Thursday, June 24, 2010

Amazing Amy Dunn Giveaway!

I am BEYOND excited about this giveaway, from the incredibly talented and lovely Amy Dunn, maker of "handmade fun" and bags that make me need to hide my credit card from myself.  I seriously want one of each thing in her gorgeous Etsy shop. Amy makes all of her stunning bags, clutches, wallets and fun kids' accessories by hand.  She's also the mom of three beautiful girls, and she grows all of her own veggies as well.  Amy, I will take 2 of whatever you are having to keep up this level of creativity and stamina... you are my hero!  I was thrilled when she offered to do an SMJ giveaway... you guys are going to die over her work!   Amy Dunn Designs is offering two beautiful pieces for two lucky SMJ readers.

The first is her Dewdrop Clutch.
I adore this bag, but what makes it truly amazing is that it is fully reversible! As an accident prone mama with a tiny staining sidekick, this is something I really value. The Dewdrop is red and white seersucker on one side and aqua designer cotton on the other.
 The flower broach is removable and a little too adorable for words.
 The second piece is her Gathered Zipper Wallet.
The wallet is vintage white cotton with yellow flowers and a solid yellow band.  I love how bright and cheery the inside looks.
The wallet is large enough to hold your cards, cash, phone and a few other necessities... it would be perfect for a night out when you don't want to tote your huge purse, but still need a few essentials on hand.

I am now going to exhibit amazing ethics and self-control and not enter this giveaway again and again under assumed names.  I love Amy's stuff that much and I hope you do to.

For a chance to win one of these beautiful pieces, pay a visit to Amy's Etsy shop and leave a comment on this post.  
I'll pick two winners, one for the Dewdrop and one for the wallet, next Friday, July 2.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mom Dating

Today it was hot.  Muggy.  Intermittently rainy.  And the sky was filled with biting bugs... greenhead flies and misquitoes have invaded our beach haven.  The husband is gone on business.  The parents are gone to the mountains.  So, it was just me and this tiny fellow who doesn't talk (yet) knocking around the house, and I found myself going a bit crazy.  Had to get out.  A few minutes on the interwebs revealed a free children's story hour about to begin at Barnes & Noble (bless you, Barnes & Noble), so into the car we scrambled and off we went.  And it was here at our local corporate big box bookstore that I encountered my first experience with what I will call Mom Dating.  I haven't had much of a chance to meet moms I don't know since Baby J was born.  In Vermont, I was just head-spinningly, disgustingly, beside-myself busy once I went back to work.  If I wasn't commuting, pumping or working, I was vegging with the husband, trying to catch my breath. And here in Maine, I've been lucky to be hanging pretty tough with my cousin's clan, our sidekick Good Golly, and, of course, my immediate family.  It hasn't been often that I've been called upon to meet new moms.  Until today.

So, there we were at the "lapsit story time" and there were a bunch of other young moms, all with babies newborn to 20 months.  A perky B&N worker read 5 fabulous stories about monkeys, which was lovely.  Baby J loves monkeys.  But before and after the monkey tales, there was simply a quilt on the ground with dozens of age-appropriate toys for the taking and about 10 little ones tearing it up.  It is interesting trying to socialize as an adult in this situation.  For one thing, you have to keep a constant eye on your own child and make sure he isn't "hugging" someone much smaller than he is (Baby J is a hugger... what can I say?  He comes by it honestly.).  For another thing, children this age haven't learned any social boundaries, so you are just as likely to have someone else's child climbing all over you while you try to make sure your's doesn't mug someone for their stacking toy.  And, there are moms of all stripes there... quite young, on the older side, goth, sporty, exhausted, protective, absent... you name it.

However, there was one mom there who seemed like she was my peeps.  Her son and mine were at about the same level of development and digging eachother.  She was wearing a t-shirt from our local surf shop (which I am now coveting... so cute).  She was accessorized as I usually am (nondescript silver jewelry, flip-flops, long curly hair swept back), and she seemed really nice and not out of patience with her baby (as many of the other moms seemed).  Suddenly, I felt like I had seen a cute boy at a bar circa 1999.  What was my next move?  Go up and say hi?  Make conversation?  What witty one-liner would be my opener?  How did I look?  I mean honestly, I was shocked and appalled by how similar this suddenly felt to dating (and everything I ever hated about dating).  I didn't want to seem desperate, and at the same time, wanted to chat more with this person. I have to say, I feel slightly like a stalker even writing this, but I just had to share, as this is a situation I am sure to repeat as we get settled in a new town and start frequenting its playgrounds, storytimes and music classes, and I'd like very much to know how other women handle it.  Anyone? 

