Saturday, October 25, 2014

Amazing Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Recipe


I'm both sorry and not sorry. 

I'm sorry for being away for so long.

I'm not sorry for taking some time offline to focus on my family and my own needs. 

I've been living a very good year, embracing each day and what it has on the menu. I've tried many new recipes, new approaches, and recreated some old standbys in fresher, healthier ways. 

We had a very family-centric summer, planted a huge garden, and stayed home as much as possible. We narrowed our field of activity and honed in on the things that inspire us the most.

I hope to get back to more regular blogging, now that the garden is (mostly) out of the ground. I also hope to see you around here more... if you have ideas or requests, please do share them with me. I'm all ears. 
Waaay back in January of this year, I made a swoon-worthy sandwich that I determined to share here. I made it again in May and took pictures, because it's green and it's GORGEOUS. You can find it here, on Tastespotting,  in its original form, but I'll share it here, too, along with my own take on it. 

Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Sandwich
for 1 sandwich
Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Sandwich!
2 slices bread
generous dollops of Green Goddess Herb Pesto (recipe to follow)
sliced mozzarella or provolone
handful fresh baby spinach
1/4 to 1/2 avocado, sliced or mashed
2 tablespoons or so goat cheese, crumbled
olive oil and grass-fed butter (or your choice of butter)

Spread butter on outside of two slices of bread. On the inside of each slice, spread 1 or 2 tablespoons of Green Goddess Herb Pesto (original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons total because pesto is STRONG, but I loved it with lots).

On one slice of bread, add mozza or provolone, sliced avocado, spinach and goat cheese, then top it with second slice of bread. Press together gently.

Heat 1 T EVOO in a griddle pan over medium heat until hot. Add the sandwich to the oil and cook, flipping once, until bread is golden brown and cheese is melty.

So. Awesome.

Green Goddess Herb Pesto
Green Goddess Herb Pesto
2 cloves garlic (maybe even 3)
2 anchovy fillet in oil. (Use 1 fillet if you want to tone it down)
1 T chopped onion
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
handful chopped fresh Italian parsley
handful chopped kale
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 T chopped tarragon
1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp pepper

Pulse garlic, anchovy, and shallot in food processor until chopped. With the food processor running, add lemon juice, parsley, kale, tarragon and chives. (It won’t process very well yet, don’t worry.)

Very slowly drizzle in olive oil until kale and herbs get sufficiently chopped and everything is the consistency of a pesto, scraping the sides as needed. Add as much olive oil as you need to make it the consistency you want. 

Use this on salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes or dollop a bit in your appetizers. It's so, so good. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Embracing the Plate... of Life.

Time, oh how you slip away.

This post has been a long time coming, and I think I'm ready to write it, now. (Warning: It's going to be good and long.)

I especially notice the passage of time in my children. I must have heard it more than a hundred times from other mothers, "Oh, they grow up so quickly." Many are the times I've shaken off their melancholy warning with a smile and a nod. Perhaps I didn't really believe them, maybe because I was stuck in a moment. When you're stuck in a moment, you often don't realize that it will end. The baby who cries on and on; the financial stresses; the crazy month at work that has you pulling your hair out; the house that will simply never stay clean; or the neverending refrain of 'diet and exercise' that seems to be going nowhere... it all seems like it is far to big to go away. Time doesn't seem very speedy, then.

But now, that first crying baby is 10, and the tears - his and mine - are a distant memory. The financial stress of being a young newlywed is long gone. I can see that my job has its ups and downs, and it won't always be stressful, nor will it always be my job. My house will one day stay clean, because my children will grow up. And my body, no matter whether I achieve my fitness goals or not, will stretch, and sag, and wrinkle, and bend. Time passes away, and things change forever.

I'm not being defeatist - far from it. I want to remind myself to seize the moment in the most positive way. To welcome each moment like a strange and wonderful new dish, studying its nuances and appreciating its uniqueness, savouring the new flavours presented in each circumstance.

