a leafy tale

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Sarah.

Sarah loved the outdoors.  She loved to walk.  She loved to run.  She even loved to rake. 

One day, Sarah decided to join the “no-makeup” bandwagon for the day.  Instead of gussying up and going to the mall—as might be expected on a typical Saturday afternoon—Sarah threw on a big ol’, cozy sweatshirt and headed outside.  Rake in hand.

The entire family joined in on the autumn experience.  Hours upon hours flew by, with everyone hard at work. 

(my arms will be very, very sore tomorrow, FYI!!!)

But then, despite the beautiful day, the array of autumn’s colors & smells, and the boundless energy that everyone seemed to have at the very beginning, people began to grow very, very tired.

Sometimes—most times—growing tired is equivalent with being silly.  It kind of just happens.

 

(Let it be known that dad started it.)

Tackle #1

Tackle #2

Leaf jumping.  Leaf catching.  Leaf tackling.  All three are absolutely necessary when raking a yard. 

After raking the yard and countless numbers of tackles, it was time to go in and eat.  Which, by the way, was also absolutely necessary.

Roasted chicken legs.  Brown rice ‘n’ peas.  Heaps upon heaps of roasted butternut squash.  The entire family agreed that this was the perfect meal to refuel on.

Energy input = complete.

The.  End.

Roasted Butternut Squash

Who doesn’t love a hot side of roasted veggies?  The preparation is super simple, and the flavor is sweet and intense.  I always seem to err on the side of being a purist when it comes to roasting veggies, but you could also add in cinnamon and nutmeg, which I think would go lovely with the butternut squash.  This is an easy vegetable side to add with any meal. :D

  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and seeds removed
  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Dice the squash into bite sized pieces and place on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray.  Pop in oven for 10 minutes.  Flip with a spatula.  Continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes or until soft, tender and browned.
  3. ENJOY! :D

Question: Do you regularly do yard work?  What is your favorite/least favorite? 

Tomorrow is *Day 2* of the Breakfast Bonanza.  If you haven’t started yet, that’s okay!  You can jump in any time.  Just let me know what breakfast(s!) you want to include on the breakfast post for next week.

OH, and even trying ONE new breakfast overall is great too.  Just have fun with it! :D

when fear meets confidence

Some people are afraid of heights. 

Some people are afraid of dogs.

Some people are afraid of tofu. ;)

My fear?  Public speaking.

Today I had to give a 2-hr lecture on both customer service (which I hardly know much about, other than my what my common sense has told me,) and food allergies.  Despite the fact that I knew everyone in the group by name, I was literally shaking.  My voice.  My hands.  My feet.  Shaking.  Shaking with fear.

But at the same time, I’m confident.  Confident with the fact that I can deliver the presentations.  Confident because I’ve done so before.  Confident that the shaking will subside after the first few slides.  Confident. 

This confidence has come with a few tricks that I’ve developed along the way.

First, I don’t admit my fear to anyone.  I convince myself that I’m the most confident of all public speakers.  For an hour or two, I become the most knowledgeable person on the topic at hand.  Ready for any and all questions.  (Just FYI, this is one situation in which it is a-okay to lie to yourself. ;) )

Second, I eat well.  This is hard for me, as public speaking is the one thing in life that makes me lose my appetite.  But there’s nothing worse than feeling lightheaded from fear and from hunger. ;) 

Lastly, I practice.  Over and over and over again.  Convincing myself that people are there to listen.  To learn.  I’m not being judged or criticized for my performance.  I try to think of it as a discussion between friends (only with me doing all the talking…ha.) 

I’m not saying that I’ve completely overcome my fear.  It’s still there.  And really, it’s okay to have fears.  We all have some form of a fear in our life (new job?  a long road race?  flying?)  What’s important is that we learn how to take control of these fears instead of letting them control us.  It’s a journey, but it’s a journey worth taking.

