Flexibility and Balance and Roasted Cabbage

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One of my favorite movie scenes is in the film Parenthood, when the elderly grandmother compares life to a roller coaster, with some people enjoying the exhilaration of the ride and others fearful of the surprises and unexpected turns. Well, if that analogy is true, we have been in the corkscrew turns for the last couple of months. In addition to bizarre and seemingly random extreme weather (someone should film a horror movie called Snownado here in North Carolina), we’ve had some life decisions to make, we have elders in our lives who need extra help, and we’ve decided to go Dopey. It’s all been a little much.

Do you have weeks where you think, “Okay, this week was crazy, but NEXT week will be normal.”?

Only it never is?

Because it’s the new normal?

That’s where we are right now.

How to survive these complicated, extra busy times? Like a great yoga class, flexibility and balance are the keys. Flexibility to meet each new challenge and see it as an opportunity for personal growth and balance to keep what is most important at your core. I’m good with the flexibility, but working on the balance. It’s easy to get knocked off kilter by issues that seem important, but are actually just distractions.

So here we are, riding the roller coaster, hands up in the air, a little scared, but also excited. Our nutrition has fallen off the wagon a bit in the process, but we are making a committed effort to get back on track and keep a balanced weekly menu. It helps that all our regional farmer’s markets are opening this month, and farmers are bringing in more of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

And we will need all that good nutrition, because as I mentioned, we’ve decided to go Dopey.

Not only are Tom and I training for a local marathon in the fall, but we will return to Disney World in January to run the Dopey Challenge. Four races in four days. A 5k, a 10k, a half marathon and a marathon. Four races, six medals, and a big ol’ check mark next to a bucket list item. Oh, and lots of fun. And costumes! In the meantime, we have a lot of training to do and that will require a lot of healthy fueling.

This recipe is awesome, easy, and it takes advantage of fresh, local cabbage. Roasting vegetables is simple and requires very few ingredients. It also takes advantage of all the wonderful sweetness in fresh vegetables. I saw this idea for oven roasted cabbage on Pinterest and gave it a try. You could serve this dish as a vegan entree or pair it with protein (we chose locally made kielbassa). We also added some caramelized onions to the roasted cabbage, which I think really amped up the flavor!

Roasted Cabbage Steaks (makes 2 servings)

  • 1/2 head of fresh cabbage (any type)
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • Garlic powder
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Slice the cabbage head into 1 1/2″ steaks.
  3. Place the “steaks” on a lightly greased baking sheet.
  4. Brush both sides of the cabbage with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
  5. Roast for 20 minutes, flip and continue roasting for another 15-20 minutes or until the cabbage is soft and slightly charred on the edges.
  6. While the cabbage is roasting, saute the onion in about 1 tablespoon or so of olive oil. Saute until brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes.
  7. Remove cabbage from the baking sheet and put on plates. Top with onions.
  8. This can be served as a side dish or as an entrée!

Enjoy and stay on that roller coaster!

Honey Ginger Carrots

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You can eat like royalty and travel the world. Really. Eat your carrots.

Once upon a time, carrots came in a range of beautiful colors and a great range of sizes. Tasty, crunchy and beautiful, carrots were prized for their crisp, fresh flavor and unusual colors. Yellow carrots like the ones above were first recorded in Turkey as far back as the 1st century. Purple carrots have been documented in the Middle East since 900 B.C. and were bred for Dutch royalty through the 1500s. White carrots were a staple in Europe and are the only carrot to originate in Europe. Who needs bad airplane food and the TSA when you can travel around the world by eating carrots?

So why do we find mostly orange carrots? Orange carrots are a Dutch hybrid of white, yellow and wild carrots. At some point, our market-based food industry decided we needed carrots that were consistent in size and shape as well as easy to ship. Hybrid orange carrots were developed to meet this need and voila! We have orange carrots. At some later bizarre point in history, food manufacturers realized they could shave down perfectly good carrots into nubs and call them baby carrots, although they are not baby at all. We are so weird.

For more carrot information, you can go the the Carrot Museum webpage (seriously).

I’m glad some of our farmers and groceries have started investing in colorful, flavorful heirloom varieties of carrots. Only a few of our organic farmer’s market vendors sell these, and they usually sell out pretty quickly, so I’m hoping more of our farmers will join in and plant these lovely varieties. Old variety carrots tend to be thinner and more fragile than their grocery store cousins, but they pack great flavor and are lovely on a plate.

