Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stolen My Heart

There is absolutely nothing more sumptuous to me right now than biting into a succulent artichoke heart.

The taste.  The texture.  The way the leaves part between my teeth as they move across my molars…

You'll have to excuse me.  I'm having a moment.

I seriously just cannot get enough!  I see them all over the grocery store right now, which leads me to believe they must be in season but, it's not the fresh ones that have stolen my ticker, it's the jarred hearts that run a pretty penny that have me sighing satisfactions.

I've been eating them "straight-out-the-jar" for a delightful snack or plopping them in salads creating "most coveted" bites.

Artichokes look pretty intimidating and they're not exactly the easiest thing to work with fresh.  But, if you're willing to put in the time, they're leaves with the light green, meaty base make an equally fun and flavorful hands-on snack that will leave you with a lingering desire for more.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Little Slice of Heaven

Sooooooooo… this morning, I don't really have a ton of time to explain just how bomb this salad is.  So, I'm hoping this picture will speak, if not a thousand, at least like 300 or 400 words, all on its own and inspire you to make one for yourself this weekend for a refreshing change to your salad routine.

What we have here is:
a) 1 sliced golden delicious apple
b) a light drizzling of agave nectar
c) freshly ground, black pepper
d) a sprinkling of toasted almond dust (toast almonds then pulse in food processor until ground)
e) a sprinkling of goat cheese crumbles (optional)
f) a light drizzling of balsamic vinaigrette
*microwave on High for about 20 seconds

You can enjoy this slivery twist on a salad warm or chilled.  You could also substitute the goat cheese for a little feta or, for a vegan friendly option, you could forego the cheese altogether!

One of the things I love most about this salad (aside from the flavors and the taste-bud tantalizing cornucopia of textures) is that it is so different and unique from anything I've created in the past.  There may be some out there who wouldn't even consider this a salad.  The point I'm ultimately getting at here though is that this salad, like many other homemade concoctions, is not only delicious and nutritious but, it also has the added bonus of totaling only about 280 calories!  Yes!!!!!  Only 280 calories!!!!!

This is also totally a picnic friendly snack!  A fancy picnic snack…

I have to run this morning but I do hope this will inspire you to try something new on your plate this weekend.

Happy Eating,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Grocery Store Staples

Most weeks I go to the grocery store with a pretty well defined plan:
- I typically have a detailed list (which is an absolute must if I don't want to forget a handful of things).
- I'm mindful of a tentative weekly menu
 - And, as I cross the threshold through those big, glass, automatic doors, I try to focus on the mission at hand so as to avoid ending up with any unnecessary (and typically, unhealthy) impulse buys (think a bag of licorice flavored jelly beans or a package of chocolate covered gummy bears… Yeah.  This girl's got a sweet tooth).

This week however, was a little more haphazard.

Believe it or not I, like many people I know, go for many of the same things week after week.  I call these my "STAPLES."  These are foods that are convenient, nutritious, and I really just don't get tired of them.

MY TYPICAL STAPLES look something like:

  • Fruit
    • two to three different kinds of apples
    • mangoes 
    • pears
    • bananas
    • a variety of citrus fruits (tangelos, pink grapefruit, navel oranges, clementines)
    • cantaloupe
    • watermelon
    • pineapple
    • a medley of berries (blue, rasp, black, or straw)
    • kiwi
  • What I call "Salad Stuff"
    • container of Spinach
    • head of romaine (or bagged)
    • cucumber
    • tomatoes
    • avocado
    • a variety of beans (black, dark red kidney, garbonzo, black eyed)
    • frozen edamame
    • frozen peas
    • jarred olives
    • jarred peppers
    • canned or jarred artichoke hearts
    • canned or jarred slivered beats
    • dried cranberries
    • slivered almonds
    • walnut halves
    • baby carrots
    • white mushrooms
    • a variety of fresh peppers (orange, green, red, yellow)
  • Other
    • quinoa
    • oatmeal
    • raisins
    • almond milk
    • salsa
    • hummus
    • eggs
    • some medley of meats for my man (chicken tenders, steak, pork, or sliced ham or turkey)
    • some kind of nut butter (it alternates between almond and peanut)
Now, I don't purchase everything from this list weekly.  I sort of rotate through these items on a week to week basis depending on what's in season and what I "feel like" for that week.  

