Hey, your grass is better than mine...

Monday, September 22, 2014

   I have a confession.

   I am an instagram addict.

   I really, truly am. Instagram is my jam. I love the way I can sneak glimpses of other peoples' beautiful, arsty, carefree lives. Their delicious meals, fabulous clothes and adorable, giggly babies and children. I adore the way the app seems to afford all these people the ability to cultivate sparkly, languid lives with all the free time and resources they could ever desire. And I get to live variously through all of them! As many times a day as I want!

   What's not to love?

   Mid way through an instagram fest a few weeks ago a small voice in the back of my head whispered exactly what is not to love: your life kinda sucks, it whispered. You're pretty boring... you work too much... this whole residency thing is consuming all of your free time and creativity.... you will never have those fabulous, effortless outfits and adoring, giggly babies...

   I would like to say that right then and there I deleted the app forever, refocused my attention on my own daily existence and hummed frequent gratitudes to myself throughout the day to remind myself just how awesome, fortunate and spectacular this life I have really is. 

   But it wasn't until I read this article that I really got it, that I really listened to those whispers and acknowledged the poison that social media can become. Why is instagram so popular? Why are everyone and their grandmothers taking selfies and facebooking like their lives depend on it? The answer is simple: because we all want to be admired. In some ways that fabulous morning, that glorious date, that chic outfit or major life win doesn't truly exist until we share it with the world and feel the adoring stares of our friends, family and (the biggest boon of all) strangers. And slowly, whether we are aware of it or not, our minds become saturated in all the feeds, all the lives, all the great and glamorous other that we and our lives are not. 

   And there it is. The great con of social media: what once made you feel connected and cool now makes your feel left out and lacking. Suddenly, our homes aren't lit 24/7 in that perfect, golden glow of the evening sun. Our meals don't all regale us with their color, creativity and impeccable plating. We have real, stressful career obligations that don't involve us looking bored and fabulous all day long.

   After reading the Zen Habits blog and ruminating about this for a little while I've realized that all of these things I've been feeling badly about are perfectly ok. It is one thing to strive for better and happier but quite another to allow social media to fool us into thinking we are the only ones with moments of mundane in our lives, the only ones with ugly morning eyes or spilled beer on our couch (I admit nothing).

   The internet is a magical thing; obviously as a blogger I believe in its power to bring us together, to foster community, creativity and inspiration for a life well lived. But I also believe in viewing our lives as a whole and being careful not to let the on line world trick our minds into thinking there is some fantasy life waiting for us where the dog doesn't ever stink and you don't ever have to see a chicken hawk tear one of your beloved baby chicks apart right in front of your very eyes (true story. I'm still recovering).

   After all, sweet things are always better with a little salt and color would be boring if we didn't know what black, white and gray looked like. It's only when we take the boring and the exciting, the beautiful bits and the lumpy, ugly bits all together that we can see clearly: it is all just so, deliciously good, this life we have.

The Very Best Of

Monday, July 14, 2014

   Should we take time away from our busy lives for one more treat? I think yes.

   This isn't 'just' another treat, of course. I am a big believer in finding my 'best of' in many life categories and sticking with whatever that find may be. This reduces mental clutter and the stress of constantly having to choose. Choice is a wonderful luxury in many aspects of life, but in some it can mean one too many unnecessary decisions.

   One of my favorite books of all time is The Sex Lives of Cannibals, by J. Maarten Troost. It isn't a salacious tale of tropical indulgence, as the title may lead you to believe, but rather an adventure tale of the author and the woman he loves, trying to make sense of life on a teeny island in the Pacific. At one point, he describes coming back to the US after quite some time away and being absolutely paralyzed by the huge number of choices simple purchases, like what type of laundry detergent to buy, he is suddenly faced with. On the remote island, variety was extremely limited and he marvels at the relief he had found living in such a way that the day to day infinite consumer choices had been virtually eliminated. He finds himself missing it.

   If I told you that the number of times I've read this book is in the double digits, you would easily make the leap that I find the idea of that kind of simple living hugely appealing. With that in mind, I have a lot of 'best ofs' in my life that eliminate the need to choose. The best mascara. The best material for bed sheets. The best shampoo. The best route to work and my favorite parking space. No need to ever make a decision about those things again. 

   And here I have the best chocolate cake for you: it is impossibly and darkly rich with the fragrance and flavor of chocolate. This cake is totally decadent and at the same time has the lightest possible crumb. There is little else to say about it except that once you bake it, it will go directly into your 'best of' category too, and you won't ever again be faced with the decision of which chocolate cake to bake.

   I make a double decker version of this recipe, towered with tufts of frosting and generously dusted with coconut shavings for the hubby's birthday. He has made me promise never to make him anything other than that cake for all of his birthdays to come. It seems he has his own 'best of' schemes too!

