blueberry mango quinoa salad

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A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid any more. ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Running, head-first, into my second week free of dairy, refined flours and sugars has continued to be an awakening of sorts. Every meal has evolved into an adventure rather than a chore, and I’ve suddenly become hyper-aware of food in a way that I haven’t been in a long, long time. Mindful eating doesn’t require one to simply ebb and flow, doesn’t thrive on complacency, rather it endures only through the consistent realization that if I put good, wholesome food in my body I’ll feel GOOD. While friends have noted external changes — a more luminous and clear skin tone (although good genes definitely help) and a slightly leaner frame — I’m more focused on the internal shifts, which have been real and dramatic. I’m continually floored by the fact that my sleep resembles the deep sleep of children, that my cookie cravings have all but disappeared, and I feel light — not in sense of numbers on a scale — but an overall feeling of lightness. My meals are more colorful and infinitely more satisfying, and although I’m still eating A LOT, I feel fuller, content and not prone to over-indulge in seconds and thirds….

All due to a few simple changes in my diet, which oddly have me checking out vegan and gluten-free options.

Instead of a bagel for breakfast, I’m kicking off my day with a protein-packed, peanut butter and banana smoothie. Instead of a sandwich and a pile of sweets and nutrient-empty vending machine snacks, I’m packing carrots, cherries, raspberries, hummus, frozen grapes and Kind bars in portable containers. Yes, I’ve become the sort of woman who stocks and stores Tupperware in her office. Lunch tends to be sizable with beef, chicken or salad in the mix, while dinners are on the lighter side with small portions of pasta, heaping salads, and QUINOA.

I researched the nutritional benefits of this vegetable seed (I thought quinoa was a grain, but it is actually a seed from a vegetable related to Swiss chard, spinach and beets!!), and I was FLOORED. From Health Guidance:

Quinoa is an excellent protein source and contains all essential amino acids (useful for vegans and vegetarians). One cup of ready-to-eat quinoa has nearly 10 grams of protein or twice the amount of protein found in other cereal grains, it also has 5 grams of fiber, for just 220 calories. Quinoa is also a good source of beneficial minerals, including copper, manganese, iron, and magnesium, plus B-complex vitamins. All of these trace elements and nutrients are necessary in chemical reactions for producing energy out of your foods. Quinoa also offers potassium and good fats that are beneficial for your blood pressure and heart.

I’ve been consuming a lot of quinoa lately, and I can’t help but notice that I have more stamina in my workouts and I’m always full after dinner. I’ll be showcasing a lot of quinoa recipes over the coming weeks, but tonight I feasted on a delicious Blueberry Mango Salad, inspired by Veggie Belly‘s post.

INGREDIENTS:
For the quinoa
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water

For the fruits and veggies
1 cup fresh blueberries
½ cup cubed ripe mango
½ cup cubed cucumber
2 tbsp dried cherries

For the lemon basil dressing
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
10 Basil leaves, chopped finely
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS
Bring water and quinoa to a boil in a medium-sized pot. The ratio of quinoa to water is always 2:1, so remember that as you double or halve the recipe. Once the water has come to feverish bubble, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered for about 15 minutes, or till the quinoa is cooked. Remove the lid, and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Let it cool to room temperature.

While the quinoa is cooking, combine the fruits and cucumber in a medium-sized bowl and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble your mis en place. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper, and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. Hold off on adding the basil until you’re ready to serve as the acid from the lemon will cause the leaves to blacken.

Once the quinoa has cooled (10-15 minutes), add the dressing to the quinoa, toss in the basil, fruit and cucumber mixture. Enjoy + weep!

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moroccan carrot ribbons + black lentil salad

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Truth be told, a lot of folks don’t actually understand why I’ve embarked on a month-long break from white flour, refined sugars and dairy. From intense Q&A sessions (Wait, so does this mean you’re vegan?! Why are you doing this to yourself? Don’t you miss cheese?) to the cashier at my morning coffee joint inquiring if I’m on a diet because I haven’t ordered my buttered multi-grain bagel in a week, I’ve been met with THE QUESTIONS.

Simply put, I was inspired to pursue these experiment because I love food and miss the diversity of it. I miss the excitement over what to make for dinner; the morning bagel has settled me into a slump. I never want to be complacent about anything — love, life, the food I set on the table — so when I found myself easing into the status quo, of ordering the same pesto pasta every night of the week, I put myself on pause and ordered a reset. And while it’s been challenging, it’s probably the most exciting gastronomic experiment I’ve done in years. I’ve discovered that almond milk is delicious, that gluten-free has come a long, long way since the cardboard breads of yore, and I miss the simplicity of flavorful salads and the myriad of ways in which they can be prepared.

