It’s ok! Play with your food

The end of summer is near–Alec returned to college in Chicago this week.

For those of you not from the midwest, a drive through Wisconsin creates the opportunity for comedic experiences. Such as the Mousehouse Cheesehouse that has a giant rat/cheese wheel on it. Interesting enough, this is not the ONLY giant rat/cheese “sculpture” found on the I94 route.

Beer, Cheese, Gifts and Fudge were advertised. None were purchased. This is Wisconsin. They’re serious about cheese. They also sell beer everywhere. I am unclear how fudge got involved except that after beer and cheese obviously one needs fudge to cleanse the palate. We stopped to snap a pic with the rat.

It got me thinking about how much fun we have in our house with food–trying new recipes or restaurants. So this post is a rather haphazard look at some of the experiments from the last few weeks (and hopefully distracts from my lack of actual recipe posts lately 😉).

What happens when you freeze watermelon cubes as mojito “ice”? Delicious drink for the lake

What happens when you puree an entire cucumber for a martini? Great flavor and color, not so great texture 😉

Challenge day: Can you make a breakfast baked good with a half eaten container of yogurt and a random amount of blueberries and no eggs because you haven’t done the grocery shopping at the lake yet? Oh-yes-you-can lemon-blueberry muffins. Could you repeat it because you wrote any of it down or measured? Oh no.

Favorite new food toy: the Jaguar of zoodlers (“leased” from my sister). Alec and I also laughed while doing this, it’s like the old Play-Dough toys.

I need another drink after all of that creativity! But a perfect reminder to stop and smell the roses (jasmine). It goes fast.

Actual recipes forthcoming now that Alec isn’t here to distract me.

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Healthy holiday eating weeknight Mediterranean (vegan)

Let’s be honest: This time of year is so hard to eat healthy. The average American gains just over a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, which doesn’t sound like a lot.

But as I get older (sigh–closer to 50 than 40 this year), it gets harder and harder to maintain let alone lose weight. But more than anything, when I gain weight I really feel it. Even in the magical elastic jeans that stretch. I hate that feeling physically.

Going Vegan has made that so much easier. I recently learned through my work project that’s in the Type 2 Diabetes space something about new science–calories in, calories out is old thinking. Huh, good to know!

The new research shows that it’s both easier and more complicated than that…the quality, timing and frequency matter. (Especially for diabetics).

Every person metabolizes calories differently. Therefore different foods and even eating foods in a specific sequence can make a difference. For anyone watching blood sugars exercise also matters, with something as simple as taking a walk after a meal to help stabilize blood sugar. (**This is when I say that I am not a doctor and not giving medical advice!**)

So basically I am learning to stop tracking my food–which is a habit built over the last 5 years–and learning to fast (16 hours off and 8 on). I am also watching my reaction to exercise as it relates to meal timing. I feel best when I exercise midstream during my “on” timeframe.

This fasting process tricks your body into burning fat. It’s working for me slowly and without a ton of effort. It’s not really that difficult since I generally dislike breakfast and black coffee doesn’t count (really).

During the 8 hours on, I feel good about eating whatever fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, limited healthy whole grains, non-meat protein I want. And it’s also easier to not have to track things in detail but know that I have good meal quality generally by being vegan.

As always when it comes to food that fuels my body, I try to let go of the good/bad labels that come with “dieting” and in fact don’t see it as a diet but just the way I like to eat because it feels good.

I also enjoy the creative process of putting a meal together, which can be a challenge in a time starved world. This easy Mediterranean dinner is a good break from heavy holiday foods, and it’s simple to prep ahead for dinner on the table in 5 minutes.

Wishing you health and balance this holiday season!

Mediterranean salad

  • 1 English cucumber, skinned and sliced into half rounds
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Hummus
  • Package tabbouleh
  • 1/2cup chopped parsley
  • 1 can garbanzo beans drained
  • Naan

Prepare tabbouleh according to package. Add most of parsley and juice of 1/2 lemon. Refrigerate for an hour or more. Drain and rinse beans. Set aside. Seed and dice tomatoes, peel and chop cucumbers, adding remaining juice of 1/2 lemon. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Allow to marinate preferably overnight. Assemble salad by putting hummus in center, surrounding with tabbouleh, beans, and cucumber/tomato salad. Sprinkle remaining parsley and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with naan.

