Healthy Choices: Honey Soy Glazed Veggie Fries

On Sunday, my Real Food Challenge will come to an end. One thing I have become increasingly aware of as I’ve stayed away from packaged and processed foods is what a product of this consumer culture I am.

In many cultures, simply finding food to eat is a struggle. Putting a meal on the table takes work — from planting to tending to reaping and dealing with weather, animals and economic poverty. The concept of “favorite foods” is foreign — most people in the world eat anything that is available.

Here in America, we are bombarded with choices and variety of foods. Eating is not such much a necessity of life as it is a cultural and social experience. There are things we eat just because it is right in front of us and looks good. Because food is so accessible to us, we don’t need to put thought into what we eat. But we should.

When I was young, my dad would take me and my sisters out to Friendly’s. My sisters would order big sundaes with whipped cream and hot fudge sauce. I always ordered French Fries. Always French Fries. For me, salty and greasy trumped cold and sweet.

Now, French Fries hold little appeal to me. It is probably because I’ve discovered how much more delicious and flavorful real food is. It may be slightly due to watching videos like this:

Why are we filling ourselves with food that isn’t real and that only does us harm? There are much better choices out there.

Here’s a fry recipe to prove it. Full of flavor, crispness and color. And about a day’s worth of vegetable servings if you eat the whole pan.

If you do, beware — your vitamin levels might soar and you skin might turn orange. But on the other hand, there will be no clogged arteries or elevated cholesterol. It’s a swap I’m willing to make!

Honey Soy Glazed Veggie Fries

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 lb fresh string beans
  • 1/2 lb fresh asparagus stalks, bottoms trimmed,
  • 3 T. Honey
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger
  • 1/4 t. pepper

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Cut sweet potatoes into “fry” like sticks or wedges. Trim off ends of string beans and “woody” bottoms of asparagus stalks.
  • In a small bowl or jar whisk together honey, soy sauce, ginger, and pepper. If needed, add a little water to thin it out (you want to be a dressing like consistency).
  • In a large bowl, pour glaze over vegetables and toss until fully coated.
  • Arrange on a large baking dish. Bake for thirty-five minutes or until vegetables are tender. I  stuck this under the broiler for five minutes to crisp the vegetables up a bit so they can be “finger food”.
  • Serve with ketchup and honey mustard for dipping.

*Note: if you refrigerate these for later use, the fries will soften and probably not be dippable. Just reheat under the broiler to recrisp.

Making healthy choices never tasted so good.

I’m lovin’ it.

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.

So Much to Be Thankful For: Savory Bread Pudding

Yes, Josh, I’m looking at you.

I really am pretty blessed.

I have a family who sees all of my idiosyncrasies, meltdowns and bedhair, and loves me anyway.

A home where I am safe, cared for, and kept warm.

A professor who makes a last-minute decision to cancel class on Thanksgiving-eve.

The unexpected joy of spending the whole afternoon snuggled with sweats, blankets, and cranberry-pomegranate green tea because class was cancelled.

An entire weekend with no deadlines to spend with cousins, aunts and uncles and my grandpa.

A great big extended family who hugs, talks loudly, and eats well in the good old Italian way.

A Thanksgiving eve service that reminds me from Whom all blessings flow; that life is about much more stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie. Yum.

Friends who invite us for Thanksgiving dinner.

The excuse to bake Thanksgiving-y dishes all week long, because, well, we’ll be at friend’s house for the actual dinner and what’s Thanksgiving without a messy kitchen and leftovers?

The butternut squash and Brussels sprouts falling out of the fridge just as I was contemplating vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving dishes.

A healthy, hearty, scrumptious dish to help combat all the sweets and treats I’ll be consuming this weekend.

Savory Autumn Bread Pudding 
~ Serves 4 as a main dish

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and subed
  • 1/2 lb Brussels Sprouts, cut in halves
  • 1 large apple, diced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 T. dried rosemary
  • 4 pieces whole wheat bread, cubed
  • 1/3 c. milk (I used almond milk)
  • 2 eggs + 2 egg whites
  • 2 T. raisins

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Arrange squash and Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake about 30 minutes, or until tender.
  • Meanwhile, saute onion in olive oil, salt, pepper garlic, and rosemary. Combine vegetables and onion in a medium casserole dish. Top with bread cubes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Pour mixtures over bread. Sprinkle raisins on top.
  • Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes, until egg is set.

