So here’s a quick and simple salad that’s light and fresh and as buoyantly colorful as this past week has been. While it may not exactly be seasonal, it tastes like this warm and vibrant spring week has felt. Sweet with a pleasant tang.
I wanted to stick this up early in the week as something to come back to, but I kept dragging my feet. While the justification of being too busy is true and valid, it wasn’t really truth, I realized. The real issue was, I didn’t have a story to attach. No pensive reflection stirred by the sumptuousness of mango or the bite of lime. Even knowing the whole purpose of this whole blog is really a catalog, I guess I’m attached to the journal aspect. It feels like cheating, or failing, not to be bursting with thought guided by ingredients.
This is in its way a little ironic, as I’ve been striving so hard to cultivate more mindfulness. It’s been a slowly emerging, beautifully enlightening process, if but snail steps. And the most treasured part, embracing peaceful gratitude for each moment for just what it is. Why then so much hesitancy to share something with no purpose other than saying appreciatively, here is something rather nice?
On that note, I don’t usually feel drawn to “here’s what happened this week” kind of posts, but this week has been rather rainbow lovely. The most perfect moments were the simplest and the most vivid, in both the actual colors present and the still life style peace of them. They were composed of the kind of little things that relax you into breathing more deeply and seeing more wholly.
Little F and I shared the best “egg decorating” yet.
And on Thursday, my boys melted and swelled my heart with the most beautiful, quiet birthday day. After a perfect early morning run with a friend, the day opened with the sweetest card depicting our little family team.
I can’t pretend there’s a connection between this salad and this week aside from brightness and color. Except for this: each is worth a little appreciation and a place in a catalog, literal or mental. The other somewhat ironic thing about working so concertedly on mindfulness is how heightened a certain distrust has been of enjoying the perfection of the moment. There’s an inherent fear of being too happy. It only makes sense. Nothing lasts, good or bad. But time to let that go a little.
Today, I was immersed in imaginative play with little F when he suddenly flopped on his back in a way reminiscent of when he was a little baby. “Cover me, Mommy,” he said sweetly, arms open and puppy eyes beseeching. Sometimes he likes me to do that–pretend flop on him like a blank, “covering” him. It won’t last long, and as I bundled him up, reveling in that moment, I couldn’t stop the nagging voice from saying so. But oh am I enjoying it now, in spite of nagging busybody “just you wait” warnings in my head. So I’m sticking the moment here in this post–which has (surprise) taken on tangents it didn’t need to. So I can take heart that I’m doing my best to remember, and get back to being with gratitude.
Have a very bright and happy weekend!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1-2 tablespoons honey to taste
- 2 teaspoons white miso paste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups spinach
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced and then sliced across to make 1" long pieces
- 1-2 ripe mangos, diced
- 1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks or shred
- 2-3 thinly sliced green onion (both green and white parts)
- ⅓ cup chopped roasted peanuts
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- In a small bowl, whisk the first six ingredients (oil through salt and pepper) until thoroughly combined.
- Mix all remaining ingredients in a large salad bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat just before serving.
It’s St. Patty’s Day week, with official spring just a skip away, and I wanted to share something green. No loosely connected, tangent-riddled stories, just green goodness. Also a few musings on green love. Because, how would you know it was really me writing if I didn’t wander a little in whimsy in what is otherwise meant to be a sensible share?
This recipe is all about the dressing. A dressing so easy (being dressing) that goes atop salad so variable (being salad), you don’t need half the list or even need steps. With a sound go-to Green Goddess like this one, you can go wild and just trust your tangy sauce will hold everything together with a satisfying lip smack. (It goes great with quinoa, too. 🙂 )
It’s funny how ingrained in human nature it is to find fault or focus on the negative. Research shows it takes roughly 25 compliments to take the edge off an insult. Personal experience says maybe quite a lot more. Even something as life-giving and peaceful as green is not immune. A color universally associated with nature, health, and feelings of being renewed is also linked with envy, seasickness, and greed.
But it is St. Patrick’s Day week, and it is almost officially spring, so what better time to practice re-wiring our brains to focus on the positive? Fire and wire. Because green is loveliness and nature, and positive energy will do us good.
