April Fools Day… it came early!

Mother Nature is trying to fool us – 6 inches of dense mixed snow last night? This MUST be a joke. Here’s my car last night when I got home from a joyful evening with my lovely friends.

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Yesterday was a dunch night. Dinner and lunch in one. A group of women in their twenties and thirties who all have many things in common, but most importantly, food. We try to get together once a month to eat and drink and be merry. My bestie Rach started it years ago and graciously invited me to joy this past year and it has become such a highlight in my life. I’ve met some amazing women whom have become some of my close friends. I made my favorite summertime dish (trying to stay positive in light of the recent weather occurrences) — strawberry mango quinoa salad tossed with a honey lime and mint dressing. Yes, it tastes as great as it sounds. I mean, just take a look at this beautiful dish!

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Well, sadly, dunch got canceled last minute – but we still went out for some cocktails later at night. Fearless women! Out in the brunt of the storm. Don’t worry, husbands did the driving 🙂 So, the good news – I now have this awesome fruit salad for lunch the rest of the week!

Forecast says its going to start warming up this week – but not too much. Highs will be in the low forties with more rain. I think because of this it is now time to start the count down – 14 days until Florida, 14 days until Florida, 14 days until Florida. Oh how I can feel the sun beaming on my skin now. For now, comfort food…

First, I made stuffed peppers today. I had some bell peppers in my fridge that I had gotten on sale last week and needed to use them up quickly. My mom used to make stuffed peppers a lot growing up as a kid and I loved them. I made mine today with lean ground turkey, brown jasmine rice, and some veggies (mushrooms, onions, carrots and garlic). I started with the vegetables, then added in the meat and cooked everything down on medium heat, getting that lovely caramelization you all know I love from my veggies. Then I added in 1/2 jar of tomato sauce – grandpa’s goes vegetarian, obvi. Mixed in the cooked rice & stuffed my peppers. I cooked these covered at 350 for 45 minutes. I’m really looking forward to enjoying these this week for dinners.

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For lunch this week – soup. To keep it light, and to get winter out of my mind – I made a gluten free minestrone (no pasta, just veggies and beans). For the soup:

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 leek, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced (yummmm garlic!)

2 medium carrots, sliced into rounds

2 small zucchinis, sliced into rounds

1 cup green beans

1 cup coarsely chopped asparagus

1 cup dry beans (I used a 13 bean soup mix from Bob’s red mill that I had in the pantry)

4 cups baby kale

1 large can whole tomatoes

1 carton of vegetable stock

rosemary, thyme, and cracked black pepper

(and I added a few baby corns – left over from my dinner tonight – which you’ll see next)

*I started in my large pot with the onions, garlic, carrots and leeks with a little bit of water. I then added in the other vegetables and sauteed them all on medium heat. I added in the dry beans and vegetable stock and let simmer for about 30 minutes. After that I added in the tomatoes and kale and about 1 cup of water – just to make sure that everything was immersed in liquid. I put the lid on, turned it down to low and let it all meld together for about 2 hours.

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*It smelled up my whole apartment with spring soup goodness. Really looking forward to having this for lunch tomorrow with some fruit salad! 🙂

Lastly, for dinner tonight (and I obviously made more than 1 serving so I would have leftovers for another dinner this week) I made a fresh ginger and Sriracha vegetable stirfry. I used all of the same vegetables as what I did for the soup but added mushrooms, broccoli and water chestnuts (oooooo, water chestnuts. they make my mouth…water….). I simmered all of these vegetables with Sriracha and a little bit of liquid aminos. Then at the last minute or so I added some fresh grated ginger for a nice zing. My amazing coteacher taught me this past week to peel and freeze your ginger root so that it lasts longer and is way easier to grate 🙂 Had this over a 1/2 cup of brown rice (had some extra left over from the stuffed peppers) and my mouth was on fire the whole time I enjoyed it.

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I don’t know when I started enjoying spicy foods. I know I didn’t always. My step mom cooked with a lot of garlic, still does, which is where I get my insane amount of garlic in my cooking from. Anyways, I know my stepmom would make things spicy sometimes but I don’t always remember enjoying it. Especially not like I do now. Anything that has a bite to it, I’ll eat it.

