Monday, September 12, 2011

A Cooking Blog!

Hey guys! So I just made a decision. Like...literally three minutes ago. I'm going to turn this little blog that could into a cooking blog. Yay! Okay, maybe it's not that exciting since I've been posting recipes for over a year now. But until three minutes ago, they were more accidental than intentional and not exactly frequent. (I happened to make something in the kitchen that tasted really good and killed no one and may have even been healthy so I'm going to tell you about it.) But now I want to do it with purpose: I thought about this recipe, I researched this recipe, I made this recipe, and it ruled!

I'm fairly new to the world of cooking blogs -- I recently started following several of them through Google Reader and on Facebook. However, I noticed that they seem to skew in one of two directions: Either the food looks really good and tasty, but healthiness isn't exactly a priority OR the recipes are uber-healthy, but a) you can't even find the ingredients in Whole Foods b) they don't seem practical for a weekday night and c) you're not even sure that your non-picky boyfriend will eat it.

In fact, it was the non-picky boyfriend who unknowingly gave me the inspiration to run with the cooking blog idea yesterday. While eating dinner of roasted Brussels sprouts, baked sweet potato, and seasoned pork loin medallions he said, "These sweet potatoes taste like candy!" My response: "Well that's what I do: I bring out the indulgent side of healthy ingredients without adding anything unhealthy." (I simply roasted the potatoes in the oven for about an hour at 400 degrees and added absolutely nothing. You get so much more flavor, sweetness, and creamy texture in the oven than nuking the spuds in the microwave.)

I didn't know it at the time, but then and there I had my angle: Making healthy food taste naughty. Or something like that. It's a three minute old idea so it still needs time to simmer. (Look, I'm already making cooking puns!)

Anyway, the first chance I get this week I'll post two fabulous recipes from this weekend. And when recipes aren't exactly required (like last night's dinner), I'll try to post a photo (most likely taken with my iPhone - please excuse the lack photographic talent) to perhaps provide some inspiration for your weekly menus. Finally, I'll share successful experiments (which is pretty much all I do in my kitchen anyway) with cooking new kinds of foods (I want to try making Indian dishes!) and methods (slow cooker, etc.)

Put on your apron because it's about to get messy - and delicious - in here!

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Balanced Diet?

Part of living a balanced life is recognizing when maybe things aren’t so balanced and you need to find your way back to that happy place where you feel calm, centered, and healthy. Unfortunately, that requires the daunting tasks of a) identifying when something isn’t working so well anymore and b) doing something about it.

I am in the beginning stages of applying this two-step process to my diet. While it’s jam-packed with whole foods – most of them organic – and very few processed, packaged foods, I recently realized that it’s jam-packed with something else: Sugar. Yes, sugar. Now, it’s not like I sit at my desk stuffing my mouth with heaps of sour patch kids all day long (as much as I wish I was). But the sweet stuff, even in its natural form, happens to make an appearance in just about every piece of food that passes my lips throughout the day.

One of the biggest culprits? Fruit. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m insane for pointing my finger at those succulent strawberries, plump grapes, and tart blackberries. But here I am. I’m pointing my finger straight at those suckers and telling them that I love them dearly, which is why I eat them – too many of them – every single day. I’m pointing my finger right at the bowls of freshly sliced fruit that have taken over my fridge all summer long and I’m telling them that I know they’re good for me. I know that they’re full of fiber and water and vitamins and nutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants. But around my sweet, summer fruit I am rendered powerless. I find a way to sneak them into every single meal and snack and I ride that sugar coaster from morning until night. And every time I feel my blood sugar teetering on the edge and then plummet straight down, I crawl back to those bowls in my fridge for another sugary hit so I can climb my way up again.

I’m done being a slave to my food. There’s so much darn fruit in my diet that I’ve shoved (also healthful, though less sugary) veggies to one measly meal per day: Dinner.

Fruit is hardly the only source of sugar in my diet, I might add. It’s also found in:

The high-fiber, whole grain cereal I add to my plain Greek yogurt at breakfast

The squirt of Agave I add to my plain Greek yogurt at breakfast

The wheatberry bread I use for my peanut butter sandwich at lunch

The peanut butter on my sandwich at lunch

The cup of candy I enjoy each night for dessert

Okay, so there it is. Step A accomplished: I eat too much sugar. And as a result, I often feel edgy, and irritable throughout the day and am constantly thinking about my next sweet fix. Fortunately, I’m the only one who needs to be around me for most of the day, but when that’s not even a pleasant experience you know you’ve got a problem.

