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beauty products from your kitchen

February 18th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

I’ve been paying attention to all things food for as far back as I can recall, and the more in-depth I go with food, in all aspects of my life, the more I can see over my lifetime that it’s been in me since I was just a little kid.

Back in the early years of college, I used to randomly read Cosmopolitan magazine, long before it became the sensationalist rag that it is today. On one occasion, while sitting in the student union at the U of M, waiting for a perpetually late friend to show up for a study date, I picked up a ragged and torn issue of Cosmopolitan and began paging through it. I came across an article about using regular, ordinary food products for beauty treatments, and read through it, transfixed. Here was simple and easy ways to enhance the look and feel of your skin, using items that everyone has at their fingertips. I slipped the magazine in my backpack, and those pages became so dog-eared from use that I eventually tossed them out. But the information I read there, and keep in mind that this was likely in 1983 or 1984, I have utilized in some way, to this day. And it’s been illuminating to see the food world around me embrace the use of everyday food items for personal use.

The best part about these treatments is that they are completely chemical-free. No worries about absorbing something unsafe into your body, and you aren’t harming the environment when you rinse them down the drain.

Here’s a few of the treatments that I love:


Avocado Hair Mask: Mash one ripe avocado in a bowl with a few teaspoons of olive oil. Apply to slightly damp hair (prior to washing) Rub or comb through and place a plastic bag over your hair to insulate. Wrap your head in a towel and let the treatment sit for an hour. Wash hair as usual. Avocado oil is also good to have on hand. Rub a few drops through your hair after styling to help tame flyaways and make it feel lustrous.

Egg White Skin Toner: Whip an egg white until stiff peaks form. With your fingertips, apply the whites to your freshly washed face. It’s messy, yes; but after a half hour or so when you rinse it off, your skin will feel tight and firm, and man alive, will it glow!! The proteins in egg whites will do wonders for your skin, as well as your eating plan. This can be used on any part of your body.

Sugar Scrubs: These are very popular now, but I’ve been using some form of a sugar scrub for a very long time. Mix a cup of plain white sugar with a few tablespoons of olive, avocado or almond oil and several drops of any essential oil you like (my favorite is bergamot oil- smells like oranges, or lavender). Mix to combine and keep in a sealed jar. Scoop a small amount on wet hands and rub sugar over skin, nail beds and cuticles. Rinse with warm water and apply a good moisturizer. This can be used all over the body for amazing exfoliation. Mix 1/4 cup of coarse cornmeal in with the sugar and oils to use on tougher areas, like feet and elbows. My friend Shaina has a lovely recipe on her blog for Ginger and Coconut Oil Sugar Body Scrub that sounds amazing.

Olive Oil Wash: Olive oil was once prized by ancient civilizations for it’s moisturizing properties, long before it became a staple in cooking. When I worked in a professional kitchen and washed my hands a million times in my 8-hour shift, I would drizzle a bit of olive oil on them to help keep them from cracking and drying out, as it wouldn’t contaminate the food I was preparing like regular lotion. A dime-sized amount in the palm of your hands make a refreshing and pure face wash, lifting dirt and oil gently and without harsh chemicals. Your skin feels incredibly soft and clean. I realize it sounds counterintuitive, but it really works.

Olive oil is also an excellent source of moisture in your hair. As a pre-shampoo treatment, rub it through the ends of your dry hair, then massage a bit on your scalp. Cover your head with plastic and allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes before you shampoo and condition as usual. If you use a deep conditioner on your hair, you can add a few drops of olive oil to it before applying for an extra level of moisturizing. {{For more information and ideas: source: Hairlicious}}

Almond Facial Scrub: It helps the look of your skin to exfoliate the dead layers on a regular basis. Crushed almonds make for an amazing facial scrub. Grind the nuts to a coarse powder; add a bit of water and gently rub the mixture over your face, avoiding the tender skin around the eyes. I love how this smooths out rough patches on my forehead, and really cleans up the pores. Coarsely ground oatmeal is also an excellent exfoliator, and is a bit more gentle for sensitive skin.