Feeling very accomplished today. Lesson planning is done – solid for tomorrow and a great outline for the rest of the week with most materials created. Sundays, I think they are my favorite days. I always feel so great after I’ve cooked all day while lesson planning and jamming out to music. No wonder I have good weeks… I start them out the right way 🙂

14 days… (as I’m bundled up in a blanket)

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Warmth and Reflection

Hello Spring! Not! This week’s forecast is snow and in the teens. Oh, my Florida vacation can’t come fast enough. I need sunshine and warmth in my life. So, this week I made soul warming dishes to hopeful help me feel warm.

Reflection… our exhibition night went off without a hitch. Success. I was so proud of my students – confidently sharing their hard work with the families and special guests at the event, trying the healthier recipes their classmates had made, showing pride in themselves, their work, and our school, and being respectful mature young adults when interacting with New York times author, Michael Moss.

I think I’ve made a mark at my school. My first exhibition, check. The warm thoughtful congratulatory comments from parents, teachers and administrators made all of my hard work, sleepless nights, empty wallet, and grey hairs worth it. Having dinner and drinks with my team and Mr. Moss after the event made it that much more memorable. If you haven’t yet, you must check him out. His investigative journalism on processed foods and big food corporations is eye-opening. He takes you behind the scenes and opens a can of worms, that’s for sure. Talking with him about corner stores and the perpetuating system that keeps our poor poor and unhealthy and my plans for the future was the push that I needed. Yes, my first exhibition is over and I should relax, but there’s no time for that. I need to get moving forward, and forward plans — corner stores (where my first exhibition started).

After such a wonderful week at school, my parents came out to visit me and see my new place. It was really nice having my mom and stepdad in town for a few hours Saturday. We enjoyed a bloody mary and brunch at a local favorite restaurant of mine that includes vegan options  on their menu and then headed off antiquing for the day.

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I was able to pick up some old iron hooks with hummingbirds on them (for a reminder of my great grandmother – hummingbirds are her favorite, and she is my favorite) and two old wood crates to use as storage for my textbooks and things. Also my stepdad was able to make my towel hanger that I wanted – old pastry cutter on a piece of barn wood – to match my mason jar planters! 🙂

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Today I woke up early and headed to the gym. I have to get back on my grind with 24/7 bikini time coming up in just three short weeks. It felt really good to get back there after a crazy week away. I also stopped by a natural foods store and picked up some protein powder to add to my smoothies in the morning – just an added boost for that serious muscle building I’m trying to do (haha, not really – just slimming and trimming).

On the menu today — again, think warmth.

First, vegan gluten free lasagna.

2 zucchinis sliced length wise (about 1/4 inch thick)

1 jar of tomato sauce (I used Wegman’s ‘grandpa’s sauce goes vegetarian’)

1/2 cup dry lentils

1/2 cup dry red quinoa

1/2 onion

3 cloves garlic

3/4 cup raw cashews

3/4 cup coconut milk, unsweetened

*cook lentils and quinoa in 2 cups water , set aside

*cashew cream – process onion, garlic, cashews, and milk together; set aside.

*Assemble: layer of tomato sauce on bottom, layer of zucchini, layer of cheese, layer of tomato sauce, repeat until all zucchini is used. Top with tomato sauce.

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*Cook in 350 degree oven for 50 minutes, covered.

*Let cool, slice, and serve. Putting some of this in the freezer for Howie when he gets home next – it’s too good for him not to get the chance to try.

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(Kind of hard to see – but cooked my lasagna in my temptations cook set that my momma brought me – a Christmas present a few years ago that I kept packed up until I had a place where I could enjoy cooking in it at)

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Up next, cream of broccoli soup. Normally wouldn’t make this, but I had a huge bag of broccoli florets from exhibition left over and needed to use them up before spoiling.

*steamed whole bag (about 6 cups) and then processed with coconut milk

*sauteed 1/2 onion and 4 cloves garlic in a little bit of olive oil, then added the pureed broccoli, added another 1/2 cup coconut milk and 1 cup water, a dash of smoked paprika and black pepper, covered & simmered on low for about an hour.

