Peachy plum confetti cocktail

20110821-034732.jpg Cheers! And, happy Friday! I thought it appropriate to kick-off labor day weekend with a perfectly summery and festive cocktail. If you don't peel your fruit before blending, you not only retain it's fiber, you also create a little party in your drink glass with what looks like confetti from the fruit skin!

Toss 3 plums and 1 peach (just cut the fruit in half to remove pit), 2 large shots of Jim Beam, and a spoonful of simple syrup into a blender. Press button and pulverize. Pour beverage into a tumbler over several cubes of ice, top with a splash of San Pellegrino for a little fizz, and garnish with a lemon wedge. And...you have a refreshingly healthy cocktail (bet you thought you'd never hear the word healthy used to describe a cocktail, especially from a dietitian!) to toast the long weekend!

I'm going to take next week off from menu planning so I can enjoy my parents' visit. I do have a fun post planned mid-week, so don't be a stranger. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and week. Be back soon. xxo.

Blueberry (pop berry) oatmeal whole grain buttermilk pancakes

20110808-021022.jpgYes. The title is a mouthful, but nothing like the mouthful you will attempt to create for yourself once you taste my latest pancake creation!

I don't know how you feel about pancake mix versus make you own batter, but I say when you find a good product, use it. Then, tailor it to make it your own. I will tell you the brands I prefer to use, but feel free to experiment with ones that you are partial to and already have on hand.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl: 2/3 cup organic buckwheat pancake mix (Arrowhead Mills), 1 cup buttermilk pancake mix (Bob's Red Mill), 1/2 cup rolled oats, and a heavy sprinkle of cinnamon.

In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients: 1 1/2 cups soy milk, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 2 large eggs, and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Whisk until mixed well.

Pour wet mixture into dry ingredients bowl and stir just until lumps disappear. Your batter should be pretty thick, like muffin batter consistency. Thick batter = thick pancakes, and thick pancakes are perfect for holding the plumb berries. Gently fold in 1cup fresh blueberries (pop berries per Jack).

On a skillet heated to medium (I used the 5 setting on my stovetop), spray a light layer of oil (I use olive oil from a pampered chef pump spritzer instead of buying Pam or another store spray). Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of batter per pancake and cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Remember to spray the skillet between each pancake batch.

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We topped ours with syrup. No butter for me since they were already olive oily, but my boys did enjoy butter on theirs.

These are really good and being stored away as one of my pancake go-to recipes and, it's hard to make it into the go-to recipe file, because I like to try new things!

vegetable ratatouille

20110821-030650.jpg A slow cooker recipe that doesn't involve beans! This is one of those meals that you just feel good eating. It's packed full of vegetables and little else and, if you use vegetables at the peak of their season, there is so much flavor. The gentle heat of the slow cook method nudges the vegetables' flavors into perfect harmony. Bite after bite, you feel healthier (and happier) than the last.

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This recipe is for a summer-inspired ratatouille using 6 small zucchini, 1 large eggplant, 2 small onions, 8 baby bell peppers of different hues (red, yellow, and orange), 6 cloves of minced garlic, and 3 hugs handfuls of small heirloom tomatoes. The dish is rustic, so no need to follow exact vegetable portions. Cut all the vegetables into bite-sized chunks and toss in the slow cooker. Add 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/2 cup of water, a long drizzle of olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper.

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Stir to combine and then cover and cook over low heat for 8 hours. Use about 2 cups for dinner tonight. Let the remaining ratatouille cool and portion 2 cup servings into freezer bags to store. It will be good in the freezer for up to 2 months. This will allow you to enjoy a bite of summer in late fall! For dinner tonight, serve the ratatouille over penne pasta. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Weekly dinner menu for the week of August 29th

20110827-012313.jpgHello, lovelies. I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. Mine was spent missing my hubs, keeping cool in a Seattle heat wave of 80 degree high temps, and planning for some very exciting visitors that arrive this week...my parents!

So, I have something I want to share with you all...I have a new writing gig! It's for an online magazine called Miss A that is established in about 20 US cities (maybe your city is featured...?) and promotes unique local events, particularly events that are connected to a charity. The magazine just launched in Seattle so I am among it's original core writers. It's a fun project that keeps me in-the-know of many Seattle happenings. Please click here to check out my section and read the articles I have written so far...I will be writing nearly every week, so keep checking back. I will also try to alert you when I have written something that I feel should be shared here.

