Dreaming in Green ~ St. Patrick’s Day Cucumber Gazpacho Soup

Cucumber Gazpacho“The deep roots never doubt spring will come.” -Marty Rubin

The sunlight filtered through the windows today and my houseplants were sponges as they soaked up the joyful rays.

The sunlight filtered through the windows today and my houseplants were sponges as they soaked up the joyful rays.

I felt like Pandora today. Sunlight streaming through the window, I grasped the jar full of hope, and imagined spring arriving. The snow banks in our yard range from three to ten feet in height, but we know that even in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, spring is perennial and we will have our time to bask in the sun.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day and like every other morning, Mike and I started the day with a green smoothie. I decided to make our routine festive and served up our healthy drinks in a pilsner glass. Today I made one of my favorite combinations: spinach, mango, pineapple, banana, lime juice, chia seeds, fresh ginger, and water. Cheers! Or as my friend Cavan taught me today, Sláinte!

I love the ritual of making a green smoothie each morning. It makes me feel that we are starting the day out right.

I love the ritual of making a green smoothie each morning. It makes me feel that we are starting the day out right.

Green Love

As my mom Karen taught me, presentation is everything.

Sláinte!

Sláinte! Who needs green beer when you have these nutrition packed drinks to fuel your day?!

After Mike and I enjoyed our morning together, I posted the above photos on facebook and my friend Paula said she wished she could taste-test the green smoothies before venturing out on her own. I have had many friends that, like Paula, have had trepidation over taking the green smoothie leap. My promise is always that they will love them (and 9 out of 10 tell me that they do). Paula also wanted to know if she needed a special mixer to make green smoothies and I assured her that for the first few years, I made ours with an inexpensive blender. (Though, of course, I recommend a Vitamix. It has been one of the smartest investments that we have ever made.)  The trick to a great green smoothie, is first blending the water (or liquid of choice ) with the greens and then adding the fruit cut up into small pieces.

Here was my message, verbatim, to Paula this afternoon: “My recommendation would be to start very simple. My first one was spinach, banana, strawberry, and water. Spinach is naturally sweet and you won’t believe how good it tastes. A frozen banana is key because it gives the smoothie sweetness and makes it creamy. I buy quite a few bunches of bananas a week and when they get ripe I peel and toss into a bowl or bag in the freezer. 

Some of my favorite combinations are: banana and blackberries. Peaches, banana, and raspberries. Mango, pineapple, and banana. Experiment with your favorite fruit. I’ve tried tons of different combinations and often toss in what I have on hand. Frozen fruit works well and makes the smoothie cold (though you can add ice as well).

I’m a green smoothie “purist” and normally stick with water, fruit, chia seeds, and greens. The chia seeds make it filling and are a great source of calcium, protein, and Omega-3.Though I know that others add yogurt, milk and dairy-free milks, and even healthy oils.

The smoothies are a great way to fortify your iron and breaking down the cell walls of the greens makes it easier for our bodies to absorb the nutrients. Mike and I both drink one for breakfast and find them really filling and satisfying. I do eat my “lunch entree” [at work] during my prep (3rd hour) but I love them and I think they give me an important boost of energy in the morning!”

I cannot wait to hear what Paula, and her family, think of the green smoothies. Now that I have posted this here, she will have no choice but to experiment. 😉 Nothing makes me happier than getting feedback and learning new tasty combinations.

Mike was busy this weekend with his studies and we decided to spend the weekend at home. Still, I wanted to make the day special and try a new recipe to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Feeling wistful for spring, I imagined something light and refreshing to serve as a harbinger for warmer weather. Last week I received an email from Veg News for a Green Gazpacho. The recipe was contributed by Patti Breitman and I thought it would be a perfect dish for today. Last summer, cold and savory green soups were one of our favorite dinners to beat the heat.

Here is Patti’s recipe from the Veg News website:

Serves 4 to 6
What You Need:
4 large cucumbers, peeled and seeds removed, chopped into large pieces
2 ripe avocados, halved and scooped out
3 medium garlic cloves
2 medium green bell peppers, chopped in large pieces
4 green onions, chopped in large pieces
2 cups water
Juice of 1-1/2 lemons
1/3 small bunch fresh cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Paprika
leftDottedLine 3
What You Do:
1. Set aside a few sprigs of cilantro for garnish. In a food processor, add cucumber, avocado, garlic, peppers, and green onions. Blend until creamy, adding water a little at a time to reach desired consistency.2. Add lemon juice, cilantro, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Serve with paprika sprinkled on top and cilantro for garnish.

