Day 11 of Real Food: Mexican Fiesta Quinoa

I had a taste of the world today.

The missions fair at our church is always an exciting time to meet people from all over the globe and hear their stories of what God is doing.

I am reminded that in this big big world, I am very small. But this is actually a hopeful thought — God is at work in ways I can’t see. And the knowledge that He chooses to use my little prayers as tools for eternal purposes.

It is already Day 11 of my challenge to eat only unprocessed, natural foods for 40 days. Read the story here! So far, it is going well. The daily devotionals from A Place at the Table have been great inspiration to keep up the challenge.

There are times when the sweets and chips come a-calling and I really want to give in. That’s when I realize how spoiled I am to even have food I can turn down. By saying no to processed and packaged foods — foods that large parts of the world have no access to — I’m hoping to grow my understanding of what my body really needs vs. what just sounds good at the moment.

One helpful tactic I’ve been utilizing the past few days is to focus my thoughts and prayers on the country whose cuisine I’m eating. I research a little about the country — their daily staples, their economic status, their everyday personal, social and political needs — so while I am cooking, while I am eating, while I am not eating other foods, I am consciously able to identify with people across the world in my prayers. It has made the whole process of eating so purposeful. I’d love for this to become a habit even when the 40 days are over.

Today was Mexico. It is going to be difficult to not just do Latin cuisine because lately I’ve been craving tortillas and guacamole like no one’s business.

Staples of nearly ever Mexican meal are corn (tortillas!) and beans. Other common ingredients are squash, peppers, rice, honey, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, garlic, cinnamon, and cocoa.

I found an excellent information and prayer resource at Operation World. Here are just a few of the listed “challenges for prayer”:

a) The poor, both the impoverished rural poor and the exploited slum-dwellers — Poverty affects 60% of the Mexican population

b) The marginalized native Amerindians — This group of people have no official social status and live in greater poverty and political upheaval

c) Corruption in politics and the police. 

d) The massive drug trade and gang violence that accompanies it — including over 5000,000 addicts, the power-hungry cartels who control the “industry”, the government and law enforcement fighting against the corruption and violence of gangs.

These heavy concerns need contemplated over a light meal. This bowl has it all — grain, protein, healthy fat, vegetables, spicy and colorful — Mexico in a dish, all natural and delicious. Enough to keep my taste-buds and tummy happy and preoccupied from the snack cupboard and to keep my mind focused on more important things.

Mexican Fiesta Quinoa 

Inspired by Daily Garnish and Oh She Glows ~ serves 10 as a side, 6 as a main

  • 2 c. dry quinoa
  • 1 large can black beans, drained and rinsed
  •  1 c. diced tomatoes
  • 2 small avocados, chopped
  • 1 c. corn kernels
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 1/2 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. garlic salt
  • 3 T. fresh cilantro, minced
  • 3 T. lime juice

Directions

  • Prepare quinoa by package directions (4 c. water for 2 c. dry quinoa). Cook till water is absorbed and quinoa is soft and fluffy.
  • Transfer quinoa to a large bowl and stir in spices: chili powder, paprika, and garlic salt
  • Meanwhile, chop pepper, tomatoes, and avocados
  • Add beans, corn, pepper, tomatoes, avocado, and cilantro to quinoa and stir to combine.
  • Pour lime juice over mixture and toss to combine.
  • For best flavor results, refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

I could definitely eat like this for a while. If someone would send me a link for foolproof tortillas, I’d be set for life.

Places I Love

Lately, I’ve been playing the game “Where I Wish I Was Right Now”.

I play it when I am sitting in my Biochemistry lab, trying to look intelligent while my partner does all the work. News flash: today was the last lab of the semester — and perhaps off my entire college career. I would be more than happy to retire my lab glasses forever.

I play WWIWRN (can I get that patented?) when I see things like this:

Yes that says, Exam, Presentation, Exam all in the last week of class.That’s when I wish for a magic carpet. Or a snow storm or anything.

Where are the places I love most to be?

  • By the fireplace in my PJs with the family
  • In the kitchen, baking cookies and listening to Christmas music
  • The Christmas tree farm where horse-drawn carriage take you to your tree and candy canes and hot chocolate await your return
  • Boston. It’s my favorite city. One day I want to live there.
  • On country roads in the early morning, my neon orange sneakers rhythmically pounding the pavement with cows and horses for company.
  • Anthropologie. I’ve actually only been in one store, but I’m on the website often enough for it to definitely make my list of wishful getaways.
And then there is this place:
Rebecca Florio@beccarosiefloRebecca Florio
I may be putting my reputation on the line, but yes, I count a grocery store as one of my favorite places to be.
Because it’s forty-five minutes away, it’s an all day event that only happens about four times away.
Because it’s TRADER JOE’S. The whole atmosphere is just happy.
Because it inspires snacks like this one:

That would be mini pretzels lathered in pumpkin butter and sunflower butter, topped with Ghiradelli chocolate chips. DO IT.

