Monday, May 30, 2011

Time to Breathe

It's been a little while since I've posted on the blog and I've missed it dearly. There are so many big things happening in my life right now that have taken away from the time that I love to spend here. These things include college graduation, moving to a new apartment, studying for my nursing licensure exam, and planning our wedding and honeymoon to Italy. Did I mention that it's incredibly difficult to stay sane while doing all of these things and dealing with all of the family dynamics and drama that come along with it? I constantly have to remind myself to take a deep breath, relax, and try to enjoy the process.

My time spent cooking and photographing beautiful food and posting here for all my lovely readers to see is time that I cherish and truly enjoy. I want to continue to cook up amazingly healthy  food and document it all for you to see, but I've realized that this busy time in my life requires my undivided attention. This period of life will only come around once, and this blog will be here for much longer. I've decided to take a little blogging break while I try to stay calm and focus on all that will be occurring within the next 8 weeks. This is not a goodbye forever and I am so excited to bring this blog to a whole new level once I return in August.

The next time you hear from me, I'll be married to my best friend, fresh off a whirlwind trip to Italy, cooking in our lovely new apartment, and brimming with new recipes and inspiration. I promise to post many photos when I return as a make-up for this long break. May you all continue to eat well and enjoy everything that life has to offer this summer.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vegetable Soup with Chickpeas and Basil Pesto

In case you haven't noticed yet, I'm a really big fan of soup. I make it a lot. And given the fact that the weather this week hasn't been very spring-like, I've resorted to making soup to warm me up. I'm moving out of my apartment next week, so cleaning out the pantry and refrigerator has been interesting. I basically threw a few simple ingredients that I had on hand into this soup and I really liked how it came out. It's incredibly healthy and delicious.

I'm excited to say that I am officially finished with my college career. I will be graduating on Sunday with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The past four years have been extremely difficult and some of the most memorable years of my life. I've learned many things, met many people, laughed a lot, and cried a lot. I've learned a lot about myself in the process, as well.
 I've witnessed many aspects of the medical field and the healthcare system throughout my four years as a student. I've cared for incredibly sick people with many chronic illnesses. I've learned about these illnesses extensively, their complications, the medications used to treat them, and the reasons why these diseases are present to begin with. The more I learned, the more I realized that nutrition, and its role in preventing disease, is in many ways ignored by both the medical community and the patients themselves.The powerful healing properties of food is pushed aside. The prevention of disease through a healthy diet is barely touched upon. The chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and hypertension all stem from a poor diet and the only thing the medical profession does is prescribe medications to treat them. And it only is getting worse. It breaks my heart knowing that the children of today will be the first generation who will live shorter than their parents. Obviously, something is terribly wrong with this picture.
Hippocrates famously said, "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food" and I could not find a better way to say it. It's so true. I can only hope that I live a life that embodies this quote and show others the same. It is possible to live a life free from chronic disease. Healthy, vibrant, fresh, and delicious food is the way that can be achieved. No one taught me that in nursing school, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Vegetable Soup with Chickpeas and Basil Pesto
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 large carrots, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth or water 
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (read this post on how to cook beans)
1 cup cooked wheat berries*
sea salt
pinch of dried rosemary
pinch of dried thyme
fresh basil

1. In a large soup pot, cook the onions, celery, and carrots in the olive oil over medium heat 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the chopped garlic and then immediately add the can of diced tomatoes and broth (or water). Add the rosemary, thyme, cooked chickpeas, and cooked wheat berries. Bring to boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and continue to let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened up a bit.

3. Add the diced zucchini and let cook about a minute or two. Taste and add salt if the soup needs it.

4. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with fresh basil leaves and top with a spoonful of basil pesto and Parmesan cheese.