The Very Best Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 3 dozen cupcakes or 2 10 inch round layer cakes 

For the chocolate cake:
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, plus additional if making layer cakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt  
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 3 cups sugar 
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted 
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk 
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water

   Preheat oven to 350. For cupcakes: line your cupcake baking tin with cupcake wrappers. For the layer cake: grease 2 10 inch cake pans with butter and dust with cocoa powder. If you have parchment paper handy, line the bottom with a circle of parchment, grease and powder that as well. 
 Sift cocoa, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda together in your mixing bowl.  
Measure out your buttermilk, add in the vanilla extract, crack the eggs into it and lightly beat them together with a fork. With the mixer on low, add the buttermilk/egg/vanilla mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix just until barely incorporated.
With the mixer still on low, slowly pour in the melted butter. Mix on low until just incorporated.
With mixer on low, slowly pour in the boiling water. Once incorporated, increase mixer to medium speed and mix until evenly incorporated. Turn mixer off and use a mixing spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl and make sure everything is mixed.
For cupcakes: fill cupcake liners a scant 2/3 full (the batter expands quite a bit) and bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. For the layer cake: divide batter evenly amongst the cake pans and bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
For layer cake: allow cakes to cool for about 20 minutes, then invert the pans and place the cakes on cooling racks until perfectly room temperature.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

    In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until perfectly smooth. Beat in the vanilla and sugar and continue beating until smooth, fluffy and silky. Taste and add more sifted sugar if you want it sweeter. Frost cupcakes with a star tip for extra fancy results.  
   For Steve's birthday cake, frost the first layer cake, sprinkle with a generous amount of sweetened coconut flakes, add the second layer and frost the entire cake. Finish it with plenty of coconut flakes dusted over the top and pressed into the sides.


With Tequila, Please

Friday, July 4, 2014

   Did I say cupcake? I meant cocktail... a happy fourth of July cocktail!

   Cupcakes will be coming soon, no worries. But today- this auspicious, happy day in hot, sunny July, calls for tequila and merry making. So let's.

   I've written about a pink tequila kissed beverage here before; apparently there is a trend in my favorite cocktail indulgences and I'm completely okay with that. This drink is a touch sweet, a touch sour, just a hair bitter, and deliciously thirst quenching in a 'may I have another, please' huge way. It is also dangerously quick to whip together.

   Guess who celebrated Independence Day with their first stroll in the great out of doors? Our adorable backyard chickens! Here they are saying hello to Audrey:

   We are loving our teeny suburban farm. Their gentle clucks and delicate little bodies resting in my hands remind me of the deepest possible sense of home. I've always been so thankful to have grown up on hundreds of wild acres, filled with animals of all shapes and sizes, learning every day what it means to truly care for life and nature. Having a small piece of that in my very own backyard brings me endless joy. I admit (shamelessly), the only thing that dragged me away from my second straight hour of watching the ladies peck around their yard was one of these beauties.

   For many years fourth of July for me meant cook outs around a lake in New England, surrounded by extended family on my dad's side. One of his crazy cousins (who had an even crazier twin) would whip us around the pond, barely afloat behind the motor boat, hanging on for dear life and wondering which cousin we were at the mercy of.

   Now family and independence day means a sunny afternoon with my amazing new husband and our adorable chicken and dog babies. And even though I always wish our parents and siblings were closer, I wouldn't have it any other way.

    So happy fourth, I hope when I raise a glass you are too!

Pomegranate Grapefruit Margaritas
Makes 8 cocktails

1 1/2 cups tequila of choice (I like silver tequila but if you prefer gold, go for it!)
3/4 cup triple sec
1 1/2 cups Pom brand pomegranate juice
1 1/2 cups grapefruit juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Plain seltzer water, to finish

   In a pitcher combine all ingredients except for the seltzer water. Mix to combine. Fill your glasses with ice and pour in your margarita mixture, leaving about 1/2 inch at the top. Fill the remainder of the glass with the plain seltzer, garnish as you please and enjoy! 

Project Simplify

Thursday, July 3, 2014

   It started out innocently enough a few months ago. Late one night, Steve and I created what we affectionately called our Simplify List. It's nothing more than a Word document that we occasionally open and add projects or ideas to when they come to us. At first it was easy, silly things (like 'if you put on a piece of clothing and it doesn't fit just right- put it in the Goodwill bin!') but it has since grown into much more meaningful pursuits. Last week, for instance, we got rid of cable television.

   I grew up without cable; we lived so far out in the boonies that it simply wasn't an option and we never felt we were missing out on anything. The television meant family movie time and most nights we all would pick a movie and watch it together as a family. Commercial free.

   I recently read an article in which it was observed that people who watch television often have higher levels of anxiety regarding their health. Perhaps even worse than that, their overall sense of well being and happiness is decreased. I can totally understand how a constant barrage of shows and commercials could slowly corrode your sense of identity and the compass we inherently possess to determine what is worthy of our time, effort and money and what is not.

    So I asked Steve to cut to cord. That's what he did and so far it's been pretty fantastic. We still have Netflix and our collection of favorite DVDs but the release from all things commercial television related has been pretty awesome. We've been reading more, taking more evening walks after dinner and I've started crocheting a gorgeous, off white afghan- a hobby I haven't indulged in since college! Of course, the cable bill savings is nothing to sneer at either.

