Divinely Delicious and Nutritious

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Wow so I just realized this is the second chocolate post in a row.  Oh well, you can never have too much chocolate.

This post is a bit overdue. A friend from high school now works for Divine Chocolate and sent me a box of samples a few months ago and I still have some left. Talk about a sweet job! Divine is a company I totally believe in (and no they did not pay me to write this post). They are fair trade and claim to be the only fair trade chocolate company owned by its farmers. You may know the brand by their beautiful labels with the Adinkra symbols which come from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa and are used for decoration or special occasions. Each has a  meaning based on traditional wisdom and values.

divine

I have become quite a chocolate connoisseur over the years and my taste buds have grown to crave darker and darker chocolate. I think Divine does a great job at creating velvety, smooth and creamy chocolate even at the darkest varieties. (Unlike some brands of chocolate that tend to become dry when there is a higher percentage of cacao and less cocoa butter). I talked briefly in my last post about the benefits of chocolate, but in case you missed it: the flavonoids (a type of antioxidant) in dark chocolate have been shown to decrease blood pressure, LDL or “bad cholesterol”, decrease insulin resistance, and increase HDL or “good” cholesterol.  Sorry having another nerd moment. I love this kind of creative outlet, but I can’t seem to do it without adding in the science sometimes.

Anyways I’ll wrap this up…(no pun intended)

To Summarize: chocolate is good, dark chocolate is better, fair trade dark chocolate is best.

If you are interested in learning more about slave labor in the products you buy, check out: http://slaveryfootprint.org/ to see how many slaves work for you based on your current lifestyle.

Divinely Yours,

Cara

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Snow Day= Soup Day

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Hello Charm City Magic readers,

It has been a long time since our paths have crossed. I’m writing to you today from the snowy town of Glen Arm. The best thing about snowdays is that it forces me to slow down my life and embrace my hobbies. Today is a first for me in my blogging career: uploading an orginal recipe! I make up recipes all the time, but the problem is having the time to write them down or remembering to take a picture.

In the process of posting my original recipes, I will be following my mantra of no measuring. I’ll try to give approximations as best I can. It’s always how I’ve cooked, so why start measuring now?! I believe this method really shows cooking the way it should be: as an art form. Like any good art, the recipe starts with some sort of inspiration or craving (mine has been ethnic food these days). Then you add a bunch of random ingredients together (kind of like throwing paint a la Jackson Pollock), and you are not exactly sure how it will all turn out. Any artistic  journey is full of doubt, but in the end it is a beautiful  piece of art or in my case, a yummy dish! And you can always make modifiactions as needed until your work of art is exactly how you want it. I never measure spices and just adjust them after many rounds of taste testing.

Today was a great day to clean out the fridge and use up a bunch of veggies before they went bad. This may not be the most authentic Thai dish, but it has all of the flavor elements of Thai cuisine and was extremely practical so feel free to make changes with whatever ingredients you might have such as chicken or other vegetables.

Here is what I did–just try your best to follow my sporadic cooking style.

Prepare 1 cup of uncooked rice according to the package. Set aside

Saute in ~ 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil:

1 head of chopped broccoli (crowns only), 1/4 head cabbage shredded, 1 can of chickpeas drained and rinsed, 1 can of diced tomatoes (can sub tomato paste or sauce and add extra liquid as needed), and 1 red bell pepper chopped.

Add 1/2 box of College Inn Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Broth (you can use plain chicken broth and add chile powder, coriander, red pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, minced onion, or any other thai spices you desire).

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Add in some water for extra liquid and dilute the spices and salt

Stir in ~3 tbsp minced garlic

Add 1 dash of low sodium soy sauce

At the end: Add in 1 can full fat coconut milk and the rice.

(RD nerd alert: although coconut is full of saturated fat, it is made up of about 50% medium chain triglycerides, which are absorbed differently and do not contribute to heart disease, as previously thought. I love that the science of nutrition is always changing!)

This entire recipe only took about 30 minutes. I’m all about making one pot meals that are quick, easy and healthy. And leftovers are always a good thing to pack for lunch for the rest of the week.

What are some of your favorite snow day recipes?

Green Eggs and … Duck??