Green sings. Green grows, and nourishes. Green is Kermit the Frog, at once awkward and lovable, pure and loyal in expressiveness, determined and adventurous calmly reassuring that not only is it OK to feel sad, everything will be alright.
Green is gorgeous, humble, sustaining life. The world is getting hotter in more ways than one, and sadder. This spring, let’s freshen up and green up where we can. At least let’s love our greens.
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 1 large ripe avocado, flesh only
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh tarragon, chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups baby spinach, kale or mixed greens
- 4-5 radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 cup sugar snap peas, sliced on the diagonal
- 1 medium carrot, shredded
- 1 cucumber, sliced and halved
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup sprouts, for topping
- Combine the barley with 3 cups water and a pinch of salt in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the barley is tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and let cool.
- Prepare the dressing: in a high speed blender or food processor, combine avocado plus next 8 ingredients (through parsley) and process until smooth. Thin with additional water as needed for desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Toss barley with vegetables. Drizzle with dressing as desired and stir to combine. Serve topped with sprouts. Store leftover dressing in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Inspired by a curried quinoa with raisins and almonds that I swooned over at the new local Whole Foods, this salad came together tweak by fortuitously compatible tweak. The dressing began bland. Then each little ingredient, rather than causing cloudy confusion, added something uniquely complementary…pop, zing, tang, or just a bit of niceness. The end result was lovely, bursting with flavor, packed with greens, and satiating with the hearty protein-rich combination of quinoa and chickpeas. That’s really all I wanted to say about this quinoa-kale combo. It’s all about the little things.
That has been something of a motto for me, at least on this blog, this season. The impact and importance of little things. Being a relatively small and prematurely, overly apologetic person, I guess I’ve always had an affinity for small ponds; a fierce faith in the significance of small but steady, well-intentioned steps. But recently, an online professional development class on mindfulness has encouraged pause for reflection that allowed me to call myself out for how indolent–or maybe fearful– I’ve been lately, dismissive of small efforts when it comes to myself. In other words, kind of a hypocrite.
I used to write poetry. A lot. Depending on the situation not everyone wants to admit to this, but in fact I went to graduate school for it. Now, as mama to a very busy, somewhat clingy (but wonderfully so) 3-year old who squeezes work as a freelancer into narrow, awkward hours, any poetic channels I still possess are clogged. My writing gets plenty of enjoyable outlets, and sometimes it even closes in on eloquent; but if I were to attempt poetry it would be obvious and pathetic in its stumbling. I know this, but it isn’t a reason not to try, if only infrequently, sometimes.
I used to play piano a lot, too. Despite being a sing-song, nursery-rhyme style ‘singer’, I will always be so thankful for the salvation music, particularly the piano, has provided during key crossroads, and painful, lost, and lonely periods of my life. The mentors I’ve had have been more impactful than they may ever realize. They’ve nurtured my soul and saved me from drowning in more ways than I’ve ever told them. Now, I’m lucky to pull out old familiar pieces I love or struggle with sight reading roughly ten minutes every other week or so. It’s a temporary state of things, and the music will be there when I return to it. But that’s no reason not to take those ten minutes where they appear and relish them.
The truth is, there are good reasons not to attempt to do these things I love. Mainly, time, or lack of. Sometimes money, too, though not really relevant to those examples. There are always trade-offs, and how privileged to have the luxury of choosing mine. Self-care is not absent in my life, it just looks different than a younger, freer self’s routines, and that’s OK.
But where I’ve been really falling down is the holding back when it comes to reaching out to people because I’m afraid I’m not enough. Because I’m embarrassed…that in my state of too little time or too stretched a budget that what I can offer is not worthwhile. A string of meaningful events has been lighting up our community lately, with babies arriving, life changes to celebrate, and changes to mourn. I have caught myself too many times holding back from reaching out for the weakest of reasons…that the time I can offer would be too short or too inconsistent to be meaningful; the meal I’d offer would be too simple to be sustenance, the gift too small to be appreciated.
