Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal

Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal“I stand holding the apple in both hands. It feels precious, like a heavy treasure. I lift it up and smell it. It has such an odour of outdoors on it I want to cry.” 
― Margaret AtwoodApplesOne of my favorite parts of fall is the selection of apples at the market. Since childhood I have had an affinity for crisp, tart, green apples. Some of my fondest memories stem from my best friend Kim’s front yard in Crystal Falls where several apple trees grew. Kim, the daredevil that she was, would scale the tree for the largest fruit for our feast. Of course, this sampling of apples always involved a salt shaker. Yes, there is nothing like the combination of sour apples with salt! 🙂

Last week I made a large Crock-pot of slow cooked apples and they were a marvelous treat to eat during the week. They turned out like a sweet and tart applesauce and I warmed them before eating. I can only imagine how good they would be with a large dollop of ice cream on top. The recipe that I came up with rendered eight cups so I was able to freeze quite a number of servings to enjoy over the next few weeks.

My recipe goes very light on the oatmeal so if you want to enjoy this recipe for breakfast you may want to add extra oatmeal and liquid (or you could leave out the oatmeal and mix the fruity deliciousness into a bowl of oatmeal). When I joined Weight Watchers I ate oatmeal every morning for the first few years and I think that I burnt myself out of oats. However, on occasion I do sometimes still enjoy a bowl. This recipe may just make me a fan of oatmeal again.

Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and OatmealCranberriesSWEET & TART SLOW COOKER APPLES WITH CRANBERRIES, PUMPKIN, AND OATMEAL
*Printable shopping list and recipe below

  • 12 ounce bag of cranberries
  • 9 apples (I used five green and four red. The apples that I used were small)
  • 2 cups of oatmeal (I used old-fashioned oats but a lot of crock pot oatmeal recipes call for steel-cut oats)
  • 2 cups of milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 cup of pumpkin
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar (you could 8substitute your favorite sweetener such as honey and maple sugar)
  • Zest and juice from one orange
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon nutmeg
  • 2 ounces of raisins (next time I would probably leave the raisins out since they fell apart and I would add before serving)

Add all the ingredients to slow cooker and cook on high for 5 hours. As I said earlier, the texture was very much like applesauce. If you want the apples more firm you could cook for a shorter time period.

Printable shopping list and recipe: Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal
You cannot go wrong with seasonal ingredients. A couple hours in and the fragrance is intoxicating. Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and OatmealThis time of year I think it is important to come up with healthy versions of comfort food and this recipe really does the trick. While I am not a big fan of kitchen gadgets, one item that I do recommend is an apple slicer and corer. My mom bought this one for me a few years ago and it is essential for recipes that contain apples.
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Do not forgot to serve your apples in a pretty dish. Presentation can make all the difference.

Do not forgot to serve your apples in a pretty dish. Presentation can make all the difference.

Sweet Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and OatmealMike and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family and it felt spectacular to relax before the hustle-and-bustle of December. On Thanksgiving morning, before heading out-of-town, we were treated with a visit from some feathered friends. A group of cardinals (over seven) have taken residence in the large cedars in our backyard.

A friend shared that in recent years flocks of cardinals have moved into our northern location in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The cardinals were joined by a huge flock of pigeons, chickadees, black birds, and a lone and brilliant blue jay. We were delighted to realize this morning that the cardinals were still in our backyard and we will continue to replenish our feeders with seed this winter. I could not help but be reminded by one of my favorite quotes by Louise Glück, “It’s a mistake to think of them as birds, they are so often messengers.” My friend Ann said that cardinals symbolize health, strength and vitality and Mike and I believe that they are helping usher in positive energy for 2014.

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Speaking a positive and healthy New Year, did you start the December Green Smoothie Challenge today? If not, it is not to late to join. Mid-week I will be posting a shopping list and recipes for Week #2. If you decide to make this recipe, buy an extra-large can of pumpkin because the second week’s recipes will contain pumpkin.

Here is a photo of Sunday Energizer smoothie that I enjoyed this morning. I love the zing that the fresh ginger brings to my glass.

Day #1 Sunday Energizer

Pin this recipe here.

You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page and join the healthy conversation.

In January I will be celebrating the one year anniversary of launching my blog and I am so thankful for all the support of my readers. I love shopping in the grocery store and having someone say, “hey, I really love your recipes and your blog.” It is hard to believe that last year at this time I was nervous about putting myself out there and I wondered if people would be interested in what I had to say. Thank you for making 2013 so full of light and I am excited to continue sharing this healthy journey with others!

Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal Appreciation

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Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads“If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.”
― Deepak Chopra

In two weeks I celebrate my seven-year anniversary of walking through the doors of the Weight Watchers center in Marquette, Michigan to become a member. I shared the story of my journey in a post on my birthday in June (click here to read).

Daily, I think about how thankful I am to have embraced a healthy lifestyle and to be given the opportunity to be a Weight Watchers leader and help others maximize their health and find success in weight management.

When I started Produce with Amy I was nervous and unsure if anyone would even read my posts. I am grateful for the continued support and messages that I receive from those who are following my blog and those who stumble on my Facebook page or find my recipes on Pinterest. If you are reading this now I would like to thank you! While writing helps keep me accountable to my own goals, I love the way the Internet can erase the miles and that my posts from the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan can reach people across the country and across the globe. I am constantly using my blog as an authentic and real world example of writing with my high school students. It makes me giggle when they roll their eyes and tell me, “Mrs. Laitinen, my mom reads your blog and last night we had green smoothies.” How cool is that?

There's my name. Part of my fifteen minutes of fame! :)

There’s my name on the very bottom. Part of my fifteen minutes of fame. 🙂 Thank you, Florine!

In July, I was THRILLED to be contacted by Weight Watchers Marketing Manager, Donna DeMarco, to see if I would be interested in writing an article for the THINLINE publication. THINLINE is given out at all of the meetings within our WW franchise. (Read my piece on page 24 entitled Inner Spark.) Ms. DeMarco said that both her and Florine Mark are fans of my blog. I cannot think of a bigger compliment and I am so thankful.