And I miss gawking at beautiful meals, and I miss finding new ways to prepare them. So when I had a pound of lentils in my larder and a handful of carrots, I started an investigation to find the perfect recipe.

Enter Sarah Britton’s delightful and delicious Moroccan Carrot Ribbons + Black Lentil Salad. AHHH!! I missed the waft of cumin, the sizzle and spit of anise seeds as they fry on the pan. Preparing this dish was such a visceral memory of all the amazing recipes I used to make ages ago, and I had a fantastic time preparing this salad as I did consuming it.

The salad has a sweet, yet smoky flavor and you’ll love the tender strips of carrots against the meaty lentils. The prunes offer a terrific texture play, and this can be eaten as a main dish or a side with your favorite roast chicken. Enjoy!

Moroccan Carrot Ribbons and Black Lentils, Recipe courtesy of Whole Living Daily.
INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)
1 cup black (beluga) lentils
2-3 large carrots
1 small red onion
6 prunes
½ cup each chopped mint and cilantro

Dressing:
1 tbsp. cumin seeds
½ tbsp. green anise seeds
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. smoked paprika
¼ tsp. ground coriander
pinch of cayenne or crushed chilies
1 tbsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. raw honey or agave
3 tbsp cold pressed olive oil
pinch of sea salt

Carrot Marinade:
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS
Whisk the carrot marinade together in large bowl. Wash the carrots and using a peeler, peel long strips lengthwise and place in the bowl with the marinade. Let sit while you make the rest of the salad.

Soak the lentils first if possible. Drain and rinse well. Cook the lentils according to the package instructions (about 20-30 minutes) with a few pinches of salt, just until al dente – be careful not to over cook them. Drain and lightly rinse.

While the lentils are cooking, make the dressing. First, toast the cumin and anise seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant. Remove from heat and using a mortar and pestle, give the seeds and rough grind (this is optional). Add all remaining dressing ingredients, whisk well. Add the warm lentils and marinated carrots, including any leftover marinade. Slice prunes and onions thinly and add. Add washed and chopped herbs. Season to taste. Serve.

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fig + arugula salad dressed in a honey + lime vinaigrette

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Yesterday I spent the majority of the day supine, recovering from a brutal workout that made walking a considerable challenge. Suffice it to say, major meal preparations were out of the question. After creating a few sensible lunch dishes for the week (I’m still confounded by how much money I’m saving by preparing my lunches on Sundays instead of ordering delivery every day of the week), I sought a light, refreshing salad to close out my day.

There are so many things I love about this fig + arugula salad — the peppery bite of the arugula paired with the sweetness of the ripe figs, the honey lime dressing that adds a bit of a bite to the leaves — and it’s a cinch to make!

INGREDIENTS (serves one, generously, 2 as a side portion)
2-3 cups of arugula
5-6 black mission figs, quartered
2 tsp fresh lime juice (don’t you even think about buying that lime in a bottle nonsense!)
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp pistachio oil
Salt/pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: Whisk the lime juice, honey, oil, salt/pepper and coat the leaves/figs generously.

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kale lentil salad

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Today on Twitter I joked with someone that I was determined to turn kale into a dessert or a pony; its transformative and adaptive properties are that miraculous. When I embarked on this challenge — a month free of refined sugars, flours and dairy — I went a little mad in the grocery store, stocking my cart with foreign foodstuffs. After the high subsided I stared at my container of lentils and wondered…Okay, how do I cook lentils??? After a long search (I’m noticing a pattern of an increased amount of recipe research this week), I discovered a kale lentil salad on one of my favorite sites, Food52.

You’ll love this dish because the protein-packed lentils make this extremely filling, and the mango preserves render a certain sweetness that borders on the exotic. It’s a cinch to make and it keeps well in the fridge.

Next week witness as I transform kale into a PUDDING. J/K!

INGREDIENTS (Recipe adapted from Well and Good NYC)
2 bunches curly kale, center ribs and stems removed, washed, dried, and chopped finely
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup mango preserves
1 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 cup beluga lentils, (substitute brown lentils if they’re what you have), rinsed and picked over
1 cup red cabbage, shredded

DIRECTIONS
Whisk together olive oil, mango preserves (the original recipe called for apricot, but I love the sweetness of mangos juxtaposed to the bitter, cruciferous green), apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper. Set aside.

