April 4th, 2011
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I recently started working again. Just part-time, but for good pay and doing something I love, and really, that’s all anyone needs, isn’t it?
And I get to think about lunch too, bringing something with me when I work to help spur me through the day, give me a good dose of energy, keep me full but not stuffed with a strong healthy edge to it. Enter the Spicy Tuna Wrap.
I love lunch time. I’m not sure where this enamored state over the noon meal ever came from, but as long as I can remember, lunch has been my favorite meal. Maybe it’s the lunchtimes of grade school, where we clustered together, unwrapping our peanut butter sandwiches from brown paper bags, eagerly scanning the contents of our friends lunch sacks to see what treats they got each day. Maybe it was the excited chatter, the rustle of wax paper, the moment the last bites disappeared when we could all run outside for recess, for jump rope, Foursquare, tag and the incessant chatter that we’d bottled up inside us all morning long.
Lunch at home these past few months was a way to utilize anything from the refrigerator, crafting something unusual from the norm, making up a series of small plates to satisfy my hunger, re-purposing an original into a one-of-a-kind. It didn’t always matter if I made my lunch last through the afternoon, keeping hunger at bay until dinnertime, but now that I’m working and not always able to stop for a snack to re-energize, my lunches need to satisfy, and keep me full until I get home.
This Spicy Tuna Wrap sure does the trick. Based on the premise of a sushi roll, canned tuna is spiced with your favorite hot sauce and chopped green onion, then spread in a whole-grain wrap with brown rice, avocado, carrot matchsticks and shredded greens. The combination is full of flavor, and more importantly, crammed with nutrients to keep you going. It’s easy to have the ingredients on hand, and takes only a few minutes to put together in the morning.
It tastes like a heartier version of one of my favorite sushi rolls. And it’s endlessly versatile, from the greens you add to the seasonings you mix with either the tuna or the rice. Switch out the tuna for salmon, or finely chopped chicken. Use arugula to add some bite, or watercress. Add thin strips of cucumbers or radish. And be sure to have a little soy sauce, mixed with some wasabi if it’s your preference. These wraps are made for dipping.
Spicy Tuna Wrap
2 5- to 6-ounce cans chunk light tuna, drained
1/3 c. low-fat mayonnaise
1 T hot sauce, such as Sriracha
1 scallion, chopped
2 c. cooked brown rice, cooled
2 T rice vinegar
1 T. sesame oil
1 T. soy sauce
4 10-inch whole-grain wraps
Shredded greens of choice
1 ripe avocado, cut into 16 slices
1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks
Combine tuna with hot sauce, mayo and scallion and mix to combine. To brown rice, add the rice vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce, stir well.
On each wrap, layer tuna, rice, avocado, carrot and shredded greens. Roll up tightly and slice, or eat whole.
From Eating Well magazine, March/April 2011, with adaptations.
I used a canned tuna in oil, leaving most of it with the tuna and then less mayo than the recipe needed. My hot sauce was Matouk’s Flambé Salsa. I added the soy sauce and sesame oil to the rice, but you can leave it out if you wish. I love the flavor it adds. Thin slices of cucumber in this wrap would be excellent. I used spinach for my greens, and Flat Out Whole Grain wraps, which made it a perfect size.
January 24th, 2011
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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.
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.
February 16th, 2010
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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
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.
September 9th, 2009
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Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad
From Eating Well magazine…..
Good quality tuna in olive oil
Fresh romaine leaves
Red pepper strips
Tomato wedges (or cherry tomato halves)
Wash and dry romaine leaves and tear into bite sized pieces. Dress with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Arrange on plate. Top with remaining ingredients and another drizzle of oil.
Variation: The tuna can be mixed with the ingredients (diced to bite size pieces), and a dressing of choice and served in tomato cups, on a bed of greens, on crostini or with crackers.
May 10th, 2009
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Life isn’t simple anymore. Not that this is a shock to anyone with an adult’s perspective. It seems that everything has gotten so much more complicated, and while we burst through life determining what path to take that is right for us, we are constantly faced with decisions and truths that require a ‘turn on a dime’ change of direction. It’s just not like when we were kids.