Our desire as a couple was to have a big family, but our attempts to become pregnant over the past two years have not met with success. I have four children, and they are growing and changing so rapidly. I try, each day, to memorize them and learn from them and treasure them for all they bring to my life. I am so deeply thankful for them.

I'm going to take a deep breath right now, and share something very personal. I hope it will help you to be thankful for the gifts in your own life, and to embrace your plate.

I spent a lot of 2013 'stuck in a moment'. My goal for the year was, quite simply, to lose the rest of the baby weight gained with #4, and to get pregnant with #5. I had a plan of attack, and I was determined. (I've always been determined. It can be a bit of a curse.) But then, between January and May, I not only did not lose weight, I gained it. Up until that point, the only thing in the past 10 years that had made me gain weight was pregnancy, so I didn't know what was going on. I was trying to modify my focus to be more on health than weight. I was trying to stay positive, eat whole foods and enjoy my life while losing weight. It wasn't working. How could someone eat 1800 calories a day, and exercise 6 days a week gain weight? I reduced my intake to 1500 calories. I still gained. I reduced to 1200... and then 1000. I was still gaining. 

I thought I was lazy: Maybe I wasn't working out as hard as I thought? The number went higher. I thought I was crazy: I must be lying to myself about what I'm eating. I became panicked and anxious, and pushed myself harder and harder. By the end of April, I had gained 20 pounds, and lost hope. I finally went to the doctor, suffering from depression and a self-loathing deeper than merely the issue of weightloss. I felt like a failure at everything, from parenting and homemaking to my job and my friendships. I just wanted off the ride. 

The doctor listened as I cried, and then he started asking questions and planning a series of tests. As I left, with one fist clutching Kleenex and the other a sheaf of requisitions, he put his hand on my shoulder. 

"Don't give up. It's going to be okay."

After a rigorous series of tests, I was called back to the doctor's office. That was when the first chord of fear rang through the depression. What if there was something really wrong with me? I already knew I had a non-functioning thyroid, but what if I had thyroid cancer? The doctor sat me down, and we went through all of the lab results, the ultrasound and exams. "It's Polycystic Ovary Snydrome. It looks like your symptoms have been emerging over time, especially the past 6 years, and have worsened in the last year."

I was simultaneously devastated and relieved. A syndrome means it isn't curable. I can minimize the symptoms, but the underlying syndrome is still there. PCOS puts me at increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, and messes up fertility. On the other hand, I was monumentally relieved that I wasn't crazy. Looking back, I could see that many of the symptoms had exhibited themselves but had never added up to one cause in my mind. I had never considered PCOS as a possibility, because I had children, and thought that the two were mutually exclusive. 

The doctor explained that PCOS is on a spectrum, and for some people, the syndrome doesn't present until the patient is older. My tests showed that I was not ovulating. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with gratitude! How thankful I am that I have four healthy children, and that I had those children while I was in my 20s! If I had gone with the current societal norm of career first, kids later, I would be in the same boat I am in right now, but with no babies to show for it. Thanksgiving soaked into my core, and I knew right then that I would never take another moment with my kids for granted.

After half a year of struggle, frustration, anxiety and eventual despair, it was hard to believe that something would actually work, and that I could really take control again. The doctor gave me some options, including medication, but told me that a dietary method has been shown to be the most effective. Eating "like a diabetic" can help to balance the hormones that have swung more and more out of level. 

When I got home and shared the news with J, he was endearingly enthusiastic. "That's great! It's an opportunity to learn all kids of new recipes together!" I was overwhelmed, so thankful to have a husband who would walk this journey with me. I had so many questions about what this would mean for me, and how my future would look.

During our research together, I found the single most calm-in-a-storm website for PCOS sufferers.  It felt like I had found a safe haven, a peaceful place amid the chaos.  If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, please join In the early days of just wanting to understand WHAT I was up against, when meal planning for new restrictions seemed impossible, this website and support community make things bearable.