As it was, I got caught up in breaking up an almost-scuffle between Baby J and another toddler over a magic wand, and then she was gone.  And anyway, our time here is just about up, so I don't need to start dating meeting new mom friends at this particular Barnes & Noble anyway.  However, this experience and the shocking familiarity of the emotions around it gave me pause.  I suppose making new friends at any age is hard, because you are always kind of just putting yourself out there to be accepted or rejected, which is an emotional risk regardless if you are a mom or at any other station in life.  There is just something about having your most precious person along for the ride that makes the whole experience that much more fraught.  Who knew?
 Want to hang with us?  We're really fun... and we cook! :)
Well, sporty surf mom from B&N, you and I weren't meant to be, but you have introduced me to a whole new phenomenon in my life.  Just when you thought being married spared you from ever having another "come here often?" moment.  Life is full of surprises, no?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Soul Food... SMJ style

As I mentioned last month, this summer I'm going to be helping my friend Laura, from Black Kettle Farm here in Maine, create recipes for her CSA members.  We're hoping to give them, and you, innovative ideas about what to do with your seasonal produce.  This week, Laura's CSA members will get garlic scapes and collard greens in their baskets, and these happen to be two favorite ingredients of mine.  Even though we're yankees (and Red Sox fans!) through and through, the hub and I love ourselves a little Southern cookin', and garlic scapes and collards lend themselves to one spectacular Southern-inspired meal.
Creole Sautéed Shrimp with Garlic Scapes, Melted Collard Greens, and Baked Beans
So, let's break this meal down, shall we?  First off, the baked beans.  You can make 'em from scratch if you please, and fab recipes for doing so abound across the interwebs (see inspiration here and here).  If you don't have the time or the will to make scratch beans, we adore Heinz Vegetarian Baked Beans, and the ones above were purchased at our local butcher, who sells yummy side dishes like this along with great, organic meat. 
Also, you may be asking yourself, "SMJ, what is a garlic scape, anyway?". 
Garlic scapes are the curly tipped, delicious green shoots that grow from heads of garlic, which are usually discarded before harvesting in most of the U.S.  If they are harvested while they are still tender, they can be used in a variety of recipes, and have a delicate, unusual flavor that is a cross between a green onion and garlic.  These are so worth a try and so pretty to have around the kitchen.  They are also the foundation of my Creole Shrimp recipe.
Creole Sautéed Shrimp with Garlic Scapes
Serves 4
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. each fresh ground pepper, paprika, onion powder, oregano and thyme
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder
2 pounds medium shrimp
5 long garlic scapes, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon butter
Olive oil
1 lemon
1) Peel, de-vein, and rinse shrimp. Dry off excess water.
2) Put the flour in a medium bowl and mix in all the spices.  Add the dry shrimp to the bowl and toss to coat with the spice-and-flour mixture.  Set aside.
3) Put the butter in a large pan. Coat pan with olive oil . Heat the pan over medium heat. Add the scapes and sauté until they begin to wilt, about 5 minutes.
5) Turn the heat to high and add the shrimp, using a slotted spoon to transfer the shrimp to the pan and shaking off extra flour en route. Sauté until just done, probably about 5 to 7 minutes.
6) Transfer shrimp to plates, and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top.
And for a nice veg...
Melted Collard Greens
1 bunch collard greens
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
paprika, salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1) Chop the collards into ribbons.
2) In a deep skillet with a lid, bring the water to boil.  Add the greens, cover, and allow to steam for about 5 minutes, until well wilted.  Drain in a colander, pressing out extra moisture.
3) In the same skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the collards and honey and sauté until collards are soft, but still retain some bite, about 5 more minutes.  Season to taste.

