Cool as a Cucumber

Fooooooooooooooooooood.

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It’s been too long.

I miss seeing you at regular intervals.

I also miss 90% of the pictures that I somehow lost while transferring the blog.

Don’t look.

Seriously.

Just stay here.

Also, a few weeks ago I was all set to rejoin the geekery that is taking pictures of my own food when my camera went all wonky.

The buttons stopped working and it wouldn’t turn on or off.

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YES!

THIS WAS IT!

This was my opportunity to purchase a fancy pants new camera!

I almost had my husband convinced to let me buy a $700 new Canon and the $400 lens that would surely need to accompany it when he came over and started toying with the broken one.

A few minutes later he returned it to me in perfect working order.

“What did you do?”

“I changed the batteries.” 

Oh.

Well then.

Next time I’ll make sure to drop it from the top of the refrigerator.

So, um, here’s some pictures of food.

From my crusty old camera.

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CUCUMBER HUMMUS

2 (15 oz cans) garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained

1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon, juiced

1/2 teaspoon pepper

salt, to taste

Add all ingredients to a high speed blender of food processor.

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Process until smooth.

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Garnish with diced cucumber and olives, if desired

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Eat it with some crusty pita bread next to your crusty camera.

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Enjoy your Memorial Day-

Or as I like to think of it

“Hug the crap out of some soldiers and keep the fallen in your hearts”

Day.

Heart Melting

How would you like some melted  ice cream?

Melted chocolate ice cream.

For breakfast.

In your cereal.

In your oatmeal.

In your coffee.

Or maybe you’re a little more hard core.

Maybe you take your melted ice cream straight up.

Served in a tall glass with a garnish of awesome.

CHOCOLATE ALMOND MILK  

(that tastes exactly like melted ice cream)

1 cup almonds

6 dates

4 cups of water

1/4 cup dutch process cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract*

Tidbit: Make sure you use a good quality vanilla extract. Otherwise it will be less “melted ice cream” and more “artificial ass cream.” To be blunt. 

pinch salt

Cover almonds and dates with water and soak for at least two hours (or overnight).

I bet you’re thinking “OHMYGAWD! SHE PUTS DATES IN EVERYTHING!” Yes. Yes I do. They are naturally super sweet and have fun nutrients like potassium and B-vitamins packed inside each little delectable bite.

Drain soaked almonds and dates and put in blender.

Add four cups of  fresh water and blend for 1-2 minutes.

Pour mixture through a mesh strainer, cheese cloth, or tea towel.

You can use a whisk to help push the liquid through your mesh strainer. You might get a little almond pulp in the milk, but I personally enjoy chewing my melted ice cream anyway.

Repeat straining process back into the blender.

Tidbit: Save the leftover pulp to add to oatmeal, smoothies, or baked goods. You can also freeze it if you don’t plan on using it right away.

Add cocoa powder, vanilla extract, salt and blend again.

Strain mixture once more.

Don’t be freaked out if it starts to separate. That’s what happens when you don’t add emulsifiers. Just stir it up, little darlin’.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

Almonds are good for your heart.

Chocolate Almond Milk that tastes like melted ice cream is good for your soul.

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I Got the Blues

Remember that song “Blue” by LeAnn Rimes?

OhmyGodthatsongmademewanttoclawmyeyesout.

With a spoon.

I just wanted her to shut up and get over whatever she was so lonesome about.

And what about Eifel 65’s song “Blue?”

Remember that?

Did you sort of want to take a jackhammer to your car radio when that came on?

No?

Me neither.

I totally loved that song.

And who the hell keeps a jackhammer in their car?

You have issues.

I have issues too.

With blue food.

It freaks me out.

Blue Raspberry Lemonade?

Blue Ketchup?

I don’t even like blue M & M’s.

Cocky bastard

I think it’s because blue food is just so un-natural looking.

Unless of course you’re talking about blueberries.

Blueberries are my all-time favorite summer fruit.

They’re like God’s apology for making me listen to crappy pop music that taints all things blue-tiful.

Which is why I go all Violet Beauregarde every July and August.

Unlike Ms. Rimes and Ms. Beauregarde, I don’t like to massacre blue things.

I prefer my berries whole in oatmeal, with soy milk, or by the greedy handful in the middle of an orchard.

I also make sure I buy every last pint before they go out of season locally.

It was a bit more than I could fit in my belly.

The solution?

Make sauce.

Blueberry Sauce.

It’s three ingredient and keeps for weeks in the fridge or up to a year in the freezer.