Now on to Step B: WTF do I do? Here’s the thing: I don’t do diets. Never ever will. I’m not about to pick up some super low-carb, low-sugar diet book and follow it to the word because I know I’ll be miserable and I know I can’t maintain that forever. I love food and I’m all about eating healthy for life. In my diet, there’s room for every single food. It’s just about finding the quantities of each kind that make me feel great. So what types of tweaks can I make to my overall diet that will satisfy my taste buds while keeping my blood sugar in check?

I gave it some thought, did a bunch of research and decided to take things in another direction altogether. Are you still with me here? Instead of cutting something out, I decided to add something in. The way I see it, if you tell yourself you can’t have something you’re only going to want it more. (At least that’s my experience.) But if you tell yourself you should have more of something then you find ways to sneak it in, hopefully edging the not-so-good stuff out. Hey, it's worth a shot.

So, I decided to focus on protein. Good old-fashioned protein. Besides the fact that lean protein is good for you, helps build muscle, and is digested more slowly than carbohydrates, which means it keeps you feeling fuller longer there’s something else to my protein theory. It doesn’t pair so well with sugar.

Now, instead of focusing on where I can cut back on sugar, I’m focusing on where I can add more protein. Let’s see: I can snack on hardboiled eggs or mixed nuts instead of, say, fresh cherries or dried apricots (oh how I love my dried fruit—those chewy morsels of concentrated sweetness). I can replace my PB sandwich and apple with a salad (more veggies, less fruit!) and chicken breast or tuna at lunch. Of course, I’ll still be sure to get plenty of whole grains (I love my quinoa (also protein!) and brown rice, which I often serve as sides with dinner) and there’s still space in my diet for fruit in small amounts. For instance, I can have an energizing fruit-protein combo as a pre-yoga snack: sliced apple with peanut butter instead of a Luna bar (oh yeah, probably should have added that to my sugary list above.)

One thing I’ll never ditch, however, is dessert. You’ll have to pry that cup of Swedish Fish out of my cold, dead hands before I ever consider giving that up.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Make This Tonight: Super Foods Dinner

Wheat berry salad, grilled salmon and sauteed kale

Call me lame, but there are few things in life that give me greater satisfaction than looking at my plate, knowing that every single piece of food on it is ridiculously good for me. While I try to make this happen as often as I eat, tonight I really outdid myself. I honestly got a little giddy as I dive bombed my fork into the pile of bright green kale and chipped away at the heap of chewy wheat berry salad. It didn't hurt that everything tasted fresh and fantastic, too. So here it is: Tonight's Super Foods Dinner.

Wheat Berry Salad
I must thank the fabulous Ali Schwartz for the original recipe. Without her, I wouldn't even know what a delicious wheat berry is. (Which, by the way, is a wheat kernel minus the outer hull.)

First, cook the wheat berries (Find them in the bulk bins aisle of Whole Foods or here.)

In a large pot, combine 2 cups wheat berries with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, about one hour. Drain and rinse.

I let them cool for several hours in the fridge. Then added:
  • 1 mango, diced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 can organic black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of 4 limes
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
You could also add: Scallions, avocado, bell and jalapeno peppers, peas, edamame, carrots, etc.

Sauteed Kale
Check out my tried-and-true kale recipe here.

Grilled Salmon
I marinated the filets in my go-to salad dressing, Brianna's Real French Vinaigrette for about 15 minutes. Funny thing is, I've never actually used it on salad (I usually make my own dressing) but I've marinated every kind of fish you can think of as well as chicken breasts in the stuff. I then grilled the salmon on the George Foreman for about four minutes, squeezed 1/4 of a lemon on top, and dinner was served.

Delicious. Healthy. Completely satisfying.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Make This Tonight: Summer Comfort Food

Ingredients: Halibut, tomatoes, broccolini, and beans.

For the most part, my cravings are entirely in step with the seasons. In the winter I prefer heartier, warmer meals like soups, stews, and roasts and in the summer I tend to eat lighter, cooler foods with a higher water content such as raw or grilled fruits and veggies and lean proteins.

But sometimes I like to change it up, which is exactly what I did this past Sunday. I wanted something that would fill the very depths of my belly without being heavy or greasy. I found the perfect solution: Italian Flag Halibut. The original recipe comes from Rachael Ray (her titles of recipes are questionable--this one earned its moniker, I suppose, because it's red, white, and green. I wouldn't exactly describe the flavor as Italian, however.) The health content of her recipes are also sometimes iffy: She's often heavy on the cream, butter, and cheese. Not so with this summer dinner. All of the ingredients are healthy and in-season. It's rich in good-for-you fats and packed with nutrients thanks to the greens (broccolini), tomatoes, garlic, and beans. And it's even better for you because I doubled the amount of veggies found in the original recipe. You're welcome.