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This post comes to your from Philadelphia-“The city of neighborhoods.” I had a lovely visit with an old friend from college and we enjoyed brunch at a great local spot-Green Eggs Cafe. (sans ham 😦 despite my love of the Dr. Seuss story growing up)

duck hash

I had my usual dilemma of feeling overwhelmed by the amount of wonderful food and wanted to order everything on the menu. I also could not decide if I wanted sweet or salty. Kristen is a vegetarian, so sharing would probably not be an option since I was craving meat. I decided to go for something salty and ordered the duck hash skillet, which included pulled duck confit, sweet potatoes, parsnips, two eggs over easy and a cabbage slaw on top. It was served over their signature brioche toast and smothered in gravy. Very colorful and tasty!

quinoa porridge

Kristen ordered the quinoa porridge with agave nectar, cinnamon, cardamom, golden raisins, and cream topped with fresh berries and fresh berry compote. She ordered orange juice and to our surprise it tasted freshly squeezed! Quinoa is a nutty grain that is also a complete protein, and I believe it’s the only plant-based complete protein source.

Next time I visit, I must get the Red Velvet pancakes, which is Kristen’s favorite item on the menu! The menu describes them as buttermilk pancakes with chocolate morsels layered with strawberry mascarpone and topped with fresh strawberries and a maple syrup and chantilly cream.

http://greeneggscafe.com/

Green was the theme of the day as we ended out visit with a trip to Green Street Consignment. I’m not usually big into thrift stores, but this was one so well-organized and had a great selection of name brand items. And it never hurts to support recycling.

http://greenestreetconsignment.com/greene-thrift/

Stay Green,

Cara

Good for your sinuses!

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Here is a great example of using what my Daddy taught me… and fulfilling my constant craving for ethnic food. My sister and I made some homemade Indian food tonight! I’m not a big fan of recipes, but my sister insisted. We made some modifications and tweaked it as I saw fit.

indian curry

Indian Vegetable Curry

Serves 4-6

14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes or 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes

2 tablespoons sweet or mild curry powder

1 ½ teaspoons garam masala

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 onion, finely diced

12 oz. red potatoes, cut into a ½ inch dice

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 serrano chili, minced (seeds and ribs removed if you’re sensitive to heat)

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ head cauliflower (about 1 ½ lbs.), cored and cut into 1 inch florets

1, 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 teaspoon table salt

1 ¼ cups water

1 ½ cups green peas, fresh or frozen

1.If using canned tomatoes, transfer them to the bowl of a food processor and pulse 5-6 times until finely chopped, then set aside. If using fresh tomatoes, this step is unnecessary.

2.In a large, heavy bottomed pot, toast the curry powder and garam masala until fragrant over medium heat, about 1 minute. Transfer the spices to a small bowl and set aside. In the same pot heat the vegetable oil over medium heat and add the onion and potatoes. Sauté for 10-12 minutes, until the onions have softened and the edges of the potatoes are beginning to brown. Clear a space in the center of the pan and add the garlic, serrano, ginger and tomato paste and sauté for 30-60 seconds until fragrant. Add the toasted spices and stir to combine, letting them toast again until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower to the pot and toss thoroughly for 2-3 minutes, until the cauliflower is well coated with the spices and aromatics.

3.Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, water, and salt, turn the heat to medium-high, and simmer briskly for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender. Add the peas, stir to combine, and let simmer until the peas are hot, 2-3 minutes. Transfer the curry to a serving bowl and serve immediately with basmati rice and naan.

http://kinseycooks.com/2013/10/02/indian-vegetable-curry/

-We subbed 1 lb frozen cauliflower for the fresh- By the way, I believe that cauliflower and white vegetables are underappreicated since they don’t look like they have much color or nutrients in them. However, cauliflower is a great source of glucosinolates-sulfur containing compounds that help prevent cancer. A one cup serving of raw cauliflower contains 320 mg of potassium and 52 mg of Vitamin C.
http://www.livestrong.com/article/410151-the-health-benefits-of-cauliflower/
-We used dried ginger instead of fresh-just reduce by 1/3
-We added extra water since there wasn’t really enough sauce
-We skipped the chili since I don’t do well with too much spice
-We used a blender for the tomatoes since I did not feel like cleaning my food processor at the end of all of this

Of course, I didn’t measure the spices exactly and I may have added a bit more garlic than the recipe called for. It was delicious though! Everything I love about chana masala plus some extra veggies!