Pumpkin Pie Breakfast Cookie

I don’t actually like pumpkin pie, but I love this breakfast cookie version!  I’m sharing it, because I believe that you’ll love it too.  Spiced with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, each bite is a delicious taste of fall.  Perhaps my favorite part is the texture, which is a mix between the regular breakfast cookies (firm) and overnight oats (doughy soft.) 

I love sprinkling the top with granola for an extra bit of crunch.  You could also add 1-2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder to the cookie mix before refrigerating overnight.  The sweetness from the bananas will sweeten it right up, giving you the well loved combination of pumpkin and chocolate.  It’s wonderful. :D

  • 1/2 c. regular rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1 very ripe banana, mashed well
  • 1 T. peanut butter
  • 1 tsp chia seeds (definitely optional)
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • granola for topping (optional)
  1. Mash together all of the ingredients except for granola (which is optional.)  Spread evenly on a plate, cover with saran wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
  2. The following morning, enjoy with a fork and a glass of milk for the extra protein boost.  :D

Question:  Do you have any fears?  How have you learned to deal with them?

stuffed to the gills.

Sometimes—when I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed, tired, or downright cranky—it feels good to chop an onion.

A lot has been happening these past few weeks.  Nothing really, really bad.  And nothing too crazy either.  Just—a lot.  I’m realizing that the weekends aren’t enough to bring me back to normal, and so I’ve been relying on my sharpest kitchen knives and a few good recipes, as my greatest form of stress management. ;)

Tonight I felt like making stuffed vegetarian peppers.

I’ve been wanting to make stuffed peppers for some time now.  Hesitation is what has held me back for so long.  Thoughts of my mom’s famous hamburg stuffed peppers, lingering in the back of my mind.  Memories of a recipe that was handed down from my mom’s mom’s mom, to my mom’s mom, and then to my mom (and eventually to me.)  That’s kind of a lot of pressure to put on a girl.

But I decided, after all, that I still wanted a vegetarian stuffed pepper to call my own.  And if I found a recipe that was unique enough, it could become a new recipe to add to my collection.  Not a replacement.  Never a replacement.  I’m sure the long line of French Canadian women wouldn’t mind hearing that I experimented in the kitchen (although there may be a few eyebrows raised at the idea of having a meatless meal!)  ;)

To find a well deserving recipe, I pulled out my stack of magazines.  That’s when I stumbled across a Vegetarian Times Magazine, which proudly boasted pictures of stuffed peppers, smothered in a rich cheddar cheese.  I had all the ingredients on hand to make such a pepper.  It was obviously meant to be.

Recipe? Found.  Cooking utensils? Ready.  Apron? On.  Stress Management Class may now commence.

By this point in the recipe, you’ll have an onion and two stalks of celery simmering in a bit of olive oil on the stove.  For about 5 minutes or so.  The cumin and garlic are then added for a minute more of cooking (thanks to an informative reader for letting me know that this short duration of heat upon spice really does intensify the flavors…)

Moving on.  Drain the juice from 2 cans of diced tomatoes, but save it for later.  You’ll see why, later on in the recipe.

Add the diced tomatoes and 10-oz. of dethawed & drained frozen spinach to your onion mixture.

(I probably failed to mention this earlier, but you’ll also want to have a pot of brown rice going at this time, unless you’re taking the quinoa route (see recipe below for the details!) 

Meanwhile, grate 3 large carrots.  If you’re like me, you’ll want to peel an extra one for munching. ;)

Mix all ingredients together.

(All Ingredients = Cooked brown rice.  Spinach.  Tomatoes.  Black beans.  Carrots.  Cheese.)

Stir, Stir, Stir.

I’m pretty sure that any leftover filling (because this recipe does make extra filling) will find its way into a tortilla wrap or atop a salad.  The flavor is superb.

But a wrap or a salad was not meant for tonight.  Tonight, I forged ahead and decided to stick completely to the written recipe, halving and coring the freshest bell peppers that I could find, and stuffing them to the gills. 