Earlier today I shared my recipe for an exotic and elegant, Fruited Chia Salad with Blackberry Vinaigrette. I am equally excited to share a more classic salad and dressing recipe that I know will be a big hit with many because what is better than a Greek salad? I have never been to Greece but it is a destination that occupies the top of my bucket list. Even though my heritage is mainly of Finnish and Swedish descent, I am asked often if I am Greek.
Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette Greek Vinaigrette DressingGREEK VINAIGRETTE DRESSING13

  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of red wine vinegar (since homemade dressings can be made to suit individual tastes, I always recommend that you add vinegar to meet the level of tartness that you enjoy. If you prefer your dressings less tart you can add more olive oil)
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard (I have also used spicy brown mustard)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 Teaspoon red onion (you can substitute with green, white, or yellow onion)
  • 1 sprig of fresh oregano (Approximately 2 Tablespoons. If you are using dried use 1-2 teaspoons. Taste as you go and add more if desired)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil (You can add more depending on taste. You could also skip the oil and add the oil directly to each salad, or to the jar, to maintain portion control)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Blend well. When this dressing is blended, it does get frothy but will separate when stored in the refrigerator. It could also be mixed with a whisk if you want a more rustic texture.
Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek VinaigretteWhen making Mason Jar Salads  put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar.

MEDITERRANEAN MASON JAR SALADS
I layered these ingredients, in the following order, in one quart Mason jars. (I made six salads)

  • 3 Tablespoons of Greek Vinaigrette 
  • Sliced cucumber (I used two cucumbers)
  • Chopped green bell pepper (I used two peppers)
  • Beets (I love beets in Greek salad. I used my mom’s pickled beets but you could roast your own or buy them prepared in a can or jar)
  • Artichoke hearts (I bought them from the olive bar in our local grocery store. You can also buy them canned or in a jar)
  • Orzo pasta salad (recipe to follow)
  • Pepperoncini (I divided this jar between the salads ~ 4-5 peppers per jar)
  • Kalamata olives (I used 5 olives per jar)
  • Feta Cheese (even though I try to remain dairy-free I did end up putting 2 Tablespoons of feta in the salads.)
  • Chopped romaine lettuce

Orzo SaladORZO PASTA SALAD 

  • One cup of white beans
  • Two cups of cooked orzo pasta
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons of finely chopped red onion
  • 1 cup of chopped tomatoes (I was still able to pick fresh tomatoes from my garden)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon each of fresh oregano, mint, and dill (if you are using dried you can use one teaspoon)
  • Handful of fresh parsley (you can substitute a couple teaspoons of dried)Orzo Pasta Salad
  • 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix well. This also serves as a great side or main dish. If serving on its own you can add olives, artichokes, peppers, feta cheese, and even chopped kale, spinach, or your favorite green.

How lucky am I to have these for my lunches this week?!

How lucky am I to have these for my lunches this week?!

A classic Greek salad gets a modern makeover when layered in a jar.

A classic Greek salad gets a modern makeover when layered in a jar.

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek VinaigretteSo far, for this school year, I have made a different kind of Mason Jar Salad each week. They stay fresh and are a great way to make sure you are getting a variety of fruit and vegetables into your meal plan. Many of my Weight Watchers members love them and say that the jarred salads inspire them to make more vibrant selections and that they end up throwing away less produce. The bottom line is that Mason jar salads can be better on our waistline and on our pocketbook. I hope you enjoy this recipe and if you try this salad, or any of my other recipes, please let me know. I wish you a healthy and energy packed week!

Click here to Pin this recipe on Pinterest.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salads anddressings. You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

Mediterranean Mason Jar Salads with Greek Vinaigrette

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette

Sunflowers from my garden.

Sunflowers from my garden.

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight; The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves; The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves, And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.” ~Amy Lowell

The first day of fall. Transition. We have arrived at the half-way point of September which makes me acutely aware that changes are coming. Even though I was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I am never ready for the cold weather to arrive. In the mornings our house has been chilly but Mike and I cling to our stubbornness and refuse to turn the furnace on. Mike uses the phrases my parents tossed around: put on a sweatercover up with a blanket, you can’t even see your breath yet!  Monday morning he met my whine with, Do some yoga, you’ll warm up! 

I have long said that living in the U.P. gives one bragging rights and not only do we dread the heat bill, but there seems to be an unofficial contest to see who can wait the longest to turn on the heat (I know from Facebook posts that some of my Yooper friends have already lost the contest). In the same spirit of endurance the flower boxes on the front of our house still brandish geraniums and last weekend I painted my toenails with plum nail polish since I refuse to put my sandals away.

Phoebe enjoys a joyful afternoon drive.

Our sweet Phoebe enjoys a joyful autumn afternoon ride.

As the weather cools, I know that I have to be mindful of my meals and come up with healthy versions of comfort food. While I would love to wax poetic about spiced pumpkin lattes and the cinnamon tinged aroma of baking apples, I know that for myself fall translates to food and exercise related challenges. Last weekend I searched through my Weight Watchers eTools account and took a peek at my weekly weigh-ins for the last few years during autumn. I found a trend. While I started out August strong, for the past three years during November (right around Thanksgiving) I stumbled with my weight management and gained a few pounds. While I do contribute this challenge to the hectic school year and lack of energy to workout (A.K.A. excuses), I know that the weather and my mood greatly contributes to this as well. Last January (2013) I started Produce with Amy as an extra incentive to get back on track. I started drinking a daily green smoothie, made time to work out, and tried my best to stay faithful to a plant-based meal plan. This year I am determined to keep my motivation high and focus on activity and making sure that I do not get into a food rut.

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salads

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salads

One thing that is really helping me stay on track with my weight management is making Mason jar salads on the weekend to bring to work for lunch during the week. I can fill a one quart jar with a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, berries, grains, seeds, pasta, nuts, and protein. The glass jars keep the ingredients fresh for up to a week and I only have to prep once for a week of lunches.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I was going to conduct an experiment. I set a timer and prepped our lunches before bed. I made Mike’s sandwich, cut up and packaged vegetables for snacks, portioned out raw nuts, filled our water bottles, and blended up my two green smoothies (one for breakfast and one for my 1/2 hour commute home). I was shocked to see that this process took me twenty-three minutes. While I often use the excuse that I “do not have time for exercise” I decided that if I prep our lunches and make my smoothies before bed that I am making precious time in the morning for myself to workout.

This year I will embrace the cold weather induced transition into sweater dresses, tights, boots, and scarves, but I will NOT welcome wearing extra pounds this winter. Mason jar salads are helping me transition back into my full-time work schedule and I refuse to use a mountainous pile of grading, exhausting days of lecturing and managing large classroom rosters, and early mornings be an excuse to not stay committed to my weight management goals. I CAN and I WILL stay grounded, balanced, and committed to my healthy routines.

