ASIAN INFUSED SALAD WITH CHILI LIME DRESSING

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
— May Sarton

Did someone say spring fever? Yes, I am feeling anxious for summer. Even though I try to be the kind of person who views the glass as half full, believe me when I say that I gave winter the evil eye this year. Yes, I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yes, I have lived here for most of my forty-six years. Yes, I know that I should savor each moment and wish life to move fast forward. Still, I find myself wistful for long hikes and vases full of fresh-cut flowers from my back yard. I watch the chickens preen in the sunshine and I eagerly anticipate long daylight hours filled with warmth and all of the possibility that we can gather in a few short months.

Since my family is fortunate to have a hoop house, April will be planting season for us and we are investing a lot of sweat equity into our garden this year. For a couple of months now we have been starting seeds in our house. My husband John started broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, watermelon, and an assortment of flowers. Last weekend I started tomatoes and cucumbers. Check out the “mini-greenhouses” I used to plant cucumbers and recycle the large clamshell containers that greens come in from the supermarket.

In the fall it was difficult to go back to buying greens for salads and smoothies after being able to grow our own all spring and summer.
However, I found a neat way to recycle the large clamshell packages. They make great mini-greenhouses to start seeds. Fill with soil, plant seeds, water, close the top, and place in a sunny windowsill until your seeds germinate. 🌱🌱

Pumpkin plant windowsill garden.

We have a tiny house but we maximize our space and take advantage of the wonderful sunlight.

This weekend I am picking up squash seeds (zucchini, yellow summer squash, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash) to also start indoors. While we still have several feet of snow on the ground, on sunny days the temperature is reaching the low 70s in the hoop house. I can already taste the green beans, broccoli, and peas and I cannot wait to be able to pick fresh greens daily for salads.

When I make salads as an entrée for work or dinner, I like to bulk them up with ingredients that are going to have staying power. I love to add beans or nuts for protein and whole wheat pasta, other grains, or quinoa. For the salad that I am sharing with you this month, I decided to use rice noodles – because I thought they would work well with the spicy chili lime dressing. I usually have them on hand because my husband and I love them in my hot and sour mushroom soup. Rice noodles come in a variety of textures (for this salad I used a thin noodle) but the thicker strands would work well too. Both the rice noodles and the garlic chili sauce (that I use in the dressing) can be purchased in the Asian section of the supermarket.

This salad can be plated or made in a jar. While I used clementine oranges or “Cuties”, pineapple or whatever fruit or berries that are in season would work great. The sweetness of fruit partners well with the spiciness of the dressing.
I love to create vibrant salads, since we eat with our eyes first, and I think that taking time to artfully arrange food helps deepen our enjoyment and brings eating to a new level. That is why I enjoy making jar salads. Not only do the jars keep the salads fresh for up to a week, but they help make the salads visually appealing and ready to grab-and-go for work or when you are pressed for time at home. I love being able to prep my salads once for a healthy meal all week-long.

Normally, when I make dressing, I use my Vitamix blender. However, for this dressing, I wanted a chunkier consistency so I added all the ingredients into a pint-sized mason jar, put the lid on and gave it a good shake.

CHILI LIME DRESSING

  • 1 cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 lime (juice and zest. If you are using bottled lime juice, one lime renders approximately 1/4 cup)
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil (sesame oil has a very distinct taste and I love to use it to stir fry vegetables as well)
  • 2 Tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic chili sauce (Warning — chili sauce is SPICY so you may want to add a little at a time. I like heat so I even added more after mixing)
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped onion (I used red onion but green onions would be great for this dressing)
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped fresh ginger root (ginger has a very strong taste and if you are not used to it, I suggest adding a little at a time)
  • Fresh cilantro, finely chopped (1 used 1/4 cup. If you do not like cilantro, parsley would work well)

In the summer I also add a sprig of fresh mint and freshly chopped chives to the dressing.

 

I added 4 Tablespoons of dressing to the bottom of each jar and layered the following ingredients:

Orange bell pepper (chopped)
1 cup of snow peas
Edamame (I make sure to buy organic and purchase in the freezer section and thaw and use in the salads)
Rice noodles (cooked and cooled)
Sunflower seeds
Clementines
Cabbage (chopped)

I made four salads using quart Mason jars. You can decide how much of each ingredient to add. I used ¼ cup each of sunflower seeds, noodles, and edamame. I divided up one small bell pepper, used one clementine per jar, and filled the rest with crunchy cabbage (packing it well to ensure the salad had enough cabbage). Red cabbage works well with this salad as do carrots, tomatoes, broccoli – and if you eat meat you can add chicken or shrimp.