This was baked alongside my sister’s egg-sausage-cheese-frenchfriedonion casserole. I’m thankful all our hearts are pumping.

Guess which casserole was licked clean within minutes? Apparently the beauty of Brussels sprouts is outshone by the glitz of cheese covered French-fried-onions. But I am thankful my family was considerate enough to leave me leftovers. What’s Thanksgiving without them?

Good Food Doesn’t Last

Meet my new favorite snack.

Only, we aren’t currently friends because he’s all gone. He came for a day and then was gone without even a proper goodbye.

How rude.

Many good things don’t last forever.

Lately every time our family is all together — eating around the dinner table, or watching movies in the living room, Dad has been thanking God because “we won’t all be together much longer.” What are you saying, Dad? Who’s going anywhere? 

But it’s true. Time rolls on and the present realities become memories of the past. I’m no longer a cowlicked seven year old spending whole afternoons with my nose in the American Girl series or broadcasting radio shows with my sisters. My little sister drives away — by herself — to her first college class and I realize we’re never going back to the forts under the stairs

As I’m typing this at the kitchen (surrounded by textbooks I should be reading), I look outside the window to streaming snowflakes creating a winter wonderland where yesterday was an autumn watercolor. The vibrant colors of October are fading fast even though I’ve hardly savored them enough.

It doesn’t mean that new good things will never come. They will, but they will be different. So I want to learn to cherish the blessings I enjoy right now.  I want to have a perspective of eternity, redeeming the time so none of it goes to waste. In this swiftly moving life of gain and loss, I’ve found stability in securing myself on the one thing I know will last forever: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3). The unshakable love of God is my rock and gives me hope in forever.

Anyway, back to this snack mix. It is really good, especially considering it was born out of a runaway thought that could have easily flopped. My goal was to create a portable mix of crunchy salty “power-foods” that rival the flavor of one of my snack vices favorites, Chex Mix, which never stands a chance with me.

You will never find this at the grocery store bagged alongside the Lays and Fritos. But that doesn’t really mean anything, right? It’s deliciousness is really evidenced to Mom and I crowding around the pan, burning fingers and tongues as we inhaled half a batch. Bet you can’t eat just one chickpea.

Move over, Chex. You never saw this one coming.

Good-for-you Snack Mix

Ingredients

  • Three medium carrots
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 t. olive oil
  • 1 t. sea salt
  • 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 bag of natural popcorn, popped
  • 3/4 c. almonds
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t. soy sauce
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder

Directions

  • Make Veggie Chips: Prepare oven to 400F. With a sharp knife, slice carrots, potato, and zucchini into very thin slices (about 1/8 inch). Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle oil over top and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake about 1 hour or until crispy, flipping halfway through.
  • Roast chickpeas on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray in a 400F oven for about 20 minutes, or until toasted. Don’t let them get too crisp, as they will be baked more later.
  • Reduce heat to 250F. Add veggie chips, chickpeas, popcorn, and almonds to a large casserole dish. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and stir in remaining seasonings. Pour into dish and stir so everything is evenly coated.
  • Bake 45 minutes – 1 hour until dry, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool completely before storing in air-tight containers.

This is a packable snackable if I’ve ever seen one. That is if it survives the cooling process. No matter how you eat it, just be sure to savor every bite. It most certainly will not last long.

Simply the Best

Sometimes the simplest moments are the best. A favorite song playing on the radio. A letter in the mail from a friend. A few red leaves fall on the hood of the car. A cup of Vanilla Caramel tea, flannel pajama pants, and a ginger spice candle on a chilly evening.

On Saturday, I went to Queens for a street fair. I was helping a church I had grown to love this summer. Driving back into the city, walking back on familiar sidewalks past the same delis and boutiques and bagel shops, a wave of nostalgia and sweet memories rushed over me. I thought of little hands pressing into mine as we traced jungle animals; little giggling, singing faces lifted to mine; little arms tightly wrapping around my legs. That week back in July, my heart had expanded far beyond what I thought it was possible in love for these children. When I came back home, I carried their memories with me, in the many precious “I love you”s, the handmade cards, and the camera full of pictures. They have been on my heart and in my prayers ever since. I wonder how they are, what they are doing, and it makes me sad that I will never know what became of these lives I felt so closely bound to.

