Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I love you, tacos.

I really think tacos are one of my favorite meals -- they are quick, can be very healthy, and are extremely satisfying! Last night's dinner:

Whole-wheat tortilla, filled with home-cooked black beans, peppers and onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, salsa, lettuce, and a dollop of sour cream! On the side, we enjoyed some leftover Lemony Coleslaw with Fresh Dill, which I took to a potluck barbecue at work last Friday night. This is my new favorite coleslaw recipe -- simple, fresh, lemony, and delicious! (I also took a peach pie, but there were NO LEFTOVERS, so, unfortunately, no picture!)

Gearing up for yoga month tomorrow -- care to join in? Let me know!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yoga Month!

I learned today that September is "Yoga Month!" That's exciting! Check out my sidebar for a link to the official Yoga Month website, where you can enter to win prizes and learn about free classes offered in your neck of the woods. Exciting!

One of my New Year's resolutions was to get into the habit of doing yoga this year . . . I had mixed feelings about making this resolution, because I knew I would "fall off the yoga wagon" during the summer. We are just so dang BUSY, I knew I'd have a hard time fitting in yoga -- and I was right. I'm using Yoga Month as an excuse to get back into the habit! I pledge to do at least twenty minutes of yoga per day, EVERY DAY, for the month of September! Woo! Care to join me? (At whatever frequency and level of participation you desire, obviously.) :) I plan to blog about my yoga daily, or as often as I can, so stay tuned!


Here's the last of the weekend food fun . . .

Lunch today was Summer Squash and Corn Chowder, from Cooking Light:

If you click through to the recipe, you'll notice bacon is the first ingredient . . . I substituted a little olive oil for the suggested bacon drippings, and added 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika to the soup, which worked beautifully! In fact, next time I might add 1/2 teaspoon -- there was barely a whisper of smokiness in today's batch, and I'd definitely like a little more presence in the future. Overall, this is a wonderful recipe! I don't much care for summer squash, truthfully, but it is a fantastic addition to this creamy, yet light, corn chowder.

Dinner also featured summer squash!

Broiled summer squash and eggplant, lemon-garlic whole-wheat couscous, and "Mediterranean-Style Baked Lima Beans," from Veganomicon. Oh, those beans are so rich and creamy! Even though Dan doesn't much care for beans, he's a big fan of this dish.

We did both manage to save room for dessert . . .

We've had a bounty of local plums in our fridge for a couple of weeks, and the remaining half-dozen needed to be used today, or else! Enter, Plum Upside-Down Cake, from Cooking Light! INCREDIBLE! I love the contrast of the tart, flavorful plum with the rich, sweet butter cake. This cake will appear again and again in our house, I fear, featuring any seasonal fruit available. (For some reason, grapefruit upside-down cake just popped into my head . . . good idea? YES!)

Sliced . . .

Please don't attack your computer screen with a fork! :)

just call me a lentil convert

First, let's talk about lentils.

I apologize in advance to lentil-lovers out there, but I've never really been able to get behind lentils . . . now, I love red lentils in all their buttery, golden-orange, lucious splendor, but any other lentil? In my opinion, brown and green lentils kind of taste like dirt. Not an appetizing meal addition!

But, I keep trying -- I know how nutritionally powerful lentils are, and I really WANT to like lentils! So, I made a lentil salad last night:

Ingredients in my lentil salad: 1 1/2 cups cooked regular lentils, 3/4 cup dry orzo pasta (cooked according to the package diretions,) 2 tbsp chopped parsley, 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion, 3 1/2 ounces feta (crumbled,) juice of one lemon, 1 tbsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Verdict? I LOVED this! Yum! What a light, yet filling dinner, served over a bed of salad greens. I bet the leftovers are going to be even better, once the flavors have had a chance to marry.

Anyone have lentil recipes they love? I want to keep getting to know lentils!


Summer in Minnesota is very, very short. This is sort of bittersweet for me, because I love being able to shop the farmer's market weekly, stock up on gorgeous produce, and support my local farmers, but at the same time . . . I HATE THE WEATHER. I turn into a lazy, whining pile of sweat in the heat and humidity! So, I try to make the best of it.