I came home with lots of goodies, the kinds of signature foods you can only find at TJ’s: the best hummus ever, cinnamon roll bread, sunflower butter, fruit bars, cereals, tofu. It’s like a bottomless treasure chest and I had to remind myself that we were driving a minivan, not a bus.

Mom and I were just heading out the door when she spotted the large bin of pineapples at an incredible price. It didn’t take much convincing for me to turn around and get back in the checkout line.

And it only took a day until the pineapple was put to good use.

I’m a big believer in eating food in season. It’s freshest, most natural, and supports local farming. It also inspires creativity. I could always use more of that.

Which means that if your toes are freezing off in the middle of December and you wish you were tanning on a Florida beach, you can still have your fruit salad. This is the kind that will make you want to pull up your toe socks, pour a warm cup of tea, and cuddle up by the fireplace.

Winter Fruit Salad with Citrus Honey Dressing

  • 1 small pineapple, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 clementines, peeled and sectioned
  • 3 medium pears, diced
  • 3 medium apples, diced
  • 1 pomegranate, peeled and seeded (I use this method)
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1/4 c. orange juice
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 t. cinnamon
Directions
  • Cut fruit in bite-sized pieces and combine in a large bowl
  • In a small jar or bowl, combine honey, juice, vanilla, and cinnamon. Place the lid on the jar and shake, or use a whisk to thoroughly combine ingredients.
  • Pour dressing over fruit and stir to coat.
  • Refrigerate salad for at least 1 hour to let flavors develop.

Of course, now the fruit salad is gone and I’m wishing I had bough three more pineapples at Trader Joe’s.

As if I needed an excuse to take the forty-five minute commute twice in one week. Anyone up for a road trip?

Quick Eatz: Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of looking at life through lab glasses: 

In attempts to stay healthy during my hectic life, I have been drinking a lot of this:

and consuming far too much of this (which has nothing to do with healthy, but everything to do with the hectic life):

When I get a chance, I let out stress in a run. Fall morning runs are the best. Especially when run with a good friend who has an awesome sense of style:

 I’ve not been neglecting pumpkin, either. I’ve probably been through 6 cans in the past two and a half months. That’s almost a can a week!

Don’t judge, please. Instead, make one of these recipes and you’ll understand. I hope.

Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Honey Buttercream (Heather’s Dish). If the name alone doesn’t have you clicking over, let me tell you that this is one of the most phenomenal recipes I’ve made all autumn.  The buttercream alone is out of this world. I had to hold myself back from sitting down to a bowl of it and calling it lunch.

Pumpkin Molasses Cookie Dough Balls (Peas and Thank You). Soft and flavorful, these cookies didn’t last long!

Pumpkin Smoothie (Edible Perspective). Pumpkin makes such a creamy smoothie! I only wish I didn’t slurp through this deliciousness so fast.

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip:

  • 3/4 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 c. cottage cheese
  • 3 T. almond butter
  • 1 T. cinnamon
  • 1 t. nutmeg
  • 1 T. maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a blender or in a medium size bowl until blended smooth. Drizzle maple syrup on top and top with chopped nuts or coconut before serving. Scoop up with graham crackers, pretzels, apple and pear slices, or pita chips.

In just over a week, it will be Thanksgiving. I can choose to be stressed out by the way time is whizzing by, or I can choose to embrace this season of gratitude. I have so much to be thankful for. I have a strong and loving family, I’ve been blessed with good health, I have the opportunity to be in college, taking classes (difficult as they may be) on the way to the career of my dreams. Most of all, my life is marked by the love and grace of God. Every day, His mercies are new. Great is His faithfulness. 

In this hectic life, filled with both joys and stresses, moments of peace and moments of frustration, I choose to give thanks.

When Yummy Things Happen

Adaptability.

I’m working on it (beginning with spelling it).

It’s one of character traits that when you realize you need it, you find all kinds of opportunities to learn it.

Learning that sometimes torrential downpours happen and you find yourself without an umbrella and then means you have to run across campus in your sequined flats and arrive in class resembling a wet rat. And no, the world is not ending.

Learning that on the one free day of the week you hoped to spend with family, everyone else is out of the house. You suddenly have a free whole day for studying.

Learning that even when you have whole days blocked up for studying, that never really happens. Because other important things come up. Like baking.

Learning that as soon as you find one good excuse to bake (those apples in the fridge are getting mealy), there come along three other necessary events to bake for that weekend (thirty+ guests, a neighborhood party, a friend’s 90th birthday). This means you need to triple your recipe. And go to the store for more apples. And you can give up any ideas of studying.

Learning that when sisters watch you bake, you will end up making an entire separate batch with chocolate chips instead of apples and you will become the brunt and punchline of several jokes when you ask the question “What does quirky really mean anyway?”. Never ask that question. But you will also have someone to stir the batter as you wipe flour of your camera so you can arrange and take thirty pictures. That’s normal, right?