This may not be a classic Southern meal... for one thing, it contains no pork fat, and for another, I am not sure garlic scapes are technically a soul food staple, however, this is a healthy and unique spin on the flavors of the region we adore, and a great way to use some of your fresh produce this week.  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Chip Tasting

Happy Father's Day! 
The men in my life happen to love chips and salsa with a passion.  A few weeks back, I was generously given a bunch of samples of Food Should Taste Good chips to review on SMJ. I figured the husband and my dad would be my perfect guinea pigs for this one given their love of the chip, but then they were both on the road for awhile and time passed by.  Finally this weekend we were all in the same place again, and it being Father's Day, I thought it was the perfect time for a chip tasting.  So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you our official tasters:
My tasters were to try four varieties of chips:
The Works: A chip version of an everything bagel with onion, garlic, poppy and caraway seeds.
Multigrain:  Made with flax, sunflower and sesame seeds, as well as oat fiber, brown rice, quinoa and soy.
Olive: A combination of real black, kalamata and green olives with garlic and sea salt.
Sweet Potato:  A classic chip, just made with sweet potato and a hint of cane sugar.
Food Should Taste Good also makes yellow and blue corn, jalapeno, lime, cheddar and chocolate varieties, but the above were the ones that were most universally appealing and readily available at our grocery store.
Clockwise from top left: Multigrain, Olive, Sweet Potato, and Works.
For dipping, we had three salsas: black bean and corn, peach and pineapple, as well as some marinated goat cheese from my favorite local Italian specialty shop.  My tasters were ably assisted by their third in command:
Their impressions?  In general, all of these chips were a huge hit.  They are all baked, not fried, making them a healthy alternative to your average Tostito, which all of my menfolks appreciated.  They commented that these chips are "distinctly different" than normal tortilla chips, with "prominent flavors".  Also, they are "not wimpy".

The Olive were my dad's favorite.  They have a distinct olive flavor that particularly hits you in the aftertaste, and they were divine with the goat cheese, but not as great with any of the tomato salsas.  They would also be fantastic with hummus, and more olives on the side.   The Olive chips are so unusual, and would make a special addition to a fancy app spread.

The Multigrain were the husband's favorite.  He recommends them for the "regular chip eater", since they are "less exotic".  He calls them a "beginner's fancy chip".  They're high in fiber and have a delicious nutty flavor which complimented all of the salsas.  I'd continue to buy these regularly for sure.

The Sweet Potato were Baby J's favorite (and although we were not on the official Manly Chip Committee, they were also my mom's and my favorite as well).  They're a little sweet, a little salty, and truly taste like pure sweet potato, which is one of all of our favorite veggies, so it is no surprise that we loved it.  Like the Multigrain, the Sweet Potato tasted great with all the salsas, the cheese, and on its own as well... an all around winner.

Finally, the Works.  My dad loves rye bread, so I thought that the caraway seeds in this chip would win him over, but it was not his favorite.  Everyone liked the Works, but we felt they maybe weren't meant to go with salsas, as they seemed to overpower all of the ones we had on hand.  The caraway flavor is very prominent, but my dad noted they had a "balanced, bold flavor".  With the right accompaniment and on their own, I think these chips would be great... the website recommends a Vidalia onion dip, which would have been dreamy.
The Committee, hard at work.
All in all, the chip tasters and SMJ highly recommend these chips.  They are unique, healthy and delicious, and the wide variety of flavor profiles allow you to mix and match them with different dips for a truly special appetizer experience.  They are a little more expensive than your average chip, but if you were having friends over and wanted to do an out-of-the-ordinary app spread, these would be perfect, and still more affordable than, say, a whole bunch of cheeses.  Food Should Taste Good also has a coupon on their website for $1 off, so print it and go check them out yourself!
 Thanks to Food Should Taste Good for the opportunity to try their products and thanks to my chip tasters for being game for the challenge, and being incredible fathers today and every day!  