   Then we noticed that every time we look at our monthly budget we feel demoralized and stressed to see how much money we spend on restaurants for food and booze that cost a fraction of what we pay in the restaurant to prepare at home. So we decided to take the project even further: No Eating Out July was born!

   Even though some of my fondest memories with Steve have been at various restaurant tables, I'm really excited to abandon restaurants completely, save some money, and challenge myself in the kitchen. Example: instead of going out for Pad Thai tonight, I'm making grilled Asian marinated chicken thighs over a bed of rice noodles, fresh herbs and bean sprouts (recipe forthcoming if it's a success).

   That is the power of a project like this: you start to notice the little things that cause stress or anxiety in your life and suddenly ideas for major life improvement come out of thin air.

   What would a project simplify look like for you? I encourage you to take a moment and think of the places in your life that could use less clutter- it could be your closet, your kitchen, your entertainment purchases, or even your mental and spiritual space. Ask yourself: what is draining my time, energy and money that I may not actually need to feel happy and fulfilled? Then just write a few ideas down and get your simplify on!

   I'll be back soon with a recipe. I've been craving a major treat and I suspect it will take the form of a cupcake. 


About the Tomato...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

   For me, summer is all about long, lazy weekends spent mostly outdoors and similarly lazy meals, also preferably eaten outside.

   In New York this meant a lot of walks and hikes, especially in the late afternoons when the sun's fury had abated a bit. Since moving to the south summers mean slow, sun drenched days at the beach and endless evenings cocooned in the safely of our screened in porch, mosquitoes mercifully thwarted.

   And, of course, summer is tomatoes and corn on the cob. Spicy shrimp boils and icy beers.

   I've written about my favorite succotash recipe before and it graced out patio dinner table as soon as corn and tomatoes were both local and drippingly ripe. Served alongside a perfectly grilled grass fed steak and glasses of white wine chilled with frozen strawberries: heaven.

   Admittedly, I was slow to the tomato camp. With a childhood of picky eating behind me I came to adulthood with the concept of tomatoes as these slimy, oddly seed ridden, wet things- or, even worse, mealy! Like a badly ripened apple only worse.

   Then I went to Croatia to visit my brother and everything about the tomato that I thought I knew flew out the door. I ate an amazing seafood risotto, so resplendent with local seafare that at first I didn't notice the barely cooked chunks of fresh tomato amidst the rice. Once I did I could hardly ignore them- so sweet and velvety, so full of the sun.

   There is nothing in this world like a truly vine ripened, in season, local tomato. Find some and make this salad. I hope you eat it outside, in the late dregs of summer sun, over a meal so lazy the candle snuffs itself out in a pool of wax. 

Summer Tomato Salad
Serves 4
I like this best with an array of baby heirlooms, but any in season tomato will do. This salad is dynamite served along side crispy roasted baby potatoes.

1 pound tomatoes, diced (to about 1/2 inch chunks)
1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 avocado, diced (to about 1/4 inch chunks)
Freshly squeezed juice from one lemon
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

   Place the tomatoes, parsley and avocado in a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil and salt. Whisk until well combined. Pour the dressing over the tomato salad and gently toss everything together. Taste and season with additional salt if desired.  

Grocery Store Survival 101

Monday, June 23, 2014

   It would come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or reads this blog that I spend a significant amount of my time reading health and wellness books, articles and blogs. These subjects are fascinating to me and I enjoy finding ways to implement the things I agree with or think may have merit into my life.

   But today I learned a huge lesson while shopping for dinner and I hope you can benefit from my new found wisdom without making the (in retrospect silly) mistake I made today. I learned that it doesn't matter how many times I read something; unless I actually take a step back and use the tools I read about, it is all for naught.

   Before I get to my grocery store antics, I'd first like to say that up until last week I had never cooked or eaten a spaghetti squash (!). I love all things squash and adore trying alternatives to the wheat based noodle, so I finally corrected this major life oversight and made an insane dish of basil pesto spaghetti squash. Game changing deliciousness ensued.

   Fast forward to today: while day dreaming about ways to introduce this dish to all of you lovely people in a dynamic, enticing way that will convey to you how much you need it in your foodie life, I convinced myself of that very thing and decided I needed it for dinner. At one of my favorite organic grocery shops I snagged two of the beauties and hopped in the shortest check out lane.

   "Your total is 22.50" The clerk helpfully reported.

   "What?! 22:50?? How is it that wheat is subsidized while us innocent, whole foods lovers are so unfairly punished?! No thanks!" With that, I politely replaced the squashes on the shelf and left the store, wallet and foodie morals firmly in place.

   Except not really. I was so stunned and embarrassed about being the complete dodo bird who grabbed a few items without even looking at the price tag (in my defense, squash should never cost more than a few bucks a pound), that I handed the cashier my payment and left the store with my tail between my legs. 

   I stopped for a price check at the local chain grocer on my way home and the same (albeit non organic) squash was 1.29 a pound.

   The moral of the story is that we all read those articles on how to afford eating well and (mostly) organic and they always tell us to pick our organic battles. Use the dirty fifteen to guide you- as you can see, if I had implemented this advice even just this one time it would have saved me a lot of money. There are many foods which it is perfectly safe to chose conventional over organic- squash, with its hard shell that we discard, is a perfect example.