Almonds are a nutrient powerhouse for the entire body, and one food item worth incorporating in to your eating.

Apple Cider Vinegar: The astringent properties of apple cider vinegar are wonderful for neutralizing minor skin irritations and helping calm the aggravation of yeast infections. A cup of this in a shallow bath is very soothing, and you can dab it on mosquito bites to take the itch away. A cotton swab dipped in apple cider vinegar and touched to acne breakouts can help speed the healing process.

Check out Bragg Live Foods for more information on the benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar.

Baking Soda Build-Up Remover: As someone who has colored her hair for most of my life, this method for removing build-up on my hair has been the best overall natural treatment I’ve done. If you use any kind of styling products on your hair like gels or sprays, they can build up over time and cause hair to become limp and dull.  I can’t use shampoos that will do this, as they strip the color right out of my hair, making it really flat. But adding a tablespoon of baking soda to my shampoo creates a natural cleanse that leaves my hair shiny and fresh, and most importantly, with the color intact. Keep a box within reach of your shower and add a small amount to your shampoo weekly for best results. It will leave the hair shaft wide open, and your hair might feel a bit rough when you rinse but a good deep conditioner follow-up will take care of that right away. You’ll love how it feels.

Baking soda is a mighty multi-tasker in your household, as many of you know how well it works for cleaning purposes too. Here’s a good article on the versatility of this pantry standard: “51 Fantastic Uses for Baking Soda”. We use baking soda to keep the litter boxes fresh, and it does wonders on odors in your laundry too.

Shaina also talked recently about using coconut oil in your hair to tame dryness and add a lustrous shine. I’ve tried this a few times and now am hooked on how wonderful it makes my hair feel. I find it helps to enhance the natural curl in my hair too.

Sometime in the mid-90′s, I picked up a book called Blended Beauty, by Phillip B. that was filled with natural, food-based beauty treatments. Published in 1995, this book was way, way ahead of it’s time, listing ingredients like lemongrass, quinoa, kale, coconut oil, fresh herbs and a host of other novelty items that were basically unheard of, or even widely available at that point in time. The book is available on Amazon, and is well worth having in your personal library, especially if you’re like me and hate using chemically laden products on your skin. I’ve tried multiple recipes from the book, and have been very pleased with all of them.

 

Do you use any natural beauty treatments or natural remedies around the house?
What have you found in your food that you love on your skin??

 

{{photo credits: Avocado, Eggs, Sugar, Olive Oil, Almonds, Apple Cider Vinegar, Baking Soda}}

 

 

black bean tostadas

June 5th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

I’m always on the look-out for quick and easy meal options, ideas for those nights that the guys take over dinner prep and want some good food to appear without a great amount of fuss. Long winded recipes don’t cut it with them, but these really easy Black Bean Tostadas make for a perfect summer dinner.

Based on this idea for a Black Bean and Corn Pizza, I took it one step more towards simple and used corn tortillas for the base, making a crispy shell that went from our toaster oven to my plate in about 10 minutes. The most time I spent was opening a can of black beans and shaking them under running water.

If you’ve got a toaster oven you’ve got the means to make this in a snap but are limited to only two at a time. Using a regular oven makes for more crowd appeal. Increase the amount of all ingredients as needed for the number of people you’re serving. I would imagine that adults could easily eat two or three of these. I myself managed to shotgun four without a blink of remorse.

But I was stuffed. Happy. But stuffed. Delicious as a main meal, this would also be perfect for a nice appetizer, and could easily be done on a grill with tantalizingly smoky results. The black beans make for a hearty and filling addition and no one will miss any meat in this. Fresh tomato gave it a summery flavor, and a crumble of queso fresco would be a nice addition just prior to eating them.

Black Bean Tostadas

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 t. chipotle en adobo
1-2 t. each ground cumin and chili powder
1 medium tomato, diced
1 c. frozen corn (no need to thaw)
1 avocado, diced
Corn tortillas
Pepper Jack, or Co-Jack cheese for topping
Lime wedges

Heat oven to 400°.