For my Mason Jar Salads this week I decided to take advantage of seasonal produce. I have witnessed tons of pumpkin and apple recipes posted on social networking sites so I decided to create my own healthy recipe. I thought that pumpkin would make a unique salad dressing and would give the salad a fall flair. 11 PUMPKIN VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

  • 1/2 cup of vinegar (I used raw apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting the dressing as you go)
  • 3/4 cup of pumpkin (I used canned but your own freshly baked or roasted would work as well)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can always leave the oil out and add it individually to your salad for portion control)
  • 1/4 cup of water (the dressing was thick so I thinned it out with some water. You could add extra vinegar. If you want to use it as a dip you could leave it thick)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 lemon ~ juice and zest 
  • 3 green onions (you could use regular onion)
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger root 
  • 1 Tablespoon of pure maple syrup (you could also use honey)
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Blend dressing until smooth. The combination of sweet, savory, tart, and spicy ingredients in this dressing really make a pleasing combination.

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing

When making Mason Jar Salads  put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar.

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing

APPLE-A-DAY MASON JAR SALADS I layered these ingredients, in the following order, in one quart Mason jars. (I made five salads)

  • 3 Tablespoons of Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing (I also sprinkled a little extra raw apple cider vinegar on top of the vinaigrette since I like my dressing tart)
  • Carrots (I used four carrots)
  • Granny Smith apple wedges (2 apples)
  • Pink Lady apple wedges (or your favorite variety of red apple. I used two apples.)
  • Raw pumpkin seeds (you could use toasted pumpkin seeds. Sunflower seeds would work as well as nuts)
  • Dried cranberries
  • Chopped green onions (I used both the white and the green part of the onion.)
  • Chopped cabbage (cabbage works well in Mason jar salads and it stays crunchy and fresh. I used green cabbage but purple would be a colorful and healthy too)
  • Romaine lettuce

Thinly sliced fennel would be excellent in this salad as well as pears. Pin the recipe here.

Sweet and Savory ingredients make these Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing a seasonal hit!

Sweet and Savory ingredients make these Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salads with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing a seasonal hit!

I have been bringing Mason Jar Salads to work each day and they help fuel me through a busy day. In the past I have struggled with the temptation of working through lunch and I am finding that these salads are so satisfying and delicious that I look forward to making time to sit down and eat. The abundance of nutrients in the fruit and vegetables will help boost my immune system during the cold and flu season.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my salad tab.You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing.

Apple-a-Day Mason Jar Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette Dressing.

 

Garden Fiesta Mason Jar Salad

Yesterday I harvested tomatoes from my garden.

Yesterday I harvested tomatoes from my garden.

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” ~Lewis Grizzard

I have a confession to make. Yesterday, I bought a bag of tortilla chips. The prospect of the fresh salsa and guacamole that I was making today for my latest Mason jar salad was too tempting. As you may know from previous posts, tortilla chips are my weakness. While I grew up having a sweet tooth, I must say that fresh fruit has replaced chocolate coated sugary treats for me. Yet, I love the salty crunch of tortilla chips. The decision to buy the tortilla chips was not on impulse. It was a well thought out purchase and I will portion out each serving and carefully track in my Weight Watchers eTools account.

With week #2 of the school year in the rear view mirror I was faced with some serious self-reflection. The first week I struggled with making time to eat the lunch and snacks that I packed for work and I did much better last week. In the morning I made an extra green smoothie to sip on during my 1/2 hour commute home and this worked marvelously. However, I REALLY struggled with getting to bed early enough to wake up with the energy to exercise. My goal this week will be to get to bed between 10:00 and 10:30 and be up by 4:45-5:00. Eventually, I would like to be to bed even earlier. Baby steps.

Mason Jar Salads are the perfect lunch to take to work. I love that I can make them on Saturday or Sunday and the last one that I eat on Friday tastes just as fresh as the first. This week I wanted to make sure that my salad was hearty enough to fuel me through an intense teenager-filled-day (all my classes, with the exception of one, have over thirty students with one class roster at thirty-six).

(Click on the photo to see a larger version)

(Click on the photo to see a larger version)

When I stopped eating meat, beans became my protein staple. I found Mexican food very easy to work into a plant-based meal plan (thus, began my tortilla chip obsession). I decided that one of my go-to salads could easily be converted to a Mason Jar Salad.

Garden Fiesta Jarred Salad

GARDEN FIESTA MASON JAR SALAD
I layered these ingredients, in the following order, in one quart Mason jars:

  •  Snappy Salsa (I added extra lime juice and used 1/2 a cup. Make sure you include the juice.)1
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil (per jar to make sure I get my WW recommended daily serving of healthy oil)
  • Yellow, orange, and green bell pepper strips
  • White beans (1/4 cup)
  • Black beans (1/4 cup)
  • Spicy Brown Rice (1/2 a cup)
  • Guacamole (1/4 cup. I added extra lime juice and left out the sour cream)
  • Black olives (5 per jar)
  • Fresh mango
  • Fresh pineapple (sadly the pineapple that I purchased was not very ripe)
  • Romaine lettuce

Pin this recipe here.

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I love the crunch and nutritional boost that bell peppers provide. They are high in Vitamin C which is so important for our immune systems.

I love the crunch and nutritional boost that bell peppers provide. They are high in Vitamin C which is so important for our immune systems this time of year.

Since I consider the Mason Jar Salads a meal, and not just a side item, I do not go skimpy on the protein and other ingredients and my jar salads are usually 7-10 Points Plus value. I do have pint-sized jars that I use to make dinner/side salads and those are usually only a couple of Points Plus each. Easily the Mason Jar Salads can be tweaked to meet your specifications.

It is amazing how much produce you can stuff inside a one quart jar and it FILLS a large dinner plate. Jarred salads are a fantastic way to meet your fruit and vegetable Good Health Guidelines.