Endings and beginnings

With the HS graduation party behind us, I feel like this is the start of my summer! (And yes I am unmistakably crabby in the grad pic…7 valedictorian speeches, ugh!)

It’s an amazing amount of work to host these things and frankly, we crammed several years’ worth of “honey do” list items into one month. I am glad we did it, but we’ll be bribing Av to skip it or host it elsewhere. 😉

The menu was a Chicago theme (he’ll be attending Lake Forest College):

  • Chicago dogs (yes I had a vegan “dog”). We all agreed celery salt and tomatoes really are quite good on a poppyseed bun
  • Fruit kabobs
  • Veggie & hummus cups
  • Mini cupcakes
  • Chicago microbrews

Alec is fortunate through swimming (and his personality) to have many friends across not just our town but the TC area, and many ages. It was fun to see them all in one place. I was VERY thankful swimmers like to eat and we had no hot dog leftovers! ⭐️

It’s hard as an adult not to think about the closing of one chapter and the opening of another. Just yesterday he registered for classes and found out his roommate and academic advisor. Immediately the excitement of everything he’s going to get to learn about replaced any sadness.

Of course we’re very proud of his accomplishments, but really we just love having Alec around because he’s such a kind, thoughtful person. The next 8 weeks are gonna go fast, just like the last 19!

Emotional eating

There’s a time and place for emotional eating. This weekend is one of them. It’s mid-April, and we’ve already taken our winter vacation. I thought it would be downhill after our return. Silly me.

It has snowed 15″ in the last 48 hours. And it’s not done yet. This is definitely stretching my optimism skills, as hockey season is almost done (go Wild!) and baseball is underway (go Twins!) But Avery will be lucky to be practicing and playing outside by the end of the month, roughly half of the HS baseball season. He’s not happy.

By Saturday night I was pretty squirrelly after being stuck inside so long. So I did what I do when my emotions run wild, I cooked. I made chocolate chip cookies and opened a bottle of wine. Fully admit this is emotional eating. And not vegan. Real Irish salted butter made these the best cookies I have ever made (keep it in the fridge for splurges and this definitely qualifies).

When the plows finally came through this morning and Matt had collapsed from shoveling the driveway (spring snow is heavy!), I ventured out to the grocery store to re-stock. And do some more emotional cooking.

We’re having favorites this week –made egg salad for Matty, bought lunch meat for the boys, spaghetti and “meat”balls, roasting a bunch of vegs and making ramen for me, which starts with an awesome garlic vegetable broth. All comfort foods that definitely have meaning for each of us. Is it so wrong to attach emotions to food and use it to perk up oneself from time to time?!

The cooking process itself calms me down. I came out of my rage as the broth simmered, realizing how few “snow days” we have left as a family. That we were all safe and snuggled in wearing pajamas for 2 days straight, gathered round the kitchen laughing and making the best out of it (binge watch recommendation = The Looming Tower on Hulu).

And it’s helping me make my case that our winters (Nov to May) should be spent elsewhere…just 2 more to get through! My suggestion to sell the house and buy a boat to sail the Caribbean is looking a lot less “crackpot”….

Garlic miso broth

  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 stalks celery (with leaves)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 head garlic, halved
  • 2 scallions
  • 1 bunch fresh herbs, parsley or cilantro
  • Miso individual soup packet (optional)

Sauté smashed garlic in olive oil over low heat until brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic head, water, celery, scallions, bay leaf, herbs and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain and add miso packet, salt and pepper as desired. A great base for ramen or any veg soup.

Avocado citrus salad

Dreaming of warmer weather, I am regularly throwing together salads etc that seem more like summer and less like 28 degrees and 6-9″ of snow (forecast for tomorrow). We’re so close to the end of winter I can taste it! Just 2 more weeks until Mexico and when we get back it should be “downhill.”