Place drained black beans in a small saucepan and add 1/3 cup of water, the chipotle en adobo, cumin and chili powder. Stir to combine and heat until simmering. Remove pan and mash beans coarsely with a sturdy wooden spoon. Add more water if needed to make beans spreadable, but not runny. You want them to be thick.

On a baking sheet, arrange corn tortillas and place in oven, turning once until tortillas are slightly firm. Remove pan from oven and carefully spread a few tablespoons of black bean mixture on them, then top with tomato, corn and diced avocado. Sprinkle a little cheese over them and return the pan to the oven. Bake until cheese is melted and tortillas are crispy around the edges, maybe 5 minutes. Squirt fresh lime juice over the tortillas before serving.

NOTE: Instead of using avocado chunks on the tostadas, mash the avocado with a little lime juice, salt and pepper and use either as a topping for the tostada when it comes out of the oven, or spread a thin layer atop the black beans before adding the other toppings and baking them. Either way you use it, it’s delicious.

no ‘d’ word allowed

January 24th, 2011 | 7 Comments »

It’s January, and there are a million resolves to make healthier changes; to exercise more, to eat better, to get more sleep, to connect deeper, to make the 180° change that’s going to revolutionize our lives.

And by now, heading towards the end of the month, how’s everyone doing? Still holding on? Going strong? Let’s put our collective fingers on this a moment. We all think about it each year, come January. We’re determined, striving ahead. And somewhere along the way, there comes a realization that change is hard. As a species, we don’t handle change all that well. If you don’t agree, look at the amount of griping that occurs any time Facebook makes changes, or what happened when Twitter recently went through it’s re-design. (for the record, I like BOTH new sites much better) and you realize that it doesn’t take much to make us feel like the earth is being yanked out from underneath us. And inevitably, a lot of those changes we want end up falling by the wayside because if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we will admit that change is very, very hard.

I’ve been there. Done that. It is really hard to make positive and lasting changes, and these will take time, regardless of what they are. In August of 2007, I realized that I needed to lose some weight. What I saw in a photograph made me cringe. It was NOT pretty. Still, I didn’t actively embark on making those changes, much less following through until November of 2008, well over a year later. But by the time I did implement what I needed, I stuck with it, and in the Spring of 2009 I was 25# lighter and down two pants sizes. So the bottom line for me was to get both my head and my heart around what needed to get done. Once that happened, there was little to stop me.

Changes take time. Habits don’t form overnight. If you really want the success of integrating new habits into your life, give it time and give yourself a break. Berating failure only pushes us backwards, and we all have off days. There’s no goal you can reach for that has to have a set time limit, nor any that isn’t amendable along the way. If it’s weight loss you seek, take baby steps and celebrate the first 5 pounds, then the next. Pay attention to how your clothes fit because sometimes that’s a better indication of what your body is achieving than the number on the scale.

And please, please, please…… don’t use the word “DIET”.

For every person alive, “diet” rings with deprivation. A wonderful friend of mine admits she needs to make some big changes in her eating habits, but laments “I don’t want to be eating oatmeal and plain chicken breasts for the rest of my life.” So instead of considering it as a “diet” I suggested she think of it more as a permanent lifestyle change, because that’s what it boils down to in the long run. And it won’t happen overnight. Do the baby steps and celebrate each one instead of dumping the contents of your refrigerator and pantry in the trash and then thinking “What now?” The habits we’re ingrained with didn’t occur in a few days, they took months, and sometimes years to build up. And to reverse them, they could feasibly take months, or maybe even years to become something new, something better for you and wiser, overall.

And food habits are hard to change. Long ago I used to be addicted to Burger King french fries, and Wendy’s Chicken Nuggets. I would see their signs as I drove and get an undeniable craving, so bad that I almost broke out in a sweat. I know! It was awful! And on one occasion as I stuffed those first hot golden french fries in my mouth, I was hit with the realization that they tasted simply awful. But guess what I did? Yep. I ate the entire order anyway. My mouth felt like it had been assaulted; it was coated with this horrible aftertaste, heavy and greasy. And my stomach hurt. I was appalled at myself because even when I clearly realized that I didn’t even like the product, I kept eating it anyway. It was the same with Wendy’s; I could consume two orders of their Chicken Nuggets without a single hesitation despite knowing I didn’t even like them, yet the one day that my brain equated those nuggets with warm rubbery sponges was the last time I ever put one in my mouth. Still, I couldn’t tell you how long it took me to get there. It was an embarrassment to me, and I really struggled to kick those habits, as well as many other unhealthy ones I used to have.