*To cook wheat berries:
Wheat berries should be soaked overnight in a bowl with water. In the morning, drain them and put them in a pot with new water to cover them about 3 inches. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes until some of the berries crack and they're chewy and tender. Drain.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Curried Egg Salad

I learned this creative twist on the traditional, mayonnaise-laden egg salad recipe while working at my first job at a vegetarian cafe. At that time, I had never tried curry powder and was definitely not a big fan of egg salad in general. But when I made this here egg salad, my thoughts changed and I was hooked. I haven't made egg salad any other way since. This is most definitely not your typical egg salad.
Instead of mayonnaise, I use plain yogurt and dijon mustard. Then the flavor is brightened with spicy curry powder and even some cayenne pepper. The add-ins like the chives and celery give it color and texture that normally isn't seen in egg salad. Feel free to play around with the amount of ingredients listed. For example, sometimes I use less yogurt and more mustard. Or use more or less curry powder.

Curried Egg Salad 
2 hard boiled eggs, preferably organic, peeled
1 tbs dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbs plain yogurt
3/4 tsp curry powder (more or less to taste)
sea salt, to taste
tiny pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 green onion or chives, chopped

In a bowl, mix mustard, yogurt, curry powder, salt, cayenne pepper (optional), chives, and celery to incorporate. Add the hard boiled eggs and mash with a fork until it reaches the consistency you like. Serve in a sandwich or over salad greens.

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Ribboned Asparagus and Zucchini Salad with Violets

This salad is literally springtime on a plate. I smile every time I look at it. It takes advantage of the vegetables (and flowers) that are in season at the moment. It may be one of the most creative and most beautiful salads I've made. It's unbelievably fresh tasting because the vegetables are raw. Frankly, after eating this salad, I can't justify the need to ever cook asparagus again.
Incorporating raw vegetables into the diet is extremely beneficial. When vegetables are uncooked, they retain all of their enzymes and heat sensitive nutrients. Some people choose to follow a completely raw foods diet, although I personally don't think I could thrive on that type of diet. But I have no problem eating some of my vegetables raw. The idea of eating raw foods is so much more sophisticated than carrot and celery sticks...there are so many creative options.
It's pretty simple to turn your asparagus and zucchini into pretty ribbons. Basically, you just take a good vegetable peeler and run it down the asparagus and zucchini. For the asparagus, start at the tough end and peel towards the tip. For the zucchini, you'll get wider ribbons (because zucchinis are thicker than skinny asparagus), but I just cut them so that they would be the same thickness as the asparagus.
For all you skeptics out there, violets are edible. They have a very mild taste and I like them because they're a really special addition to salads. They actually have some health benefits and are used in herbal medicine to treat a variety of conditions. They can be recognized by their heart-shaped leaves. This time of year, they grow on lots of lawns and I just happened to notice a few growing on mine today and was totally inspired.

Ribboned Asparagus and Zucchini Salad with Violets

1 small bunch of asparagus
1 zucchini
juice of half a lemon
extra virgin olive oil
Fresh Parmesan cheese (not grated or shredded)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
violets (if you can find some)

1. Wash the zucchini and asparagus. Trim the pointy tips off the asparagus and set aside.

2. With a sharp vegetable peeler, peel ribbons of the asparagus and zucchini. Put the ribbons on a large platter. They don't have to look perfect. This is a rustic salad.

3. Add the asparagus tips to the ribbons. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the ribbons and toss with your hands. Sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper and toss again.

4. Using the vegetable peeler, peel shards of Parmesan cheese over the top. Use as much cheese as you want. The salty wonderfulness of the Parmesan is amazing in this salad.

5. Top the salad with violets or other edible flowers, if you can find any. If not, I'm sure any type of fresh herb, like basil, would be nice.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lentil Soup with Cilantro

 Lentils are beans that I just cannot live without. They're an excellent source of plant protein, so they're definitely a staple in vegetarian diets. Whenever I make any sort of lentil soup, and believe me, I make lots, I always feel incredibly healthy after eating it. That's probably because I always add lots vegetables and grains to the soup. I'm a big fan of one pot meals...when I throw everything into a pot, cook it, eat it, and only wash one(!) pot. Lentil soup is one of those meals.