The tent of our stand fluttered in the crisp autumn breeze. Saturday turned out to be a beautiful day for a street fair. I was quickly busy cutting muffins, labeling brochures, and setting up the face painting station. But the whole time my hands and feet were moving, I was watching the people streaming by. So so many people. People I didn’t know, would never know. And again the wistful longing tugged at my heart in a way I didn’t understand.

And that’s when I saw her. Standing on the outskirts of our stand, clutching her brother’s stroller, her dainty black braids dancing in the wind. I knew her. She was one of mine — one of the sixteen five year olds who intertwined with and shaped my life that special week in July.

What was even more thrilling was that she knew me. She came close, her little almond eyes raised to meet mine with a shy smile and her little arms wound around my legs. It was a small moment, but my heart overflowed in praise for it. God had shown me once again that He cares for me, even the little desires of my heart, and that love and prayers are never a waste. Sometimes the simplest moments are the most profound.

This is one of the most simple recipes I’ll ever post. Probably because the naturally sweet flavors of butternut squash and apples need little enhancing. Or, probably because when you’re having company over tomorrow, you search your recipe box for the quickest and easiest side dish that will still impress and not taste like something that came out of the freezer in a cardboard box.This autumn bake does that and much more. What is a more simple October pleasure than walking to the farm stand for fresh butternut squash and apples? It is really the perfect fall side dish — a touch of sweetness, a bit of crunch, the smell of cinnamon, warm and comforting — and a healthy alternative to the sugar and fat-laden Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole. If nothing else, you must at least make the candied walnuts. Please. And then throw them on everything you eat the next week. They are life-changing. One of those simple ingredients that bring so much joy and color to life.

Roasted Butternut-Apple Bake with Candied Walnuts

  • 1 large butternut squash, chopped into cubes
  • 3 medium apples, chopped
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1/4 t. salt

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400F. In a large baking dish, mix squash, apples and onions. In a small bowl or jar, whisk balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, maple syrup, and salt. Pour over vegetables and mix to coat thoroughly. Bake about 40 minutes or until squash is soft when pierced with a fork.
  • Stir candied walnuts (recipe following) into warm vegetables. Sprinkle raw sugar or brown sugar over the dish, if desired. Serve warm.

Candied Nuts

  • 1 c. walnuts
  • 2 T. Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup or honey
  • 1 T. coarse raw sugar
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. salt

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400F. In a medium jar, combine balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Secure the lid on the jar and shake to thoroughly combine ingredients. Add walnuts to the jar, secure lid and shake until nuts are coated with the wet mixture. Spread nuts in a single layer on a lightly sprayed cooking sheet. Bake until they turn golden brown and give off a fragrance (be careful not to burn!). Cool completely before eating. Candied nuts make a great addition to salads, baked goods, ice cream (yum!), fruit salad, and lots of other things! Simple, but fancy!

Because sometimes simple is all this blessed soul can take.

Makeovers that Count

I spent Thursday in my pajamas. All day long.

I wore them while jump roping, grunting, and sweating in the basement at seven am. I then took a shower and then put them right back on.

I wore them while sitting at the kitchen table for a million hours doing homework.

I climbed the stairs at a late hour to get ready for bed and realized all I had to do was brush my teeth and crawl under the covers. Done and done.

Thursday is my day off, and you better believe I’m taking advantage of it. My goal is to do all the cozy homey things I daydream about during Biochem lectures and backpack lugging stair hikes.

The French Press is set a-brewing, the fuzzy socks are broken out and Josh Groban is turned on repeat. I know how studying can make me a crazy, unbearable crank and how a happy atmosphere does wonders for my attitude. And my family’s sanity.

If the pajamas, coffee, socks, and Josh do their job, and my mood soars to the point that I am reading Kant like he’s an old friend, eventually the creative juices plugged up during long stale at school begin to flow again and my brain fairly explodes with fresh new ideas.