   It may be some time before we can convince the powers that be to subsidize organic, sustainable farming, but until then we really do have tricks up our sleeves to make good choices. We just have to remember those tricks when it counts. 

   As mentioned above, I have lots of lovely things to say about this dish, but I thought you might appreciate my story more than me waxing eloquent about earthy, sweet basil and noodles you would never know didn't come from a box. The short of it is that you should make this for dinner. Soon.

Basil Pesto Spaghetti Squash
Serves 4  to 6

We like to serve this with a roasted chicken breast sliced alongside it.

1 large spaghetti squash (a little over a pound)
olive oil
3-4 cups fresh basil
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted a little in a hot skillet
2 cloves garlic
2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated, plus additional for serving

   Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and brush the cut surface with some olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per half). Sprinkle with a little salt (about 1/4 teaspoon per half). Place, cut side down, on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, or until a fork easily pierces the flesh. Remove from the oven and let cool a bit.
   While the squash cools, add the rest of the ingredients plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt into your food processor. Turn the processor on and drizzle in 4 tablespoons olive oil, processing until evenly combined.
   Use two forks to 'pull' the squash flesh into spaghetti like strands into a bowl. Scrape the pesto over the squash and gently toss to combine.
   Serve garnished with a bit of additional cheese.  

Got it in the Bag (lunch that is)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

   Work lunch. Weeknight dinner.

   These four words are enough to strike fear into the heart of any person aspiring to make healthier food choices. Especially people taking care of children or with a not stay at home job. Which is, by my estimation, nearly everyone.

   I've mentioned before that getting into the habit of bringing my lunch to work was without a doubt one of the best things I've ever done for myself as a working adult (and study exhausted college and medical student, for that matter). Choosing to take control over what passes your lips at work is a sure fire way to achieve whatever health related results you are interested in whether that is weight loss, clearer skin or better sleep- you name it and home cooked, well chosen meals will get you there.

   I work in a hospital and one would think that would give me cafeteria access to foods that promote health and well being, but one would be very, very wrong. It is an unfortunate and well known fact that hospitals are eons behind the times in providing fresh, additive free, whole foods based meal options for not only the people who work there, but for the patients inhabiting their rooms.

   There are articles out there about the fabulous, health nut foodie approved fare offered by companies like Google, but not all of us are fortunate enough to work for corporations this forward thinking. My hope, of course, is that all work places (hospitals especially!) will kick out the fast food chains and the vending machines and offer real nutrition one day.

   In the meantime, we all have the power to make choices which tell our employers that the calorie dense, nutrient free food they have on board is just not acceptable. We can send that message by consistently taking our food to work and not handing our precious dollars over to companies that by no means have our best interests in mind.

   Bringing lunches and cooking after work isn't easy; I of course know this. But with a little persistence and planning, it is absolutely possible.

   Enter, the lovely and adorable lentil. Lentils are just fabulous. They are nutty, rich and complex in flavor and provide lots of minerals, vitamins, fiber and protein.  Properly soaking them makes them cook much faster (and therefore become weeknight meal friendly) and also allows them to more readily release all their nutrient goodies once they hit your gut.

   Growing up my mother and I were the only ones in our household who really loved legumes, lentils in particular. Because everyone else disliked them so much they rarely graced our stovetop, and in my pre-cooking-ability days I often got my lentil fix with salty, naughty cans of Progresso. Thankfully I can now re-create my childhood bowls of beany goodness without any of the BPA or other unpronounceable additives, but to this day my heart twinges with fondness when I pass those metal towers in the grocery store.

   I thought about putting a fancy garnish on the bowl I took photos of but ultimately decided against it. This soup is delightfully brown with just a flash of green and orange- strong and proud in all her sturdy simplicity. A garnish would just be totally beside the point!

Simplest Lentil Soup
Makes 8 - 10 servings

I like to make a huge pot of this soup on Monday night. We have it for dinner (usually fancied up with a side of creamy brie and sliced baguette) and then enjoy the leftovers for lunch the rest of the week. 

2 1/2 cups french green lentils, rinsed
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 cups vegetable broth (I usually do 8 cups broth and 4 cups water)
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt, to taste
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
8 carrots, sliced
8 stalks celery, sliced
1 large bunch tuscan (dinosaur) kale, sliced into thin ribbons

   The night before making your soup, place the lentils in a medium sized mixing bowl and fill with cool water, enough to cover them by about three inches.  Cover and set on the counter overnight. In the morning, drain the lentils and rinse them well. Replace lentils in the bowl and cover with another 3 inches fresh water. Cover, place in the fridge while you go about your day.
   When you're ready to make dinner, drain and rinse the lentils again. Heat the olive oil in an 8 quart soup pot. Add the onion and sautee until translucent and beginning to brown. Add in the lentils and your broth/water. Add the spices and stir to combine. Cover your pot, bring to a simmer.
   Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the carrots, celery and tomato paste. Stir to combine the paste and simmer for an additional 15 minutes, until the carrots and celery are your desired tenderness. Add the kale, bring back to a boil, then turn the heat off and allow the kale to get nice and soft while you set the table (kale should sit for 5 minutes at least). Add additional salt if needed prior to serving.