It’s not the best cream of broccoli soup I’ve ever had – it’s definitely missing something, just not sure what. I’ve never been a huge cream of anything soup person, so not too concerned about mastering this one in the future either.

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For my asian cravings (which you all should know by now based on my cooking that I have all the time), I made cauliflower fried rice.

*saute 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic, chopped carrot (in water)

*process 1/2 head of cauliflower and add to sauteed vegetables

*add 1 tsp hoesin sauce & 2 tbs Sriracha, turn up heat to medium and stir occasionally – giving the cauliflower a slight brown color and toasted, or fried flavor.

Lastly, to finish up the rest of the broccoli, I made these stuffed sweet potatoes. I found the recipe on pinterest. These are super delicious and remind me of home – my mom always used to cook twice baked potatoes (with butter, cheese and bacon of course) but here it’s the same concept. I followed the recipe to a T just because it sounds great the way it was written (oops, no I didn’t, I didn’t use any oil) and the cumin really does it.

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Well, off to bed for me. Tomorrow I have my APPR formal observation by my principal … oh the joys of being a teacher. Nothing to worry about, I have an awesome lesson planned with my coteacher where I’m going to be all corny and run around with minerals yelling in a panic that I need my students’ help identifying them. It’s going to be great! 🙂

The time has come.

It has finally arrived. It’s exhibition night week. Holy crap. I can’t believe it’s here already. In four short days, my students will be showing off all of their hard work from this school year. In four short days, change will come. Stress will go higher than I think I can prepare myself for, and then it will all be over, in a flash. Two hours doesn’t seem valid, it doesn’t seem to be enough time to even come close to explaining everything we’ve learned this year, learned, together.

The anxiety has kicked in already. The unknown, oh how it can be such a silent killer. Not knowing what to expect, not knowing what is going to happen next, well, it puts me in a complete funk, and today I felt it. Working on lesson planning for two weeks from now (as I know I will not have any time this week or weekend) for quite a few hours this afternoon was a drag but cooking helped. Cooking always helps.

Menu for today – started out with my vegan St. Patty’s day meal as promised. I didn’t get creative as I had hoped though. Not out of lack of interest or time, but because of olfactory – my memorial smell and taste of true St. Patty’s day meals – corned beef and boiled vegetables. So, I boiled potatoes, onions, carrots, brussel sprouts and cabbage in mustard seed, fennel, black peppercorns and bay leaves. It was exactly what my brain wanted, and I was pleased.

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Then I roasted some beets. Picked a huge bag up at the market yesterday for 2 bucks. I’ve been craving beets for awhile now and I’m so glad I got some. Delicious and nutritious – source of energy, vitamins and minerals (especially iron and potassium), help purify your blood from toxins, lower your blood pressure, and surprisingly – are a natural aphrodisiac. I made a balsamic salad with the roasted beets, fresh orange slices, goat cheese and pumpkin seeds over kale for Rach and I when working today at the university. Maybe if I actually ate the salad for lunch instead of chips and guacamole I wouldn’t have had so much anxiety and blah-ness later in the day.  You are what you eat – and salty corn chips, not so happy.

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Anyways, I finished my cooking day with a few more things. New things! First, raw Brussels sprouts salad – processed in my ninja storm and tossed with a homemade apple cider vinaigrette (olive oil, apple cider vinegar, pepper, garlic, and maple syrup) and chopped pecans. Oh wow, so fresh and crisp. Ate a bowl for a taste test instead of a spoonful it was so good.

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Then it was on to some Sriracha oven roasted cauliflower tossed with general taos (wegmans brand sauce) pan seared broccoli and bok choy over brown rice and topped with fresh scallions. Had it for dinner and made two containers for lunch this week at work. If I could eat bok choy every day, I probably would. Just saying.

