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the post with the killer knife skills

August 30th, 2011 | 10 Comments »

Knife skills. It doesn’t just mean that you can hold a knife and cut an onion. It has nothing to do with being able to avoid cutting yourself. And it isn’t even about knowing the difference between chopped, diced and minced. (but do you know the difference??)

Knife skills are necessary in the culinary world. The proper grip, the best balance aside, knowing how to julienne, chiffonade and batonnet, make a brunoise and a tourné potato are de rigueur.   We spent hours in culinary school, hunched over cutting boards of vegetables, practicing our cuts until our hands were cramped and sore. We hissed streams of profanity sometimes at our inability to get it right, and many poorly constructed cuts were lobbed across the kitchen in frustration. We are, after all, a profession of avowed perfectionists. Knife cuts, and making them the right way is a big deal, as they are a requirement in many, many professional kitchens.

In addition to the requirements of our classes, I participated in a student culinary competition where part of our score was judged on a variety of knife skills. We practiced these skills for months, creating mountains of carrot batons in perfect symmetry, perfect little tournés of potato like tiny white footballs and enormous amounts of parsley, chopped to the consistency of sand. I never once expected they would ever benefit me until I spent a summer in the kitchen of an upscale golf club where my ability with a knife was held in high esteem. It may seem strange to always make my diced onions perfect when all they’re going in to is a soup, or to slice those carrots in perfect coins, the garlic to micro-thin slices, but this is what I know, and what I was trained to do. It doesn’t matter that it now only benefits my family (and readers of this blog). It’s a skill I’ll never unlearn, no matter what.

And it came in very handy when creating this Kale Slaw.

And this slaw was only for my eyes, really. I wasn’t making it for a magazine shoot, a fancy dinner or company at my house. But in creating something lovely, just for myself, I am raising the bar on my meals from a routine and mundane thing to a meal wtih some elegance. It didn’t have to be this good. I didn’t have to hone my chef’s knife before taking on the kale. I didn’t need to carefully slice the carrot and pepper. It didn’t have to be perfect.

But piled on a plate and dotted with crushed and whole peanuts, this Kale slaw, with it’s peanut dressing, was a thing of beauty. The dark rich green of the kale, the sharp orange carrot and pale white heirloom pepper, all snapped out from under the blade of my knife without much thought. And that’s part of the appeal. This wasn’t any special consideration. It just happens like this in my kitchen as a matter of fact. I’ve got amazing knife skills, and it isn’t something to hide, really. It’s something to share, to rejoice about and to say ‘Hey, look at that. Isn’t it pretty?’ Because it is. And it was worth all the pain in my hands, the stiff fingers and the endless amounts of hours put in to make it that way. It raises the bar on a simple meal, eaten at my patio table with a pretty basic glass of wine. It makes a Saturday evening alone just that much more fun and exciting.

Those of you who know me outside of this site know I am not very boastful. I’m not one to accept praise all that often, but you put a knife in my hands and I’m going to show you what I can do because this is a skill I am proud of, and one that didn’t come easily. I have pretty severe repetitive stress injuries in both my wrists, and learning to do this in school was torturous and sometimes left me in tears, with my pained hands resting in ice water to reduce the inflammation. My work at the golf club was often hampered by this affliction, but to hear the chef comment on how nice my vegetable trays looked made the discomfort worthwhile, even as I bit back the pain and went home to ice baths and Advil.

I love the earthy crunch to this slaw and the nutty flavor of the dressing. The kale isn’t cooked, but the dressing soaks in to it and softens the texture nicely. I used lacinato kale and loved the dark color against the carrot and pepper. I think some red cabbage in this would be very pretty too, or the lighter frilly green of Savoy. If you don’t care for peanuts or can’t have them, try using almonds, or pecans. One nice aspect of this recipe, and using raw kale is that even the next day there’s no soggy leaves. The sturdy kale can withstand an overnight, bathed in this nice dressing and still maintain good crunch for lunch on the second day. The overall flavor of the salad was richer, and more pronounced too.


