Junk in the trunk

When I was little, the word “adventure” was used to sugar coat traumatic family vacation experiences. If we got pickpocketed on the metro in Rome, missed our flight to the Cayman Islands because we did not have our birth certificates on hand, or if I passed out on a mountain top gondola ride in Jackson Hole and peed my pants, for example, we were simply “on an adventure.” Between the ages of five and fifteen, adventures for my brother and me involved a lot of crying and temper tantrums. (These vacations were also amazing and life-changing, but when something fabulous happened we were just “on vacation.”

What once was a dirty word, however, has been restored, especially as I reflect on my childhood experiences and realize how wonderful my parents made even ridiculous circumstances. I like to think that their generally nonchalant attitude about proper documentation and the like made me who I am today.

Today I excitedly embark on a new adventure, my first one in a while. Starting right about now, my best friend and I are driving clear across the country. Not only that, but we are training along the way for a 10k in California at the end of the trip. I am telling you this because this will be my first vacation since I joined the blogging world. Therefor, I am taking the opportunity to challenge us to a three week, cross country, car camping, 10k training, mostly clean eating but also mind-expanding culinary extravaganza. I’m sure we’ll come up with something worth sharing in that time.

Stay tuned!

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Strong is Beautiful

I recently did something I am really proud of, but am not sure how to share. I took part in a photo shoot at my gym. My coaches put together these “Strong is Beautiful” photo shoots a few times a year, and give members the chance to get some fitness shots taken. In retrospect, I think part of the reason they started doing this is to allow us to see ourselves through someone else’s lens, since our own lens is often distorted and so harsh. I work out 4 times a week, eat pretty healthy most of the time, and sometimes still can’t see my own muscles. Yet I’ve never once looked in the mirror and failed to notice my love handles or “fleshy knees.” I was nervous, but I thought it would be a good challenge for me, and also probably empowering and fun even if I never saw the pictures.

That being said, of course I was dying to see the pictures! When I first got them back, I almost couldn’t look at them. I peaked, with only one eye open. There I was, just sort of out there, in the open, showing (flaunting!) what I got. The lighting was great, the photographer was amazing, I got a spray tan, had my makeup done and was slicked up with baby oil, but I still picked myself to pieces in every shot.

After sleeping on it, I looked at the pictures again and shared them with a few friends. They, of course, sent back kind, amazing comments oozing with love, support and validation. So I looked at them again, and kept looking until I could see my muscles. I looked at them until I was smiling ear to ear with pride and joy. I might have actually even said, “daaayym girl!” in my head. I thought, if I can pick out my imperfections in these pictures, then the pictures are real. They are showing me who I am, which means the strength and beauty I see is also real.

I scored a few points with me this week by allowing myself to be vulnerable to someone else’s lens, and trusting and accepting what they saw instead of rationalizing it away into nothing. That was a little bit huge.

This month, I’m a little over two years, 4 races, and 1 photo shoot into my health and fitness journey. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like a clean diet and some heavy weights to help you face the world.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures:

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**Thanks to Eric Brushett PhotographyTuff Girl Fitness and Bodyology Fitness Studio

Spring Cleaning Veggie Soup

I want to make everything from scratch, all the time. After all, I’m trying to learn how to really cook. Sauces, broths and doughs are fun to try, but they take time and love, and a lot of exploration. Sometimes they fail at 8pm at night when you’ve worked all day, gone to the gym, still have a term paper to write, and are on the verge of transforming into the hunger-induced raging lunatic doppelgänger of your normally normal self. (Who you then have to apologize for in the morning even though you have no memory of her visit…)

Anyway, it’s finals week for me and I have a big project going on at work, so when I went grocery shopping on Sunday I made a point to put together some quick and easy meals. I already had a bunch of veggies in my kitchen from all the big elaborate meals I thought up and “didn’t get to” this week, so with an additional carton of veggie broth and 1 can of beans I was able to make up this soup. Besides clearing out my fridge, it came out pretty tasty. Sometimes it pays to throw in everything but the kitchen sink and see what happens.