Turn kale into a large mixing bowl, and massage 6 tsp of the dressing into the salad. You’ll need enough dressing for the salad to be well coated and start taking on a “wilted” texture. Set aside.

Place lentils in a small saucepan with enough water to cover them by 3-4 inches (approximately 2 1/2 cups). Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat, add a pinch of salt, and let the lentils simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the lentils are al dente.

Allow lentils to cool slightly and add them, along with the cabbage, to the kale, and add another 2 tsp vinaigrette. Use hands to combine. Add extra dressing as needed, and season to taste.

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dinner on the deck: kale pesto pasta + strawberry + raspberry arugula salad

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Over the years I’ve become a woman who cares more about the quality and depth of my relationships than the velocity at which I acquire them. I remember a time when I was heartbroken, downright devastated, if a certain number of people didn’t attend a party I’d hosted. There was always a magic number. Tonight will be fine, just fine, if only 30 people would show up. Any less than 30 and I’d feel like a failure, because I was desperately in need of affection and acceptance, a need to feel cool.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve gotten older, but numbers don’t mean much anymore. When you allow yourself to settle in stillness, you realize that you’ve spent your life knee-deep in white noise when you’d rather skirt the edges of the things, the periphery. The quiet tends to amplify all of one’s insecurities and needs, and it took me years to realize that the time I spend with fewer people is infinitely more impactful than being in the eye of the storm. And suddenly my relationships evolved into something magical, long-lasting, because I spent time with people rather than passed it.

On a whim I planned a farm-to-table dinner with an old friend, Sarah. She promised to bring the yummy dessert (almond yoghurt infused with coconut parfait, mixed with luscious strawberry and rhubarb compote and homemade muesli), while I fixed a wheat-free meal. To say that we had a time is an understatement. WE HAD A TIME.

Onward! I fixed quinoa penne with kale pesto, a refreshing salad of arugula, strawberries, raspberries and pomegranate seeds, and a side of Moroccan lentils sweetened with carrots and dates. I invite you to indulge in some hearty pesto and spend time with those whom you love.

KALE PESTO INGREDIENTS
2 cup of mixed kale (I use curly kale + Lacinato), de-stemmed and chopped
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds, lightly toasted in a dry pan
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
salt + pepper
6 oz of whole wheat penne pasta

DIRECTIONS
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Plunge the kale leaves in the water for thirty seconds and then shock them in a bowl of cold water. This will halt the cooking process and ensure that your kale keeps its beautiful verdant hue. Drain in colander, then lay on a cloth towel to extract as much water as possible. Place in the bowl of a food processor with garlic and almonds. Add a generous pinch of salt and pulse briefly to combine and chop. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil until you achieve a loose pesto-like consistency with some texture remaining.

I love adding the pesto, with a slight drizzle of olive oil, at the bottom of a large bowl. Drain and cook the pasta al dente and then mix with the pesto. DIVINE.

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STRAWBERRY + RASPBERRY ARUGULA SALAD INGREDIENTS (Inspired by Whole Foods’ Health Starts Here, but the recipe is purely my own)
4 cups arugula, packed
1 cup strawberries, stemmed and quartered
1/2 cup raspberries
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup basil, finely diced
2 tbsp juice of a lemon
2 tbsp juice of an orange
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Whisk the basil, juices, salt and pepper in one bowl. Add the leaves and fruit in another bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Toss + serve!

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gluten-free coconut banana bread

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And the doves flew out of her hair! Yes, we know this to be true, because in a strange, topsy-turvy world, she was free of her constant craving. She felt awake, energized and pining to make foods she never thought she’d like (grilled beets, anyone?).

Although it’s only been a week since I’ve gone off dairy, refined flours and sugars, I’ve noticed a marked change in my body. No longer did I experience rapid mood fluctuations from sugary highs (the 3pm cookie craving all but disappeared), and I felt fuller from all the complex carbohydrates and proteins.

I started to feel that I was no longer running through quicksand. Not only did I have enough energy to sustain me through five workouts, but I slept the deep sleep of children. And a funny thing happened — I reverted back to a time in 2004 when I fastidiously trolled clean-eating websites, read books (e.g. Michael Pollan), studied food labels. Fueled by the knowledge of the origin of my meals, I had become hyper-aware about what I put in my body. Over the years I had become a bit lax, and soon cleaved to a simple, boring diet. Yet this week changed all of that. I found myself poring over Kristin of Pastry Affair’s month-long journey toward veganism, and how diet modifications completely altered her relationship with food (in a good way), bringing her to a more mindful, healthful place. I researched ways one could cook lentils, found new ways to make kale go further and farther, and most importantly, discovered new ways to indulge in sweets without breaking my experiment.