Your Whole Life

Sunday, June 15, 2014

   Paleo. Vegan. Vegetarian. Pescetarian. What do all of these words actually mean and who is right??

   I've noticed over the last year or so that there has come a huge divide in the healthy lifestyle community. If you've been tuned into the argument, you might think this divide is between the meat eaters and the non meat eaters but I think the divide truly resides between the who is rights and the who is wrongs.

   This argument over who's lifestyle is best, who is most moral, who is most righteous and clean- it is so beside the point, my friends.

   I find it extremely interesting, and alarming, that the 5 - 10% or so of Americans who live a 'healthy lifestyle' are entering into this strange war with each other over who is right and who is wrong. Isn't the point supposed to be that we all have the power to find the right choices for ourselves? Isn't the message supposed to be that no matter your healthy choices, there is a community out there that agrees and supports your ambition and goals?

   Personally, I don't care if my best friend has found that she feels best on a completely vegan diet but I find that I need fish a few times a week to feel my best. I don't care (in fact, I rejoice!) that the thought of eggs in the morning turns my stomach but my husband eats three beside his sauteed spinach and looks, feels and has the energy of a man ten years his junior.

   The thing that fills my heart with happiness is that all of the people I have just described have eschewed modern food production and found the recipe that best suits their needs. The underlying theme in every single diet and lifestyle book, website or retreat out there is this: find real food and eat it. Don't eat the ones that make you feel crummy. Eat more of the ones that make you feel strong and clear minded.

   I would go an inch further and say find a way to bring those foods that matter to you as close to your home as possible. We pick blueberries from our front yard, harvest oyster mushrooms from our porch and coo over the laying hen chicks frolicking in our backyard. This morning I planted 30 cayenne pepper plants on my back porch and eagerly anticipate making my own cayenne pepper and some Sriracha from our homegrown chilis.

   These are only a few of a thousand examples in which you can take control of where your food comes from and what you chose to put in your body. Don't put a label on it- take the labels off of your food and bask in the benefits.

Health in the Fast Lane

Saturday, June 7, 2014

   Happy weekend!

   Instead of a TGIF cocktail, how about we mix things up with a deliciously cool and creamy weekend green smoothie?

   It's no secret that everyone nowadays is way busier and time crunched than we would prefer. We all have jobs or families (or both), passion projects, health goals and much more stretching us ever thinner every day. I think it is easy to look at popular health gurus and think 'well, if it were my singular job to look fabulous and well rested I could do it too!' I will fully admit that I am sometimes guilty of this too- after all it can feel like I'd rather have hot coals raked over my body than exercise after a long and possibly frustrating day at the hospital.

   But the secret is that we all have the ability to find a spare moment or two to help our bodies and minds out. Maybe we have to be creative to find those moments, and maybe we have to chose our health and well being over, say, an extra 30 minutes of TV at the end of the day, but those small choices add up to a big reward and major happiness in the long run.

   For me, getting as many nutrients as possible into my body first thing in the morning helps me start everything out on the right foot- whether it be work, a day off or even a vacation. Suddenly energy isn't a question and my focus is spot on for as many hours as I please. It may be a little bit of a bummer that I don't have time to sit down to a relaxing, mindful breakfast followed by a leisurely meditation to start my day, but carrying a big travel cup of major nutrition into work is pretty dang awesome too.

   Green smoothies boost your morning in a huge way; I can't encourage experimenting with these beauties enough. I've read that a 2 cups fruit to 2 cups leafy greens is the best ratio, but I actually prefer 1 1/2 to 2 cups fruit to at least 4 cups leafy greens. Experiment and find your own sweet spot- I bet you will find that over time you prefer your smoothies greener rather than fruitier. Either way, don't sweat it, as Jason Vale once said "If your major vice is an extra bit of banana you're in uber good shape!!"

   As far as exercise goes, those of you who know me know that this is always a work in progress. My motto is a little is better than nothing and I try to remind myself of that as often as I can. I squeeze in a quick walk after lunch (my schedule at the hospital allows for this maybe 3 out of every 5 days), do tricep dips in my office chair and follow that with 30 to 40 squats (door closed and officemates no where to be seen, of course!). It may be years before I have gobs of free time to explore all the cool yoga and fitness classes and hobbies that I want, but in the meantime I remember that lots of little efforts add up to big results.

    And remember: enjoy!

Strawberry Banana Green Smoothie (with vegan option)
Serves one

6 frozen strawberries
1/2 frozen ripe banana (use the whole banana if you prefer your smoothie on the sweeter side)
1 cup unsweetened plain kefir 
1/4 cup cold water
4 cups spinach, well packed

   Place the ingredients in your high speed blender in the order listed. Blend on high until perfectly smooth.
   Dairy free/vegan option: replace the kefir and water with 1/2 cup full fat, unsweetened coconut milk and 1/2 cup water and add half a peeled lemon to the smoothie.

How do I love thee? Let me count the peppers...