Ingredients:
4 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onice, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
4 parsips, peels and sliced
2 garlic cloves, whole
4 cups vegetable broth or stock
2 cups fresh peas (or frozen, or canned if you have them)
1 can great northern beans
1 small tomato, diced
1-2 fresh basis leaves
a pinch of fresh parmesan
a pinch of herbs de provence
a pinch of crushed red pepper
sea salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

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Preheat the oven to 375 F. Cut the sweet potato and parsnips into 1/2 inch cubes, and lay on a greased baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the pieces over half way. Since the veggies will cook a bit more in the soup, they don’t have to be completely cooked through. Watch them and make sure to remove them from the oven before they start crisping.

In a large sauce pan, heat a bit of olive oil and saute the onions and celery on med-low flame until translucent, about 5 minutes. Try to keep them from browning. Add in the rest of your ingredients, except the beans, and bring to a slow boil. Once boiling, add beans and reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for another 20 minutes.

Top with fresh parmesan to serve. I happened to have some amazing kielbasa in the fridge homemade by a friend of mine in the fridge (thanks Kathrin and Sam!), so we sliced that up and threw it in the leftovers for something different. It was refreshing and satisfying both ways.

Enjoy!

A Berry Nice Surprise

In a moment of great ambition, I volunteered to make pies for my family’s Easter celebration. Baking does not come naturally to me, so I felt a lot of pressure to get these pies right, since there was going to be a crowd of about 20 people. I decided on one strawberry rhubarb and one apple pie. I also decided to buy pre-made crust, and that I was not going to post about this adventure. However, a few things happened and that all changed. First, I found out there is no rhubarb to be found anywhere this time of year. So, with the strawberries already in my cart I decided to try a mixed berry pie. Second, the pies came out great! So here we are 🙂

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Mixed Berry Pie
adapted from Epicurious

2 store bought pie crusts (I used the Whole Food’s brand frozen ones, made from only a few whole ingredients)
1-16oz container of strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg yolk (for glaze)

Preheat over to 400 degrees F. Combine all ingredients except egg yolk in a bowl, and stir until fruit is nice and coated. Line a pie dish with one crust, and fill with fruit mixture. It should be piled nice and high, since the filling will cook down quite a bit. Carefully cover pie with the second crust. Seal by crimping the edges together with a fork nice and tightly. Cut a few slits in the top for vents.

To make the glaze, beat one egg yolk, 1 tsp of water and 1/4 tsp white sugar together. Brush over the top crust.

Bake for 20 minutes at 400F, then reduce temperature to 350F and bake for an additional hour to 1 hour and 25 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from over and cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

Chicken Sausage Lettuce Wraps

Confession: It’s not always easy being clean. Keeping the meal repertoire interesting and tasty enough to stay on track is hard to do sometimes. My motivation and creativity come in waves. Recently, simplicity has been my ingredient of choice. So, the other night I started with one idea, chicken sausage. Recently I’ve been playing around with taking sausage out of the casing, making it much more versatile. I actually googled “chicken sausage lettuce wraps” to see what ideas I could steal, but there wasn’t much to be found. I had cooked quinoa and a lemon in the fridge, naturally challenging me to incorporate them as well. So, I thought, let’s see if we can’t make chicken sausage lettuce wraps a thing.

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Chicken Sausage Lettuce Wraps
Makes 3-4 servings

Ingredients:
6 plain chicken sausages, casings removed
1 head bib lettuce
1 granny smith apple, diced
1 cup cooked quinoa
handfull fresh parsley, chopped (I actually pulled mind out of the freezer)
1 tbsp lemon juice
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a hot pan, add the sausage and break it up into small pieces as it begins to cook. Saute on medium heat until completely cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add in the quinoa and cook an additional 2-3 minutes, until everything is heated through.

Remove from heat. Toss sausage mixture in a large mixing bowl with parsley, lemon juice and the diced apple.

