinegar drink.

You're almost there--soon no little one will be pushing around on your insides--he/she will be there to harass king dougie-

-Ms. Clean