Category Archives: Salads

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad

L1030066I am one week into my new food regimen.  I like to think of it as a regimen rather than a diet.  I don’t do well with diets.  The minute I am told I can’t have a particular food, I immediately want it.  This regimen was prescribed for me by a naturopathic doctor that I have been seeing for my IBS.  As you know from my last post, peri-menopause has caused quite a bit of havoc in my life over the past 18 months. I can’t believe it took me this long to seek medical treatment. I am a firm believer that much of what ails us has to do with our diets. So when my doctor prescribed this specific diet for my condition, I decided to give it a go. One year ago, I probably would have said, “No thanks”, but I am desperate to feel better. The regimen is  similar to the Paleo diet in that it excludes sugar, dairy, and all cereal grains. However, I am allowed a few types of cheese (thank god) as well as legumes.  I joked to my husband that I might join the CrossFit/Paleo cult that has swept the nation. I saw fear in his eyes.

I had awful headaches during the first few days. I’m assuming this was my body going through sugar withdrawal. But after they passed, it got a lot easier. I’m feeling pretty good and not feeling deprived at all. In fact, the thought of sugar doesn’t even sound good to me, which is strange. I was planning on allowing myself a piece of cake next weekend for my birthday, but I decided that I am going to make a healthy dessert instead.  Black bean brownies, anyone? I will try to post that recipe here in the coming months. It’s one of my favorite things to eat when I need something sweet.

In the meantime, get a load of this salad! It may sound boring, but I can assure you that it’s full of flavor and slightly addictive.  The dressing has a nice bite/tang to it, thanks to mustard and shallots. Give it a whirl!
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Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield: 8-10 servings

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1 cup finely grated Pecorino

1. Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld.
2. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
3. Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 Tbsp. oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
4. Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

Broccoli Coleslaw with Bacon and Raisins

DSC_6074The summer after my freshman year of college, a new friend came home with me for the weekend before flying home to Colorado.  I remember being very anxious about her staying with my mom and I.   At some point during my senior year of high school, my mom had to sell our house, and we subsequently moved into a small apartment above her hair salon.  As uncomfortable as I was about this, I was also a self-consumed teenager who probably spent more time thinking about superficial things.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my small town didn’t vary a great deal economically:  most people were somewhere between lower middle class and upper middle class.

After I left for college, my family’s economic standing became more apparent to me.  I went to a private liberal arts college, and the majority of kids were from upper middle class and upper class homes.  Although this divide between the kids who came from money and those of us who were there largely due to financial aid was pretty obvious to me, I tried to not let that get in the way of who I became friends with.  The girls on my dorm floor were all great, and we all got along really well for the most part.  However, I was always very aware of the economic differences between us.  Something as simple as, “Who wants to go to McDonalds for dinner tonight?” would make me extremely uncomfortable; I barely had enough money to buy toiletries.  I rarely, if ever, talked about my economic background my first year of college.  I was too ashamed, and too young to know that it did not define me.
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The girl who came home with me that first weekend after our freshman year was a very sweet and sincere person.  She was actually the very first friend I made at college.  I remember walking across the parking lot with her to the freshman orientation and thinking that Colorado was a long ways from Minnesota.  We had gotten to know each other pretty well that first year, and we had had many quintessential college conversations discussing things like our families, our goals, and our fears.  But still, the thought of her seeing where I lived paralyzed me with fear.  I remember spending a lot of time that weekend watching TV with her, simply because I didn’t know what to say and felt like I needed to explain my situation to her, maybe even apologize for not having a more “comfortable” home.  When I look back now, I wish I could tell my 19-year-old self to be proud of where she is from, and that she has nothing to be ashamed of.

