For many working people, it’s a struggle to come home and eat a balanced meal.
Take it from your harried cheesemonger, who spends eight-plus hours a day on her feet: running around helping people, slicing never-ending quantities of lunch meat and charcuteries, carrying cheese, cutting cheese, wrapping cheese, rescuing cheese, counseling cheese (eaters), lifting, climbing, walking, standing, crouching, squatting, and so forth.
After logging around 21,000 steps a day at work on average (thanks for the info, FitBit!) and then sitting in traffic for anywhere from 20 to 75 minutes on the way home, the only thing that seems possible at the end of the day is sliding onto the couch and remaining there in a pool of tired flesh until food is brought to you and practically fed to you—preferably along with a beer or a very generous glass of wine.
But there isn’t always the possibility that your food will get brought to you every evening—or that your significant other or roommate or family member or cat won’t get tired, too, and demand to be the recipient of your cooking every once in a while. Whether those nights are few and far between, or just about every night, it is important that we force ourselves to walk (or limp, or crawl) to the kitchen and prepare something nice to eat.
Food isn’t just something you eat. All too often, Americans forget that and stuff anything and everything into their mouths with little to no thought. Sometimes this is because they know no better, and other times because they are too tired (or poor, or short on time) to care.
Food is comfort. Food is also nourishment, and as such it is the fuel that keeps us running.
For those of us who work in retail, the end-of-year holiday season brings this last fact into the sharpest focus. When we are overworked, over-tired, over-stressed, and regularly mistreated by the crabapples who come in demanding we give them the ingredients for their families’ holiday cheer thanklessly (caveat: this is not everyone, but those who treat us the shittiest tend to make the biggest impressions when we are already tired and stressed ourselves), what we need most is more energy and healthy bodies.
Work, winter’s cold and wet, and the ever-encroaching germ plague brought on by sharing public spaces with one another: all of these things destabilize our bodies and bring us closer to flu and cold. Beyond consuming lots of Vitamin C, drinking gallons of water, exercising, and getting enough sleep, the only other defense we have is healthy, tasty food.
So for those dark, winter nights when all you want to do is vacuum a bag of greasy chips into your gullet and wash it down with a six-pack of winter ale, here is a glimmer of hope in the form of three easy, little recipes you can use to make your stomach a little happier, healthier, and most importantly, cheesier.
- Quinoa, Avocado, and Feta Salad
This recipe is so easy, and so good, it is one of my current favorites.
In a pot, boil two cups of water, then add one cup of the quinoa varietal of your choice. Allow the quinoa to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy and plump.
Cut an avocado in half, remove the pit, and then use a knife to cut each half of the avocado flesh into strips, first longwise, then crosswise. Use a spoon to scoop the avocado cubes you just created out of the peel and into the quinoa.
Crumble feta all over the quinoa and avocado. Then add olive oil—I used a combination of extra virgin and oregano-infused olive oils, but you can use whatever you like. Dress with salt and pepper to taste, mix well, and enjoy.
- Potato Leek Soup with Cheesy Artichoke Crostini
Cut two medium-sized leeks into rings, from the tip of the greens down to the bottom of the whites. Soak the rings in cold water until all of the sand comes out, then rinse the rings thoroughly.
In a large pot, boil enough water to cover five or six medium-sized, quartered russet potatoes by about one inch. Before adding the potatoes, add a couple of tablespoons of chicken or vegetable stock to the water and mix well. Add the potatoes, then boil for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes begin to soften.
Add the leek rings to the pot, then cook for another 15 minutes or so, until the potatoes begin to break down and the leeks are soft. Using an immersion blender, blend everything in the pot to a thick liquid. No chunks!
If you need to add corn starch to thicken the soup, add a tablespoon or so and whisk it in to the soup until it is well-blended. If the corn starch creates gross, globular lumps, you can go ahead and use the immersion blender again to better integrate the starch into the liquid.
Allow the soup to simmer for another 10 minutes or so, adding salt and pepper to taste.
While the soup simmers, cut a small baguette into six to eight ¼-inch slices. Smear artichoke tapenade on the top face of each slice, then cover the tapenade with shaved Cheddar or Gruyère. (I used Trader Joe’s Cheddar-Gruyère mélange last time.) Broil the crostini in the oven on low for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.
To finish the soup upon serving, grate a nice coating of Belper Knolle or Parmigiano Reggiano over the top. Serve the crostinis on the side, and feel free to dip them into the soup or eat them as they are.
- Roasted Delicata Squash and Polenta
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut a washed delicata squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cut the halves into ¼-inch slices, then coat them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and any other seasonings of your choice—rosemary, oregano, turmeric, whatever.
Arrange the slices flat on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Turn over the slices, and then bake for another 15 minutes.
While the squash is baking, boil two cups of water and one cup of milk in a medium-sized pot. Stir in one cup of cornmeal polenta and reduce the heat to low. Allow the polenta to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring every now and then, until all of the liquid is absorbed.
If the polenta gets too thick and sticky, add in another half-cup of water as needed.
While the polenta is boiling, shred one (generous) cup of Cheddar or Gruyère. When the polenta is done, stir in the shredded cheese along with one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil (or two tablespoons of butter or two tablespoons of olive oil). Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the delicata squash from the oven and serve over the polenta in a bowl.
The second and third recipes may, of course, be accompanied by a green salad if you have the energy to put one together as well. The more greens you can eat with your cheese, the better. (That’s how cheesemongers keep it healthy!)