After the procedure of stuffing the peppers was finished, I covered them with a tight seal of foil, popped them in a 350 degree oven, turned the timer to an hour and then I did something that I never do.

I left my mess behind.

Washing dishes is a little like brushing my teeth.  I can’t not do it immediately after a meal. 

But I came to the conclusion that the dishes could wait.  The sunshine could not.  So with an hours worth of time, I went for a walk.  And I’d recommend you do the same if you have a spare 30 minutes or so before your next meal.  It felt absolutely luxurious. :D

When I strolled back in, there was a good 15 minutes left on the timer. 

Just enough time to melt a bit of cheddar cheese on top of the peppers.  Just enough time to braise some brussels sprouts.  Just enough time to get those dishes done and out of the way. :D

The meal was fabulous and earned tablewide compliments.  The flavors were very complex and came together beautifully.  Next time I may try adding some salsa to the mix, or a jalapeno for some x-tra spice. 

Needless to say, I’ll be making these again. 

(Especially since they pack up nicely for next-day-lunches!)

Stuffed Peppers
Vegetarian Times, February 2009—plus some minor tweaking

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks, finely choped
  • 1 T. cround cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1, 10-oz. package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2-15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1-15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 c. quinoa (OR, cook 1 c. dry rice as directed on package)
  • 3 large carrots, grated
  • 1-1/2 c. grated, reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 4 large red, green or yellow bell peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs removed

1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and celery, cook 5 minutes or until soft.  Add cumin and garlic, saute 1 minute.  Stir in spinach and drained tomatoes.  Cook 5 minutes, or until most of liquid has evaporated.

2. If using quinoa: Stir in black beans, quinoa, carrots, and 2 c. water.  Cover, bring to a boil for 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes or until quinoa is tender.  Stir in 1 c. cheese.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
If using rice: Stir in black beans, cooked rice, and carrots.  Stir, reduce heat to low and stir in cheese.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

3. Preheat oven to 350F.  Pour liquid from tomatoes in bottom of baking dish.

4. Fill each bell pepper half with heaping 3/4-cup quinoa or rice mixture, and place in baking dish.  Cover with foil, and bake 1 hour.  Uncover, and sprinkle each pepper with 1 T. remaining cheese.  Bake 15 minutes more, or until tops of stuffed peppers are browned.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Transfer stuffed peppers to serving plates, and drizzle each with pan juices before serving.

Today’s Challenge: Do something that you really love and enjoy, as a form of “stress management.”  Go for a walk.  Brush your cat.  Paint your nails.  Bake some muffins.  Look through old pictures.  Make a cup of tea and do absolutely nothing for 15 minutes…(what is your favorite stress buster?)

Weekend Highlights

SATURDAY

Some weekends are made for relaxing and doing absolutely nothing at all.

Some weekends are made for going out with friends and family and just having fun. 

Some weekends happen to include the best of both worlds. :D

Matthew and Kelsey came down for the weekend, so we (Nicole, Nate and I) went to meet up for drinks and appetizers on Saturday night.  

Nicole and I split the Mediterranean Hummus Plate.  It was filled with feta cheese, kalamata olives, and fresh veggies.  The grilled pita chips were so perfect; flaky on the surface but warm and doughy on first bite.  Perfect.

We ended up talking most of the night away.  I can’t remember the last time that I went to bed so late, but it actually felt really good.  Especially since I’ll have available catch-up time on Monday morning (not that our bodies can truly, honestly, ever “catch up” according to the sleep experts, but I gave a big *harumph* to that idea for this weekend! ;)

SUNDAY

I’m pretty sure God knew what He was doing when He decided to give us Sunday as a day of rest.  We all deserve the break, really, and it felt wonderful to have nothing on the ol’ to-do list.  

Nothing.

Nothing but a nice long walk with the family.  