For our green soup, I decided to divide the recipe up into two batches. I followed the Veg News recipe but for the first batch I swapped out the lemon for lime and for the second batch I swapped out the cilantro for dill and added a couple handfuls of spinach. Both turned out fresh, light, and delicious! We ate the first batch tonight for dinner and the second we will have tomorrow evening. I will be making this again and I think it would be fun to experiment with different additions. Jalapeno would be a great partner to the cilantro and chopped tomato or homemade salsa would make a vibrant garnish. Lacto Vegetarians could also finish off this soup by folding or blending in plain Greek yogurt for a protein boost.

How can you go wrong with such a beautiful plate of produce?

How can you go wrong with such a beautiful plate of produce?

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Slice the cucumber in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

Slice the cucumber in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

I love the way this photo turned out. It's like a spring, cucumber flower!

I love the way this photo turned out. It’s like a spring, cucumber flower!

Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender or food processor.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender or food processor.

Since I used our Vitamix, I was able to leave the ingredients in large chunks.

Since I used our Vitamix, I was able to leave the ingredients in large chunks.

Green and Gorgeous.

Green and Gorgeous.

To finish, I drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with green onion, cilantro, and for my friend Jessica ~ added a spicy kick with Sriracha sauce!

To finish, I drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with green onion, cilantro, and in honor of my friend Jessica ~ added a spicy kick with Sriracha sauce!

The second batch turned out equally as beautiful and tasty!

Lemon and dill is a incredible flavor combination.

Lemon and dill is a incredible flavor combination.

I cannot wait to have this for dinner tomorrow evening. Do not worry, I already sampled a small bowl.

I cannot wait to have this for dinner tomorrow evening. Do not worry, I already sampled a small bowl. For this version of the chilled soup, I reserved some of the avocado to add as a garnish. I love the silky and luxurious texture of avocado.

In the background our posh black cat, Pandora, pines for spring.

In the background our posh black cat, Pandora, pines for spring.

Green eyes!

Green eyes!

Spring may be slow in arriving this year, but that does not have to stop us from making our own light. While I am waiting until my Spring Break to start the annual deep cleaning and organizing, I did a few things to add a bit of freshness to our home. A couple years ago Mike build me floating shelves out of reclaimed hollow core doors and I try to swap out the decorations with the seasons. I still had Valentine’s decorations up and decided to pull some of my vintage Chartreuse Fiestaware out of storage in the basement. It is amazing how something so simple can be uplifting to one’s spirit.

Make your own spring.

Make your own spring.

I encourage you to try a new recipe or do something light and lively with the decor in your home. Grab your camera and record the way the sunlight sifts through bare branches or watch the way your pets delight in puddles of sunshine. Continue to dream and eventually spring will be here! Until then, make the most of today and enjoy every healthy moment.

St. Patrick's Day Collage“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Writings to Young Women from Laura Ingalls Wilder – Volume One: On Wisdom and Virtues

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February Recipe Round-Up: Winter Bok Choy Slaw from “Vegetarian Times”

“I hate the notion of a secret recipe. Recipes are by nature derivative and meant to be shared – that is how they improve, are changed, how new ideas are formed. To stop a recipe in it’s tracks, to label it “secret” just seems mean.” 
― Molly Wizenberg

Green Smoothies (Baby kale, spirulina powder, mango, strawberries, chia seeds, and water) with a vintage covered glass dish that I bought at a thrift store for $3.

Green Smoothies (Baby kale, spirulina powder, mango, strawberries, chia seeds, and water) with a vintage covered glass dish that I bought at a thrift store for $3.

It feels empowering to report that Mike and I have fueled every morning of 2013 with a luscious green smoothie. We love how satisfying they are and how they hold our hunger over until lunch. The addition of chia seeds makes them especially filling. My weekly shopping list always includes plenty of fresh ginger root and cilantro since those are two of my favorite additions. I love the zing that they give my taste buds. Another ingredient that I have been adding to our smoothies a couple times a week is Spirulina Powder.

I found Spirulina powder in the bulk spice section of our local co-op.

I found Spirulina powder in the bulk spice section of our local co-op.

I was able to buy a small amount (about a cup) from the Marquette Food Co-op in the bulk spice section and I add approximately four teaspoons to the Vitamix before blending. A couple times a week I also add Wheat Grass Powder to our smoothies. One of my future projects is to try to sprout my own wheat grass at home.

People often ask me if I have noticed any major differences in how I feel or look after adding green smoothies back into my diet. Mike and I both feel a surge of energy in the morning after drinking our smoothies and they can really help curb a carb craving if you feel one coming on. A few times since the new year I have blended up a small green smoothie in the evening to enjoy as a pre or after dinner snack. Mike said

Amy during a date Night at the Landmark Inn in Marquette on February 9, 2013.

Amy during a date Night at the Landmark Inn in Marquette on February 9, 2013.

he thinks that my skin is glowing from all the fresh fruit and vegetables that I have been eating. Upper Michigan winters are harsh and normally in February I notice that my skin looks dull and is in desperate need of sunshine. So obviously, Mike’s comment really made me glow. He may be biased, but we ran into my cousin last night and she commented that she could tell from our skin that we are both eating healthy. Talk about a marvelous incentive to eat more plants!