This isn’t completely authentic since we did not use basmati rice and we did not make naan. That will be a cooking adventure for another time 🙂

Chip off the ‘ol block

chip salad

Hello from Chipparelli’s! I celebrated a very special going away dinner Thursday night for my dear friend Mhinjine. Little Italy in Baltimore set the scene for this lovely dinner. We were supposed to see the tree lighting in Mt. Vernon, but gave up when parking proved to be impossible. The night ended up being just what we all needed. Good food, wine, people, laughter, and conversations about saving the world with healthy food, one corner store at a time.

My mom used to work as a waitress at Chipparelli’s back in the day, and the family joke is that she worked there just long enough to steal the famous recipe for their salad dressing. That may be where I got some of my waitressing skills from… or my love of salad. This salad has become famous in my family and is a staple at every Christmas Eve dinner. I’m not usually a fan of iceberg lettuce due to its lack of flavor and nutrients, but the combination of that with the oil, vinegar and freshly grated parmesan in the dressing made for buttery taste with a little crunch, making it one of the best salads I’ve ever had. Sorry  mom, Chipparelli’s does it better than you…

chianti

After our salads came, I started off with a glass of Chianti (my brother, the Italian wine connoisseur’s favorite). Chianti, which comes from the Chianti region in central Tuscany, is hard to describe. It reminds me of Malbec with its spiciness. According to wine-searcher.com, it is characterized by its red and black cherry character, with notes of wild herbs, mint and spice, supported by a racy acidity and mellow tannins. It must be aged for a minimum of four months. It paired really well with the Gnocchi Bolognese that I ordered.

chip gnocchi

I heard from a friend that the gnocchi is one of dishes Chipparelli’s is known for.  I’m glad I took his advice! I love gnocchi and have tried quite a variety during my culinary adventures. The menu described them as handmade fresh ricotta dumplings with a traditional ragú of beef, pork & veal. These were the lightest, fluffiest little pillows of heaven I’ve ever had. This dish was so light, I did not feel like there was a ton of bricks in my stomach. I’m usually one to default to a vegetarian option when I got out to eat, but the meat had so much flavor and I’m glad I tried something different.

chip tiramisu

The night would not be complete without dessert. There is always room for dessert, and we got three forks so it worked out to be just enough. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but I make an exception for anything involving chocolate and/or coffee. The Tiramisu, which literally means “pick me up” in Italian, was creamy and rich, not too heavy, with subtle notes of coffee and a light dusting of cocoa on top. Perfection. My brother made us some Tiramisu when he came back from studying in Italy and I must say he did well because this authentic home-made Tiramisu from Little Italy reminded me of what he made us a few months ago. Maybe he is the chip off the ‘ol block!

Please pay Chipparelli’s a visit next time you are in Little Italy!

http://www.chiapparellis.com/

B’more Thankful

Celebrating Thanksgivukkah Baltimore Style!

natty boh

My celebration began Wednesday night serving up Natty Bohs while beer tubbing at Looney’s Pub! They know how to throw a good pre-thanksgiving party and it was so great catching up with old friends.

 

thanksgiving

My parents hosted this year, so it was a bit of a busier day than usual. However, our day began as a lazy morning as it always does with the Macy’s parade and french toast casserole.

On the menu was turkey of course (which is probably the second best turkey I’ve ever had, due to the chicken broth my mom put in the bottom of the pan to ensure it stayed moist). My sister and I were like the professional basting squad, basting obsessively at least every 15 minutes. There was also cranberry apple stuffing, sweet potato casserole (made with brown sugar and pecan topping not marshmallows), mashed potatoes, our polish staple of sauerkraut and polish sausage (which is amazing mixed with mashed potatoes), tarragon broccoli, and my grandma’s specialty of peas and dumplings.

coins

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah last overlapped in 1888 and it won’t happen again for another 77,798 years so Colleen brought some gelt. We don’t have any ounce of Jewish in us, but we figured why not try to appreciate the culture since it was the second night of Hanukkah?

dessert

It would not be a holiday for our family without more dessert than we know what to do with! Fenwick bakery provided a lovely coconut cake. My grandma’s famous cheesecake of course was a hit as always. But I think what stole the show was an apple crumble pie with candied nuts on top.

ravens

My night was complete with some Baltimore football. Despite Emmanuel Sanders’ completely disrespectful jerk move of doing Ray Lewis’ touchdown dance in our stadium, the Ravens still came through for a win! It was like the whipped cream on top of pumpkin pie 🙂

I know this post  is a day late (I still have not gotten the hang of blogging in real-time) but now it counts as a “Foodie Friday” post. I will have to post the recipes later and I may be working on adding a separate recipe page to this blog so stay tuned!

