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Cookies and Salads

23 Aug

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The other day, Rob and I did some Back To School grocery shopping, and it happened to be a date-night of sorts. We had already eaten dinner, and flashbacks of our Coos Bay days of taking a stroll down the fun-house halls of Walmart at 10 pm rushed in our minds as we stood in the Publix cookie aisle with two other couples. Hushed conversations evolved and we noticed the other couples, slowly and closely meandering, stopping and short-pointing with only a pinky, then whispering some more, were having the exact same musings as Rob and me.

“Remember these?”

“Oh, I ate a box of those ones once.”

“Huh, the packaging has changed on these ones.”

“Strawberry Oreos? Really?”

“Ooo these look so goooooood.”

Then, super-stealthily that short-pointing pinky turned into a swift grabbing hand snatching that Back To School treat. One couple got always-recognizable-even-when-cleverly-stuffed-under-the-16oz.-bag-of-baby-kale Pepperidge Farms cookies, the other couple further down settled with an audible let’s-be-responsible sigh on a cookie/cracker thing, and Rob and I chose Fig Newtons. The original. Always a Back To School classic, at least in my lunch box.

Seams harmless, right? Then, what’s with all the whispering and sideways glances? After further investigation of our late-night cookie aisle recon, this Back To School treat shopping was not for the kids. It was for the adults.

Who knows what happened to the other couples, but Rob and I waited until we got home (there is some restraint), and I dove into the little squares of fruit and cake. After a couple, the “fix” was over, and all was right and just in the world.

Teaching Kindergarten can be a different kind of crazy at beginning of the year, and even in this hot, hot, hot Jacksonville heat, a craving for comfort food spikes at the end of the day. Rather than turning to the cookies, I’ve actually found myself becoming increasingly adventurous with salads. Yes, salads. With the help of our farm basket, I have been experimenting with hot and cold salads, sweet and savory salads, grain and paleo salads, and many more. Come to realize it, more often than not, I have written about salads throughout the years. Well, hold on to your carrots, my friends, cause here comes another.

I called this the Chop Chop Salad, before I realized that there were actually many variations of an actual salad called a Chop Chop. So, I guess I’m adding another variation to the many recipes out there (although I’d like to continue to live in my ignorance that I actually came up with the really cool name). Literally, take every single vegetable that you love and toss it in a bowl. Add lettuce or any other green you’d like, or not. Add grains like quinoa, barley, or spelt, or not. Add a dried fruit or nuts, or not. You get the picture. Pour the contents on a big cutting board. With two chef’s knives, chop chop the heck out of it. Pour it all back into the bowl. Top with your favorite dressing. Voila! Chop Chop Salad! For such an incredibly unrefined technique, it creates such a beautiful presentation, and it’s fabulous for fun entertaining. Here’s how I made mine (everything was just a small handful, fresh and raw, unless otherwise stated):

  • Roasted kale
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Crimini mushrooms
  • Roasted green beans
  • Tomatoes (seeded)
  • Celery
  • Green onions
  • Manchego cheese

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The very best part of this salad happened to be the interesting dressing. To me, a big, full Chop Chop salad needs a hearty dressing. These days, however, cream and mayo-based dressings haven’t been making much of an appearance in our house due to the calories they add to the otherwise healthy dish. So to keep the creamy need, yet lose the bulk, I made a Cauliflower Dressing: ½ head of raw cauliflower, ¼ c extra virgin olive oil, ¼ c water, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tbsp agave nectar, 1 tbsp fresh dill. Throw it all into a blender with some s&p, whir until smooth and pourable, and taste for more seasoning. Pour a desired amount on your Chop Chop Salad, mix, and sit back and crunch away.

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This salad made for a great lunch the next day at school, and I told my kids all about it. At 5-years old, they weren’t so interested in a bowl chalked full of veg. Although I did get many oohs and aahs when I said “corn.” I think even a couple of excited claps.

It’s Back To School – a time for new beginning and taking risks. This salad isn’t risky at all, but try it anyway. It’s easy! It’s your own creation of tastiness! It’s healthy (which means you can dive into those cookies afterwards)!

Enjoy!

I Have Blender Issues

11 Apr

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“Just think – this is the second blender I’ve bought for you!” Rob exuded knowing full-well what buttons he was pushing. I could even hear his smile on the other end of the phone line. “Have you blended anything yet?”

“No, not yet.” I responded quite flatly.

“Why not? I thought you’d be blending away!”

Again, “No, not yet.”