Carefully pull off each lettuce leaf, and fill them with a spoonful of the mixture. Serve like tacos. This also makes great leftovers, just pack filling and lettuce separately.

Enjoy!

Avocado, Poached Eggs and Toast!

Welcome to my favorite new breakfast/lunch/post work-out/mid-day snack. It’s delicious, hearty and packed with protein. When I am at work and can’t cook eggs, the toast and avocado is a nice replacement. Enjoy!

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Ingredients:
1 tsp white vinegar
2 eggs
2 slices bread (I use whole wheat sprouted bread)
1/2 ripe avocado
balsamic vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
optional: hot sauce

To prepare the poached eggs, bring a pot of water to a boil and add a teaspoon of white vinegar. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. When water comes to a slow boil, create an eddy by swirling the water around with a spoon. Drop the eggs into the center of a pot and time 3 minutes.

In the meantime, toast the bread. Spread each side with avocado and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

When the eggs are done, pull them out of the water with a slotted spoon and drain off the excess water. Place one egg on each slice of toast. If desired, top with salt and pepper with hot sauce.

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Enjoy!

A Sweet and Savory St. Patrick’s Day Cabbage Alternative

St. Patrick’s Day is here again! I usually do cook a corned beef and cabbage, boiled together in a pot with red potatoes. I’m not Irish, but it is a fun and delicious tradition. This year, however, I decided to branch out. This very special recipe is actually one of my grandma’s. She helped me put it together and document every step in her beautiful and amazing kitchen. I am so lucky to have her to teach me these things and be patient while I photograph her rolling up cabbage about 50 times. This meal takes some time to come together, but its a fun one and definitely worth the elbow grease when you sit down to enjoy it. I think the secret is the subtlety sweet and sour bite of the tomato sauce. People will ask you what you put in here, your call whether you tell them or not.

Of course, no meal is complete without a fine music pairing. Check out Now Streaming’s latest Beats and Eats post featuring this dish for soundtrack and drink suggestions to make the meal complete.

Veggie Stuffed Cabbage
Makes 8-10 servings
total prep and cooking time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

sauce-

2 med onions, peeled and diced
extra virgin olive oil
2 28oz or 2 quart jars whole peeled tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
sea salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup brown sugar
juice of 1-1.5 fresh lemons

filling-
1 large head of green cabbage
1 whole onion, peeled and grated/food processed
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 whole egg, slightly beaten
1 cup brown rice, uncooked
sea salt and pepper to taste
optional twist: 1.5 lbs lean ground meat (beef, turkey and venison work great!)

First, get your cabbage cooking. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Score the cabbage around the stalk which will make it easier to remove the leaves later. Place the cabbage in boiling water and cook until soft, about 30-40 minutes. Rotate the cabbage a few times while cooking so that all sides are softened.
boiling green cabbage

While that is cooking you can prepare a quick tomato sauce. Heat about ¼ inch of olive oil in a saucepan and brown your onions for 5-7 minutes. Add both cans of tomatoes and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Once the sauce is warm and simmering, add the lemon juice, brown sugar, garlic, salt and pepper. This makes for a slightly sweet and tangy sauce that goes perfectly with the cabbage! Cover sauce and keep it cooking on low heat while you prep everything else.

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Next, mix the stuffing for your cabbage rolls. In a large bowl, combine grated onion, salt and pepper, egg, and garlic. If using meat add that in now. For some extra goodness grate in any veggies you have in the house! Add uncooked rice and mix together with you hands. Everything should be well mixed but only work the stuffing as much as you have to or it will become dense.
mixed brown rice and ground beef for stuffed cabbage

The final step is stuffing the cabbage leaves. Remove the cabbage from the pot and let it cool slightly. However, the leaves are most pliable when they are warm so don’t let them cool too much. If they get stiff you can always soak them in the hot water a bit more.
cooked green stuffed cabbagePeel off the leaves one by one. If they are very big, trim them or cut them in half.