My farmer's market has been flooded with gorgeous produce of every color these past few weeks, and I've been trying to pick up something (or a couple somethings) at least weekly to preserve for the coming winter. This week, I grabbed three huge bunches of Chinese water spinach to steam, chop, and freeze, (Dan and I are becoming quite good at sitting around on the couch prepping veggies,) and I also found a good deal on red bell peppers -- 9 gorgeous peppers for $5! They were destined for my broiler. :) Result:

Last year, I read that one could freeze roasted red peppers, and I tried that out, but wasn't terribly happy with my results. The peppers seemed to lose some of their rich, smoky flavor in the freezer, and were also pretty mushy after thawing. Inspired by Liz, I decided to try pickling my peppers. Although I don't have canning skillz, I decided to try a refrigerator pickle with these guys -- they won't last an eternity, but they'll last long enough. I threw in 1/2 teaspoon salt and three chopped cloves of garlic, covered everything with a light vinegar brine (1 part vinegar to three parts water -- I don't want the peppers too sour!), and parked the jar in my fridge. We'll see how this works!


Last but not least, remember I used to bake bread? Well, the humidity is down and the weather is slightly cooler, so I can do that again!

Our bake-a-long has been on hiatus this summer, (and rightly so -- no one wants to heat the oven up unless they absolutely have to!), and I sort of biffed our last project -- I did make a batch of the "Sunflower Seed Breakfast Loaf," but never really posted about it. So, I made it again! This is a gorgeous, soft, slightly sweet, slightly rich bread that makes INCREDIBLE toast. And I'm a toast girl, so this bread makes me happy! Yum! I used a combination of whole-wheat bread flour and AP flours in this loaf, and it worked beautifully. Hooray nutrition!


Happy Sunday, everyone!

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to Pack a Waste-Free Lunch

It's back-to-school time, folks! Inspired by a recent post from Tofu Mom, I thought I'd write a little bit about packing a waste-free lunch -- either for yourself, or for your school-ager!

First, you might not be a lunch-packer, so I thought I'd try and convert you. Here are a few reasons to pack a lunch every day:

1. A home-packed lunch is nutritionally superior to a lunch purchased from a restaurant. Restaurant portions are often ridiculously large, contain heavily-processed ingredients, unhealthy oils, and too much salt and sugar.

2. A home-packed lunch saves you time! It takes me about ten to fifteen minutes to pack lunches for both Dan and myself every day, and I often pack our lunches the night before, when I'm putting dinner leftovers away. When you consider the amount of time it takes you to travel to a restaurant, stand in line (or wait for a table,) order, and pay, a packed lunch wins!

3. A home-packed lunch saves TONS of money. I was reading in the most recent issue of Eating Well about the cost savings of packing a lunch daily. They estimated a typical restaurant lunch costs, at minimum, $8.50. They estimated the typical home-packed lunch costs between $2 and $3 per day. Whoa! That works out to a yearly savings of over $1300!

4. A home-packed lunch can be waste-free! Think of all of the wrappers, paper napkins, cups, lids, straws, plastic silverware, and other junk associated with eating out. Here are some of my favorite resources for a waste-free home-packed lunch:

Dan and I both have neoprene lunch bags from BUILT. (Dan's is plain black with a taupe lining; I have an awesome polka-dot pattern.) These. Bags. ROCK! Until I discovered BUILT bags, I used to wear out a lunchbag per year. Not any more! I have had my tote for over three years, and it's still kicking strong. The bags are durable, washable, insulated, slightly stretchy (in case you occasionally need to pack a breakfast or dinner, too,) accomodate a variety of sizes of containers, come in awesome colors and patterns, cushion your food and containers from minor bumps and bangs, and truthfully, are relatively affordable, when you consider how much use they will get.

I tend to pack mostly leftovers for lunches, so leak-proof containers are extremely important to me. I have been happy with these containers from Sterilite. We have found that occasionally the seals need to be removed (they are easy to pop out with a fork) for cleaning, and if you repeatedly bend the flaps backwards they have a tendency to crack, (but none of ours have broken yet,) but they are COMPLETELY LEAK PROOF! Seriously, I had a container of soup flip sideways in my lunchbag during a bike ride, and not a drip escaped from the container. We have been rocking four of these for a year now, and I'm not sure I'd buy anything else! I do recommend having a double-set of containers, just in case you don't get to the dishes one night. :)

(P.S. I'm not worried myself about heating food in plastic for a minute or two in the microwave, but if you are, buy glass containers. I've recently seen some of a very similar style to my above containers, and have been curious to try them out. Glass is obviously heavier and breakable, but non-leaching!)