I shared my burden with family members and some close friends, knowing that their support would help make the difference. I wasn't ready to share it with the world yet, but by the time I wrote "Eat Yer Porridge" I was already a lot more positive and happy.

Since May, I've been off of sugar (it's honey and maple syrup for me!), dairy, white rice, gluten (except for occasional whole grains), all processed foods, soy, and more. It's a long list, even if you're used to eating healthily. The science behind PCOS changed things for me. Finding out how crucial frequent eating is (when I had been counter-productively starving myself), figuring out why certain foods (like dairy!) are a no-go for me, these made a gigantic difference in results. The diet, coupled with an insulin-leveling medication, allowed me to start to feel better within a week, and I started to slowly but surely lose weight. Now, in January 2014, I've lost that 20 lbs that I gained in the first half of 2013. It's not much, but not much to sneeze at, either. If I can get my symptoms under control and keep them there, there's the hope that I will begin ovulating again, too.

Last night, my sister-in-law had to have an emergency c-section to deliver her 32 week old baby. Mother and child are doing well, all things considered, but it was a scary evening for everyone.  We almost lost someone we love, and a little someone we love but haven't even met yet.

All of this encouraged me to share this journey. It also reinforced my desire to appreciate life, to take what I'm served and spice it up, to savour it... to embrace the plate. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

The BEST Kale Salad Recipe

I forgot to say it the other day: Happy New Year! 

We rang it in at home, kids in bed, sipping champagne and talking about our goals for the year to come. Did you do anything exciting?

The company that was scheduled to come out this weekend had to cancel, no thanks to freezing rain... and the threat of a high of -31C on Sunday to 'balance' things out. We will reschedule with them, and as disappointing as it was to miss out on a planned visit, I'm feeling SO relaxed right now. 

My house is really-super-duper-pre-company-CLEAN, I've gotten the laundry caught up on, meals are planned for the weekend, and snacks are made. I have nothing to do except experiment with some more quinoa-flake banana muffin recipes (I tried two this morning - these were really good), play on my Pinterest and catch up on some reading and crafting. Ooh, and prep school work for next week, that too. I think I may need to schedule time into my year that is like this: scheduled time to NOT have a plan. I think it would be good for my health and sanity. 

I have a recipe for you! It's one of my most-requested recipes, and while I had it on my old blog, I thought it was time to bring it over. We were introduced to this salad in 2012, when my aunt brought it to a family function, and everyone fell in love with it!

This is the ultimate Kale Salad recipe, and one we've been making often - at least weekly - for the last year and a half. My kids gobble it up and ask for seconds, and we all love the lemony, garlicky flavour and the kale's crunch. I am also thrilled with the fact that because it calls for raw kale, it will keep in the fridge (IF you manage to have any leftovers), and stay crunchy for the next day.

Why should you eat kale? Because it is a super-food! It's packed with HEAPS of Vitamins A and C, loads of iron and zinc and fiber, and other vitamins, minerals, anti-inflamatory and anti-cancer nutrients. You can go here for more. Basically, I'm really happy when my family eats a lot of kale.


BEST EVER Kale Salad
It's easy to customize this recipe for people who aren't doing dairy (goat feta or no feta), and you can make the pecans optional. The dressing and kale alone are enough to make us all very happy.

For the Salad:
2 bunches kale (we love the curly kale but flat kale works just as well)
4 garlic cloves, super finely chopped (don't mince, you do want tiny chunks of garlic and not garlicky paste)
1/4 - 1/2 red onion, diced or thinly sliced
1/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup feta cheese

For the Dressing:2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lemon (add the zest for an extra lemon kick)

Wash, dry and tear your kale into small pieces, removing tough stems. (Wash it well... curly kale in particular can hold a lot of dirt. I usually swish mine through a couple of rinses before spinning it dry. If you don't have a salad spinner, you can wrap the clean, wet, torn up leaves into a tea-towel and then spin it gently.)

Combine dressing ingredients. Add kale, garlic and red onions to dressing. Using your (washed) hands, mix and massage the greens, so that the greens are well coated with the dressing. Allow the flavours to mingle for 20 minutes before serving, for best results.