I have come to the conclusion that you can add bacon and raisins to any vegetable, and you will have a delicious, and still fairly healthy, meal.  This coleslaw is no exception.  Make it while it’s still warm enough for a cool salad.
DSC_6075Broccoli Coleslaw with Bacon and Raisins
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield:  6 servings

6 slices of bacon (4 oz.)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
Sea salt and pepper
1 large head of broccoli (1 1/4 lbs.), cut into bite-size florets and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Set a rack over a baking sheet.  Arrange the bacon slices on the rack in a single layer.  Bake for about 25 minutes, until browned and crisp.  Drain on paper towels, then coarsely chop.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the vinegar and sugar; season with salt and pepper.
3.  Add the broccoli, raisins, onion and bacon and toss to coat evenly.
4.  Transfer the coleslaw to a serving bowl.

Haricots Verts and Snow Peas with Hazelnut and Orange

DSC_5534Everyone always told my sister and I that we would become good friends when we got older.  I’m not sure if they said this because we fought like cats and dogs, or because they really believed it.  By the time we were teenagers, we barely spoke to each other, and when we did it was usually in a passive aggressive tone.  When I went off to college, I barely saw her, other than a few times when I was home for the summer.  Throughout our 20’s (we are merely 17 months apart) I waited for the intimacy that everyone said would magically happen to us.  It never did.

Heidi, my sister, and I couldn’t be more different.  As a teenager, she ran with the “wild” crowd­–she smoked, drank, and listened to heavy metal.  I, on the other hand, found her world to be a bit scary and intimidating.  I was drawn more towards the funny, smart kids, and listened exclusively to pop music.  I have to believe that our troubled home life informed both of our worlds at the time.  Perhaps she gave in to the hopelessness of it all, or maybe it was just her way of coping.  I desperately wanted to believe that there was a bigger world out there, and tried to find people that had access to a brighter reality.  I remember getting all A’s in the 9th grade, for the first time ever, and understanding that somehow this was key to me transcending whatever it was I was trying to escape.
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One of the characteristics that make us so different is that I really enjoy having thoughtful, in-depth conversations with people in general.  I am fascinated by human behavior and relationships between human beings.  Of course, I realize that not everyone is comfortable with intimacy.  And I have always gotten the sense that this type of conversation makes my sister squirm, that true intimacy in general makes her uncomfortable.  Again, it might have something to do with the way we were raised.  Perhaps she is merely trying to survive out there, but I am often times searching for meaning and connection with other people.  Because of this dissonance, our relationship has always felt stagnant.

My sister recently went through a divorce, and I think her heart has been cracked open a bit.  Leonard Cohen sings, “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”  I do think that some people’s hearts have to be cracked wide open by life before they can start feeling joy.  My sister and I have grown closer since her divorce, and I think we are both making an effort at our relationship.  We are still polar opposites in so many ways, but I think we are both becoming more accepting of our differences.  Instead of waiting for us to develop this incredibly affectionate relationship, I am trying to appreciate that we are two distinctly different individuals who just happen to be sisters.
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I don’t think I knew what haricots verts were until I was in my late twenties.  I had a friend who was a Francophile and made them for dinner one night.  Simply because of their fancy-sounding name, they seemed so much more appealing than regular ol’ green beans.  And if fact they do have a much more complex flavor than their American counterpart.   They scream spring weather to me, and so I made this recipe a few weeks ago in hopes that it would help Mother Nature induce warmer climes.  It’s a nice, crunchy vegetable side that is packed with flavor from the garlic, hazelnuts, and orange.
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Haricots Verts and Snow Peas with Hazelnut and Orange
Adapted from Ottolenghi:  The Cookbook

14 oz. (about 2 cups) haricots verts
14 oz. (about 2 cups) snow peas
1/2 cup unskinned hazelnuts
1 orange
3/4 oz. chives, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. hazelnut oil (or another nut oil, if unavailable, or simply olive oil)
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Using a small, sharp knife, trim the stalk ends off the beans and the snow peas, keeping the two separate.
2.  Bring plenty of unsalted water to a boil in a large saucepan.  You need lots of space for the beans, as this is crucial for preserving their color.  Blanch the beans in the water for 4 minutes, then drain into a colander and run them under plenty of tap water until cold.  Leave to drain and dry.  Repeat with the snow peas, but blanch for only 1 minute.
3.  While the beans are cooking, scatter the hazelnuts over a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes.  Leave until cool enough to handle, then rub them in a clean kitchen towel to get rid of most of the skin.  Chop the nuts with a large, sharp knife.  They should be quite rough; some can even stay whole.
4.  Using a zester, zest the orange, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith.
5.  To assemble the dish, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, toss gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning.  Serve at room temperature.