This summer I made a plated version of this salad with homemade Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette Dressing. This dressing would be a great addition to this Mason Jar Salad but I thought that the juicy salsa and creamy guacamole would suffice.
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If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salad recipes.You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

Now that my blog is written and I earned a sticker on the calendar for the Fall Forward Healthy Lifestyle Challenge (It is not too late to join) I am going to have a mid-day snack of salsa, guacamole, and tortilla chips. 😉 I hope you are spending your Sunday exactly as you wish ~ relaxing, watching football, or maybe checking off your own to-do list and recharging for another busy week. Remember that food is fuel and make sure you fill your plate (or jar) with an abundance of fruit and vegetables. I promise to keep the Mason Jar Salad recipes coming!
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Glowing Green Mason Jar Salads with Avocado Vinaigrette Dressing

13“Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.”
~Richard Wilbur (from The Beautiful Changes)

The leaves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have been slowly changing color for several weeks. The temperatures have been chilly in the morning and reach perfect mid-to-high seventies in the afternoon. Yet, even when the thermometer climbs, there is a hint of fall goosebumps in the air. The hummingbirds have ceased their frenzied sips from the feeders and soon we will see great arcs of honking geese as they migrate across the cloud-marbled sky. My roses have made one last stand by erupting into pink ruffled cups. Next week I anticipate white and red roses and perhaps the sunflowers will put on a show.

It is Sunday and I am proud to say that I survived the first week back to school. Retraining my body to be productive early in the morning, large classes, mentoring a student teacher, and a course that I have never taught before took every ounce of energy that I had, but the week was satisfying and gave me hope. I eagerly await the writing and stories that will unfold in my classroom. It is going to be an exhausting, satisfying, and rewarding year full of growth and creativity! Instead of being overwhelmed by the work ahead, I will stay true to my healthy goals. I know that sticking to my plant-based diet and making time to exercise will give me more energy and keep my immune system strong during the long winter ahead. I want to be the best teacher that I can be and I want to be a healthy role model for my students.

I was excited to share with my creative writing students the positive feedback that I have received this summer with Produce with Amy. They listened intently when I explained that I had composed close to twenty blogs over the past few months and that I have people from all over the county (and globe) reading and sharing my recipes. One student asked if I would continue to teach when I became a “famous food blogger”. That made me laugh (how sweet it is that they believe in me) and I promised them that I would continue to teach and that it would mean that I would be able to bring more resources into the classroom. It really helps to have their confidence and know that they are cheering me on. It gives me an extra boost of motivation to keep blogging.

With one week of school and the Fall Forward Healthy Lifestyle Challenge under my belt I 9wanted to make sure that I made the weekend count. Last night I came up a new Mason Jar Salad recipe as well as a new dressing. It is not too late for you join myself and others on the challenge. Every day I have been posting a reminder on my Produce with Amy Facebook page and if you feel comfortable you can post to help yourself stay accountable and help inspire others.

When I looked at the calendar today I saw that it was National Grandparents Day. One of the items on my to-do list is to harvest the ripe tomatoes in our garden. 12As I do this, I will honor the memory of my Grandpa Puskala. Grandpa had a legendary organic garden before it was “hip” to do so!  I attribute him to passing on a love of vegetables to my beautiful mother who passed this gift to me.

Since there will be more ripe tomatoes than we can possibly eat this week I am going to try this recipe for roasted tomatoes. Not only will I use fresh rosemary from our garden but I will also incorporate fresh basil leaves. Some of the roasted tomatoes will be frozen and I will  use the others for dinner this week. I bought whole-wheat pita pockets and will stuff them with alfalfa sprouts, cucumbers, Greek olives, homemade hummus, and the roasted tomatoes.

Last week one of my struggles at work was making the time to drink water and eat snacks. On Thursday and Friday I came home famished and ended up eating larger portions of dinner than normal. So this week my goal is to pack more food (raw vegetables, raw nuts, and a green smoothie to sip on during my half hour commute home). I also am finding that I do not have an appetite in the morning so I will force myself to drink a green smoothie because I know it is important for my energy level to get a surge of nutrients. I will be carefully tracking with Weight Watchers and will try to be faithful to the program.

This week I do not anticipate myself struggling with making time for lunch since I have five gorgeous Mason Jar Salads prepped. My Glowing Green Mason Jar salads are stuffed with both sweet and savory ingredients and the dressing is equally delicious and nutritious.

I store dressings in a jar in the refrigerator and the vinegar and citrus keeps it fresh for several weeks.

I store dressings in a jar in the refrigerator and the vinegar and citrus keeps it fresh for several weeks.

AVOCADO VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

  • 1/2 cup of vinegar (I used white balsamic vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting the dressing with a bit of celery. I enjoy my dressing extremely tart and often sprinkle more vinegar on my salad before serving.)
  • 1 cup of fresh parsley (not only do I love the fresh taste of parsley but it also contains a multitude of health benefits)
  • 1 pitted and peeled avocado
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can always leave the oil out and add it individually to your salad for portion control)
  • 1/4 cup of water (the dressing was thick so I thinned it out with some water. You could add extra vinegar. If you want to use it as a dip you could leave it thick)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 lemon ~ juice and zest (the flavor of lime also is a great accompaniment to 3avocado)
  • Chives (I used fresh since I have chives in my garden. If you do not have fresh chives you could add a little bit of onion. Green onions or shallots also work well for salad dressings)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Blend until smooth

The dressing turned out creamy and the avocado adds body, flavor, and healthy fats. I often thicken dressings with raw nuts but I thought I would create a dressing without for those with allergies. I love that this dressing is dairy free and free from chemicals and additives. If you are interested in my other plant-based salad dressing recipes check out the dressing tab at the top of the page. For Weight Watchers members, this recipe rendered twenty-five Tablespoons of dressing.
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When making Mason Jar Salads it is important to put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar. I find with the quart sized Mason Jars that I need extra dressing. Sometimes I add extra vinegar or lemon juice to the bottom as well as the dressing.

7-001GLOWING GREEN MASON JAR SALADS

I layered these ingredients, in the following order, in one quart Mason jars:

  • Two to Three Tablespoons of Avocado Vinaigrette Dressing.
  • One thinly sliced cucumber (I did not use organic so I peeled)
  • Thinly sliced zucchini (raw with peels on)
  • Two Granny Smith Apples (I bought organic so I scrubbed and left the peelings on. I love the tartness of green apples in salads)

    I love the combination of sweet and salty. Plus, the Granny Smith apples have just the right mixture of sweet and tart. When I was a kid I loved eating green apples fresh from the tree with salt.

    I love the combination of sweet and salty. Plus, the Granny Smith apples have just the right mixture of sweet and tart. When I was a kid I loved eating green apples fresh from the tree with salt.

  • Capers (I love the salty flavor that capers add to meals. When Mike and I started dating the first meal that I cooked for him was chicken picatta with a lemon and caper sauce. In the coming weeks I am going to create a plant-based version with white bean patties.)
  •  Two peeled and sliced kiwi.
  • Green grapes cut in half.
  • Large green olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes (I added four per jar)
  • 1/4 cup of raw nuts (you could also add beans for protein)
  • Broccoli florets
  • Spinach
    8

Pin this recipe here.

