Salad for Breakfast

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One morning last week I woke to my body telling me I must feed it salad for breakfast.  My usual smoothie or veggie/egg scramble wasn't going to cut it.  

It was raw, crunchy veggies or nothing at all.

I'm not one to get too caught up on the appropriate times to eat certain foods so I obliged.

I've been on a bit of a cabbage and slaw kick (no, not the kind you get at the deli of your local grocery) and decided to come up with a Thai-ish version of my own.  I'm not much of a recipe girl when I'm throwing things together and tend to adjust as I go but I jotted down what I used that day and thought I'd share it.

Garden Veggie Slaw with Thai Peanut Dressing

1 small cabbage (green, red or half of each), shredded

1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced

1 carrot, grated

1 small zucchini, grated

1/4 c chopped parsley

1 can garbonzos, rinsed and drained

Dressing

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T all natural peanut butter

2 T Tamari

1 T (real) maple syrup

1 T sesame oil

2 T olive oil

juice of one lime

1/4 t hot chili oil

1 t Apple cider vinegar (I like Braggs)

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl.  Place the dressing ingredients in a lidded jar, shake well to combine.  (You can also combine them all in a small bowl with a wisk).  

Because I wanted to save some for a few additional meals I didn't dress the entire salad.  Insead I dressed it as I went.  Either way works well.  Enjoy!

***

I made this again today but had different ingredients on hand so I added a bit of finely sliced celery and omitted the parsley.  For the dressing I also omitted the chili and sesame oils, apple cider vinegar and lime but added some rice wine vinegar and sriracha sauce.  Unfortunately, I didn't write down the amounts but the acid/oil ratio was about the same and I enjoyed today's dressing more.

After a long weekend of fun (ahem), this really hit the spot at lunch today.

 

 

 

In the Kitchen

Roasted Cauliflower, Broccoli and Sundried tomatoes with Chickpeas

Over the past two years, I've made a gradual transition to being primarily vegetarian.  There are many reasons for this (including health and environmental concerns) but I just typically don't enjoy meat.  This has been a challenge in the kitchen as the rest of my family still likes meat at least occaisionally.  Thus, finding meals that we all will enjoy and be nourished by has made my life in the kitchen a bit more interesting.  While we all have definitely cut back significantly on the amount of meat we eat, I still work to include meals that I know Jeff and the kids will enjoy.  

That being said, when it comes to vegetarian cooking, I think I have a new obsession.  It's Andrea's Blog Dishing Up the Dirt.  I discovered her a few months ago and have been a fan ever since.  Not only are her recipes delcious (and primarily vegetarian) but she and her husband are Organic Famers not to far from where I grew up and near where our family hopes to live (and eventually farm) after Jeff retires from the Air Force.  That makes it even more fun and inspiring.  

The first recipe of her that I tried was Roasted Garlic Sweet Potatoes and Tomatoes with Poached Egg.  I made it one night for dinner shortly after Jeff left for the states.  It was so good I proceeded to make it the next morning for breakfast.  

The other recipe in major rotation is Black Bean Burgers.  I have been searching for a bean burger recipe the whole family would enjoy (or at least eat).  The first time I made this Jeff grilled beef burgers for the kids while he and I had the beans.  We liked it so much I made it for the family the following week.  

They ate it and enjoyed it!  Jack was very detailed with feedback and commented that "the texture was very good."  We may have cheated a bit by topping it with Burgerville Special Sauce (a gift from Mom and Fred and not exactly a whole food) but I'm willing to compromise.  

Two others from Andrea that I've made are:

Roasted Cauliflower, Broccoli and Sundried Tomatoes with Chickpeas

Cilantro Lime Dressing (I haven't made the salad but the dressing is a new standby)

I have plans to try many more in the coming weeks.

Margarita Cookies

I am sharing the love a bit and looking other places for inspiration.  

We're headed to a Mexican themed dinner party tonight and one of my contributions is Margarita Cookies.