stuffed green cabbagePut a little stuffing on the bottom edge of the leaf (where it attaches to the stalk).
stuffing green cabbage
Carefully fold the leaf around the stuffing by folding in both sides and then rolling it tight from the bottom on.

photo 7 photo 8 photo 9Then place the role into the tomato sauce to simmer. You can layer them onto of each other and fill the pot. The sauce will cook up around them.

fresh stuffed cabbage simmering in the pot

When all the rolls are added, make sure the sauce is simmering. Cover and boil for an additional hour. If you have extra cabbage left, dice it up and throw that in the sauce too. If you have extra meat mixture, roll into little meatballs add those also.
fresh stuffed cabbage rolls cooking in tomato sauce homemade
This dish freezes and reheats well so make extra.
fresh homemade stuffed cabbage rolls ready for storage in the freezer
Enjoy and happy St. Patty’s Day!

Fresh and Clean Beats and Eats Guest Post

This week the homegrown tomato teamed up with Radio Stevie for a fun beats and eats feature on his music blog, Now Streaming.  My Fresh and Clean Shrimp tacos were inspired by Stevie’s soundtrack for the night. It was a blast working backwards and letting the music help me decide what to create.

This fun food, wine and music pairing is sure to please your Valentine, or make a fun night with a good friend. Read the entire post here and don’t forget to let us know what you think. Happy eating!

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Tasting My First Steak, Among Other Things

For my first post of 2013 I thought I would catch you up on a few exciting things that happened in my culinary life since we last spoke. The more I think about this blog, the more I realize that it’s a little about recipes, and a lot about learning how to eat and cook. In that context, I find these three things very important to share. They are presented in non-chronological order.

1) I received Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a Christmas gift. It begins like this:

“This book is for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children’s meals, and the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat.”

mastering-the-art-of-french-cooking-julia-childOne hour on the couch with this page-turner I have decided that Julia Child is the one person, living or dead, whom I would choose to meet if I had the chance. What a woman. What a writer. The reason I was interested in this cookbook in the first place was because everything I have read about both learning to cook and food writing has come back to Julia. She seems to dominate the world of fine cooking through lessons of basics built upon simplicity that nobody can get out of their mind. As someone who has all the basics to learn, I love her for it. She discusses how to hold a knife properly followed by how to chop a carrot, and I’m only on page 43. That I’m reading the thing like a novel is a testament to how beautifully this book is put together. I imagine her co-authors, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, whom she learned to cook with in Paris, were just as fabulous. I promise to share my first experiment!

2) I received a gift certificate for a cooking class for two at the Meitte Culinary Studio in Manhattan. There were so many classes to choose from, but I ultimately went with Classic Italian Supper. Here is the menu:

Bruschetta (grilled bread with olive oil and garlic)
Pomodoro a riso (tomatoes stuffed with rice)
Gnocchi di spinaci con ricotta (spinach and ricotta gnocchi)
Arista di maiale (roasted herb-stuffed pork loin)
Polenta
Piselli freschi (fresh peas with prosciutto)
Raspberry sorbet

I was sold at gnocchi. This is one thing I am dying to learn how to make and I know can be tricky. Class is in March, can’t wait to report back.

3) And finally…I tasted my first steak. It happened at Manhattan Steakhouse in Bonita Springs, FL. What do I mean, you ask? Well, I enjoyed my first medium-rare prime-dry aged porterhouse in a classic steakhouse.

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Image: offthebroiler.wordpress.com/

Half New York strip and half filet mignon. It certainly felt like my first time. I have never tasted or experienced anything like that in my life. I went weak in the knees, so wrapped up in sensation I couldn’t think. I could only feel. And now, it’s all I can think about. It was crisp but creamy, sizzling yet calm, and almost melted in my mouth the second it touched my tongue. I thought, a discovery like this only happens once, make sure to write about it. I’ve got some follow-up research to do, figuring out what makes a steak so delicious but trust me, when I know, you’ll know.