Going back to plant-based eating I knew that one of the pitfalls that I had to work hard to avoid was a food rut. Not only does eating the same thing over and over get boring, but it also prevents our bodies from a getting a wide-range of nutrients. In order to prevent myself from eating the same things over-and-over I asked my Weight Watchers members to join me in a February Recipe Round-Up. The guiding philosophy behind Weight Watchers 360 is that we learn how to make positive behavioral changes in our life. In the months ahead we will be encouraged to contemplate our Spaces and Routines to help us achieve our weight management goals. So what better way is there for us to do this than to get ourselves in the Routine of trying new recipes? I am very guilty of shopping for ingredients for a new recipe and never following through with actually making the food. The fresh ingredients get used for another meal and the shelf stable ingredients sit in our pantry. Many of my WW members said they were guilty of doing the same and have countless cookbooks and Pinterest boards brimming with recipes that they have been meaning to try. Some of the members are joining me in the challenge because they say cooking is out of their comfort zone and they want to be able to prepare their own fresh and healthy meals.  Here are the rules for our Recipe Round-Up Challenge that I created in  a facebook event and shared at the meetings:

The Recipe Round-Up Challenge consists of these steps:

1. Commit to one NEW recipe a week (it cannot be something you have made before).

2. The meal and day of the week is optional (breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, or snack) It can be a main entrée, a soup, salad, or a side.

4. Share serving size and PP values.

4. If the recipe contains any unusual or “exotic” ingredients share where you shopped.

5. Give a recipe review. Is it something that you would make again? Would you make any variations?.

6. At the end of the month give Amy a hard copy of the recipe and she will print and make cookbooks for all the participants. In addition to a cookbook we could even have a pot-luck event after one of our meetings to sample our favorite recipes.

5. *Optional ~ post pictures of your recipe experiment on our facebook group.

This Recipe Challenge has been a great incentive to commit to new recipes because it is important to me that I am a role model and do not let my Weight Watchers members down. My number one goal for my first recipe was that I wanted to try a new fruit or vegetable. While I have had Bok Choy before in dishes, I had never purchased it myself. I was tantalized by a Winter Bok Choy Slaw recipe that was featured in the February issue of Vegetarian Times photo (4)magazine. In 2012, I subscribed to VT and am always excited when a new issue lands in my mailbox. Though, regretfully, I have only tried a couple recipes. This is about to change! I highly recommend VT for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. The magazine features incredible recipes that utilize an abundance of fruit and vegetables. The magazine is informative and I find it is a terrific educational tool to help me learn more about nutrition.

The recipe made approximately nine cups (I added extra Bok Choy) and was a tasty addition to my lunch last week. The flavor of the slaw improved as it sat in the refrigerator and it is definitely a dish that I will make again. Because Bok Choy is sturdy this would be a fantastic salad to bring to a pot-luck.

Vegetarian TimesFor my version of the Winter Bok Choy Slaw, I did add extra Bok Choy and substituted olive oil for the sesame oil because that is what I had on hand. I also used raw nuts

The raw nuts that I purchase from Target.

The raw nuts that I purchase from Target.

instead of the smoked almonds. The mango was so delicious in the slaw that the next day I also added some pineapple. Both were a sweet and juicy accompaniment to the zesty cilantro and spicy jalapeno.

Raw nuts are a staple in our house and I buy a container every couple weeks. I found an unsalted mix at Target and it includes: cashews, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts. Many of my Weight Watchers members cite that nuts can be a trigger food and I always recommend that they try raw nuts. Raw nuts are filling, have many health benefits (including healthy fat and protein), and I personally find that raw nuts are not as addictive as roasted, salted ones. The key with nuts is to portion them out because the Points Plus value can add up very quick. I eat the nuts on their own for a quick mid-day snack and I often use them to top a salad so I make sure that I am getting protein.

Winter Bok Choy Slaw. The taste is as vibrant as its colors.

Winter Bok Choy Slaw. The taste is as vibrant as the colors.

What a colorful way to perk up a bland February day!

What a flavorful way to perk up a bland February day!

This was part of my lunch today. Five days later and the Winter Slaw is still appealing and crunching.

This was part of my lunch today. Five days later and the Winter Slaw is still appealing and crunchy.

Vegetarian Times shares more uses for versatile Bok Choy

Vegetarian Times shares more food ideas for versatile Bok Choy

What will be on my plate this week for the February Recipe Round-Up? I have challenged myself to try TWO new recipes this week. Today I am making a Creamy Peanut Butter Soup with Ginger and Chili from the Weight Watchers 360 Cookbook, Turn up the Flavor. The cookbook was a delightful holiday gift from Florine Mark. Thank you, Florine, for your tasteful and handy gift!

