“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Monday, June 28, 2010

Nori-wrapped Quinoa and Veggies

I’ve posted several recipes here with quinoa because I eat it often. It’s a great plant-based protein source that is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and it’s gluten-free which is great news for people who are gluten intolerant or sensitive. And because I eat it so often, I’m always looking for new ways to eat it. The other morning, while lying on my yoga mat, I wondered how quinoa would work in place of rice in a nori roll with lots of veggies. I thought it would be a nice idea as a light meal for summer, instead of a heavier wrap. Years ago in school, a fellow graduate student invited a few of us over and she taught us how to roll sushi. It was a lot of fun and I haven’t made them in a long time. So today, I played in the kitchen with my food. The rolls I made combined the quinoa, avocado, shredded vegetables and nori. The veggies don’t have to be shredded–they can also be sliced into thin, long strips–depending on your preference. Whatever combinations you can think up here, you can create…

Nori-wrapped Quinoa and Veggies

Nori sheets

Cooked and cooled quinoa, seasoned as desired

Avocado, mashed with a little lemon juice

Shredded veggies, such as carrots, zucchini or yellow squash, cucumbers, beets, daikon radish, etc.

Sesame oil

Sesame or hemp seeds

I cooked my quinoa in a dilute vegetable broth and added a little tamari. When it was finished cooking, I added a little bit of sushi vinegar and a few chia seeds. Because quinoa is less sticky than rice, I was thinking that chia seeds that have been soaked for a few minutes then added to the quinoa near the end of the cooking might make the quinoa a little gelatinous. It was a bit late when I added them this time, but I’ll be experimenting with this again. To deal with the possibility that the quinoa wouldn’t be sticky enough, I mashed my avocado and used that as the base for the quinoa to stick to. It worked really well.

If you have a bamboo mat for rolling nori, the assembly will be much easier; however, it is still doable without one. The directions for putting together a roll will be on the back of the nori package, but I’ll give it a try here: Place a piece of nori onto the mat with one of the shorter edges facing you. Onto this end, about one inch from the edge, spread a couple of tablespoons of mashed avocado into a one inch strip, horizontally, from one side to the other. Layer cooled quinoa onto the avocado, then shredded veggies. Press them down to keep in place. Using the mat, begin rolling by lifting the nori’s short overhang up and over the filling then bring it down and back, pressing into the filling to pack it together. Tuck the overhang under the filling and roll it snugly to keep the filling packed. Moisten the free end of the roll with a small amount of water then press it into the roll. This will help to seal it like an envelope. Brush the roll with sesame oil. Using an extremely sharp knife, cut the rolls crosswise into disks about ½ inch thick. Arrange on a plate and sprinkle with sesame or hemp seeds.

Then enjoy! These are light and refreshing and perfect for summer! I know I’ll be making these lots more, especially while the weather is hot. And if you’re planning to take these for lunch, they can be transported whole, then cut when ready to eat or even eaten whole like a wrap. Peace…

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Creatures of Habit

If you’re like me, once you try something new, you explore it a bit, work out the bugs, and then if you really like it, it becomes routine, i.e., habit. I’ve said before that the brain craves novelty, and I still strongly believe this, but I still have my favorite foods, my favorite clothing, favorite genres of music, and even favorite places to visit. And yes, I’m absolutely guilty as charged when it comes to my exercise routine. I practice Bikram yoga faithfully and haven’t done much else lately–except over the weekend I did get on my bike for a short ride with my grandsons. They wouldn’t take no for an answer. So glad I did because it was fun. I also like to hike outdoors and will occasionally do some weight training, which I know is so important. But back to yoga. I always take the same route to the studio. There’s a post office I like along the way, a Starbucks if I decide to stop for a coffee or tea, and a gas station where I like to fill up my car. However, there’s also been road construction on this main road and traffic has frequently come to a standstill. So one day last week, I decided to take a new way, down a back road that I hadn’t tried yet. I was told that it would come out a short distance past the studio. It turned out to be a very gorgeous, country road with pretty homes and a cute little vineyard with a farm stand. They even sell their wine on Sunday, which is unusual here. I was excited to find this place, not because I could buy wine on Sunday, but because it looked like a very warm and inviting and I’m looking forward to stopping there for veggies–and wine. Just not at 5:30 in the morning : ) And yes, I did make it to my yoga class and I’ve taken this road a few times since then.

This morning, I took it one step further and tried another turn off of this country road and stumbled upon the pretty bridge in the picture above. I was so delighted to see this that after class, I went back to take pictures and to check it out. It’s a footbridge in a very quite area and there are a couple of benches nearby for people to sit and enjoy the view.

If I had stuck to my habit of taking the same road as always, I would have never found the vineyard or the bridge. Instead, I would probably have spent several drives to class waiting in traffic or waiting to be ushered through construction. The fact that my brain wants to experience new things and that it’s good to leave our comfort zones are not the only points I want to make here. There is so much life to discover around us if we only take the opportunity to explore unchartered territory (in a personal sense). In fact, lately I’ve found some of the most amazing things at home in the yard by simply exploring a little bit: Baby rabbits and birds, a raspberry bush, some cool-looking mushrooms–who knows what else I’ll find. Life doesn’t only happen in nature either. It’s happening in libraries and museums, at the new restaurant down the street, in the CD of a recently discovered musician/artist, at a meeting with a new group of people or a new friend, and even down an unknown road.

