Lemony Bulgur Tabouleh

Ok. I admit it. I googled what Jennifer Aniston eats. Turns out she’s a fan of salads, no surprise there!

Apparently her favorite go-to salad is a crisp cucumber, bulgur, chickpea salad with fresh mint and parsley. Bulgur is actually a great grain to add to your diet as it’s in rich in vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, iron and other vital minerals as well as making it a solid plant-based protein. Bulgur is also a low glycemic food with fewer calories yet twice the fiber of rice – about 25% of your daily needs in one cup. And seriously it is THE quickest and easiest grain to prepare; just add 1.5 cups hot water to 1 cup of bulgur and let it sit in a bowl for 10 minutes then fluff it with a fork!

For this lemony tabouleh I omitted the feta and pistachios that are featured in The Jennifer Salad but I will try that next time for some crunch. I opted for medium grain bulgur but you can also try coarse grain or fine grain depending on your palette. Just combine all ingredients once the bulgur is cooled. I paired this with kalamata olives, tomatoes and whole wheat pita pocket which was great after a summer’s July 4th bike ride and day outside. Remember – don’t skimp on the fresh herbs!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked bulgur
  • 1 cucumber, skinned and diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 – 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Mediterranean Fennel Barley Soup

One of my all-time favorite ingredients are lemons. It’s such a versatile citrus packed with vitamin C and adds a distinct tartness to any roasted vegetable. It’s also become my go-to for soup broths that are laden with heavy grains or beans. The lemon juice complements the soft creamy fennel, earthy fire roasted tomatoes and hearty barley in this stew so nicely along with a sprinkle of salty Parmesan on top!

This original recipe came from Eating Well but I switched the white beans to chickpeas and added the lemon juice which really brightened it up. This ones in my fridge for the entire week and only cost about $20 (I doubled the recipe).

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 14-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup quick-cooking barley
  • 1 5-ounce package baby spinach (6 cups)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel, garlic, and basil; cook, stirring frequently, until tender and just beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, broth and barley into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice then add spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat. Serve and top with Parmesan cheese.

A little summer stroll…

Enjoying a rare date night dance at friend Tom and Haeley’s wedding… whiskey in hand

Totally Awesome Asian Swiss Chard Salad

I love any salad that can be tossed with a cold cup of pasta for a hearty, fresh and easy meal either on-the-go or at home with kids. This Asian Swiss Chard salad recipe relies only on your basic knife skills and a quick assembly time, making it a versatile and vitamin-packed addition to your typical work lunch repertoire. The Brianna’s Home Style Ginger Mandarin dressing was on sale for $2.99 this week and is going to a fridge staple in our house as it packs a punch with its zingy creamy gingery flavor. This dish has potential for a great vegan Buddha bowl and can be combined with other key ingredients like avocado, sesame seeds, or nuts.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup broccoli cole slaw
  • 1 cucumber, peeled seeded and sliced into half moons
  • 1 red pepper, julienned
  • 1 yellow pepper, julienned
  • 1 bunch rainbow Chard, stemmed and roughly diced
  • 2 cups edamame
  • Chilled cooked pasta

Yo-Yo Parenting

 It’s happened again. Another weekend gone by of overly-ambitious family planning, followed by self-doubt, and soon disappointment in the promises I can’t keep for myself. The weekend started with an inspirational vegan cooking class, and ended with me eating a skillet cookie with ice cream. 

My goals may seem simple: make my kids laugh, have a selfish moment, learn something new, remind my husband why we fell in love, have a boost of confidence, strive to do better, acknowledge I’m far from perfect. 

Some days start off being positive, but end up just feeling insurmountable. There really isn’t a word to encapsulate the bitterness you feel after a particularly rough day of parenting. It’s like the YoYo diet self-loathing effect, when one special moment of joy comes crashing down into pitiful pain the next, over and over into an endless vortex.

How does one value the little time you have to yourself when the weekends are no longer your own? How do you find inspiration when you live in a world of diaper checks? How do you find passion when your day is measured by Toddler-Time-Outs, or mental clarity when a sneaker has been thrown at your head, or laughter and joy when heads are turning because your family is “causing a scene” at a restaurant? How can you feel attractive when you only have five minutes to get dressed?

