Monday, December 04, 2006


Ballet, ballet, ballet! My life is lately consumed by ballet! My daughter’s ballet, of course. Not mine. Three hour practices twice a week can drive anyone crazy. But she loves it, so we sacrifice. We gladly, on most days, give her our time and energy. Why? We do it so that she can twirl and leap and move about in graceful defiance of gravity and all that holds the rest of us firmly planted on the ground. The smile on her face, the bounce in her step and the joy she exhibits are things we wouldn’t trade for anything, even though it does make our days a little crazy lately. I’m getting a new appreciation for “fast food”. For us, fast food means a full meal of healthy food on the table in about 30 minutes. It means that I make sure we have a well stocked freezer full of veggies and meals I’ve cooked before. It means planning ahead, but being flexible enough to change our plans. It means serving a less traditional meal than most Americans do. Last night we had sweet potatoes, speckled butter beans, swiss chard and fresh whole wheat flax bread. Everyone was delightfully “stuffed” and quickly satisfied. How did we do all this so fast? Well, I have two “secrets” which I love to tell people about.

My first “secret” is always making more than you can possibly eat at one meal. Leftovers are a busy family’s best friend. Frozen, they last for months. Unfrozen, they make a great start for another recipe. Three nights previous, we had regular sweet potatoes baked in the oven. I just cooked twice as many as we would eat. That night, I scooped them out of their skin so that last night, I could use them for sweet potato casserole. We do lots of things that way. Mashed potatoes one night make a great topping for shepherd’s pie another night. Leftover rice becomes fried rice later in the week, or stuffing for a pepper.

My second “secret” is my pressure cooker. Oh, I just couldn’t possibly live without it. Pressure cookers are the fodder of lots old tales about exploding dinners in the kitchen. Created early in the 1900s, pressure cookers simply have locking lids which allow the steam from cooking to buildup pressure, which greatly decreases the amount of time it takes to cook foods. Pressure cookers make short work of all kinds of vegetables, beans and especially soups. Modern pressure cookers, unlike their ancient counterparts, are built with several safety valves and pressure locks which make them safe and easy. The only challenge I have found with using a pressure cooker is that it can cook vegetables so fast that I need to keep a careful eye on the clock. For instance, broccoli cooks within a minute and cauliflower within 2 minutes. So, timing is important, but even if the veggies get a little overcooked they can easily be salvaged by mashing with spices and/or a bit of cheese and bread crumbs. We love having fresh collards, which some people cook for hours with salt pork. We can cook collard greens in less than 5 minutes with a nice vegetable broth and seasoning.

So, ballet is still stressing our schedule, but with a little planning and preparation, we can still find lots of ways to create wonderfully tasty and health meals quickly.

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