So here you go: A summer Sunday dinner winner. (Maybe the dumb titles thing is contagious.)

Italian Flag Halibut
Serves: 4

4 bunches of broccolini
4 skinless halibut fillets (About 6 oz each) (NOTE: I used frozen fillets because they're less expensive and equally fresh. Thaw in a bowl of cold water for about 20 minutes beforehand.)
Extra virgin olive oil
6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
6 medium tomatoes cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1.5 cans cannellini beans, rinsed
1-2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

  • Discard the leaves from the broccolini and cut the stalks into 1/2-inch pieces.
  • Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the fish dry and season with salt and pepper. Lightly coat the bottom of the skillet with olive oil. Add the fish and cook until nicely golden brown on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Flip the fish and cook until firm, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
  • Add the garlic and a little more olive oil (about 1 Tbsp). Cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broccolini and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, beans and 1 cup broth and cook, stirring occasionally until the broccolini is tender and tomatoes have broken down and become a little saucy, about 5 minutes. If you're feeling extra saucy, add a little more broth and continue cooking a bit longer.
  • Spoon the tomato-broccolini-bean mixture onto each plate and top with a portion of the fish. Lightly salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Learning to Let Go

Fact: A recent study found that hammocks improve sleep. I can confirm this.

If there’s one thing I’m particularly bad at, especially in my adult life, it’s relaxing. Yep, I pretty much suck at it. Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I spend all 16 of my waking hours working. In fact, I allow myself one delicious hour of TV at the end of each weekday. But even those 60 minutes are carefully scheduled into my day. I zip through commercials (thank you, DVR) and as soon as the show is finished I turn off the TV and get into bed. And sometimes I wonder whether I was truly entertained or just felt compelled to watch the show in order to find out which poor guy the bachelorette sent packing.

For years, I’ve accepted my inability to fully relax—to let go, to do nothing, to chill out—as part of my personality. I’ve also figured that it might just be a reality of working for myself. Sure, it’s wonderful being my own boss and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But even when I have back-to-back deadlines and more work than I can handle, I’m still constantly worried whether I’m doing enough, whether I’m branding myself in the best possible way, whether I’m pitching enough, whether my work is the best it can possibly be, whether I’ll still have more work than I can handle (apparently in my book that’s a good thing) a month from now…six months from now…six years from now…

Yeah. It can be stressful. And I’ve let the pressure dictate not only what I do when I’m working, but also how I feel when I’m not.

That is, until someone special came into my life last year and has continued teaching me how to unwind ever since.

I guess you could say I learned by example. Because I saw that being driven and ambitious and taking time to relax aren't mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I’ve learned that the harder you work the more important it is to find that time to kick back. To do whatever you want. To do absolutely nothing at all. Part of the reason why it’s so crucial, of course, is self-preservation. But more importantly, it’s about taking the time to enjoy life. To taste the fresh berries on your tart frozen yogurt that you picked up on your walk home from the delicious pancake brunch at 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. To feel the sunshine on your shoulders and fully enjoy the company you’re in (even especially if it’s your own). To simply do the living that’s so difficult to do with deadlines and e-mails and phone calls.

My newly discovered ability to relax was truly put to the test a few weeks ago during my family’s sailing vacation to the British Virgin Islands. (Tough life. I know.) My fear was that the trip would be wasted on me. It was my first non-working vacation since I’ve been, well, working, and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to let work go. That I’d cling to my iPhone, checking my e-mail every 10 minutes to make sure I didn’t miss the chance to accept an assignment or correspond with an editor.

Fortunately, I had had some practice in this whole relaxing thing in the months leading up to this vacation so I took steps to prevent this frenzied approach. I let everyone know I was going away. I put up a vacation message for the first time ever. (I actually had to Google how to put up a Gmail vacation message.) And luckily, my phone didn’t work in the islands. The only person who could keep me from soaking up what it truly meant to be on vacation was me.

But I got out of my way. And I relaxed. Fully…completely…entirely…

Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the very best experience of my life.

Maybe I owe it to the buzz of Pusser’s rum in my morning coffee. Or the feel of the cool breeze against my skin, sticky with SPF and humid air. Or the crescendo of laughter echoing from our cockpit countless times per day. It could be the pina coladas and deep-fried conch fritters we sampled on every island; the water slide and infinity pool; or the five-star meal at TradeWinds on Peter Island.

