Gracious and Kind

Last week I visited Costco for the first time in over a year. As I pulled in to the packed parking lot late on a Saturday morning I immediately regretted my decision and developed a paralyzing sense of agoraphobia. For those of us that have been holed up online shopping for the past year, this reaction should be expected and the notion of “exposure therapy” came to mind. My mantra today was to be gracious and kind as I maneuvered through the manic highway of Costco shopping carts that simultaneously drive at full speed AND park in both directions of the main aisles. So I parked the end of the lot, masked up, and set out to navigate the sea of tantalizing packaged goods.

After a fruitful hour, I proudly pulled up to the check-out aisles, arriving at the same exact moment another woman with her two young daughters pulled up to the same spot from another direction. I said I was waiting in line to check-out, and she quickly shouted “NO you weren’t I was here FIRST!” and then pushed her cart closer to push mine out of the way. Gracious and kind. Gracious and kind. Deep breath. I asked her to move up then so I could pass to another line on the side. “OOOH” she continued. “Nope. I’m not gonna move for you.” The way she snapped and stared at me with those piercing eyes in her tight pink jogger shorts, white sneakers and white fitted hoodie as her two pretty little girls watched on. The way she held up her pointer finger and punctuated “not gonna move FOR YOU” in this decisive and precise moment of putrid hate. I immediately regretted my mantra. “It’s common courtesy, you know?” I said, raising my voice a little. “You’re blocking the aisle” I pointed to an elderly couple trying to push through to the vitamin aisle from behind her. They were watching me with pleading eyes. It was like Disneyland on Christmas Day but with no joy. “Go around the aisle!” she said to me, pushing her cart to block me even more, but this was said loud enough so the elderly couple behind her sadly pushed their cart backwards for a long way to get and around another aisle before disappearing into the abyss.

I swiftly jumped to an opening in an aisle that suddenly shortened to my left, defiantly keeping my back to her even as I awkwardly held two large storage bins in my left arm held up with my knee while pushing a cart full of groceries with just my right hand. If I’m going to go down, I’m going to do it with a dancer’s ease. But before I knew it I was already putting my items down and swiping my credit card and she hadn’t even moved one inch in her line. “Mommmyyyyyy!” I heard one of her girls whine. “She’s checking out before us!” I could feel the searing heat on my back. I heard this above all the noise of the cashiers beeping and the chip bags rustling and the credit card swiping and the shopping carts rattling and the hundreds of voices in the cafe ordering pizza. I finished checking out in silent victory and I looked back to give her a quick shrug and a smile. Gracious and kind, right?

GREEK BLACK LENTILS

Lentils are an excellent pantry staple because they are quick-cooking and work well in almost any type of cuisine. Beluga lentils, also known as black lentils, have a shiny round black shape that often remind people of caviar but with a delicate earthy flavor and are an excellent source of protein. This dish combines the Mediterranean flavors of a vibrant Greek salad with earthy lentils with and is finished with a sunny and bright lemon and mint dressing. This is a hearty dish for Fall that lasts all week in the fridge.

Salad Ingredients

  • 2 cups beluga cooked lentils
  • 1 (14-oz) can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • ½ seedless cucumber, diced in quarters with skin on
  • ½ pint of cherry tomatoes, diced in half
  • ½ cup chopped parsley 
  • ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, whole
  • ½ cup fresh feta cheese

Mint Lemon Dressing

  • Juice from 2 large lemons
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (flavored oils make a great addition to this dressing)
  • 3 TB fresh mint, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Bring a medium pot of water to boil then and add lentils. Turn down to medium heat and cook for 25 – 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain and let cool to room temperature. In a large serving bowl, add salad ingredients to lentils, then pour the dressing over and toss to mix. Let salad rest for 30 minutes before serving to allow the lentils to soak up the flavors. 

Farmer’s Market Farro Salad

There is something magical about shopping for farm-fresh produce, cheeses, baked goods, and flowers from your local farmer’s market, and now is truly the best time of year to explore these markets and road-side stands because there is such an enormous bounty of produce in season. I love a no-lettuce salad, and this simple Farmer’s Market Farro Salad combines the flavors of warm grilled vegetables, salty olives, fresh sweet peaches, and tangy citrus dressing. Farro is my favorite quick-cook grain as it’s high in fiber, protein, and nutrients and has a delightfully chewy and nutty flavor that makes it ideal for warm or cold recipes. This dish is highly adaptable depending on whatever ingredients you pick up at the market, so don’t be afraid to experiment with produce and herbs and throw in what you have! 