This here soup is very simple. I guess you could say it's a bit boring on its own. Well then why did I post this recipe, you ask? Because it's a blank canvas. Add any sort of vegetable or grain or herb or spice and you've got a completely different soup. I've made Indian versions with curry powder and a dollop of plain yogurt, Italian versions with Italian herbs and parmesan cheese, and I've even added some Mexican flare with this version with cilantro (you could totally add some chili powder to this, too). I really like adding chopped up kale, chard, collard greens, or spinach to boost the nutrition. You could even add some cooked wheat berries, quinoa, or brown rice, making  the soup quite filling. Be creative and find your favorite version, but also know that whatever way you choose to make it, you will get a nourishing, comforting bowl of soup every time.

Lentil Soup with Cilantro (see above paragraph for add-ins and variations)

1 cup dry French green lentils, soaked overnight, cooked until tender, and drained of all cooking liquid
1 tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes in juice
2 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
sea salt to taste
Fresh cilantro

1. In a soup pot, add olive oil and chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium low heat until the onion is nicely softened. Add the minced garlic and then immediately add the diced tomatoes.

2. If you're going to add any other spices, now is the time to do so. Also, if you choose to add any cooked grains to the soup, you can add those now.

3.Add the water or broth and the drained cooked lentils to the pot. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary, especially if you're only using water. Raise the heat to bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 10 minutes.

4. If you're adding chopped greens, like kale, chard, collards, or spinach, add them to the soup now and let them wilt for about one minute.

5. Ladle into bowls and serve with lots of fresh cilantro. I really like cilantro and think it adds a wonderful flavor to the soup...but if you're not a fan, add any fresh herb you like!

Makes 4-5 servings

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

 Sweet potatoes are an amazing food. Sometimes I feel like people only associate them with Thanksgiving or marshmallows, but they really should be a staple in the diet throughout the whole year, minus the marshmallows (sorry). Sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest foods we can eat, and (bonus!) they're really affordable. They're rich in beta carotene (vitamin A), which offers a multitude of health benefits. And they actually taste really delicious, thanks to their high natural sugar content.
 This is my favorite way to eat sweet potatoes. Roasting them in the oven really allows them to caramelize and it brings out their great sweet potato flavor. Because they're cut up (relatively) thin, they cook a whole lot faster than a whole potato, which means these fries are perfect when you don't want to wait over an hour for a potato to cook. I should mention that these don't really get crunchy because of the water content of the potato. They look like fries, but they're not exactly the same texture. I always eat these with a homemade honey mustard dipping sauce. I wouldn't eat them any other way.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries (serves 1)
For the Fries:
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch thick strips
1 1/2 tbs olive oil
sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Put  the cut-up sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and rub olive oil all over them with your hands until they're evenly coated.
3. Sprinkle with as much or as little sea salt as you like.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, tossing them once to ensure even cooking, or until they are soft, golden, and turning slightly brown.

For the honey mustard dipping sauce:
Mix one part dijon mustard to one part honey. Adjust the ratio to how sweet you like it.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

A New Chapter...and Kumquats

 My life has been a whirlwind lately. So many things are about to change. Things that I'm excited about, nervous about, anxious about. I'm about to embark upon a new journey. I'm turning the page of my college years and opening to a whole new chapter of my life. I'm starting something completely new, much like I tried something completely new today. Kumquats.

Kumquats are mini citrus fruits the size of grapes. Their rind is edible with almost a sweet flavor and the flesh is quite sour. They're extremely high in vitamin C, which is a potent antioxidant. Their bright orange color is due to their carotenoid content. Since the rind is consumed, you get numerous essential oils, fiber, and extra antioxidants from that, as well. Altogether, these phytochemical compounds in kumquats and other colorful fruits and vegetables helps scavenge harmful oxygen derived free radicals from the body and thereby protect us from cancers, diabetes, degenerative diseases and infections. They're also quite pretty to look at, don't you think?
I am so ready to begin this new chapter and embrace all the new things that will come my way. There are endless possibilities awaiting. I'll be the first to admit that it's a bit scary. But sometimes, I think the best thing we can do is to dive in, take chances, and embrace the change. Embracing the change and stepping out of the comfort zone. Like biting into a sour kumquat...rind and all...and finding out that it really doesn't taste too bad.