Witness to Beauty – It’s All About Perspective

“The conclusion I have reached is that, above all, dogs are witnesses. They are allowed access to our most private moments. They are there when we think we are alone. Think of what they could tell us. They sit on the laps of presidents. They see acts of love and violence, quarrels and feuds, and the secret play of children. If they could tell us everything they have seen, all of the gaps of our lives would stitch themselves together.”
Carolyn Parkhurst, The Dogs of Babel

Meesha is the latest member of our family. <3

Meet Meesha, the latest member of our family. ❤

As a teacher I tend to mark the passing of time in marking periods and school events. This week we are hot-on-the-heels of semester one exams and last weekend finished winter homecoming festivities. The students that I have helped mentor as a class adviser are seniors and I was proud of their efforts decorating their hallway and winning the spirit pep jug for the fourth year in a row. My husband showed his support by offering to help chaperone the homecoming dance Friday night (in spite of a full day of work and an early wake up the next morning). It was entertaining to watch Lukas (seven) try out his slick dance moves and Avalon (ten) was pleased that for the third year in a row that she got to help with hallway decorating. As always, I am thankful that my place of employment is family friendly and I love that our kids get to interact with my high school students and their education stakeholders.

Lukas trying out his slick moves on the dance floor.

Lukas trying out his slick moves on the dance floor.

In my last post, Making Time For Ourselves, I shared my January goals. While I am happy to report that I am knocking my sleep, vitamin, and food journal goals out of the park – the formal exercise and water is still a work in progress. It is always perplexing to me that it is so difficult for me to consume water. I am ashamed to admit that many days the final bell sounds and I have not even touched my water bottle. At home I have been drinking herbal tea (my newest favorite Yogi brand Honey Lavender Stress Relief) so I am thinking that maybe I need to stock my classroom with tea as well.

My food journal has helped me be mindful of what I am eating and I have been keeping a pot of Three Bean Vegetarian Chili in the refrigerator (a filling option for dinner with a veggie burger or salad) and last week I made one of my favorite Mason Jar Salads, Israeli Feast, for my work lunches. Many of the messages that I receive are from people who are tired of eating salads and “rabbit food”. One of the goals of this blog is to help others try a wide-range of ingredients – and that salads do not need to be boring. My best advice is to fill your plate with a rainbow of fresh fruit and vegetables. Not only does eating the same thing over and over get boring, but it also prevents our bodies from getting a wide-range of nutrients. In order to keep myself from repetitive meals, I like to try different combinations. The Israeli Feast is a non-traditional salad recipe that uses hummus and quinoa tabouli in place of salad dressing. For last week’s version I added avocado to the hummus to amp up the nutritional content with healthy fats.

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fullsizeoutput_1139fullsizeoutput_113afullsizeoutput_113cWhile I still need to work on moving more, my Fitbit is showing increased activity. On Saturday and Sunday I made a concerted effort to get outside and make the most of the sunshine and blue skies. In fact, the views from our property were so inspiring that I have to share them with you. The recent addition to our family, Meesha a two-year-old German Shepherd, is a bundle of frolicsome energy. She made an incredible subject for an impromptu photo shoot and her and Lukas made the best workout buddies. We did not even both to put on our snowshoes but traipsed around in the snow. Let me tell you, it was a workout and I sure can feel it today in my legs and back end. 😉

I cannot believe how much energy Meesha has!

I cannot believe how much energy Meesha has!

My step son Lukas loves to play outside - he is 100% Yooper and farm boy.

My step son Lukas loves to play outside – he is 100% Yooper farm boy.

On sunny days we open up the chicken coop so our sweet hens can sun themselves.

On sunny days we open up the chicken coop so our sweet hens can sun themselves.

John has put HOURS into setting up our new hoop house. We are eager for spring to start planting vegetables.

John has put HOURS into setting up our new hoop house. We are eager for spring to start planting vegetables.

Run Meesha!

Run Meesha!

I hope you are doing well on meeting your healthy goals. If you are struggling, do not give up – each day (every hour) gives us the opportunity for a fresh start. This week I am going to work on my water intake and will be striving to get in more activity. Join me in making time for yourself. Do something that you enjoy doing and seek out beauty. When I grab my camera and go for hike it is much more enjoyable than the gym. Not only am I doing something good for my body, but I am also nourishing my creativity and filling my senses.  It is all about perspective. While winter is not my favorite season, I cannot afford to miss the beauty around me. Especially when I have a gorgeous, energetic dog and adorable seven-year-old to keep me motivated and inspired. ❤

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Our little guy Lukas is always up for an outside adventure.