The first time I made these I tried the actual ice cream sandwiches and it was a bit of a disaster due to assembling them in the hot (non-A/C) Colorado kitchen on the 4th of July.  They were just as good served along side the ice cream and that's what we'll do tonight though with Vanilla gelato.  (No lime to be found!) 

I got the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for Christmas and (no surprise) have loved everything I've tried. The cookbook has a recipe for Ratatouille Subs was another (suprise) hit with the entire family.  It is basically Ratatouille's Ratatouille in a baguette. Yum!  I did modify it a bit and served the kids' with a slice of mozzarella and salame while Jeff and I had ours with goat cheese as she suggests.  Yum!

The last recipe to share with you is also from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  When my sister emailed me about the Pasta and White Beans with Garlic Rosemary Oil before she had even served it (only tasted out of the pan) I knew I would try it.  When she told me both my brother-in-law and nephew liked it…it went straight to the top of the menu.  While my three didn't enjoy it as much, I did and it's definitely on my "make again" list.

Finally, I wanted to share about 30 Day Vegan.  I've participated in several of Heather's workshops and done 30 Day Vegan once before.  This go around my sweet friend, Alice, and I are doing it.  I'm excited and a bit nervous as we have two birthdays and a trip planned during the 30 days.  Plus, I live in northern Italy where meat and cheese, oh the cheese!, reign supreme.  I'm going into it full of grace, realistic expectations and anticipation for a great 30 days even if each one isn't completely vegan.  If you've ever thought about doing something like this, I highly recommend it.   

How about you.  What have you been cooking lately?  I'd love suggestions especially for vegetarian, kid friendly, summertime foods.  

 

Sights and Sounds

Spring 1


Spring 2


Spring 3

Today has been a beautiful, Spring day in northern Italy.  While we haven't had much cold or snow, we have had a ton of rain recently.  That made today's sun and 60 degrees especially welcome.  

I came across a new salad recipe (Arugula Orange Salad) to try only to discover that I had sent the last of our oranges to school with Morgan for her snack.   I decided to take advantage of the beautiful day and walk the mile to the open air market in the next town.  I'm so glad I did. I saw and heard such fun things.

Sights::  Gorgeous blue sky, snowy mountain tops, buds on trees, flower blooms, bees, people working in their gardens, a baby hanging out in his pack and play on the patio while his mama did housework and the first butterfly of the season.  (A sweet woman tried to point it out to me.  It took me a while to catch on to what she was saying.  Once I say it, I responded with "Ah!  Primavera."  I'm sure you are impressed with my Italian.)

Sounds:: The breeze as it moved through the trees, birds chirping, rugs being shaken out, "The Macarena" through open windows (that baby's mama knows how to rock the housework), "Que bella oggi" (It's beautiful today) from a sweet older woman who was sweeping her porch as I walked by, an extra hint of contentment and joy in the voices of all I met along the way.    

Que bella, indeed.  

Around the Table

November 17

 

In each of the last two cities we’ve lived, I have been part
of a group that regularly met to share a meal. 

In San Antonio, we joined with three other couples from our
church for a monthly “Supper Club.”  We
took turns hosting the meal with the host setting the theme and cooking the
main course while the others contributed sides and desserts.  It started a bit of a whim as some of us
shared our love for cooking and wanting to get together more often.  When we first started in 2004, there were two
children. In 2008, when we moved, we were up to nine children and one on the
way.  In the end, we met a bit less frequently
and our dinners were definitely busier as our kids were with us but we stuck
with it.

Fort Collins brought several groups over the years.  The meal exchange ladies typically
shared snacks and drinks as did the book club I went to for a while.  But it was with my sweet friends Alice and
Mindy that I spent the most time around the table with.  We also met at church and started a bible
study one summer.  This particular study
included recipes and simple menu suggestions along with the encouragement to add
some extra time to gather together and share a meal.

That’s exactly what we
did.  What happened during those summer evenings is that we connected in a way that went beyond sharing food or answering Bible study questions.  