I hope that all of you have a fun week ahead. And, perhaps this week's menu will help add some unique flavors to your little corner of the world:

Tuesday: slow cooked vegetable ratatouille

Wednesday: blueberry oatmeal whole grain buttermilk pancakes!

Thursday: pea pesto pasta

Friday: peachy plum confetti cocktail

Grilled naan pizzas

20110815-071234.jpgWe finally made our own pizzas in our new Seattle home! No take away and bake yourself, no delivery, no carry out...just our ingredients, our grill, and a beautiful Friday night when all three of us were at home for dinner together!

Instead of spending lots of time in the kitchen, I opted for the easy and creative way out and picked up some naan to use as our crusts. The naan was perfectly doughy and thick, yet "personal pan sized" and made for an excellent pizza base for grilling. Spreading out six pieces of naan and a counter-full of toppings, we got to work developing our own pizza creations.

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Here are the toppings we chose from: homemade basil pesto, marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, spinach, kalamata olives, roasted cherry tomatoes, and arugula. My favorite pizza combination was a pesto base topped with a sprinkle of mozzarella and roasted tomatoes, then after grilling, a large handful of arugula and a shaving of parmesan.

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What's your favorite homemade pizza combo? I love trying new ideas for our pies...so, please share! Have a lovely weekend!

Panzanella salad

Inspired by the lovely, Heidi Swanson, I made a "not-your-ordinary panzanella salad" for dinner. Yum! I'm still craving the amazingly delicious peanut salad dressing and the charred bits of tofu and bread that added a dimension of smokiness to the fresh dish.

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Start by cutting two thick slices of a good quality bread (I used an herb foccacia bread that I picked up at the farmer's market) and, then, using a pastry brush, brush both sides with olive oil. Grill on a stove-top grill pan (I have a le creuset grill pan that I adore...aside from cleaning it!) until each side is golden brown, crunchy, and has grill marks. When the bread cools a bit, tear it into bite-size chunks and put them in a bowl to use later.

Next, cut a block of firm tofu into 4 slabs and brush with olive oil. Grill on the same grill pan until each side turns golden with grill marks, about 10 minutes per side. Take care not to let the tofu stick to the grill pan...mine did which by no means hurt the dish, but it did take away some of the fabulous crunchy outside of the tofu...you may want to spray the pan first with olive oil to really coat it well. When it is finished cooking, remove from grill and cut into bite-size pieces and place in a large serving bowl.

Now, make the peanut dressing....excuse me my mouth is watering as I type this because its so good! I let Jack help with this step, which I think was fun for him, yet a bit stressful for me as I had to keep reminding him not to put his hands in the bowl! Combine 1/3 cup mixture of almond butter and peanut butter (about half of each), 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 clove of freshly minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper (use less if you don't like a lot of spice), and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Thin with about 1/2 cup warm water to the consistency of melted ice cream.

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Just before serving, pour the dressing over the tofu and toss gently. Add the bread chunks and toss again. It will, at first, look like a lot of dressing, the bread really soaks it up. Place then tofu and bread mixture on top of lettuce and then top with chilled roasted tomatoes.

Greens and chickpeas

This was one of those nights were I craved a warm, healthy homemade meal (yes, the day was thunderstormy and chilly not like the day most of you were suffering through) but I didn't want to spend a long time in the kitchen, especially cleaning-up (my least favorite part). So, I surveyed the ingredients we had on hand and, decided on sautéed mixed greens and chickpeas with grits. It may sound odd, but it's super tasty and quite filling!

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20110726-020150.jpg Before I left my job in Georgia, my friends at work gave me a very generous going away bag filled with all sorts of travel goodies and new home stuff. One of the items in my package was a bag of the fabulous Georgia grits that I love from Logan Turnpike Mill...a little gift of the south to take to Seattle with me :) Tonight, the grits became our grain side and they were extra scrumptious. Maybe being away from the south made them that much better?! Real stone ground grits, as opposed to the instant bleached white variety that are found in most grocery stores, require a good rinsing to remove big grains and extra slow heat cooking time. I made a cup of grits with 4 cups of water and cooked them uncovered on simmer for about 45 minutes. I cheesed up Jack and David's grits and kept mine simple with a small pat of smart balance "butter". "Mmmmm" was the chorus heard around our dinner table as we tried them!

For the greens, I sautéed a good amount of olive oil with 4 cloves of minced garlic. When the garlic was fragrant, I added kale first and when that cooked down a bit, I added a large amount of collard greens, turnips greens, and mustard greens. You can choose any greens combination you like or have on hand, they are so versatile and easily mix and match. Because the greens cook down so much, I like to cook a lot, but this requires adding the greens in batches so that they will all fit in the pan. I sautéed them for about 20 minutes making sure to get the veins tender. Near the end of the cooking time, I added a can (yes, I bought a can!) of drained and rinsed chick peas to the greens in the pot and stirred well to mix.