SALAD INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound of Farro, cook al dente according to package in a medium pot or rice cooker (typically 10-15 minutes)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 3 cups mixed grilled vegetables (this week I used eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, asparagus)
  • 1 cup mixed pitted kalamata and green olives
  • 1 cup fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 TB fresh parsley, diced
  • 2 peaches, chopped
  • 1 TB extra virgin olive oil

DRESSING

  • 2 large lemons, juiced
  • 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 TB Dijon mustard 
  • ½ tsp maple syrup
  • ¼ tsp salt

Cook Farro according to package and then let cool to room temperature. Chop vegetables into 1” cubes and toss to coat with olive oil, then grill on a sheet pan in oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or grill over BBQ in large slices then chop smaller once fully cooked. Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Add warm vegetables, fresh peaches, chickpeas, and parsley to a large bowl with Farro, drizzle with dressing then toss well with to coat. Serve immediately, and salt to taste.

We celebrated our 13th anniversary last month with a museum visit to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit, vegan and fish sushi, cocktails, cupcakes and a hike!

Father’s Day with a back yard knight’s templar scavengar hunt and escape room activity! More fun for dad than kids methinks, but still a fun find on Etsy. Managed to find some to relax and in the heat.

Roasted Corn and Snap Pea Salad

These last few weeks have brought a lot of emotional milestones to our lives. Last day of school. First time eating at a restaurant. Good-byes to friends who are moving, but also hellos to family we haven’t seen in 15 months. And also… summer weather!

I would like to introduce you to my new favorite summer recipe that has been buzzing around the internet lately – the Roasted Corn and Snap Pea Salad. This addictive and versatile dish can be whipped up in less than 10 minutes for a quick and easy standalone meal or served as the perfect side dish to your summer BBQ. Warm sweet roasted corn, cool and crunchy snap peas, and salty feta are all combined with a lush orange citrus vinaigrette that demands you sit outside and bask in that summer garden sun! This easy recipe is full of unexpected flavors and will quickly become your new go to shareable summer salad.

Salad Ingredients 

  • 2 ears of corn
  • 1 bag of sugar snap peas, sliced
  • ½ cup crumbled feta
  • 1 TB olive oil

Vinaigrette

  • Juice of 1 naval orange OR 2 mandarin oranges
  • 1/8 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Slice snap peas taken fresh from refrigerator and place in a salad bowl. Using a knife, remove kernels from the fresh corn cob and sauté in pan on medium heat with olive oil, turning constantly until slightly caramelized. Alternatively, you can grill the corn, carefully turning until fully toasted and then slice off cooked kernels. Add warm corn kernels to the snap peas and top with the crumbled feta. In a small bowl, whisk together the champagne vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, and garlic, then toss salad to coat with the vinaigrette. Top with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper and serve fresh.

Pomegranate Mint Citrus Salad

Pomegranates represent eternal life and fertility in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, but over the centuries this divine red fruit has also come to symbolize power in cultures across the globe. Today, pomegranates play an important role in Middle Eastern and even Chinese cuisine and their juices have been used in everything from Oriental carpet dyes to the Indian Ayurveda system of traditional medicine because of their rich vitamin and antioxidant healing properties. Pomegranates are even consumed during the Jewish New Year as the fruit supposedly contains the mystical number of 613 seeds corresponding with the commandments in the Torah. With all this rich history of symbolism throughout history, this often underrated fruit also happens to add a delightfully sweet and tart crunchy bite to any dish. You may want to double up on ingredients if you are serving a crowd!


INGREDIENTS:
1 ruby red grapefruit
1 navel orange
1 blood orange
2 clementines
1 handful of fresh mint leaves, diced with a few sprigs for serving
¼ cup of chopped pistachios, unshelled and salted
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
2 TB honey

Working with one fruit at a time, slice into 1/4’’ thick rounds, discarding the top and bottom and
trimming off the peels with a sharp knife to remove all the bitter white pith. Arrange these rounds into a colorful overlapping pattern on a platter, then drizzle with honey and sprinkle with pistachios, pomegranate seeds, mint, and salt. Chill in fridge for about an hour before serving.

The TJ’s Salad

As a parent, I really struggle with dietary labels. The other day I filled out a work conference form and was requested to list my dietary needs. In the past, I have written “Vegetarian” and was always disappointed with the limp vegetables smothered in cream sauce that arrived at my table and which prompted burdensome questions from other guests. Then I switched to “Pescetarian” because at least I can indulge in a rare piece of fish while showing my table neighbors that it’s acceptable to talk to me because we are all consuming a form of meat together.

