grainy waldorf salad

While crunching my way toward lunch at the gym today, I was interrupted by a tentative voice.

“Can I ask you a question?” said a slim woman stretched out beside me on the mat, a second-year student at the oldest. “Sure!” I responded, anticipating a question about form or my Lululemon tank top, as has happened before. “How many days a week do you work out?”

She proceeded to disclose her desire for more muscle definition, and I advised away until I the “you’re boring me” cloud came over her expression. Not that I’m any expert, I just love talking about this stuff. Plus, I have a few fellow nuts in my life who exacerbate the tendency to preach the gospel of health and fitness.

This little salad I whipped up from fridge remnants is for you, dear. It’s got protein and all the post-crunch crunch you need to get you through your afternoon.

I don’t usually post on things I throw together on everyday afternoons. Just because I’m a food blogger does not license me to share every morsel chewed and swallowed.  My readers have better things to do than hear about Finn Crisps spread with peanut butter, sardines straight from the tin, and numerous kefir smoothies. (Ok, that last one did get a post, but only because I’m evangelical about kefir!)

But sometimes random is best, as I’ve written about before. Random is beautiful, and when you start with good, wholesome ingredients, you really can’t go wrong.

Today’s creation was good enough to share, at least for inspirations’ sake. The cup or so of quinoa I’d cooked to use in these muffins was sitting neglected beside my eggs. I had a two sticks of celery, a Macintosh apple that was looking to retire, and all kinds of other worthy additions hiding in my freezer and cupboards.

In went the chopped apple and celery. In went the dried cranberries and sunflower seeds. In went the red onion, salt, pepper, and drizzles of sherry vinegar. One bite revealed that no further tweaks were needed. I poured myself a glass of kombucha and settled into my writing.

So wherever you are, ab-girl, keep crunching. And squatting and lifting and curling. You’re already beautiful, but you deserve to be as strong and powerful as I know you can be.

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Muffin Mondays: Emily’s Spiced Carrot-Date Muffins with Cashews

Happy Monday readers! I’m Emily Cobb, author of art and lifestyle blog “emily’s eye.” It is quite the honor to be your Muffin Monday contributor for I must admit: I am not a professional baker or cook.

I love food though, and have been working in the restaurant industry for seven years so I’m not completely clueless. As an artist, I love combining the flavors of various ingredients as if they are paint on a canvas. When grocery shopping I’ll buy ingredients that interest me rather than having a specific recipe in mind. So when it comes time to cook or bake I become a pantry scavenger and will select items that I feel may mesh well. My goal is for the ingredients to accentuate each others’ best qualities without overwhelming.

Sometimes I come up with kitchen gems . . . sometimes I get laughable flops. The element of surprise when experimenting sure keeps things interesting.

Clearly the creative process is what I really love about cooking – well, the eating part is pretty awesome too. That said, lets talk muffins . . .

For today’s recipe: a medley of medjool dates, cashews, coconut, orange, fresh ginger and cardamom put a funky twist on the typical carrot-nut muffin rut. The spice combination makes these muffins downright mysterious while the dates, like nature’s caramel, add a serious dose of sweetness.

Warning: these muffins may be treading on carrot cake territory. . . not that there’s anything wrong with having dessert for breakfast. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to start your day. (Even if it is at the crack-of-noon, as is typically the case with me.)

As a true American my personal motto is “Go Big or Go Home:” I use a jumbo size muffin tin. This recipe will yield a dozen sensibly sized muffins or 6 big boys.

In closing, big kudos to Jen for creating the opportunity for local (and familial) foodie collaboration. Way to bring people together through baked goods. Viva Muffin Mondays!

Emily of Emilyseyelive.com

Emily’s Spiced Carrot-Date Muffins with Cashews

The Dry:

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup coarse bran (miller’s bran)

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup coconut flakes (plus a bit extra to garnish)

3 tsp baking powder

1½ tsp ground cardamom

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground clove

½ tsp salt

The Wet:

2 eggs

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup yogurt (plain or vanilla)

4 tbsp softened butter

The Delicious:

3/4 cup shredded carrot

½ cup chopped (& pitted) medjool dates

1/3 cup chopped cashews

2 tbsp shredded fresh ginger (for the best flavor use fresh, otherwise, substitute ½ ground ginger)

1½ tbsp orange zest

  1. Preheat the oven to 400, and use a food processor to shred carrots and a little nub of skinned fresh ginger. Prep the rest of the items by hand and combine each set of ingredients (the dry, the wet, and the delicious) in 3 separate bowls with the dry in the largest bowl (all the ingredients will end up here.)
  2. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Then fold and stir the two forces together until everything is just moistened.
  3. Fold in the remaining ingredients (the delicious). The consistency should be lumpy and moist – do not over work! Spoon the batter into a greased muffin tin, and sprinkle the remaining coconut flakes on top of each muffin.
  4. Depending on the tin size and/or the oven the muffins need anywhere between 20-30 minutes to bake. Do the clean toothpick test every 5 minutes after 20 minutes of oven time have passed to determine when they’re done. Like most pastries these muffins are excellent when served warm or reheated in the toaster oven. Enjoy!

buttercup lentil soup

Squash is a rather deceiving name for the vegetable to which it refers. With pudgy approachability and even cuteness, the squash family is far from cushy. Take, for example, this buttercup. Looks delightful enough. With its little cap and almost folded-in appearance, it’s the grandmother of the fall harvest.