Have I ever mentioned how in love I am with the fall?  I wish it would never end. :D

We ran across a big black cow on our walk, and he (she?) was the sweetest thing ever.  I was hoping it would follow us home, but to no avail.  I guess he must have decided that the grass was much greener on his own side of the fence. ;)

Dad treated us to dinner from our family favorite pizza shop, and we all crowded around the table to indulge in a veggie pizza.  The perfect ending for the weekend, if I do say so myself. :D

I love busy, fun-filled Saturdays.

I love, love, love lazy Sundays.

Love. :D

Question: What made you *smile* this weekend? 

feeling inspired

Life is full of inspiration.

My old 10k running bib inspires me to run, even on those occasional days when I really don’t feel like it.

A sunny fall day inspires me to take lots and lots of photographs.

My old journals inspire me to keep making new goals for myself and to make them happen.

Homework from past nutrition classes inspire me to keep learning, researching, reading. 

Julia Childs, Molly Katzen, and memories of my Memere inspire me to cook.

And—tonight—a fresh, local stalk of brussels sprouts at Whole Foods inspired dinner.

Originally—this was before catching sight of the bright green sprouts—I was envisioning a piping hot bowl of oatmeal for dinner.  Or a lazy, over easy egg with toast for dipping. 

So easy.

But you know what else is easy?  Roasting veggies.  Nothing but a few good veggies—any kind will work—a hot, 425 degree oven, and a bit of olive oil and sea salt is needed.  Let your veggies sit in the heat of your oven for a good 20-25 minutes, while you dance to your favorite songs and enjoy the whole process. 

Salads were the empty canvases for displaying the roasted veggies.

Oops…wait…quick snack break! :mrgreen:

 I kept the salads simple.

  • mixed greens
  • cucumbers
  • tomatoes
  • green olives
  • avocado
  • kidney beans
  • olive oil

When the veggies are roasted to your liking (now is a good time to practice your patience, letting them get crispy brown for absolute perfection!), either let them cool a little before throwing on your salad.  OR, if you’re like me, top your salad immediately and let the lettuce wilt slightly under the intense heat of the roasted veggies.  Mmm…it’s one of life’s little pleasures. :D

Dinner was simple.  Simply inspired.  Inspired by the brussels sprout.

Question:  Life is full of inspiration.  What is yours (in cooking, life, homework, writing, etc.)?

Lite-To-Love

First picture that I ever posted on an old-school food blog.  Location: McDonalds.  Year: 2007.  Food Choice: 1/2 of a southwestern chicken salad.

Second picture I ever took and posted on a blog.  Location: Back yard.  Year: 2007.  Food Choice: 1 lowfat hotdog on a bun with mustard.

If you would have asked me three or four years ago what I defined as healthy eating, I would have given you a completely different answer than the one I give you today.  I would have felt proud of the fact that my hotdog had only 2 g. of saturated fat.  Proud that my McDonalds lunch only contained 350 calories with milk included.  I was eating light.  Low fat.  “Healthy.”

And I wasn’t always a fitness gal at heart either.  I wasn’t out running the miles during highschool.  I thought strength training was only for a few vain Hollywood stars.  My parents dragged me for morning walks or day-hikes in the White Mountains, NH, because they liked being active and healthy with their family.  Sunday afternoons revolved around going for a group bike ride.  I hated it.  Absolutely hated it.  The pepperoni sticks and icecream treats only made it tolerable. ;)

And then, slowly—over time—I began to fall in love with the outdoors. 

I don’t know why or when it happened, but I haven’t looked back since.  Who was that outdoor loathing, fitness-hating girl, anyways?  I took up running, hiking, biking, backpacking, walking.  I craved the sunshine, a warm summer breeze, and the joy of a crisp morning run in the fall. 

Before I knew it, I was also falling in love with gardening.  Local produce.  Natural, wholesome foods that I could actually recognize and call by name. 

I soaked up the delicious pleasure of cooking.  Eating.  Socializing. 