Raspberry Ricotta Scones

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend inviting us to
the 1st “Foodie Club” meeting. 
Always creative, she chose “Sunday Brunch” as the theme for our Friday
night dinner.  Such fun. 

As I was preparing my contribution of raspberry ricotta scones and
quiche, it struck me that gathering around the table is such a great way to
build relationship.  In both San Antonio
and Fort Collins, the people we met with regularly were a part of our lives in
other ways yet it was those hours we spent sharing a meal, lingering with wine
or dessert and coffee that we really connected. 
Those are the moments when conversations wander to areas that don’t come
up in other settings or where debates are held thanks to the encouragement of full
bellies, candlelit rooms and that last glass of wine.  Eventually, if you meet often and regularly
enough, you realize that you are sharing more than a meal with each other.  

You are sharing your life. 

Food plays such an amazing role in relationships.  Preparing a meal is giving a bit of yourself
to those you are feeding.  Yes, you give
your time and skills but through those efforts you give the people you are
feeding the more important gift of nourishment for both body and soul.  When you think of it that way, the role
sharing a meal plays in all aspects of our lives. 

Celebration. 

Grief. 

Just getting through the day.

Regardless of the reason for gathering, a connection is made and if you do it
often and long enough, you will build a community. 

And that is something that makes life so very rich. 

Cooking Class: Gnocchi

Arugula for Gnocchi

My sweet friend Ashley arranged for a small group of us to have three private cooking lessons at a local restaurant.  The first class was las tnight and we learned how to make three kinds of gnocchi.  

For those that have never had gnocchi, I often refer to it as the pillow pasta.  In it's best form it's light, airy and a bit puffy.  

Manlio

Our host, Manlio (chef and owner), was gracious with our group of eight women and one man.  Most of us knew at least one other person but beyond that we were a great mix of friends and strangers.  As the night went on we connected not only with eachother but also with Manilo.  We had so many quesetions about both Italian cooking and Italian life and he answered each one with kindness and care sharing a bit of himself and the region with each answer. 

As we started cooking, Manlio walked through each step in making traditional, pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi.  They are all so good yet so very different in both flavor and texture.  

Stuffing the gnocchi with arugula and cheese

As the night went on, I was reminded of the greatest lesson I'm being taught here in Italy, patience.  In this instance our meal tasted so much better than many I've had.  In other daily situations (ie. the bank, grocery, etc.), I'm always reminded that life isn't an emergency and if we rush even the little steps we just might miss the greatest gifts within our grasp. 

Gnocchi with smoked ricotta

At the end of the night, after much laughter and conversation we gathered around the table and enjoyed an amazing meal.  Yes, we ate great food but more than that, we connected with each other, shared stories, and gave our time.  

It was a great night indeed.  

(I'll post a recipe once I'm able to try it at home at least once with readily available ingredients.)

Canned

Pear butter

This year, we decided to take our first steps into the world of canning.  Jeff’s mom and grandma passed on a huge love of, and tradition for, canning (My MIL’s pickled green beans are to die for as is her sauerkraut.)

While we’ve done some preserving in the past,  this year we’re stepping up.  Thankfully, Jeff is all in when it comes to this endeavor.  I even bought him a pressure canner for his birthday and he was thrilled.  In fact, if anything,  he might be even more into this than I am.

This past weekend was busy in our kitchen.

We have five pear trees in our yard and they were ready to be picked and processed.  This caught us a bit off guard as it seemed early but our Italian neighbors assured us that now was the time to get started.  Jeff started Saturday off with a batch of pear butter and then I wrapped it up with a double batch of pear sauce.

Basil for Tomato Basil Sauce

Prepping for Tomato Basil Sauce

I was so motivated to keep going that on Monday I hit our local market and bought 9 kilos of roma tomatoes (at .79 euro per kg!!).  I knocked out a double batch of Tomato Basil Sauce from Ashley English’s  “Canning and Preserving.”  I also got a batch of Pomodori al Forno into the oven.  Both are great but please, make the Pomodori al Forno immediately.  Jeff and I scheduled a mini date night at home with it, some crusty bread, goat cheese and  prosecco.  YUM!  I regretted not making up a double batch immediately.  (Though I did chop up the two remaining tomatoes and mix them with my scrambled egg the following morning.)