 

 

 

 

 

Kale and Cabbage Slaw with Roasted Shallot Dressing

DSC_5326A few months back, Mr. K and I went to get a second opinion regarding our fertility situation.  We had been through four rounds of IVF over the last 2 ½ years, and we were frustrated about not getting any clear answers from our current fertility doctor.  We braced ourselves in the waiting room.  I pulled out a square of dark chocolate, popped it into my mouth and focused on that until our names were called.  The meeting went by quickly.  The fertility doctor was warm and yet very direct:  we had a 5% chance of success at best if we were to do another round of IVF.

You hear stories all the time about fertility issues tearing couples apart.  They shutdown, pull away from each other, resentment builds, and divorce is imminent.  In our case, strangely enough, I think the opposite happened.  Throughout this horrendous, heartbreaking process we’ve actually grown closer and become stronger as a couple.  On the one hand I think, perhaps we were just lucky–although we both agreed that we wanted to have a child, it didn’t define our relationship or our future together.  And yet I remember having several discussions with my husband about the possibility that we wouldn’t be able to conceive and what that would mean for us.  What would our future look like?  What would give our lives meaning?  Could we still be happy?  Over the last year or so, as we considered this outcome to be more of a possibility, we decided we would use this experience as fuel to lead full and significant lives.  We will travel so much more!  All over the world!  Buy a home in Tuscany while our friends tend to their screaming toddlers!
DSC_5311As we walked home from our appointment, I turned to Mr. K and asked him how he was feeling now that we knew for sure.  I was prepared for him to be sad.  Of the two of us, he felt more strongly about having children.  He turned to me and said, “Actually, kind of relieved.  Now we know for sure.”  And with those words, 2 ½ years of hormonal mood swings, countless painful injections, and a nightmare hospitalization all melted away.  I also felt relieved.  And it felt so euphoric to be so relieved!  In fact, I became so giddy about our news that I started to question how our lives might have went had we actually been able to have children:  we would be raising a child until we were in our late 50’s!  We immediately began talking about what we wanted this next year to look like.  We were ecstatic that we had come out the other side, thrilled to be with each other.

When I first came across this recipe, I knew it had potential to be delicious, but I was focused more on the healthiness of it.  I was in dire need of a salad post-Christmas gluttony, and I thought this would do the trick.  Well, I ate this every day for 10 days straight.  That’s how good it is.  The roasted shallot dressing, in particular, is magical.
DSC_5316Kale and Cabbage Slaw with Roasted Shallot Dressing
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen

3 cups diced butternut squash
1 tbsp. olive oil
pinch of salt, smoked paprika and cinnamon

2 bunches Tuscan kale
1/2 head red cabbage
1/2 small red onion
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup grated parmesan
3/4 cup toasted pecan pieces

Roasted Shallot Dressing
2 small or 1 large roasted shallot*
handful fresh chopped chives
1/4-1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. each sea salt and ground pepper

*Roast a shallot like you would a head of garlic.  Trim the end, toss it (skin on) in a little olive oil and pinch of salt, wrap it in foil and place in oven for 45 minutes until softened and caramelized.  Time will vary by size of the shallot(s).  Remove to cool to the touch before squishing it out of its skin.