Saturday, May 31, 2014

   I once read "there is no love, there are only acts of love." I can't remember where I read it or who should get credit for the original quote. But I remember thinking how stark and true that statement sometimes feels.

   Agree with it entirely? Certainly not. I do believe there is an intangible sense of 'love'- one that defies definition but cocoons you like a snug, reassuring hug at all times, regardless of what is going on with you and your partner. But on the other hand, I think there is a bit of truth in that we perform countless small acts of love for those that mean the most to us- mostly without really thinking about it, some more elaborate than others. And these things, no matter how small, build up to important gestures of care, love and thoughtfulness. How plain and boring life would be without them!

   I mentioned the film Fed Up in my last post. It is hard for me to emphasize the importance of documentaries like this, but suffice it to say that I really feel everyone and their families should seek out a viewing. One of the greatest scams of our (and our parents' and children's) generations is the machine that is the modern food industry. We've somehow been fooled into believing that our man made technologies are smarter, better and healthier than mother nature. We've been told that fats are bad, we need to trust factories to chemically reduce and remove them, providing 'healthier, better, low fat, low sodium' (low anything you chose) products. In reality, we are exchanging the whole package that is real food for a stripped down, factory version that for all intents and purposes are poisons in fancy packages.

  As a perfect example, did you know that every teaspoon of store bought Sriracha sauce has a gram of sugar in it? That means every four teaspoons has an entire teaspoon of sugar! Visually put, for every three pure teaspoons of sriracha, you're eating one full teaspoon of pure white sugar. Crazy!

   Steve loves the rooster sauce. He puts it liberally on everything- eggs, casseroles, tacos, burritos. When he started dabbling in the Paleo diet last year we began to look a little closer at the labels of the foods we buy and guess what? Sugar is the second ingredient labeled on the sriracha bottle. Ingredients must be listed by total weight/volume contributed to the final food product so you can easily imagine what this means. Oh, and the sixth, seventh and eighth ingredients were all chemical preservatives. Steve was devastated.

   Steve loves Sriacha and I love him, so I hunted down some red chilis and whipped up a home made, no ingredient guess work jar of the stuff for him. At the end of the day, food will always be my 'I love you' gesture of choice. I hope you dare to try this recipe- it is a gorgeous, impossibly red hue, totally chemical free, and spicy enough to knock your socks off!

Sriracha-esque Sauce
Adapted from My Darling Lemon Thyme
Makes ~2 cups

   As you can see in the photo, this rooster sauce is a little thicker than the original, store bought stuff. Steve really likes the additional texture, but feel free to press the final product through a fine meshed sieve for a closer approximation of what you can find in the store. Also, if you go to the original recipe, you'll notice the fermentation length is much longer than mine and the ingredients are added in a different order. I tried this but had trouble with mold. No bueno. My version allows for a mellowing and melding of the flavors without risk of losing the whole batch.

20 red chilis (I use red jalapenos but red serranos or thai chilis would also work)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar (just enough to aid in the fermentation step)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

   Remove and discard the green hats from the chilis. Chop the chilis into approximately 1 inch discs and place in either a high speed blender or a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients in with the peppers and process or blend on high until quite smooth (and pleas learn from my mistake by not having your face directly over your blender while taking the top off. You will tear gas yourself.) Place in a clean glass container, cover loosely, and allow to sit at room temperature, out of the sun, for 1 day. After it's sat out, stir the sauce and enjoy! Keep in the refrigerator.

Pharmaceutically Elegant

Sunday, May 25, 2014

    In our beautiful town here in the southeast we have fantastic food. Rich, delicious marriages of southern comfort food with classical French and Italian cuisine. Really, I have nothing to complain about. And yet!

   We are woefully lacking in the ethnic food department. When I lived in buffalo there were teeny holes in the wall run by even teenier Asian women, churning out huge bowls of delightfully ethereal Pho, friendly ladies from Jamaica each with their own version of jerk chicken- so spicy and fragrant it made my eyes water. And the Indian food! There are no words.

   In the early months of our relationship our favorite restaurant was a boisterous Greek place that made the flakiest Spanikopita I've ever had and lamb gyros that I still have dreams about. Although as far as I know baba ghanoush is a traditional Lebanese dish, the owners of this place had their version that Steve just loved- he ordered it every single time we went. I'm not a fan of the eggplant in nearly any recipe, much as I have tried to be, but whizz it up in a silky bowl of baba and I'm in love.

   We've tried baba ghanoush at a few places down here in the south and it's always been a weird, grainy, failure. One of the reasons I love to cook so much is because with a little time and effort, a little care, you can make the things that you and your family love- and make them just exactly as you like them.

   We went and saw the movie Fed Up last night. It is a major eye opener and really drives home just how deceitful and greedy the modern food industry is. In such an unpredictable world full of people just waiting to pour harmful bits of this and that into your food, sometimes that extra bit of control in the kitchen is awfully nice. This dish offers that kind of unusual comfort- slightly exotic and lusciously complex, no guess work or hidden ingredients allowed.

