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Archive for August, 2012

*Disclaimer* This post along with my previous one are intended to be celebrations of summer vacation. By no means am I complaining about my “real life” the other 10 months out of the year…. I am simply stating the facts. I LOVE my job and wouldn’t trade it for the world. And for that I am most grateful. Now on to more important things like this ridiculously tasty salad.     

I know I promised not to harp on the many reasons why I love summer vacation… but I’m recanting on my promise (tsk, tsk) because there is one more thing that I have been relishing extra this summer. Lunch…. that crucial mid-day elixir that gets us through the work day. “But… you’re not working. So why is lunch so remarkable these days?” you may ask. Let me explain…

Unlike my qualms with a typical breakfast spread I am actually quite fond of traditional lunchtime foods. Salads, soups, sandwiches, spreads… now those are my kinda foods. Rather my lunchtime woes are once again rooted in the circumstances surrounding my meals on a typical school day:

  1. Timing – Hungry or not here it comes! My lunchtime coincides with that of my students so it is reliably from 11:25 a.m.-12:20 p.m. (this is a very loose interpretation… see below). Therefore, I eat when the clock tells me to rather than when my body says it’s time. Sure, I could dig into my lunchbox at 1:30 if I wanted to (I am the teacher after all!) but I would have to brace myself for a 6 year old inquisition. What are you eating? … That looks/smells funny!… Ewww! I hate that!… I’m hungry too. I want a snack. Hence, I choose Option 1.
  2. Lunch “Break?” – By the time I walk my kids to the cafeteria and use my super teacher powers to squelch the inevitable tears over lost lunch cards/seating arrangement gripes/what mom packed in Johnny’s lunchbox it is 11:35 a.m. By the time I go to the office and check my physical mailbox followed by getting back to my classroom to check my virtual mailbox it is 11:45 a.m. By the time I respond to said mail (and voicemails and handwritten notes) it is 12:00 p.m. By the time I set up the excessive amount of materials required for our hands-on math workshop it is 12:15 p.m. and time to sprint to the bathroom (even my bathroom breaks are time restricted… not even nature trumps the rigidity of a teacher’s schedule) and make it back to the front doors just in time to greet the rosy-cheeked children coming in from recess. The aforementioned schedule is actually the description of a highly desired “free” lunch period. On the other days I’m committed to meetings with my colleagues/administration/parents which means all those other tasks get nixed and/or completed in a condensed tornado like fashion. So there is no actual “lunch time”. Consuming my meal is entwined in all of my other mid-day duties… it is multi-tasking at its best.
  3. Menu – As I mentioned above I have a propensity for most foods deemed lunch worthy. The complicating matter is not what I want to eat, but rather what I can eat at school. Anything that needs to be eaten warm is out of the question because of the precious time that it would take to walk to the teachers’ lounge (which is on the other side of the building), stand in front of the microwave (which I avoid at all costs to begin with), and then walk back to my classroom. Meals that require more than one utensil are also off the acceptable foods list because they entail actually sitting down and using both hands which does not bode well with my multi-tasking ways. Garlic, ginger, parmesan cheese… not in my lunch! Why? Because have you ever walked into someone’s office after they devoured an over-stuffed tuna sandwich?! Yea… we all have and we all remember it because it’s scarring. Hence why foods with pungent smells are off the menu as well. I’d like for my students not to forever associate me with an undesirable aroma (plus there is also no better way to lose the focus of a 6 year old then to invade their nostrils with a “stinky” smell). Lastly, given the skyrocketing percentage of young children with food allergies I have inevitably had a child with nut allergies in my class every year. This means no nuts or nut products in the classroom for risk of cross-contamination. So much for that un-picky palate.

But in the mystical land of summer vacation there are no time restraints, meetings, tasks to tend to, or children to care for. Lunch = eating whatever I want whenever I want.  And I love it. This summer I’ve eaten hot meals, meals with stinky cheeses and nuts galore, meals that I prepared minutes (rather than hours) before consuming, and meals that required sitting and actually chewing. I’ve experimented with new recipes that are school-friendly and those that will have to be reserved for summers, holidays,and snow days (we’ll broach the topic of these little gems come winter!) Come 11:25 a.m. on September 5th nostalgia may be tugging on the hems of my first day of school clothes, but come 12:20 p.m. when I get my first “I missed you at lunch!” hug it will all be worth it!