Done.

Up next, pickles and salsa.

Canned

Pear butter

This year, we decided to take our first steps into the world of canning.  Jeff's mom and grandma passed on a huge love of, and tradition for, canning (My MIL's pickled green beans are to die for as is her sauerkraut.)

While we've done some preserving in the past,  this year we're stepping up.  Thankfully, Jeff is all in when it comes to this endeavor.  I even bought him a pressure canner for his birthday and he was thrilled.  In fact, if anything,  he might be even more into this than I am.
This past weekend was busy in our kitchen.
We have five pear trees in our yard and they were ready to be picked and processed.  This caught us a bit off guard as it seemed early but our Italian neighbors assured us that now was the time to get started.  Jeff started Saturday off with a batch of pear butter and then I wrapped it up with a double batch of pear sauce.

Basil for Tomato Basil Sauce


Prepping for Tomato Basil Sauce


I was so motivated to keep going that on Monday I hit our local market and bought 9 kilos of roma tomatoes (at .79 euro per kg!!).  I knocked out a double batch of Tomato Basil Sauce from Ashley English's  "Canning and Preserving."  I also got a batch of Pomodori al Forno into the oven.  Both are great but please, make the Pomodori al Forno immediately.  Jeff and I scheduled a mini date night at home with it, some crusty bread, goat cheese and  prosecco.  YUM!  I regretted not making up a double batch immediately.  (Though I did chop up the two remaining tomatoes and mix them with my scrambled egg the following morning.)

Done.

Up next, pickles and salsa.

Bean Roasting

Raw

We’re a DIY family when it comes to most things.  Especially things of the food and drink variety.  Jeff has home brewed beer since 2000(ish) so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he set his sights on other projects, including coffee.

In a recent beer supply order, he added a pound of green coffee beans.  He did a bit of reading, some Facebooking with my brother (I love how country crazy seems to run in the family!!) and he was on his way.

Bean roasting

It was so easy, done before before work, using our air popper (retired after our WhirleyPop acquisition) and finished off in a cast iron skillet over a camp stove.

Freshly roasted beans

The final result was delicious with no bitterness.

First product, home roasted beans

Is it worth the effort?  I think so.  The price per pound is about the same and the satisfaction of finishing it off just so is priceless.   Besides, how many people can say they roast their own coffee?

 

Family Dinner on Busy Nights

We are big believers in family dinners. Both Jeff and I grew up in families where gathering around the dinner table regularly was the rule rather than the exception. For us, it's just what you do and we did so even before we had kids.

However, if you talk to other parents at school, soccer practice or work you'll quickly learn that family dinner is not that common anymore. There's a lot of information out about the benefits of family dinners, this article is one I stumbled on yesterday. It is full of great information and suggestions.

Yet it many ways, I know it isn't that simple. American families live very busy lives. With both parents often working outside the home, nightly homework (often crazy amounts in my mind) and activities for the kids it is difficult to get everyone home at the same time.

Yes, we have chosen for me to be home full time for many reasons and I'm so thankful that has been possible for the last nearly nine years. It works for us. However, it can still difficult to ensure that we are regularly eating together. Part of this is due to Jeff's crazy work schedule and part is due to afternoon and activities. Though we are very selective and deliberate about how many activities each of us is committed to. Yet, even if Jeff is working 15 hour days and gets home just before bed or while he was deployed, the kids and I sat at the table together most nights and ate. It wasn't always gourmet but we connected.

That's the key in all of this, that you are actually gathering at the table. The focus really isn't on the food at all (as long as it's mainly healthy, whole foods). There are tons of meal planning resources and suggestions for dinner. The struggle seems to come on the evenings when things are just a bit crazier than normal.