Friday, June 18, 2010

Celebration Steak

Last week, my very own mama won the prestigious Teacher of the Year award at her school (woo hoo!).  We all decided that this called for a celebratory dinner, and the guest of honor was craving steak.  Wanting to mix it up a bit from our usual summer grill fare, I recalled a recipe from a New York Times article on Italian grilling that I read years and years ago.  I searched for this recipe online, but couldn't find it, and so we just winged it and the results were BEYOND.  I know that this recipe sounds very simple and also will make you want to say what the husband did:  "You're going to rub those steaks with olive oil?  WHOA."   Yes, you are really going to rub those steaks with olive oil, and yes, you are going to want to hug me after you do.
Florentine-style Grilled Steaks
Serves 6
2 garlic cloves, crushed and halved
3 T-bone steaks (each about 1.5 pounds), at room temperature
2 tablespoons good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon
1 bag arugula
1) Rub the garlic cloves over the steaks, then rub them with olive oil.  Go ahead, do it.  It feels so wrong, but it is so very right.
2) Season the steaks liberally with salt and pepper (so liberally that again the husband said WHOA.  I reminded him to please trust me.  He said he was glad he did.).
3) Light your grill. Grill the steaks over medium-hot coals or flame until cooked to desired doneness, turning once.
4) Now, here's the hard but important part, you must let the steaks rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.  This allows the meat to retain all of its juices and become the most tender, juicy loveliness you have ever had.
5) Slice the meat against the grain into 1-inch slices. Squeeze the lemon over the steaks. Serve on a bed of arugula.

We served this steak with just a simple caprese salad: gorgeous cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cut in quarters, showered with chopped fresh basil, and dressed simply with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Italians know how to live.
So glad I married one.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sun Protection Plan

I recently had an inquiry on my Facebook page regarding baby sunblock, and how I'm protecting Baby J for the summer.  This reader had seen the Environmental Working Group's exposé on the dangers and false promises of some sunscreens, which becomes all the more scary when it is no longer just your own skin you have to protect.  Like everything else on a baby, their skin just feels so pristine and unscathed by life, and it is a big responsibility to keep it that way as long as possible.  My attitude towards the summer sun is that it is something to be savored, not feared.  We need Vitamin D from the sun's rays, and no childhood should be without sand-covered PB&Js and drip castles.  With a few good purchases and some common sense, there is no reason not to have a beach baby.  My approach is three-fold:
1) No more dawn-til-dusk beach days.  I myself could spend an entire day, every day of the summer, out on the sand from my first iced coffee to my first cocktail.  However, it is no longer all about me.  The hottest sun of the day is from 10-2, and so I'm planning my beach days to either start early and end by lunch-ish, or start late and go into the cooler part of the afternoon; limiting sun exposure this way is effective and easy.
2) I cover the little dude up as much as possible.  This means trunks + rash guard + hat.  Old Navy has a ton of reasonably priced swimwear for the little ones.  The trunks and rash guard being modeled above were each less than $10, and the rash guard has UPF 50.  I decided to splurge a little on the hat, as I wanted one that would stay on, totally cover his neck, and hold up for more than one season.  For that kind of quality, I love Patagonia all the way.  Their Baby Sun Bucket Hat provides amazing coverage, stays in place with a soft chin-strap, and is reversible (always a plus in baby gear).  As you can see, this get-up leaves only his forearms and calves exposed, which leads us to...
3) I douse the guy in a safe, effective sunscreen.  I'm loving California Baby SPF 30+ Fragrance-Free Sunscreen this summer.  California Baby is a fantastic company which makes all kinds of natural care products, and this sunscreen is PABA free, non-chemical, non-staining and very water-resistant.  It soaks in quickly and doesn't sting little eyes.  California Baby gets highest marks from the Environmental Working Group for their sunscreens, making this an excellent choice all-around.

Hey, we all survived the 70s with our front-seat riding in airbag-free cars, eating of God only knows what, and long, glorious days at the beach.  I realize the ozone layer has gotten thinner and life in general has gotten scarier since then, but I refuse to be robbed of a good old-fashioned summer.  I say, take a few steps to prepare yourself, and then get out there and live.  And don't forget your PB&J.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer Soup