This salad has been one of my favorite creations of the summer. It’s cool and crisp and the sweet agave and rice vinegar, savory soy sauce, and rich sesame oil meld together perfectly. The combination of tofu, edamame, sunflower seeds, brown rice, and colorful veggies will satisfy your taste buds as well as all of your nutritional needs (protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals… it’s got it all!) And with the school year just around the corner the fact that it can be made the night before and eaten cold with just one utensil makes it a winner!

Tofu-Edamame Salad

Serves 1

Ingredients

Salad:

  • 3 oz. baked tofu (I bake a whole block of tofu at a time using this recipe http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/easy-baked-tofu and use it in different dishes throughout the week)
  • 1/4 cup cooked edamame
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (I have also used quinoa in this recipe with equally as good results)
  • 1/4 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot
  • 2 TBSP chopped scallions
  • 1TBSP roasted sunflower seeds

Dressing:

  • 1tsp agave nectar (or honey)
  • 1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1tsp natural rice vinegar

Directions:

  1. Combine salad ingredients in a medium bowl.
  2. Whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Drizzle dressing over the salad and toss to coat.
  4. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for lunch on the go.

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One of my favorite things about where we live is that on Sundays an incredible farmers’ market is held just five minutes away. I’ve already detailed the reasons behind my love for farmers’ markets and eating local so I won’t be redundant, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that there is an undeniable air of magic at the market during the height of the summer harvest. The tables at each booth, with the bold colors of the abounding produce, rival a painter’s palate. The menagerie of items available at this time of year is unparalleled… ranging from classic favorites (peaches and tomatoes) to lesser known gems (zucchini blossoms and Romanesco cauliflowers). While I love to “window shop” at the market and could spend hours ogling the seasonal bounty, I always have my list in hand and rarely deviate from it. Here comes my the part where I make my (embarrassingly pathetic) public confession… I am a compulsive menu planner and spend my Saturday evenings pouring through my recipe archives and perusing my favorite websites until I have all of our meals planned for the week (and I like it!). So impulse purchases simply do not fit into my neatly organized (OCD driven) plans.


But this week my routine was thrown for a loop that came in the form of a weekend wedding in NYC. Because I spent my Saturday night socializing in my favorite little black dress and sipping on adult beverages (as opposed to sitting alone on the couch in my pajamas and snacking on cereal) I arrived at the market list-less. In addition, Nick and I spent a pretty penny to stay the night at the swanky venue (NYC’s Mandarin Hotel) so we vowed to enjoy every last second of it. This meant leaving the city at noon and arriving at the tail end of the market when the pickings are slim.


I made a beeline for my favorite booth in hopes of at least being able to snag some of our weekly staples. In doing so, I stumbled upon an oversized barrel of beets which sparked memories of a very tasty beet and potato salad that I enjoyed while in Italy last month. I’m pretty sure I was beginning to salivate when my daydream was interrupted by the voice of fellow market-goer. “If you marinate those in some balsamic vinegar and then grill them they are really great!” Hmmm… roasted? Yes. Boiled? Yes. But grilled? “I’ve never made them that way… sounds delicious!” I replied. I had already started to shovel the beets into my bag… I was in a time crunch and I could ponder the desired cooking method at a later time. But, my foodie friend was just warming up. He emphatically gestured towards a basket of fresh garlic. “The beets really are delicious, but this is the BEST when grilled! It’ll melt in your mouth and has none of the usual overwhelming pungency!” He continued his endorsement with instructions for prepping and grilling, but I had zoned out because he had already sold me. It had little to do with what he said and a lot to do with how he said it. The giddy fervor in his voice was likably familiar. I realized it echoed the tone of my own voice when speaking about a culinary discovery and it was infectious! Our conversation was rushed along by the bellowing voice of the farmer… “Closing time! Buck a bunch! Buck a basket!” (a perk of going to the market late!) I had no clue what I was going to do with this garlic but I had caved to the impulse buy.


“Was that guy talking to you at the market weird?” Nick innocently inquired when we got home. I couldn’t help but grin at the thought of the same sentiment crossing the mind of others… but in response to my most recent recipe rant. “Nope… just passionate about his produce!” I defended.

The garlic taunted me from our countertop for the remainder of the day. This perfect specimen of fresh produce without a matching recipe was challenging my creativity. Fortunately, I found my inspiration the next day in the dips/spreads section while finishing my shopping at Whole Foods. Roasted garlic hummus! Yes, I would combine the lonely garlic with my newfound love of freshly cooked chickpeas.

