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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!

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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!

Not Your Typical Thanksgiving Leftovers

7 Dec

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Never before have I had a whole week off from school during Thanksgiving.  Not having to work the Monday through Wednesday before the most important food day of the year was honestly an amazing treat.  Not only was I able to pretty much cook everything in advance (except the turkey, of course), but also I was able to enjoy the season with friends and family.  The Florida weather was perfectly seasonal, and even a deep-freeze warning one night brought back memories of cold, Oregon mornings, where Rob and I first started celebrating this holiday together.

As I looked around my living room last Saturday night, there were all the signs of the weekend after Thanksgiving: a couple dishes with creative leftovers lunches on the coffee table, Rob in and out of naps, college football on the TV, Sig and his cousin, Turner, also in an out of naps (but trying really hard to stay awake thus something, just something, happens where us humans will need their K-9 expertise – like cleaning up turkey bits), Jenn uploading silly pictures of us on her computer, and just as dusk was creeping up over the golf course, we are all probably very thankful that some lights were accidently left on because none of us were getting up from our comfy, blanket-nested spots on the couches.  Well, I know I wasn’t.

As always, my Turkey Day Trials did me well, and while I may have gone overboard on the amount of food we had, it made for a very festive, and belly-growing holiday.  Here was the menu:

Appetizers:

  • House Cocktail: mulled cranberry cider topped with brut and frozen cranberries
  • Spiced nuts
  • Boozie olives (olives warmed in the oven with gin, orange peel, and peppercorns)
  • Brie with onion jam, fig chutney, and water crackers
  • Pigs in a blanket (because they are simply awesome)
  • Shrimp cocktail

The Main Event:

  • No Fuss Turkey

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Sides:

  • Rob’s mashed potatoes
  • Spicy Leek and Sweet potato soufflé (with browned marshmallows!)  – some of these ended up on the wall.  Not exactly sure what happened.
  • Celery and Onion Stuffing
  • Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon, Apple, and Rosemary
  • Steamed farm-fresh corn and green beans
  • Parker House Rolls
  • Jellied cranberries (yes, in the can, ridges and all)

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Dessert:

  • Pumpkin Pie (from Costco – the best!)
  • Pumpkin, Amaretto Custard and Whipped Cream Trifle.  SO GOOD.

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And finally….. food coma.

Ok, so Thanksgiving food is wonderful, obviously.  But Jennifer and I indulged in a leftover that was unlike the standard midnight turkey sandwich (don’t get me wrong, that sandwich is probably the most perfect thing I could eat – ever.  Like, ever, ever.).  So, after a couple glasses of wine, a lovely combination of the French-Canadian Poutine dish, American Thanksgiving, and a late-night Mexican tradition all found themselves together in a happy little co-mingling of sorts, creating an indulgence perfect for only the days after Thanksgiving.  There was honestly not a lot of thought to this dish, so there wasn’t much measuring.  Actually, there was no measuring at all.  But with these ingredients, you only need to go with what you like.

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I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, and put blue corn tortilla chips on an ovenproof plate.  Then, I spooned some leftover turkey gravy (the Poutine part), and sprinkled an abundance of leftover turkey meat over the chips.  Taking a shredded Mexican cheese blend, I spread the cheese evenly over the chips and popped it in the oven to melt.  When the OMG-amazing-super-delicious-ooey-gooey-cheesy-turkey-smell wafted through the kitchen, I took out the Turkey & Gravy Nachos, topped them with scallions and hot sauce, and Jennifer and I devoured them.  Really, not a morsel left. 

As that was a week ago, since then all the leftovers have been creatively constructed and eaten – some great, some not so much.  Christmas is well on its way, and I’m starting to get ready.  This weekend calls for making cookies and chocolates, sending out holiday cards, and constructing a wreath.  And just wait until you hear about what happened with our Christmas tree.  Let the O’Donnell – Tamminen Holiday Craziness begin!  Until then, I have two more weeks of school, lots to do, and feeling a little like Joey Tribiani at the moment:

“I’m thinking about starting an ‘I Hate Turkey Club.’  Although, I do love a turkey club.”

So, we’re eating a lot of sushi.  Happy Holidays!

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