Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Looking Back

2012 came and went. It was a fun and eventful year! Once again, I realize how very blessed I am to have such amazing people around me… a loving family, my ever supportive host family, my wonderful boyfriend, the best students a teacher could ever ask for, a great work team, and awesome friends!

Here are the highlights of 2012:

January: The birth of my blog.

This is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. It is my own space in this vast world of the Internet to write about cooking, my love for food, and some life stories. I still clearly remember how nervous I was to click the publish button after writing my very first blog post.    

February: I joined The Food Matters Project.

Through FMP, I have learned so much about healthy eating, cooking tips, and being creative in the kitchen. I also made blogger friends that I hope to someday meet in person.

February was also the first time in 2012 that DFJ and I started our hiking adventures. We hiked up Beacon Rock and Mt. Hamilton and enjoyed breathtaking scenes.

March: I did my first ever race, Badger Mountain Challenge, 15k.

I hiked/ran up and down Badger Mountain twice and finished in 2:09:47 hours.

This was also the month when I tried skiing for the very first time in my life. Hmmm… Even though I didn’t do so bad and there were no major fails, I can say with certainty that skiing is not my thing. 


April: Portland Spring Break

DFJ and I spent our spring break in Portland and had a blast exploring the city, eating out, seeing Wicked and OVO (Cirque du Soleil), and going to yoga classes. Here are the links to our adventures: Portland Spring Break and Portland Love.

May: Pretty low key…

I chopped off 12 inches of my hair and donated it to Locks of Love.

I also made to-die-for carnitas for the very first time. They were so good and I decided to make them for DFJ’s family a week ago… everyone loved it!

June: DFJ’s birthday. 

We had a fun weeklong celebration to honor his birthday and the first week of my summer vacation!

We also moved in together and it is one of the best decisions we have ever made. Lots of ups and some downs, but we make it work. This is the view from our apartment.  

July: My dear friend, Tuck, passed away and I was heartbroken.

Tuck, our school is not the same without you. We miss you every day.

August: Hello Olympic Peninsula and Seattle!

DFJ and I had an amazing time camping, hiking, driving through, and exploring the Olympic Peninsula. Check out these posts for the trip details: Olympic Peninsula Part 1, Olympic Peninsula Part 2, Where We Ate in Seattle.

September: School Year 2012-2013

It took a while to get back into the rhythm of things but all I can say is: I love my job, my students, and my coworkers. You are all awesome!

October: Family Time

I went to Portland twice to see my aunt who just got her Greencard, my grandma, and my aunt from New Jersey who flew to Portland to visit them. We all had a sweet reunion and even though we haven’t seen each other in years, it felt like we were never apart for a long time. This is what family is, we just simply belong together and the bond is always there no matter where we are.

November: My 29th Birthday

DFJ invited friends over to celebrate my birthday and that was really special. I haven’t had a birthday party in a long, long time!

December: Christmas with DFJ’s family in Pennsylvania.

Our first stop was New Jersey to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousin. It was lovely but way too short. I wish we didn't live so far away from each other.

On our way to DFJ's hometown in Pennsylvania, we made a stop at Princeton and he took me on a quick tour in his old stomping grounds. He went to grad school there and I am so jealous that he got to live in such a beautiful town and walk around grandiose school buildings every day.

During our stay in PA, we went running a couple of times and I did some yoga at home and at River Yoga in Lahaska. The owner, RaeAnn taught the class that I went to… easy, relaxing flow, and a long Yoga Nidra treat.

We went to Peddler's Village in Lahaska and enjoyed traipsing around and walking in and out of the quaint shops in this super charming shopping center.

Christmas was lovely! Church, a delicious brunch, lots of presents, and Christmas dinner.

DFJ and I went on a date to Stockton, NJ and walked along the tow path until we got too cold. Then we drove to Bulls Island State Park, crossed the bridge over the Delaware River and arrived in Lumberville, PA.

We had some delicious sweet potato soup and a juicy burger at the Black Bass Hotel while watching the snow fall on the river. It was very picturesque!

DFJ’s family hosts an annual Christmas party and this year I got the chance to join in the fun. It was a big party with about 60 guests. There was tons of food, booze, and good times!  

The day before we left, instead of going to New York, we opted to stay at home and had a lovely time relaxing with DFJ’s family. DFJ and I played outside: we went sledding in the backyard after he buried me in snow, made snow angels, made a snowman, and shoveled the driveway. I love my man!

Later that night, I played Settlers of Catan with DFJ and his brothers. If you haven’t heard of this game, I recommend that you invest in one. It may be stressful and tension inducing, but it is so very fun!

