InlandEmpireGirl is working on a recipe memoir book. She assigned Silver Valley Girl and me to make a contribution to her work with a recipe/memoir piece of writing. InlandEmpireGirl's is here and Silver Valley Girl's, here.
WHEN I WAS in graduate school and single between the years 1984-87, I took great pride in preparing and eating delicious, inexpensive, and healthy meals. I didn't have a car then. I walked or biked to my near downtown apartment, and on the way was the Kiva, a grocery store with good produce and a generous bulk food area.
I realized that I could make my somewhat meager teaching fellowship stipend go quite a ways if I ate at home, cooked with fresh vegetables, potatoes, pasta, noodles, beans, grains, tofu, and rice, and cheese. I was a vegetarian at home and a carnivore on the road.
When I was at my best, I reserved Sundays to prepare meals for the coming week. I froze meals, made others last two or three days early in the week, and had other easy to prepare food like tortillas and eggs on hand for those days when I miscalculated or wanted variety.
I think it was Christmas or my birthday in 1984 that InlandEmpireGirl gave me Nikki and David Goldbeck's American Wholefoods Cuisine cookbook as a gift. I learned more from this cookbook about preparing terrific vegetarian meals than I learned from any other.
I experimented with soups, casseroles, couscous, tofu stroganoff, pasta sauces, huevo rancheros, and other dishes. I actually looked forward to welcoming myself home and asking myself, "Dear, what's for dinner tonight?" and pulling out of the fridge or the freezer or preparing fresh, sometimes, a dinner I really loved.
I invited friends to my tiny apartment for meals. Sometimes students would come over. I was always proud that they enjoyed these simple meals and seemed impressed that I took good care of myself, despite a heavy study and teaching schedule.
The meal that stands out most clearly is the Cheese-Vegetable-Barley Bake. I love barley. I love how plump and chewy barley gets and it has a kind of meaty sweetness that goes well with a wide variety of other foods, both meat and vegetable. I've never put meat in this meal. I've enjoyed it just the way the recipe outlines it:
2 tablespoons oil
2 cloves garlic
1½ cups chopped onion
2 average carrots, sliced
2 medium zucchini, sliced
2 medium potatoes, sliced
½ pound eggplant, cut in ½ to 1 inch dice
¾ cups barley
1½ cups tomato broth (from drained tomatoes, or diluted juice or puree)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
2 cups shredded Jack cheese
Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet and saute garlic and onion until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and saute, stirring a few times, for 5 minutes.
Add barley, tomato broth, and seasonings; bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Transfer contents of the skillet to a shallow 4-quart casserole; stir in 1 cup of the cheese. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Vegetables and barley should be tender. If not, replace cover and cook longer.
Top casserole with remaining cheese and return to oven uncovered, for about 10 minutes to melt.
I used to experiment with this dish by using broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms, increasing the oregano (I could probably eat lawn clippings if they had oregano on them), adding some basil, and using cheddar cheese instead of jack.
This dish passed the most difficult test of all after the Deke and were married. At that time, Molly was in the 6th grade and Patrick was in the 8th. Adrienne was 19 and a vegetarian then. I knew she'd like it. But the middle schoolers? They did. I was happier that they liked this dish than I was when any of my friends or students came over. What a triumph in my new family with my new step-children! This dish was a confidence builder.