It got silent on the other end of the line. Opening the freezer, I realized that the frozen fruit section of Costco had found its home in our freezer and was eager to be used. Rob had gone to work for a night flight, and I was left alone in our kitchen, stocked with an assortment of smoothie accoutrements. Rob and I had taken the leap we have been discussing for a couple years now. But it took two very distinct moments to finally take the plunge: 1) I chucked my old, dilapidated, hardly-makes-a-whirring-let-alone-blend-anything blender across the kitchen (not really – I just put it down hard on the counter and probably emitted a choice word or two) and 2) Vitamix finally came out with a blender small enough to conspicuously keep on the counter.

Yes, we finally got a Vitamix. And really, it is that awesome.

But here’s the story.

It was our first Christmas together, and if you follow the blog (or have heard the stories), you know that Rob and I seem to have pretty epic moments around Christmastime. Tree spiders hatching babies, killer ladybugs, U-Cut (but not really) trees, hung-over Midnight Mass, rabid cats, kitchen fires… you know, the average holiday. This one was really what started it all with Rob buying a giant Oregon tree to decorate on Christmas Eve. It was the first time either of us had been away from our immediate families for Christmas, and we were only just engaged. So we made a point to not only incorporate our families’ traditions, but also start our own.

Months earlier, when I had been visiting Rob in Oregon, we walked through Wal-Mart and I saw a little $12 single-serving blender. Briefly commenting on how that would be great for little smoothies and dressings, we walked on and that was that.

Come Christmas day – our very first Christmas together – Rob and I exchanged gifts. It was a humble event, and we had put a lot of consideration into each other’s presents knowing that as this was our first special holiday just the two of us. We wanted to try to make it one to remember. When I got to opening this one present under the tree, Rob got so giddy; his smile stretched across his face and he looked like a little kid squirming with anticipation, wanting to rip off the wrapping himself. As I slowly removed the paper, there it was – the single serving blender.

Now generally, my reactions/responses to things are immediate, not thought provoked, and well, often blondish. My parents will attest to the fact that my whole life, the link between my brain and my mouth is about as short and fast as a duck’s sphincter. It just comes out. Usually followed with the inevitable, “Oooooooo, sorry,” (with scrunched up face to match).   Just revisit Rob’s marriage proposal to me if an example is needed.

So, when Rob gave me this blender for our first Christmas together – one that I wanted and loved and eventually used until it whirred its last whir of life – my reaction was not what he expected.

“You got me a blender?” My brain could not catch up – the words were out.

Rob’s face dropped. “Yeah, you like it, right?”

“Yeah, I love it!”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“There is no problem-“ Rob was still confused by the fact that my verbal reaction didn’t match my smile, “-you just got me a blender for Christmas!”

Rob caught on (poor guy to have to deal with me) and the conversation went on with laughs, dancing around how I was now to be a stereotypical 1950s housewife, make him all the smoothies he could ever want at any whim, only vacuum while wearing high heels and pearls, etc., etc. Needless to say, the Christmas appliance quickly became the talk of our holiday gifts.

In fact, each year the appliance-as-a-holiday-gift is joked about: one year it was a vacuum cleaner, another year copper pots! So, for the last couple of years when I’ve said I was thinking about getting a Vitamix, high-speed, fruity blended smoothies hit the fan just at the mere mention! I was quickly reminded that I already had a blender. Sigh.

We never did make the holiday blender splurge because of its price, its size, and the fact that I really don’t want to have a ton of kitchen appliances. But after Rob learned of its awesomeness (which then lead to much persuasion from him), the craving of healthier foods for the upcoming bathing suit season, the wonderful saleslady at Williams Sonoma, and the gift card I received from my aunt and uncle, we finally mixed ourselves into a frothy tizzy and bought the blender.

“So, when will you make something? I thought you’d be blending away tonight.” Rob sounded, again, confused on the other end of the line (what I do to the poor man!).

“I’ll wait for you, babe.” I turned on the sugary sweetness. “We can blend together.”

Rob’s familiar chuckle was muffled by the phone, but his smile was not. He gave a quick, “Ok,” and we moved on.

We did blend together and made a pretty amazing meal. The Vitamix does what it promises, and we created a dinner of Fresh Corn and Tomato Bisque and had Chocolate Banana Ice Cream for dessert. Lately for breakfasts, Rob’s been perfecting an Island Smoothie and I have been enjoying Almond Chai Tea Smoothies. Overall, it has been a great purchase, even if it is a blender.