Our little guy Lukas is always up for an outside adventure.

It's a winter wonderland in our backyard.

It’s a winter wonderland in our backyard.

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Israeli Feast ~ Mason Jar Salad (with Tabouli, Hummus, and Olives)

2“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
― Henry Miller

I am enamored with Mason Jar Salads on many levels:

1. One of my obsessions is having a food plan for the week. During the school year I cook a huge stock-pot of soup or chili on Sundays and I also take time to cook/prep lunches, dinner entrees, and snacks. This helps immensely with my weight management and keeps Mike and I sane with our busy schedules. Even though I am home for the summer I plan to still make the Mason Jar Salads because they are so handy to grab when I am right in the middle of a project. I am hoping to come up with a plethora of recipes this summer to get me through next school year with healthy and satisfying lunches that involve fruit and vegetables.

2. As a visual person the salads entice me. It may sound silly but I find the Mason Jar Salads extremely visually appealing. They look like pretty terrarium gardens and always make me anticipate diving into the salad.

3. They really stay fresh. I have friends who have in the past few weeks reported that their salads have kept for OVER a week in the refrigerator. (The glass keeps the lettuce more crisp than if stored in plastic.)

4. The Mason Jar Salads eliminate wasted produce. I tend to be thrifty and utilize every fruit and vegetable I purchase, but I have many people say that these salads have helped  prevent them from tossing out expensive produce. (It is incredible how many vegetables you can stuff into a jar). Try it and you will be a believer!

5. The jarred salads are igniting my creativity. Since I follow a plant-based meal plan salads are a daily staple and variety is key. It is so easy to fall into a food rut and this new concept in food preparation is helping me come up with new tastes and flavor combinations.

Sue courtesy of: Sue Anderson

Sue courtesy of: Sue Anderson. Click on photo for a larger view.

The outpouring of response from my Weight Watchers members and readers of my blog has been immense over the past few weeks. So much so that on my Produce Facebook Page I declared that June was Mason Jar Salad month. I have had so many people share fantastic ideas. My friend Sue ran with the Mason Jar Salad idea and came up with a recipe for a mouth-watering beet salad. Sue used extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for the dressing. She then added roasted beets, celery, leeks, carrots (she doesn’t normally include those, but wanted more of a barrier between dressing and cheese), goat cheese, walnuts, sprouts, and red and green leaf lettuce. Oh my!

Photo courtesy of: Brenda Aldrich (click on photo for a larger view)

Photo courtesy of: Brenda Aldrich

Brenda, my friend and Weight Watchers Receptionist, yesterday shared a recipe that used extra virgin olive oil, Mojito-Style Chickpeas: which is ~ 3 TBSP Lime juice, 1 TBSP honey, 1/4 tsp Himalayan Salt, 1/4 cup fresh mint, 15 oz chickpeas & 2 cucumbers all mixed together and then divided between the jars. She then added carrots, radishes, yellow pepper, orange pepper, tomato, and baby lettuce. Brenda got the recipe for the chickpeas (which I cannot wait to try) from greenlitebites.

Photo courtesy of: LeeLa Heinzel (click on photo for a larger view)

Photo courtesy of: LeeLa Heinzel (click on photo for a larger view)

LeeLa  incorporated a Weight Watchers recipe for Santa Fe Salad with Chili Lime Dressing. Her salads use hearty beans and corn. The recipe can be found here on Pinterest. I am going to try these with my plant-based Tangy Avocado Dressing.

Photo courtesy of: Cheryl Alexander (click on photo for a larger view)

Photo courtesy of: Cheryl Alexander (click on photo for a larger view)

Cheryl made Mason Jar Salads for using: radishes, zucchini, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, two types of lettuce, and bottled dressing (one of them being a raspberry vinaigrette dressing with added grapes, strawberries, and some raisins.) 

Ladies, thank you for the terrific Mason Jar Salad combinations, keep the recipes coming!

On Produce so far I have shared two recipes for Mason Jar Salads: Classic Salad Bar in a Jar and Waldorf Inspired Slaw. Here is the link on Pinterest.
Classic Salad Bar in a JarToday’s recipe was inspired from a trip that I took to Israel last spring. In my very first blog post, back in January, I highlighted how easy it was to maintain a plant-based diet in Israel. The food was fresh and every dish was brimming with vegetables. I found myself eating salads for breakfast with dollops of hummus and avocado salad (similar to guacamole). One of my current breakfasts of choice is a salad or a vegetable filled plate.