Learning that no matter how much they leave you to your textbooks, make fun of you, or call you names (can you be a little more original than Ditzy?), all will be forgotten when they follow a buttery, warm-apple fragrance into the kitchen and sinking their teeth into your creation, offer up mmms and contented sighs that makes your quirky sister heart swell with love.

These bars are one of my favorite recipes because they are endlessly adaptable. The base recipe, adapted from Mama Pea’s Toffee Bars, is so versatile and can be taken any way your imagination, mood, occasion, or kitchen pantry dictates. Some of my favorite add-ins have been the toffee chips (follow Mama Pea’s recipe for homemade toffee = amazing!!) with coconut and chocolate chips, fresh blueberries and white chocolate chips, peanut butter and chocolate chips.

This newest creation was inspired by the autumesque weather we’ve been enjoying — Apple Butterscotch Bars. Why have I not baked with butterscotch chips before? Find of the week season.

adding color to a “blank slate”

Apple Butterscotch Bars
(Adapted from Mama Pea’s Toffee Bars)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. vegan margarine
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 c. diced apple
  • 1 c. butterscotch chips
  • 1/3 c. coarse raw sugar (or brown sugar)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly spray a 9×12 pan with cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl, cream together sugar, margarine and vanilla.
  • In a separate bowl, combine flours, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add dry ingredients gradually into wet mixture until fully combined.
  • Gently fold in apples and butterscotch chips (or other add-ins of your choice).
  • Press mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with raw sugar.
  • Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Learning adapplebility adaptability isn’t easy. Sometimes it includes rain-drenching, flour-coating reminders that I am not in control of my life. Squashed sequin flats and late night study sessions will happen, whether I plan them or not, and if I choose by God’s grace, I can surrender my unmet desires, give thanks in all things, rejoice in the abundant life I’ve been given, and eat Apple Butterscotch Bars because somehow I missed lunch.

Really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Healthy Living Inspiration

It was a fun weekend. Swag bags, oats and yogurt galore, granola giveaways, conversations about running, blogging, and spinach smoothies, meeting my cyberspace inspirations in real life. Yes, for this wannabe blogger, wannabe Dietitian and absolute health nut, the Healthy Living Summit in Philadelphia was my definition of fun.

(picture source)

I could go on an on about the yummy meals we ate (what other conference has an oatmeal bar for breakfast or an entire vegetarian lunch??), the healthy living blog heroines I finally got to see and meet, or the bottomless Mary-Poppins swag bag of yummy treats (I’ll never need to buy granola bars again!), but I’ll spare you words and let the pictures do the talking.

New friends (picture source)

What I will do is let you in on a couple of notes from the sessions. The sessions were all great, geared at both healthy living and blogging. I attended “Budgeting for a Healthy Lifestyle”, “Rising Above Negativity”, “Blogger Safety”, and “Maintaining Healthy Habits While Traveling” and came back with so much food thought (pun totally intended).

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Living healthfully does cost more, so it takes planning and creativity to eat well. Meal plan, make grocery store lists, use coupons, buy in season, and shop around.
  • When choosing organic produce, keep in mind the “dirty dozen”, which foods are most contaminated by pesticides.

Progress in healthy living isn’t a one time big decision, but is made up of small, daily, and achievable changes.

  • A flexitarian diet begins every day intending to be more vegetarian and is pro-plant instead of focusing on restricting meat.
  • Three ways to transition into a more plant-based diet are to Reportion your plate to a 25% grains, 25% lean protein and 50% vegetables, Reinvent old favorites, and Refresh your diet to try new recipes.
  • While traveling, learn to be flexible with your meals, hit up the grocery store for staples and snacks, eat like a local instead of frequenting chains and fast food, sight-see by foot, and pack workout gear.

Living healthfully is so much more than a one day conference. It’s loving food, not for food’s sake alone, but for the way it strengthens and nourishes my body to be active and strong. The end goal isn’t perfect health or a fit body, but having the energy to life life to the fullest. It’s about spending time outside in nature, whether it be walking leisurely with friends, biking with family, or sweating up a run. Soak up God’s creation. Eat oats. And spinach. Be active. Enjoy the sweetness and savoriness of each day. Count your blessings!

Summer Reading

“Farmers’ markets are growing and so are organic food companies. While each might have a different approach, or even philosophy, the same consumer is shopping at both venues. Small farmers provide the heart and soul of the movement. The larger outlets provide the distribution muscle to bring the food to a bigger audience. The two camps often are at odds, but they need each other too” (Source).

“This is not scary. I’m not encouraging or dictating to people what they should eat. I’m not encouraging people to completely become vegans or anything like that. I’m simply asking people to look at the proportions of food that they eat. If they feel their diet is high in animal products and highly-processed foods but low in plants, they should really just swap those proportions” (Source).

“The abundance of food in the United States—enough calories to meet the needs of every man, woman, and child twice over—has a downside. Our overefficient food industry must do everything possible to persuade people to eat more—more food, more often, and in larger portions—no matter what it does to waistlines or well-being” (Source)

What’s on your summer eating reading list?