One thing I have have realized is that Baltimore has a lot of transplants (like people, not just kidney transplants). And I am so thankful that my family all lives in the Baltimore area so I did not have to spend the day traveling or running around. At times, I do take my family for granted, but have been recently reminded that I need to b’more thankful that I have them closeby.

Thankfully yours,

Cara

A Very Maryland Birthday

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Today is another honorary blog post complete with a miserable picture from my childhood and a not-so-miserable picture from some birthday festivities. I’m posting today in honor of my dad, whose birthday was yesterday.

daddy bday pic

Everyone feels love in different ways. My mom is definitely “words of affirmation,” but my dad is much more into quality time and acts of service. Hence, the all day adventure in college park and the cold football game. For those of you who know me, you know that is love because cold and I do not mix.

maryland game sunset

Even on his birthday, my dad was thinking of us and buying hot chocolate, offering up his gloves and letting us leave the game early when our fingers and toes just couldn’t take any more. That was a great reminder to me that people show love in different ways. My dad shows love through acts of service and I think it took me a while to realize that. Over the years, I definitely took things for granted like my dad coming to the rescue and fixing my car whenever something happened that seemed like a crisis to me.

Check out The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman for more information. This book really helped me understand every relationship in my life so much better.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Love-Languages-Secret-Lasts/dp/0802473156

So this post in itself is n0t the present like it was for my mom last month. Instead, my dad, a guru of the English language and future creative free-lance writer, will be a guest blogger for charm city magic!! My dad has always been so supportive of everything I do, including this blog 🙂

So Dad, this is for you. You get to pick a topic of your choice and write a blog post to be published here sometime in the next month!

daddy bday pic 2

P.S.We had a lovely lunch at Franklin’s Restaurant and Brewery in Hyattsville (another post coming with more details..for now check out their website http://www.franklinsbrewery.com/). In addition to my goofy, dry sense of humor that I get from my dad, I found myself using a “daddyism” at lunch without even realizing it. My sister Caitlin was eating a very spicy curry dish and I reassured her, “Don’t worry it’s good for your sinuses.” Our entire family has allergy and sinus issues so there will be many more posts coming with all kinds of fun ethnic, spicy foods!

Finding the Silver Lining.. I Mean Diner

silver diner

So I have been super behind on blogging this past week with the transition into my new job. But I have decided I at least want to do one post per week that is a traditional “foodie post.” Foodie Friday is what I will call it, although I’m a bit late with this first one. I’m doing a special post today on the Silver Diner, a hidden gem in College Park. It looks like a typical diner form the outside, but is a complete farm to table masterpiece on the inside, complete with organic ketchup!

ketchup

The diner is very clean and has a great atmosphere. Lighting was not too bright or dim, temperature was perfect, not too hot or cold, super friendly staff, and they even have their liquor license! Shout out to our server Wall-e, who kept our waters full, knew the menu inside and out and how to work his charm! The prices were reasonable, especially considering how much selection there was on the menu and how many of their ingredients were locally sourced. I’m not usually indecisive when it comes to food, but everything on the menu looked amazing! Thanks to my sister Colleen for finding this place and having a birthday so we could go there 🙂 Even though this was a belated birthday celebration I’m glad we made it happen!

lamb burger

The biggest dilemma at a diner is whether to go sweet or salty, and then whether you want breakfast or real food. We were there for dinner, but the best thing about having a sister is you can share and get the best of both worlds! I decided on the pesto burger with local goat cheese, basil pine nut pesto, arugula, roasted red peppers and sweet potato fries. We substituted lamb for $2 extra and whole wheat toast for free.

quinoa pancakes

To balance out the salty, Colleen chose the quinoa coconut pancakes with blueberries, pecans, strawberries, grilled bananas and agave. We nibbled on them and saved the rest for a post race snack! Another post to come about the 5k we ran that night!

silver diner staff

Life has been good these days and I love my new job, but the areas I work downtown can be depressing at times and traffic to get down to College Park always seems to suck the life out of me so this dinner and conversation we got to share really was the silver lining!