Photos that I snapped of food in Israel.

Photos that I snapped of food in Israel.

In honor of the opportunity I had to travel to Israel, I wanted to create a salad that would bring me back to that sacred time and place in my life. Here is my creation…

ISRAELI FEAST MASON JAR SALAD: (I made six jars of salad)

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I layered in the following order:

  • 1 Tablespoon of vinegar in each jar (I used raw apple cider vinegar)
  • Thinly sliced cucumber (I used one large cucumber and divided it between the six jars)
  • 1/2 cup of Amy’s Twist on Tabouli (recipe to follow)
  • Tomato (I used three medium tomatoes; 1/2 in each jar)
  • Olives (I used two large green olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and 4 Greek olives)
  • 1/4 cup of hummus (recipe to follow)
  • Green pepper (I used one large green pepper)
  • Lettuce (I used romaine and red leaf lettuce)

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Israeli Feast Mason Jar Salad

AMY’S TWIST ON TABOULI

  1. 1 generous cup of quinoa (While most recipes call for bulgar, I opted for protein rich quinoa. In the past I would have used much more quinoa. The tabouli that I had in Israel was heavy on parsley and did not have as much bulgar as the tabouli I have had in the states)
  2. 1/4 cup of chopped onion
  3. 1 clove of finely minced garlic
  4. 1 bunch of parsley finely chopped (it ended up being two cups chopped)
  5. 1 lemon juiced (I also used the zest. I highly recommend using citrus zest in recipes because it really amps up the flavor. The zest is where all the essential oils are contained)
  6. Few fresh mint leaves
  7. Salt and pepper to taste
  8. 2 Tablespoons of olive oil (normally I would put in 2 additional Tablespoons of oil but I knew that the hummus would have oil as well)

Tabouli ingredients

Tabouli ingredients


Quinoa is an ancient seed that is a complete protein and can be used in sweet or savory dishes.

Quinoa is an ancient seed that is a complete protein and can be used in sweet or savory dishes.

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VITAMIX HUMMUS RECIPE (from the Whole Food Recipes cookbook)

10(I made 1/2 of the recipe for the six Mason Jar Salads)

  1. 30 ounces of chickpeas (it says to reserve one can’s liquid. Though, I always make my own from dried beans)
  2. 1/4 cup raw sesame seeds (I used jarred tahini)
  3. 1/4 cup lemon juice (again I used the zest)
  4. 1 garlic clove
  5. 1 teaspoon cumin
  6. salt
  7. I also added freshly snipped chives since I an abundance in my garden.

Hummus

Here's information on cooking your own garbanzo beans/chickpeas.  Click on image for a larger version

Here’s information on cooking your own garbanzo beans/chickpeas.
Click on image for a larger version

13The Israeli Feast salads turned out exactly as hoped and I have enjoyed two already. For those who eat cheese, feta would be a flavorful layer. The next time we grill I plan on planking and grilling eggplant and zucchini to add to the salad.

My trip to Israel was life-changing in so many aspects of my professional life as an educator. However, it greatly impacted my personal life as well both spiritually and physically. It helped me further embrace a lifestyle that is surrounded by plant-based meals.

Hummus and Tabouli are two of my go-to meal additions. You will love the flavor that they impart and will want to make them both alone and to enjoy in a lettuce salad, in a wrap, or on a sandwich. Imagine making a large version of this layered salad for a picnic or BBQ.

Hummus can be infused with endless herb combinations. Great additions are: caramelized onions, roasted garlic, roasted red peppers, olives, capers, and artichoke hearts. Sometimes I like to add a little bit of nut butter and I love to whirl in pumpkin, roasted squash, or eggplant.

Here is the pin to the Israeli Feast Mason Jar Salad on Pinterest.

Quinoa Tabouli by Produce with Amy

Let me know what some of your favorite jar salad combinations are. I hope you are enjoying summer and the fresh produce in the supermarket, road-side stands, and at your local farmer’s market. Remember to let today involve beauty. Create it and seek it out. It is all about perspective. Cheers to health, fresh produce, and  thriving! ❤
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Here is a sampling of the hundreds of photos that I snapped in Israel:

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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!