Serve alongside each other for a tasty southern inspired supper. Hint: Mixing the greens with the grits on a few forkfuls created deliciously tasty bites.

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Quinoa with roasted vegetable (and a pre-dinner mojitos cocktail)

Am I the only one who hasn't been cooking with quinoa on a regular basis??! I've cooked with it several times previously, but its never been part of a regular rotation. I adore it...it's nutty flavor and fun texture adds a lot to a dish and it's incredibly simple to prepare. When I make it, I feel like I'm stepping it up a bit from brown rice or pasta, when really it's easier to cook than either of those foods!

20110730-021333.jpg About an hour before dinner, you will want to stick your chopped veggies into the oven to roast at 375 degrees. To toast to summer's lovely vegetable bounty, I roasted a pound of mini heirloom tomatoes, 4-5 small zucchinis, and 1 small onion. Cut all of the vegetables to about the same size so they roast evenly, toss with a coating of olive oil and some kosher salt. The vegetables will roast on their own so that you can enjoy the night outdoors, but I do recommend stirring once or twice during their hour of cooking for even browning.

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Before you head outside, make a round of mojitos. They don't exactly go with the dinner theme, but we had tons of fresh mint and, wow, they were good! Note: The simple syrup should be made earlier in the day so it has time to cool down. It will last for weeks in the refrigerator in a sealed container making future mojito or other cocktail nights even easier!.

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Fifteen minutes prior to eating, you will have to tear yourself away from the outdoors to start the quinoa. Add 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water to a medium pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until water is gone. Seriously. That's it!

Mix the quinoa into the roasting pan with the vegetables. Serve with some fresh summer fruit...we enjoyed it with figs and mangos. Oh, and you can add sparkling water to the mint and limes left behind in your mojitos glass for a refreshing and hydrating dinner beverage.

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Thoughts on life's balance + weekly dinner menu for the week of August 22nd

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the balancing act of life lately...what components must come together to make your family happy, your house peaceful, and everyone in your home feeling well-balanced and fulfilled. It's tricky. It's tricky for everyone...working parents, stay at home parents, single people, single parents, married couples without children. And, it's especially tricky when you have to find the right flow when one of the players in your act does not have a schedule that is set nor flexible.One of my favorite bloggers, Joanna Goddard of cup of Jo did a balancing work/life/motherhood series that is a must-read. It really made me think about how we all struggle to find this perfect balance to make our life, and the people in it, as happy as we possibly can while also giving of our whole selves to make our work meaningful and successful. As I enter back into the working world today, thankfully into a job I'm psyched about and that only requires me to be there part time, I thought it would be a good exercise to do my own little post, using some of Joanna's questions, about how I attempt to balance the pieces of my life to make it all flow.

20110821-024844.jpg (Jack on the morning of his first day of school...sniff. Overly excited about holding his new lunch box.)

Intro: My work life has evolved from a full-time to a stay-at-home to a part-time working mama over the last year and a half. I went back to my full-time job as a clinical dietitian in Atlanta when Jack was 3 months old (heartbreaking) and toyed around with my schedule cutting hours, then some days to try to make my presence at work meaningful, but my time with Jack even more so. During this time, Jack spent a month at home with David and then 15 months at an in-home daycare with 3 other children. Our transition from Atlanta to Seattle allowed me to spend nearly three months at "home" with Jack...this came at a wonderful time of growth and readjustment for him. We knew that I would make a jump to part-time the first chance I could and our move to Seattle has, fortunately, allowed for that! Now, at 21 months old, Jack goes 3-4 days a week to a wonderful little preschool in our neighborhood.

1. What's your work schedule? My schedule will always be changing since I will work as an outpatient dietitian counseling patients or teaching classes 2-3 varying days per week. I'm trying to take another day each week for writing, hoping appointments and errands don't get in the way! I will also write on the weekends or very occasional nights after Jack goes to bed, if David goes to bed early or is working. No matter what, I'm going to spend one day each week focused on Jack. I'm looking forward to finding a class that we can join and rainy day activities to explore!