BLUEBERRY SAUCE

4 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed

1/4 cup of agave nectar

1/2 lemon, juiced

Add blueberries, agave, and lemon juice to a medium sized saucepan over medium heat.

Cook until berries begin to break down and sauce begins to bubble.

Remove from heat and cool.

Pour into freezer safe apparatus.

Serve over yogurt if that’s your thing.

Non-dairy if you’re veggin’.

Or eat it by the spoonful.

Preferably not the one you used to scoop your eyeballs out.

Seriously.

You have issues.

In other issues news, here’s some things I’m grateful for this week:

1. That LeAnn Rime’s music sucks significantly less since 1996.

2. The blue Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

3. That you still read this blog despite intermittent cussing and questionable humor.

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Ides of March

The Ides of March.

I love saying that.

It’s so Shakesperian.

As if I was actually listening to that lecture on Julius Caesar.

I could care less about Caesar.

And that includes the dressing, the salad, and Little.

But it is the Ides of March, and more importantly, the half-way point of the Clean Eating Challenge.

Let’s check in on my progress.

There will not be a quiz at the end but I suggest you pay attention or I will sic Brutus on you.

Freezer

Blueberry Jam (4 of 4 left)

Peach Jam (3 of 3 left)

Homemade Chili (4 of 4 left)

Homemade Vegetable Soup (5 of 5 left)

Broccoli Soup (1/2 left)

Butternut Squash Soup (2)

Broccoli (Half bag)

Mixed Vegetables (1 bag)

Almonds

Boca Burgers

Homemade Veggie Burgers (4 of 6 left)

Bananas

Blueberries

Cherries

Cranberries

Flax Seed (used in various recipes but is a never-ending supply)

Pantry

Canned black beans

Canned cannellini beans

Canned garbanzo beans

Canned water chestnuts

Canned refried beans

Canned corn

Canned Pineapple

Canned fire-roasted tomatoes

Paula Deen’s Peach Salad Dressing (3)

Brown Rice

Quinoa

Bulgur Wheat

Split Peas

Corn Grits

Coconut Milk

Peanut Butter

Homemade Apple Butter

Cashews

Raisins

Chestnuts

I’ve made some progress, but in cleaning out the pantry, I discovered more goods including rolled oats, oat bran, prunes, dried apricots, dates and sunflower seeds.

I’m cool with the fact that my pantry is stocked to serve the ‘early bird special’ kind of crowd.

Speaking of crowds, if you’re expected to bring a dish to any St. Patty’s day festivities, I have a very easy recipe for you.

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I anticipate that most of my calories will come from grains, hops, and malt this Saturday.

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So I thought I should sneak some other nutrients in there somehow.

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This honey mustard dip is worth it’s weight in gold. It gets its creamy texture from cannellini beans instead of fat-tastic mayonnaise and has just the right combination of tangy and sweet flavors to satisfy both big and little leprechauns.

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Pot of Gold Dip

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1 (15 oz.) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup yellow mustard

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon turmeric (optional, for added color)

salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender of food processor.

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Blend until very, very smooth.

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Serve with assortment of rainbow colored vegetables.

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*TIDBITT* This dip also tastes great spread on sandwiches or thinned out with a little rice vinegar to make a healthy dressing for salads.

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You’re sure to catch a leprechaun if you bait your trap with this tasty dip!

Hope you have lots o’ shenanigans this St. Patrick’s Day!

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Happy Beer Day!

My husband just joined the “officially old” club.

It was the birthday that signifies that you can no longer blame your idiocy on being in your early 20’s.

And for one glorious month, we are the same age and I don’t feel like a cougar.

I asked husband what he wanted for his birthday dessert.

Answer: Beer.

He treated himself to a build your own six-pack.

I stole the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and treated him to an alcohol infused cocoa cake with chocolate stout sauce.

He ate three servings just to make sure it was good.

We continued the celebration during dinner at the beach.

The real appeal for us was the extensive craft beer selection.

I started with Schlafly Pumpkin Ale.

Beerday Boy enjoyed a dark, rich Belgian Brew.

Dark and deceptively sweet, this was almost like drinking wine.

Dinner commenced with a roasted beet salad for the lady and a burger for beer boy.

Red and golden beets, crunchy pickled radish, sunflower seeds, and feta cheese drizzled with a balsamic reduction.

The henlopen city burger gets smothered with mushroom and gruyere gratin, tomato bacon jam, and locally grown lettuce. The bacon for the jam is smoked on site! Just the sight of this burger had me questioning my non-meat eating status.

For round two of the beer tour, I wanted to compare the Schlafly to Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.