Here are some ideas to get you to the table even when there are three practices, scouts  and homework.

Use your crockpot. I'm a huge fan of the crockpot and use it year round. While most often used to slow cook meat, you can also do beans, soup, pasta and even cake in the slow cooker. Our house in Colorado didn't have A/C so in the summer I used an outlet in the garage or on the deck.

Pasta. A simple marinara sauce can be made in the amount of time it takes to boil the water and cook the noodles. Saute some veggies or slice some fruit and you're set.

Breakfast for dinner. Scrambled eggs, toast, fruit. Ten minutes. Done.

Popcorn. Make a batch of popcorn (the good stuff, please), slice some cheese or a grab a handful of almonds and add apples.

Freeze ahead or join a meal exchange. There are several ways to do freezer meals. The easiest is likely doubling a recipe, serving half and putting half in the freezer. Then on those busy days, pull a pan of enchiladas out of the freezer to thaw in the morning and reheat quickly to serve. I wrote a bit about the meal exchange I was part of here.

Clean out the fridge. There is nothing wrong with leftovers.

Sandwiches. Quick and easy. Round it out with some veggies or fruit.

Really the options are endless.

One other idea that I've seen several families do is to pack a picnic. It seems that when multiple children are playing the same sport their practice may be at the same place on the same day but there is a 30 minute gap between. So, take any of the options above and pack dinner to go. This also works well on Saturday when one child has a game at ten and the other at one.

The important thing is to gather your family (sans phones and tv, of course) and settle in. You never know what might happen any given evening.

Obviously, this picture isn't from a busy day.  Just a Monday.  But it's what I had.  Besides,  every Monday needs some flowers and candlelight. Right?

Also, there have been seasons for our family (we're actually headed in to one soon) where all five of us aren't home for dinner.  Ever.  During these times, we try to shift our main meal to breakfast.  The important thing is that we gather.

 

Tuesday

March 6

This week isn’t going as I’d planned.

Morgan has been home sick with a cold and mild fever. Connor joined her after throwing up at school. They both seem to be on the mend. Obviously, I feel horrible that they are sick. Yet, I’m struggling with adjusting my plans and expectations to reality. I’m trying to remind myself that these “divine interruptions” (as a dear mentor in San Antonio referred to them) are just what I need but the housework and studying and hopes of exercise and a few quiet moments are taunting me.

Making soup

While the kids rest with movies, I’ve been making soup and listening to the MAPP gathering interviews. This is such an inspiring project designed just for moms.

Today, I listened to Andrea Sher’s interview and something they talked about hit me like a ton of bricks. The main thing I walked away with is the reminder that as a mom and woman, I need nourishment (physical yes, but also spiritual) and to be cared for just as much as anyone else in my family. And yet, even with a wonderful husband who supports me fully, I feel guilty actually putting this into practice. (What is it with moms and guilt?!) That is the absolute worst thing I can do. If I don’t take, and make, the time to care for myself how can I possibly care for those I love or do the work that I hope to do? Andrea referred to her self-care activities (and these are not typical beauty type things or even physical but more “whole self” care) as non-negotiables and I think that’s a great name. It’s easy for me to justify letting self-care go because of Jeff’s crazy work schedule, our limited support system (lack of babysitters, grandparents, etc.), and a myriad of other reasons. But those are all excuses and in reality all I’m doing is compounding stress.  In this situation, no one wins.

Trust me, I know.

So do my kids.

And Jeff.

The other thing they touched on that really spoke to me was the amount of “static” we fill our lives with. I am horrible about this. Social media, radio, new, tv, and more. I’ll confess, I even checked in with Instagram while listening to the interview.  Nevermind that only two people I connect with were actually awake during that time.

When there is never any quiet you can’t really hear what your soul is saying, let alone God.

I can’t recommend these interviews highly enough. Check them out.  I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of them in the next few days.

May your Tuesday be a good one. Interruptions and all.