As sure as the geese will return to Upper Michigan skies, this salad will make a great addition to your spring and summer menu. It would be a great dish to bring to a picnic (imagine making small individual salads for everyone in pint jars). The dressing is versatile and while it perks up cabbage or greens in your salad, it is equally delicious drizzled over steamed or roasted vegetables.

If you have spring fever like I do, I hope you find a way to satisfy your yearning for warming days. Now is the perfect time to start some seeds indoors for your own vegetable garden. If you have limited space think about growing tomatoes and fresh herbs in containers. You will thank yourself in a few months when you are making salads from your own fresh produce. Trust me, food always tastes better when it is grown and prepared with a labor of love.

Watermelon sprouts.


 

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Tackle Spring Fever with Avocado and White Bean Salad ~ and a Healthy Dose of Friendship

Avocado and White Bean Salad

Avocado is by far my favorite food. The taste and texture is luxurious and it is packed with healthy properties.

Avocado is by far my favorite food. The taste and texture is luxurious and it is packed with healthy properties.

 

“…the avocado is a food without rival among the fruits, the veritable fruit of paradise.” 
— David Fairchild

 

 

This post comes to you straight from snow day #9. Yes, that is correct. NINE snow days and I have a feeling that it will not be the last. This morning when we opened our family room drapes we were faced with a hulking drift of snow.

March Madness defined.

March Madness defined.

Our poor little house engulfed in snow banks

Our poor little house engulfed in snow banks

Though we live in town, our house is nearly obscured from the road. Mike had to fire up the snow blower so he could get to his classes at Northern Michigan University (they opened up campus at noon today). Strangely enough it is the first day back to classes after Spring Break. Obviously, Mother Nature did not get the memo.

As the Upper Peninsula digs out from an early St. Patrick’s Day 

Mike takes a break from snow plowing with his best friend, Phoebe. He just finished telling me that if I had a Subaru (like he does) instead of a Jeep that there would be no need for snow blowing our drive. ;)

Mike, with his best friend Phoebe,  takes a break from snow blowing. He just finished telling me that if I had a Subaru (like he does) instead of a Jeep that there would be no need for snow blowing our drive. 😉

storm, I took advantage of another day to decompress, grade, read, and write. I also made a comforting and filling pot of Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili (recipe will be shared at the end of my post).

I am always thankful for time off to reflect and recommit to my healthy goals. This weekend Mike and I made time for each other on Saturday. We had a lunch date and after going grocery shopping decided to enjoy a walk in snowy Marquette and spontaneously stopped at a few local establishments.

Mike took this photo from the North Star Lounge at The Landmark Inn with the panoramic feature on his iPhone 5.

Mike took this photo from the North Star Lounge at The Landmark Inn with the panoramic feature on his iPhone 5.

Another cool photo of Marquette. In the distance you can see the historic ore dock. ~Photo by Mike Laitinen

Another cool photo of Marquette. In the distance you can see the historic ore dock.
~Photo by Mike Laitinen

While traipsing around we were thrilled when we ran into my friend Paula Diedrich and her husband Todd. Paula and I have been keeping each other accountable to blogging. We have been friends for over a decade and have traveled and worked on many projects together with the Upper Peninsula Writing Project. Paula exhibits endless energy as a dedicated mom, wife, writer, educator, student teacher mentor, leader of professional development workshops, and in 2013 launched her fantastic new blog, Hat of Many Colors.

You can tell by the smiles on both of our faces how much a night out with friends was appreciated. ~Photo by Todd Diedrich

You can tell by the smiles on both of our faces how much a night out with friends was appreciated. ~Photo by Todd Diedrich

I am thankful for Paula’s encouragement and I think that having a support network is so important in achieving goals. This holds true with my writing, teaching, and my Weight Watchers journey.

I have so many ideas for future blog posts and the key is to MAKE time to write. It is fulfilling to know that people are reading my posts and that I can share tips and recipes. Today’s post is a recipe that I tried for my WW group’s February Recipe Round-Up and comes from one of my favorite Vegan blogs, Healthy. Happy. Life. When I saw Kathy Patalsky’s recipe for Veggie-Loaded Avocado White Bean Salad on Toast I was in awe. Kathy’s photos are stunning and really brought the salad to life. The recipe was a keeper and I cannot wait to experiment with different variations. Kathy’s recipe kept in the refrigerator for quite a few days and made a fine lunch option and I had it for dinner with a cup of soup.

All the ingredients for this hearty and satisfying salad.

All the ingredients for this hearty and satisfying salad.