I’ve made drastic changes to my eating in the last 5 years, and have noticed immeasurable improvement to my health in the process. It’s no cliche that when you eat better, you feel better. I know through personal experience. Just recently I drank Diet Coke- with fresh squeezed lime wedges in it!-  for the first time in ages, and man what a stomachache! It tasted all right, in fact, it tasted really good but I seriously wanted to cry because my stomach was so twisted up in knots. As uncomfortable as I was, I rejoiced also, as it instilled in me the same resolve that the french fries and chicken nugget revelation did; this isn’t good for me, and I shouldn’t be consuming it. But still, it took time for me to get there. And it will take time for you too. Take the baby steps, celebrate the small victories and be kind to yourself in the process.

If there’s one meal you want to change this week, you could try out this nutritional powerhouse of a salad. It requires no special ingredients, and is really inexpensive to make.

This garlicky White Bean Salad with Tuna and Avocado is a super-bomb of good food to put in your body. It’s full of fiber to keep you satiated and operating at open throttle all afternoon, with the very important Omega-3, and monounsaturated fats that our bodies need. It’s also quick, and works equally well as a warm main dish with a few good sides, or a quick cold salad for your lunch. And the garlic is cooked, so your family and co-workers are safe. I had a small bowl of this for lunch, along with some fruit and by dinnertime I wasn’t even hungry. I love meals like that.

Garlicky White Bean Salad with Tuna and Avocado

2 15-oz cans Great Northern Beans, rinsed well
1 3-oz can tuna in olive oil, drained
2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 T. fresh thyme (use 1 t. of dried)
1 medium avocado, diced

Drain tuna well and place in a large bowl. Flake with fork until shredded.

Heat a skillet on the stove and add about a tablespoon of olive oil and the  garlic. Heat gently over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the garlic is translucent and fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic!! Stir in herbs and great northern beans. Heat through, stirring, for about 5 minutes more, drizzling in a bit more olive oil to coat. Remove from heat and add to bowl with tuna, mixing well. Stir in avocado, season with salt and pepper and serve warm. Can be chilled as well.

KATE’S NOTES:
Canned salmon can be subbed for the tuna, or chopped sardines if it’s your thing. You can add finely chopped veggies as well, like celery or red pepper or cucumber. Rosemary is really flavorful in this too. If you want to get creative with it, the entire dish can be put through a food processor and used as a spread for a wrap, on top of toasted baguette slices or thinned a little with milk or water and used as a dip for fresh vegetables.

grilled guacamole

July 23rd, 2010 | 11 Comments »

No, that isn’t a misprint. I made guacamole on the grill.

See?

The idea came from The Minimalist’s 101 Grilling ideas column in the New York Times Dining section, and since we’re huge fans of Guacamole in this house, it wasn’t long before the desire to create it, and the assembled ingredients were ready for my initial attempt.

I’m no stranger to grilling onions or tomatoes. In previous summers, I’ve made a topping for bruschetta with grilled tomato and sweet onions that I’ve devoured shamelessly, and this summer for some reason, the desire for grilled onions on any number of dishes has been almost an obsession. I’m finding more and more to like about onions, whether they’re roasted, caramelized in a pan or like this, charred and slightly smoky from the grill.

There’s no technique to making this Guacamole at all. The key is mostly in preparing the items for the grill. Tomato and avocado should be ripe, but not too ripe due to the fact that they soften intensely on the grill. My avocados were more firm than I would have chosen for a standard preparation, but they worked beautifully in the intense heat of the grill. Carve them in half and remove the pit, then brush a little oil over them. Halve your tomatoes, and slice the onions into thick rounds so they are easy to handle. Give those a smear of oil too.  And be sure not to forget the limes! They become a sweeter version of their usual tart self from the heat of the flames.