In other words, most Thursdays end with me in the kitchen cooking up a storm. In my pajamas.

I may look the prime candidate for “What Not to Wear”, in sad need of a makeover, but I am at my happiest. I love that for one day I don’t worry about what I look like. And I’m learning that sometimes the “makeover” I most need is an internal one — a change of attitude. From a grumpy and stressed young woman to a cheerful and blessed one. The transformation isn’t really brought on by fuzzy socks and peaceful music, but by spending a day at home with my family, spending more time with God in prayer and in His Word, taking the time to breath, look around and count my blessings.

And cooking with some TLC, giving a favorite meal a makeover. Because this is one that counts.

One of my favorite things about healthy, vegetarian cooking is finding ways to recreate old favorite comfort foods into something abundant in nutrition and not lacking in yummyness.

Enter our contestant, homemade chili — soothing, warming, filling comfort at it’s best. A few tweaks, cuts, additions and highlights, and ta-da! Vegetarian Chili Pie.

Vegetarian Chili Pie

Lentil Walnut “Meat”

  • 1 c. dry lentils
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 packet vegetable broth
  • 3/4 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c. sunflower seeds
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 T. Chili powder
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 t. paprika,
  • 1 t. salt,
  • 1 t. garlic powder,
  • 1/2 t. pepper

Cornbread topping

  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t,
  • 1 eggs
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. corn

Directions

  • Prepare your lentil “meat”: In a medium sauce pan, cover dry lentils with water and vegetable bouillon. Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and let simmer about twenty minutes or until lentils are soft. Uncover, remove from heat, and stir in walnuts and sunflower seeds so that they soften a bit with the cooling lentils.
  • When lentil-nut mixture is cool, add to a food processor or blender. Add spices. Pulverize until texture resembles coarse grumbled meat. Don’t blend too far, or you will end up with mush :). Set aside.

    Cauliflower "rice"

  • Cauliflower “rice”: Meanwhile, steam cauliflower until soft. Let cool and then add to food processor and pulverize quickly until texture resembles rice. This does not take very long at all — just a few quick turns of the blade. Again, don’t blend too far unless you want cauliflower mashed potatoes.
  • Chili filling: Combine tomatoes, beans, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Cornbread topping: Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add eggs, milk, and corn and mix until smooth.
  • Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a pie dish and sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal.
  • Layer cauliflower, tomato-bean mixture, then lentil-nut mixture. Carefully spoon cornbread batter over the lentil mix and sprinkle walnuts on top.
  • Bake for about thirty minutes or until cornbread is set.

With some trepidation, I cut into the pie. I had no idea whether it would be a complete flop. But it did not disappoint. It was everything I love about chili and so much more. The seasonings come through beautifully and the cornbread topping was a great decision.  And the lentil-walnut faux-meat — Oh my. Words cannot describe. Let’s just say it made the dish. Beef is like the ugly stepsister of this deliciousness.

I don’t calculate the nutritional information for everything I make, but I had an idea the stats on this recipe would be pretty stellar.

15 grams of protein, 13 grams of fiber, chockfull of vitamins, low in fat, and positively delicious.

It’s the kind of makeover that counts.

On Monday afternoon, I’ll plop down my twenty-pound backpack and open my lunchbox to a scrumptious piece of Thursday joy. And with the first bite, I’ll be transported to happier thoughts, fuzzy socks, and a Josh Groban soundtrack in my mind. Instant heart-lift.

However, if you want the maximum comfort food effect, I highly recommend you eat this in your pajamas.

Friends Need Friends

Almost every week this summer, there came an early dark morning when I tiptoed my way to the edge of Elizabeth’s bed, gently tapped her shoulder and coaxingly whisper: “Wake up now, it’s time to run.”

To which she would normally roll over, crack her eyelid open enough to give me a glare and then pull the covers over her head.

But it didn’t faze me. I knew that within ten minutes she would dashing down the stairs all dressed to go, snatching up her sneakers and yelling over her shoulder: “Well, are you coming or not?”

We knew we needed each other and our weekly running date with friends. We knew that without the encouragement (wanted or unwanted) of training partners, we’d be quickly drained of motivation. And now as our goal is in sight and race day quickly approaches, we know more than ever that it is the companionship of each other (and lots of prayer!) that is going to see us to the finish line. Those who sweat together stay together.