I also have a decadent looking Sweet Potato Veggie Burger recipe on a Pinterest board that I have been meaning to try for a long time. Stay tuned for future blog posts and recipe reviews of the February Recipe Round-Up. Hopefully this post has inspired you to add some new recipes to your weekly meal plan. I would love to hear about your favorites!
I have a wide selection of WW cookbooks and my goal for 2013 is to put them to use.

I have a wide selection of WW cookbooks and my goal for 2013 is to put them to use.

The Antidote for Seasonal Amnesia ~ Soup

Butternut Squash Soup by Produce with Amy

Winter in Upper Michigan Photo by Mike Laitinen

Winter in Upper Michigan Photo by Mike Laitinen

“Take a little backache
Melt some snow from the year of your birth
Add the lump in your throat
And the fear of the dark

Instead of oil a pinch of chill
But let it be northern
Instead of parsley
Swear loudly into it…

…We’ll dive into the soup
With a grain of salt between our teeth
And won’t come up
Until we learn its song…

…We arouse the sun’s curiosity
By whistling for the soup
To be served…”
~Charles Simic (from “Soup”)

I have had amnesia for the past six months. When traveling, and asked to describe Upper Michigan, I tell people that the summers are so breathtaking that they have the capacity to give residents of the Upper Peninsula amnesia. Mike and I (and our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Phoebe) enjoy four fleeting months of gorgeous weather. (Sometimes longer depending on the temperament of May and October)   We love to pass our time hiking the Iron Ore Heritage Trail in Negaunee, spending time on the Paint River in Crystal Falls with my brother Jamie and my dad Jim, and packing up healthy snacks for picnics and photo shoots along the glittering waters of Lake Superior and other local destinations. Our summers are drenched in beauty and by mid-July we forget how fierce of a punch our winters can wield.

Savoring Summer in the U.P.

Savoring Summer in the U.P.

We have been fortunate in the U.P. and have experienced a very mild winter. That was until the past week. One step outside yesterday and my amnesia came to a screeching halt. Before I even went to bed last night I received an automated call from the school district that I teach in that we would be closed today due to inclement weather. Our local television station was reporting -16 with wind chills of -31 and classes at nearly every school in the U.P. was cancelled. I will not deny that not having to warm up my Jeep and brave the numbing cold was celebrated. The prospect of a day off was a glorious treat and I knew I would spend time in my robe with a hot cup of tea and a purring kitty on my lap before I hit the treadmill.

The plunging thermometer did not let our January Green Smoothie Challenge slip away. Our Day #22 Green Smoothie combination was red leaf lettuce, wheat grass juice powder, parsley, cucumber, avocado, mango, strawberry, chia seeds, lemon juice, and water. Not only are the green smoothies packed with nutrients but Mike and I both notice that they give us a burst of energy to fuel our mornings. It has now become part of my routine to make extra to pack with my lunch and drink on my commute home from work. Last week I picked up some Powdered Wheat Grass JuiceWheat Grass from our local food co-op to add to our smoothies. So far for the new year I am down 2.8 pounds and next week will be starting a 12 Week Challenge with my Weight Watchers members. One of my goals is to invest more time in planning my lunches and trying one new recipe a week. Often I am guilty of buying the ingredients for recipes that I spot in Vegetarian Times or on Pinterest, but rarely do I go through with actually making them. Last year when I made the commitment to follow plant-based eating I fell into a food rut and I am determined to not allow that to happen again.

Last weekend I was submerged in grading semester essay exams but still made time to cook for the week. Since Mike is still eating meat in moderation, I made a vegetable marina that we both could enjoy and meatballs on the side for him to add to his plate. I started Weight Watchers six years ago and ever since have been in the habit of making a pot of soup on Sundays to eat during the week. There is something poetic about the process of making soup. Chopping vegetables has a therapeutic magic to it and the house fills with magnificent aromas. A cup of broth based soup is satisfying and filling and allows Mike and I to eat a smaller amount of our main entrée.

I also love the freedom that cooking soup offers. It is one of those dishes where a recipe is optional and I enjoy flinging whatever vegetables I have on hand into the pot. Though, of course, as a veteran Weight Watchers member, when adding ingredients that are not 0 Points Plus vegetables, I am careful to keep track and run the recipe through eTools.

When I buy organic vegetables I made sure to save the scraps in a bag in the freezer to make my own vegetable stock. This works especially well with onion and garlic skins and cuttings, celery, carrots, parsley and other herbs. A friend also taught me the trick of adding extra water when I cook dried garbanzo beans for hummus. Once the beans are finished cooking you can drain the water and use for soup stock. I cook garbanzo beans in bulk and freeze both the beans and the stock.