And so this morning I prepped my garlic for its glorious fate. I gave it a quick trim, moisturized it with a drizzle of olive oil, dressed it in the shiniest of foil, and delicately placed it on the grill grates. My only regret was that no one else was home to savor the hypnotic aroma that permeated the air as the barbecue worked its magic. An hour later and it revealed itself to be everything that had been promised…. mellow, creamy, and totally dream worthy. I toyed with the idea of spreading this buttery, nutty deliciousness on every cracker/slice of bread I could find, but resisted in order to preserve my original plan (and my breath). And so I wed the garlic to my go-to hummus recipe and the marriage was a blissful one. The garlic was subtle enough to preserve the integrity of the hummus, yet flavorful enough to lend some welcome spice to the original. I celebrated this perfect union along with some crudités all through lunch.

I would love to end this post with a lesson learned and statement of intent to head to the  farmers’ market without a list more often… but who am I kidding?! Apologies in advance to my new friend from the market… but unless you want to make a permanent Saturday night reservation for meal planning time at Casa de Martha you likely won’t be foodie-talking me into more impulse buys any time soon!

Grill-Roasted Garlic 

 Ingredients:

  • 1 bulb of fresh garlic
  • olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat grill to medium and adjust for indirect heat.
  2. Cut off the top 1/2 inch of the bulb to expose the tops of the individual cloves. Remove any loose, papery outer layers.
  3. Place the bulb with the cut side up on a square of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Bring up opposite edges of the foil and seal with a double fold. Fold the remaining edges together to completely enclose garlic. Leave a bit of space for steam to build.
  5. Place garlic on the grill over the unlit side.
  6. Grill, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour or until the garlic feels soft when squeezed.
  7. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Roasted Garlic Hummus

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups chickpeas (I used freshly cooked chickpeas, but canned works as well)
  • 2 TBSP tahini
  • 1 head of roasted garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 TBSP reserved chickpea cooking liquid/liquid from can/water
  • 1 TBSP olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place the chickpeas, tahini, cumin, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Squeeze the cloves of garlic from their skin into the bowl along with the chickpea mixture.
  3. Process until the mixture is finely ground. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. With the processor running, pour the lemon juice and cooking liquid/water through the feeder tube in a steady stream.
  5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process for an additional minute.
  6. With the processor running, pour the olive oil through the feeder tube in a steady stream.
  7. Scrape down the bowl and continue to process until the hummus is smooth.
  8. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator covered for up to a week.

Note: I prefer my hummus on the thicker side. For a creamier texture add more water or olive oil until the hummus has reached your desired consistency.

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The perks to having summers off are endless, but in fear of igniting a firestorm of comments  about how teachers are overpaid and underworked (the local media forums seem to be handling that just fine on their own) I’ll avoid the laundry list of reasons why I love summer vacation. I’ll even spare you year round workers from having to quell the green monster that would emerge after reading a “top 10” list and rather I’ll simply highlight my top two. Narrowing it down to just two was easy as these are the two things that I count down the days till in June and nostalgically pine for come September. The two things that spawn a snow day dance just so I can have a taste of them in the midst of the winter blues. The two things my husband makes snide remarks about on a daily basis because my pleasure in them is laughably palpable. So without further ado here are the top two perks of summer vacation according to Ms. Stoever…

1. Bed – While sleeping in and being awoken solely by bodily cues is quite nice (the dreaded alarm clock takes summers off as well), the perk “bed” actually refers to my post-wake up routine. Each morning I roll out of bed, make the 15 step journey from our bedroom to the kitchen, pour myself an oversized mug of coffee (which conveniently has already been made by Nick before he left for work and has now cooled to the perfect temperature), and then make the return journey back to bed. With my cup of Joe at my side I climb back into the preserved warmth of my bed, prop myself up with the excess of pillows, wriggle back under the duvet, grab my book iPad off the nightstand, and I am ready to settle into my bookworm’s paradise. The beauty of it is that I can truly lose myself amidst the pages of a good read (or in the case of my current book selection {cough} the Fifty Shades Trilogy {cough} … amidst the pages of pure smut).There are no time constraints, no tired, heavy eyes to combat, and no work priorities to contend with. I am typically only brought back to reality by my grumbling stomach nagging to be tended to. Which brings me to my second perk…