Place all the items face down on the grill. And here’s where your personal preference will come in. Do you like a lightly toasted taste? Or do you prefer a nice grill-marked char? Do be careful about the tomato; if you overdo it, it will collapse into the fire. I prefer to put the tomato on the hottest part of the grill and watch it carefully until I notice the edges beginning to soften just a little, becoming dark where it touches the grill. I flip it over and let it cook for a few more minutes, then remove it to a pan to rest. The skin usually comes off.

For the rest of the items, leave them in place until they are nicely marked and beginning to soften. Turn the avocado over so the peel side is down on the grate and cook them until they become soft and compliant. Flip over the lime halves too so the rind is down, and watch for the pulp to almost collapse. At this point, you’re not going to get juice from the limes, but you will get a deliciously smoky lime pulp for your Guacamole that gives it that familiar and tangy ‘Zing!’ that only a good lime can offer. And those onions can be cooked to any degree you wish.

Once you’ve got all the grilling done, allow everything to cool off. Chop the tomato and onion, scoop out the avocado and squeeze the limes into a bowl. Do be cautious of the amount of lime you put in; remember that the pulp will become more intense from being heated, and you may not need as much as you think. Add in whatever seasonings you prefer.

There was no photo of the finished version of this Guacamole because, well…. Guacamole all mixed up isn’t exactly photogenic. It didn’t look any different than what you would make normally, but the flavor was stunning. Smoky and rich, it had depth that I wouldn’t have imagined Guacamole could have. Everything became sweeter, and deeply flavorful from the heat and flames of the grill. Our love for Guacamole was definitely enhanced by this version. It didn’t last long at all and I can’t wait to make it again.

march sunshine

March 9th, 2010 | 15 Comments »

March is a fickle friend, isn’t it? On my birthday in 2007, we had a blizzard that left us buried under 18″ of snow. Way back in 1991, I recall it being 67 degrees on my birthday. This year? We had temps in the 40′s, plenty of warm sunshine and slush covering the ground as we made our way out for my celebratory dinner. March, the month that supposedly comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, rarely seems to be able to make up it’s mind as to what it hands us. It’s the month where we officially hang up Winter, and turn to Spring, eyeing our wardrobe and wishing for the right weather to break out the lighter side of ourselves.

With the stretch of days drenched in gorgeous sunshine, and me fingering the short sleeve shirts in longing, there came yet another craving I haven’t known in some time, perhaps a harbinger of the changing season. It was the desire to not only shed the weight of winter clothing but the heavy and comforting draw of it’s food as well, replacing it with those that snap and crunch in their remarkable shades of green. I really wanted a salad.

Likely spurred on by the current issue of Saveur magazine, and it’s ode to the chopped salad- just in time for Spring!- I took one long glance at the Cobb Salad pictured and my mind high-fived my stomach, both in hearty agreement that it was indeed necessary to create. Right away.

The Cobb Salad was named for Robert L. Cobb, credited with inventing it at his famed Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles in 1937, and made up of chicken, bacon, avocado, blue cheese crumbles, tomato, hard cooked egg, chive, watercress, romaine and iceberg lettuces. It’s now a standard on so many menus, often in a wide array of options, most of them a far cry from the original version.

This time of year I tend to get a lot of food fatigue, and indecision about what my body is needing to eat. I’m tired of winter and it’s stews and braises, of it’s root vegetables and tubers, the lack of fresh options and choices. I want to wash the mittens, hats and scarves and then pack them away. I crave berries and peaches, bare skin and white wine. I am beginning to paw through the Spring clothes in my closet, wishing for the warmth to wear just one item, especially those bought on sale last Fall, many with price tags still attached. I think about pedicures and exposing my toes again. I yearn for the Markets to open, bearing tables of new potatoes, spring peas and the first tender bunches of spinach. The buckets of lettuce soon follow, overflowing in green, and mine for just a few dollars. Seed catalogs tempt me. I want summer foods, long warm twilights sipping rosé, a simple sheet thrown over me at night.