2. How do you handle childcare? Because of my varying schedule, it worked best for us to have Jack enrolled four days a week at preschool. On the days I see patients, he, unfortunately, will be there the full 10 hours, but on the days I take for writing, he will typically attend for about 6 hours. Knowing he doesn't go every day makes the long days bearable. On patient Fridays, Jack will hang out with a babysitter for a few hours, because our preschool closes earlier on that day.

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3. What would you love to change down the road (or would change right now) if you had a magic wand? I think the biggest problem with our current set-up is that David is a completely unreliable player on the team. I'm looking forward to the day when we have at least a pretty good idea of when he will be at the hospital and when he will be home each day. Its difficult to work and do all of the childcare alone.

4. What's your favorite part of your work? I am so excited to be taking on a new direction in my career by working in an outpatient clinic setting rather than in a hospital. I love to interact with patients and teach and my new job will allow me to do a lot of both! Also, I'm so thrilled to be doing some freelance writing and am really hoping I get more opportunities for this, especially since my schedule was tailored to give myself time for this passion.

5. What's your favorite part of your home life? I love the days when David is home in the evenings and we can play in the backyard, go for walks, cook dinner, have dance parties, read, and snuggle before Jack goes to bed. Then, we get to have some adult time where we can watch a movie, just have a drink and talk, or make a longer dinner together. It doesn't happen often, so when it does, it's such a treasure!

6. How does your husband contribute to managing the juggle/house/childcare? We've made it an unspoken rule to get up with Jack together when we are both home (except when David has worked overnight). We take turns playing with him and making breakfast/coffee. If David's home in the evenings, one of us gives Jack a bath and the other reads Jack stories and puts him to bed. When our schedules allow, we basically have a set of tasks and the counterpart to that task. I think being open to talking about expectations helps make a happier home life, so I talk about this subject quite often!

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7. How do you and your husband fit your marriage into the balance? Gosh...it's so easy to neglect you marriage once you have a child! There are so many other things that suddenly become ultra important and can easily take all of your energy and time if you let them. I think it's really critical to foster the connection you have with your spouse. We were not good about doing this in Atlanta, but we are now trying to plan for date nights on a semi-regular basis. We feel that its worth the babysitting fees to have time with each other and out with friends. And, if David is home at night, we often try to focus on each other after Jack goes to bed with no Internet distractions...it often feels like a stay-at-home date night, which is so wonderful.

8. Do you have time for yourself? I am terrible at this! David and I don't get much time together, so its often hard to justify going out to do something on my own or with friends. I am VERY protective of my few quiet hours during the day when I am not working and Jack is napping...But this is a time I use to return phone calls, write for the blog, write articles, cook, do some Internet research...not really time for me. Also, I make a true effort to create exercise time 3-4 days each week...jogging strollers are wonderful as is having a daycare that's close and allows for walking/running to and fro! I'm going to really try to create some time for me in my week and time to go out with girlfriends. Girlfriends are so important and should be a top priority, especially at a time when I am making new ones in a new city!

9. What advice would you give to other moms about how to balance work and life? Every day I find myself thinking, "If not mama, then who?" Mamas really are extraordinary in their ability to do so much in so many different roles, but we also put so much on ourselves! I think it's extremely important to be authentic to ourselves, to ask for help, to not be afraid to say when we feel overwhelmed, and to simply do our best. It's so easy to compare ourselves to other moms falsely thinking that they have it all. It's helpful to look to each other for help and inspiration, but what matters most is how we balance all our different pieces into real living with our family and friends. Be true to your own role!

10. Have you talked to other women about how to juggle everything? Do you think people talk openly about it? I am not so sure people are open and honest about it and that is hard. My impression is that every mama stresses over making their own right choice that it is easier to put down another woman's choices rather than learn from them. I always hear stay-at-home moms say that they don't want someone else to 'raise' her child. And, some working moms feel superior because they have a career and income. The decisions we make have so much to do with our personal life experiences that it's hard to have a one-size-fits-all approach. And, admittedly, I'm still learning how to live and balance it all and doing the best I can along the way.

11. Do you think the juggle is harder for women than for men? I do think the juggle is harder for women than for men. It seems that the day Jack was born I was injected with a healthy dose of guilt -- about not doing enough for him, not doing enough for myself, not calling my parents/sister/friends enough, not letting David know how special he is to me, not working hard enough. Because David's career dictates his schedule, it has been left to me to create a childcare/work balance. I know David would certainly help if he could and I know he misses us when he's gone, but I think when men leave and go to work, their minds clear to focus on their career in the forefront with their families in the background. As a mama, I don't find it possible to do that. I live and breathe guilt daily!