  • 1 16 oz. can drained and rinsed beans (Kathy’s recipe calls for cannellini but I only had garbanzo beans on hand. They worked well in the recipe. Next time I will use cannellini beans since they are softer.)100_0981
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/3 cup onion, diced
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 cup spinach, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar (I used raw apple cider vinegar and added extra since I like my food very tangy)
  • 1 lemon, juiced (I used a few tablespoons of lime juice)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh tangerine or orange juice and a pinch of zest (I used orange)
  • 2 Tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon hemp or sunflower seeds (I used hemp seeds)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

Kathy’s recipe also calls for 2 tsp white miso paste. I did not have any on hand so I used a couple splashes of low sodium soy sauce.If you do not follow a plant based meal plan, you could sub out the nutritional yeast and/or hemp seeds for some plain fat free Greek yogurt.

The recipe rendered four ~ 1/2 cup servings. WW members can run through the Recipe Builder for Point Plus totals. While avocado may be a bit “pointy” I think that it is PP well spent since avocado contains so many healthy nutrients.

I used a fork to mash the beans.

I used a fork to mash the beans.

I added the avocado and mashed them in well.

I added the avocado and mashed them in well.

Chop up the onion and carrot.

Chop up the onion and carrot.

Fold in the onion and carrot to the bean and avocado mixture.

Fold in the onion and carrot to the bean and avocado mixture.

Add the Hemp Seed and Nutritional Yeast

Add the Hemp Seed and Nutritional Yeast

I love my Microplane for citrus zest.

I love my Microplane for citrus zest.

Add the zest, orange juice, and vinegar.

Add the zest, orange juice, and vinegar.

I use pink Himalayan salt.  We purchased this Himalayan salt lantern at the Rusted Buffalo in Asheville, North Carolina. It is said to have many air purification properties and I love the glow it imparts on the room.

I use pink Himalayan salt. We purchased this Himalayan salt lantern at the Rusted Buffalo in Asheville, North Carolina. It is said to have many air purification properties and I love the glow it imparts on the room.

I toasted up a piece of Ezekiel bread to serve the Avocado and White Bean salad on. This bread is amazing, filling, high in protein, and contains no added sugar.

I toasted up a piece of Ezekiel bread to serve the Avocado and White Bean salad on. This bread is amazing, filling, high in protein, and contains no added sugar.

This salad looks as good as it tastes.

This salad looks as good as it tastes.

I cannot wait to try this again. I think it would be delicious with fresh cilantro.

I cannot wait to try this again. I think it would be delicious with fresh cilantro.

Even when I am eating alone I love to make up a fancy plate. They say that we feast with our eyes first.

Even when I am eating alone I love to make up a fancy plate. They say that we feast with our eyes first.

Athena our kitty was napping the day that I snapped these photos. I guess Phoebe decided that she would be in the stand-in photo bomber. ;)

Athena our kitty was napping the day that I snapped these photos. I guess Phoebe decided that she would be in the stand-in photo bomber. 😉

I tried this recipe on February 22nd and I was already experiencing a major case of spring fever. I dusted off some rose colored Fiestaware from my collection and had daydreams of pink flowers: tulips, bleeding hearts, lilies, and peonies. Until May or June (or maybe July), I suppose these pretty dishes will have to do!

Pink Fiesta Tower

Pink Fiesta Tower

Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink

Spring Fever

Spring Fever

Today I made a large pot of the recipe I came up with for Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili. It is one of my favorite “healthy comfort foods” and Mike loves it as well.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

Sautee the following in 1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil (or oil of choice)

  •   1 cup chopped onion     
  •  2 cups chopped celery   
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic     
  • 1 green bell pepper

Add the following:

  • 28 oz canned tomatoes (I used a small can of Rotel with green chilis and my mom’s garden tomatoes)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups diced sweet potato
  • 2 cups corn
  • 6 cups cooked black beans
  • chili power, salt, and pepper to taste
  • simmer for 45-60 minutesToday I also added whole wheat elbow macaroni to the chili to bulk it up.

I serve this chili with freshly chopped cilantro, a squirt of lime, and cubed avocado. You could also add a dollop of sour cream or Plain FF Greek yogurt, and/or cheese.This recipe produces 15 one cup servings.

I wish I could end my post by saying that spring is right around the corner. Unfortunately, that may not be the case for the U.P. of Michigan. Though we know that eventually the warm weather will find us. Until then we must find ways to keep hope in our hearts. Nourish yourself with healthy food and make an eye-catching presentation with a pretty dishes and/or place setting. Stop, savor, and enjoy every bite. For even more enjoyment, share your feast with a friend. I am so happy that Mike and I ran into Paula and Todd this weekend. As Paula said,  it was “a chance meeting with so many good things as a result.” We are thankful for our network of support and the blessings that are bestowed on us. We will have to make time to get together soon!