HS hockey and swimming are now done, both boys finished the season strong. Alec has made his college choice (Lake Forest College), and I have purchased a ridiculous amount of Foresters gear! He will continue swimming, but mostly we are glad for the balanced and practical experience he has chosen for his undergrad experience. Plus Chicago is close but not too close 😉

We’re very proud and excited for this new chapter in his life. Avery has design plans for his “new” car and life as an only child. Oh boy.

Oh, and after all the bragging, here’s the recipe:

Avocado citrus salad

  • Avocado, diced
  • 1 cup citrus segments (grapefruit, oranges)
  • 1 cup hearts of palm segments
  • 1 cup diced cherry/grape tomatoes
  • 16 oz mixed greens
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced, including leaves
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced
  • Citrus dressing (2:1 ratio of olive oil to lemon juice, 1 clove garlic chopped)
  • Salt and pepper

Toss together and pretend to be somewhere warm!

Food as self care

It snowed again today. I hate January in Minnesota. If you’re coming here for the SuperBowl in a few weeks, pack your warm stuff!!

The only good thing about weather like this is that it keeps us inside together and gives us time to read, watch movies/tv and just be together.

It was a day off of school for the boys, and they enjoyed the leftovers from yesterday’s football game (Go Vikes!): Halftime chili and cheesy cornbread. I was surprised to learn that most of the teenage boys who came over to watch the game hadn’t ever had chili “Cincinnati style”, which is served over pasta. Anything that can be served over pasta is in our house!!

I did not partake, but instead made an açaí bowl with fruit and desiccated coconut. It looks awful but is utterly fantastic. I’d had this unique superfruit full of antioxidants in Kauai and was thrilled to find a smoothie ready frozen package. Individual servings make it fast and easy.

For dinner I made grain bowls with quinoa and black beans over mixed greens with whatever vegs I could find. I roasted green beans (20 minutes at 400 degrees), and this is absolutely my new favorite prep for what can be a tasteless veg in winter.

That got me thinking about how much we enjoy trying new foods and techniques, and that our habits have changed pretty dramatically in 15 years (since Avery was born). We used to care mostly about cheap and familiar.

With more time and more adventurous spirits, every week is different now. Food (and food prep for me) has become a form of self care. I truly enjoy learning and exploring, and slowing down after a busy day to pull a meal together.

I’m really feeling so much healthier these days–more energy especially–and think a lot of it is the vegan diet (particularly getting rid of dairy). It’s easy to stick with something that makes you feel better!!

Ps We’re planning our winter getaway, which involved updating my passport. I am thrilled to be getting rid of this photo (12 years ago)!! 40 something is way better than 30.

“Beef” stew (vegan)

The boys are generally being good sports about this vegan thing we’ve been trying. They’ve both figured out coping mechanisms. Avery has been getting supplements at lunch from his friends who take pity on him, and Alec just drives himself to buy something when he wants it.

I was honestly pretty excited tonight to try one of our favorite recipes, made vegan–Sunday Night beef stew by Pioneer Woman. It’s a winter staple. It’s hearty and easy, classic flavors.

It turned out great…the smell of a simmering pot filled the house all afternoon with anticipation and when the boys sat down there was honestly excitement. (I serve it over a giant portion of mashed potatoes and a good old bowl of carbs is always good bait for a teenage boy.)

So when we dug in, the reactions were nearly simultaneous: “This isn’t meat, is it?”

No. And then even I was laughing because there’s no way soy chunks improve by simmering. Quickly the nickname “feeb” stew caught on (beef backwards and perhaps a nod to feeble).

Lesson learned. I really liked this meatless beef tips product when we used it in broccoli stir fry last week, but I think it was greatly helped both by quick sauté and a spicy sauce. Cooking it for several hours made the texture akin to the “meatballs” in Spaghettios and the flavor was definitely not umami.

Everything else in the recipe turned out great–substituting olive oil for butter and vegetable stock for beef. I amped up the Worcestershire and added bay leaves to give the sauce more depth. That part of the recipe was a success. The carrots/turnips were great as usual too. Even the boys said so.

I’m going to keep tinkering with the right meat substitute, perhaps a tempeh or mushroom. The key to this vegan thing I think is to play with a food’s strengths, not to try to make something into what it’s clearly not. I’ve got some trust building to do for the feeb stew, can’t fool these hungry boys. 😉