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Fresh Corn and Tomato Bisque
(serves 2)

  • 2 ears corn, raw kernels cut off the cob.
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes (they just started showing up in season here – gotta love the FL warm weather!) 
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 c chicken stock, heated to a slow rolling boil over the stove
  • 2 bunches fresh basil
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill
  • s&p

**Special equipment: a high powered blender, such as a Vitamix.

Starting with the chicken stock, put all the ingredients into the blender. Start slow and gradually blend on high for 5-7 minutes. The heat from the force of the blender will cook the veg (I didn’t initially believe this. But tasting the soup and wickedly burning my tongue proved me wrong). Pour into a bowl and enjoy with a drizzle of good olive oil, or top with a rustic salsa made of roughly diced tomatoes, lemon juice, and s&p.  

Serve with a little green salad for a tasty meal.

Chocolate Banana Ice Cream
(serves 2)

  • 2 bananas, sliced into ½- in slices, and frozen until solid.
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp Agave Syrup

**Special equipment: a high powered blender, such as a Vitamix.

Put all ingredients into the blender, and whir until the mixture is combined and resembles a soft-serve ice cream. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Flavors of Summer

8 Aug

We are back now from all our traveling, relaxed, and yes, a bit more tan.  Expecting to come back to the frigid Oregon Coast summertime winds, we have actually had quite a few days of beautiful sun, mild weather, and gentle breezes.  It has been more than pleasant, and Rob and I are taking advantages of the best of it.  The many hikes, lead to long days, sometimes not even showering until mid afternoon (it’s not gross, it’s “natural”).  We’ve been doing some small entertaining, enjoying close friends in intimate conversation over simply good food.

One of the things I will miss the most come our goodbye next summer, will be the amazing Oregon produce.  Wow, this place has got it down.  The berries are incredible, and our CSA farm basket (yielding not only great zucchini and greens, but inspired the cheeky name for this blog), has been overflowing our crisper.  It’s awesome.

Through the lazy days of summer (and I do mean lazy… Sig is snoring under the table at the moment), I have enjoyed cooking from my roots – simple, easy, tasty dishes celebrating the greatness of food.  We’ve kept some staples in the house: herbed chicken salad (above), blueberry sauce, white bean puree (a great companion for blanched green beans), good quality mayo (for the healthy shmear on a ripe summer tomato), pluots and blueberries for cold, sparkling sangria, and most recently vegetable cream cheese.  With the tons of veg we’ve been getting, combined with our undying and unconditional love of bagels and cream cheese, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this sooner.  Super simple, incredibly flavorful, and a fantastic way to get some raw veg into the system first thing in the morning.

Right now, I’m waiting for some overripe peaches (there are always a couple in a lug – why waste?) to do their infusing magic with some vodka, anticipating a ginger peach cordial sometime in the next couple of days.

With albacore swimming like crazy right now, one found it’s loin on my dinner plate, grilled with lime, brown sugar, smoked salt, and served with a simple lime balsamic dressing.

And with so many beautiful zucchinis around, a tart was just calling out to me (with a fried egg, oui chic!)

Today’s farmer’s market yielded beautiful blackberries, and the juices are already flowing (no pun) as to what to make next.  Suggestions are welcome. 🙂

Vegetable Cream Cheese (makes 8 oz) 

  • 8 oz room temperature cream cheese (I used the “whipped” kind; it made incorporating the ingredients very easy) 
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled 
  • 1/2 green bell pepper
  • 1/2 small zucchini 
  • 2-3 scallions, white and light green parts only 
  • a handful of parsley 
  • s&p

This requires some patience chopping, but chop all the veg into a very small dice.  First, make thin slices, then slice again into matchsticks.  Then, line up the pieces, chopping them across to make very small pieces.  HERE’S A TRICK: with the carrot, use the vegetable peeler to make the thin slices, and then continue cutting from those “peeled” slices.  It’s much easier than trying to keep a I-want-to-be-free-and-roll-all-over-the-place carrot still.  

Chop the scallion into thin slices, and chop the parsley until fairly fine.  

Mix all the veg and herbs into the cream cheese, and season with s&p.  Depending on the brand of cream cheese you use, you may not need much salt.  

Generously spread on a freshly toasted bagel, lick the excess off your fingers, add more to the bagel once you realize how great it is, and enjoy! 

**The longer the cream cheese mixture sits, the more incorporated the vegetable flavors become.  The second, third, fourth days are the best – if it lasts that long.  

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