Last week we couldn’t fit the “big shop” on a single weekday, and had to arrange the weekend so I could take on the grocery store late Saturday morning. Inside, it was packed with people; outside, the parking lot was packed with slushy, heavy, gritty snow. I was indulging in post-holiday, somewhat fatigued, hormonal, lonely bluesiness, struggling to push my heavy cart over the mini parking lot moguls of gripping, slippery snow-dirt, when a woman rushed over as if out of a dream, grabbed the end of the cart and commanded, “You pull, I’ll push” in such a sunny, efficiently managerial kind of manner, my spirits instantly lifted. After my bags were unloaded and I started to push–with much more ease–my lightened cart over to the dock, an elderly man appeared at my side and insisted in this soft, gentlemanly, kindly voice, “please, let me help you.”
Those two strangers will never know how much those quick, unselfish moments of their time mattered to me. I hope the pay-it-forward effect brings them some solid karma. Because it’s been going on a week, and the lift their combined efforts gave me may have ebbed but hasn’t gone away. Better, it’s opened up a few resolves…’new year resolutions’ I hadn’t made but have already acted on, so that’s something. The little voice that has been holding back good intentions has taken a more optimistic and centered approach, experimenting with new advice: offer the soup; write the poem, or if not, read one; play the music, or if not, listen; visit with the friend, or if not, call…or if not, message; compliment the stranger; thank the friend; say ‘I love you’; wish the Facebook “friend” who’s not really a friend happy birthday (or delete the “friend” if that’s better for the whole, meaningful picture). Because, it’s the little things in the end. You may never know the difference you inspired, but it’s there.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey (or maple syrup for vegan)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
- pinch ground tumeric
- 1 tablespoon finely minced red onion
- Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 4 cups shredded kale, ribs and stems removed
- 1 apple, thinly sliced
- ¾ cup raisins
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- Bring the quinoa, vegetable broth, and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender, and the water has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the dressing by whisking together the orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, mustard, honey, cider vinegar, spices and onion in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the kale, apples, raisins and almonds to the cooked quinoa, and stir to combine. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Prior to serving, add dressing and toss to coat.
How long do we get to say phrases like “40 is the new 30” before the “new” expires? Personally, I hope never. Or that, in this particular case, we just keep pushing up the digits…50, 60, 90. It doesn’t feel like that long ago I was staring at a “whole quarter of a century” as if it was so old, but it was. In any case, the real reason I’m even wondering is that in a brief moment of idle thought I was playing with a completely random analogy: 40 is to 30 as cauliflower is to kale.
Modest cauliflower has been established as trendy long enough that sharing a mini-obsession with it feels a little like jumping on the bandwagon after the band was gone. But that doesn’t come close to even threatening to downgrade it’s magical qualities. Quiet and mild as crucifers go, cauliflower becomes “rice”, mash, creamy puree, “steak”, pizza crust, and more. And, belying its ghostly pallor, a serving packs a solid 80% of your daily value of vitamin C and a whole lot more.
I love cauliflower in all kinds of forms, but I”m hooked on it roasted. Crisp and tender, flavorful, easy. What’s not to love? Tossing it in with quinoa, greens and a few extra vegetables takes so little effort and makes a hearty, versatile meal and the kind of leftovers you can happily eat for days. A light tahini dressing really ties everything together, great with grains and salad. I used Keen One Garden Vegetable quinoa, but plain quinoa works great, too. (Or, to kick things up with some extra spice, try Keen One‘s Thai Curry blend…amazing!).
Sometimes salad seems to simple to be unique, but that’s kind of the beauty of it and makes it all the more worth sharing. Little Monkey helped prepping and tossing the vegetables, and shook a jam jar of the dressing acting as my emulsifying agent. And then dinner was received well enough that quinoa could possibly even be the new breakfast. Sometimes, definitely.
For the salad:
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1 tablespoon oil
- cooking spray
- 1 package Keen One garden vegetable quinoa or ⅔ cup dry quinoa (for 2 cups cooked quinoa)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups baby spinach, baby kale, or mixed greens
- 1 15-ounce can cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
For the dressing:
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Place cauliflower florets on a baking sheet or roasting pan; toss with oil to coat and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Coat lightly with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 20-30 minutes or until cauliflower is tender, turning once.
- Prepare the quinoa according to package directions and let cool.
- While cauliflower and quinoa are cooking prepare the dressing: combine all ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk or fork to combine. Set aside.
- Combine cauliflower, quinoa, and remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl. Toss with dressing before serving.