Who knew that trying to find the RIGHT recipe for making banana bread would take THREE HOURS. After studying a few standby cookbooks and hours of sifting through gluten-free recipes (yes, apparently nixing white flour and dairy makes me a gluten-free/vegan gal, I guess) to find a recipe that wouldn’t make me cringe in terror.

Enter my newfangled attempt at making a sweet Coconut Banana Bread. And believe me when I say that this bread sings. We’re not going to talk about how I spent ten minutes huffing coconut flour and say we did. And yet, I felt satiated with the two flours, which are rich in fiber Vitamin E and protein, among other nutritional benefits. With the help of a leavening agent (gluten-free flours are tough to rise), I ended up with an uber-moist loaf and a renewed belief that this experiment is pushing me out of my comfort zone.

And we all need to be kicked out of our comfort zone.

INGREDIENTS
3/4 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of sea salt
3/4 cup of almond flour
1/4 cup of coconut flour
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp pistachio oil
3 large eggs
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup of mashed banana)
1/4 cup of maple syrup
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 350° F/175° C. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl until they’re beautifully blended. Lightly brush a 8×5 loaf pan with grapeseed oil.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, and oils. With a fork, slowly incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry ones. Then mix in your mashed bananas. Don’t freak out! The dough will be looser then your typical banana bread recipe, but the flours will absorb the wet ingredients and your cake will be BANANAS MOIST.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool for 10-15 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a rack. I CANNOT EXPRESS ENOUGH THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS STEP. Failure to let the bread set will yield a crumbly mess. Be patient. Read a magazine. Dream of eating the loaf, etc. Once your 10-15 minutes are up, turn onto a rack and cool for another 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

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there comes a time when it’s necessary to go mad for berries!

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Perhaps it’s the fact that we’re in the thick of humidity and scorching temperatures (107 degrees, anyone?), but I can’t help but rely on my blender for simple meals. Granted, I’m not an evangelist of the cruel and heartless juice cleanse, but I do believe in a refreshing, icy complement to a meal. These days I’m obsessing over the fruit smoothie and cruciferous greens paired with sweet berries. Case in point — check out my raspberry + blueberry concoction paired with a hearty kale fruit salad. This was undeniably satisfying, at first, and then made even better with the addition of grilled chicken. Light and refreshing, I loved the burst of fruit flavor at each bite.

Here’s what I did in ten minutes, flat:

  • Blitzed 1 cup of frozen blueberries + 1/2 cup fresh raspberries + 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds + 1/4 cup of almond milk in a blender until smooth and creamy.
  • Add 2-3 cups of chopped kale to a large bowl + 4 oz grilled chicken, diced + 1/4 cup raspberries, 1/4 cup blueberries, 1 cup diced watermelon (1-inch dice), 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds + 1 tbsp pistachio oil + salt/pepper to taste
  • Voila! Dinner is served!

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    a month without white: red, peach + blue arugula salad

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    Inspired by the latest issues of Women’s Health and Bon Appetit, the peach is having a serious mini moment. This luscious fruit can be poached, baked, grilled, sauteed and flambéed — all methods yield rich, juicy sweet flavor. Over the past few days I’ve made endless permutations of the peach salad. In this version, I skinned and sectioned one ripe peach, and tossed it with arugula, raspberries and blueberries. The dressing was 1/2 tbsp of simple pistachio oil, married with sea salt and a smattering of pepper.

    Clearly you could grill the peaches, toss in some flaked salmon, tuna or chicken, and you’ve up the protein ante, transforming a side dish into a wholesome, flavorful main course.

    Over the next few weeks you’ll see me playing around with the peach, especially with GRILLED KALE!

    a month without white: basil unleashed!

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    Truth be told, the notion of dieting gives me a rage blackout. For years I raged a war with my body, denying myself strawberry syrups and tarts with whipped creme, calculating calories much like how one would balance a checkbook, and punishing myself for indulging in an occasional cookie. I remember being that obnoxious girl in the dressing room bemoaning the fact that a negative integer wasn’t a size. I remember feeling lean and nervous in my leanness, because if I wasn’t careful, if I wasn’t mindful, I would burst at the seams.