This recipe pairs carrots with two of their flavor bffs–fresh ginger and raw honey. This is an easy recipe and experimental, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. Honey and thyme would probably make a good combination as well. You can use any carrots–they don’t have to be heirloom or fancy varieties. But because carrots are root vegetables, I do try to buy organic whenever possible (many pesticide-treated root vegetables are also treated with bud inhibitors to keep them from sprouting).

Get your spring carrot fix, travel the world and boost your health as well!

Honey Ginger Carrots (serves 4)

  • 1 lb. organic carrots
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 3 Tbsp. raw, local honey
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Wash and peel the carrots. Trim the tops. Cut the carrots in half lengthwise and then cut the halves into 2″-3″ pieces. Put cut pieces into a medium bowl.
  3. Toss carrots with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Pour carrots onto baking sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes (check on them often to make sure they don’t char).
  5. In a sauté pan, add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat at medium.
  6. Add ginger and stir. Cook 1 minute.
  7. Remove the carrots from the oven and add to the pan. Toss well. Add honey and toss all together until carrots are coated with honey glaze.
  8. Check for seasoning and correct if needed. Serve immediately.

Easy Lemon Bars

fresh_lemon_picture_167142We are having a little false spring here in North Carolina. The ice storms and snow are gone and at the moment we have temperatures in the low 70s. I say “at the moment” because I understand winter will return next week :-( In the winter, I love to bake and bake and bake, but once the weather turns warm, I want to be outside. My menus turn to quicker meals, grilled foods and all things lemon. Every so often, we accumulate a ridiculous collection of cut lemons, especially when we start cooking using lemon zest. Since one of our goals is to not waste the food we have, I call on a familiar recipe to turn lemons into…well…lemon bars!

Lemon bars are one of those wonderful, southern desserts that combine creamy, sweet custard with tangy lemon flavor. Next to a lemon pound cake, and Italian limoncello, I think lemon bars are a perfect complement to sunny, southern days. These are pretty effortless, so if you are intimidated by making a custard, this is a great dessert for a first try. Note though, that these lemon bars will not be a bright yellow color like you see in restaurants or from a box mix. I don’t use food coloring because really, I don’t care how yellow it is as long as it tastes lemony. So these squares will be a delicate, pale yellow, but still pack plenty of sass. If the light color bothers you, add a few drops of yellow food coloring to the filling and you will be happy.

We used whole wheat pastry flour from a local farm for this recipe, but if you don’t have whole wheat on hand, unbleached all-purpose flour will work as well. We also use our yummy local farm eggs in the filling. While lemons are, of course, not local to North Carolina, we do buy organic lemons, especially if we are zesting them since that is the portion of the lemon in highest contact with pesticides.

I’m hoping to make some of these this weekend before our weather gets brisk again. I’ll sneak any little bit of summer in that I can!

Easy Lemon Bars

Crust

  • 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/3 c. organic confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 stick of butter, cut into pieces and chilled

Custard Filling

  • 1 c. organic, granulated sugar
  • 3 large farm eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. organic, grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice from organic lemons (about 2 large lemons)

Topping

  • 1/4 c. organic confectioners’ sugar (optional)
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Lightly coat an 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray or oil.
    3. Make the crust by combining all the dry ingredients for the crust in a medium bowl. Add the chilled butter and incorporate using a fork, pastry cutter or your fingertips until the crust has the consistency of course meal.
    4. Add the crust mix into the baking pan and press into an even layer along the pan bottom.
    5. Put the pan in the freezer for 20 minutes, then cook for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
    6. Remove the baking pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees.
    7. Make the filling by combining all the filling ingredients in a medium bowl and mixing with a wisk until smooth.
    8. Pour the filling over the warm crust and cook for about 20 minutes or until the filling is set.
    9. Remove the pan from the oven and cool for about 30 minutes. Cut and serve or (I like mine cold), pop the pan into the refrigerator for another 30-45 minutes.
    10. Cut into 9 large bars and put bars on a serving platter.
    11. Just before serving, sift confectioners’ sugar over the bars.

Happy spring baking!