Even though both brews were pumpkin ales, their flavor profiles were quite different. The Punkin Ale had an intense pumpkin flavor and a more delicate balance of spices compared to the prominantly spiced Schlafly.

Another Belgian brew was on tap for BB.

This version was much lighter and hoppier than the first one.

BB is so cute. He thought his birthday present was the chocolate stout cake.

During dinner, I surprised him with this.

A coffee and cream stout beer kit for his home brewery and custom labels.

Our delinquent dog, Stella, adorns the label.

Next time you’re visiting, ask for a Black Dog from the Stellar Brewing Company.

Then whip up a batch of Chocolate Stout Sauce to top your favorite cakes, brownies and ice creams.

Chocolate Stout Sauce

1/4 cup chocolate stout

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 can (14 oz.) fat-free sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons cold water

In a small sauce pan, warm beer on low heat. Add cocoa powder and stir until dissolved.  Whisk in sweetened condensed milk. Combine cornstarch and water in small dish to make a slurry. Add  slurry to the milk and beer, increasing heat to medium. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil and boil for one minute. Transfer to jar and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate any unused portion.

Tidbit: The condesned milk will carmelize very quickly so make sure you stir constantly to avoid turning your sauce into a sticky mess.

SWAP!

In Shanatopia, I would grow, pick, and prepare all of my own food.

A 9-5 job and an extreme lack of any agricultural skill make this next to impossible.

The "garden"

But learning how to choose minimally processed and wholesome foods has been a continuous and utterly confusing journey.

You know, I guess it’s not the processing that bothers me because almost all foods are processed in some way or another.  Highly nutritious foods like milk, yogurt, olive oil, and grains undergo some processing before they hit store shelves. Even if you frequent your local farmer’s market and select the freshest, organic produce odds are that you are going to take your juicy beefsteak tomatoes or zucchini and make your grandmother’s famous spaghetti sauce or maybe a loaf of chocolate zucchini bread. However you prepare your produce, it usually goes through some sort of process before it goes in your mouth.

So it’s not so much the processing that is bothersome, it’s all the chemicals, additives, and artificial flavorings that are so disturbing.

Take seemingly innocent yogurt for example.

I eat it almost every day.

Blame it on those darn Yoplait commercials that sucked me in with their enticing dessert-like flavors. Boston Creme Pie! Strawberry Cheesecake! Pina Colada!

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But some of the yogurts  have ridiculous amounts of added sugars, sweeteners, colors, and other scientific and non-food sounding ingredients (exact ingredients aren’t even listed on the Yoplait website).

If blueberry yogurt is going to be blue, I prefer it turn that color from actual fruit and not FD &C  Blue # 2

Not to mention that original yogurts (not fat free) have almost as much added sugar as a Snicker’s bar.

That’s just silly!

It’s just as easy to buy a big ol’ tub of plain yogurt and add whatever fruit my little heart desires that day. Throw some frozen blueberries and yogurt into a small container in the morning before work and the blueberries will be thawed and ready to mix by lunch time.  I save myself from ingesting unnecessary ingredients, get the added benefit of real, whole fruits, and I save money in the process.

Yogurt bowl: 3/4 cup plain yogurt + 1/2 cup pumpkin mixed with 1 tsp. molasses and sprinkle of cinnamon + 1/4 cup granola.

The easiest way to make sure you’re not consuming chemicals that you wouldn’t touch without a lab coat and goofy looking goggles is to look for short ingredient lists. See if you can find foods with less than five ingredients listed.

Take the SWAP challenge!

Swap out chemical heavy foods with their whole (or as close to whole as you are willing to go) counterparts.

Like cereal? Try quick cooking oats and add your own toppings (You can even eat it cold!).

Like M & M’s? Try Chocolate covered Almonds

Like potato chips? Pop your own popcorn

Like flavored yogurts? Buy plain and add your own fruit, honey, and granola

Like JIF? Try natural creamy peanut butter or sunflower butter

Like Snickers? Try peanuts with a square of dark chocolate

Like ice cream bars? Try a frozen banana dipped in chocolate and covered in nuts

What’s that? It doesn’t taste the same? I know. It’s because your taste buds forgot what food tastes like without a pound of sugar added. Remember how you had to feed your baby peas and carrots 37 times until they learned to like them? It’s the same for adults. You will learn to love and even crave these foods. Try it for a week. You’ll love it. I promise.

I already know what I eat on a day-to-day basis but I want to hear from you!

What swaps will you make this week?

Going Green

Avocado seems fancy to me.