One of my favorite activities in DFJ’s home is getting to do a lot of cooking. Thank you Kay for sharing your cozy kitchen with me! I made carnitas, black beans and kale, pumpkin cake, port and wine sauce, stir-fried veggies, nachos, cookies, pumpkin scones, omelets, and so on. No pictures unfortunately, but everything was eaten with much gusto! This is why I love cooking!

On our last day, DFJ’s mom made a big batch of pancakes and we shoved bite after bite in our mouths. We then exchanged hugs and bid everyone goodbye. Lots of snuggle time on the plane and after 12 hours of travelling, we finally made it home.

Our family vacation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey was the perfect way to end a good year.

Thank you 2012 for being so gracious to me. I look forward to 2013 and am ready to welcome it with an open heart and a positive attitude. Cheers to all the good times in 2012 and to more in 2013! 

Happy New Year Friends!    

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Food Rules

1. Experiment. Cook different dishes and try to use various food ingredients. There’s so many vegetables out there… try them all (or as many as you can, at least)!

2. Shop at the farmers markets as much as possible. Take advantage of fresh, local produce while they are around. Food ingredients that are in season really do taste better.

3. Be mindful of food ingredients that are more fragile and rot faster. Cook them as soon as possible.

4. When you come across a recipe that you want to try, do not be daunted if you do not have all the ingredients on hand. Improvise and make use of what you have. This is how you learn how to cook.

5. When in doubt, start with the least amount of salt, you can always add more later. Once you get it too salty, you’ve ruined it.

6. Garlic makes everything taste better.

7. If you could use one and only one oil that is great for all kinds of cooking and even baking, it is olive oil. You will never go wrong with olive oil.

8. Steer clear of all ingredients that are artificial even if it means saying no to green colored cupcakes for St. Patrick’s Day.

9. Never order food at a restaurant that you can so easily make at home. Eat something you know you will be too lazy to make and try something new each time you go out (life is too short to eat the same stuff all the time).

10. Microwave popcorn is nasty. Make it yourself, it’s easy and it tastes so much better.

11. If you have rotting fruit, turn it into jam. Just chop it, throw the bruised areas in the garbage and throw the good parts in a pot with some water, honey, a sprinkle or more of sugar and let it cook until it’s soft enough to mash. Mash until it is the consistency of your liking, some like it chunky and some like it smooth. Save in an air-tight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

12. Make your own granola! It is so easy and tastes so good. There’s hundreds of great recipes online and a few on my blog.

13. When at home, heat leftovers in a pan. This way you will feel inspired to add a fresh ingredient or two and pretend that you’re eating something different. I love poached eggs in my curries and sauces! Heating leftovers in a pan also makes you feel like you’re eating a fresh, home-cooked meal. On that note, heat leftover pizza in the oven or a pan, not the microwave. Please do not heat pizza in a microwave, unless you like eating rubbery dough.

14. Say no to store-bought cookies and cupcakes. Why? Because you do not know how much junk is in them. Make sweet treats at home. I promise, they are more delicious, way cheaper, aaand you have control over what you load them with.

15. When you really have to buy things that come in packages, choose the lesser evil. As a general rule, I go for the packaged food with the least amount of ingredients and make sure that I know what the ingredients are.

16. Waste not! Stems/stalks are edible and delicious… i.e. beet greens, radish greens, carrot greens, Swiss chard stalks, kale stalks, and broccoli stems.
17.-20. Do you have any food rules that you would like to share? I would LOVE to hear it!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook

Every day we are alive is beautiful.

Our lives may not be perfect and things may not seem to be going where we want them to go, but the fact that we are still on this earth is more than enough. When the road we travel seems too rough, let us muster the courage and determination to go on. When we find it so hard to get our day started, let us focus on small goals and accomplish them, this paves the way to start working on bigger ones. Let us embrace each day and face it with a big smile. 

Living our lives fully is the least we can do for everyone whose lives were cut short due to brutality in the hands of another human being, disease, unforeseen events, natural disasters, and so on. Let us honor their lives by honoring ours and living every day in the service of our fellow humans.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Walnut-Orange Biscotti

So last week, my yoga teacher told me that she’s now completely vegan. That takes courage! Not that I eat meat all the time or anything, in fact, I hardly cook with meat because buying good meat is expensive and handling meat is one of my least favorite cooking tasks. At the most, we make something with meat twice a week for DFJ’s sanity. And, at the risk of sharing too much information, once a month my body tells me that I need it. Perhaps, meat is something I can live without, but not eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, and butter!