But lately, I’ve also cut most cheese and eggs from my diet, which is confusing because it’s more than just Pescetarian, and I recently learned that dairy doesn’t include eggs because eggs aren’t dairy. Just cheese and milk is dairy. News to me! But I do still use a dab of cream in my tea every morning, which isn’t a problem until someone says I’m a “Vegan” and then I feel like an imposter. Because I  don’t consider myself a vegan either. And I mean, Oreos are vegan and there are fat vegans out there so what does that label even mean to me at this point in my life? Labels just seem to make people confrontational and a little bit angry. It’s like people think I’m showing up with protest signs or have starved myself for days with this radical diet before I come over for dinner. And to complicate matters more, I also stopped drinking coffee a few months ago because I never much liked the taste and frequently had indigestion, so now people think I don’t do caffeine – which I do. I drink endless cups of highly caffeinated tea every single day.

Then I observe endless variety of creative and socially acceptable response cards on tables from “Meatless Friday” (during Lent), “Meatless Monday” (I guess that’ s a label now?), and of course the obligatory allergy needs “No Nuts”. My younger son is allergic to walnuts and pecans – a very clear and easy label – and risk of death is definitely an exception to my plight and that never provokes a response. I recently joined a Facebook group called “80% WFPD (whole food plant based) which when I tried to describe it to a friend just sounded comical. Why can’t I just say “feed me something that isn’t bad, and is digestible with vegetables and some healthy plant-based protein to get me through the next few hours”??

So lately I have begun to identify myself as a Nutritarian. This term was developed and mass marketed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his popular book “Eat to Live”. It refers to a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet supporting impressive long-term health benefits which is backed by science. So basically if you’re going to eat 100 calories, you want to eat 100 calories of food that makes you feel fuller for longer with more energy and is packed with vital vitamins and minerals. And if you really wanted to get into an ethical debate, you could talk about the biology of human evolution and what we now know about early human diets, or you could talk about how the archaic food pyramid was updated to My Plate in 2011 which is more inclusive of plant-based nutrition, and you could  debate the impact of global farming on our planet and climate change. BUUUUUT I won’t do that today. The recent documentary “The Gamechangers” does a great job explaining all this, so just watch that instead.

What I do really like about this label of Nutritarian is that it moves away from the morality of what I eat and focuses more on the science. It’s also a term that seems less scary to others and maybe a bit more progressive in terms of the food pyramid. I still eat bread and pasta every day, but sprouted grain bread and whole wheat pasta. In fact, I literally eat ALL THE TIME. I am aware of high level protein sources now that I never thought of beyond beans and tofu before like quinoa, oatmeal, peas, and seeds. I eat more calcium from one plate of greens than I would have gotten from a glass of milk. I sleep better and I’m slightly more motivated to move my body, but that may be because I’m also drinking in moderation these days — like, not EVERY DAY. Just when it’s been a shit day or I want to date my husband every now and then. And as a parent, I strive to educate my kids on what they put into their bodies and how it effects them, now how other people label them or whether they should feel shame about eating a turkey sandwich every now and then at school. Which they do.

Anyway, with the recent fall weather quickly transitioning to snow, I was craving a hearty green and grain salad this week and stopped by Trader Joe’s to pick up a few of my favorites. Trader Joe’s has a nice variety of precooked, prepackaged items that really make a great dish when you’re in a pinch, either for one or served on a large platter for a holiday crowd. This time I used their Cruciferous Crunch Salad as a base with a selection of cooked beets, kalamata olives, Persian cucumbers, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, farro and a giant bag of fresh haricot green beans which I blanched for 5 min but could also be eaten raw. Other variations I love from their refrigerated section include the precooked brown lentils and the fingerling potatoes. In place of farro you could also throw in some quinoa or rice. I topped it off with some lightly pan fried Lightlife bacon for more of a cobb salad flavor. I typically use balsamic vinegar for dressing, but tahini mixed with lemon juice is pretty amazing if you don’t want anything dairy-based. I also grabbed a little ginger lemon kambucha back tea for $2.99 – mwuah! Love it. So no real recipe today folks, just some tidbits on great plant-based food options in a one-stop shop that I enjoyed this week.