The Year of the Monkey is already peeking out from around the corner, and I hope it has a kindly mischievous grin, boundless energy, and sense of fun. Last year, wonderful in so many ways, packed in a couple of tough punches, too. Little Monkey, our lucky charm, kept liveliness and laughter going strong, so we can’t complain. Maybe this next Monkey year will be a momentous one for him. He wasn’t actually born in a Year of the Monkey (in fact, he’s a snake), but I’ve just been informed that the year of one’s birth sign is believed to be the most unlucky in the 12-year cycle…so phew! If we took Chinese astrology seriously, I’d be very relieved that our house is officially monkey-less.
Typically on Chinese New Year we bring to the table cheerful, bright citrus (representing prosperity and good fortune) and some kind of long noodle dish, honoring the Chinese tradition of “long-life noodles” symbolizing…well, it’s obvious, isn’t it. This year, I may continue the trend. Or, I might just make this salad.
What could be a better symbolic start to a new cycle…whether it’s New Year or Chinese New Year…than power-packed plants like tender spinach and crisp kale, a blend of crunchy vegetables, and marinated baked tofu that has a robust, even meaty, somewhat smokey Asian barbeque taste to it? Even better, it’s easy to prep in stages, vary to taste, and quickly assemble. Not only that, it’s heartily toddler-approved. At least the tofu chunks, cucumbers, and snap peas are.
No one would expect me to mark the Chinese New Year, not even my mom. The truth is, most years I feel a sort of romantic need to do something to celebrate. Romantic in the sense that the feeling is wistful, coupled with a little detachment and self-consciousness. Because depending on how you view it, you could very well say I’m not really Chinese. I have formative memories of being teased and tormented long ago as a young child for slanted “ching chong” eyes, browner or yellower skin…for being different. Yet while living in Taiwan one year between college and graduate school, locals were generally shocked to learn I was half Asian, my mother having been born in Hong Kong. The realization that there too, people wondered “what are you” when they met me was in its way unsettling. It was interesting how relationships changed when the knowledge was shared. On the one hand, my Chinese women friends embraced me more closely, like an invisible wall had been removed. On the other, I lost a little bit of something that was not quite but kin to respect.
Today, a trip I am most thankful for is having gone to China as a 15-year old, tagging along on my parents’ goodwill mission to China with the state of Connecticut. That was when my eyes opened to the many contrasts and contradictions, the richness and beauty that was a part of my distant inherited culture, and I realized how foolish it was to shun it. Those few weeks in China were the start too, of an ongoing internal journey, one that acknowledged the box I stood still in, yet without stillness, as an onlooker.
But all that, journeys and such–they are much more diary, chapters thereof, than simple blog post about a salad. That said, I think I will make this salad for February 8th…with a side of long, unbroken noodles. In honor of honoring traditions while embracing something different. Because just as I used to be brought to tears at the way some would ask “what are you” with narrowed eyes and narrower minds, we may not need a monkey (astrological one) to define what comes next. We do however thrive on the reminder to do our best to create the path, and be thankful for and open to all good things. It’s way too early to wish, but gung hay fat choy.
Spinach and kale salad with ginger sesame vinaigrette with teriyaki baked tofu
Prep time: 25 minutes (plus time to marinate tofu)
Cook time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 dinner servings
For the salad:
- 3 cups baby kale, washed and spun dry
- 3 cups baby spinach, washed and spun dry
- 2 -3 cups mixed vegetables or choice (sliced cucumber, sliced red pepper, snap peas)
- 1 recipe teriyaki marinated baked tofu (see below)
For the dressing:
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1 finely minced garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Place all ingredients through sesame oil in a blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl or container and stir in sesame seeds.
Teriyaki marinated baked tofu
- 1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ⅓ cup vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- Cut tofu into 8 slabs crosswise and drain between clean kitchen towels or paper towels. Place between two cutting boards and let stand for 20 minutes .
- Combine all the marinade ingredients in a small container and whisk together. Arrange the tofu slices in a single layer in a shallow container and pour enough marinade over them to cover. Refrigerate at least one hour to overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 400º F. Transfer tofu slices to a parchment or foil-lined baking pan in a single layer.
- Bake for 20 minutes, gently flip with a spatula, and bake for 20 minutes longer. Tofu should be firm and beginning to brown along the edges. Let sit in warm oven if desired for greater firmness.