Kale Slaw with Peanut Dressing

2 large bunches of kale, either lacinato or curly, washed and spun dry
2 medium red pepper, sliced very thin
2 carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise
1 c. roasted peanuts
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. packed brown sugar
1/4 t. sea salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes

Fold kale leaves in half and tear out tough stems. Roll leaves tightly and slice thinly into very fine ribbons. Toss kale in a bowl with the pepper, carrot and half a cup of whole peanuts.

In a measuring cup, whisk the oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper flakes. Using a food chopper or small food processor, chop the remaining half cup of peanuts into mostly fine pieces. Remove from chopper and add 2-3 tablespoons of them to the dressing, and whisk to mix. Pour dressing over kale, toss to coat and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Toss again and serve, sprinkled with remaining crushed peanuts.

cheesy corn and kale bake

August 26th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

August is almost over.

And even writing that out doesn’t feel like it’s real. But it is; the month is over next week, then September comes and summer fades into the rear view mirror, leaving it’s fingerprints in our memory, waning like a summer tan. It has truly been an amazing and beautiful summer.

But it’s been a glorious August in Minnesota, a perfect end to this fleeting season. Despite June’s cool weeks, July roared in with it’s searing heat and choking humidity, and storm after storm after storm charged across the sky, darkening the hours, drowning us in rain. And what a delight too. I didn’t water my grass once this summer and it’s stayed lush and green through all the record-breaking heat. That’s pretty rare here. And the abundant rain has turned our surroundings in to a thick rainforest of growth, with a fresh earthy smell that’s nearly intoxicating. August ushered out the heat, and brought us gorgeous sun, endless blue sky and cool nights with fresh breezes. I’ve just fallen in love with August this year. If summer in Minnesota was like this month has been, no one would ever see the need to complain.

Then there’s the bounty, the amazing bounty sagging the tables at the Farmers Markets every week. It’s staggering how much produce is weighing down those tables, with over-loaded trucks parked behind, waiting to dispel their goods. I can take a $20 dollar bill and bring home two big sacks stuffed with food each week. My last trip was so fruitful that I could hardly stagger to the car with my load. And for only $28 dollars, I could have collapsed our kitchen island with the weight.

The one item I’ve been a bit disappointed with this season has been the sweet corn. I’ve had more misses with my ears than I’ve had wondrously sweet experiences, and one farmer I spoke to said that the intense heat and heavy rain can cause such quick ripening of the corn that it’s difficult to get it at that sweet tender state that so many people like.

A recent batch of corn that I purchased was a bit too starchy and dry for my liking, but mixed with red pepper, dark green kale and a few handfuls of good cheese, it turned in to a delightful dish that took the focus off the chewy over-ripe corn.

This cheesy baked dish was so yummy, rich with fresh summer flavor. I’d love to try it again, adding more vegetables to it, maybe change the cheese to something stronger, or try it with chard since I seem to have glided up and over the moon for this particular dark leafy green. Did you see in that photo that I bought THREE bunches of it? I am crazy.

But that’s what I need to do; dive head first into these seasonal delights and enjoy them while I can. Like summer, and August, they’ll be fading all too quickly, and I’ll be back in the produce aisle of the grocer, surveying my options, rubbing my arms from the cold, wishing I was dodging sunlight, an overstuffed sack slung on my bare shoulder.

Cheesy Corn and Kale Bake

1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium leek, sliced thin (or an onion, if you wish)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bunch of curly leaf kale, washed and spun dry then chopped
4 c. fresh corn kernels
2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. AP flour
1 c. milk (i used soy)
1 c. freshly grated cheddar cheese (or mix it up a bit with pepper jack)
1 T. cream cheese (I used sour cream)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°

In a deep cast iron skillet, or other oven proof skillet, sauté the leek and pepper in a bit of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute or two. Add in the kale and stir until it’s coated with the oil, then cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Scrape veggies in to a bowl and set aside.

In same pan, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir to make a roux. Cook, stirring, for about two minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth, then cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is very thick. It may look a bit reddish brown from the pepper, but that’s just fine. Mix the cheese in a little at a time until you have a nice cheese sauce, stir in the cream cheese and cooked pepper mix, and then the corn kernels. It will be very thick. Season with salt, pepper and the cayenne and spread it evenly in the pan. Place the pan, uncovered, in to the oven and bake until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes.


