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Posts Tagged ‘whole foods’

A new school year has officially begun. On Wednesday morning I welcomed 19 adorable and eager 6 year olds into my first grade class. Behind the facade of their well put together outfits, shiny new shoes, and trendy new backpacks were timid, uncertain little kids who I’d guess had laid in bed the night before just hoping that their new teacher would be nice and would take care of them. Little did they know that said teacher had been sending out her own silent wishes for them to think she was kind and to know that they would each have a special place in her heart. Behind the facade of my mega-watt smile and brightly colored, super organized classroom I was fighting my own first day jitters. The first three days were a whirlwind of early mornings and late nights with the in between filled with getting to know one another and establishing routines. By Friday I was hoarse, mentally and physically spent, and a little voice chirping “Ms. Stoever….” was on repeat in my head. The days of morning reading, hot breakfasts, freshly made lunches, mid-day workouts at an empty gym, and a to-do list consisting of only frivolous errands are definitely over. But, just as my students’ nerves weened over the first few days so did my longing for my summer life. I proudly watched on as their true personalities and confidence began to shine through, friendships started to blossom, and laughter became our soundtrack. When we all gathered on the carpet on Friday afternoon to talk about the highlights of our first week together and the shy little girl in pigtail braids at the back of the carpet raised her hand and whispered “My favorite part of the first week was meeting you” the remaining grasp on those summer vacation luxuries dissipated. I was quickly reminded that there are few things in life as satisfying and rewarding as touching the lives of children and that makes everything (even plain yogurt breakfasts and raw veggies lunches) that much sweeter.

I am still committed to trying to incorporate some of my favorite meal discoveries from this summer into my school year repertoire and I hope to report back on my progress in future posts (hopefully iPhone photos with Crayola inspired backdrops will suffice!) But, the following recipe earned its spot as the first of the school year with flying colors. You see, along with the return to my old routine comes the reemergence of the late afternoon energy plummet. A piece of fruit is my usual go to for a quick sugar rush, but I eat plenty of fruit as is and was hoping to find an alternative that would provide me with a bit more nutritional balance (in terms of stamina a combination of carbs and protein goes a long way for me). I came across this energy ball recipe on one of my favorite sites. Brittany of Eating Bird Food has a plethora of healthful, tasty original recipe creations, but this particular was acquired from a Whole Foods cooking demo. Being a WF fanatic myself (and with a name like Heady Goo Balls) I had total faith that these little balls would do the trick. I whipped up (more like pulverized… but no post is complete without at least one cliche) a batch at the beginning of the week and popped one each day when I felt the onset of the afternoon crash. Though small in stature these babies pack a nutrient-dense punch that got me through the end of day clean-up/set-up plus the dreaded hour+ long commute home. And if that isn’t enough to convince you to make yourself something that includes a blend of grasses as an ingredient they got an “Mmmmmm!” from Nick which is about as rare as a “I’m not going to cook tonight” from me.

My adaptations to the recipe were minimal so head over to Brittany’s site for the specifics (be sure to allow yourself extra time for browsing!) I omitted the bee pollen granules and used a cookie baller for scooping which resulted in 13 tablespoon sized balls. That means I’ve got plenty to keep me ballin’ through school week 2.

Original Source: Heady Goo Balls from Eating Bird Food

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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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What do a first year anniversary, a vacation of a lifetime, aging grandparents, family members sprinkled across the country, and a national tragedy all have in common? They are all a timely reminder to me that life is unpredictable… there are no promises, no guarantees, and at times no answers. Let’s be honest… life can be unfair, cruel, and at its lowest moments seemingly unbearable. So why then do we grasp onto life with unparalleled fervor? Why do the words “life is precious” slip off so many tongues with ease? Because in life there is love. No matter where your ambiguous journey may take you around each corner is the possibility of discovering new love and even in the simplest of moments along the way old love can continue to grow. Love is beautifully mysterious in its own way as it can be unveiled in the most unexpected of entities. Many of us are blessed with love amongst the branches of our family trees, both the one who are born into and the one we plant the seed for. But, how many of us have also discovered love in a golden friendship, a furry pal, or a classroom full of first graders… at the age of 2, 22, 42, or 92?! No matter where, when, how, or with whom love is found it is magical. Love soothes us in the darkest of  life’s moments and sets our world ablaze in the brightest. Love is life’s gift.