It is one of those foods that didn’t get a lot of exposure in the mid-west factory town I grew up in. We ate things like tater tot casserole and fluffernutter sandwiches. There was no mention of spicy tuna wraps with avocado mayonnaise or chilled avocado soup.

To me, the avocado was foreign and exotic.

When a co-worker told me that you can use avocado to replace butter in a cookie recipe, I was more than intrigued.

I was on a mission.

I waged a mini war in my head trying to decide if I wanted to tackle a gluten-free recipe or stick with something more traditional that I could be  (somewhat) confident that other people would  be willing to try.

Since I have zero experience with gluten-free baking, I went the traditional route.  I’m pretty sure the people who I share an office space with already think of me as the weird girl who puts tofu and beer in her brownies so I didn’t want to stray too far off the beaten path with this one.

There is no special trick to this recipe. All you have to do is replace the butter with an equal amount of avocado.

Chocolate Avocado Cookies

 1/2 cup avocado (which conveniently worked out to half an avocado for me)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Heat oven to 350°F. Cream the avocado and sugars in a large bowl.

 Add the egg and vanilla.

This totally looks like snot and that makes this recipe even awesome-r.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry  mixture to the avocado mixture. Beat until fully incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips.  

                           

Form the dough into approximately 1 1/2-inch balls. Place on parchment or foil-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart.

Bake until the centers are just set, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

I made two versions of this cookie. For this one, I rolled the dough balls through powdered sugar and used the back of a spoon to flatten them slightly before baking.

There was still half of an avocado sitting seductively on my countertop.

What to do, what to do.

Frosting.

Avocado Frosting.

Yes.

(This was one of those experiments with imprecise measurements so bear with me here)

2 squares semi-sweet bakers chocolate

half of an avocado

1/2 – 1 cup powdered sugar.

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. If using microwave, start with 30 seconds and then give it a stir.  When melted, add avocado and whisk until smooth. Add powdered sugar slowly until consistency is thick and frosting like. Smother on top of those cookies and just try not to lick the spoon in between, I dare you.

The avocado doesn't add a whole lot in the flavor department but its smooth and creamy texture made a great replacement for butter in both the cookie and the frosting.

I was a little worried these cookies would be dry based on the texture.  Thank goodness hubby is a cookie monster and gladly took it upon himself to steal a bite. He assured me they were chewy and chock full of chocolate flavor.

The frosted cookies were a favorite among co-workers.

Good thing I saved some frosting for me since it is absolutely gluten-free and heavenly.

Now that’s what I call fancy.

 I was  officially on the prowl to find other recipes to fuel my new food obsession.

I was headed to a BBQ at my avocado loving friends’ house and decided to bring this tasty morsel:

That, my fancy friends, would be a Cucumber Avocado Salsa.

And the recipe is super simple.

CUCUMBER
SALSA
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped (cut in half lengthwise and run a spoon down the center to get the seeds out easily)
1 small avocado, peeled and
chopped
1/4 cup red onion, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
salt to taste

Combine cucumber, avocado,
 onion, cilantro, lime juice, and jalapeno. Stir in salt to
taste.

 The contrast between the crunchy cucumber and smooth avocado was very refreshing and the lime juice really brightened the whole dish.
It tasted fantastic with these Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips
Whole grain, gluten-free and a good source of vitamins A & C? What’s not to love? Its a sweet potato shovel for my new favorite salsa recipe. I believe the words used to describe it at the BBQ were “kick ass.”
Well said, fancy avocado friend, well said.

Gut Instincts

My digestive system is so mad at me.

Like, seriously pissed.

I think it may have even gone on strike.

How do I know?

Beacause it’s refusing to work.

Lately, whenever I eat anything, my stomach immediatately bloats out and distends to the point that I look pregnant. That’s a hot look to rock when you’re 27 and very, very NOT pregnant.

The more I talk about my digestive issues, the more I realize everyone seems to have difficulty with their GI health in some way or another. What is happening to all of us?

I’ll admit it. I got desperate. After being cleared for celiac sprue, my GI doc casually added that I might be gluten sensitive, though there is no way to test for this. So I may have a kind-of sort-of illness that may or may not be an accurate diagnosis?

In my heart (and my gut), I do believe that whatever is happening is somehow diet related. I mean, how could it not be? After trying a medication in which one of the side effects is abortion (yes, the label actually said that. How can a medicine that causes death be good for me in any way, shape, or form?) but at this point he could have suggested shooting rat poison in my veins if I thought it would help relieve my symptoms. But even the death pill couldn’t cajole my colon into doing its job. This was going to require some drastic measures.