So the salad craving was not a surprise, nor pushed aside, even though the greens came from the store and lacked the flavor of the earth. I splurged on good Nueske’s bacon and burned some aromatic candles to freshen the house. Next time Nueske’s and I meet, it likely will be high summer, alongside crimson orbs of fresh garden tomato.

The salad served me well, filling the need for somewhat lighter fare, yet hearty enough to stick with me through the afternoon hours. The bacon doesn’t exactly make this the healthiest option, but it works for an occasional treat, and the mix of flavors just seems to work. I can’t say why the tang of blue cheese, smoky bacon, moist chicken and creamy avocado make for such a pleasing plate of flavor, maybe it’s the carnival of tastes going on at once, a culinary samba that relentlessly entertains your mouth. I sure know that I need waking up from the snow, hearty foods and sweaters, my metaphor of winter. My tastebuds seem to as well. Here’s to more salad, and increasing temperatures, all things Spring and sunshine.

simple pleasures

February 16th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

Last year wasn’t my favorite year. Come to think of it, 2008 tossed some bombs my way and it all seemed to carry over, spreading out over time and trying to suck all the life out of me at every turn. As 2010 approached, and I looked back on the 12 months behind me, it was a bit sad to see that I’d paid far too much attention to the valleys in my life, and forgot to take in the view from the peaks.

Life is all about valleys and peaks. We’re up, we’re down and when we’re not, there’s the climbing out of the abyss and of course, slipping as we fall back into it. Sometimes our peaks are long, straight paths that resonate with light and glory, and we feel great. For a long time. Life is good and we breathe easy. But we slip, once more. The valleys can be dark. It’s hard sometimes to keep remembering that it doesn’t last forever. I’ve struggled to keep my chin up, part of me wishing fervently that this time of trial would just end already because really, I’ve had quite enough, thank you. Then I always realize that I’m climbing once again.

One aspect of 2010 that I’ve really wanted to do more of was to keep focused on the good, even when it seemed like there was nothing but darkness all around me. Fortunately, we’re only 6 weeks in, and what few dark moments that presented themselves passed rather quickly. It’s exciting to see the Earth changing around me, to notice with delight that there is still light at 5:45pm, that the tilt of the sun has changed enough to make 15° in February feel way different than it did in January. Or December. We’ve been absolutely dumped on in terms of the snowfall, and it’s given us quite a gorgeous landscape to look out over, and some stellar cross-country skiing. But beyond the natural turn that is happening, and the shorter amount of time between us and the arrival of Spring, it seems like there’s a whirlwind of good happening around me too. I hope to be able to share much more of what it entails as it pans out, but right now it’s slowly starting to twirl, like a tentative pirouette, moments of time pressing together and gradually expanding that are quietly whispering “Soon. Be Patient.”

The famous poem ‘Desiderata’ by Max Ehrmann has a line that says “… and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” For a long time it just never felt clear to me, it felt more like I was standing still while the world twisted and moved on around me. That’s changing, as is my perspective and I’m grateful. I’ve had this sensation inside me for a while now that I’m standing at the edge of a cliff, and everything in me knows that I just have to leap despite the voice in my head that’s saying “No- step back! You’re really scaring me!” I’m in my Indiana Jones moment, on the edge of that precipice. And this is my leap of faith. There is a bridge there that will catch me, even though I can’t see it.

There is one aspect of this extended time of trial in my life, and that is being available to just stop and enjoy those tiny moments along the way that can be so easily overlooked. Sitting down for a cup of tea one day really opened my eyes as the square cup seemed to fill my hands so perfectly. Moments of clarity that come from spending days with my almost 2-year old niece Nina,losing track of myself for awhile as I see life through her eyes. A Fall hike on a misty day that seems to leave the world around me at a standstill, smothered in the thick, wet air.

And with food too. Simple, easy and nourishing; stopping myself long enough to savor my lunch or an afternoon snack, taking the time to taste, smell and appreciate what’s in front of me.