2. Breakfast – You’ve heard it all before… breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Research has proven that a healthful breakfast positively impacts your daily performance (energy levels, concentration, etc.) as well as your overall weight management, heart health, and quality of your diet. Unfortunately for me for most of my life breakfast was my least favorite meal of the day. My first qualm with breakfast is in its timing. I have zero appetite while I still have Sandman remnants in my eyes (and these days before I’ve got a steady flow of caffeine in my veins). I need at least an hour before I’m ready to “break fast.” On school days I literally roll out of bed and into my car to head to the gym by 6am. Getting up any earlier just to warm up for breakfast is a hard limit for me (book reference anyone?!) So that means eating a small piece of fruit on my way into the gym and packing a portable breakfast for afterwards (typically plain yogurt and nuts or on lazy days a Larabar or Whole Foods Green Superfood bar).  This means shoveling spoonfuls of food into my mouth while simultaneously tending to the flood of emails that overtook my inbox during the night and making final preparations before the tornado of children arrive. I’m pretty sure this behavior meets at least some criteria for mindless eating (sorry Brian Wansink). The bottom line is that my school day breakfasts lack lifestyle and palate appeal. My second qualm is with a typical breakfast spread. I loathe milk, my textural issues make me gag at even the sight of something mushy (soupy oatmeal, soggy cereal), I’m a lacto-vegetarian (no eggs or meat), and I try to avoid heavy carbo-loaded items (bagels, etc). My quest to create well-rounded breakfasts out of these limited options has led me to eat excessive amounts of unsweetened Greek and soy yogurts, pure fruit and nut bars, and the occasional homemade cereal or muffin. I know I’ve come a long way from my Light and Fit yogurt and Special K days, but the monotony has caught up with me and I’m sure a little variety could go a long way nutrient wise as well.

So I vowed this summer to not only get creative with my breakfasts, but to actually sit and consciously make spoon to mouth movements and savor (or at least taste!) each bite. My mission has been fruitful (both literally and figuratively) thus far and knowing that a new, healthful, and (9 times out of 10) delicious recipe is waiting to be made in my kitchen makes tearing myself away from my morning reading bearable. I’ve learned to tweak things to please my personal tastes (i.e. overcooked oatmeal that any normal person would turn their nose at), I’ve taken some new food risks (chia seed pudding?!), and I’ve found ways to bring new life and nutrients to my old favorites (i.e. yogurt parfaits). I’ve been sure to test out recipes that could be made the night before in hopes of heading into the new school year with a broader breakfast artillery. Dare I say I am really liking breakfast these days?! Watch out dinner!

Below are pictures of and links to some of my favorite recipes thus far. With the exception of the caramelized banana oatmeal all of the recipes came from bloggers I follow. I did minimal (if any) tweaking to each (swapping a different fruit or nut, omitting optional items like protein powder, etc.) so re-writing them seemed senseless. Plus these sites are all hosted by incredible bloggers whose posts are totally worth browsing.

You can be certain that I’ll be enjoying the remaining days of bed and breakfasting to the last drop!

Top Row:                                                                  

Caramelized Banana Oatmeal – Martha Stoever Original (recipe below)

Nutty Strawberry Banana Quinoa – Ambitious Kitchen

Bottom Row:    

Swiss Oatmeal with Blueberries – Colourful Palate

Breakfast Parfait Jar – Peanut Butter and Peppers

Top Row:

Chia Pudding – Eating Bird Food

Vegan Peach Muesli – Eating Bird Food

Bottom Row:

Power Muesli – Everyday Maven

Banana Quinoa Flake Bake – Eating Bird Food

Caramelized Banana Oatmeal

serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 small banana or 1/2 large banana, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 Tablespoon agave
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vegan butter (I prefer Earth Balance whipped)
  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut, if desired

Directions:

  1. Combine oats and almond milk in a small saucepan over high heat.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Lower heat and simmer.
  4. Allow oatmeal to cook until it is thick, stirring occasionally. Approximately 10 minutes.
  5. While oatmeal is combine bananas, walnuts, agave, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Toss to coat.
  6. In a small skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add banana mixture.
  7. Cook for approximately 5 minutes until bananas begin to caramelize.
  8. Add caramelized bananas to cooked oatmeal and top with shredded coconut if using.

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