More likely it was because I got out of my way so I could soak up every moment of joy. Because I knew that there was nothing else on my agenda but to do just that.

A couple of months from now I might forget the taste of the nutmeg sprinkled on top of my rum punch and the hard-to-pronounce name of our boat, Lalie. But what I will remember for as long as I live was that this was the very first time in my life I surrendered enough to let life in. And it is my deepest hope that I will never forget how.

In case I ever need a reminder of what relaxation looks like.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Welcome Home

Maybe again some day soon, but does it really matter?

I have a confession to make. Between February and this past week, I had only been on my yoga mat a handful of times. Four. Maybe. At first blush, this might not seem like such a big deal. Everyone goes through a rut now and again whether you’re a yogi or a runner. But if you know me, you know yoga is what I do. It’s my happy place. It’s not just a form of exercise or a hobby. It’s part of who I am. It’s so ingrained in me, in fact, that I have to do it.

And yet, for months, I didn’t.

There are many reasons why my mat remained rolled up, secured within turquoise Velcro straps, and nestled next to a bookcase for the majority of that time. Life. Work. A case of pneumonia that caused coughing so intense I fractured a rib. Not only was this the first time I had been sick in about six years, it was the first time I had ever experienced an injury. It was the first time I ever felt acute pain day in and day out.

Now, months later, my rib feels more like a distant ache. The coughing has ceased. So I shuffled life and work around this week to carve out time to get back to yoga. It was time.

Traveling through those initial Sun Salutations, I felt like a stranger in my body. Instead of my torso lying flush against my legs in forward fold, there was space between the two. Light could pass through. Whose body was this? Pushing up from the floor into Plank and pressing back into Down Dog—only months ago a simple, routine task—made my arms and shoulders quiver. Had I never done this before?

A wave of frustration crashed over me. I’d lost those things that were part of who I was. My bendiness. My strength. My brightness each time I stepped to the head of my mat. Yoga didn’t feel like yoga. It felt foreign and uncomfortable. Where was the joy in the movement, the grace in the flow? In just a few short months they had sulked off and abandoned me.

I kept moving anyway.

With every pose, my body created shapes that were weak imitations of what it could once do. As I lengthened out into Trikonasa, feeling awkward and unsteady in my foundation, I realized I had a decision to make. In every pose I could give into defeat and dwell on the fact that my body wasn’t capable of doing everything it could do in early 2011. Or I could step into my body.

After all, this was the very same body that could do whatever it wanted only a few months ago. Today’s body had tighter hamstrings, weaker shoulders, and misalignments. But it was still mine. And here I was giving it exactly what it needed and asked for. I could spend the remainder of the class judging its shortcomings with every move I made or I could just keep moving. I could accept that today’s body doesn't feel the same as January’s body and it’s not going to feel like tomorrow’s body either. This is what it can do right now in this moment. It doesn't matter if I can get my nose to my knees or my foot to my head. All that mattered was that I showed up.

As I let go and stepped into my body and stepped my body to the head of my mat, I felt for the first time, in a long time, that I was finally home. And like a weary traveler, I plan to stay for a very, very long time.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Make This: Mediterranean Fish Packets

I knocked the socks off of dinner tonight. So, naturally, I had to share it with you. It’s a meal that the likes of Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan would totally endorse—made only with fish, veggies and legumes. Plus, it's incredibly easy and fast. Get ready because this is quickly going to become a weeknight least in my home!

Mediterranean Fish Packets

Serves 2


2 halibut filets (about 6 oz each)

1 can organic no salt added diced tomatoes*

1 can organic no salt added great northern beans^

1 can organic no salt added kidney beans^

1 bunch organic collard greens or any leafy green vegetable (spinach or kale would also work), washed, stems removed, and cut into thin slices

1 lemon, sliced

2 sheets aluminum foil


Preheat oven to 450.

Thoroughly rinse beans. In the middle of each slice of aluminum foil divide ingredients and layer in this order: Collard greens, tomatoes, both kinds of beans, and fish. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper and top with two lemon slices each. Fold the packets, place on baking sheet and cook for about 18-20 minutes. Let them sit for 2 to 3 minutes while you open a bottle of sauvignon blanc (Cakebread if we're dreaming here). Using tongs, place the contents of each packet on a plate and dig in--guiltlessly.

*When in season, I’m sure regular tomatoes would be key, but canned diced tomatoes are a great winter solution.

^As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of anything that comes in a can because of the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA). I ordered a slow cooker this weekend so I’m going to try this recipe again after cooking dried beans in it all day and compare. Still, beans are so wonderful for you so it’s more than OK if they come from a can—just rinse really well.