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the butternut cubes with the olive oil, salt, smoked paprika and cinnamon to coat.  Spread in an even layer and bake for 20 minutes until just tender but not mushy.  Set aside to cool completely.
3.  In a blender or food processor, mix all the dressing ingredients together until smooth.
4.  Stem the kale and chop it ultra thin.
5.  Using a mandolin or knife, shave or chop the red cabbage and onion.  Collect these items in a large salad bowl.
6.  Add the raisins, parmesan and pecans, drizzle desired amount of dressing and toss to coat.  The kale and cabbage can handle sitting in the dressing for 10 minutes before serving.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Raisins

DSC_5162In January of 2005, I took a bus from Port Authority to Springfield, Massachusetts for a silent meditation retreat.  My good friend had gone on a retreat the previous year, and she told me it had helped her become more present in her daily life.  The style of meditation is called Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are.  It was taught in India thousands of years ago as a way to deal with everyday ills.

I had had a particularly rough winter:  breaking up with my boyfriend, getting back together, then breaking up again.  I wasn’t happy at my job, and things just seemed pretty bleak overall.  I was counting on this meditation retreat to solve all of my problems.  I would finally become enlightened, gain more self-acceptance, and learn how to be at peace with myself.  I didn’t realize that I was also going through a bout of depression.
DSC_5152The Vipassana style of meditation is very regimented, and looking back, I now know that it wasn’t what I needed at the time.  When you first arrive at the retreat center, the staff conducts a brief orientation where they go over the rules and shortly after that you give them your phone, reading materials, etc. (basically anything other than your clothing).  You are not allowed anything that might distract you from your practice.  Furthermore, you take a vow of silence for the next 10 days, and you are expected to refrain from eye contact as well.  For some reason, this all felt very doable at the time.  I was desperate to feel better.

Throughout the first few days of meditating, we focused on our breathing.  Everything becomes very still and quiet.  By the fourth day, you learn how to notice physical sensations throughout your body without reacting to them.  The objective of this practice is to learn how to go through life in a more mindful way.  Thoughts will come and go, but we are in control of how we react to those thoughts.  Feel your feelings, and know that they will not kill you.  You don’t need to numb out with alcohol, food, drugs, sex, etc.  One of the most important things I learned at this retreat is that when you try to numb the pain with whatever your poison is, you also numb yourself from feeling joy.  Life just becomes something you have to slog through, as opposed to something to celebrate.  I still struggle with this idea sometimes.

By day five, I was ready to leave.  It was cold and dark everyday, and the staff had made announcements that a snowstorm was imminent in the coming days.  I was in the middle of nowhere in Massachusetts and I felt trapped.  I had learned some helpful meditation techniques, but I was dying to talk to another human being.  I was profoundly lonely and depressed, and found myself trying to sneak glances at the other participants at lunch or while walking outside in between meditation sessions. I was beginning to understand that being alone all day with my negative thoughts was not helping me.  It was making things worse.  All I wanted was a smile from another person, something to reassure me that everything was going to be ok.  I felt like I was going a bit crazy not being able to talk to someone.  Years later I was diagnosed with chronic depression and was told that silent meditation retreats can actually be dangerous for depressives because of the isolation factor.  I have since learned healthy ways of managing my depression, and still try to incorporate meditation on a weekly basis.  To this day, I consider that retreat to be one of the toughest mental challenges I’ve ever been through.
DSC_5156This is one of my favorite recipes for the colder months.  I discovered this recipe last winter, and I must have made it at least a dozen times.  I used to hate Brussels sprouts growing up.  My mom would boil them, and they would turn out soggy and bitter.  That hatred has grown into a real fondness.  Brussels sprouts might just be one of my favorite veggies now.  The bacon and raisins are a perfect pairing because of the salty/sweet combo that combines beautifully with the slight bitterness of the sprouts and the sour vinegar.  Warning:  this recipe is addictive.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Raisins
Adapted from Bon Appétit