So, June isn't exactly prime soup time, but I'll tell you what: we're still getting some cold, rainy evenings up here in the north, and I am willing to bet that some of my southern readers are dining in air conditioning these days, so perhaps soup isn't such a bad idea.  There are few better ways to make use of an abundance of vegetables and my friend Laura, from Black Kettle Farm, just brought me two huge, gorgeous bunches of chard which were crying out to be soup-ified.
Also, my dad is just getting back from a long trip overseas, and white bean and veggie soup is his favorite.  As we know, I aim to please, so I whipped up this soup yesterday in anticipation of his homecoming.  I was just going to quietly keep it off the radar, thinking none of you would want a soup recipe this time of year, until my mom proclaimed it "the best soup she has ever had."  This from a woman who pretty much survives on soup alone between the months of October and April. So, in honor of such a distinction, and in case you are being pelted by rain or shivering next to your AC, here is a great summer soup to make use of some of your farmers market goodies.
SMJ'S Sweet Summer Soup
Olive oil
1 lb. dried cannelini beans, soaked overnight
2 sweet Vidalia onions, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
6 cups veggie or chicken stock
2 bunches Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Soak your white beans overnight before starting this recipe.  Drain and rinse them well.
2) Cover the bottom of a soup pot with olive oil and heat it on medium-heat.  Add the onions and saute for 10 minutes until translucent, then add the garlic, roasted red pepper and carrots and saute until the carrots are just tender, about 10 more minutes.
3) Add the soaked white beans, the sun-dried tomatoes and thyme and stir well.
4) Add the stock.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover.  Allow the soup to simmer until the beans are well-cooked and soft, about 2 hours.
5) Stir in the chopped chard and basil.  Both will wilt into the soup in about 5 to 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
The skies are darkening and the temperature is dropping as I write this... perfect night for a bowl of soup and a glass of white.  Ahhh, summer.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nesting Daydreams

Ah, moving.  There are trucks to rent, utilities to contact, parking permits to obtain, muscular friends to bribe with beer, and endless change-of-address forms to submit.  There are logistics to coordinate, cleaning projects galore and a list for Target a mile long.  The light at the end of the tunnel is near, with our Boston friends and apartment just waiting like a glorious finish line with banners and confetti, but in the meantime, as we slog through the details, I distract myself with beautiful nesting daydreams, fueled by a cup of green tea savored over the Anthropologie catalog.
From top:  
Distant Voyage Bedding
Marrakech Curtain
Fleur-De-Lys Tumbler
Fishbowl Lantern
Capri Candle-in-a-Jar
Appellation Utensil Jar
While I have no immediate plans to go on a no-holds-barred Anthro-spree, the design aesthetic and wistful photos open up my mind to the realm of what is possible in our new little home.  Eclectic bohemian haven, you will soon be mine!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Review: Alice Waters, In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart

Are you shopping for a favorite 2010 graduate this weekend?  If so, I must recommend my latest favorite score from the library, Alice Waters' new book In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart.  I LOVE this book.  The husband and I usually like to gift the blossoming cooks in our lives with what we affectionately refer to as The Bible, aka The Joy of Cooking.  But with all due respect to that iconic classic, I think Green Kitchen may be giving it the bump on my gift list. 
Alice Waters is a leader in the slow and sustainable food movement.  Her work on the Edible Schoolyard project in Berkeley and her outspokenness on improving school lunches in general are inspirational.  I love her flair, her attitude and her food philosophy.  She's nothing short of an American food icon, and this book just totally encapsulates all that is great about her work and her way in the kitchen. The book is a result of a project called The Green Kitchen, which was basically a food expo at the Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco in 2008.  Chefs from all over the country taught basic cooking techniques and philosophies.  This book is Waters' interpretation of their recipes, complete with photos of the chefs from the event, and some fabulous extras like a Green Kitchen Manifesto and tips on how to stock a green pantry. 

In the Green Kitchen is an ideal primer cookbook for someone just out of school or just learning how to cook, as Waters really breaks down the basics (the pantry stocking info being a perfect example), and the book is organized in such way that even some advanced techniques (making homemade mayonnaise, fileting a fish) are accessible.  I adore the progression of the book, which starts with something as basic as washing lettuce and preparing a salad and moves on through eggs, bread, grains, meats, fish and some basic baking.  For someone in their first apartment, this book would walk them through how to make a basic, healthy dinner, and how to prepare some classic comfort foods for a great Sunday dinner with all the roommates.