Case in point: this morning we were eager to get the kids out of the house at 9:00am, when my husband casually asked me if I needed to get dressed before we left. Then he started to put the kids shoes on. Not HOW MUCH time I needed, or if I needed a shower. We’ve simply progressed to IF I needed to put on clothes. I was in a sleep shirt, no bra, no makeup. Not sure if he noticed. New goal for next weekend – make eye contact with spouse in the morning.

I know our kids are young and energetic and this too shall pass. I’m getting sick of hearing that advice. My low point of the weekend was really when I got puked on and we learned that Everett is allergic to walnuts. BUT my highlight was when the kids dragged me outside today to do “water play” in 80 degree humidity when all I really wanted was to sit alone in private misery and read a book. And in the end, the joy on their faces from the simple act of being soaked in the mud with a hose pipe was nothing short of spectacular. This is the reminder of “living” I strive for each day. And even though I feel miserable and lost and so so tired right now … I know that’s okay, we are bound together by the brazen and the beautiful, and tomorrow is another day!

Daddy’s “selfish” moment trying to do yoga in the morning but getting discovered… 

Parents are Liars

When a parent is asked how their weekend was and they say “GREAT!” they are lying half the time. I know this because I did it this morning. Unless you are the patron saint of patience and kids screaming “NOOOOOO you DON’T say that to ME” and swiping punches in the air and throwing sharp objects at you then slamming doors for three days doesn’t bother you, and sleeping in is no longer a wish and dream, and meals aren’t avoided simply because you don’t want to clean up afterwards, then congratulations you are a parent.  Even the best of us with the best intentions get lost in a big way sometimes.

Last Friday my husband and I took a vacation day from work to take the kids to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. We wanted to expose them to something new and exciting; tigers getting their belly scratched, clowns falling off ladders, eating salty popcorn, sitting in a big amphitheater watching motorcycles weave around each other in the metal sphere of doom. We had every intention of enjoying our big day off! We bought three tickets for the circus assuming Everett would happily sit on our lap. Five elephants came out on stage and then just as quickly disappeared before a ring leader in sequins sang a terrible song that didn’t stop for 10 minutes. Everett got antsy, and was happier running down the ramp in the abandoned concessions area away from the crowd while mommy pretended to be a tiger. Never mind that there were real tigers not 100 feet away that we had paid $50 to see. Asher was over-stimulated and thrown off by the lack of focus of the show. He wanted to sit in my lap and talk gibberish. He acted like he hadn’t slept in days, and it was only 10:00am. The popcorn made him insatiably thirty. A bottle of water cost $5 and the straw wasn’t long enough to stick out the bottle mouth. In the end we got use out of one ticket. For half the show. They both screamed at intermission that they were starving but they didn’t want to eat anything. As my husband left the theater carrying a screaming Asher in a fireman’s hold, I distracted Everett with airplanes in the sky as though that were part of the big show. And that was only Friday.

We recently signed up for Sitter City in search of a babysitter for sanity breaks and had scheduled the whole day on Saturday to be home for interviews. Two were a no-call no-show, and one cancelled at the last minute. By 2:00pm the house was a mess and I felt a vague sense of panic. We went out for an early dinner thinking getting out of the house would be key. A walk in the dark to a restaurant would be fun! Asher does not understand Daylight Savings. He’s 4. He was scared. “I CAN’T SEE ANYTHIIIIING!!” At dinner, everything was thrown on the ground; toys, food, crayons, my phone. We smiled embarrassedly at restaurant customers, but not too much so because we spend enough money at this restaurant for family date night. I chugged a martini, Robby choked down dinner, and we rushed home for another two painful hours of alternating moments of sheer joy followed by welting tears of unhappiness with two zombie children. At bedtime, we were speechless.

On Sunday, we actually spent a lovely morning with my husband’s family. The kids were flirty, joyful, conversational and sweet. They ate lunch nicely at the table, they engaged with the adults. We thought this was a good sign. We thought we would let them nap in the car while I did grocery shopping. That was a mistake. By the time 4:00pm rolled around and I started my cooking for the week, these two no-nap children and a husband who has been complaining of stomach pain for 2 weeks now were just gearing up for 4 hours of hell. Asher wanted every baby toy, Everett wanted to cling on my leg while I poured a steaming hot pot of water down the sink, no television show would satiate both children, the chocolate ice cream had melted in the box because it got left out of the freezer for too long since grocery shopping, so mommy had made an empty promise. I pulled a lasagna out of the oven while Everett ran for the open oven door with extended arms. The joint screaming of the kids got louder to a pitch range that I did not know existed to human ears.