But set a knife to it and it sure puts up a fight. This hard fact is what led me to one of the most important realizations of my cooking life: squash need not be peeled before cooking. Nope. No matter what those recipes tell you, “squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped” need not require a follow-up cool down and protein shake.

The secret’s in roasting the squash first: Hack it up (or not, as some argue) throw it in the oven, and digging into that squishy soft squash-flesh will become one of your happiest soup making memories.

Lately I’ve been trying to venture out of my butternut rut. There are just so many other squashes to try: hubbard (not so impressed with my specimen), spaghetti, and acorn (one of my favorites to stuff), to name a few. I finally got around to this buttercup, whose dense, creamy flesh surprised me. I’ve also got two Delicatas on hand to try sometime this week.

There are as many ways to prepare squash as there are to love it, but one of my favorites has to be soup. I know I could have just substituted this buttercup into any squash soup recipe, but instead decided to do an off-the-cuff version with whatever needed to be used.

And it was good. Very good. With bright tomato red, spinach green, and buttercup orange, this soup is fall’s palate in a bowl.

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tempeh two ways

Besides the “stuffed” part, these two recipes have little to do with our Canadian Thanksgiving up in Ottawa this past weekend. Fermented soy beans don’t have much in common with turkey and pumpkin pie, but somehow, last week’s discovery of tempeh reminded me of all I have to be thankful for.

The weekend was a cornucopia of food delights. Friday we scarfed injera and doro wat at an Ethiopian restaurant with an old friend of mine. After a delicious brunch at my aunt and uncle’s, Mark and I indulged all afternoon in delicious home-roasted coffee and mile-high ginger cookies — this time, the old friends were his.

All that food fueled a good cause— the true highlight of the weekend. On Sunday morning I hit a personal best half marathon time at the Ottawa Fall Colours Marathon. With the hubby’s support and 8 weeks of hard training, I achieved a time of 1:51:35. Knocking 2 minutes a mile off my last half marathon time made me finally feel like a woman who doesn’t just finish. She races.

It was a great way to begin a day stuffed with turkey, cabbage gratin, and pie (of which there were multiple slices).

And there were other, non-homemade treats. Sunday, at one of Ottawa’s esteemed Bridgehead coffeehouses, we got to try Clover coffee for the first time.  A late lunch at Von’s Bistro in the Glebe chased down the luscious mugs nicely. Both get five Fresh Cracked Pepper stars.

As I got to thinking about what I’m thankful for, a few things came to mind. One, the incredible variety of food available to me here, today. I’m so grateful to be able to sample the abundance of the world so freely, and so relatively cheaply. This brings me to my latest discovery and the topic of this post: tempeh (pronounced temp-ay), my latest experiment with a new plant-based protein source.

Tempeh is an old food. It’s been made for centuries in Indonesia from fermented soy beans, and it’s more nutty and chewy than even the firmest tofu.

I tracked some down at the Syracuse Real Food Co-op, and quickly discovered that tempeh can be used just about anywhere: stir-fries, burritos, pastas, and sandwiches are all worthy vessels. It’s low in fat and high in protein, and best of all, it’s fermented. (Yes, I have a thing for fermented things. Case in point.)

I searched for a few tempeh recipes online, and taking a pinch of inspiration from this one, concocted fajitas that showcased tempeh’s satisfying chew (pictured above). The next day I mixed up the leftover filling and stuffed it into poblano pepper halves, one of my favorite ways to use up leftovers.

One dinner is often a door opening into another. Along the way, two fabulous new ingredients boldly introduced themselves: tempeh, and canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. As I face the lows that a cold and rainy, post-race week will bring, I look forward to new experiments in the cozy refuge of my kitchen.

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pleasant thoughts tomato soup

I posted on cold soup once before, and it was a hit. It even got me a link on Wikipedia. (Applause may now commence.) I tried another one last night from my latest Bon Appetit, titled unassumingly “Summer Tomato and Bell Pepper Soup,” and with one spoonful fell instantly in love.

Never one to order soups that prance about menus with names like gazpacho and vichyssoise, I approached this cold soup with some reluctance. The recipe began, however, with the promise that “ripe summer tomatoes are perfect just as they are…” and I was lured deeper. Summer tomatoes simply make me weak.

The day had been another scorcher. Some new friends were coming over for dinner, and I was determined to use as little heat as possible for its preparation. I still had to visit three different locations to procure the appropriate ice cream, roasted red peppers, and good bread, but managed to keep my cool. The dessert was baked early in the morning, and the main course quickly seared and delivered to plates without too much of a sweat.

All the other accoutrements were served in the cool-as-a-cucumber-style of this fresh first course.

This soup’s preparation is as simple as a sandwich. “But I’m not a cook,” you might say. Well, this here concoction involves none of that intimidating heating-of-ingredients business. Like all simple dishes, the result rests only on the quality of your ingredients, not your skill.