    Last year I brokered a peace treaty, and I shifted my attention from the concept of skinny to the practice of being healthy, to the art of being mindful. This is my one body, and I’m going to spend the rest of this life in love with it. Instead of padlocking the kitchen, I turned my attention toward celebrating the foods I adore, and I challenged my body with bootcamp, cycling and grueling cardio classes. After a three-year break, I returned to the mat and resumed a deeper, more satisfying yoga practice.

    And I didn’t punch myself in the face for eating a damn cookie.

    So when a few of my friends asked about “my new diet,” I visibly cringed. Calmly I explained that this month free of white flour, sugar and dairy isn’t about a number on a scale (I haven’t weighed myself in a decade), isn’t about a “cleanse” or some such nonsense, but rather it’s about me being a barnacle to a tired diet and the need to break free. This month is about resetting the clock, discovering new foods and new ways of preparing them, and so far I’m having a blast.

    Imagine my joy that I have the gift of time! A day off to prepare a sweet, flavorful lunch filled with basil. You will love this simple dish because of its flavors, its colors and the fact that you’re absolutely full when you’re done. Who knew!?

    SIMPLE BASIL PESTO
    1 cup of basil leaves, packed
    1/4 cup garlic-infused olive oil
    1/4 cup walnuts
    Salt/pepper to taste

    DIRECTIONS: Blitz until you get a luscious pesto paste.

    FRUIT + ARUGULA SALAD
    2 cups of arugula, packed
    1 ripe peach, skinned and sectioned
    1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
    1/4 cup edamame
    1/4 cup diced cherries
    2 tbsp basil pesto

    DIRECTIONS: Toss the salad with the pesto + serve!

    SIMPLE PESTO PASTA
    1/2-1 cup of dried whole wheat rigatoni
    Homemade pesto

    DIRECTIONS: Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain, and toss with pesto. Add salt/pepper to taste.

    Serve + fall in love with food all over again!

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    a month without white: peanut butter banana smoothies + pesto whole wheat pasta!

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    When learning of my thirty-day challenge (an abstention from white flour, sugar and dairy), a co-worker of mine asked, So if you’re not baking, what will you write about on your blog??!! Several expletives were exchanged (in a jocular manner, of course!), and I finally responded that I’d write about all of the food I was too lazy or too frightened to cook. And who’s to say that I won’t bake and share the fruits of my labor with my colleagues?

    Although I’m only two days into my challenge, I’ve already noticed a marked difference. Come the dreaded 4pm hour, I’m less sluggish and I don’t create the necessary cookie to push me to the end of the day. Because I consumed a larger portion of protein during the day, I had a lot more stamina and energy during my spin class last night, and I had a very rested sleep. Granted, this could all be as a result of a leisurely weekend in Connecticut, but I feel GOOD. Yesterday, I spent the day snacking on carrots, blueberries, grapes and almond kind bars, and when I came home I couldn’t WAIT to make this arugula + sundried tomato pesto I spotted on The Healthy Foodie’s blog.

    But can we first discuss breakfast? Admittedly, breakfast had devolved into a multigrain bagel with butter. Now I’m obsessed with this delicious peanut butter and banana smoothie that actually keeps me full for four hours. It’s super simple:

    INGREDIENTS
    1 banana
    1 oversized tbsp of peanut butter (creamy, organic)
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/4 cup almond milk
    4 ice cubes

    DIRECTIONS: Blitz until all ingredients are incorporated and smooth and serve!

    It’s hard to believe that this is not only chockfull of protein but supremely filling. Quite honestly, I felt like I was eating dessert and I LOVED IT.

    For dinner, I came home and boiled up some whole wheat pasta and served it with the sundried tomato and arugula pesto. Easy as pie:

    INGREDIENTS
    2 cups arugula, packed
    3/4 cup sundried tomatoes (I used the ones packed in olive oil)
    1/4 cup olive oil
    1/2 cup walnuts
    Salt/Pepper to taste

    DIRECTIONS: Blitz until all ingredients are incorporated and smooth and serve!

    One thing I noticed as I was eating my pasta sans grated cheese: it was DELICIOUS. I had become so accustomed to dumping cheese on everything that I was doing the thing I was always set against — masking flavor. With fresh, simple ingredients you don’t need to go heavy on the accoutrements.

    So here’s to Day 2 of my adventure. So far, so yum!

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