Original recipe is from The Kitchn website; I made heavy modifications.

You can use frozen corn in this if you wish, just be sure to run it under cold water to thaw it out, and shake all the extra moisture out before adding it to the cheese sauce mixture.

surprising creations

August 20th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

What’s that saying? ‘Necessity is the mother of invention?’

Many amazing recipes occur when the frantic need for something to add to dinner comes up and I wildly glance in the pantry to see what I’ve got. What odds and ends are laying about in the fridge? What needs to get used up? What tastes good together?

I fling a lot of ingredients in a pan, or a bowl and I cross my fingers a lot when I cook. Whether it’s out of ‘necessity’ like the quote, or just curiosity, it’s not often that I follow a recipe. More likely, I am making something up as I go. Thankfully, more often than not the results are pretty tasty.

The worst part of it all is that if I don’t write down what I did, I rarely remember it to be able to recreate the dish.

This one, however, did not get away from me.

Side dishes have always been a favorite of mine, and lately I’ve been on this kick of filling my plate with nothing but ‘side’ dishes. The nice thing about removing the focus of meat from our meals is that just about everything we do now can either be termed a ‘main’ dish, or a ‘side’ dish. And sometimes, all of what is being served at our table, technically, are sides.

Griffin was making fish for dinner recently (yes, we eat fish) and we both really wanted something unique on the side. I keep a lot of rice and grains handy, but we were short on time and didn’t want to wait for brown rice, or wild rice to cook. He was digging through our pantry and pulled out a jar of pearl couscous, asking me ‘What’s this?’ And as with necessity, and invention was born.

Pearl couscous, mostly recognized as Israeli couscous, is the thicker version of the tiny semolina grains that most people know best. Couscous isn’t really a ‘grain’ like farro, or quinoa; it’s pasta in minutiae form. The instant version of couscous cooks in a flash by adding the tiny beads to boiling broth. The larger form takes a bit longer, but still is quick enough to make for an easy dinner. We used chicken broth, some frozen corn and a generous handful of fresh herbs from the garden and the result was surprising to all of us. It’s light and flavorful and wondrously versatile, but not heavy like larger pasta shapes. I think some form of this will be making regular appearances on our dinner table. With enough fresh vegetables added to it, the dish becomes a meal in itself, or you can serve it over a garden fresh tomato for a perfect salad option. It actually tastes wonderful cold too.

Did you notice the new print button feature??? Pretty cool, huh??

Pearl Couscous Pilaf

1 c. pearl couscous
1-1/4 c. well seasoned broth (can use vegetable, mushroom, chicken….)
1 medium leek, or 2 small ones, sliced and washed well (can sub a finely diced onion)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 c. vegetable of choice (we used corn; try diced zucchini or other fresh seasonal vegetables)
1/4 c. fresh herbs, finely chopped (we used thyme, oregano and basil, then parsley to finish)

In a deep skillet with a cover, heat a few tablespoons of oil. Add the leek and cook, stirring regularly, until softened and beginning to brown in some places. Add in the garlic and cook, stirring for about a minute. Add the corn (or whatever vegetable you are using) and stir to coat with the oil mixture, then add the couscous and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Pour in the broth, stir to combine and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat so it simmers, cover the pan and allow to cook, undisturbed, until the couscous absorbs all the broth. It should take about 10 minutes. Allow it to sit for about 5 more minutes, off heat. Before serving, toss the fresh herbs in and stir to combine,  seasoning with salt and fresh pepper. Top with parsley as a garnish.

wordless wednesday… happy anniversary

August 17th, 2011 | 5 Comments »


Happy 9th Anniversary to the love of my life. I’d marry you all over again, in a heartbeat.


high summer hiking…. and eating

August 15th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

Not even five minutes into my Sunday morning hike and already my shoes are soaked from the dew. I have to make a split second decision as I feel cool, wet water seeping through my socks; turn back or keep going. There might be blisters at the end, surely some chafing from my hiking shoes, but it’s a glorious August morning and the sun is glaring down on me. I can’t go back. Ignoring my wet feet, I move on.