I have never baked anything vegan and honestly, never thought it would be possible to do so without butter or eggs. Mark Bittman’s Walnut Biscotti proved me wrong. When I chose this recipe weeks ago, it never dawned on me after reading the ingredient list that there’s no dairy in it. After looking at the ingredients again this weekend, I was thrilled to find out that it is vegan! Yay! This is something I can share with my yoga teacher… thank goodness she’s still good with gluten and sugar.

Since I am hosting The Food Matters Project this week, my initial intention was to stick to the original recipe and follow it to the tee. Heck, I even broke down and bought all-purpose flour which I once vowed to never use again! However, I accidentally tweaked it when I ground up all the walnuts instead of just half and forgot to add another 1/3 cup of sugar. There was also an orange in the refrigerator begging to be used. So, I took it and rubbed the zest into the sugar and squeezed the fresh juice to substitute part of the water that went into the batter. I’m a big sucker for baked goods with orange zest.

The biscotti turned out great, despite the fact that I only added half the required amount of sugar! Although they are only slightly sweet, you won’t miss the sugar once the lovely orange notes hit you.
The rich and nutty flavor adds to their character too! My favorite part is the texture, they are not at all dry and there is even some chewiness along with the crunch.

Biscotti are wonderful with coffee, tea, and ice cream.

Walnut-Orange Biscotti (Makes 36-40 biscotti)
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Walnut Biscotti, The Food Matters Cookbook

1 1/3 cups walnut halves
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a little more for dusting the pan
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/3 cup brown sugar (original recipe requires 2/3 cup)
zest of 1 orange
juice of 1 orange
¼ cup honey
vegetable oil for greasing pans

Using a high speed blender or a food processor, grind the walnuts finely until they resemble flour. Move the finely ground walnuts into a large mixing bowl and add the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

In a small bowl, massage the orange zest into the sugar using your fingertips. Add the zest-sugar mixture into the big bowl. Whisk all the dry ingredients together and make sure everything is well-mixed.

Squeeze the orange juice into a liquid measuring cup. Remove the seeds. Add water to make a total of ¾ cup. Pour honey into the cup and mix until all the liquid is well-combined.Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix just until incorporated.

Move a baking rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

While the oven is heating up, prepare 2 baking sheets. Lightly grease the baking sheets with the vegetable oil and dust them all over with flour. Tap the bottom of the pans while tilting them from side to side to spread the flour. Remove the excess flour by inverting the pans.

Oil your hands before handling the dough if your dough ends up sticky, like mine was. Divide the dough into half and form each into 2-inch-wide logs. Handling sticky dough can be tricky, so just get a little bit at a time and plop them together lengthwise on the baking sheets so they connect and form a long, 2-inch-wide, flat log.

Bake for 30 minutes until the loaves are golden on top. Remove from the oven and place the baking sheets on wire racks. Let the loaves cool on the baking sheets. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees F.

When the loaves are cool enough to touch, gently move them onto a cutting board. Take care not to break them in the process. Use a bread knife to cut ½ inch thick slices and move the slices back to the baking sheets. Return to the oven and let them dry out for 25-30 minutes, turning once halfway through this second baking time. Once they are done, remove the biscotti from the oven and let cool completely on wire racks.

Store biscotti in airtight containers.

* If you want to add something special, melt a cup of chocolate chips using the double boiler method and spread melted chocolate on the top half of each biscotti. (This will make it non-vegan though, especially if you use milk chocolate.) I’m taking most of the biscotti to my book club Christmas party tonight so some chocolate dipping was necessary to make it more festive! The chocolate beautifully accentuated the orange flavor in my biscotti. * 

Do check out what the other awesome FMP members did with their biscotti.
You are in for some surprises!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Spaghetti, Redefined

I have said this before and am saying it again now, I love beet greens! They are delicious, gorgeous, and full of nutrients (protein, folate, dietary fiber, vitamins A, K, and E… I could go on). Beet greens are meant to be cooked and eaten!

Growing up, one of my favorite foods was my Mama’s spaghetti. If I were still living at home, I would ask her to make it for me time and again. Unfortunately, we live thousands of miles away from each other so I have to take care of myself.

When I say spaghetti, I’m really talking about those long noodles with tomato sauce and lots of cheese. But in reality, spaghetti is the name of the long and thin pasta noodles, tomato sauce excluded.

Last week, I made a spaghetti dish with beet greens (along with the stems) in it and NO tomato sauce. It was the simplest of all meals but full of goodness. Perhaps this is what vegetable heaven is like. If you wonder about beet green taste, they are similar to spinach, but a little richer. You can taste them more because they don’t wilt into nothing like spinach does.   

For this recipe, all you need other than the spaghetti and beet greens are a few basic things: good olive oil, garlic, an onion, mushrooms, a bell pepper, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and fresh lemon juice. A good amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese or cheddar cheese completes the dish.