This book isn't just for cooking newbies, though.  I consider the hub and myself to be somewhat seasoned in the kitchen, and I still have my eye on owning this book at some point.  The photography is gorgeous, and it is a perfect reference guide for the classic techniques that every home cook should know.  I'm dying to make everything from the Cherry Tomato and Tofu Salad, to the Dirty Rice, to a sinfully delicious situation she calls Grand Aioli, in which you take a page from Provençal tradition, make a massive batch of homemade garlic mayo, and provide steamed green beans, cauliflower and fingerling potatoes, boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots and even some poached seafood to dip in it until you are a greasy, happy mess, needing to be rolled away from the table and doused in Rosé until you regain consciousness.  Oh, yes.  That is so happening in this house this summer.

Some will say that this book is too advanced for beginners and too simple for serious home chefs.  I disagree.  This is a beautiful and important book with something for everyone, and I encourage you to give it to your favorite twenty-something ASAP.  And then make sure they invite you over for Potato Gratin.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint

You may have noticed by now that I am something of a food blog junkie.  I can't help myself... I love to cook, I love to eat, and I love to read about cooking and eating and look at gorgeous photos of gorgeous food... this is my passion!  And every once and awhile, a recipe seems to take the food blog world by storm: one person makes something and raves about it, her commenters make it and go wild for it, and slowly but surely, it makes its way through the blogosphere, gaining popularity like a giant culinary snowball.  So it was with this Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint.
I saw this beauty first on Smitten Kitchen and then on Wednesday Chef and then I knew I could no longer resist its charms.  The salad did not disappoint.  We all agreed it was like nothing we had ever tasted before, and that was probably due to the harrissa.  Harissa is a North African chile paste made from hot chiles, garlic, cumin, corriander, caraway and olive oil.  It is supposedly delicious on everything from eggs to potatoes to veggies to bread... basically anywhere you would smear some mustard, you could smear some harissa instead.  So far, I've only tried it in this salad, but the flavor was gorgeous and complex; a bit floral, a bit herbal, and with a nice but tolerable kick of heat.  Buying jarred harissa would make this recipe a total snap, but we couldn't find any here in our corner of northern New England, so we made our own, using this recipe. I'll be honest, it was a bit much.  Worth the work in the end, but just not what I signed on for when I found this recipe, you know?  The upside is that we now have a tall jar of the stuff, and will be able to use it at will for some time to come.

In any case, the salad is really something special.  The fresh, green tang of mint and parsley against the acid of the lemon and the subtle heat of the harissa create the most unique flavor sensation, and the feta takes it over the top.  This is a perfect side dish for lamb, or to serve as lunch with some great bread.  Especially if you can find a jar of harissa in your local gourmet shop, I recommend giving this recipe a try and seeing what all the hype is about.
Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint
Adapted a bit from a Smitten Kitchen reader, who adapted it from her mother, who adapted from Cuisine Magazine
3/4 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed and coarsely grated
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 crushed clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds or about half as much, ground
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds or about half as much, ground
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon harissa
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 lb. feta, crumbled or chopped into bits
In a small sauté pan, cook the garlic, caraway, cumin, paprika, harissa and sugar in the oil until fragrant, about one to two minutes. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Pour over the carrots and mix. Add the herbs and mix. Leave to infuse for an hour and add the feta before eating.

One final note... check out Smitten Kitchen's photograph of the same salad:
This tells me that:
a) I need better knife skills.
b) I need a better camera.  SUCH photo/camera envy!  Drool. Drool. Drool.
P.S. -

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Total Health

I've had an epiphany. You can run all you want, eat organic 'til you're green in the face, and cut coffee or alcohol or whatever you decide is a hindrance to your health from your diet, but unless you find a way to manage your stress, total health will never be yours. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm having a hard time beating back that particular demon lately, and as a result, 2 things are happening:
1) I'm realizing, in a very powerful way, what a profound correlation there is between your stress level and your physical health. I've always known this intellectually, but as my stomach and head ache and my lip breaks out in cold sores (awesome), I can literally see in the mirror the consequences of not managing my stress to the best of my ability. 
2) I'm committing to finding ways to neutralize and mitigate this stress, for the betterment of my long-term health, and for the happiness of my whole family.

I'm doing a lot of soul searching right now, a lot of tweaking of my habits, and trying to find a balance that feels healthy and right. Obviously one can never totally eradicate stress from her life completely; a full life comes with struggles to overcome and logistics to be managed. But my goal is to cut out all non-essential stress-causing things from my life, and then to re-teach myself how to cope with what is left. It is an interesting journey.