Friends need friends. It’s a simple fact of life.

Friends need friends who will help them through difficult and uncertain times. They don’t even need to speak the same language. Sunday night, my sisters and I spent three hours at the kitchen table in a conversation with two new friends who didn’t speak English and are now back home in Japan. We had a great time.

It began roughly with exaggerated facial expressions and pantomimes to which they responded with smiles and nods and chuckles to each other in Japanese, which is a most disconcerting feeling. But finally, we began to discover effective ways to communicate. We learned words and phrases that were mutually understood and we Googled up others. Here we were — three very Americanized young people with two very Asian teenagers. Our cultures were drastically different, our food was different, our schools were different, and for as long as I live I’ll never understand the Japanese alphabet. But in spite of all of that, we found common interests and thoughts. We taught them English words, they gave us a whole new perspective into their world. Culture gaps were bridged. Friendships were formed.

Friends need friends. To push alongside them over hills and across finish lines, through unknown territory and unfamiliar places. The companionship of someone who cares can make all the difference in the journey. Like Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one.”

It’s like…tofu.

For the longest time, tofu and I did not get along. I knew of it’s health benefits. I knew that as a vegetarian, it was an important souce of protein. Trust me, I tried to like it.  I bought every couple of months, hoping that this time it would be different. But it’s texture and blandness turned me off.

Finally, I had an epiphany. Tofu needed friends. Tofu and I needed to be friends. So we needed mutual friends. Specifically, we needed foods and flavors I enjoyed that would complement tofu. And maybe even disguise its presence.

You see, tofu is essentially flavorless. But it is also absorbent. It soaks up the flavors of foods that it is cooked with. It needs flavorful companions.

 So the next time a container of tofu snuck it’s way home in a grocery bag, I chopped it up and paired it with mushrooms and eggs, foods with a similar texture. I added some of my favorite seasonings — soy sauce, hoisin and ginger — to compensate for its blandness. And when I ate my big bowl of stir-fry, I could scarcely tell the tofu was there. And trust me that’s a good thing.

Is there a nutritious food you’re having trouble befriending? Try food pairing. Whether it is kale or tempeh, lentils or avocado, you can train your taste buds by tricking them. Match the new food with a familiar food that is similar in texture and throw in some of your favorite seasonings. Throw some kale in a vegetable soup, grumble tempeh and brown in taco seasoning. Mash cauliflower with your mashed potatoes. Blend spinach into your smoothie. Disguise, complement, enjoy.

It’s the simple rule that friends need friends.

Tofu Stir-Fry

  • ½ block extra firm organic tofu, drained sliced and cubed.
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 c. sliced mushrooms
  • 2 c. broccoli florets
  • 1 ½ T. stir-fry sauce (or hoisin sauce)
  • 2 t. lime juice
  • ½ t. black pepper
  • 1 egg

Directions:

  • Remove tofu block from package, wrap it paper towels and squeeze out liquid. You want it as dry as possible. Slice half of the block into 1 inch thick slabs and then dice into about 1 inch square.
  • In a large skillet, cook tofu with garlic and soy sauce over medium heat until lightly browned. Add mushrooms, broccoli, stir-fry sauce and lime juice and raise heat. Stir regularly and cook until broccoli is tender.
  • Lower heat and push the tofu-veggie mixture to one side of the skillet. Crack the egg into the other side and let it settle for a few minutes before scrambling. Once the scrambled egg is set, mix into the rest of the stir-fry. Cook for a few minutes longer, adding spices or sauces as needed.  Serve with your choice of grain: rice, quinoa, millet, potato, or even sweet potato would all work nicely. Serves one as a main dish or two side dishes.

The house smelled like an Asian restaurant. Eating this made me want to sneak into Mitsu’s suitcase and travel to Japan for the real thing — chopsticks and all. After all, what are friends for?