This dish tastes just like all the ingredients in it. No special sauces and spices are added in for extra flavor… it is what it is. Sometimes it is good to experience the real taste of vegetables without covering them up too much and that’s exactly what you get in this dish. I have to say though, that splash of fresh lemon juice brightens this dish up, so don’t skip it!

Beet Green Spaghetti (Makes 4-5 servings)

6 oz angel hair pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion (8 ½ oz), sliced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
beet green stems, separated from the leaves, chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 bunch beet greens (7 oz), chopped
1 small bell pepper (4 ½ oz), sliced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
fresh lemon juice from half of a large lemon, plus more to taste (try to remove the seeds first)
Parmesan or cheddar cheese (freshly grated)

Fill a large pot halfway full of water and toss in a generous pinch of salt. Bring the water to a rolling boil over medium heat. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook until just tender, 5-6 minutes.

While the water is boiling, cook the vegetables. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, sauté the garlic until it turns golden brown for a little over a minute. Add the onion slices and a pinch of salt. Cook until soft and translucent, stirring every now and then, for about 5 minutes. Throw in the mushrooms and then a pinch of salt. Sauté until soft and shiny, about 4 minutes.

Add the beet stems into the pan with a small sprinkle of salt and cook for about 2 minutes. Toss in the beet greens, with a generous pinch of salt, and cook until they wilt, about 2 minutes. Throw in the bell pepper slices, oregano, and thyme with a pinch of salt and cook for about 6 minutes. Add a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and a little more salt to taste. Turn off the heat and set aside while waiting for the pasta to be done.

When the pasta is done, bring the pan of vegetables back to the stove and turn the heat on to medium low. Move the pasta into the pan using a slotted spoon. A bit of water will come with the pasta and that is good. You need the water to help the vegetable and the pasta bind together. Toss everything together until the vegetables are evenly interspersed with the pasta. Taste and see if you need more salt and pepper. If you do, add salt one pinch at a time until it tastes good. Squeeze lemon juice on the pasta and mix everything well, taking care not to overcook and mush up the pasta. Add a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese.

Serve warm and add more cheese if you want.  

Suggestions for the non-vegetable lovers in the family:
- Cook some bacon in a separate pan and set aside. When you’re serving the beet green spaghetti, crumble some bacon on top. 
- Cook some sausage or other ground meat (with a good sprinkling of salt and pepper) after the onion has softened, then add the rest of the ingredients.
- Chop up some leftover meat (rotisserie chicken, deli meat, leftover taco meat, what have you) and toss it in after the onion has softened, then add the rest of the ingredients.     

It’s almost the weekend, hang in there!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pureed White Beans with Tons of Fresh Herbs

First week of December, last month of the year, 2012 coming to a close. WHAT, already?!? I cannot believe how time just flew by… what have I been doing for the past eleven months? Ummm… too many things and not enough things.

There’s a lot of contemplating that I would like to do, but I should just leave that as a project for the last week of December. You know, when we bust out our pens and papers and write down those New Year’s Resolutions that we quickly forget by the time February comes around or finally get around to doing by the time October comes around. Funny how those things happen!

Welcome to another Food Matters Project Monday! This week’s recipe, Pureed White Beans with Tons of Fresh Herbs, was chosen by Lexi of Lexi’s Kitchen.

To be honest, I wasn’t very thrilled when I looked up the recipe and just considered doing something else, like maybe an herby lentil soup. But, as fate would have it, I had some white beans sitting in the back of the pantry and TONS of fresh herbs in the fridge. So, without any big expectations, I proceeded to make it.

Oh, how I underestimated this recipe! It turned out wonderful. I loved this dish’s refreshingly herby and savory pure bean flavor. There’s goodness in every spoonful. This white bean puree reminded me of a textured mashed potato with lovely hints of herby-peppery bites.  

I stuck close to the original Mark Bittman recipe, which you can find in Lexi’s blog, but decided that it needed a little something to make it more special. A clove of garlic and a bay leaf did the trick!

When I made this on Saturday night, it was served warm as a main dish with this delicious Cranberry-Maple Skillet Cornbread (from Cookie and Kate) on the side. After a yoga class yesterday, I served this cold on top of warm skillet-fried radish slices. It was so good and hit the spot! I highly recommend that you use this as a topping on radish slices. Frying the radish slices is really simple. All I did was slice a huge radish into 1/8 to ¼ inch thick slices, then cooked them in a little bit of butter and olive oil for 4 minutes or so on each side, just until the edges turned brown.