One thing I've found just in the last few weeks that seems to make a difference is just reorganizing my day. I realized I was stressing a lot in the mornings, so now I am getting out of bed, immediately putting on running clothes, feeding the baby and then hitting the road. This allows me to start my day with a hit of endorphins and some quiet time outside to clear my head and organize my thoughts and plans for the day. I'd like to think it is a nice start to Baby J's day as well (his happily kicking feet in the stroller seem to indicate he is enjoying himself). It is amazing how something so small can really set the day in motion in an entirely different way, and help to avoid some of those anxiety pitfalls I easily fall into these days.

My goal is to seek out and collect more of these little secret tweaks and to dwell in the most calm place I can.
Some of my happiest places:
Hiking with my puppy.
Laughing with my sisters.
Being with my boys.
I'm holding these images at the forefront of my mind, causing them to overshadow whatever minor (or major) life Thing has my adrenaline pumping on a particular day.  I'm running, decaffeinating, breathing, being outside, talking about the things that freak me out instead of bottling them up.  I'm craving more yoga, connection with family and friends, and nights out with my husband. 
What keeps you calm and keeps your stress at bay?
I'm committed to seeking out every trick and revitalizing my total health.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Mellower Buzz

So, I've been a bit anxious lately.  I'm blaming the impending move, work stress and Baby J's new 4:30am wake-up time, which I suppose is better than 3:30, but still.  All of this, combined with the hot and humid weather that has recently rolled in, has made me decide to take a brief hiatus from coffee.  I'll never permanently turn my back on the dark bean, I love it so; but when I get anxious, I get jittery and my tum tends to go a bit haywire, and I can no longer turn my back on the fact that giving the coffee a rest for a few would probably help both of these conditions.  So, I've obviously been looking for a replacement, as one does not go cold turkey on a devotion to caffeine as complete and consuming as mine.  So, I bring you a new series:
SMJ's Guide to Slightly-Less-Caffeinated-than-Coffee Delightful Summer Beverages
Today's entry?
I am so loving this stuff; it is basically my perfect summer energy drink.  I find that a protein shot really does my energy levels right these days, and each serving of this stuff has 10 grams of protein and 160 calories.  AND caffeine.  LOVE.  The ingredient list is non-scary: vanilla chai tea (soy milk, brewed green tea, natural flavors, vanilla extract), apple juice, soy protein isolate, calcium, carrageenan, vitamin c, magnesium, vitamin b6, zinc, iron, vitamin b12.  There is no chalky soy aftertaste and no overly sweet chai flavor either.  This is a perfect post-run recovery drink, as well as a perfect first thing in the morning drink, featured as part of a yummy breakfast. 
Udi's Hawaiian Granola + Mango + Berries + Oikos + new fave Chai Drink = Best Brek Ever
Chai is usually prepared with black tea, but I love that this drink has all the flavor of chai, but with all the health benefits of green tea, which contains an incredibly powerful anti-oxidant called epigallocatechin gallate or EGCG.  This magical stuff has been proven to lower cholesterol and your risk of certain cancers, as well as boost your immune system and make your skin glow-y.  Good stuff.  As a caffeine replacement, I give this drink high marks.  You don't get that really buzzed and jittery feeling, but that is what I am working to veer away from, so that's a good thing.   You get a nice, sweet green tea buzz instead, as well as the added blood-sugar-stabilizing satiety from the protein.  As well as being a great morning beverage, a big bottle of this stuff (say, 2 servings) would also make a great on-the-go, in-the-car lunch (with a piece of fruit or some whole grain crackers).  Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Chai is an all around winner.  
What easy-on-the-nerves-and-tum caffeinated beverage is your fave?
I am looking for any and all suggestions, so please report back!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Business Item

Yet another thanks goes out to my friend Good Golly, who pointed out that the Think Thin coupon link in yesterday's post wasn't working.  I've fixed it and you should be good to go, and here it is again, just in case...

Good Start

Question:  What do you do when your baby has been up since 3:30am for no apparent reason, it is rainy and dreary outside, and you have a long day of work ahead?
Answer:  You make a killer breakfast and start turning the day around.