Smoked Salmon Cobb Salad

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It is still, literally, freezing outside. Regardless of the bitter cold, I am craving spring salads like crazy because it is March–usually springtime here in North Carolina. Not this year, though. We don’t have the feet and feet of snow that the northern and midwestern states have, but we do have a stubborn, persistent cold that will not yield to spring. So despite the cold temperatures, we’ve been making salads using local hothouse greens, tomatoes and even strawberries! We are pushing it, I realize, but I just have to get my fresh salads back into our menu rotation.

This salad is springy in its ingredients list, but pretty satisfying as a meal. Try to buy hot smoked salmon if you can manage to fit it into your budget. It is meatier and somehow more filling that the cold smoked, think sliced salmon. Either are good though! This recipe originally came from Martha Stewart. I changed it up just a little bit, adding more salmon and decreasing the onion. The original recipe had way too much shallot in the dressing–it was like a disgusting onion fest. The version below reflects a more delicate version of the dressing.

If you are craving spring and spring foods, jack up the thermostat for a couple of hours, make this salad and pretend it’s spring!

Smoked Salmon Cobb Salad (serves 2 as an entree salad)

  • 3/4 cup fresh buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup organic mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 4 sprigs fresh dill
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large head organic butter lettuce
  • 6 ounces smoked salmon
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 2 strips smoked bacon
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 ripe avocado
  1. Add the first 6 ingredients to a small bowl and using an immersion blender, blend for about 10 seconds. Taste for seasoning and correct. Cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator until you are ready.
  2. Cook the bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels and reserve.
  3. Wash, spin dry and chop the lettuce.
  4. Assemble the salad by dividing the lettuce between two large plates.
  5. Chop the hard boiled eggs and bacon and add to the lettuce.
  6. Flake the salmon with a fork, remove any bones and add to the salads.
  7. Wash and chop the tomato. Add to the salads.
  8. Peel and dice the ripe avocado, discarding the pit. Add the avocado to the salads.
  9. Top with the reserved buttermilk dressing and serve immediately.

Running Goals and Food as Fuel

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For the past 15 years or so, I have been a casual runner, entering the occasional 5K race and always enjoying it. Last year about this time, I decided I would venture into new running territory and run in a local women’s 10K race. Why? I have no idea, but it seemed like a fun thing to do (and it was!).

Assisted by an unusually mild winter and spring (pretty much the opposite of this year), I started running regularly and using a GPS program called Run Keeper to log my mileage and time. I couldn’t believe I did it! I was beyond excited that even in the 95 degree heat, I could run a complete 10K race–the farthest I had ever run. At the race, I met a woman who, without knowing it, changed my whole year. And maybe my life. She started running later in life and together with her daughter had run many of the Disney races. She encouraged me to go for a half marathon at Disney. She said I could do it. Those words are very powerful.

At home, in a crazy fit of lord knows what (running endorphins?), I signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon. And signed up my husband, Tom, as well. Then I panicked. How in the world would I run 13.1 miles? Well, friends, there is nothing like investing about $3,000 in a race, hotel, airfare, etc. to help you along with a goal. I downloaded a Jeff Galloway training plan and we were on our way.

Last week, we ran our race. It was awesome. Full of Disney magic, fun, hard work, beautiful weather and personal satisfaction. While the race itself was fabulous, the journey of our training over the past 6 months was really the greatest part. I am learning to appreciate so many things about my body and to treat it well. To give it rest when needed, to strengthen its weaker parts and to feed it what it needs.

And now we have a new goal! We are signed up to run a full marathon in November and the Disney Coast to Coast Challenge in 2015. We have a long way to go to double our distance, but it will be fun trying.

Spring is a time when many of us decide to pull out our dusty running shoes and get outside. But just as important as what we wear, is what we eat. Here are some links to recipes that have worked especially well for us over the past few months. Some are meals and others are snacks/desserts. I hope you find these helpful!

Banana Bread Oatmeal

Chili Lime Shrimp Salad

Clean Energy Bars

Crunch Chai Spiced Granola

Double Chocolate Raw Fudge

Fish with Tomato and Fennel

Mediterranean Shrimp and Feta

No Bake Peanut Butter Cookies

Raw Honey Almond Butter Truffles

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas

Swiss Chard with Mushrooms and Eggs

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad

Winter Vegetable Stir Fry with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Breakfast Toasts

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I have been wanting to try these high protein breakfast toasts for some time now, but it’s a delicate balance with avocados. You have to plan your meals around when they are ready, and for some reason, this has rarely coincided with when I have extra time in the morning. One silver lining of yet another snow day is that we had a relaxing morning to experiment with some new breakfast dishes.