I’m in Otter Lake Regional Park and this is my glory place, my church of the great outdoors. Plopped in the middle of White Bear Township, it’s a tiny little park, with a very nice nature center and hiking trails that make you feel like you’re miles from the outer world. It’s where I cross country ski in the winter time, and for the other three seasons, I roam it’s trails and discover more and more every day to love about it. On this particularly beautiful morning, in the high season of summer, I take to the trails, dew and all to seek out something I can’t find among the concrete.

My favorite path is cut short by standing water; it’s unusually low in that area, and during the Spring thaw, the trail is often impassable, but it always dries out. But this summer, with it’s abundant rainfall, it’s a no-mans land. I keep on the path that leads me around the back of the newly constructed natural classroom and head in to the swamp. This trail will lead me to the northwest section of the park where the hardest challenge of my hike lies. In there, the path cuts through a sanctuary of birch and towering oak trees, dipping down sharply, then rising just as fast to offer a heart-pounding, blood racing interval that I love. I can’t even consider going on this trail in the wintertime, on my skis. It’s challenging enough on foot, but I can’t stay away. The majestic oak trees line the path, like sentries that silently watch me pass, breathing deep, as the smaller of the two lakes in the park wink it’s shimmer of blue through the tree line. I try to challenge myself to run hard up a few of these  short but steep hills. I’m ignoring my damp shoes.

Coming out on the other end, I’ve broken a sweat and wish I had my water bottle. The sun has rose high enough now to pound on my skin, and the wind swirls around me. It’s not strong enough to keep the flies at bay, and I impatiently swat away at them, mentally reminding myself to bring bug spray the next time I come here. This section of the path, through the heart of the park is high and open. No trees hide the sun out here and as I push on, beads of sweat slip down my temples.

The best part of being out here isn’t the nature. It isn’t hearing the hum of the highway along the western edge of the park, or the sound of the trains in the distance, blasting their whistles as they through the crossing. It isn’t the flash of deer, startled from their morning graze, leaping through the trees with white tails whipping, nor the fox, visible only by it’s bright red bushy tail twisting as it runs. It isn’t the small brown snake that lifts it’s head as I approach, watching me closely. “I’m no threat.” I murmur, slowing down to gaze at it’s tiny eyes. It doesn’t even flinch as I carefully step over it, and turning back as I move on, I see it’s watching me.

It isn’t any of these things, nor the rustle of the grass, or the continual droning hum of the insects. It isn’t the fluttering butterflies that skip along the path ahead of me, all shapes, sizes and colors. It’s isn’t any of it, and it’s all of it. Because out here, with the open skies and clean air, coupled with my footsteps and steady, hard breathing, it’s all of it at once that tames the voices inside, the swirl of life in my head that becomes a cadence of regular disruption. I come out here and it all disappears. My head clears, while the constant motion in it stops and I can breathe, relax, feel my blood pound and just let go. I am in sync with myself on this path, instead of at war with trying to figure out what’s next.

Then the trail dips down to the larger lake, and winds around to the north. It’s really uneven here, and now I am fully aware of my hiking shoe rubbing on my right ankle. The arthritis in my feet is apparent, but it will never stop me; it’s just more noticeable where the path is the least stable. The grass is tall and it tickles my legs. I swat the flies, wipe the sweat and keep going because soon, there will be the boardwalk leading me around the side of the lake, and at the other end is the thickest, densest trees and a hard packed dirt path that will take me back to the place I began. I’m on the last leg and those woods, with the tall maples and cool shadows will feel really, really good after the heat and sunshine. I feel the temperature drop as I enter here, and the slight chill rejuvenates me. Sunlight is dripping through the high tree canopy. And it’s glorious with bird song.

But the mosquitos in here are terrible. I can’t stop, or even slow down. I want to grab a few photographs to chronicle this morning, but I am swarmed with nibblers if I try to catch my breath. My feet feel better, but the rubbing on my ankle is a chronic annoyance. Because it’s cool in here though, the sweat slows down and I don’t have to wipe my face so much. My heart and lungs are on full power now; I’ve been hiking hard for 45 minutes by the time this trail leads me back out to the blacktop path that I started on. The nature center is in sight, and the parking lot, where my car and my water bottle await, is beyond that. My head feels soothed and I take a deep breath, once again. I’m back to the car, stripping off my soaking wet shoes and socks, wiping down my feet with the wipes I keep in my car and toweling off the sweat. My water bottle is half empty already. I stretch out the tension, drop in to a few yoga positions to re-focus and eventually climb in to my car to head home. In less than an hour I hiked nearly 4 miles.