The following words are not intended to be laden with the voice of a preacher. Rather they are a public proclamation and plea from my soul to my self. Slow down… prioritize… make time for those you love… and always say “I love you.”

My first move towards embracing this mantra is to begin a new family tradition of Sunday night  cooking. You wouldn’t be here reading this right now if I did not already cook on a daily basis. The key word there is “I.” Let me set the scene for a typical evening in our home. I am in the kitchen preparing dinner while Nick sits on the other side of our peninsula countertop working on his laptop. Despite our close proximity our interactions and conversations during this time involve minimal eye contact and overly succinct statements. Most sound something like this…

Partner 1: Hey! Guess what…

Partner 2: Huh? I wasn’t listening.

Partner 1: Forget it. It’s not important.

or

Partner 1: Hey! Guess wh…

Partner 2 (interrupting): Hold on. I’m busy right now.

By no means am I suggesting that the two of us should be in the kitchen together every night (the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” certainly has validity), but we could “prioritize and make time” to do so once a week. And so we’ve decided that on Sunday evenings we will don our aprons, cue some music, execute culinary teamwork, and admire one another’s work (or at least efforts!). We will sit across the table from one another… actively listening to each other and reflecting on our conversation. We will enjoy a meal made with TLC. We will celebrate and cultivate our love.

Our tradition commenced this past Sunday with a menu of homemade tomato and basil marinara (which we learned to make during our incredible cooking class experience in Rome) and fresh farmer’s market pasta. I was hesitant to blog about this meal because the recipe is unrefined, the lighting was terrible, and I was taking pictures with my iPhone. But in this moment those things don’t matter because in the words of my dear Aunt Tricia “It’s all about the LOVE!”

Tomato Basil Marinara

adapted from Chef Andrea – Cooking Classes in Rome

Makes approximately 4 cups of sauce

Ingredients

4 pounds Roma tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

extra virgin olive oil

salt

handful of fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

Directions

  1. Place a large pot of water on high heat to boil. While waiting for the water to boil use a paring knife to cut a lengthwise slit down the middle of each tomato.
  2. When the water comes to a boil place the tomatoes in the pot for 2-3 minutes. Remove the tomatoes using a slotted spoon and place in colander. Rinse with cold water. (Save the cooking water for your pasta. It now contains vitamins and minerals from the tomatoes…. bonus!)
  3. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle peel the skin from each. Place a colander over a bowl and squeeze each tomato over the colander to remove the seeds. Chop the squeezed tomatoes into smaller pieces. Set aside the bowl of tomato juice.
  4. Smash the garlic cloves (you can use the bottom of a heavy pan) being sure to keep the skins on. Coat the bottom of a large saute pan with olive oil and place over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot place the cloves in the pan and lightly brown them on each side.
  5. When garlic is browned pour the chopped tomatoes into the pan and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. After about 5-10 minutes the tomatoes will cook down and release more juices. Add a generous pinch of salt.
  6. Simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. If your sauce is getting too thick you can add the reserved tomato sauce a little at a time.
  7. Once tomatoes have cooked down and flavors have melded to your liking use a spoon to remove the garlic cloves. Then using a pasta fork or potato masher break down the tomatoes to your desired consistency. Finally, scatter fresh basil over the sauce.

Bon Appétit!

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Chapter 2 – A Change of Heart

Not long after my 5k accomplishment, and subsequent realization of a budding enjoyment of running, Pro-Activity launched their PACER (Pro Activity Conditioning and Endurance Racing) team. PACER is a social club/athletic team founded on the belief that with courage and perseverance (and an enthusiastic cheering squad!) ordinary people can do extraordinary things. In the year following its founding, I bore witness to some remarkable accomplishments including training for and completing 5k’s, 10k’s, half-marathons , marathons, and a 50 mile trail race, qualifying for the Boston Marathon, summiting Mt. Washington, and smashing PR’s. The feat that I was privy an insider’s view of was Nick’s quest towards completing his first half marathon in Virginia Beach in September 2009. At the time, we were still “enduring” a long-distance relationship which meant only seeing one another on the weekends. In the months leading up to the race, our nightly phone calls came after increasingly intense training runs and our Saturday morning sleep-ins, coffee, and SportsCenter viewings were replaced by “long runs.” The memory that sticks with me most from this time was when on a miserably humid, drizzly afternoon in August I drove Nick across town and left him on the side of a desolate farm-side road so he could run the 11 miles back to my parents’ house. I remember watching the countryside tick by out my car window, slowly turning over to our small town’s quaint main street, and then back to countryside again. All the while I was thinking “I can’t believe he’s going to cover all this distance by running!” When, well over an hour later, he ascended the steep crest of my parents’ driveway the combination of sweat and rain could be rung out of his clothing. Even after a shower and fresh outfit the bloodshot eyes and gray pallor were remaining evidence of his efforts. I clearly remember struggling to figure out why anyone would ever subject themselves to that level of exertion and assuring myself that I  certainly never would (yes… this is foreshadowing).