I cannot wait to dig into these salads and I know that they will help give me the energy that I need to keep up with my classroom of spirited teenagers. This week I will also be focusing on getting to bed before 10:00 and working in 20-30 minutes of activity in the morning.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salad recipes.You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

I love being able to share my blog with my students as a real world example of writing and how we can use social networking in powerful and healthy ways. Thank you for reading and sharing this produce journey with me. I look forward to staying productive in the coming months and adding new recipes, tips, and techniques for maintaining a plant-based diet. I wish you a week brimming with energy, fruit, and vegetables! 

11

Fall Forward Healthy Lifestyle Challenge

“When you wake up, think about winning the day. Don’t worry about a week or a month from now — just think about one day at a time. If you are worried about the mountain in the distance, you might trip over the molehill right in front of you. Win the day!”
― Drew Brees

LeavesSeptember has arrived and I am embracing fall as a time to reset and follow through with goals that I have set for myself. Many of my Weight Watchers members are participating in a Fall Forward Challenge and we are creating charts and using our calendars to keep track of our success and keep ourselves motivated.

One of the things that being a Weight Watchers leader and member has taught me over the years is that I have CHALLENGE myself often and that a well established Routine can easily slip away when life gets busy. Tuesday marks my first day back in the classroom with students and I refuse to let this be an excuse to let my healthy lifestyle erode.

I bought my stickers at Target for 99 cents a package. Though you could inexpensively draw a symbol on your calendar.

I bought my stickers at Target for 99 cents a package. Though you could inexpensively draw a symbol on your calendar.

Not only do structured challenges help me but I have also found that REWARDS help as well. I have created five goals for myself and will keep track with colorful stickers. (Think back to childhood chore charts and how stickers helped motivate. I have found that stickers can still help keep me motivated!)

One of my friends Erinn said it best when she shared that at the end of the day if she has fallen short on a goal that the sticker gives her incentive to go the extra mile. “I want my sticker!” Erinn proclaims. For so many of us, there is satisfaction in the visual reinforcement of SEEING our success mapped out.

Erinn shared her calendar with me today and at the top she included a “key” with what each sticker represents. I decided to do the same. After all, research supports that when we write down our goals we are more likely to accomplish them. Thank you Erinn for always inspiring me to keep moving forward!

The puppy napping on my calendar is a reminder that I need to be productive during my waking hours so I can get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Sleep, like whole, non-processed food = FUEL

The puppy napping on my calendar is a reminder that I need to be productive during my waking hours so I can get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Sleep, like whole, non-processed food = FUEL

My calendar is displayed on the refrigerator for extra reinforcement.

My goals:

*Star = exercise 4 Activity Points Plus (My Weight Watchers Active Link will keep me accountable)
*Smile = tried a new recipe
*Butterfly = weekend organizing/cleaning project (when my house is clutter-free I am more likely to make time to exercise)
*Owl = blog post

Each sticker will be worth $1.

I also added one more goal
*Heart = Dairy free week
(I have been struggling with cheese…I want to be plant-based and feel frustrated with myself) A heart = $5

At the end of the month I will “pay” myself for the stickers that I have earned. The money will go to the purchase of new clothing or something special (I would love to start a fund for a juicer). Your reward may be an indulgence (massage, pedicure, a new bottle of nail polish) or a new cookbook or tool to help with weight management (new running shoes, a piece of exercise equipment, an Active Link purchased at your WW meeting, a yoga DVD…)

If you are on a budget do not underestimate the power of using smaller monetary amounts. A dime or quarter adds up quickly when you are accomplishing your goals on a daily basis.

If you are interested in joining me in this challenge please feel free to like my Produce with Amy Facebook page. I will be posting daily reminders. If you would like you can post your success and challenges. Please encourage others to join us on the Fall Forward Challenge. If there is interest, I will continue to post in the coming months.

The challenge begins today (but feel free to jump in any time) and I WILL have 2 stickers before I go to bed. (This blog gives me one sticker!) Thank you for joining me and I will post each morning as a reminder to us all to stay accountable. I am here to support you and cannot wait to follow your journey! If you are a Weight Watchers leader please encourage your members to participate. Remember, together we can achieve more.

Start Now

Even though it is important to look at our journey day-by-day. Imagine how great you will feel next year at this time knowing that you have transformed your life with healthy routines.

Pin this challenge on Pinterest and do not forget to join my Facebook page.

(Click on image for a larger version.)

(Click on image for a larger version.)

Caprese Pasta Salad in a Jar

My best friend Heather Hollands and I at the Western wall in Israel.

My best friend Heather Hollands and I at the Western wall in Israel.

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” 

― Anais Nin

Tomorrow begins my thirteenth year as a high school English teacher and I have been so lucky to share the wild journey with my best friend Heather. Even though we grew up with a mere thirty miles between us, we did not know each other until we became educators. If it was not for Heather I would never have the courage or ability to launch Produce with Amy. Three summers ago when we were at a National Writing Project resource development retreat in Austin, Texas we started a blog to celebrate our 10th year in the classroom called Blended Voices. Heather is a gifted and prolific writer and her posts always pushed and inspired me to write my own and we were able to both hold each other accountable. Those who know us well simply call us Hamy. If you want to know more about our friendship, read The Hamy Story, As Told By Heather.

Fall is always a time of change but this year as I type this I feel an uneasy feeling in my stomach. This week my best friend Heather, who for twelve years has taught 10th grade English across the hall from me, has been moving to a classroom in the middle school. This year our district had to make many deep financial cuts which resulted in many teachers losing their jobs, getting cut to part-time, and much shuffling of teaching positions. Yes,she will be in the same building, but not right across the hall. I know that Heather will do a phenomenal job teaching 6th and 7th grade English but I selfishly morn the fact that she no longer will be there for me to lean on during the day. No more quick little chats in between classes or brief visits in the copy room. True, we are often so busy that we have gone days without a sit-down, long conversation but I always knew she was there if I needed her. I do need her.

Heather’s new teaching position makes me want to stick to my goal of being productive during the week even more. We have decided that we will make sure to get together a couple of times a month during the week or weekend for Donors Choose, blog, and Squidoo dates. We have to carve out time for each other because that is what best friends do.