Pureed White Beans with Tons of Fresh Herbs
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe in The Food Matters Cookbook

1 1/3 cups dry white beans
3 1/3 cups water
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
1 cup chopped mild herbs (3/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, 1/8 cup fresh basil, 1/8 cup fresh mint)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove of garlic
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place the beans, water, and a pinch of salt in a medium sized pot. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. When the water is boiling, partially cover the pot and continue to cook until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally. Taste 4 beans and if all of them are tender all throughout the middle, then the beans are done. The total cooking time takes a little over an hour.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the onion and herbs. Heat the butter in a medium size skillet over medium heat. When the butter has melted, cook the onions until soft and translucent, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the herbs and cook until they wilt, about 2 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside.

When the beans are done, turn off the heat and add the onion-herb mixture to the bean pot. Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add only a pinch of salt at a time and taste as you go because you don’t want to add too much salt. Move the pot away from the heat but keep the cover on and let the flavors blend together for 15-20 minutes.

Remove the cover and mash the beans with a potato masher until it’s as pureed as it can get or until your wrists start to hurt. If needed, add more salt to taste, one small pinch at a time. Pour in another tablespoon of olive oil, add the minced garlic clove, and the bay leaf. Stir everything thoroughly.

Move the pot back to the burner and turn the heat on to medium low. Cover the pot and let cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and serve immediately.

This can be a great main dish or dip and can be served warm or cold. Serve it warm with some cornbread or buttered slices of sourdough. Or serve it cold on top of fried radish slices. YUM!

Have a great week everyone and make sure to visit The Food Matters Project website to see what recipe spins the other members came up with!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Vegetables, I Love You!

This past week was a long one... Work stress, a cooking misadventure (these things happen, it's part of learning), leaving work due to a terrible awful migraine that turned me into some sort of monster within 15 minutes after the onset, stress eating in the form of Doritos, and falling apart right before a very important meeting.

However, life can't be that bad, right? I am alive after all. Happiness comes in the form of walks and workouts squeezed in during lunch breaks, an unplanned pizza date night, falling asleep in pigeon pose during a home yoga practice due to sheer exhaustion, a yoga class with a friend, finding a slice of leftover TG day pumpkin bread, a pick me up note from my mentor/partner teacher after a tough day at work, and a Margarita waiting for me on the kitchen counter on a Friday night.

Happiness also comes in the form of Christmas elves. By the way, that cute little thing is Elfie, our fish. 


So, during what felt like an endless week, I was so happy that cooking was the least of my worries. Thank you self for roasting and cooking all the vegetables last weekend. My work days were powered by the roasted potatoes. I ate them for lunch every day, along with the delicious garlicky kale. Whoever said vegetables should always be eaten hot or warm? I ate mine cold, straight out of my lunch container and it was wonderful!

Last Monday, I wrote about all the vegetables that were roasted and cooked the day before and promised to share whatever special things I decide to do with them later in the week. Well, as mentioned above, I ate the potatoes cold without heating them nor adding anything in, and they were delicious! The sautéed kale was used on an open face sandwich, topped with mozzarella, heated in the oven just until the mozzarella melted. That was one of the best cheese sandwiches I have ever had. It was so simple but so tasty… kale really is an amazing vegetable. It doesn’t need anything more than a good douse of olive oil, some garlic, salt and pepper.


Tamar Adler is still in my head and inspired by the knowledge I am gaining from her book (yup, still reading it), I sliced the cold, roasted Brussels sprouts into ribbons, added a drizzle of olive oil, squeezed some lemon juice, and tossed it well. I heated a small amount of rice vinegar to rehydrate dried cranberries and tossed in a small handful of sliced onions to soak in the warm vinegar for about 10 minutes. The cranberries and onions, along with the vinegar were then poured on the Brussels and tossed with a handful of slivered almonds. It was a very good salad of salty, roasted Brussels sprouts with a tangy bite, sweetened cranberries, and crunchy almonds.


If you are overwhelmed by the vegetables sitting in your refrigerator, pull them out and cook them all at once. Roast them, sauté them, boil them! Doing all these at once is a great thing. You have a whole bunch of already excellent cooked food and now have the power to do whatever you want with them with barely any work. These cooked veggies can be tossed together with other ingredients to make a salad. Some vegetables can be sliced thin and added in sandwiches. Others can be chopped into small pieces and plopped on omelets. Or, everything can just be thrown together in a big pot with some vegetable/chicken stock and perhaps some coconut milk to make a soup or curry.

On this gorgeous Sunday, roast and cook your vegetables, bake some cookies, go on a hike, do some yoga, maybe make some Christmas elves. 

Have a blessed day my friends!