Then came race day and as an official PACER “loudmouth” I had a strategic cheer zone on the grassy divider where the racers were passing their mile 4 and mile 11 marks. I was well prepared with noise makers, a camera, and runner tracking text message alerts, but no amount of foresight could have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that I would experience that late summer morning. I watched Team Hoyt members pass by, runners and disabled partners both beaming ear to ear, Team in Training participants proudly running in memory of loved ones, brave cancer survivors and war veterans. Runners of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds  who were all aiming to achieve personal greatness. When I saw Nick at the “reunion area” post-finish line my heart was swelled with pride and admiration. Nick, and every other runner who crossed my path that day, had truly inspired me.

When all was said and done and Nick and I were a couple hours into our lengthy trek back home, I finally asked the question that had been weighing heavily on my mind. “Soooo how far would I have to be able to run in order to even consider training for a half marathon?” I squeaked. “About 5 miles. Why you want to run one now?” he baited. “Ummm, I dunno. We’ll see how I feel in the morning,” I replied in a most non-committal fashion.

And what did that next morning bring? Me, at the gym, putting in my first 5 mile run.

To be continued…

And now for a snack break…

At the most recent race expo I attended I stumbled upon a Larabar booth and felt an instant surge of excitement at the thought of free samples of one of my favorite grab-and-go foods. Larabars have enjoyed quite a bit of publicity recently, especially after being featured on The Biggest Loser, but my first taste came as a result of perusing the “bar” section of Whole Foods in search of a wholesome source of sustained energy for those days that I was exerting a lot of energy while running. The allure of the bar is that it is a pure fruit and nut bar with each flavor containing no more than 9 ingredients (some as little as 2!) As a result they are gluten free, vegan, and free of any colorings, additives, or preservatives. To boot, they are simply delicious. There are 20 different flavors, most of which I have at least sampled, but the Peanut Butter and Jelly variety is my hands down favorite. I am not one to typically scoff at high price tags on healthful foods, but I am always up for the challenge of recreating something with the added bonus of cost efficiency. When I came across Jen’s recipe for a mock up of the Cherry Pie flavor I decided that was my foray into making my own. Using her nut and dried fruit ratios and the label’s ingredients for inspiration I whipped up (more like chopped, pureed, scraped, repeated) my very own Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars.

The benefits rundown:

  • These bars are loaded with heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats
  • Peanuts are a great source of concentrated protein (20-30% protein!)
  • Dates are rich in potassium which for runners is essential in maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance
  • The combination of dried fruits and nuts result in a nice blend of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, and copper

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

recipe adapted from Use Real Butter and ingredients based on the LÄRABAR site

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups medjool dates, pitted
1 1/4 cups dried strawberries
1 1/2 cups peanuts

Directions

Line a 8-inch or 9-inch square pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Place dates and strawberries in a food processor and pulse until a gooey semi-paste has formed. The mixture will be very sticky and it takes quite a bit of pulsing to achieve the right consistency (some fruit bits, but not large chunks). Scoop the fruit paste into a large mixing bowl. Pour the peanuts in the food processor and pulse to coarse bits (do not over-process). Empty the peanuts into the mixing bowl with the dried fruit. Knead the dried fruit and peanuts together until combined and evenly distributed (I found using my hands to be most the most effective means of kneading). Transfer the the mixture to the prepared pan and press evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate the mixture until it is firm to the touch, approximately 30 minutes. Invert onto a cutting board and slice to desired size.

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