Another lunch gadget I love are Wrap-N-Mats! These things rock, and have helped us drastically reduce our use of plastic ziploc baggies. The mats are great for sandwiches, pizza, crackers, chips, pretzels, cookies, bars, muffins, scones, raw veggies, or really anything that isn't too sticky, runny, or drippy. Plus, they come in TONS of colors and wild and crazy patterns! We have four, and even though I chose some pretty bizzare patterns, Dan gets tons of compliments on them from coworkers. (And of course, the kids love my goofy piano-playing frogs!) These are a must, in my opinion, for a waste-free lunch kit!

I pretty much just drink water, but looooooooove my Earthlust water bottles. I have two, (a 20-ounce and a 1-liter,) and adore their stylish patterns. I found the keyring/carabiner clip kind of clunky and annoying, so I just took it off, and haven't gone back to a Nalgene or SIGG since! These bottles have slightly wider necks than average, too, so I find them pretty easy to clean with a bottle brush. (And of course, they could go in the dishwasher.)

Find some fabric. (IKEA has really fun patterns, if you don't have fabric lying around. I think I spent about $7 on a yard there over four years ago, and I haven't bought a paper napkin since.) Borrow a pinking shears from a friend or grandma who sews, and cut it up into napkin-sized squares or rectangles. (Ours are about 5X7, but you could obviously go larger if you'd like.) These will shred a little bit in your wash the first few times you wash/dry them, but then they will be fine. They take up hardly any space in the lunchbag, and very little space in the wash each week. Cheap! Waste-free!

Do you have forks? Probably. Do you have spoons? Probably. Throw one in your lunchbag. Put it back in your bag when you're done eating! If you have forgetful little children or care about your flatware set, buy some crappy flatware from the Goodwill just for things like packing lunches, picnics, camping, and the like. Cheap! Waste-free!

Now . . . it's up to you to figure out what to eat! :)

I'm curious to hear any additional waste-free lunch packing tips, tricks, or supplies you find helpful -- comment away!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fall's Top Ten

Inspired by Victoria, I need to post the top ten things I'm looking forward to come fall! (Like Victoria, it is my favorite season!)

In no particular order . . .

1. Hot herbal tea. Cups and cups per day!
2. Sweaters, jeans, and other warm clothes.
3. Hot showers. (We have no AC, which means lukewarm showers are a must in the summer!)
4. Apple-picking. Apple pie-making. Apple butter-making. Apples!
5. Hiking in crunchy leaves!
6. Carving a pumpkin. (And roasting the seeds!)
7. Getting excited about Halloween with the kids at work.
8. Baking bread again!
9. Hot, comforting foods -- mac and cheese, mushroom stroganoff, soups, chilis, etc.
10. Thanksgiving! (I think it might be my favorite holiday!)

What is your Fall Top Ten?

food for a sick guy

We arrived home from the north shore late Monday night, and I've luckily had the past two days off from work as well! (I have to go back today . . . waaaa! More vacation, please!) It was a good thing we came home when we did -- Dan has had a cold/flu virus thing for a couple of weeks now, and finally decided to go to the doctor on Tuesday afternoon. He has pneumonia! He's on a pretty hefty antibiotic and is slowly feeling better, but he's been spending lots of time sleeping, couching, and drinking tea.

I've been cooking up extra-healthy meals this week, to give his immune system every last little boost! For example . . .

Mixed veggies and tofu over saffron brown rice:

No real recipe here . . . I just chopped up a bunch of (mostly local) veggies, added some cubed extra firm tofu, tossed it all with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and chopped garlic, and roasted the lot at 450 until things started to brown and become extra delicious. The rice recipe is from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen, and is a favorite at our house. Yum!

Jamaican-Style Black Bean and Coconut Cornbread Bake, with a side of kale:

I know I've waxed poetic about this black bean recipe before, and my love is no less strong now. I double the amount of jerk seasoning called for, which brings the beans to a perfect level of spicy savoriness, contrasted against the rich, slight sweetness of the cornbread topping. And did I mention there is NO CHOPPING OF VEGETABLES REQUIRED?? Now, I love zoning out at my cutting board just as much as the next foodie, but sometimes you just want something NOW, and this nearly fits the bill. Make this soon!