In our fridge this morning was a delightful remnant of a beautiful dinner out: ramp butter.  Someone with phenomenal self-control (husband) removed this bit of decadence from the top of his steak before eating it, and someone with no shame (me) asked to have it packed up.  I am sorry, but I am not going to stand idly by and watch a huge slice of RAMP BUTTER get marched off to the trash for no good reason.  Pack that baby up!  Ramps (aka wild leeks or spring onions) are only in season for about a month or so in the late spring, and are so incredibly delicious, with a flavor that is a hybrid of garlic and onion.  I love the idea of making ramp butter in order to savor the flavor into the summer and fall.  In the meantime, this lovely leftover was to be the cornerstone of my day-changing brekkie. I was also inspired by Smitten Kitchen's Scrambled Egg Tutorial, leftover grilled tomatoes from this weekend's grilling adventures, and the need to put a hop in my step with some iron by adding a large handful of spinach to my day ASAP.  So....
I melted some of that ridiculous ramp butter in my pan.
Added a large handful of baby spinach and about a cup of the grilled tomatoes (more than necessary, but figured I'd polish them off, as a new weekend of grilling is nearly upon us).  I let that cook down for a bit.
Here we have one whole egg and one egg white.  I beat them with a fork, and poured them over top.  
Added a couple slices of low-fat sharp cheddar that also needed cleaning up (just doing my part), and scrambled away.
Meantime, I made 3 wee slices of toast, and spread the rest of the ramp butter on top.  Yessss.
I topped the whole thing with my veggie scramble.  This is not the prettiest breakfast I have ever made, but it is far and away one of the most delicious.

With a strong, strong cup of coffee (okay, 2 cups) and a big bottle of water, this breakfast has set me straight.  I am a run and a shower away from feeling that all is right with the world once more.  That's the power of a good breakfast.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bar in Your Bag = Brilliant

I am a proponent of whole foods.  Real foods, unprocessed foods, foods that are as close to their original form as possible: these are the things I like to cook, eat and keep in my kitchen.  However, I have been running around lately like a chicken with her head cut off, and sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.  Particularly on my runs to Boston and back in preparation for this move, I don't always have time to stop for the kind of meal or even the kind of snack that I would ideally like to consume.  The baby, you see, is something of a ticking time bomb.  Don't get me wrong, he's phenomenally well behaved, but even with his above-average angel-like demeanor, I can only push the lad so far on these run-around days before I really need to get him home, fed, and into his own comfy bed for a nap, only after all of which might I have time to shove a sandwich down my gullet.
 "Don't push me, Mom." 
On these days, I've found myself having what the husband affectionately refers to as my "low blood sugar moments" wherein I become alternately evil, panicked, shaky and/or filled with rage.  Not pretty. So, despite my preference for salads or smoothies or other more whole foods solutions while on-the-go, I've finally gotten hip to having a bar in my purse for these emergencies.  I love Kashi's granola bars (I really have yet to find a Kashi product I don't adore), but at about 120 calories, with 2 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein, they're hardly enough to count as a meal replacement, and they certainly don't stave off the crazies.  When I am desperate enough to count on a bar for nourishment, I want that sucker to really do the job, and I think I've finally found my go-to Bag Bar: Think Thin bars.
Never mind the mildly embarrassing name, the unfortunate diet-food branding and the plastic-y looking woman on their homepage.  Ignore all that and focus on the fact that Think Thin bars have 20 grams of protein and are sugar and gluten free (I am not gluten-sensitive, but know so very many people who are, so I think this is great).  They have 230 calories and 8 grams of fat a piece, and while I don't think they should regularly serve as a meal replacement in a balanced diet, on those super-hectic days, they can absolutely serve as lunch.  The protein shot keeps me full and prevents me from having a road rage incident, and they are fairly tasty as well: so far my faves are the peanut butter and the brownie crunch.  The brownie crunch has a nice, rich dark chocolate quality to it, while the peanut butter invokes a very health Reeses' Cup. Being able to feel satisfied and sustained by something that can fit in your purse is both comforting and convenient;  I will never be without one of these puppies again.
My local grocer sells these for $1.17, so you're looking at 67 cents for a meal in your bag, people... that's pretty hard to beat.  Try them and let me know what you think!