I think I am in love with this breakfast. Eggs are by far and away one of my favorite breakfast foods (they run a close popularity race with steel cut oats), and the pairing of scrambled eggs and avocado is pretty magical. I had my toasts fairly pure–just sprouted grain toast, mashed avocado and scrambled egg–but you could easily go crazy with this by adding bacon, crispy prosciutto, smoked salmon, a bit of salsa, cheese or whatever you happen to be craving in the morning.

Total assembly time was 15 minutes, so they don’t take long to prepare and clean up is fairly quick as well. I ate both toasts for breakfast because I was feeling pretty hungry, but on a normal morning, one would probably be enough. I would gladly have this for dinner, too, especially on nights when I am a bit rushed!

Using this recipe, each toast has 311 calories, 12 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber. Using regular bread or adding extras on top will change the nutritional value slightly.

Breakfast Toasts (makes two open-face toasts)

  • 2 slices organic sprouted grain bread (I used Ezekiel sesame bread)
  • 1 ripe, organic avocado
  • 2 fresh farm eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Toast the bread to your liking (I tend to like it crispy). Set aside.
  2. Remove the pit from the avocado and scoop the flesh into a small bowl. Mash it well with the back of a fork.
  3. In another small bowl, whisk the two eggs. Cook in a small, non-stick pan over medium heat. I like them scrambled, but you could make them over-easy or fried as well.
  4. Assemble the toasts by spreading the mashed avocado onto each toast. Top with the scrambled egg. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and/or pepper, if you like.
  5. Serve immediately.

Turkish Style Pizza

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My daughter and her dad like to frequent a local Turkish restaurant that makes terrific food. My favorite dish is a wonderful, boat shaped pizza made with ground lamb and topped with an egg. The combination is delicious! This is my homemade version using a whole wheat crust, roasted red peppers and store bought Harissa sauce. It isn’t quite the same as the restaurant, but it is darn good and very satisfying!

Turkish Style Pizza (makes three small pizzas)

  • 2 tablespoons organic coconut oil
  • 1 organic yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 large cloves organic garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1lb. grass fed ground lamb
  • 2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup spicy Harissa sauce
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
  • 3 fresh farm eggs
  • 1 whole wheat pizza dough
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat.
  3. Add onions and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
  4. Add the ground lamb and cook until the lamb is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Break up any large chunks of meat with the back of a spoon. Stir frequently.
  5. Add the chopped roasted peppers and the Harissa sauce. Stir well and cook until most of the moisture is gone from the pan, about 10 minutes more.
  6. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper, if needed.
  7. Set a colander over a small bowl. Add the lamb mixture to the colander and let drain.
  8. Divide the pizza dough into three equal parts. Shape each part into a long rectangle or boat shape.
  9. Put the dough boats on a greased baking sheet (or a heated pizza stone). Bake the dough for 5 minutes.
  10. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and top each boat with equal amounts of the lamb mixture. Make a small indention in the lamb on each pizza. Crack an egg into each indentation.
  11. Return the baking sheet immediately to the oven and cook for about 12 minutes, or until the pizzas are heated and the eggs are done to your liking.
  12. You can also run the pizzas under the broiler for a minute or two.
  13. Serve immediately.

Polenta with Mushrooms, Kale and Egg

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This dish made a rather unconventional Valentine’s Day supper for us this year. Tired of the usual “let’s grill a steak,” we opted for a simple, but delicious dish of polenta (in our case we used local stone ground grits), winter greens, rich mushrooms and onion, topped with a farm egg and shaved Parmesan cheese. It was a delicious, almost-vegetarian meal that was both warming and nutritious.

