Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Nose Knows

This past Sunday was magnificent in Seattle, brilliantly luminous and sublime. The skin on my arms thanked me for finally letting them out of confinement to bask in the sun's glory. An afternoon run elevated my buoyancy to a whole new level. This runner's high was a synergistic culmination of the blood and endorphins briskly pumping through my body and my reflections along the way. Typically I can lose myself in lack of thought when I run. This run was different; I couldn't contain all of the thoughts popping into my head. The generating factor to this stream of cognition was smell. Around ever corner of my hilly eight miles was a novel scent that invariably pleased me.

The raw aroma of fresh cut grass transported me back to playing outside as my dad pushed the lawn mower back and forth, taking extra care to keep straight lines. A sickly sweet bouquet of the many blooming flowers landscaped to perfection throughout the neighborhoods reminded me of the arrangement I once put together for my mom on mother's day. Now, delicate to the touch, these dried beauties live on in her bedroom. Distinct from all other blossoms, lilacs emanated their romantic fragrance before a bush was anywhere in sight. Exuberance propelled my legs without effort as I traveled through neighborhoods. Evidence of the dinner hour was also in the air, and sounds of chatter and laughter rang out from backyards. Grills were blazing and the smoky flavor of meat was abound, filling my nostrils, causing my salivary gland to go into overdrive.

I felt keenly tuned into my olfactory sense and began to think about what life might be like if I were unable to see. Blind to the visual cues that spring had arrived, how would I know? Upon experiencing so many smells in the past hour, I realized that they would be a vital factor in distinguishing this renewed time of year. Scent would also play a significant role in preparing and eating foods. The saying goes "we eat with our eyes," so what happens when we are unable to see the food in front of us? With this new found appreciation for my sniffer I decided to experiment with my dinner. I trekked up the last sharp hill to my house, enjoyed a few more moments outside, then went in to assemble dinner: a simple, yet lovely asparagus risotto.

I pulled out what I had on hand and began to assemble, allowing my nose to guide the seasonings added. Keeping it clean and uncomplicated was key. A light citrus-herb blend would yield a meal reflective of the radiant day. Coincidentally, I had just discovered lemon balm growing in the front yard when I returned from my run. Closing my eyes with my face in the pot I inhaled deeply to analyze whether or not I needed more of anything. Garlicky, salty, tangy, peppery, herby enough? I swore to taste only the end product. Once the last squeeze of lemon juice went in along with chopped parsley and lemon balm, my nose told me, and my belly, that it was time. Having released its starchy goodness the rice was now luscious and velvety; shocks of color from the sweet potatoes and asparagus made for an alluring landscape. I scooped myself a bowlful, topped it with chopped almonds, and ate each bite with intention, breathing in the flavors. Turns out, my nose knows its way around the kitchen!      

Lemon Herb Asparagus Risotto

This basic risotto can be modified in many ways based on the herbs you happen to have in the house. Aromatic basil or rosemary could be substituted and the fresh integrity of this savory spring time dish would be maintained. Dried herbs can be used, too, but remember to use about half as much as fresh! Happy Spring!  

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4-5

1 tablespoon fat (butter, olive oil)
1 medium onion,1/2" cubes
1 small sweet potato, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup arborio rice
4 cups broth/stock (chicken, vegetable)
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1" pieces
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon balm, minced
salt and pepper to taste
chopped almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, etc.

Heat oil in pot over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt. Saute 5-6 minutes till translucent. Add sweet potato. Cook 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and stir till fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add rice and stir for 2-3 minutes to toast. Add 1/2 cup of stock and stir continuously until absorbed. Continue this process, adding 1/2 cup at a time, until all 4 cups of liquid have been absorbed. Be sure to continue stirring throughout cooking; this is what draws the starch out of the rice to create the creaminess.

Turn heat to low. Now fold in asparagus and cover pot for 2-3 minutes or until asparagus is bright green in color. Finally, add lemon juice and herbs. Some people like more or less herby so add based on your preference. Similarly, add salt and pepper to your taste. Stir one final time and serve. Garnish with chopped nuts if desired. Enjoy!

Original Recipe, Marissa Barneck, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Finding Your Groove

The name of this blog did not come easily to me. I was tormented for days, actually weeks, as words and phrases ruminated in my head the way a tempting aroma wafts throughout the house enticing you to spoil your dinner by succumbing to the medley of flavors. I was careful not to sink my teeth in to the potential titles prematurely, for I feared the aftertaste would become bitter, leaving me regrettably unsatisfied.

Since food is a focal point of this blog, it is a necessary component in my attempt-to-be-clever title. It just so happens that the flamboyant, yet humble, beet makes my heart pitter-patter. Truthfully, I am a little in love with beets (sorry Baird). Like a school girl crush, I feel my cheeks glow rosy and face light up when I talk about my affair with beets. My infatuation with the bulbous fuchsia beauty and her slender emerald leaves surpasses all tests of cooking techniques and flavor enhancement; however, I am most fond of the earthy sweetness she yields in her most natural state, raw or steamed, no adulteration required. We will be life-long lovers.   

When incorporating healthy changes into one's life, habits can be incredibly challenging to break and to make. Often it can take a person an entire month to develop a novel pattern in living, but once this is achieved a new level of comfort and wellness can be found. This notion of developing a new "groove" in order to live a healthier life takes shape in various and sundry ways depending on the individual. Not only does groove mean "a fixed routine," according to, but also "an enjoyable time or experience," "to appreciate and enjoy," "to take great pleasure in," and "to please immensely." These are the words to take with you when you contemplate initiating change in your life.

Like my beloved beet nestled into the lush soil, the confidence to find your own new groove to a healthier life may lie just under the surface. It might take a bit of digging, but your energy to make positive change can be found in the root of your desire to live a long, happy life.

What's one thing you could alter to enhance your health (and what's keeping you from moving forward)?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Big Apple

It all began with a sentence and an apple. Ten sentence...about an apple. Sounds simple doesn't it? Until you're told that you'll be reading that sentence to the class and critiqued afterward, all within the first 30 minutes of the first class! This changes things, especially for me, a person that is neither creative nor adventurous in my writing. Immediately I feel slightly nervous as I scan the apple related thoughts popping into my head knowing the clock is ticking away relentlessly. All day, I urge it speed up until know when I wish my 10 minutes would stretch out to 15 or 20, so that I can find the perfect thoughts to generate the perfect words and create a perfect sentence that will wow my audience.

I decide to jot down qualities that I desire in an apple and the next thing I know I'm equating the apple to life, truly the "big apple." I barely finish my 10 minute sentence as our instructor demands that we drop our pens; better late than never. As others stand to read theirs to the class I can't help but judge my own and doubt that it will compare. I am slightly comforted as I realize how very different each sentence is from another. Finally, I stand to read mine, questioning each word as I speak it and wondering whether I'm even making sense. "An apple can often be a microcosm of the unpredictable nature of life; sometimes crisp and noisy, soft and tender, or sometimes tart, sour, and hopefully sweet." Relief washes over me as I sink into my seat, glad to have broken the ice, and awaiting my critique. The positive, constructive criticism that my kindhearted classmate provided was more than encouraging. I can now move forward.

This one little sentence has opened the door for me to enter and explore the depths of my passion and creativity as they come together and relate to food and health. I hope to inspire others to cultivate a healthful relationship with food, both in cooking and in eating, to nourish oneself for optimal wellness. Welcome to my journey!