Not Your Italian Grandma’s Parmesan

Growing up in a New York Italian family was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. At every family gathering there are loud enthusiastic conversations, exuberant kissing and hugging, and everyone always congregates in the kitchen which always smells spaghetti sauce, roasted peppers, and olive oil. There we stand around the counter, munching drippy mozzarella cheese on toasted bread, cutting huge wheels of Locatelli with guitar strings (well, how would you do it?), popping olives, and making memories.Yes, I pretty much loved growing up.

I never got to know my Italian grandma, but her heritage is still very much alive in her descendants. From the pictures I’ve seen, I know my dad carries her features and that she gave me her dark hair, short legs, and olive skin. My grandpa tells me how they met after the war as he tenderly strokes her picture, and my aunts reminisce about her as they stir a bowl of steaming pasta. And through their stories, I’ve grown to love her.

Last summer, our big Italian family stayed in a huge house at the Outer Banks. There were many loud enthusiastic conversations, lots of exuberant hugging and kissing, and since the sun was scorching out and the ocean freezing cold, everyone congregated in the kitchen.One of my aunts brought along photo albums and Grandma’s recipe box and we all gathered around to relive preserved memories. Fingering through the frail, stain-splattered, well-worn recipes, cookbook pages, and shopping lists written in the faint script of my grandmother was like opening a treasure box. Her instructions for Italian egg-rolls, chamelli cookies and stuffed peppers were connections to my past, little clues into a woman who has passed on to me her love of family and food.

When I started to eat healthier, I did not want to give up the foods I grew up eating, that are so tied in with my ancestry of Italian deli owners. So I began experimenting, and recreating old favorites while keeping the flavors I loved. Kind of like how each generation changes hairstyles and locations, but maintains the family heritage — no matter how far we grandchildren roam, we still gather for loud conversations, exuberant kissing and hugging, and memory making in the kitchen.

Not Your Italian Grandma’s Eggplant Parmesan

  • 2 medium eggplant, sliced thin
  • 6 slices stale wheat bread
  • ¼ c. ground flax seeds, divided
  • ¼ c. sunflower seeds
  • ¼ c. wheat germ
  • 2 t. garlic salt
  • 2 t. basil
  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 2 T. hummus
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • ½ c. tomato sauce (Quick homemade sauce: Sautee tomatoes, onion, and bell peppers in olive oil until very very soft and the juices have leaked)

Cheez sauce: Blend all ingredients until smooth.

  • 1/3 c. hummus
  • ¾ c. silken tofu
  • ½ c. almond milk
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. parsley

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400. Spray a cookie sheet with non stick cooking spray. Prepare Cheez sauce by blending all ingredients together until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a food processor, grind bread, 2 T. flax and sunflower seeds, wheat germ, garlic salt and basil until breadcrumb consistency. Set aside.
  • For binding mixture, blend hummus, milk, and 2 T. flax seed in a blender until smooth.
  • Dip eggplant slices into the hummus mixture and then coat with breadcrumbs. Arrange on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
  • In a small casserole dish, arrange half of eggplant in a single (or slightly overlapping) layer. Spread ¼ tomato sauce over eggplant. Then spread  about half of prepared“cheez” sauce over  the sauce. Do one more layer of eggplant, sauce, and “cheez.” Top with sliced tomato, a sprinkle of parsley and oregano, and any left over cheez. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until cheez is somewhat set and  casserole is warm throughout.

My Italian grandma would have served her eggplant parmesan with a side of spaghetti. I ate mine with a salad. But while I was cooking, all the females of our family were in the kitchen together, laughing, spilling breadcrumbs and sneaking spoonfuls of sauce. I thought of my Grandma cooking with her two sisters and four daughters, creating delicious meals as gifts of love for her family. And if she could see me carrying on that tradition, even if I left off the mozzarella and pasta, I think she would be pleased.

Veggies of Another’s Labor.

I wish I was a gardener.

I love the idea of gardening — wide brim straw hats, cute packets of tiny seeds, perusing the greenhouse, watering pails, and of course eating fresh produce picked daily.

But I hate the actual work of it. Hoeing dirt, kneeling in dirt, digging in dirt, battling the inevitable weeds, scorching sun, drought, and insects. Did I mention it’s dirty too? After twenty minutes of pointing the hose at the brown-eyed Susans, I’m cooked.Which is why I am greatly indebted to friends who labor diligently and let me reap the rewards without breaking a sweat. The other day, we returned home from vacation to an overgrown echinacea bed and a huge bag of zucchini on the porch. The first thing I felt was guilt — were they sure they could spare so many, and such big ones too?