Do I plan to quit yoga anytime soon? Absolutely not. I’m happy to say that it is a habit I’ll be holding onto for quite a while. Happily, exploring seems to be a habit that I’ve further developed lately as well. And who knows, visiting the bridge may become a habit too. I’m already thinking it’s the perfect place to read or meditate. And if I’m going to be forming habits anyway, they may as well be good ones : )

Monday, June 14, 2010

Learning to Fly

I feel blessed because I’ve had the opportunity to witness something quite miraculous over the last few weeks. I’ve been able to watch the growth and development of baby Robins from two different nests. In all my years, I've never had the opportunity to witness anything like this. It began a few weeks ago. I was sitting with my uncle in the living room and we noticed a Robin flying to and from a particular branch on an apple tree in the front yard. When I went out to investigate, I discovered a nest. Although it was too high to see inside, I reached my arm up with my camera and snapped a few pictures of the inside of the nest.

Sure enough, there were several beautiful turquoise blue Robin eggs! I got so excited when I saw the eggs because I knew that life was happening in that nest (and because the eggs were so pretty!).

What surprised me the most, was that only a few days later, I snapped a few more pictures inside the nest and the eggs had already hatched! There they were, fluffy, newborn birds, sleeping peacefully. A couple of days later, I was also able to see them, once again sleeping. Then, the next time I checked, they were gone! I remember thinking, “How can that be? So quickly?" I was praying that they had indeed flown away on their own and hadn’t been eaten by another animal.

Then, several days later, I discovered a new nest at home, but this time in a bush just outside the bedroom window and only about five feet off the ground. Three Robins that had recently hatched were resting peacefully. However, the moment I moved a branch to get a better look, they sensed that mom or dad were nearby and stretched up with their mouths open for food. And this is what went on for several days. I watched mom (or dad) dig tirelessly for worms everyday and guard over the young by perching on the roof of the house just above the nest.

At first when I would get close, one or both of them would squawk and ruffle their feathers to demonstrate their fear or anger, but as the days went on, they came to see that I was not there to do harm.

At one point, they were perching their heads over the side of the nest and watching me as I talked, sometimes dozing off. On day five, I could see that they had grown to the point that they were packed into the nest pretty snugly and had developed lots of feathers. One was even trying to flap its wings. What was also interesting was that from the beginning, all three babies were often situated equidistant from one another facing out, which meant that one of the babies was frequently facing the house. So while two of the birds always had a view of the wide open space, trees, flying birds, other animals, people, and cars, this one was often looking at a blank wall. I wondered early on if that would make a difference in its development.

Then I left for two days and figured that the nest would be empty when I got back. I was wrong. Late on the second night, I checked and they were still there packed into the nest with no sound or sight of mom and dad. But early the next morning, as I got close, the squawking began as if to say “danger, danger” and before I knew it, the three little ones flapped their wings and were free from the nest.

Two of them flew away so quickly that I never saw where they went. But one landed on the grass and sat still. I don’t know if it was scared or confused, but it didn’t fly; it began to hop around. Was this the one that had been facing the house? I don’t know. I got a little nervous because I didn’t want a cat to come along and have it for breakfast, and it was because of me that they had left the nest. So I walked up to it hoping that it would fly off, but it didn’t. As much as I wanted it to, I could tell that it just wasn’t ready to fly, so I let it be. And thankfully, about 30 minutes later, I stepped outside again to see it finally get off the ground. At first, it hovered low over the lawn and then suddenly it soared high above the houses and into the treetops.

That was on Friday. On Saturday, I saw what looked like one of the parents with a little one in the back yard in the rain diving for worms in the grass. And the nest has been empty ever since…

Friday, June 11, 2010

Quick and Decadent Chocolate Cups

What do you do when you want to put together a quick yet decadent after dinner treat for your guests? Start with some good quality semi-sweet or darker chocolate, add a healthy handful of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and coconut. Then top with sea salt. The great thing about these mini chocolate cups is that the possibilities are endless. You can use macadamia nuts, pecans, almonds, pine nuts or hazelnuts. Pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds are options. And for dried fruit–raisins, currants, apricots, pineapple, cherries, blueberries would work well. Whatever you’re in the mood for and have on hand will work and they can be made and ready in about 30 minutes without a lot of fuss.