Add the pecans and feta just before serving.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Excitement of Newness

We all get excited at newness. 

New fluffy kittens or puppies or ducklings or babies.

New shoes, new toys, new cars, new teacups, new movies.

New hobbies, new plans...

And the New Year. 

There is a camp that would scoff at the predictable excitement that comes with the turning of the calendar from December to January. Some point to the moneymaker that is the gym-membership pull of January 1, and the unrealistic ideals set by others that we feel pressured to adopt. Some would boycott the whole idea of newness, stating that resolutions are just a self-imposed high pressure scenario that ultimately ends in failure. 

Well, if you find yourself on that side of the fence, bear with me. 

Wouldn't we all love a chance to try again? To learn something new, or to overcome a bad habit? A chance to start again? To work toward a goal with renewed focus and energy? I would say that we all would, while we might not like the idea of outside social pressure to do do. Of course, this doesn't have to happen at the start of the year, but just the idea of Newness is an opportunity to encourage positive growth and channel our energy into change. So don't ask 'why,' but 'why not?'

I am a chronic list-maker, goal-setter, planner, shaker and mover. I long to bust-up my comfort zone and perfect my imperfections - to a sometimes unhealthy degree, I will admit. For as long as I have known of the concept of New Year's Resolutions, I have made myself a list. Sure, I make a really idealized and optimistic list, and usually don't come close to succeeding at half of it, but to me, that's ok.  At least I have Intention. At least I have Focus. At least I am Striving. 

Well, last year, I told myself, "I'm just going to love myself more, accept myself the way I am..."

Last year, I was discouraged. I was struggling with my health and my energy levels. I was struggling with a resurgence of mild depression, and the lack of desire to do things that I usually love. I was feeling cut adrift, and I was not looking to anchor myself, either. I felt lonely and isolated, and I had given up. I didn't know it until mid-May, but I was actually dealing with a complicated health issue that I had no idea had been affecting me for years [more on that later]. Coupled with my propensity to the melancholic, it was not a good start to a new year.  Just "loving myself more" was a pretty abstract concept. While it is a very good goal, I didn't have a plan on how to make that goal happen. 

Don't mistake me; 2013 wasn't a terrible year- far from it. So many good things happened in 2013. However, I felt a bit lost throughout the year, and I do attribute that largely to the fact that I didn't have a solid focus. I didn't have goals. I didn't have a plan. I didn't have intention. I didn't have that jumping-off point that gave me something to refer to when I wasn't sure what The Plan was. 

I am not going to make that mistake again. New Year's Resolutions may not be for everyone, but they are for me, and I intend to make them from now on.  My 2014 resolutions are reasonable, while challenging, and they are just right for me. When I work toward these goals, I am actively "loving myself more" in a purposeful way. 

Here is my advice. Make a list, but make it personal. This is for you, and only you. My list is not for you. Your list is not for me.  

I divide my list into categories: Mind, Body, Spirit, Family and Environment. Then I set a few realistic goals that pertain to each. I often set a theme for the year too, like a character quality that I want to work on, and then fit my resolutions into that theme.  Two years ago, for me, it was Organization. There are too many things that I went to perfect, and I know that one year isn't enough to 'fix' it all. Narrowing the focus helps a lot. 

I really encourage you to make this your own, and use this opportunity to grow. Not to be perfect, though! Just to become an even better version of your wonderful self. 

Can I help you get started? Here is one resolution from each of my categories for this year.

Take at least one art course, and learn a new piano piece each month - however simple. 

Find new ways of staying accountable for fitness goals, and be active every day. 

Take a notebook to church, and note something that inspires me each week. 

Carve out dedicated family time with no distractions/camp out more, even in the yard. 

Live off the land more this year - plant a slightly bigger garden than last year and focus on keeping it well tended, and then use produce for more canning and preserving this year!  

All the best to you as you make your plans for a wonderful 2014. Happy New Year!