1 tsp. olive oil
4 thick slices bacon
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup raisins
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1.  Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add bacon and cook, turning occasionally, until crisp, about 5 minutes.
2.  Using tongs, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.  Let cool.  Coarsely crumble.
3.  While bacon cools, add Brussels sprouts to drippings in skillet; season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring often, until well browned in spots and beginning to soften, 5-7 minutes.
4.  Reduce heat to low and add raisins, shallot, and butter; cook, stirring often, until shallot is soft, about 3 minutes.
5.  Add broth to skillet; increase heat and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until broth has evaporated, 1-2 minutes.
6.  Stir in vinegar and crumbled bacon.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

Apple, Bacon and Goat Cheese Salad w/ Ginger Vinaigrette

My husband and I just returned from the best vacation we’ve ever taken.  We went up to Cape Cod for 5 days, and then spent another 3 days in Boston.   I love getting away from NYC in the summertime.  There is something about breathing in the smell of fresh cut grass, strolling outside with a hot dog or ice cream cone, and adjusting to the slower rhythms of small town life that makes me nostalgic for childhood summers.

For the first three days of our vacation I walked around with a big, idiot grin on my face.  I kept remarking to Mr. K that something would inevitably go wrong on this trip since everything up to that point had been so perfect.  He would simply respond by shaking his head at me.   Whether slurping down raw oysters, reveling an IPA, or breathing in the smell of salty ocean air, I was in a kind of vacation trance, whereby everything we did seemed to me to be the perfect thing to be doing at that exact moment.

One of the highlights of our trip to Cape Cod was the 3-course breakfast we were served every morning out on the back patio of our Bed and Breakfast.  The owners of the B&B were this extremely gracious older couple, and the husband proudly told us that he made all the meals.  Every morning I would go for a jog, and then my husband and I would proceed downstairs like two kids on Christmas morning, eagerly anticipating that day’s breakfast.  The courses included dishes like baked eggs in prosciutto “cups”, applesauce pancakes with bacon, and fruit parfaits.  Mr. K and I would take our time savoring every bite, and I took added pleasure in being served a home-cooked meal.

After we returned home, one of the first things I did was write down all of the great moments from this trip that I didn’t want to forget.  The next time I have a stressful day or week, I will look at that list to be reminded of life’s pleasures.
DSC_5026Speaking of which, this salad is truly of one of my current pleasures.  I can’t eat it without moaning just a little bit.  I got the idea for it from a local restaurant that makes a similar salad.   If you like bacon at all, you will enjoy this salad.  Oh, and my apologies for only taking one picture this time around.  I was running late and we were starving, so it was the best I could do.  Quick tangent:  when we were in Boston we ducked into a run-of-the-mill pub near Boston Common for lunch one day.  I wasn’t that hungry so I ordered a BLT, thinking I would just eat the 2 or 3 strips of bacon out of the sandwich along with the tomato and lettuce and that would be that.  Well, the sandwich had a PILE of bacon in it.  We’re talking at least 8 strips of bacon.   I ate a pile of bacon for lunch, and I had absolutely no regrets.

Apple, Bacon and Goat Cheese Salad w/ Ginger Vinaigrette

Yield:  4 servings

5 oz. baby spinach
4 oz. goat cheese
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 Fuji apple, quartered and diced
8 strips of applewood-smoked bacon

Ginger Vinaigrette
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
sea salt
black pepper

1.  In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crispy, around 8 minutes.  Remove from skillet and place on a paper towel-lined plate.
2.  Meanwhile, place spinach on 4 plates.
3.  Crumble goat cheese and distribute evenly, along with walnuts and apples, over each salad.
3.  Roughly chop cooked bacon and distribute onto salads.
4.  Add olive oil to a medium-sized bowl.  Whisk in lemon juice, ginger, sea salt and black pepper.  Dress salads, toss, and serve.

 

Carrot Salad with Coriander Vinaigrette and Pistachios

DSC_4995I’ve been uncharacteristically happy lately.  I saw my therapist last week for the first time in a month, and didn’t know what to talk about.  I’m so used to spending my sessions focusing on how to improve things in my life—preventing negative behavior patterns, setting personal goals, etc.  Walking in to see my therapist, I was worried that there would be an uncomfortable silence due to my lack of problems to discuss.  On the contrary, my therapist assured me that these are important sessions to have because we can look at what is working in my life, why it is working, and how to create more of it in the future.  Eureka!