Mini Chocolate Cups with Fruit and Nuts

3.5 - 4 oz. good quality semi-sweet chocolate (60-65% cacao content) or slightly darker (I used Lindt 70% Intense Dark)

1 t coconut oil

1 T chopped walnuts*

1 T hulled sunflower seeds*

1 T dried cherries, chopped in half

1 T shredded coconut

coarse sea salt

Very gently melt the chocolate with the coconut oil over a double boiler, or rest a glass or ceramic dish with the chocolate into a pot of simmering water. Continue to stir gently until the chocolate is ¾ of the way melted, then remove the chocolate from the heat and stir until it is completely melted (I do this to prevent the chocolate from overheating and separating and the residual heat in the bowl is usually enough to complete the melting process). Add the nuts, seeds, fruit, and coconut and stir well. Drop teaspoons full of the mixture into mini muffin pans that are lined with small paper pastry cups. Let them set for a few minutes, then sprinkle with a little sea salt. Chill until set in the refrigerator. This recipe makes about 8 chocolates.

That’s it! These are so quick and easy and the perfect size for a bite or two after a meal. And that’s usually all that I need to satisfy me. I’m going to experiment with different nuts, fruits and brands of chocolate since there are a few good ones on the market.

* If you’re using nuts and/or seeds that have been soaked, they should be dried really well (even dehydrated) before adding to the chocolate.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Uncommon Blessings

Maybe you’ve heard the saying by Wayne Dyer, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” This phrase could apply to anything in life and is specifically intended for situations that we are unhappy about or that we believe are having a negative impact on our lives or the lives of others. This idea is a premise behind the practice of gratitude–it helps us focus on the good rather than the bad, which allows more “good” to come into our lives.

For a little while now, I’ve been commuting to Boston two days per week for work. It’s two long and very intense days sitting at a computer. Because I don’t currently live in Boston, I park my car outside the building where I work in a metered parking spot. The meter will only allow a maximum of three hours at a time, which means that every three hours I must refill the meter. At first, I found this to be a bother; that is, getting up from my work to walk down the hall, descend the stairs, leave the building, walk to my car, add quarters to the meter, then return to my desk. However, I soon realized that this was an opportunity to get up from the computer, give my eyes a rest from the screen, get my blood pumping by walking and climbing stairs, get outside for some fresh air and some sunshine, and maybe even have a few words with someone new. In terms of my health, every single step in this process is a blessing. Do I enjoy putting money into a meter? No, not really. I wouldn’t call that a blessing. In fact, yesterday, I got absorbed in what I was doing and missed the meter by 5 or 10 minutes. And sure enough, there was a parking ticket. Yes, I was very unhappy about it–for about 10 minutes. Then I shook it off and decided it was a lesson to get up and outside regularly. So, from here forward, I will set the alarm on my phone for my meter breaks.

One of the few (or maybe the only) authentic powers we possess is the right to view any given situation in any way that we want. There’s no right or wrong perspective and actually, we never really see things exactly as someone else. We can choose to focus on the negative, or we can screen for the positive, sifting out the negative. It’s our choice. Although there will always come a time or situation where the positive may not be apparent right away, or may never be obvious, the more we practice looking for the uncommon blessings in our lives, the happier and healthier we will be…

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pineapple Wild Rice

Wild rice is something I don’t prepare so much but I love it’s nutty, chewiness. It's wonderful in holiday stuffings with apricots and nuts. Earlier, I posted a recipe for a barley and wild rice pilaf made with pomegranates that I like to make when pomegranates are in season. But I didn't want to wait for that, so I decided to experiment with other flavors. Wild rice is actually not a rice at all, but an aquatic grass seed, that grows to several feet above the water. Compared to true varieties of rice, though, wild rice packs a greater abundance of nutrients. It’s a valuable source of protein and fiber, is low in unsaturated fat, and provides significant levels of B vitamins, folate, potassium, magnesium, copper, phosphorous, manganese, and zinc.

This time of year, I like to prepare cold sides and salads and decided to do that with the rice. The recipe below uses ingredients commonly found in pineapple salsa. At first, I wasn’t sure if the nuttiness of the rice would work with the citrus, but as a cold dish, I thought the flavors worked really well. I’m all about soaking nuts, beans, and grains now to increase their nutritional value and to neutralize toxins, and I’ve done the same with the wild rice. If nothing else, it cuts down on the cooking time. This rice normally takes 45 minutes to cook, but after soaking, it’s ready in 15 minutes.

Pineapple Wild Rice

1 c uncooked wild rice

1 c diced fresh pineapple with juice

2 T diced red onion

2 T finely chopped green onion

2 T diced green or red pepper

1 T minced jalapeno pepper

2 T chopped cilantro

2 T lime juice

2 T lemon juice

2 T honey

1 T olive, coconut, or grapeseed oil (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In advance, wash and soak the wild rice in clean water for several hours. Drain.

2. Add 3 cups of water and the rice to a medium pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and cook the rice until chewy, about 15 minutes.

3. While the rice is cooking, combine the pineapple, onions, peppers, and cilantro.

4. Whisk together the lime and lemon juices, honey, oil, and a dash of salt and pepper. Let sit.

5. Drain and rinse the rice in cold water, and drain well.

6. When the rice is cooled, add it to the salsa mixture and mix well. Chill for 2 hours or more in the fridge. Adjust the seasonings before serving.