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

Not Yet Summer Cobb Salad

Well it’s spring here in Chicago which means either it’s the 97th day of January OR the sun busts out after a long, dormant winter and vibrant baby green blooms burst forth! The last few days have been rather fickle, but thinking of summer gardens and long walks on the beach got me in the mood for a nice salad so today I opted for a vegetarian Cobb salad which I especially love because it can be adapted with so many ingredients if you feel adventurous. I used a spinach base topped with freshly boiled red and white baby potatoes tossed in a balsamic vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon dressing. But the biggest surprise here was the salty blue cheese, creamy egg and tart green apple combo which I will definitely be making again!!

Not Yet Summer Cobb Salad

  • Spinach salad base, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
  • 1/3 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, largely diced
  • 1/4 avocado, diced
  • 1 TB blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 cup boiled red and white potatoes, cut into quarters

Perfect Panzanella 

After a very hectic two months of life upheaval, we are officially suburbanites now – and I absolutely love it! Never thought I would. I guess you never know where you’re headed in life until the opportunity practically hits you in the face and suddenly you’ve found it.

Well, to celebrate the family getting settled we hosted our first gathering for Father’s Day and I made one of my all time favorite dishes – Panzanella. I always forget how versatile and easy this dish really is. It’s perfect as a side dish for dinner or a main dish for lunch, and works for all seasons. It’s also easy to prep and have ready for a big crowd. The secret is the fresh herbs paired with those rich, juicy vine ripe tomatoes that balance with the acidity from a vinaigrette that gets soaked up by … wait for it, that highly addictive chunky, crusty, toasty bread. OMG!! This ones based on the Ina Garten recipe, except I used red wine vinegar instead of champagne vinegar and I also added a tad of parsley:


Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 small French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/2-inch thick moon shapes
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
  • 15 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saute pan on medium heat, then add the bread and salt; tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. 


Suburban deer… 

Cowboy Caviar

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A few weeks ago I found out about Cowboy Caviar after I had made a simple bean salad that was reminiscent to someone of this recipe which they shared with me. Not only do I love the name, but I also love it’s simplicity and subtle different flavors that really make this recipe shine. The spicy base of black-eyed peas, avocado, corn and tomatoes combined with the red wine vinegar hot sauce is simply dynamite on a bed of romaine lettuce with crumbled tortilla chips on top – and it didn’t even need additional dressing.

The good news is that black-eyed peas are cheap, high in protein, and low in calories, cholesterol and saturated fat. They also have a good amount of potassium and iron. If you are concerned about iron intake on a vegetarian diet, beans and dried fruit (such as raisins and apricots) will more than compensate what you don’t get from red meat. Additionally, eating foods high in vitamin C will actually increase iron absorption in the body. So enjoy this salad with a handful of dried fruit for a healthy, nutritious meal!

COWBOY CAVIAR
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 firm-ripe avocado (about 10 oz.)
1 can (15 oz.) black-eyed peas
1 can (11 oz.) corn kernels
2/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Salt

In a large bowl, mix vinegar, hot sauce, oil, garlic, and pepper. Cut avocado into 1/2-inch cubes. Add to vinegar mixture and mix gently to coat.
Drain and rinse peas and corn. Add peas, corn, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes to avocado; mix gently to coat. Add salt to taste.

Mexican Quinoa Salad

mexican quinoa saladQuinoa is an amazing and versatile ingredient that is cholestorol-free, fat-free, and high in protein, iron and fiber. It is also a complete protein, which means it provides all of the essential amino acids. I use quinoa as a substitute for pasta and other grains because it is AWESOME. In fact, when Asher was a baby I used to mix cooked spinach with apple sauce and quinoa in a bowl and he literally could not shovel it down his throat fast enough! However, as soon as his fine motor skills developed he learned that this concoction also made a nice splatter of mess all over the walls and floors, and then quinoa became purely an adult entree in our household. This week we enjoyed a delicious Mexican Quinoa Salad that would make a delicious addition to picnics or dinner parties, and also would work nicely as a stuffing in peppers if you want to make something easy to keep in the fridge for the weeek.

MEXICAN QUINOA SALAD

1 cup quinoa
2 ears of corn, “kerneled”
1 green pepper, diced
1 can black beans, drained
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of 2 limes
Salsa
Queso fresco

Boil 1 1/2 cups water is small sauce pan, then add quinoa and simmer for 20 minutes. In small bowl, combine lime juice, salt, cumin, chili powder and cumin. When quinoa is cooked, let cool for an additional 20 minutes. Combine in mixing bowl with corn kernels, green pepper, black beans, and cilantro. Top with salsa and queso fresco when served. And did I mention this entire dish costs around $10?? Enjoy!