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Then I decided to be bold and go places I’ve never gone before. Ha, oh did I fail. So, as you read a few weeks ago, I’ve started making my own almond milk. Success. Every time. Delicious. Every time. Dare I try, coconut. I did. I bought a young coconut, thinking that because it didn’t have the hairy hard shell of a mature coconut that it would be easier to open. Oh was a wrong. Not easy, not difficult, but surely a challenge. After getting it open I poured the water into my ninja. I chopped away some more and got it completely open. Scooped out the flesh (meat) that is kind of like a jelly as this maturity – tastes amazing. Blended it all together and didn’t like the flavor. In all honesty I think it was because of the coconut water – which I love in smoothies, so I plan on using it in smoothies this week. Just definitely cannot drink on it’s own. Next time I think I’ll try a mature coconut and just use the flesh and blend it with tap water.

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Lastly, I used up the last of my polenta that was in the fridge. I sliced it up into french fries, tossed them in olive oil and Italian seasonings and baked them at 450 for 15 minutes, flipping over just a few times. Oh my. These may become a new addiction. Inspired by a local restaurant – polenta fries are super gooey and creamy inside and crisp on the outside. I’d say next time that I want to add some cayenne seasoning as well to give them a nice kick!

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I’ve decided to unwind before this crazy week by watching a movie and going to bed early. Happy healthy eating this week! ❤

Making moves…

Wow, am I a slacker. Although, not really. While I did not blog last week, I promise I was not laying around motionless, brainless. No, I was on full stress mode times 1,000.

I moved into a new apartment last weekend and spent all day with my loving mom and dad packing, and then unpacking. In the meantime, my dad and I went to a local restaurant known for their outstanding selection of beers on tap and in bottle. I had never had the opportunity to have a beer with just my dad, ever in my life. As funny as it sounds, this truly was a moment I will never forget in my life. We sat and caught up on how the family is, and then found ourselves in this deep intellectual conversation about the ecological succession of local NY lakes due to the invasion of zebra mussels. As a semi-pro bass fisherman, my father has a very different outlook on the ecology of lakes that scientists do. Instead of worrying about testing different variables, etc, my father is very observant and analyzes the ways in which the lake is changing over time due to the zebra mussels. Oh science! Anyways, it truly was an amazing time and I am more than thankful for having both my mom and dad there to help me move. We enjoyed some burritos from my favorite mexican place that is now walking distance from my new place and they headed home.

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My first night was tough, I was tired, and emotional because of having my parents there to help me. But I slept like a rock and haven’t felt lonely or uncomfortable since. I love my new place! It is so much bigger than my old apartment and I dream at night about the summer and having a backyard and garden space… it’s like I’m home, just smack middle in the center city. I cannot wait to have my friends over in the summer for barbeques and good times!

So, this past week was living hell. On top of the usual day-to-day teaching — lesson planning, parent meetings, crew meetings, student issues, grading, etc. I had a two-day PD I was co-running, a magazine that I needed to finish (which got corrupt the day I was ready to send it for printing… I don’t want to talk about it), town hall meeting, and cooking with students after school. I think this week was really a breaking point for me. I feel so empowered that I survived it the way that I did. I feel stronger as a teacher and multitasker. I feel thankful for my awesome team of teachers that helped me through it. Being at my school is a breath a fresh air. It’s stressful, to the max, but someone always has your back — true collaboration at it’s best!

Thursday I had dinner with a former mentor of mine from a local university. We talked for four hours catching up and I found myself and him saying (about me) multiple times: “This is my year”. And it really is. I’m at a school that pushes me further in my professional career everyday. I have an outstanding and supportive family. I met a man who loves me for who I am, softly pushes me to be better, and supports all of the crazy efforts that I tackle on a daily basis. I’ve moved into a new apartment that is perfect for my lifestyle. And, I have two amazing vacations planned for this year!

So, enough about me. Let’s talk cooking. And let’s talk DIY-ing!

My cooking today was a little light as I was finishing up a bunch of DIY projects around my new place, but my fridge of full of food to be cooked all week. I’ve got vegetables galore to be roasted and eaten over salad greens – really in salad mode lately – I think it’s my body and minds wishing it was really spring.