I am definitely someone who feels better in the spring and summer months, but even so, I can’t remember feeling this content in many years.  I even have frequent moments of straight up joy and euphoria these days.  It feels so goddamned good and foreign at the same time.  I want to hold onto these moments, but they are fleeting.  And they should be; we wouldn’t want to savor them otherwise.  I go about my day feeling grateful I have a life that I absolutely love.  I’m working on not reacting to people’s words and behaviors as much as I used to.  I am learning to be kinder to myself and not critique every little thing I think or do.
DSC_4983I want to shout my happiness out to the world.  I want to dance in the streets.  And yet I find myself being shy about sharing my jubilation with others.  When friends ask how I’m doing, I have been replying with, “I’m really good.  I’m really happy.”  I want to go on and on about why so I’m happy and how great it feels, but I think that would be strange.  It would feel boastful, and I was raised in the Midwest where excessive pride in one’s achievements or accomplishments—hell, talking about yourself at all—was frowned upon.  I did call my 85-year-old grandma last week and share my happiness with her.  I think it delighted her.

This carrot salad was my obsession for the entire 4 days it was in my refrigerator.  I love cilantro, especially in the summer, and it compliments the sweetness of carrots beautifully.  Cilantro makes everything taste fresh.  I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who despise cilantro.  Those people are crazy.  There, I said it.  The lemon juice adds a nice acidity so the vinaigrette does not taste heavy at all.  Be sure not to add the pistachios to the salad until right before serving, or they will turn soft.  I can’t wait to make this again.
DSC_4992Carrot Salad with Coriander Vinaigrette and Pistachios
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield:  4-6 servings

1/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios
3/4 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 garlic clove, finely grated
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup olive oil
sea salt
1 lb. carrots, peeled, julienned or coarsely grated
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Toast pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 6-8 minutes.  Let cool; coarsely chop.
2.  Toast coriander in a small dry skillet over medium heat, tossing often, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Let cool; coarsely chop.
3.  Whisk garlic, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and coriander in a large bowl, then whisk in oil; season with salt.
4.  Add carrots, toss, and let sit at least 30 minutes.  Toss with cilantro and pistachios just before serving.

 

 

Warm Green Snap Beans in Bacon Vinaigrette

DSC_4641I was feeling very rushed yesterday.  I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, and by the time I returned home I felt like I was racing against time trying to finish my to-do list before going to work.  I am hosting my monthly book club tonight, so the passion fruit cheesecake(!!) had to be made yesterday.  Even though I love entertaining and hosting, it can easily turn into a nerve-racking situation if I allow it.  It must stem from the part of my ego that needs other people’s approval.  What starts off as excitement about choosing recipes, selecting a playlist, and fantasizing about drinking good wine over stimulating conversation can quickly turn to panic.

The day before hosting, I turn into my own worst enemy creating endless to-do lists and noticing everything that is wrong with our apartment.  We still haven’t hung up that shelf!  Why doesn’t our living room get more light?  I wish we could hire a decorator so I could truly enjoy our home.  However, I caught myself in the midst of these thoughts yesterday.  I allowed myself to sit still (my acupuncturist finds it curious that I usually frame it as, “I forced myself to sit still.”) for a few minutes, took some deep breaths, and tried to quiet the loud voice that was trying to put a negative spin on an experience that brings me a lot of joy.  When I woke up this morning, I told myself I was going to approach the remainder of my to-do list with gratitude:

How fortunate am I that I get to have friends over to discuss a novel that I really enjoyed (we read The Orphan Master’s Son for anyone who is curious)? 

I get to cook and bake delicious food for my friends. 

I am able to drink wine and connect with other women who I respect and appreciate. 