Last week I knew that the end of the semester would find me in a time pinch so I tried an alternative route for my weekly soup ritual. The Marquette Food Co-op carries soup mixes in the bulk section and I decided to try the Spicy Southwestern which consists of a medley of beans, corn, peppers, and spices. Since I did not have any stock in the freezer I picked up a carton of that as well and used it along with water. The co-op prefers that owners bring their bags or jars but it had been an impromptu trip. I like to save my bread bags for bulk items and made sure that I tucked some into my shopping totes for next time.
Spicy Southwestern Soup

I think the first "mix" is a typo and should read "water"

I think the first “mix” is a typo and should read “water”

I ladled us each a cup and added diced raw onions and campari tomatoes, fresh cilantro, cubed avocado, a squeeze of lime juice, 1 tsp of olive oil, and Himalayan pink salt. Mike opted to leave off the toppings and he had leftover shredded chicken. The soup was spicy and warm addition to the blowing snow outside.  The next time I make the Spicy Southwestern Soup I think that I will add a jar of my mom’s canned garden tomatoes to the pot. My friend Lisa said that the Curry Lentil mix is very good and I will be trying it next weekend.

Spicy Southwestern Soup

Spicy Southwestern Soup

Today after my smoothie I was in the soup mood but wanted to try something different. I wanted to come up with a single serving recipe that would have all of the convenience of opening up a can of soup but without the sodium and additives.

Spontaneous Soup

I started off by sautéing minced garlic, chopped onions and celery, and chunks of red bell pepper in 2 teaspoon of coconut oil for a couple of minutes (I wanted them to retain their crunch). I turned off the burner and folded in a handful of spinach and transferred to a bowl and added a dash of rice vinegar.

Vegetables Sauteed in Coconut Oil

Vegetables sautéed in Coconut Oil

To the same pot I added one cup of vegetable stock and added rice noodles and brought to a boil. Once the noodles were done (only takes a few minutes) I added the broth and noodles to the vegetables. The soup was finished with a dash of soy sauce and fresh cilantro. Simple and satisfying.

Final Project SoupClose up of finished product

Rice noodles are great  for Stir Fry, curry, Vegan Pad Thai. They have great texture and visual appeal.

Rice noodles are great for Stir Fry, curry, Vegan Pad Thai. They have great texture and visual appeal.


After this morning I am imagining all sorts of single serving soup combinations.  I think that the onion, garlic, and celery gave the soup a lot of body and a rich stock is also essential for flavor. Instead of spinach one could add kale or other greens or cabbage.
How about tomatoes with fennel, and lemon juice? Or ginger with lemon grass and carrots? Basil and tomatoes would make a terrific combination and if you are so inclined you could even add meat or shrimp. Though, of course, I would recommend a 100% plant-based version.

Since the weather is blustery and I am in the soup mood I thought that I would also share my healthy version of Butternut Squash Soup. I made a couple batches this fall and found it hearty and it froze well for future meals. A friend tried the recipe and said it was so creamy she was shocked that the recipe did not contain cream.

I  used two fairly large butternut squash for this recipe and it rendered 18 cups.

  1.  Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)
  2.  Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400-450 degrees.
  3.  Peel squash and remove seeds. The two squash that I roasted rendered 4 pounds of squash.
  4. Saute 1 cup of onion 2 Tablespoons of garlic, 2 cups of celery, 1 Tablespoon of fresh ginger, 3 Granny Smith Apples (I kept the peels on).
  5. Add five cups of water and the four pounds of squash and simmer for 30 minutes.  The water could be swapped out for vegetable stock.
  6. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste..
  7. Puree in blender
  8. *Optional. Sage (When I made in the fall I added a large bunch of sage from my garden. I removed the sage before pureeing.)
    I use a Pyrex Glass Baking Dish

    I use a Pyrex Glass Baking Dish

    One cooled the skin and seeds are easily removed

    One cooled the skin and seeds are easily remove

    Peeled Butternut Squash

    Peeled Butternut Squash

    The final product with swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg

    The final product with swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg

    While winter lingers I will make countless pots of soup to help us warm up. Today when I looked out the window I could not help dreaming of being outside tending to my flowers and tomato plants. This time of year I really miss fresh garden produce. Since I eat a lot of salads, I especially miss fragrant tomatoes still warm from the vine. Nothing can compare to a tomato from one’s own backyard, but I have found a fairly decent tomato that can really perk up a winter salad. They are rather expensive but when sprinkled with sea salt they give off an essence and hint of summer that is priceless.
    CompariIt appears as if the cold snap is going to continue in the U.P. and we are under both a wind chill and snow advisory. Tonight I will drink hot tea and nurse my amnesia with fantasies about what I will grow this summer in my garden. Tomorrow is Day #23 of our Green Smoothie Challenge and maybe I will concoct something with a tropical flair.  It may be only January, but so far 2013 has been both nutritious and productive.