And I’m so hungry now.

At home is waiting the simplest of simple summer salads, perfect for these heady days of heat and sun. The farmers markets are absolutely bursting with a mind-boggling bounty of fresh food and I am crazy in love with sweet corn, fresh tomato, zucchini for the grill, tiny purple eggplants and dark, dark greens. Every meal tastes like sunshine, each bite bursts with flavor. I snip handfuls of herbs from the garden to crush and sprinkle over everything and even after washing my hands I can still smell the thyme, the parsley and basil, the volunteer oregano that sprung up from last years plants.

And this salad…. this salad awaits my gnawing stomach, the hunger driven out of a vigorous hike, deep gulps of clean morning air and the need to still my mind. It’s simple, quick and so delightful; the snap of fresh tomato, fresh zucchini chunks, crunchy corn kernels that still taste like a farm field and lots and lots of tiny thyme leaves. A few scattered pieces of lemony goat cheese makes it complete.

My shoes are drying in the hot sun, outside on the patio and I need a shower. My ankle didn’t blister, thank goodness, and while my body is energized from it’s workout, my mind is at rest. This is a good place to be. Like August, with it’s wellspring of fresh vegetables.

What’s on your summer table these days??

(Notice anything new down below here?? There’s a print button for my recipes now!!)


Herbed Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad

4 ears sweet corn, shucked, cooked and stripped of kernels
4 medium tomatoes, or 1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, as ripe as you can find
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 c. fresh chopped herbs, such as basil, thyme, parsley and oregano (use rosemary if you like it)
2 T. good quality olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes to combine flavors. Serve topped with goat cheese, if desired.

My Notes: I used half a pint of purple cherry tomato, and one good sized orange heirloom tomato for my version of this dish. I also diced up a fresh heirloom pepper that I had on hand. I think one of the best parts about this dish is how colorful it can be with the variations available now. As the salad stands, it will release plentiful juices which are delicious if you dip fresh toasted bread into them, then sprinkle a bit of sea salt over before eating.

cheese cheese cheese!!!

August 14th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

One of the nice perks of working in an upscale grocery store is that there is a gourmet cheese case, chock full of amazing cheeses that tempt me each time I walk by. The giant wheels of cheese come in and are cut down to size, often leaving behind smaller pieces that are then wrapped and placed in the ‘Bargain Bin’ where lucky shoppers can grab as many artisan cheeses as they want, often for only a few dollars per piece. It’s nice way to try out a wide variety of good cheese, without committing to a large piece that you may not like.

Once in a while I like to purchase two or three of the small chunks and take them home to savor with a glass of wine and some good crackers. I do like cheese, despite having mild lactose intolerance. It seems that the artisan cheeses, made with higher quality milk don’t tend to disagree with my belly like more mass-produced cheeses can. Recently I was given an opportunity to compare Sargento Natural Cheese slices to that of processed cheese. Hah. No brainer there. Bring on the cheese!!!

{{ DISCLAIMER~~~ Through my relationship with The Motherhood, I was provided with cheese samples, and compensated financially for providing my feedback on the product. All opinions are mine, however. }}

The cheese arrived during a busy crush time in my schedule, and languished in the fridge for a few days before I pulled it out to taste the offerings. Griffin and I bent over the cheeses, examining them closely. There were plain plastic wrapped slices, likely Kraft singles, which we’ve never eaten and truthfully, we just tossed those out. We don’t need to eat plastic cheese to know that it’s disgusting. The package of Sargento cheese was neatly sliced in perfect squares and was real, honest to goodness cheese. It looked, smelled and felt like real cheese, all in perfect sandwich sized squares in a neatly wrapped package. There were about 12-14 slices in the package. I don’t know what the retail cost of the item would be.