I can buy a beautiful bouquet of flowers to celebrate the arrival of spring.
DSC_4633And I’ll be doing all of the above tonight.  Speaking of spring, I made this salad last week because I needed an easy yet healthy lunch to take to work.  It’s a warm salad, so it’s perfect for this time of year when the days can fluctuate between a balmy 50 degrees during the day and a much chillier evening.  It reminded me of a tangy, rustic French salad with the green beans, tomatoes, and shallots.  I just realized that I’ve been to France twice and both visits were in the spring.  They do seem to compliment each other well.  Isn’t there a classic song called “April in Paris”?  [End of tangent.]  This salad is light yet filling, and very satisfying with the bacon and olive oil so you don’t feel deprived whatsoever. 

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Warm Green Snap Beans in Bacon Vinaigrette
Adapted from Food and Wine 

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 lbs. green snap beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces thickly sliced bacon, cut into lardons (1 cup)
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
10 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped basil
salt and freshly ground pepper

1.  Cook the beans in a large pot of salted boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
2.  Drain the beans and cool them under cold running water.  Drain well and pat dry; transfer the beans to a large bowl.
3.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil.  Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, 7 to 8 minutes.
4.  Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the vinegar, tomatoes, shallot, garlic and basil.  Scrape the bacon vinaigrette over the beans, season with salt and pepper and toss to evenly coat.  Serve warm.

 

Pistachio Apple Salad

DSC_4599You know that feeling when all the stars are aligned and things seem to be coming together?  I’ve been feeling that way recently.  Since my horrible depressive episode a few weeks ago, I have been working hard to get back to a good mental place.  Maybe it’s because that experience shook me so much, but I am willing myself to try and find meaning in as much as possible as I go throughout my day.  I also think having some perspective and cutting myself some slack is key to curbing my anxiety.  I volunteered for City Harvest a couple of weeks ago and was reminded that there are a lot less fortunate people than myself.  I know that for many people, every day is a struggle to simply make ends meet.  Some posit that one of the main reasons people volunteer is for the positive feelings that come as a byproduct of knowing you helped someone.  I believe this to be true, and I don’t think it’s a negative factor by any means.  Human beings need to connect; it’s what keeps us going.
DSC_4588In addition to volunteering, I had my first-ever Reiki treatment last week.  I have been curious about this Japanese practice for many years but just never tried it.  It was yet another experience my depression compelled me to seek out.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  For those of you who have never tried it, I would liken it to a cross between talk therapy and acupuncture.  It focuses on clearing your chakras, or energy pathways, which serve as a connection between the body and consciousness.  When one of our chakras becomes blocked, it can create physical or mental illness.  I had no idea what to expect during the actual session itself.  My Reiki master told me she would be placing her hands along my chakra points while I laid face up on the table.  Well, as soon as I positioned myself on the table and closed my eyes, water immediately began to drain from my eyes and didn’t stop until the session ended.  It was the strangest thing.  I definitely wasn’t crying, and yet I had a distinctive feeling that my body was trying to release something.  I took that as a good sign.
DSC_4594Despite the dreadful stomach virus I contracted over the weekend (I forgot how brutal those can be), my healthier mental state is creating healthier food cravings.  Yesterday I couldn’t stop thinking about avocados.  All day long, images of avocados kept popping into my head.  I’m sure whatever nutrients avocados possess, my body was simply craving.  That said, I opted for a turkey burger for dinner.  I did make this Pistachio Apple Salad for lunch yesterday and it was perfectly delicious.  There aren’t many salads that I want second helpings of, but this one is one of them.  It hits all of the major taste profiles: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami.  Because it calls for a Granny Smith apple, it’s not super sweet.  However, if you want to use something sweeter, I think dried figs would be a lovely substitute, as they pair beautifully with blue cheese and pistachios.  Making this salad took all of 7 minutes!  So no excuses, dear readers, for throwing together a quick, healthy lunch!