I’ve spoken out for these garlicky white beans before, urging you to try them and fall in love with their simplicity like I have, the endless ways they can be dressed up as a quick yet nutritious meal. One bright and sunny afternoon I set out to simply stir together this favorite of mine, and as I perused the pantry, fridge and countertop, I reached for a can of tuna, half an avocado and some washed spinach, which when paired this time with lime zest and juice instead of lemon, made yet another winning combination. Great taste, good for the body and with the first few bites, apparently very good for the soul.

White Bean and Tuna Salad
by Kate

1 15-oz can great northern beans, drained and well rinsed
1 3-oz can of tuna, drained
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
1/2 a ripe avocado, diced
1 c. fresh spinach, washed and chopped
Lime zest and juice to taste

Fresh thyme (optional)

In a medium skillet, warm about 3 tablespoons of oil and add garlic, sauteing gently until lightly browned. Add in the beans and tuna and warm, stirring to combine. When hot and steaming, add about half the spinach and stir until wilted slightly. Repeat with remaining spinach. Grate in some of the lime zest and squeeze in about 2 tablespoons of the juice. Stir and taste. Season with salt and pepper, more lime zest and juice if desired. Remove from heat and scrape into a bowl. Add the avocado and gently mix it in. Sprinkle with thyme and serve warm with rye crackers if you wish, or toasted pita bread.

Three years blogging

June 26th, 2009 | 17 Comments »

Today marks the 3rd anniversary of this blog. Am I happy about it? That depends on the day, but usually yes. And sometimes, more often than not these days, I would say no.

I admit that I’ve toyed a lot lately – a lot!-  with quitting this past time of mine. Part of me feels if I hit the ‘Delete’ button that there wouldn’t be many people who would notice. You see, the thing is, everyone is writing a blog these days; it’s the thing to do- it’s cool, trendy etc etc. And the sheer number of food blogs out there is astonishing beyond imagination. It seems like anyone who’s ever been told ‘Hey, this is GOOD!’ has decided to write a food blog. Some of them are amazing, and they humble me greatly. Others? Feh. A can of soup poured over a microwaved potato somehow doesn’t strike me as being fodder for a blog, but hey, who am I to ask what other people want? After three years it has become apparent to me that I still haven’t got a clue, and that maybe I never will. This has become OK with me, in a hard-fought and harsh sort of way.

roadsign

I’ve had some recent face-palm moments of anxiety though, there’s been ranting and grousing; Facebook conversations with treasured blog buddies and true friends have been able to talk me me down off the ledge which is why I am here to write this anniversary post. These moments of extreme instability have thankfully had a purpose. I have at least come to understand the most important reason why I continue to do this even when it often makes me crazy; I would rather have half a dozen genuine and honest comments about what I post that come right from a readers heart lush with praise than a hundred fickle and shallow ones that only say ‘Yum!’. Because it’s important for me to touch someone through this giant web we live in, to touch a part of them that matters. Our lives are too informal and detached. We type messages to one another instead of speaking face to face, fall into television shows and disappear, plug in our earbuds and tune out the rest of the world. If this is how life has turned, I can jump aboard with the rest and I certainly have. You all know, if you’ve been here long enough, how much I love Facebook and how it keeps me connected with so many, over thousands of miles, the past and the present colliding all in one crazy spot, and this blog is yet another way that I can reach out across the spaces in between and give everyone a part of who I am. That is what’s important to me. I want it to feel like coming home to an old and trusted friend. My reward is in your words, and I want you to know I appreciate them immensely.

hugging

The rest of it is certainly still evolving and no one is more surprised than I am about how this blog has pushed me to stretch and re-define my food tastes and more thoroughly examine both what I do and how I eat, and in keeping with the way I choose to nourish myself and my family, the food will remain real and honest. My hope each time I post a recipe is that you find something in it that lights a spark. That you read the recipe and say not only “I can do that!” but “I WANT to do that!” Because I don’t find it at all coincidental that as we strive towards that always elusive brass ring, surrounding ourselves with technology and silencing the voices of those around us in favor of an array of electronics, that the urge and need to feed our stomachs AND our souls grows ever louder and more persistent. We congregate where there is nourishment for every aspect of our lives and our hunger isn’t always for food; it’s for something to touch us, to touch our lives and give us a reason to smile, a means for being connected – really connected and not just with a power cord-  and I hope that you’ll find a small part of that here.