Sometimes it’s fun to look back.  To see how much we’ve changed.  From then (light hotdogs) to now (loving life, food, fitness) I’ve gone through a whole lot of change in my life.  Just goes to show you that sometimes it’s not such a bad thing. ;)

Food is more than a number.  More than a gram.  More than a percentage.

Food is more than just the sum of what you see on a nutrition label.

Food is meant to be savored.  Enjoyed.  Appreciated.

Food is not meant to be analyzed, and it should never—ever!—be responsible for making you feel guilty.

Food is not meant to be feared or taken too seriously. 

Food should make you feel your best physically and mentally. 

Question: How have you changed over the years in regards to your cooking/eating habits?

pumpkin gets personal

One of the things I love most about cupcakes is how personal they are.  I discussed this last week, when I found myself greedily dunking a finger into a white chocolate espresso cupcake in Boston. 

It’s just plain silly that I never thought to personalize the muffin too.

Because, let’s face it, there is a time and a place to purchase—and eat—a cupcake.  They’re one of my favorite foodie pleasures.  Muffins, on the other hand, can be eaten more often: as part of a breakfast, as a snack, or even as a dessert. 

And now that pumpkin isn’t such a rarity in the grocery isles any more, I’ve been going all crazy with it.  Oats.  Smoothies.  Yogurt Messes.

Pumpkin muffins.

If you ever make one…just one!…of the recipes from my blog, I beg that you please try this one.  I’ve tweaked and molded this recipe into what I now proclaim as being my favorite muffin ever.  I know that’s a bold statement, but let me assure you: this muffin can handle it.

Step 1: Mix Dry Ingredients

Step 2: Mix Wet Ingredients

Step 3: Mix Dry and Wet Together

Step 4: Personalize (this is the FUN part!)

There was the plain jane pumpkin muffin, topped with walnuts. 

The dark chocolate pumpkin muffin for the die-hard chocolate fans.

And the “everything” pumpkin muffin which was topped with walnuts, dark chocolate and white chocolate chips.  These are already gone, FYI.  Next time I’ll make the entire batch as “everything” muffins. ;)

Personalized muffins.  Why did I wait so long to do this?

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Raisin Muffins

  • 1-2/3 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 c. water
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. raisins
  1. Combine dry ingredients (up to and including salt)
  2. Combine wet ingredients (pumpkin through raisins.)
  3. Stir dry ingredients with wet ingredients just until moistened (do not overmix)
  4. Spoon into 12 sprayed muffin cups.  Bake at 350 for about 20-22 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  5. Cool for 10 minutes.  Remove and place on wire rack.  Cool completely.

Question: What are your favorite flavor combinations in a muffin?

(a cat’s) life lessons

As naughty as cats can be—like jumping on the counter when they know they shouldn’t be up there in the first place ;)there sure are a lot of life lessons to be learned from them as well.

Lesson #1: Take the time to look around you.  Enjoy those simple, every day things that make you smile.

Lesson #2: Give your body the rest that it needs. 

Lesson #3: Take time to be alone once in a while.  Find a comfy spot and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Lesson #4: Embrace those things that make you stand out.  Those things that make you unique.  Those things that make you you!

Lesson #5: Stretch often.

Lesson #6: Eat plenty of fatty fish.

I cracked open a can of sardines for the kitties tonight and decided to do the same for me. :mrgreen:

Keeping it simple with sauteed cabbage and mustard.

Sardines get such a bad rap for being stinky and slimy, but I seriously love them.  If you’re on the fence about cracking open a can, try adding some texture to the meal.  Sometimes I’ll dunk the little fish in whole wheat flour and toss them in a frying pan with a bit of butter, thereby creating a crispy coating.  OR, you could simply toast a slice of whole wheat bread, slather on some really good, spicy mustard and call it a meal. 