Finding those really special tomatoes was, I have to admit, a bit of a chore. I tasted local tomatoes at the co-op, and smelled red globes at two major grocery chains: Disapointment lurked in every overflowing bin. The mushy, bland, and boring specimens reminded me that my dear tomatoes just haven’t yet hit their peak. But I wasn’t willing to give up yet. A stop at a friend’s garden led me to lush green plants bearing their tiny, heavy treasure.

In all shades of fire the tomatoes fell into my hands and into my soup. Yes, I still had to use some less-than-perfect “over the counter” tomatoes to plump it up a bit, but I believe it was these little explosions of sweetness that truly saved the day.

Just when I thought I’d have to kiss my soup craving goodbye until November, this one snuck up and told the humidity where to go. I instantly fell under its spell of fresh-picked tomato goodness, because, as American humorist Lewis Grizzard wrote, “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” Mr. Gizzard, I couldn’t agree more.

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Homemade Energy Bars V: Shot Blocks Redux

One of my favorite authors once wrote “how we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.” It’s one of those observations so plain it pricks you. Nothing terribly complicated or profound, but as true as the sun’s heat in July.

On a bike ride the other day, I saw it printed on the Unitarian Universalists’ church lawn sign. (Am I the only one who’s noticed that the more liberal the church, the better the church sign quotes?)

This week, I got my days back. And true to Annie Dillard’s sentiment, my life. It came suddenly, with the absence of 9 am starts, ominous deadlines, and open jaws of expectation. It came, bringing hours to write and cook and clean and shop for groceries.  It came with empty hours too, heavy with shoulds and if-onlys.

And so here I find myself in that precarious place between the fullness of life and its opposite. This past year has been manic, and looking back I’m sometimes surprised I survived. But rather than rolling gently off that year, I’ve crashed abruptly into this week.

This week — with its scaled-back workout schedule, pressing humidity, and loose ends — is like an irritating old friend. You love her but sometimes you just don’t know what to do with her.

Besides being void of routine, this week has also brought the dreaded taper, that bittersweet period before a big race when triathletes attempt to do something foreign to their very existence: rest. For most, this comes about as naturally as speaking Czech.

But with the advice of my tri friends ringing loudly in my ears (“5% undertrained is better than 3% overtrained”), I’m hanging out with my food processor instead of my running shoes. I decided it was time to bring you another snack packed with energy and natural goodness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of Clif shot blocks and GU gel as the next endurance athlete. But I also take pride in turning the earth’s bounty into sport fuel. Minus the citric acid, “natural flavor,” sunflower oil, and carnauba wax.

So here’s a humbler kind of shot block, one that looks suspiciously like a Christmas goodie. The chocolately goodness comes from minimally processed cocoa powder, delivered a shot of not only good-for-you flavanols, but magnesium and zinc too. And we all know how great almonds are for us.

And so going back to my opening quote, I guess I spent part of my day conjuring up good and healthy things. My life, I hope, will follow suit.

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slaw salad

I’m not sure anymore whether Syracuse feels like home. In any case, it’s good to have my own jug of milk and a fruit bowl with peaches in it. Life on the road teaches the joy in simple things. Natural peanut butter. Homemade granola. Kefir smoothies. Iced lattes that don’t cost $4.

Missouri and Colorado were good to me. Stacking up the archives with their own memories. Creeks and campfires, peaks and rough roads. Glancing back through pictures, they feel like different lives.

I haven’t hit the cutting board with the kind of excitement I was expecting. Trying to create 8 decent multimedia pieces in 2 weeks is eating up more of my time than I have to, well, eat. The work is rewarding, but tedious. The final push is here, Friday’s deadline looms like with giant jaws.

On Thursday our team was exiled from our cozy lab by the new masters class. It was a beautiful day for bonding, so we dragged our office chair-imprinted bottoms to the park for some lunch and a strange sport called wiffle ball. (It’s a conspiracy: Canadians do not excel at wiffle ball.)

I was instructed to make “a delicious salad” by our faithful event planner, and so (as any disenchanted foodie who’s been wrenched from her Henckels for too long would do), I consulted my mother. She came through faithfully, and so for all those requesting the recipe, here it rests.

It’s not really salad, with its torn leaves and chunks of veggies. It’s not really ‘slaw either, at least in the southern sense. In fact, I think it was inspired by a salad at some insipid restaurant chain, but no one needs to know that, right? Besides, any cabbaged loved by your own two hands maketh a far happier bowl of ‘slaw. At least in my home, wherever that may be.

The thing I love best about this salad is that you don’t have to follow the recipe. I bought all the ingredients on Thursday, and I’ve made it twice since the initial picnic debut, with different amounts. It doesn’t matter if you use more red cabbage one day and more Napa the next. Feel free to omit and substitute as you wish, whether it be using chopped up snap peas instead of the carrots, or leaving out the bean sprouts.  Use all the the cabbage heads to make a bowl for a large crowd. Top it with BBQ’d tofu or chicken strips, or roll it up in a wrap.

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