    Summer Garden

    Athena and Pandora snuggling to keep warm

    Athena and Pandora snuggling to keep warm

    Amy enjoying sunshine on the Paint River in Crystal Falls.

    Amy enjoying sunshine on the Paint River in Crystal Falls.

     

Who Could Blame Persephone? ~ Jeweled Ambrosia Green Smoothie

Amy with Diana at Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC Summer 2012

Amy with Diana at Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC
Summer 2012

“Demeter was resolved to win her daughter, Persephone, back [from Hades]. Not so fate permitted, for the girl had broken her fast and wandering, childlike, through the orchard trees from a low branch had picked a pomegranate and peeled the yellow rind and found the seeds and nibbled seven.
~Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 534 (trans. Melville)

The weather in Upper Michigan is confused. On Friday as I drove to work I had to use my windshield wipers because it was raining. One of my 9th grade students remarked that perhaps Persephone and Hades were having a disagreement and Persephone was threatening to go back home and live with her mother. I had to laugh at this creative explanation for our sudden false spring. Even though my students roll their eyes and let out huge sighs of despair when we begin our mythology unit, I think secretly they are as geeked about myth as I am. After all, the stories we read in class are timeless, entertaining, and help us understand ourselves more fully.

On Monday when I asked for a definition of the word odyssey, various terms bounced around the room. Quest. Journey. Challenge. Adventure. We discussed Odysseus and the various setbacks, monsters, and heartaches he would encounter on the way home from the Trojan War. While my students compared their first year of high school to the challenges that Odysseus’ faced, I could not help thinking of my own struggle with weight management. As I continue to pursue my health goals, a chocolate bar starts to look like Polyphemus, a bag of tortilla chips (the perfect partner to my homemade guacamole) resembles Charybdis, and a goblet of red wine wields the enchanting magic of Circe.

As I write the word, hubris, on the board we discuss how Athena serves as Odysseus’ guide because she holds that she is the only mortal that uses both his brawn and his brain. Though, even brave and cunning Odysseus has flaws. His hubris, or inflated self-confidence and pride, often gets him into trouble.  I sometimes use the term hubris in my Weight Watchers meetings when I discuss with my members how easy it is to let food tracking slip. This often happens to me in the summer when I am earning a lot of Activity Points Plus for exercise and have more time to cook elaborate meals. A valuable lesson that I have learned over the past few years is that exercise is essential to weight loss and maintenance, but it cannot be a substitute for healthy eating, portion control, or my food journal. I must be careful not to overestimate how much I exercise and underestimate how much I eat.

I think that hubris also comes into play with foods that I label healthy. Approximately four years ago I made a huge switch in what foods I consider appropriate for consumption. I eliminated artificial sweeteners, tried to buy organic when available and affordable, and began to read food labels closely. No longer was I only concerned about fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and protein, but I also took notice of what ingredients constitute the food that I eat. I noticed that when I made this lifestyle shift I struggled with maintaining my weight. I attribute this greatly to the attitude that I began to develop about food. If a food is comprised of simple, natural ingredients, or carries the label of organic, I tend to believe that the food is good for me. However, too much of even healthy foods can really pack on the pounds. So I must always be mindful of portions and keep track of what I eat on a daily basis. Unlike Odysseus, I have a wide range of technology tools at my fingertips and there is no proper excuse for me not to log into eTools and navigate my meals. I am always carrying my iPhone and if I am dining out (and do not want to fiddle with eTools at the table) I can snap a picture of my plate and track when I get home. (Do not forget, now that I am a food blogger I have an excuse to snap pictures of my food.)

It is day #13 of my January Green Smoothie Challenge and I have noticed many positive results already. Not only is beginning my morning with a whirring blender a fantastic way to start my day off on the right foot, but I have also noticed that my cravings for starchy carbohydrates and rich comfort foods has diminished. I make sure that I blend enough of the green smoothie for breakfast along with some leftover to pack in my lunch bag for a quick snack at the end of the work day. I have a half hour commute home and the smoothie guarantees that I am not famished when I get home so I can work out before dinner.

Last week when I posted a recipe for my Sunday Energizer Green Smoothie, I was thrilled that my friend Kara tried and loved the drink. Read all about her experience at Running From Perfect. Kara, is a great source of information and inspiration for me because I don’t think she ever slows down. I hope to channel her motivation by following her posts.

During the school year the biggest obstacle in my weight management journey is trying to squeeze time out of a demanding schedule and muster up the energy to work out. There are many days when I come home completely exhausted and all that I want to do is take a hot bath and change into my pajamas. It takes serious fortitude to instead put on workout clothes and get moving. As I have learned, during the school year I will never FIND time to work out, I must MAKE the time. This time is a precious gift that I not only give to myself, but to my loved ones, and also to my students. Ultimately, I know that when I exercise I have more energy and stamina, stay healthy through the cold and flu season, and do not become bitter about the demands of my career. My husband Mike appreciates this time that I give myself to exercise because it makes me have a much more positive outlook on myself and life in general.