   When I first brought this dish to the table and proudly proffered it to Steve he exclaimed in delight, "It's so pharmaceutically elegant!" At my baffled (and maybe slightly offended- I don't want my food to appear pharmaceutical anything!) look he quickly explained that when a pharmacist compounds a cream, they can haphazardly cram it into a container or they can take the time to smooth the top and make the pleasing finishing swirl. That extra bit of attention and effort results in a pharmaceutically elegant product. Before meeting Steve I never would have believed that such phrases could so melt my heart.

   Whether you enjoy this with chewy chunks of naan or crunchy wedges of carrot, make sure you don't forget the finishing flourish!

Baba Ghanoush
From David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen
Makes approximately 3 cups

2 eggplants (the dark purple globe variety)
1/2 cup tahini
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus a little more for brushing the eggplant and garnish
Freshly squeezed juice from one lemon
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves plus extra for garnish
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

   Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with tin foil. Pierce the eggplants a few times with a sharp knife and trim the stem/caps off. Use tongs to hold them over an open stove flame to get the skins charred all over.  Cut them in half, brush the cut sides with a little bit of olive oil, and sprinkle with some kosher salt. Place cut side down on your prepared baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. They will be very soft and appear a little collapsed at the end of the cooking time. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
   When cool, turn the eggplants over and scoop all the flesh out, discarding the charred skins. Place the flesh along with the remainder of the ingredients (including 1 tablespoon olive oil) in a food processor and process until smooth. Scrape into your serving dish, drizzle with some olive oil and garnish with additional fresh parsley.
   I like to serve this with triangles of naan that have warmed/toasted in the hot oven, or carrot sticks.

The Roots

Sunday, May 11, 2014

   I've mentioned here before that I associate many people in my life with certain foods. For my grandma, that food is rhubarb.

   My grandma was many, many things but the first I think of when she comes to mind is the amazing, patient gardener she was. She had a knack for coaxing things to grow in abundance, for knowing what the earth needed to be just the right environment for flowers, vegetables and fruits. She wasn't afraid of the deep, dark winters of the northeast that could last far longer than winter has any business lasting. She simply planted things that could survive the cold and come back with sweet vigor in the spring. She canned and jarred things like tomatoes and other vegetables to enjoy during the colder months- most especially, she made jars upon jars of rhubarb jam.

    Rhubarb grows well in the north and, although a vegetable, the sweet, deep red stalks often are prepared like fruit, such as in jams and pies. Grandma's rhubarb jam is one of my favorite childhood memories. I just loved the ruby hued, gooey sweet luxury of that stuff spread all over a salty cracker: eaten slowly, chops licked, repeated as many times as my little heart desired. I imagine all vegetables that masquerade as fruit balance the world of sweet and tart as masterfully as rhubarb does.

 Grandma kept her rhubarb patch in the same place since as long ago as I can remember- and my earliest memories of the rhubarb garden were probably from when I was about four. Last week, hours after her funeral, I walked with my parents and sister to that patch of garden and there the rhubarb was in the exact spot that I remembered- fledgling, spring sprouts struggling to the surface, already their leaves a vibrant green. We unearthed small pieces of the tuberous plant, divided them amongst ourselves and took them home with us. Grandma's rhubarb is now happily growing not only in her backyard, but in my sister's and mom's in the midwest, and here in mine in the deep south, the stalks just beginning to blush pink.

   I'm celebrating my own mother this mother's day; she's one of my closest friends, the person I often turn to for advice, comfort and, of course, just good fun. Mom taught me and my siblings how to forge our own paths- she decided to homeschool us even though she knew no one who was doing such a thing and nearly all her friends and relatives told her she was crazy. She raised five kids and after all of that decided to go to medical school and become a family physician. Mom has always sent the message that nothing is impossible; if you can imagine it, you can make it so. I'm thankful she's my mum every day, but especially this day.

   And, I'm celebrating the life of my dad's mom. Grandma appreciated nature, family and good food made right in her own kitchen. She taught me how to properly soak french toast and was totally unfazed by how picky an eater I was- hence her knack for getting me hooked on things like rhubarb. I'd like to think she would enjoy this crumble- it's certainly not her jam, but it comes close.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
Serves 8 to 10, generously

For the filling:
6 cups rhubarb, cut in half lengthwise then chopped into 1/2 inch chunks (greens and dried ends discarded)
4 cups strawberries (whole, quartered or sliced- it is your preference)
Zest of half a lemon
Juice of half a lemon
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter

For the topping:
2 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 stick butter (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces), cut into 1 tablespoon sized pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.

Make the filling: mix all the ingredients except for the butter together in a mixing bowl. Place the filling in the prepared baking dish, smoothing it out. Use your fingers to pinch small pieces of the butter and place them over the top of the filling.

Make the topping: place 1 cup of the oats in a food processor and process until very fine. Add the butter, salt, brown sugar and vanilla extract and process until incorporated. Place this mixture in a bowl and use your hands to knead and smush in the remaining 1 1/2 cups oats. Sprinkle this evenly over your filling. Cover the whole thing with tin foil.

Bake for 30 minutes, covered with the foil. Remove the foil and bake for 40 minutes more until the filling is tender and bubbling and the topping is golden brown.

Serve warm with generous scoops of vanilla bean ice cream.