One of the things that I value the most about our friendship is that while we share a love for many of the same things, we can always inspire each other to try new things. We work so well as a team but can also get involved in projects independently. This year when I started Produce with Amy, Heather also found a way to accomplish her writing goals by discovering Squidoo. In fact, in true Heather fashion, not only did she start writing lenses Squidoo but she approached each deadline with gusto. To date she has ten lenses posted. Check out Heather’s Lensmaster Page.

When Mason Jar Salads took my blog by storm Heather told me that she was going to come up with a recipe for her favorite summer Caprese Pasta Salad.

Photo by Heather Hollands

Photo by Heather Hollands

Not only did Heather include a recipe but she also has links to where you can purchase supplies and even recommends great literary works that feature food. To check out Heather’s recipe click here: Caprese Pasta Salad in a Jar.

Photo by Heather Hollands

Photo by Heather Hollands

Please share Heather’s recipe on Facebook, pin it here on Pinterest, and make sure you check out and comment on her other lenses. I urge you to be careful because her lens on The Mackinac Island Fudge Experience will make you crave chocolate, her lens on Five Prepackaged, Healthier Snacks for School Lunch is timely and may really be of interest to parents who are looking for healthier options for lunches, and with Halloween right around the corner  – you must check out her clever ideas for How to Create a Bewitching Halloween BOOfet.

Not having Heather right across the hall from me will be a huge adjustment this year and I wish her the best of luck with her new position as a middle school teacher. Her students are extremely lucky to have such a talented writer, voracious reader, and passionate educator making sure that they reach their literacy potential. I am determined to make time to spend together and I guarantee we will write together while feasting on delicious food. Maybe Heather will create more lenses that feature her fabulous recipes? I will make sure to share them when she does. Thank you, Heather for your friendship and inspiration! ❤

Heather and I in Jerusalem, Israel spring of 2012.

Hamy in Jerusalem, Israel spring of 2012.

Mushroom Barley Soup ~ Plant-Based Comfort Food

“There is nothing like soup. It is by nature eccentric: no two are ever alike, unless of course you get your soup in a can.”
~Laurie Colwin

Phoebe fresh from the groomer.

Phoebe fresh from the groomer.


Yesterday, as the temperature in our house spiked to 89 degrees, I had a difficult time believing that a couple of weeks ago it was chilly outside and that I was craving warm, comfort foods. Today at noon it was 82 in our house and I am thankful that we got Phoebe groomed last week. Fall the past few years has been much warmer than the summer months and Phoebe is much more comfortable with her sleek coat and ears. Before long she will be back to her long-eared, feather legged, spaniel self in time for our long Michigan winter.

While the heat from the past couple days makes my body want green smoothies and salad, a couple weeks ago I was craving comfort food. I posted my recipe for Red Lentil Sloppy Joes and made a pot of Vegetable Chili. I also found myself craving mushrooms. Thankfully, I am fond of mushrooms because they make a great meat substitute. Portobello mushrooms are one of my staples with whole pasta and marinara, I love stuffed mushroom caps, and they are great in stir fry.  

When I posted on my Facebook Page that I was making mushroom soup, my friend Sue said that one of her favorite soups is mushroom barley. I thought that sounded like a fabulous combination so I added some to my soup. Thank you, Sue, for that wonderful suggestion!

1I used dried porcini, baby portobella, and organic button mushrooms along with fresh sage, thyme, and parsley from my garden.
2I tied the thyme and sage up with string to immerse into the crock pot.

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I tied my fresh herbs up in a bundle with string and pulled out of the soup after it was finished cooking.

I caramelized the onion by cooking on low heat in a bit of coconut oil. After I added the onions to the soup, I de-glazed the pan with 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Marsala wine or sherry would work well and give an extra layer of flavor.
4MUSHROOM SOUP WITH BARLEY

  • 6 cups of fresh mushrooms (I used two 8 ounce packages)
  • 1 package of dried mushrooms (I recommend shiitake or porcini. The porcini mushrooms gave the soup a deep, smoky taste.)
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 2 cups of water
  • 3 ribs of chopped celery
  • 3/4 cup of barley
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 large chopped onion 
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice or wine (Marsala, sherry, red, or white)
  • 3 Tablespoons of coconut oil
  • Sage, thyme, and chopped parsley (approximately 1/2 cup fresh. A couple Tablespoons of each if you are using dried)
  • Bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg (gives savory dishes a depth of flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Chop all ingredients and add everything, except the mushroom, onion, garlic, and barley, into a crock pot on low heat.
  2. Add two Tablespoons of coconut oil and brown the mushrooms until soft and add to crock pot..
  3.  In the same pan add the remaining Tablespoon of coconut oil and caramelize the onion on low heat until dark brown. Caramelizing the onion will bring out their sweetness and give the soup broth a richness. When the onions are finished scrape them into the crock pot. Now add the garlic and saute until soft and fragrant and add to the crock pot as well. De-glaze the pan with lemon juice or wine and put the drippings into the crock pot.
  4. Cook on low for approximately 6 hours. During the last hour of cooking, put in the barley.
  5. Serve hot and garnish with fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon or a dash of rice vinegar.
  6. Makes 10 cups.

5Not only is soup a terrific comfort food when it is chilly outside (or for me, even when it is warm outside) but I learned when I joined Weight Watchers that a broth-based soup is a great, low calorie way to bulk up a meal. When I add a cup of soup and a side salad to a meal, I eat a smaller portion of the main entree. I do not think there is ever a time that I do not have soup or vegetable chili in the house (either in the refrigerator or in the freezer). Making a large crock pot or stock pot of soup is part of my weekly routine and Mike loves how filling and satisfying soup is as well.

I was delighted with the way this soup turned out. The stock was rich and flavorful and the mushrooms added a lovely texture. It reminded me of the mushroom soup that I had in Poland a couple years ago. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the mushroom soup in Poland had a plant-based broth. I have found that vegetable broth is a fine stand-in for soups that call for chicken or beef broth.

This soup would also work well with brown rice and you could add other vegetables. I am going to try it in the future with a little bit of tomato sauce, cabbage, and white beans.

If you are interested in other soup recipes you can find them on my soup tab. You can also find these recipes and follow my blog on Pinterest.