On Friday in class my students read about Odysseus’ perilous encounter with the Cyclops, Polyphemus, and how he tricks Polyphemus into getting drunk by offering him wine. Odysseus tells the giant that the wine is nectar and ambrosia. My students wanted to know more about ambrosia and we tried to imagine what it would taste like. I shared with them my memories of picnics and pot-lucks I had attended as a child in the 70s that featured the popular ambrosia fruit salad. In case you are not familiar with this classic salad, here is Alton Brown’s version of ambrosia from food network.

I had been thinking about a Greek myth inspired smoothie and my student’s curiosity inspired me to come up with a smoothie version of ambrosia. At the end of the day I added potential ingredients to my grocery shopping list. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to plan the coming week’s meals mid-week so I can get my grocery shopping out of the way Friday night. Yes, I know, I live a marvelously exciting life! Normally my shopping is done Saturday after my Weight Watchers meeting but I love carving out extra time Saturday afternoon to attend to other responsibilities (like grading…and blogging)

I am excited to share my latest smoothie creation that puts a twist on ambrosia fruit salad by replacing the mini marshmallows with pomegranate and leaving out the fattening dressing. It may be a time intensive smoothie, since a pomegranate does not part easily with its fruit, but one sip and you will find your labors well worth the effort. I picked up this pamphlet in the supermarket to help peel a pomegranate with ease. It really worked well!

Pomegranate Instructions from Pom

Pomegranate Instructions from Pom

Do not forget to reserve seven pomegranate seeds to garnish your antioxidant packed smoothie. After all, the myth of Persephone and these ruby jewels help give the smoothie its name. One sip and you will have visions of Persephone picking flowers in a sun drenched spring meadow.  I look forward to making this smoothie again and think it is a refreshing tonic for dreary January days.

Ambrosia Smoothie

Ambrosia Smoothies 028

Jeweled Ambrosia Green Smoothie

  1. 3-5 cups of spinach (To taste. Those new to green smoothies may try less spinach. May also use greens of your choice.)
  2. 1/2 cup pineapple
  3. 1/2 peeled tangelo (orange, clementine, or tangerine would also work)
  4. 1/2 cup of sweet dark frozen cherries (I plan to try this with fresh cherries this summer)
  5. 1/2-1 cup of pomegranate
  6. 1 cup of coconut water/juice (I used one that contained lime)
  7. 1 ounce tart cherry juice
  8. 1 coconut date roll (Optional. I often use dates to help sweeten my green smoothies but banana works as well. Though with the abundance of fruit in this smoothie the extra sweetness may not be needed unless you use more spinach. I think that next time I will leave it out.)
  9. 2 Tablespoons of chia seed
  10. 1 inch piece of fresh ginger (I was not going to put ginger in the recipe but after blending and tasting, I added some to the smoothie in the end. Ginger is my new favorite green smoothie ingredient.)
  11. Pecans (optional). My friend Heather said her daughter loves to add nuts to her green smoothies. Since Pecans are in the traditional ambrosia salad recipe they would add some authentic flair. Nuts would make a great garnish or could be blended in with the other ingredients and would be an additional protein source.This recipe rendered 5 cups. I always make enough for both Mike and I. Next time I will use even more spinach/greens. This batch made enough for two smoothies but I will want extra to bring to work.
    It even looks pretty in the blender

    It even looks pretty in the blender

    I think the Vitamix was one of the best investments we have ever made.

    I think the Vitamix was one of the best investments we have ever made.

    Garnish with Seven Pomegranate Seeds for Persephone

    Garnish with Seven Pomegranate Seeds for Persephone

    A Smoothie Fit for a Goddess

    A Smoothie Fit for a GoddessAmbrosia Smoothie

    Tart cherry juice is expensive but it comes with many health benefits and a little goes a long way. I highly recommend it for this smoothie.

    Tart Cherry Juice from Michigan

    Tart Cherry Juice from Michigan

    A few years ago one of my Weight Watchers members recommended Medjool dates to me for a sweet treat. I love to buy them at the Marquette Food Co-op. I also discovered chopped dates rolled in coconut. They are a great plant, based way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

    Chopped Dates Rolled in Coconut

    Chopped Dates Rolled in Coconut

    Our little Photo Bomber, Athena, strikes again!

    Our little Photo Bomber, Athena, strikes again!