I carefully researched an elimination or food challenge diet, which is the most effective means of testing for food allergies and sensitivities. I know I don’t have an allergy because I don’t break out in hives or choke on air or anything of the nature. Sensitivities are much more sneaky and can be dormant for days without producing symptoms.

How fun.

There are different kinds of elimination diets and the more intense ones basically have you eliminate all foods save a select few fruits and veggies. Another approach is to eliminate only suspected foods, reintroduce them one by one, and monitor your body for symptoms. As much as it would suck, I decided to go that route.

I started by eliminating soy, because I eat so much of it, and gluten because the GI guy recommended it. I was kind of on the fence about the whole gluten thing because it seemed like it was another trendy, cure-all piece of diet advice that had no real scientific standing.

Eliminating soy and gluten eliminated half of my diet. That meant no soy lattes, no soy burgers or dogs, no tofu on my salads, and no crunchy, delicious soy crisps. No gluten meant no more PB & J on Wasa crackers and no cereal for my nightime snack.

I kind of wanted to have a small funeral to say goodbye to my most favorite foods. I was that sad.

The first couple of days were ok, and I was definitely less bloated, but my digestive system was still not happy with the terms of the agreement. It launched an assault on hard-boiled eggs. Ok, intestines, I won’t make you eat stinky eggs anymore either. This pacified the union for a short period of time before it waged a full on blitzkrieg against vegetables of any kind.

This meant war.

During peace talks with my GI tract (let’s just call her GiGi. We’ve established enough of a rapport), so during peace talks with GiGi, I agreed to a cease-fire with the vegetables in hopes that it might consider backing off on all the backing up.

I agreed to a (mostly) bland diet that goes against everything I believe in.

Gigi seems to have some sort of alliance with low fat dairy, fresh fruit, rice chex and Pb2 so I agreed to eat only these foods long enough for Gigi to get over her little huge tantrum.

You know how there is always cottage cheese on the menu at restaurants that old people frequent? Now I know why.

Packing lunch got a whole lot easier.

I think we’ve moved closer to a pact, people.

. Maybe my body really isn’t ready for all fruit and veg all the time, even though my head and all the books that I read would argue the exact opposite. I also came across this interesting article about a super scientific sounding illness called leaky gut syndrome.

Ultimately, I’d like to give GiGi some time to recover and then try to incorporate a balance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains.

On that note, I’ve seem some serious improvements with the whole gluten-free thing (as reluctant as I am to admit it) and there is a mountain of evidence (do your own research on that one) supporting its efficacy.

In a desperate attempt to find anything to eat that's not dairy, I discovered a bag of corn grits hanging out all lonely in the cupboard. I topped it with jalepeno tangerine jam and it turned out surprisingly awesome!

But the pasta I made for hubby was looking pretty tantalizing too. I don't even like pasta. I think I just want it because I'm not supposed to have it!

I’ll keep you posted on any Operation (Colon) Freedom developments.

Thanks for listening to me talk about this shit.

(insert juvenile giggling sounds here)

A Miracle is Born

 I have been planning, researching, and dreaming of the big day since last fall.

After waiting months and months  and enduring hours of strenuous labor, there is nothing like looking down at that pink, wrinkled flesh and knowing that you created this perfect, tiny  creature.

The experience of holding this little life in my hands for the first time is beyond the scope of my words.

Only a picture can truly portray the many emotions I felt that day including happiness, pride, and what I imagine to be the blossoming of a mother’s love and natural instincts.

My first raspberry!

Oh. Did you think I was talking about having a baby?

Sorry. No babies for this blogger.

But I imagine seeing the fruits of my labor flourish in the garden is somewhat akin to a mother holding an infant for the very first time.  No, really. I’m sure seeing the first budding of a tomato on a carefully nurtured plant is totally comparable to the moment a mother sees the image of her baby on the ultrasound monitor.

Twins! I wasn't even expecting that!

I mean the process for creating a human life and a plant life are pretty much the same.

You start with a bed.

The seed gets planted.

You provide nourishment.

Then one day, you wake up to find things have gotten much, much bigger.

Until one day you realize that you have produced something so cute that you could just eat it up.

Siblings!

But first you have to shape this new life and help it achieve its fullest potential.

So you teach it to play nicely with others, share, and work as a team to produce something wonderful.

What a little bundle of joy.

And  with  mixed emotions, you take one final look at how far this little life has come. You reflect on the hard labor of love that grew into a precious entity all its own and you smile.

Whew. All this growing life stuff is exhausting.  I think I deserve a little “me” time.