So, thanks for reading...I would love to know your own story, if you want to share.

And, this week's menu:

Tuesday: instead of a meal made in the slow cooker, let's make quinoa with roasted vegetables and celebrate summer's bounty of mint with mojito in hand!

Wednesday: greens and chickpeas

Thursday: summer panzanella salad

Friday: pizza made at home...on the grill!

A Mexican supper of fresh citrus margaritas and spicy black bean enchiladas

20110811-061619.jpgWe had friends over for a fun Mexican supper of avocado, mango, and lime guacamole, delicious Emerald Valley salsa (one of my new local obsessions), spicy black bean enchiladas, a yummy baked zucchini, onion, and tomato dish shared by our friend, citrus margaritas, and an ice cream and sorbet dessert with honey, pistachios, dark chocolate chips, and butter cookies.

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20110811-061631.jpg Besides the dessert, I think Jack and Johanna's favorite part of the meal was helping themselves to the chips and guacamole appetizer. Look how into it they are!

A note about the spicy black bean enchiladas, if you decide to make them (and I think you should, which is why I'm sharing the recipe and my notes!). They are probably perfectly yummy made as described by Andie, but I made a few tweaks. Of course, I used slow cooked black beans instead of canned and, then, skipped the sautéing of garlic and onion steps since I added those ingredients to the slow cooker. Also, I used a Walla Walla white onion instead of red, a can of regular diced tomatoes instead of fire roasted, and omitted the sugar and cilantro.

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20110811-061716.jpg Having a good time using the lawn mower to push each other.

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It was a fun evening and think we may have perfected this margarita recipe, making it our go-to. I'm already craving another round! Cheers and happy weekend!

20110810-020417.jpg Perfectly Citrus Margaritas Combine 1 1/2 cups of white tequila, 1 1/2 cups pulpy orange juice, the juice from 8 limes and 6 lemons, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 1/2 Blue Moon beers. Stir to combine. Add slices of lime to the glasses or pitcher for garnish. Pour over lots of ice and serve with a slice of red pepper, just because it's festive and pretty.

Watermelon and Mint Skewers

So it appears that watermelon and mint are all the rage this summer...were you aware of this?? It seems like everywhere that I turn someone is talking about this pairing. Rightfully so. Fresh mint leaves really balance the sweetness of the watermelon to create the perfect summer fling!

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I got a little bit creative here and instead of a watermelon salad, I made watermelon skewers, which I found to be an easy and fun way to serve my appetizer dish at a friend's house.

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First, cut the watermelon into small cube shaped bites. Then, tear off and rinse small to medium sized mint leaves from your bunch. Finally, cube feta cheese into small bite sized pieces. Now, assemble the 3 ingredients onto a toothpick, placing the mint leaf between the watermelon and feta cubes. Place skewers carefully into a bowl or onto a platter.

Now, make your "dressing" for the skewers. Boil 2/3 cup of white balsamic vinegar for about 7 minutes or until it is reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Take care to watch it carefully because it will burn...trust me! Drizzle the balsamic vinegar reduction onto the skewers and tah-dah...you are left with a palate whetting skewer that is a little sweet (watermelon), a little salty (feta), and a lot delicious!

Pasta with seasonal greens

Truthfully, there is nothing overly exciting about this dish aside from the fact that it is always good. Really good...that is, if you are a bitter greens lover like us! And, the cool thing about this meal is that the taste of it changes a bit with each season, depending on the type of greens that are available.

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Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt generously and add 3/4 pound of pasta (your choice). Cook for about 12 minutes, cooking time will depend on your pasta type. Then drain, reserving a bit of the liquid to thin out the dish.

While the pasta is cooking, sauté 3-4 cloves of garlic in a large pot with a good amount of olive oil. When the garlic is fragrant, add a large amount of mixed greens (I used nearly 2 full bunches). Any type of greens will do...I love to just browse and get what looks the best at the farmer's market. For tonight's dinner, I used turnip greens, spinach, and collard greens. Cook until wilted.

Combine the pasta and greens (along with all of the olive oily juices) in a large bowl (or back in the pot if you don't want a lot of dishes to clean and you just want to dish out your plates from the stove top...nothing wrong with cutting corners midweek!) and salt adequately. Shave in some good quality parmesan because when it's good, a little can go a long way.

Slow cooked pinto beans

Yes. I did it again. I told you I wouldn't, but I did...This week another slow cooked meal post using beans. But I've decided, if people think brown goat and think beans, I will not be offended!