We both detected a somewhat plastic taste to the cheese from the wrapper, no doubt, but beyond that, this was unmistakenly ‘cheese’. We broke up the slices and ate them with some crackers, enjoying the quick snack and chatting aimlessly. I don’t tend to buy cheese in this form, preferring to purchase bricks that I can either slice or shred to my needs. This cheese, however, was flavorful and easy to use, and much much better than the individually processed fake stuff. Although my preference for cheese goes to a bit higher level than this, I did enjoy those slices, especially lingering over them with my boy, sharing a quick conversation.

Are you a cheese lover? What’s your favorite type of cheese??

so…. what do you EAT?!

August 3rd, 2011 | 18 Comments »
This post contains snarky commentary, a hefty dose of sarcasm and extreme frustration. You have been warned. And I will warn too, that it’s for means of discussion and to provoke thoughts on ways to improve our overall health. It is NOT for personal attacks, finger pointing and shame. So be nice.

So…. what DO you EAT?!

Good golly, I’ve encountered this question a lot since sharing with people that I’ve given up eating meat. And upon hearing this, I want to shake my head. Or maybe, shake the person asking me. Really? What do I eat? As if meat is the Be-All to End-All of every single thing we put in our mouths? Someone even asked Mike ‘So, how’s it going on the “Eat Nothing” diet?’

The ignorance, I’m sorry, really really annoys me. I mean…..REALLY annoys me. We, as a nation and people, are much smarter than this.

I could get in to discussing the health benefits of a eating plant based meals; I could go on and on about the sheer prevalence of heart disease, diabetes, sky-high cholesterol and the problems associated with that. I could talk about the national epidemic of obesity in our country, how we’ve become the fattest, most unhealthy nation on Earth, how our food policy is screwed up, how Big Ag has taken control of our food system and plunged our country in to this crisis as a neatly controlled and highly selective means to push their own agenda and pad their pockets. I could discuss the effects of meat consumption, and really, I could get into the whole tired meat debate about factory farming (yawn) and blah blah blah……

But that’s just a dragged out and relentless argument. We KNOW the facts. We KNOW that the huge portions, high fat, processed foods, food additives and preservatives, junk food, fast food, soda, and a million other bits of garbage that crush the aisles of our grocery stores are bad, bad BAD for our bodies. But for being a country of intelligent, highly educated people with the highest standard of living on Earth, we sure know how to turn a gold mine of knowledge into a cesspool of ignorance.

And really, I’m just tired of hearing the public consensus of ‘Gosh, I know this is bad for me!’ as they shove garbage in their gullet. I’m tired of hearing people whine about the crap their kids eat (that THEY BUY for them…. GAH!) and I’m just sick to death of the hand-wringing sense that ‘Oh dear! What can we DO about it!!’ because everyone has within them the means to change everything about their situation. Everything. Every bite they eat, every sip they take, every item of food tossed carelessly into a grocery cart and right down to where and how they shop for groceries. We each have the capability to change any situation in the palm of our hand if only we have the willingness to put down the bad stuff we consume and pick up something better.

Because I did just that. I changed everything about my food, my life and my health. And if you want to see the Readers Digest Condensed Version, please go to my friend Nicole’s blog, and read all about it. But be warned; it took me a long time to get to where I am; the timeline in my story covers twelve years. Twelve! Years!!  I did not make these changes overnight. And they won’t happen overnight if YOU take on the challenge to change what you don’t like about your health and well-being. But they also won’t happen if YOU do nothing about it, and then the whining gets kind of annoying to those around you. My deepest apologies for sounding harsh. Deepest, deepest apologies. Because I do get the inertia that comes when faced with making such powerful changes. It’s hard. I know. Been there.

But there is nothing about eating plant-based foods that smacks of deprivation, so I thought I would make note of some my meals lately, and let everyone know what you really can consume on a meat-free eating plan. Because, you may think I’m really just wasting away, gnawing on a block of bland boring tofu and a plateful of plain ordinary brown rice, hungrily dreaming about a juicy steak.

Heh. Not.

I’ve been enjoying braised kale and poached eggs for breakfast quite often, and tried it with chard too. Loved it. The energy and ability to focus after having this as a start to my day simply amazes me. Eggs cross my plate a lot. I love those little orbs.