For the most part though, these items cover our needs for both Breakfast and Lunch time meals.  You can get pretty creative with the combinations you choose to put together from the items listed above but, for the most part, our breakfasts look something like a little carbs + a little fruit + a little protein (think, oatmeal w/ raisins + a banana & peanut butter) while lunch usually consist of a salad made from a combination of yummy things + some kind of snack (like bell pepper and cucumber slices + carrots + a few tablespoons of hummus).  

Here's a glimpse of my lunchtime salad today
Now, you may be thinking, one - "Holy Cow!  I don't eat that much salad in a week, let alone all at one time!"  And two, "There's just no way my hunger could ever be satisfied by a salad."

But, the reason I love a good salad is because:
A) you get to eat a ton of food with very few calories*
B) you benefit from all the super good-for-you things that all these salad toppings have to offer (the vital nutrients in dark leafy greens, the antioxidant power of black and dark red kidney beans, the carotenoid lycopene in red tomatoes, protein packed edamame, immune system support from mushrooms, and cancer protective properties of beets… you get the picture)
C) and, the lingering satisfaction that my body feels do to the amount of natural, dietary fiber this kind of meal contains

Okay.  So, lunch time salad aside, most of my creativity comes into play at Dinner time.  

This week Dinner will consist of the following:
- a hearty bowl of Butternut Squash Bake plus a side of baked beet chips to share and baked chicken tenders for my man
- a tofu dish (I've started experimenting with it), including sautéed spinach with olive oil and roasted garlic, a can of diced, seasoned tomatoes, dark red kidney beans, and a sprinkling of toasted almond dust
- veggie stir fry (I might try throwing a little tofu into that mix too)
- and, since I didn't have a super clear plan at the grocery store this week, there are a few nights open for spontaneity; which, sometimes, is when the best things come together.

I'll share pics and recipes when I come up with a good new recipe and a post on beet chips is definitely in your future.

Until then, Happy Shopping!

* This salad totaled about 340 calories; between about 2 cups spinach (20), 1 cup butterhead lettuce (5), 1/2 c. beans (90), 1/2 c. edamame (100), sliced mushrooms (25), cherry tomatoes (25), 1 Tbl. dressing (30), and 1/4 c. sliced beets (20).  For anyone trying to decrease their calories while maintaining a feeling of fullness and their health, this ain't a bad way to go.  There are a lot of six inch subs that contain about as many calories but not nearly as much sustenance and volume.  Large plate + low calorie count = A-Okay in my Book!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Banana Bites

Today, the sun is not the only thing that's beaming.

It always seems to happen this way.  Towards the end of winter, I find myself starting to feel somewhat despairing.

"Is this ever going to end?  Is there a chance that it will literally stay cold until like, August and we'll only have like, a maximum of five weeks with temperatures above 40?"

A tad melodramatic maybe?
                 Yes.  Definitely.  Yes.

In truth, I know that spring will come again.  But, sometimes it still seems like Old Man Winter is never going to release his bitterly cold choke hold on the frozen world around me.

Today though.  Oh today…

Today, it's as if the Sun has had it's fill of days dominated by "overcast" and "dreary."  Today, the sun is shining, illuminating blooms beginning to emerge from their months long, soil slumber.  It's brightening tiny green buds bespeckling long bare branches and inspiring songs from teeny bird lungs as they flit from tree to tree.

Yes.  Today feels like Spring.

Now, for all those southerners who, since the end of February, have been rockin' short sleeve shirts, golfing on Saturdays or, dare I say, even sun bathing on balconies, this may seem a tad bit strange to you.

But, for those of us in the sun-challenged states (who had sleet as recently as yesterday ---- yes, yesterday), seeing the temperature creep up to seventy two, is as beautiful a sight as any to see.

One of the things I love most about Spring and Summer is that it not only inspires me to get outdoors but it also influences the flavor of the foods I eat.

So, in honor of this spring-filled day, I whipped up a tasty little treat that's fast, easy, and picnic friendly (just in case you feel inspired to take your lunch on the lawn one upcoming day).