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Seriously. For all of you whom I haven't converted yet, here is your chance to jump to the other side. Say NO to canned beans tonight and try slow cooked pinto beans instead. You will not be sorry.

I cooked about a pound of pinto beans for 7 hours in the slower cooker on the low heat setting. Today, I was feeling lazy and did not sauté the onions and garlic before adding them to the beans. And, guess what...it still turned out delicious! The slow cooker is so forgiving (and, it doesn't heat up your kitchen, a bonus for all of you suffering from the endless summer heat wave!).

For tonight's dinner, we created our own burritos at the table with the pinto beans, flour tortillas, cubed avocado, sliced cherry tomatoes, diced mango, salsa, and a squeeze of lime. Sooooo summery fresh, so simple, and so good! I'm glad to have bags of pinto bean leftovers in the freezer so we can recreate this meal again soon!

Scenes from the weekend + weekly dinner menu for week of August 15th

20110814-020634.jpgSince being in Seattle, I haven't really felt the pull to "get out of the city," to step away from our city life to slow down and to cherish nature. Part of the reason for this is that by living in Seattle, nature seems to be everywhere. We are exposed daily to the fresh air, huge lakes, evergreen trees, mountain ranges looming in the distance...it almost feels like we are on vacation every day.

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20110814-021750.jpg But, this weekend, we did get out of the city. We drove east to a small town north of Snoqualmie called Fall City and then biked, in a row of four road bikes and two bike trailers, to pick raspberries, enjoy the mountain valley country roads, to take time to watch a snail, and to "just be" in nature with some new, yet already dear friends. It was perfect. And, we were reminded that not only is this new city, the one we are thrilled to call our home, gorgeous, so too is the surrounding land.

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And now, this week's menu:

Tuesday: pinto beans (yes...beans, again!)

Wednesday: pasta with greens

Thursday: watermelon and mint skewers

Friday: no pizza this week (gasp!). Instead, I want to share our menu from a Mexican-themed supper party with friends including a black bean enchilada and delicious margarita recipe!

Zeeks pizza

20110724-014100.jpgZeeks Pizza is my favorite pizza place to date! It started with the service...It was getting late on Friday and Jack and I were playing in the backyard waiting for David to make it home (story of our lives it seems...but that's a different post all together). After getting word of David's imminent arrival, I called for delivery (of course, I had done my research well in advance and already knew from where and what we were going to order...planning meals and researching restaurants is the stuff I live for!). A very nice guy answered the phone, pleasantly took my order, welcomed me to Seattle!, and the pizza was delivered promptly 25 minutes later, as promised.

20110724-014748.jpg Wow! It looked amazing and was loaded with yummy vegetables. We ordered one of their signature veggie pies, the tree hugger (because I called to order, it was my pizza choice and all 3 of us agreed that I did not steer us in the wrong direction!). We ordered a large because their website says a large "feeds 3 hungry folks"...this is the ONLY thing they got wrong! While we were all quite hungry, a large was incredibly too big for us! We had over half of the pie leftover, but this suited us...we were excited for the leftovers on our second pizza night of the week!

The tree hugger was loaded with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, black olives, spinach, fresh garlic, broccoli, and artichoke hearts. The pizza base consisted of a light layer of tomato sauce, fresh oregano, and a sprinkling of mozzarella. Not only is it the best pizza we have had in Seattle to date, it may be one of my favorites of all time! It was a damn good pie! We are looking forward to next time we call Zeeks again!

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Homemade pesto with orzo, broccoli, and avocado

I bought a huge bunch of basil from our new favorite shopping market with no definitive plans for it...it's summer, the price was right, and it just smelled and looked too good to pass up. Instead of using it throughout the week to give everything I touched a hint of basil, I decided it was time to perfect my very own pesto sauce. 20110721-013548.jpg

Dutifully doing my research, I read about two dozen pesto recipes gaining ideas from lots of cooks. This is what I decided on: Browngoat Pesto: Put about 3 cups of loosely packed basil leaves into a food processor. Add 1/3 cup of pine nuts, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 4 small cloves of garlic, and a pinch of kosher salt. Blend until smooth, then slowly add another 1/4 cup of olive oil blending to emulsify. It's simple, vegan, and freshly delicious. It will last for a week in the refrigerator in a sealed container or you can freeze it in ice cube trays and then pop the cubes into a freezer bag so that you have small portions to reheat during the winter season when the basil is not as abundant.

I served it with a recipe loosely adapted from Heidi's Super Natural Every Day, a cookbook that I adore (thank you again, Lara, for this wonderful gift!). I use the book almost weekly for some recipes but mostly for ideas about how to cook the foods I have on hand.