Mike and I shared a delicious ciabatta loaf  for dinner one night, stuffed with grilled asparagus, portabella mushrooms and eggplant, then topped with fresh spring greens and sliced tomato. We both had our hands full of this amazing sandwich, and even before I’d joyfully swallowed the final bite I was already dreaming of the next time we’d eat this. It was divine.

I made a pretty good veggie burger, with black beans, mushrooms and bulgur. Even Griffin ate it and declared it to be OK. I plan to experiment more with veggie burger options as I do like the ones I’ve tried so far.

Quinoa makes for a terrific base for just about anything. Add in grilled red peppers, mushrooms, baby bok choy (yes, grilled) zucchini, beets (yes, grilled), more asparagus and chopped radish and you’ve got an incredibly satisfying meal. Griffin will happily eat this without one raised eyebrow. That makes me ecstatic.

I’ve made two amazing tarts with puff pastry as the base. One had asparagus, the other had caramelized onion and roasted radishes on it. Fancy pants stuff, those tarts.

Griffin made pizza for us one night. Ours had grilled zucchini, red and orange peppers. Plus a ton of fresh chopped tomato. It was like a slice of summer in my hand.

More grilled vegetables, plus some canned black beans made for terrific grilled veggie quesadillas. I did these at home for a friend who came to hang out with us, and I made them for a meal at our lake home. They were enthusiastically received both times. My friend was halfway through his second quesadilla before realizing there wasn’t any meat in them. He ate a third, and took home a few too.

Salads. Folks, we’ve had some sticky hot days here in MN. On a scorching and humid day, there is nothing like a big bowl of salad greens and a wide array of crunchy cool vegetables and fruit like carrots, radish, cucumber, apple, nuts, grapes….. you name it. Toss it all in a bowl with a drizzle of good olive oil and it’s a meal worthy of some serious mastication.

These Lemony Garlic White Beans are on a continual rotation in my kitchen. And some version of these Better Black Beans from wayyyyyy back in 2008 get dished up just about weekly, served over rice or eaten as Nachos.

There was a giant container of Peanut Sesame Noodles that lasted for days. I used a commercial peanut satay sauce that I found on sale, added shredded carrot, sliced cucumber, bean sprouts and fresh mint. It was heavenly. And perfect for hot summer days.

I’ve become utterly besotted with balsamic glazed grilled mushrooms and look for just about any excuse to make them. Serving them over Fresh Herb and Corn Polenta is stunning both for the eye and the tongue.

And of course, every recipe I’ve posted since the beginning of May, such as……

Chard and White Beans with Fresh Herbs. Nothing delicious and healthy about that, is there?

Fettucine with Braised Kale. Rich but light and flavorful. Pasta, people! Pasta!

Kale with Quinoa and Toasted Pecans. Crunchy, earthy, cheap and easy.

Toasted Farro with Greens and Tahini What a unique flavor, and so filling in such a good way.

The best snack ever: Roasted Chickpeas. Like popcorn. Killer addiction. If you dry roast them there is zero fat calories.

Here’s that Roasted Radish Tart, if you’re interested

Oh, and a Charred Cherry Tomato Pizza with Balsamic Mushrooms. Yeah, one means of eating those amazing mushrooms. Hoo boy…. wildly good, and some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

And this Ratatouille Gratin? Desperately lacking…… nothing. Nada. Zip.

So there it is. We eat better now than we did before, what with all the glorious color, variety and options available. I’m always satisfied at meal time, and the best part is that I can eat a lot and be full without that painfully stuffed feeling I used to get when I ate meat. My belly is healthier and my menopausal symptoms have dwindled to almost non-existent. If I can achieve that simply by modifying my diet, then I know I’m on the right track.

There is absolutely nothing lacking in plant-based eating. Nothing at all.

And this plan works for us, but it may not be your thing and that’s OK. We all need to find our own means to the ends we seek, and we need to dialogue and discuss instead of point, question and ridicule. Most of all, we need to support, encourage and praise every victory, every step in the right direction.

So what steps do you take to improve your health? Have you seen any decrease in problematic symptoms with dietary changes? I’d LOVE to hear what’s worked for you and your means to achieve optimum health.