Note that the recipe calls to bake the casserole for 30 minutes; mine have always taken 40 - 45 minutes (but I don't ever bother to thaw my corn, which could explain the extra minutes in the oven.) :)


I was at the co-op yesterday, and saw these apples on display . . . I had to try them!

Here is a "Pink Pearl" apple, and boy, are they weird looking! They have nice flavor, (slightly sweet, slightly tart,) and that shocking pink interior is such a surprise! I can't wait to take one to work and cut it up for the kids -- they will freak!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

treats from the north

I hit up a couple of favorite stores this past weekend, and picked up a slew of awesome goodies!

First stop -- "Wits' End Corner Country Store & Bakery," in Beaver Bay. I first discovered this store by accident last spring, when Dan and I were searching the North Shore for a cup of coffee during the "off season," when many favorite establishments are closed. "Bakery" lead me to think they might have coffee . . . notsomuch, but what they do have is an AMAZING selection of dry bulk foods! I could have spent a ton more money than I did, but alas, they only take cash or check (who takes checks these days?) and I had a measley $12 on me. So, I focused on the things I can't always find in my neck of the woods. My haul:

Veggie Chips (LOOOOOVE these -- especially the taro sticks and green beans!)
Whole-wheat shell pasta (I see homemade stovetop mac and cheese in our future!)
Spearmint tea (we were running out of herbal tea at the cabin)
Golden flax seeds (cost about twice as much at home!)
AND, Amish Country "Ladyfinger" microwave popcorn (it's aparently hull-less)

Later on, I found a couple of awesome things at the Cook County Co-op, too!

Bulk bin finds . . .
True wild rice (most grocery store varieties are cultivated,) and rainbow orzo:

And, "Cook County Co-op Calico Beans:"

I can't WAIT to make soup with these! If only the weather were cooler!

The best part of going to the co-op is . . .

Maine Root Ginger Brew! Reed's doesn't hold a candle to this stuff -- Maine Root is knock-your-socks-off spicy! Mmmmmmm! They only had two 4-packs in stock, so we're going to have to make this LAST! (We have yet to find a retailer in the Twin Cities . . . tragedy!)

Last, a few non-food treats:

These guys caught my eye at the "North Shore Trading Post:"

Anyone ever used a Swedish Dish Cloth before? They are made from 70% cellulose and 30% cotton, are machine-washable, and work beautifully! I used one on my dishes this afternoon, and they scrub like a charm! Plus, how much fun is "super moose??" (Technically, the name of the pattern is "king of the forest," but, well, I just like "super moose" better!)

AND, some wonderful, whimisical coasters from Sivertson's:

(BLOGGER! RAWR! Sorry. Tilt your head, please.)
I love this artist's work, (she has a great painting titled "Boogie Bear" that makes me smile!) but of course, I can't afford "real" art at this stage in my life. Enter: coasters! I took home reproductions of "Spring Beauty, Spring" and "Huey, Dewey, and You."

Is it weird that I grocery shop while on vacation? :) Nontraditional souvenirs, if you ask me!


Dan and I have been "upnorth" for the past four days, arriving home LATE last night! We left early Friday morning to spend two nights in a cabin in Beaver Bay, MN, with Dan's family, and then spent an additional night in a hotel (the luxury! no tent required!) in Grand Marais, MN. I think the north shore might be one of our favorite places on Earth.

The last four days have been filled with lots of hiking, a little biking, (we now have a bike rack for the car! Woo! Thanks Sandy and Pat!), great meals, giant ice cream cones, pie, quality time with family, beautiful scenery, waterfalls, fog and mist, shopping, reading, visits to four state parks, a smattering of food network watching, and plenty of relaxing.

Enjoy the photos!

During the trip, I had a chance to pop in the bulk foods store in Beaver Bay, the Cook County Co-op, and a few other cool places in Grand Marais. Treats from the north shore will be featured next!

Time to start the laundry. Does anyone else experience the phenomenon that vacations generate twice as much laundry as time at home? Strange.