* I’m not sure which magazine I ripped this recipe out of years ago, so I searched online for something close to it.  I found the exact same recipe on Yummly, so I am including a link to that site in lieu of a magazine name.

DSC_4597

Pistachio Apple Salad
Adapted from Yummly

Yield:  4 side-dish servings

1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice (about 1/2 of a large orange)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon hot sweet mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups arugula
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup roasted pistachio nuts

1.  For dressing, whisk together orange juice, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and garlic; gradually whisk in oil until well blended.  Set aside to mellow flavors.
2.  For salad, divide greens among four salad plates.  Top with apple slices.  Sprinkle with cheese and nuts.
3.  Whisk dressing; drizzle over salads.

Fennel Slaw

DSC_4484I’m in the middle of reading a fantastic book of essays called Goodbye to All That.  The tag line reads, “Writers on Loving and Leaving New York”.  I am completely absorbed in this book.  I thought it might help to convince me that there are plenty of other great places to live in this vast country of ours, but it’s having the opposite effect.  In each essay, there is a beautiful description of what first drew them to NYC.  Most of the writers had their first experience of the city when they were children and fell in love with it immediately.  The theme of being a misfit in whatever town you grew up in only to discover that NYC is where you finally fit in (among the misfits) is not a new concept by any means.  And yet, I never get tired of reading these stories, partly because I can identify.

My first time in New York was the summer after my college graduation.  My sister very generously bought me a plane ticket as a graduation gift.  We stayed in a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side for 4 or 5 days, and over the course of those few days, I was bewitched by the city.  We took in all of the usual tourist sights:  we rode on the Ellis Island ferry, went to the top of the Empire State Building, saw a Broadway musical, and took a tour of NBC Studios.  We even spotted Yoko Ono outside one of the Trump buildings!  I was completely smitten and knew I wanted to live here someday.

Five years later, my friend and I found an adorable apartment on the Upper West Side.  Although it was a steal for the size and location of the apartment, it was out of our price range.  But we didn’t care.  We were young and naïve and thought we could make it work.  One of my most vivid memories is of a picnic we had in Central Park that first summer.  It was the night of the Met Opera in the Park performance, and we had only found out about it by stumbling upon the rehearsal in the park earlier that afternoon.   We had no idea that half of the city would be there that night sprawled out with their blankets, bottles of wine and blocks of cheese.  I remember lying on my stomach, drunk on red wine, and eating olives, Gruyere, and French bread by the fistful.   We were relatively far away from the stage but we could hear the singers perfectly.  As the sun set in the warm summer sky, I had a silly grin on my face and I gazed up at the stars.  I knew this was where I was meant to be.  Eleven years later, I still have to pinch myself every so often when I think about the fact that I live in New York City.
DSC_4487Despite the fact that it has been snowing for 1,000 straight days here in New York, I wanted to make something light and refreshing last week.  Perhaps as a way to pretend I was in warmer climes, or maybe I just needed to change things up from all of the heavier, winter food I have been eating lately.  Regardless, this hit the spot.  I have come to really appreciate fennel the last few years.  It has great anise flavor along with a nice crunch that I always associate with celery (which I am not a big fan of).  The orange zest brightens up the slaw and the Parmesan cheese gives it a nice earthy, saltiness that it needs.  I’ve been eating a plate of this every day alongside whatever I’m eating for lunch.  It’s almost gone, and I’ll be sad to see it go.  Only 6 more weeks till spring….

Fennel Slaw
Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen

2 large fennel bulbs, with a few chopped fronds
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 or 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1.  Slice the fennel bulbs horizontally as thinly as possible.  Remove any large core parts, then add the slices to a large mixing bowl with the fronds.
2.  Add the olive oil, along with the  orange zest and juice, to the bowl and toss.  Let it sit for about ten minutes to soften the fennel.  You can do this up to two days in advance.
3.  Before serving, add the parsley and Parmesan.
4.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Toss everything together and serve immediately.