Soup is a great way to bulk up meals and eat healthy without feeling deprived. Making a pot of soup is like writing a poem. It is therapeutic, satisfying, and the combinations are endless.
Mushroom Barley Soup

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Rainbow Collage4Most experts agree that there is no comparison between fresh and dried basil in terms of flavor. The fresh leaves have a flavor complexity and intensity that is largely lost in the dried form. If storing for a week or less, basil can be wrapped in several layers of paper towels and placed in an airtight or Ziplock bag and stored in the highest section of the refrigerator where it will stay fresh for several days. It can also be stored for a few days in a glass of water placed on a counter top. ~Herb Society of America Guide

This week gently heralds in a new school year and I am back to work for two days of professional development. It has been a spectacular summer full of gardening, organizing our house, and reading and writing for pleasure. Yet, I am ready to reclaim my work schedule.

The morning glories that my mom planted from seed for me started blooming last week.

The morning glories that my mom planted from seed for me started blooming last week.

This school year I am changing things up a bit when it comes to my cooking routine. Normally I shop on Friday night or Saturday afternoon and engage in a cooking marathon for the week’s meals on Sunday. This fall I am going to try to break my grocery gathering up into segments. I will shop on Wednesdays after work and cook on Thursday and Friday (Thursday a large pot of soup and Friday a couple of entrees for both Mike and I). On Saturday I will take a trip to the Marquette Food Co-op and will assemble my Mason Jar Salads. Monday I will leave myself open to the possibility of another quick trip to the market.

Last year, submerged in piles of essays to grade, grocery shopping and cooking started to feel like a chore instead of a pleasure. I am hoping that my new routine will make meal preparation more manageable and help free up precious time on the weekend to grade, blog, do housework, and spend time with Mike, family, and friends. I also think that pre-weekend cooking will help me make strong food choices on the weekend since I will have healthy food already prepared.

When I joined Weight Watchers in 2006 I found that planning and prepping my meals was essential to my weight management success. I never allow myself the excuse that I do not have enough time. I make time for my health.

This summer, when I had the luxury of more free time on my hands, I tried to be flexible and spontaneous with meals and during the week took many small trips to the store and 7farmers market for fresh fruit and vegetables. I think that breaking my shopping into small trips actually helped save money and time. I found that I have not been dreading the weekly shopping and since I often grab one of the hand-held baskets, (instead of a large shopping cart) I am not stockpiling food and I am only buying what we will eat for the week.

One item that has not been on my list in the past couple weeks is tomatoes. My tomato plants have perfect timing and each day I am able to harvest enough ripe fruit for the day’s meals. I wait all summer for the candy-sweet tomatoes straight off the vine and I am savoring each juicy bite.

While my tomatoes have persisted and were able to survive our cold and rainy summer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my basil plants have not done as well. While I have been able to pluck quite a few clusters of leaves for basil vinaigrette and a few slices of bruschetta, the plants have remained small and many of the leaves are brown (a woman at the farmers market told me this was due to the cold temperatures we have experienced this summer). 3

Since one of my favorite fall food combinations is tomatoes and basil, I have been disappointed my lackluster basil crop. This Saturday my friend Brenda gave me a generous gift of robust basil plants from her father’s garden. The plants are healthy and thriving and I am so thankful.

I love the aroma of basil and this morning I picked a bowl of fresh tomatoes for tonight’s dinner. I will be making Vitamix recipe for a raw dish: Zucchini Pasta with Pomodoro Sauce (with extra basil, of course). This coming weekend I am planning on making homemade pizza topped with plenty of basil, green and ripe tomatoes, Greek olives, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. As I type I am also imagining tomato and basil soup with fresh spaghetti squash from my garden.

Earlier this summer my recipe for Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette Dressing received many positive reviews. So yesterday I decided that I needed to come up with another basil dressing for a batch of Mason Jar Salads. I wanted a creamy dressing that featured the intense aroma and flavor of basil. Naturally, pesto came to mind.

Here is my version of a plant-based Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing that uses raw cashews as a thickening agent. A traditional pesto recipe would use pine nuts, but I did not have any on hand. I think that any nuts would work; almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds. Next time I make this dressing I will toss in a few pine nuts but will still stick to raw cashews since I like the creamy texture that they yield. If you wanted to make this dressing a vinaigrette you could leave out the nuts. If you eat dairy you could also add a fresh grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the blender or to your salad. 1CREAMY PESTO SALAD DRESSING

  • 1/2 cup of vinegar (I used 1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of raw 5apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting the dressing with a bit of celery. I enjoy my dressing extremely tart and often sprinkle more vinegar on my salad before serving.)
  • 1/2-1 cup of fresh basil leaves (depending on how strong you want the flavor to be. I also tossed in a few extra leaves in the blender for good measure)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can always leave the oil out and add it individually to your salad for portion control)
  • 1/4 cup of raw cashews (you could substitute almonds, walnuts, or nuts of choice)
  • 1/4 cup of water (the dressing was thick so I thinned it out with some water. You could add extra vinegar. If you want to use it as a dip you could leave it thick)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 lemon ~ juice and zest
  • Chives (I used fresh since I have chives in my garden. If you do not have fresh chives you could add a little bit of onion)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Blend until smooth

The dressing turned out just as flavorful as I imagined it would. I knew that the salad that I created to accompany it had to be extra special. Since I had purchased a wide variety of fruit and vegetables I decided to capture a rainbow in a jar.

2When making Mason Jar Salads it is important to put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar. I find with the quart sized Mason Jars that I need extra dressing. Sometimes I add extra vinegar or lemon juice to the bottom as well as the dressing.

I made two versions of the Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad. For the first one I layered the following:11

  • Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
  • Quartered cherry tomatoes
  • Sliced nectarines
  • Yellow bell pepper
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • White beans
  • Romaine lettuce

For the second version I layered the following:

  • 8Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
  • White beans
  • Quartered radishes and cherry tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Quartered yellow tomatoes and yellow bell pepper
  • Broccoli florets
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Pickled beets
  • Romaine lettuce

Since part of the charm of the Mason Jar Salads are how visually appealing they are I think it is important to make them as pretty as possible. Plus, by filling them with a vibrant rainbow of fruit and vegetables we are making sure that we are meeting our nutritional needs.

If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salad recipes. I also have other plant-based salad dressing recipes. You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

My goal for fall and winter is to continue coming up with new recipes and to blog at least once a week. As always, I really appreciate feedback if you try my recipes. I am so thankful to my readers and love that together we can embrace a healthy lifestyle.

I would like to extend a thank you to my dear friend, and Weight Watchers receptionist, Brenda and her father for the gift of basil. It really made my weekend special and I appreciate your kindness.