Summer Orzo Salad: Bring a large pot of water to boil, salt generously, and add 2 cups of orzo pasta. Cook for about 13 minutes, drain, and let sit. In the meantime, bring a small amount of water to boil in a large pot, then stir in 2 heads of raw broccoli cut into small florets and a big pinch of salt. Steam for about 4 minutes, depending on how soft you like your broccoli to be. The broccoli can be drained in the same colander with the orzo. Dump the orzo and broccoli into a large serving bowl and stir in about 1/3 cup of pesto and the juice and grated lemon zest from 1/2 of a large lemon. Gently fold in 1 medium avocado cut into small slices and top with 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts. The lemon gives this salad a welcome note of cheeriness while the avocado adds a creamy depth. It's really good and makes leftovers for yummy lunches! (The avocado will probably brown a bit in the leftover portion, but it's still okay to eat.)

David's graduation + recipe for grilled feta and buttered turnips

20110802-105144.jpgPlease allow me to step back in time a bit to say, "Congratulations, sweets. I am so, so proud of you!" This is all so long over due (today marks 3 months since medical school graduation!), but my brain was dealing with so much in May...too much. I could barely make it through the simple tasks of each day. To clear a space for celebration, to slow my brain enough to have fun...it just wasn't possible. I tried. Really. I did. But, I know that I didn't fully participate in the graduation festivities...I certainly wasn't capable of adding to the cheery occasion in the way a wife, best friend, and partner should have. I wasn't even in a place where I felt comfortable retreating into my own world...the place I usually turn when I have nothing more to give...because my own world was tumultuous and frightening.
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I'm so happy to be in a place now where jumping for joy seems to be a routine part of my day. My head is feeling clearer and I am capable of celebrating. Capable of truly experiencing, embracing, and creating happiness. So, today, I want to say thank you, David, for working so hard and getting through it all...congratulations on being a double doctor!

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I know our marriage is my most important relationship. I'm sorry that I wasn't truly there for your celebration....but I hope you, too, feel that we have surfaced from the fog and found each other again. I feel renewed and want for you to know that I am forever grateful to you, and that Jack and I will always be here, right by your side.

20110802-105158.jpg (Jack's bowtie is from urban sunday. It's called the Seattle tie. I waited until after match day to purchase it, knowing I wanted him to wear the one with our new city's namesake!)

Today's recipe: Grilled feta, before I started my mostly plant based diet (I say "mostly" because I made the change for health reasons and my real goal is to limit saturated fats. Really limit them. Because most saturated fats come from animal products, I now choose to eat mostly plant based foods. I prefer it to eating fat-free versions of real foods...ick. I still have occasional treat meals when we go out or when I discover a new food and cannot imagine my family tasting it without me...I am obsessed with food, as may be clear, so giving up a whole category of foods, permanently, is too upsetting.).... Okay. Tangent. Back to feta cheese :) ...it used to be one of our favorite things to throw on the grill and have for dinner.

Wrapping a block of feta in foil, drizzling it with olive oil, and then grilling it for about 20 minutes makes a wonderfully savory meal paired with grilled pitas and, of course, a tasty summer vegetable! Tonight, our veggie is turnips.

If you pre-slice your turnips into thin wafers, while the feta is grilling, you can brown them in butter in a cast iron skillet taking time to pop in from outside only occasionally to turn them. They are done cooking when they are browned evenly...then, they melt in your mouth with their buttery sweetness.

It's a simple, savory, and sweet summertime meal.

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A new slow cooked beans recipe and overly indulgent nachos

It's true. Almost every week, I cook a big pot of beans in our slow cooker to use in various ways throughout the week and also to freeze for using later. I don't know why, but a freezer full of homemade beans makes me feel secure. By having that in place, I always know that I can prepare a healthy and flavorful homemade meal even on a very busy day. I promise to get more creative with my slow cooker recipes, but this week it's another pot of beans. Instead of just connecting you back to my original black beans recipe post, though, I thought I would take a moment to rewrite a general recipe for slow cooked beans and then share with you one of my true indulgent ways to eat black beans.

Slow cooked beans:

To prepare your dried beans, pick through about a pound of beans looking for small pebbles and then rinse thoroughly in a colander. Next, place the beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover the beans by a few inches. Cover the pot with its lid and leave it on the counter or stove to soak overnight at room temperature. You will be thankful for the time you take to prepare and soak your beans because soaking actually speeds the cooking process (which is super helpful if you are cooking the beans on the stovetop) and creates a plumpness to the beans that you don't always get when you skip the soaking step.