Check out the diner’s website here:

http://www.silverdiner.com/

Fully yours,

Cara

Celebrating Cambodian Style

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Finally a post about cooking! It’s funny how I always imagined having a food blog, yet very few of my posts so far have been traditional foodie posts. I had dinner with my family Wednesday night to celebrate my new job. My sister was so sweet and found this gem of a recipe courtesy of food and wine- Cambodian chicken and rice soup. This will be a post for another time, but some of you know I have spent some time in Cambodia and this country is very near and dear to my heart.

We did not have fish sauce, so we substituted low sodium soy sauce. We omitted the chiles just because I am not a fan of spicy. We also added bok choy and mushrooms to it. Soup is not complete without some veggies!

It was super easy too!

Ingredients:

  • One 3 pound rotisserie chicken
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 cup cooked jasmine rice
  • 8 shelled and deveined medium shrimp,  halved lengthwise (about 1/4 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 1 Thai chile, thinly sliced
  • Lime wedges, for serving ( I remember EVERYTHING in Cambodia was served with limes, even our omelettes!)

Directions:

  • Cut the chicken into legs, thighs, breasts and wings. Cut each breast crosswise through the bones into 3 pieces. Remove the thigh bones and cut each thigh in half.
  • In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the ginger and garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, water, fish sauce, honey and rice and bring to a boil. Add the chicken pieces and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook just until opaque, about 1 minute. Stir in the lime juice, cilantro, basil and chile and serve right away, passing lime wedges at the table.
 *Pairs well with Riesling wine.

Follow the link below to the full recipe:

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/cambodian-chicken-and-rice-soup-with-shrimp?fb_ref=fw-vert&fb_source=email

Nostalgically yours,

Cara

Food Stamp Challenge Day 5,6,7 Reflections

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So here we are. I survived the food stamp challenge! I did not get any email updates with themes for the last two days. The theme for day 5 was focusing on the cuts in food stamp benefits that will occur on November 1st. More information can be found at the links below.

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3899

http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/snapfood-stamps/about-the-november-1-snapfood-stamp-benefit-reduction/

I apologize if the posts this past week have been kind of depressing. I think this has been a great way to raise awareness about what is going on around us and we cannot turn a blind eye to it. For those of you who know me well, I am a pretty deep person so I will probably have a lot of depressing future posts with my thoughts or injustices of the world. But I have to be honest, towards the end, I started to dread posting because I felt like there wasn’t anything worth saying. I didn’t have a glamorous life to post about like trying new foods at ethnic restaurants, a cool new happy hour spot, or some great run I did because I did not have the energy or resources for that this week.

I definitely feel that it got slightly easier towards the end of the week, especially the busier I was so I didn’t have to sit at home around a ton of food that I couldn’t eat. But it may just be that my body got used to starving and didn’t feel the hunger cues as much. Which sort of resembles an eating disorder, which is not a good thing..a post for another time. I just want to let you know that my intention with this was not to lose weight. If I ever did this again, I would totally shop around and get more food for my money. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the power of prayer. I started praying a lot when I would feel that the hunger was unbearable.

??????????

Some things I learned this past week:

-I have a lot of people in my life that love me and feed me-physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I know some people living in poverty or on food stamps do not have a support network in place. It sounds so simple, but love is the answer to a lot of the problems in this world. Love really does win. And it’s encouraging to keep in mind that we have victory through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We’ve already won the battle so we don’t need to get bogged down by struggles of this life… or we can at least have hope in the midst of the struggles.

– I’m lucky that I have friends and family willing to sit down and share a meal with me. I realized how much of my social life revolves around food. It really brings people together and I felt that I was missing out in some ways, eating my rice and beans for dinner instead of what my family made.

-I can survive without caffeine and chocolate.

-However, if I ever do this again, I will budget for one dark chocolate bar to ration out for the week.

-Chicken noodle soup really is magical and not just when you’re sick. After that night of my “charity meal” I woke up feeling like a champion and banged out some squats and push ups before going in to work.

-I’m not a huge fan of meat and I eat like a vegetarian 90% of the time. But I realized I could never be a vegetarian 100%. I am craving a burger right now so bad, which doesn’t happen very often. I’m just so nutrient deprived I think my body needs iron. And I’m not talking a McDonald’s dollar menu burger. I need a grass-fed buffalo or lamb burger.

-There are glimmers of hope in the darkness of despair. Whether it’s an urban garden or finding messages of inspiration on the streets of Baltimore, change is coming.

Hopefully yours,

Cara

P.S. Stay tuned for a big announcement in my next post!