My favorite thing I made today was lentils dahl with cauliflower. Lentils are seeds, super delicious and full of fiber and protein. Native to the Indian cuisine, they are often cooked with curry and tumeric. If you simmer lentils for hours, they turn into the mushy soup with very little rigid shape left to the seed. Lentil dahl cooks for hours in spices with onion and garlic. For my recipe, I added carrot and cauliflower for some added phytonutrients. So here ya go:

1 cup lentils (I used brown, red is preferred)

2 cups water (1 cup coconut, 1 cup tap)

1 cup coconut milk (added periodically as liquid is soaked up by lentils)

1/2 cup shredded carrot

3/4 cup shredded cauliflower

1/2 chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbs curry powder

1 tbs tumeric

*Simmer (on medium) lentils in water until water is evaporated. Add coconut milk and more water, add vegetables and spices. Simmer on med-low for 4 hours.

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This pot of lentils dahl with last me all week for sure. Even though the weather is supposed to get warmer, we are also going to have rain/snow, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy these to warm up my soul 🙂

Next up, something completely new – Shrimp and polenta bowls. When I was at trader joes, I saw some polenta and said, hey why not! So, when on pinterest, I noticed a lot of recipes with creamy polenta topped with various combinations of vegetables and meats. So, based on what I had in the fridge, I came up with this:

1 lb polenta (pre-made) – warmed with coconut milk in saucepan until smooth and creamy.

Shrimp (I used medium sized, and cooked only 12 shrimp – simmered in frying pan with shirarcha)

Crimini mushrooms

Onions

Asapragus

Tomatoes

*Prepare polenta and keep cover on until needed.

*Saute onions and mushrooms (no oil), set aside. In same pan, saute asparagus on medium heat (so it gets caramelized) and set aside.

*Assemble polenta bowls with all ingredients and top with freshly cracked black pepper.

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Lastly, I went back to my roots. I made some quinoa breakfast bake (found on previous blogs) but changed it up by added one fresh pear (diced) instead of the applesauce. It gives it a hint of sweetness on the tongue which sometimes I don’t get from my quinoa bakes because I do not add any sugar – just sweetness from the banana and natural homemade applesauce.

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I also made some kale salad that I love. The Asian version that my friend Chrissy makes. I bought the baby kale special for it this time and it’s so worth it. I didn’t have any almonds so I used pecans. It was still delicious because of the sesame ginger dressing that you make with it, but I would prefer the almonds.

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When I cook dinners this week, I’ll be making general taos cauliflower, Asian warm cabbage slaw, polenta fries (hopefully when my friend Rach comes to visit), broccoli avocado salad and roasted vegetables for salad. Next weekend I’m thinking of taking a vegan perspective on St. Patty’s day. So, check back in for that for sure!

Here’s some of my DIY craziness at my new apartment. Some of these creations are inspired by Pinterest, some are my own ideas. My favorite is the jewelry rack. An old spice rack I found at an antique place for $9, painted it black and added some hooks – beautiful! I love the stone insert that it came with, gives a hidden door to a final cubicle that holds my most valuable necklace.

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Another favorite is my entertainment center gone wet bar. I bought some hardware to turn the shelves into wine glass and wine bottle holders. I got this beauty for $20 last summer, painted it then and used it for entertainment center at my old place. Why buy new things when you move, just refurbish what you already have!

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A small thing, but exciting – my spice racks. $2 wooden crates at ACMoores and black paint, nailed to the wall. Spice jars I got from an online outline that my stepmom found – absolutely love these momma! Just need to get some chalkboard paint to re-do the labels with.

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Lastly, my mason jar storage unit. This is a Pinterest find and I love it. Obviously missing one jar – I didn’t have enough hose clamp and need someone to drill a hole in it to screw onto the wood plaque.

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Also, the planter one that my stepdad and I made a few weeks back, added some soil and seeds – and look, after one week I have my first little seedling! So excited! Summer is so close I can taste it!

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I hope you are inspired this week to push yourself further. Remember, no matter what life throws at you, you have the power within yourself to tackle it. Find that power, and make some change in the world this week! See you back here next Sunday with some St. Patty’s day inspired meals – obviously, I am 1/16 (maybe) Irish, so it is not a question that I’ll be cooking Irish delights! 🙂