This blog- this three years in the making blog of mine, it’s not about mass appeal and I hope someone smacks me a good one if I even think to post an ad on it. It isn’t about my stats, or readership. I don’t feel I need to roam the USA going to blog conferences and schmoozing (I hate schmoozing for schmooze sake….I just like to hang out and talk to people). I’m not big on posting recipes that have worn out a welcome, I don’t jump on food trends, I’m not a locavore and I dislike labels. I love to cook and I’m really darn good at it. That’s all I want to share.

cooking

And I did promise you something food related as you put up with me in my last post going on about learning life lessons in the garden and talking about my darling shaved cat, so I won’t disappoint but this is something pretty simple. Almost too simple. That’s what makes it so good though.

It’s a wrap.
wraps 001wraps 002

Nothing superbly special, right?

But I’ll tell you, start with this creamy Avocado White Bean Spread and any wrap you make will be just a titch better. Grill some chicken, beef strips or shrimp, get some good crab meat or top quality tuna and add whatever vegetables you prefer. Grate some good cheese into it. Wrap it in a nice flavorful tortilla and pour some ice tea. The weather has been HOT here, and this cool and quick dinner was just the ticket. We were picking at the crumbs and sighing in contentment at each other. A few fresh cherries rounded out a perfect summer meal.


Creamy Avocado and White Bean Spread

From Eating Well magazine (and adapted slightly by Kate)

1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 ripe avocado
1/2 c. grape tomatoes (my addition)
1-2 T. finely minced red onion (or use some good onion powder like Penzeys)
Fresh ground black pepper and coarse salt to taste

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients and process until slightly chunky. Scrape sides. Pulse once or twice more to fully combine and scrape into a clean bowl. Season to taste.

Spread about nice layer of this on a tortilla and top with your choice of fillings. Roll up tightly and enjoy. It’s also delicious as a chip and raw vegetable dip (but it does NOT photograph well! Sorry!)

Would you like something equally delicious and appealing with little fuss? How about a nice Mexican Rice?

Kate’s Mexican Rice

1 15-oz can diced or whole tomato
1 medium onion
1 jalapeno (seeded if you wish)
1 4-oz can green chilies
1 1/2 c. white rice

Fresh lime wedges and oil for cooking.

In the bowl of a food processor, place tomato, onion (cut into fourths) jalapeno and green chilies. Blend until mixture is finely chopped, almost to the point of being like a thin salsa. Pour into a measuring cup. It should be about 3-4 cups.

In a deep skillet over medium high flame, heat about 2 T. of cooking oil until very hot. Pour in the rice and stir to coat with oil. Turn heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring regularly until the rice is turning browned and becoming very fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. The pan should be smoking hot by now. Carefully pour in the tomato mixture- careful of the steam!- and quickly stir to combine it with the toasted rice. Allow to come to a simmer and then cover, reduce heat and cook until liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat and allow pan to stand, covered, for about 10-15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve, squirting some fresh lime juice over the top.

NOTES FOR THE RICE:
You can stir in another chopped jalapeno before serving the cooked rice. It adds another level of heat to the dish. Other good additions are canned black beans (rinsed), frozen corn, sauteed zucchini or roasted peppers. Or all of it. For varied flavors, try using fire roasted tomatoes. If you wish to use fresh tomato, the equivalent would be about three medium sized ones and it’s a good idea if you peel them before using. This is excellent as a rice to use with burritos and tastes fabulous topped with cold chunks of avocado.

Black Bean and Corn Relish

June 30th, 2008 | 3 Comments »

Black Bean and Corn Relish by Kate

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed well
2 c. frozen corn, thawed (or use the kernels from 2-3 fresh ears to make enough)
1 avocado, diced
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, diced
1-2 t. fresh grated lime zest
Juice of half a lime
1 T. cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients together in a non-reactive bowl. Chill before serving. Also tastes great on tortilla chips.