Polenta with Mushrooms, Kale and Egg (serves 2)

2 cups water
1/2 cup stone ground grits or polenta
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cream or almond milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups kale or Swiss chard, cleaned and chopped
Kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

2 fresh farm eggs

Add the water and salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
While water is heating, add the olive oil to a skillet and heat to medium high. Add the onion and cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until the onion is soft.
Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium.
Add the mushrooms to the skillet, stir well, add some salt and pepper and sauté for about 5-6 minutes.
While mushrooms are cooking, add the grits to the boiling water, stir well and cook according to directions (about 6 minutes). Add the milk and butter. Stir well and keep grits warm.
Add the kale to the skillet, stir well and cook 5 minutes or until the kale is wilted. Correct seasonings, if needed.
Heat a small, non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook the eggs to your desired doneness (I like them to have runny yolks).
Assemble the dish by adding hot grits to two bowls. Top with the mushrooms mixture. Add an egg and some shaved Parmesan cheese to the top of each bowl.
Serve immediately.

No Bake Peanut Butter Cookies

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Like many families across the U.S., we have spent the last couple of weeks hunkered down at home waiting for our unusually snowy and icy weather to go away. We have had seven snow days in the last three weeks and really, it is time for these children to go back to school. Now, I love an occasional snow day with all its excitement and plans to make soup, bread and cookies. In our part of North Carolina, “snow events” are typically 24 hour deals–enough to have fun, but not so much that you go stir crazy. Not this year though. Oi vey. I can only imagine how parents in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Atlanta feel.

This is all to say that when the first snow came, we figured that was our one snow of the year, so we had all the big snow fun we could. We made snow figures, went sledding, baked homemade cookies, soup, bread, pasta and ate up. We ate alot. It was great. Except a week later, we experienced another snow and ice storm. Realizing we could not continue on this eating plan without serious consequences, we scaled back on our hibernation feasts and tried to get excercise.

These gluten free, no bake cookies from blogger The Sprouted Kitchen are perfect for when you need a little something, but don’t need any additional sugar or wheat. They are not low in calories, but they are high in protein and fiber and as rich as they are, one is enough to take care of any sweet tooth issues I have. Enjoy these with your coffee as you watch the snow fall. Or while you secretly wish for summer :-)

No Bake Peanut Butter Cookies (makes about 20 cookies)

  • 1 cup raw or toasted almonds
  • 1 cup medjool dates, seeds removed
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, no sugar or salt added
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  1. Put the almonds into a food processor and grind until until you have a course almond meal.
  2. Add all the remaining ingredients and pulse until you have a moist dough.
  3. Shape into tablespoon sized balls. Flatten each ball with the back of a fork to make a cross hatch pattern.
  4. Refrigerate cookies for 30 minutes.
  5. These will keep in the refrigerator in a air tight container for up to a week.

Tutorial Tuesdays #13–Understanding the Carbon Footprint of Food

Tutorial Tuesdays #13–Understanding the Carbon Footprint of Food

The older I get, the more I appreciate the aspects of strength and balance in my life. If I live to be 90, then I officially reached the mid-point in my life this month, which is cause for some introspection. While there are some issues (and my patient husband sees this more than anyone else) where I still have strength of conviction along with hair-trigger emotional responses, I also have a greater ability to step back from life, watch what is happening, and be more balanced and patient in my reactions.

So it is with the choices we make about how we live. I have the strength of conviction that I want a healthier, less toxic life for my family (and your family, too), but I also realize that we have to make balanced choices and sometimes those choices involve tradeoffs. It would be nice if we could have zero impact on the earth and the environment, but I’ve read stories of people who have tried and it nearly drove them mad. Maybe the goal should be to make the choices necessary to have the least impact while maintaining a healthy personal life.

Here is a link to a great resource on understanding the carbon footprint of the food we eat. This tool is helpful (and especially fun  if you have children) in understanding how the choices we make about food have an impact on the health of the world. Just one more resource to bring informed decision-making and, hopefully, greater balance to our lives.

http://eatlowcarbon.org

But sometimes food options that have a low carbon footprint are not necessarily the best foods for you. Homemade cookies, for example, have a fairly low carbon footprint, but that doesn’t mean you should eat them at every meal. And eggs have a low carbon footprint, but factory chicken farms are notoriously inhumane.

So it all becomes a balancing act. Maybe you have a steak one night, but balance the impact of that with lower impact dishes during the week. Or maybe you switch to chicken. Or buy only pasture raised eggs. Or maybe you decide meat isn’t important enough and go vegetarian altogether. Whatever you decide is right for you, it’s good to have the tools needed to make strong and balanced decisions about your life and your body.

This website isn’t a cure-all, but it is fun, engaging and informative. I hope you enjoy it and learn something new, as I have! Now, maybe I’ll go have a cookie :-)

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