Banana Bites:
1/4 c. crushed walnuts
agave nectar

Slice banana into about one-half inch thick pieces.  Sprinkle each piece with crushed walnuts and finish with a drizzling of agave nectar over each bite.

Agave nectar is sweet like honey but has more of a… toastier flavor.  These bites not only taste good, but they're good for you too:  the potassium of the banana; omega-3 from the nuts; vegan friendliness of agave nectar (if that's something you like to keep in mind).

So, whether you're looking for a snack that's a compliment to spring or just something sweet that won't jeopardize your summer, swimsuit clad plans, these bites have your name all over them.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Savoring Sister

What do a living room dance party, playing with puppies, and visiting a local farm have in common?

They're the kinds of things that happen when my sister is in town.

For most of the year, my sister and I are separated by both time and space.  She's a traveling actress based out of bustling L.A. and I'm a writer who's situated in beautiful P.A.

So, for the most part, our lives keep us apart.

However, this past week, I had the absolute pleasure of not only traveling to see my sister perform but also whisking her back to my humble abode for what was to become a week of pure, sister-girly fun (and... there's really not much that compares with that).

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm married to my best friend.  I love him.  I like him.  He's good to me.    He's fun.  He's one, if not the best man I've ever known.

Buuuuut (and all my sister girls out there can help me attest to the fact that) there really is just nothing quite like the friendship one shares with a sister.

It's like, on one hand, you're literally made of the same stuff so, there's potential for great compatibility there right from the start.  On the other hand, its like… "I know we had the same parents.  We grew up in the same house.  You were there.  I was there… but look at us!  We're so incredibly different too!"

That's part of the fun though, isn't it.

The older I get the more and more I find myself thinking, "Why didn't we hang out more when we were kids?  I really like you.  You're one of my favorite people."

Suffice it to say, I had a blast.  I savored our extended sister hang out sesh and was sad to see that beautiful, blonde head of hair go.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Pause.  Rewind... 

It's this past Monday, and my sister and I have made our way to the grocery store to stock up on grub for our fun filled week ahead.  As I planned the "menu" for the week, I knew I wanted to treat her to some of my favorite dishes which, as of late, include a few different quinoa dishes,  pan seared salmon over a spinach salad, and a few other tasty tid bits (like my favorite snack of a banana and almond butter or my preferred indulgence du jour of dark chocolate covered espresso beans).  So, we made our way through the grocery store with these meals in mind.

As we cruised up and down the lanes, my sister mentioned that she knew how to make beet chips.  We bagged a few of the purplish, red bulbs (after inspecting the labels to make sure that what we were grabbing were in fact beets, because... seriously, prior to last week, I don't know that I've ever in my life purchased an unpickled beet).

Obviously, my beet I.Q. is pretty low.  Growing up, my mom used to bust them out for dinner from time to time but they were always served piping hot and pickled.  I actually quite like the taste and texture of beets.  They make a nice addition to a spinach salad.  As a kid though, I mostly remember how their bright red juice was always contaminating my surrounding food.

I'm quite a fan of any crispity, crunchity, potato-chip alternative though.  So, when my sister mentioned a potential new addition to my "chip" repertoire it was an exciting, welcomed prospect to me.

The preparation was messy (think red-stained fingers and a cutting board that looks like it just survived battle) and, I think the word "finicky," yes, "finicky" could easily apply to the process of cutting the beat slices thin enough for them to crisp up properly.

But, let me tell you, the results were so - freakin' - worth the effort.

My little sis took on the task of preparation while I got to just sit back and enjoy the spoils of her hard labor.  The beet chips were so incredibly delicious (and yes, a post on beet chips is totally on it's way).  They were super crispy and surprisingly spicy.  

I had no idea beets were spicy.  Did you?

Over the past year, I have come to view food as so much more than just a chore; something I have to do.  I have come to appreciate the entire process of nourishing myself - from shopping the grocery store (without it being just one more stressful chore), to preparation, to actually enjoying the food I eat.

The fact that food often also brings loved ones together is just one more reason why I appreciate the role it plays in contributing to a full, balanced and healthy life.

No doubt, every time I enjoy a beet from here on out, I will recall that time shared with my sister in the kitchen.  Food does that doesn't it?  It has the power to transport us back to a good time, a familiar place, or a cherished memory.

Is there a food that does that for you?