How Green It Is

Monday, May 5, 2014

There is a reason death is so difficult to confine to words. It defies description and confounds the mind. It's permanent yet elusive- at times devastating, at times a mournful, expected price to a happy and fully lived life.

I won't pretend to have an eloquent summation of what death means handy for you today. But I have experienced both kinds of losses this year- the unexpected and devastating, the quietly mournful and expected. Neither is welcome, both are hard. Both require time and more time to figure out how to assimilate into something resembling the fabric of your life. Sometimes it never quite fits and always stands out- like a starkly bare patch amidst an otherwise lushly cultivated garden.

Either way, often times our only defense during hard times is a resilient body, one that can weather the storm for us while our minds reel about for a while. My go to source of energy and nutrition dense enough to effortlessly carry me through my day recently has been breakfast green smoothies. It's taken me a little bit to solidly get on the green smoothie band wagon but now that I'm here, holy heck am I converted. All this green smoothie goodness is made possible by my brand new Vitamix blender (a kitchen implement I've been drooling over for at least five years: drawn by its sleek power, repulsed by its offensive but obviously worth every penny price). I finally took the plunge and found a way to get one of those babies into my life and I am so thankful I did.

There is something deeply calming and satisfying about sipping a glass teeming with such vibrancy and flavor first thing in the morning. Not only do smoothies like this one taste like life itself, but they feed the soul in a peaceful, almost meditative way.

Tomorrow I get on a plane for a funeral and I know this green beauty will keep me energized and grounded during the flight and difficult next few days.

I almost didn't write this post- too sad, too dark for a place I associate with happiness, life and good food- but I think it's important to acknowledge the bitter as well as the sweet. And mostly I wrote this because I hope you make one of these smoothies for yourself soon and take a moment to appreciate the power of a strong and nourished body in the face of hard times.

Also, it's jasmine season here in the south. Sweet, heady heaven.

Green Warrior Smoothie
Serves 1
3 small leaves green curly kale, destemmed and stems discarded
4 cups fairly well packed baby spinach
1/2 cup full fat unsweetened coconut milk (this brand is my favorite)
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple

Load the ingredients into your blender in the order listed. Blend on high until perfectly smooth. Drink through a straw- this increases the happiness factor.

In a Flash

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I don't need to tell you how time flies. So I won't. Let's get to it.

There was the time I became a second year resident four years after graduating medical school. It was bitterly wonderful and only briefly did I ponder the 'what if' of making the correct career choice right off the bat.

This little girl turned two years old. She celebrated by consuming no less than three ten inch retriever raw hides in record time.

There was a wedding. It was everything I didn't know that I had been dreaming of since I met Steve. It was warm, beachy, isolated in a tropical remote island sort of way and involved all the people I love most in this world. Our wedding is one of those memories that holds the power to transport me to a place of perfect peace, serenity and love every single time I recall it. I can't even begin to fathom my good fortune or the amount that I love my family and my new husband.

As for right now, there is a much needed home renovation going on. As excited as I am to take a bath in a tub not created in 1942 (not joking) I'm somehow perhaps even more excited about the teeny tiny barn my father is constructing in the back yard while the various grouts, paints and sealants dry in the bathroom. That adorable little barn (a coop really, but it's much too perfectly constructed and adorable to call it a coop) will house.... chickens! Plucky, clucky, feathery friends who will scratch around our yard, eat our bugs and provide us with richly yellow yolked, delightful, delicious eggs. Not to mention every time I see them I will get a small piece of my childhood back- moments in time of earthy creation and connection to sweet farm animals and fresh air. I simply cannot wait for those soft, peepy little chicks to arrive in the mail.

With that project came many glasses of this perfectly frosty, fruit infused white wine. Words cannot do justice. Recipe to follow.

Of course, there was much more than that, things not worth mentioning and things too darkly personal and difficult to try and confine to a page (just yet anyway).

As for the recipe- it is the perfect marriage of spring and winter. It is deeply rich in flavor, surprisingly light for something so satisfying, and just plain beautiful. I serve it alongside fish or just by itself. It's the perfect weeknight date: no accessories required, just like the pretty, dishy little lady it is.

Pepita Beet Salad
Makes 6 servings

5 medium to small sized beets, peeled, washed and chopped into 1/2 inch sized chunks
8 medium sized carrots, washed and cut into 1 inch sized chunks
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt (can substitute 1/2 teaspoon of the finely ground stuff)
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 cup roughly chopped baby spinach
1/3 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

   Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the beets in an 8 inch square baking dish along with 1 tablespoon of the oil and half of the salt. Do the same with the carrots in a separate baking dish. You may need a slightly larger dish for the carrots to get them into roughly one layer (but don't sweat it too much). Toss them each to combine. Cover the beets with foil. Place them in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, undisturbed. They both will be fork tender and the carrots will be nicely caramelized when finished.
   Remove them from the oven and place them in a medium mixing bowl. Set them aside to cool when you prepare the rest of the ingredients. They should be warm but not scorching hot before you continue.
   Sprinkle the beets/carrots with the vinegar. Add in the feta cheese, parsley, spinach and pepitas. Gently toss to combine.