Of course, this isn’t a bad thing either. It’s nice to look at our past and see where we’ve ‘grown up’ even if, somewhere inside us, we still are surprised at the face that looks back from the mirror. I still can feel like I’m 12 again, or 24, or 30 and a brand new Mom. Of course I wish that I could still run barefoot from June to September, the sun hot on my skin and nothing more pressing in my day except where the next adventure would take root; I think about Kool-Aid, Popsicles and A&W Root Beer with a hard scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in it. I think about one-room air conditioners, the smell of bed linens fresh off the clothesline and how it seemed so perfect to take a peanut butter sandwich outside to the backyard for a picnic. And while all of this speaks more to the carefree days of childhood and what I find I can no longer freely indulge in, it’s more than just a nostalgic turn; I think I just yearn for a time when I was blissfully unaware that life existed outside the realms of my neighborhood. With all the gloom and doom present in our daily media, it’s no small feat to try and close it out. And while I can grasp my adulthood fully with both hands and move ahead with the changing world, there still are times that I want something that reminds me of simpler days.
Not too long ago I posted about finding plenty of nostalgia in a perusal of food blogs, and it got a conversation rolling with Jamie and Kristen about foods from our past. Kristen especially tickled me in a discourse we had over cream soups and some of the dishes we used to make with them, and part of what we talked about was that although these foods often have good memories attached to them, they aren’t all that healthy. Looking around me in the grocer, I had to wonder if it was possible to bring them back with less guilt, and possibly more flavor.
The ubiquitous Tuna Mushroom Pasta was a standard from my childhood; macaroni, canned mushrooms and tuna, cream of mushroom soup and a crush of potato chips over the top was a mainstay for dinner. No one really went “Ooooooh!!!” whenever it was presented, and I recall a time when I clearly told myself I would never eat it again. And in that representation, I never did.
One good thing about following the flow of life is watching your food mature around you. I’m glad to be far away from the foods of my past, although it’s nice to think I can recreate them, but better. And more flavorful.
(Not exactly the Beauty Queen of Cuisine…..but oh so delicious!)
No one is chained to Campbells soups anymore; Amy’s Soups has a lovely creamy mushroom soup, Health Valley Organics makes a completely natural line of cream soups, and then there’s my favorite- this Portabello Mushroom soup from Imagine Natural Creations. When the desire strikes for a meal that not only satisfies my need for a little nostalgia, but also will bring smiles to both Mike and Griffin- who absolutely LOVES this dish- this is where I turn; better ingredients, and a more sophisticated method.
Kate’s Mushroom Tuna Pasta
1# dry pasta, cooked to taste
1 pkg. Baby Bella mushrooms
1 large leek, split and washed, sliced very thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1-2 3-oz pkgs Tuna (or other tuna of choice)
1 16-oz container Imagine Portabello Mushroom soup (or equivalent)
1/2 c. frozen peas
Butter and olive oil for cooking
Worchestershire sauce (optional)
Other optional add-ins: Toasted seasoned bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese.
In a medium sized skillet, warm approximately 2 T. olive oil and 2 T. butter and add leek, cooking for about 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring regularly. When soft and beginning to brown in spots, add in yellow pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Stir in peas, cover and keep over low heat.
In a separate pan, warm 4 T. of butter and 2 T. olive oil, add mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat, stirring regularly until mushrooms begin to release their liquid. If using, at this point add about 2 T. worchestershire sauce to mushrooms, along with a generous grind of black pepper. Stir to combine and continue to cook, allowing mushrooms to sear and brown.
Drain pasta, reserving about a half cup of pasta water, but don’t shake off excess. Return to pan and add in soup, tuna, the leek mixture and the mushrooms. Stir to combine. Add in some of the pasta water if the mix is thick. Season to taste with salt and more fresh ground black pepper.
This method, while a bit futzy, produces a very flavorful end result. By no means is it carved in stone. I do heartily recommend a separate pan for cooking the mushrooms, solely for the flavor it will impart, but in a pinch you can cook all the vegetables together. Regular chopped onion is fine too, it seems lately I’m kind of on a leek fix. Skip the butter if it isn’t your thing.
My love for toasted bread crumbs knows no boundaries. I prefer Panko for this application, reserving the bread crumbs I make from scratch for use as a filler or bond. I mix about a cup of Panko with melted butter and some olive oil, then add in a multitude of dry seasonings such as dried basil, garlic and onion powder, fresh ground pepper, maybe some dried mustard and then heat them gently in a pan, stirring continually, until they are fragrant and browned. Be sure to remove them from the pan when they’re done or they will burn. They keep in the fridge for a while, although I’ve never determined exactly how long because I make up excuses to eat them.