Welcome 2013: May It Be a Year of Growth, Grace, & Strength

Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. ~Walt Whitman

Happy New Year! Today I am ushering in the new year with two creative projects. The first is my brand new blog, Produce’s, inaugural post and the second will be my Third Annual New Year’s Art Project. I will be making a mixed medium photo collage from a trip I took in 2012 with my husband Mike, and my mom Karen, to Asheville, North Carolina. ImageThe collage will decorate the new walk-in closet that Mike is building from one of our spare bedrooms and recycled materials (the subject for a future post). I want to usher in a year that brims with creative energy and productivity. I truly believe that we need to find joy in our life’s work and when this happens our hearts will be filled with love and wisdom. When we are passionate about what we do and say our lives become rich.

Over the past couple weeks I have read postings by multiple social networking outlets asking the universal question, “Will you have a new year’s resolution?” I have found many of the responses enlightening. For example, many people have resolved to not make resolutions while others have shared their hopes to become more outgoing and strive to be a better humanitarian.

There is nothing that I enjoy more than a clean slate to start fresh and be positive. Since I am an English teacher, I tend to be naturally reflective and I never hesitate to choose a resolution and go after it with gusto. However, in the past few years I have decided to make a series of health related resolutions throughout the year with a rewards system to help keep me motivated. 2013 will be no exception. My #1 health related goal is getting back to plant based eating and it started today when I fired up my Vitamix blender and made Mike and I a green smoothie with dandelion greens, spinach, frozen banana and strawberries, chia seeds, aloe vera juice, a splash of lemon juice, and water. ImageWe ceremoniously clinked our glasses together and promised ourselves and each other that we would be more “lean and green” in 2013. As I prepped our smoothie Mike joked, “Do you remember how to use that gadget?” True, our blender has sat idle for too long. I desired a Vitamix for over three years and FINALLY in June 2012 my dream came true. For over seven months I diligently wore my pedometer and every day that I reached 14,000 steps I put a dollar bill into an envelope for my Vitamix fund. By the time June arrived I had over half of the money put away and Mike surprised me with a Vitamix delivered to our door for my forty first birthday! During the summer months our Vitamix got plenty of use whirling up various concoctions of green smoothies, savory green soups, and truth-be-told a margarita or two. ImageBut when winter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan arrived and the temperatures dipped I found myself reaching for standard starchy comfort foods. Looking back I was telling myself that because a food does not contain meat that it was okay for me to eat it. Thus, began an onslaught of spicy and gooey nachos, cheese heaped pizza, and decadent mac-and-cheese. I fooled myself into thinking these things are “healthy” because I loaded them up with vegetables or used whole wheat pasta and crust. From what I have heard this is often a problem with many lacto ovo vegetarians. As a Weight Watchers leader for the past five and a half years I have had many new members complain that being a vegetarian does not automatically make one thin.  It’s been a couple years since I’ve given up meat and I need to go back to a plant based meal plan. For the month of January I will commit to having at least one green smoothie a day and will not consume ANY dairy or eggs. Since I will be avoiding processed food (it seems that nearly ALL contain some sort of animal by-product) I will be eating cleaner and I know my energy levels will increase.

Ultimately, I want 2013 to be a healthy year. In the spring of 2012 I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Poland and Israel with a group of educators. I am a member of the Holocaust Educators Network that is funded by the Memorial Library in NYC. Having this trip to look forward to I worked hard for months to get in shape and be at a weight that I felt comfortable. ImageUnfortunately, all my hard work came undone in the past few months and to get back to my goal weight I need to lose thirteen pounds. The reason that I bring up Israel is that I must say that it was easy to eat plant based meals while traveling in Jerusalem, Masada, Tel Aviv, and Jaffa. ImageImageThe fruit and vegetable markets displayed a gorgeous array of fresh produce, the vendors offered luscious falafels and fresh squeezed orange juice, and the hotels we stayed at had an ample supply of delicious dishes featuring vegetables. My mouth waters remembering the stunning trays of roasted zucchini, compotes of olives, and giant bowls of guacamole and hummus. I will be channeling Israeli food in the coming months as I prepare healthy meals for Mike and I.

I spent a lot of time anticipating the new year and now that it is here, I am excited I got my feet off the ground on the next step of my journey to maximize my health and lead an active lifestyle. I am dusting off Lindsey Nixon’s “The Happy Herbivore Cookbook, ” the Vitamix “Whole Foods Cookbook,” and Victoria Boutenko’s, “Green Smoothie Revolution” to whip up some nutritious and satisfying meals.

Now I need to get to work on my collage project and visit the treadmill. In 2013 for every day of formal exercise that I get in, I will be putting a $1 in my envelope. My first reward will be a Clarisonic skin care system.

My goal is to produce here in writing at least once a week, which I hope will help me stay accountable to my goals. Since teaching is my calling, I hope I can inspire others along the way. Maybe you will decide to join me in having a green smoothie a day in January? Cheers to a lean and green 2013!