In the coming weeks Brenda has agreed to do a guest blog so I can feature the story of her incredible weight loss journey. Brenda has lost seventy pounds and for the past two years has done an amazing job maintaining her loss. I am thankful for her friendship and the way she inspires, motivates, and helps keep me (and our entire Weight Watchers group) accountable. Brenda strives to educate herself about nutrition and is always aiming to understand what her body needs to stay healthy, fit, and energized.

Since I launched Produce with Amy in January of 2013, Brenda has been my biggest fan and supporter. She is always willing to give my recipes a try and her belief in me helps give me the confidence and the drive to keep experimenting and coming up with new recipes.  If you know Brenda, make sure you encourage her to write her guest post so others can be inspired by her hard work, determination, and weight management tips and advice. I am excited to share her story with you!

6I know that Brenda will be trying the Creamy Pesto Dressing and I hope that you do too. If you do not have basil in your garden (or a generous friend who will share) make sure you check out your local farmers market or produce section of the grocery store for fresh basil.

Fill your plate (and Mason jars) with a vibrant rainbow. Your health will thank you.

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Creamy Pesto DressingRainbow Plate

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Plant-Based Comfort Food ~ Red Lentil Sloppy Joes

Lilies from my garden.

Lilies in my garden.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

I have been negligent in posting lately. The truth is that I have been in a slump. The start to my summer was very strong with solid routines, blissful time spent outside gardening, and a flourish of writing and new recipes. In the past few weeks my bedtime has crept up later-and-later and because of this I have felt really fatigued. The weather has been an endless cycle of cold and rainy skies and I think that the blues sunk in and dissolved my motivation. Each day I set goals for myself. I even write them down when I am doing my daily journal writing and post them in my Weight Watchers Facebook group. However, for a few weeks I have been coming up short in achieving all of what I set out to do and today I am determined to reclaim my productivity. When I do not follow through with things that I want to achieve I felt guilty and depressed. With only a few weeks left of my summer holiday, I am going to make the most of the time left. The beginning of the school year is exhausting (so is the middle and end) and I want to start the year out with a clean and organized spaces (both my house and my classroom) and a positive attitude.

One of the goals that I set for myself a couple of weeks ago was a two-week Raw Food Challenge. Last year when we bought a Vitamix the idea was that we would incorporate more raw meals into our diet. I started off strong and found a fantastic blog called This Rawsome Vegan Life and I tried three recipes which I loved and will be making again (in fact, I did made the Beet Soup three times and the Raw Lasagna twice already). The recipes that I tried: Beet & Avocado Soup with Cashew Cream, Raw Lasagna with Cashew Cheese and Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto, and Raw Vegan Burrito Wraps. Once the weekend arrived, with more lousy weather, my resolve fizzled out.  I tried to recover my 229challenge on Monday, but I ended up deciding to end it instead. However, I am still committed to learning more about raw food. In the coming weeks I will try to incorporate a raw food plan for a couple of days out of the week. Mike really LOVED the Raw Lasagna and I know that I will be making it again soon with fresh zucchini from our garden.

I think part of my problem with following through with my challenge was that my body started craving comfort foods. Sometimes this can be a challenge with a plant-based diet, especially when you do not feel like cooking. I cook for Mike, but since he eats meat, I do not eat what he is having for dinner.

Today one of my number one goals was to come up with a meal plan for the coming week and write out my grocery list. After inspecting the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry situation I realized that I had enough ingredients to cook quite a few meals already. (I tend to over-shop and stock pile food supplies.) So instead, I decided to engage in a cooking marathon so I have things in the house to eat this coming weekend.

First up I tossed all the ingredients in the crock pot for a soup posted on the fantastic blog, My Whole Food Life, Hearty White Bean Soup. Not only did I have all the ingredients on hand (including white beans already cooked and frozen) but I was able to gather fresh sage, thyme, and parsley from my garden.

I also whipped up a batch of hummus and tabouli for a few Israeli Feast: Mason Jar Salads and a Fennel and Cabbage Slaw that I have been meaning to make (recipe coming soon).

I knew that the Hearty White Bean Soup would cover the comfort food but I wanted something else for lunch today. When going through the pantry I saw that I had the ingredients for Red Lentil Sloppy Joes and decided that was exactly what I was craving. I also decided that I would blog out the recipe right away. No fancy photos (just a couple snapped with my iPhone) and this would help me get my blogging mojo back.

3

RED LENTIL SLOPPY JOES

  • 2 cups red lentils (I purchase in the bulk section of our local co-op)
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1 cup of chopped onion
  • 1 cup of chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 cup of chopped celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 6 ounces of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Vegan worcestershire (Here is recipe from Martha Stewart for Homemade Vegan Worcestershire)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (or more)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *Optional ~ hot sauce (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Saute the onion, celery, garlic, and bell pepper until soft (5-10 minutes)
  2. Add in the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 60 minutes. Stir often and you may have to add more water as it cooks.
  3. You may want to add more spices/vinegar/mustard based on your taste. Sometimes I like to add extra hot sauce and an extra splash of vinegar right before serving.
  4. Serve in buns, in pita pockets, or open faced. I like to toast the bread and sometimes sprinkle with a bit of plant-based Daiya cheese and top with dill pickles. If you are trying to watch your bread intake I have had it served over romaine leaves or even as a topping for sauteed cabbage or zucchini.
  5. Makes 7 Cups. If you do not want such a large batch you can use the same amount of ingredients but reduce the lentils to one cup and only add 2 1/2 cups of water.

I do not serve this meal to Mike (he is not fond of the texture of lentils) so I make him the real deal. It freezes well and I find that it really tastes like Sloppy Joes. I think that in order to stick to a plant-based meal plan it is important that you do not feel deprived. My mom always made Sloppy Joes (but we always called them Barbecues) when I was growing up so it reminds me of home. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Let me know what you think!

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You can find this recipe, along with others at my Produce with Amy board on Pinterest. Please consider joining the conversation at my Produce with Amy Facebook page.

I challenge you to join me in finishing out the week strong. Write out that shopping list, buy fresh produce and wholesome ingredients, and fill your refrigerator and deep freeze with meals that are simple and satisfying. A plant-based diet does not have to translate to boring. There are so many healthy comfort foods that will keep us on track. What is your favorite plant-based comfort food?

I think this post was exactly what I needed to get back on track. Today I will be at peace because what I want to do, what I am saying I will to do, and what I am doing are all in harmony. This is a trend that I am going to continue into tomorrow, the weekend, and all the weeks that follow. (((((Productivity)))))

(Click on image for a larger version.)

(Click on image for a larger version.)

Red Lentil Sloppy Joes