This next step you can either do the night before or wait until the next morning. Finely chop a yellow or white onion and sauté it in a skillet with 3 or 4 cloves of minced garlic and a healthy pour of olive oil. Sauté until the garlic and onions become aromatic and tender. If you do this step the night before, simply cool down the garlic and onions, then cover and place in the refrigerator. If you sauté them right before you cook the beans, simply add the onion and garlic mixture to your bean pot along with any oil left in the skillet.

In the morning, drain the beans and discard the now dirty and discolored soaking water. Put your beans in a slow cooker or back in the same pot and add fresh water in a volume nearly triple the amount of beans. If you are going to be away for the day or just want the beans to cook themselves, put them in a slow cooker along with the garlic and onions, sprinkle with kosher salt, set the slow cooker to low heat, and cook for 6 hours. If you are cooking the beans on the stovetop, bring the water in your pot to a simmer and cook the beans with the onion and garlic mixture, uncovered, for 40 minutes to longer than an hour depending on the type of bean and their freshness. Stovetop bean cooking requires some hands on work because you will need to sample regularly to gauge doneness. Every time you taste, be sure to taste more than a couple of beans because they don't always cook at the same speed and a bean that's not quite cooked is icky. Season the stovetop beans with kosher salt in the last 15 minutes of cooking, when the beans are almost finished. If you season them with salt at the beginning, it sometimes makes the beans breakdown and get crumbly.

Regardless of the cooking method you choose, you will be left with a large pot of beans to enjoy in many dishes. The beans you don't plan to use in a few days should be drained and then placed in quart-size freezer bags to freeze for later.

Now, for my indulgent black bean dish that is just so tasty, bean lover or not, it's hard not to enjoy it. I'm forced to be more creative now than I was here with this dish since I have decided to eat a mostly vegan diet, but cheesy, sour creamy nachos are the way to do it...so, if you wish, pile it on!

20110720-015253.jpg For these, I kept it simple and topped blue corn tortilla chips with a large spoonful of black beans, steamed and lightly salted broccoli, a spoonful of sour cream, grated sharp cheddar cheese, and a heavy drizzle of hot salsa. A deliciously satisfying dinner!

Summer's simple pleasures + Weekly menu for week of August 8th

I have always loved the summer season. As a child, summer meant swimming in granny and pawpaw's pool...emerging only to eat white bread ham sandwiches on the picnic table and watermelon slices sprinkled with salt. Having your hair turn slime green from the chlorine was a badge of honor. During my college years, summer provided a time to breathe, a respite from all the papers and exams and reading. Post-college, also known as the "real world," summer morphed into a time to stay out later than normal despite the need for an early rise, grilling with friends, relaxing by the pool, and attending lots of weddings!

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Somewhere over the years, summer became more of a memory than an experience. Looking back, it seems I spent the past few summer seasons complaining about the heat and wishing my job provided a "summers off" option. The only unique memories I have of the past several summers are vivid daydreams about what my summer will be like "one day."

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This summer has reawakened my senses. I have had the treat of spending this summer at home with Jack. I feel alive to the wonders of summer again...experiencing all that the season offers with a curious and engaged child. It feels like a school break...multiple months of time off after a hard year(+) of work! I have been relishing every moment and enjoying all of those simple childhood pleasures that mean summer...

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Eating cherries on the deck together for an afternoon snack

Endless hours of playing with shovels and balls and the garden hose

Long morning walks when time is not an issue and Jack can stop and smell the roses (and almost everything else that crosses his path!)

Visiting playgrounds and meeting new people

Discovering wading pools

Chasing bees and learning why they love flowers

Dinners in the sunlight

Deliciously fresh berries that stain our hands and clothes

Playing with bugs

Leaving the door open to invite running from inside to outside and back again

Learning how to slide and how to climb

Blowing bubbles

Picnics

Sidewalk chalk

Wearing rain boots, a pajama shirt, and a diaper...just because you can

It's a wonderful gift to have the time to live through a season with a child. It brings peace, it heals, and it makes you new. I hope that a combination of these moments will form Jack's memories of summer...

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This week's menu: Tuesday: slow cooked beans...again, but this time we are making nachos! I promise to get more creative with my slow cooker soon!

Wednesday: grilled feta and pita, buttered turnips

Thursday: orzo, broccoli, and avocado salad featuring homemade pesto

Friday: pizza from Zeeks!