In moments like this, you are lost. You wish you could just walk away. That you could hand a bad situation over to someone and scream HELP ME. But you can’t. There is no one. You have to push through. And then at 9:00pm when the house is finally quiet, you get your husband who fell asleep in your child’s room out of sheer desperation and exhaustion and you just go to bed. You are defeated. There is nothing left to say. In the morning, the kids will wake up refreshed and happy and clueless to reality. And you tell the teachers you had a great time at the circus and Asher proudly says he saw dinosaurs. Because that’s what you do.

You know how sometimes small tasks make you feel better because you can cross them off a list? This morning after I dropped off the kids at school I threw away a few boxes of garbage, I cut off  tags from new clothes, and I cleaned out the coat closet. And you know what? I am feeling better. I have my lunches ready for the week. And I actually can’t wait to see those damn kids again when I pick them up from school at 5:30pm. I love them so much, I lie. But only half the time.

the hug

Spaghetti with Lemon and Toasted Walnuts

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My worst nightmare? The kids going to bed happy and early. Why? Because it’s too good to be true. Zonking out dazed and speaking tongues inevitably means that someone will be jarred awake with night terrors in two hours. And that they’ll be up at 4:00am ready to start the day. Let’s go! But I guess I’m willing to take that risk tonight because my husband and I would like one hour together. Without children. One wondrous hour watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine so we can mock the overacting and the spectacularly absurd plot twists. Like Major Kira having O’Brien’s baby because it got zapped from Keiko’s body in some interstellar battle. Whatever.

Tonight we enjoyed this cold zesty zippy pasta dish with whole wheat spaghetti, spicy fresh chopped garlic and a fresh lemon, parsley olive oil marinade. It comes from Vegetarian Times and could easily be made vegan without the Parmesan cheese. This dish paired with a side salad will last us the work week and only cost about $10 – not bad for a healthy dish that even my 4 year old enjoyed!

SPAGHETTI WITH LEMON AND TOASTED WALNUTS
1 cup walnut halves
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tsp. grated organic lemon zest
1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. spaghetti
1 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast walnuts on baking sheet 10 minutes. Cool, and coarsely chop. Whisk together cheese, oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and pepper in large bowl. Cook pasta according to package directions. Add drained pasta to cheese mixture, and toss to combine. Stir in parsley and walnuts, and season with salt and more pepper.

Putta-A-Fork-In-It Puttanesca

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It’s been two months of major changes in our household: two new jobs, new school, potty training, no more baby bottles, toddler bed to queen size, new nanny, first airplane ride with the kids. Change is hard. So this weekend was the beginning of a recommitment to my mind and body, and therefore my family. On Friday I finally joined the gym and reactivated my Weight Watchers app, and today I spent a majority of the day solo parenting to give my husband – who is my soldier in the trenches of the night – a much deserved break. These things may seem so simple and even carefree to most people, but the truth is these tasks seem insurmountable when you’re in a lousy state of mind.

When the membership director asked me what my fitness goal was I joked “To get here.” But what IS my goal here? I have a few. To not loudly sigh in annoyance at 4:30am when the baby screams through the monitor, to not slam the fridge door a bit too hard just to make a point, to go to bed tired in a good way and wake up refreshed (that’s one’s crazy!) and most importantly to find a meaningful getaway that gets me out of the house in a bad moment and do something good for my body. I will tell you jumping into a pool for water aerobics while listening to Lord of the Dance made me smile! So I guess you could say my ultimate goal here is to improve my attitude.

The nice thing about Weight Watchers is that nothing is “off limits”, just unashamedly tracked. So I don’t mind sharing today’s recipe for a vegan Puttanesca that is out of this world.

PUTTA-FORK-IN-IT PUTTANESCA

1 box spaghetti, cooked al dente
1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch basil
1 red onion, slivered into thin moon shapes
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/4 cup capers, drained
6 garlic cloves, diced
Olive oil

Boil pasta “al dente” according to package instructions, typically 10 minutes. While cooking, add a dollop of olive oil and cook onions and garlic on medium high heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add capers and cook additional 2-3 minutes. Finally, throw in tomatoes, olives and basil and cook 5 more minutes. Add about 1/8 cup olive oil to pasta then mix in puttanesca topping. Salt and pepper to taste.

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A good night…