Question: What is it that makes you unique and different and how do you feel about it?  I have a red scar that I used to always feel super self conscious about!  I even had a doctor try to remove it when I was smaller.  But now I love it because it makes me different, and I’m not afraid to show it off.  :D

makeover

Both of my siblings worked part time at a local restaurant, in an effort to save money for college.  They would come home tired, completely worked out, and sometimes—now and then—they would come home with the most amazing, ooey gooey, cheese ‘n’ veggie filled quesadillas.

For some reason I was craving those same wonderful quesadillas today, and that is why I set out to make my very own.  Only healthier.  Fresher.  And hopefully even more delicious.

At first I toyed with the idea of sauteeing the green & red bell peppers with the onions and mushrooms, all in one big frying pan.  Because—well—it’s easier (and faster.)  But let’s be honest.  You can’t reinvent the flavor of a roasted veggie unless you actually roast the veggie.  Nothing compares.  There was no skirting the issue: the vegetables had to be roasted.

While the veggies crisped and caramelized in the oven, I threw the whole wheat tortilla wraps on the griddle.  I like cooking these over medium heat.  Just enough time to let the cheese melt and just enough heat to give the wraps that crispy exterior.  Perfect.

Once the veggies were nicely blackened, I pulled them out from the oven and threw ‘em on top of of the wrap, which was now all melty and lovely from the cheese.

I like to serve these with a warm bowl of vegetarian soup on the side.

Plus a scoop of homemade guacamole.

Just as wonderful as I remember.  Only healthier.  Fresher.  And even more delicious. :D

Roasted Veggie Quesadillas
Serves 3

  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thinly
  • about 10 mushrooms, sliced thick
  • 3 whole wheat tortilla wraps
  • 3/4 c. mozzarella or sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Heat oven to 425.  Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray and place veggies in a single layer.  Bake for 10 minutes, flip once, and cook for another 10-15 minutes to desired doneness.

Meanwhile, heat nonstick pan to medium.  Spray with cooking spray.  Place tortilla wraps on top and place about 1/4 c. of cheese on half of each wrap.  Fold wrap in half and press down lightly.  Cook until browned on underside, flip, and cook the other side until browned and crispy.

When veggies are done, open up quesadillas and fill with the roasted vegetables.  Cut in half and serve.  ENJOY! :D

Question: Have you ever “healthified” a favorite restaurant meal?  What was the result?

produce of fall

Today was filled to the brim with all things fall.

I drank a soy misto with a pump of toffee mocha.

I sampled hot, local apple cider from whole foods.

I wore a plaid, flannel shirt.  ;)

I picked the last of the season produce from our vegetable garden.

I’m convinced that cold weather tomatoes are some of the most flavorful.  It’s as if they make up for their lack of good looks with a bright personality. 

And then I roasted an acorn squash. 

My Pepere habitually drives out to local farms every week, in search of the freshest produce.  He returns with potatoes, still clinging to the dirt from which they were plucked.  Bags and bags of onions that instantly bring on visions of fried potatoes and onion soups.

Best of all, he brings home squash.  Lots and lots of squash.

After throwing the seeds into the yard’s compost pile, I sliced this baby up and threw it onto a sprayed baking sheet.  Twenty minutes in a 425 degree oven (with a gentle flip half way through) turned this humble acorn squash into a thing of beauty.  Those crispy, caramelized bites get me every time. 

A drizzle of olive oil enhances the flavors of a simple salad.  In the same way, the sweetness from fresh maple syrup serves to further enhance the natural sweetness of an acorn squash.  A little goes a long way. 

I love soy mistos with toffee mocha.

I love late summer produce and hot apple cider.

I love wearing plaid.

And I really, really, really love roasted acorn squash.

Roasted Maple Acorn Squash

  • 1 acorn squash, deseeded and sliced about 1/2 inch thick
  • sea salt
  • fresh (real) maple syrup
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Add squash to sheet in a single layer, sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 10 minutes. 
  3. Flip squash over and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes. Drizzle with maple syrup.

Question: What is your favorite thing about the fall?