The answer came back with all the pride joy of farming I know nothing about: Of course they had more than enough to share. Their plants were producing dozens everyday and you should have seen the Goliath they’d plucked just this morning! In fact, they’d be relieved if we’d take some off their hands.

I like to do my friends a favor, so the zucchini was embraced with open arms as if I had grown them myself.

Zucchini is a funny vegetable. It doesn’t have a striking taste, it isn’t exotic or used much in dishes of delicacy. It’s eaten summer long, but largely ignored during the colder months. Most people actually prefer it in baked goods, like muffins or breads studded with chocolate chips — the kind of thing you eat and say “Wow, there’s zucchini in here? I never would have guessed.”

But despite it’s somewhat lowly culinary standing, zucchini plants give abundantly and generously.They grow big and long, their vines are continually stretching out to new ground, and keep producing new fruit till the sun is nearly set on summer.

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver….He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”  (2 Corinthians 9:7,10)

True, genuine generosity is giving what you have. Even if it isn’t much. It’s sharing the blessings that God has seen fit to share with me. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).

A hug.

A helping hand.

A listening ear.

An encouraging word.

A day.

A bag of homegrown zucchini to farmer never-gonna-be.

A simple, inelegant vegetable dish, reminiscent of a French platter but not too uppity to be eaten on the porch on a lazy summer evening. Served bare foot like a proud farmer.

Take it away, Zucchini. The spotlight’s on you.

Lazy Girl’s Ratatouille
This dish is a one-pan stir-fry of all my favorite summer vegetables and is highly customizable. If going for a traditional Ratatouille flavor, use extra-virgin olive oil in place of soy sauce. I enjoyed this for lunch inside a pita with hummus, but it is also good atop a salad or as a side.

Ingredients (Serves 6 as a side, 3 as a main)

  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 medium yellow squash
  • Two medium tomatoes
  • 1 large bell pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 c. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 t. lemon juice
  • 1 T. soy sauce (or olive oil)
  • 1 t, garlic salt
  • 1 t. oregano
  • 1 t. basilInstructions
  • Slice zucchini, squash, tomatoes, pepper, and onions into uniform thin slices.
  • In a large dry skillet or wok, heat zucchini, pepper, and onions over medium heat. Add garlic salt. After a minute or two, the zucchini will release some water. Stir veggies occasionally, until they turn a light brown
  • Stir in lemon juice and soy sauce and continue to heat for about 6 minutes, or until veggies have softened and the zucchini is somewhat “translucent“.
  • Turn heat to low and add tomatoes and mushrooms. Sprinkle with oregano and basil.
  • Toss for a few minutes, just until heated throughout.  Serve hot.

Really, it is more blessed to give than to receive. Which is why I plan on making zucchini bread to thank my farmer neighbors for sharing their abundance. “See? It’s got lots of chocolate chips in it. You can’t taste the zucchini at all.”

Give, and it will be given to you.
Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.
For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you
.” (Luke 6:38)

Missions Trip Salad

In a few short days, I’ll be in New York City. Not to visit Broadway or shop in Times Square, but to be with children. A missions team from my church is going to a church in Queens to help run a Vacation Bible School.

It’s not Haiti. It’s not Mexico. But it is a missions field where people need the gospel and I suspect it will bring it’s own challenges.

On Saturday, we had a planning meeting to make final travel arrangements, discuss responsibilities and run through the CD of VBS songs with motions. That takes practice.

We also had dinner together. I brought a salad. Not just any salad, a Missions Trip Salad.

On other days, it might be called an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink or open-the-fridge-and-see-what-you’ve-got salad. But on this day, the mix of flavors and the array of colors were representative to me of the ministry myself and these seven others were about to begin. Let me try to explain…

It begins with a lettuce base. The foundation of every ministry is the Great Commission: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15) Just as the greens are varied with romaine, spinach, and cabbage, Jesus’ call to the church takes many different expressions — in the local church, in foreign missions, in the neighborhood — but they are all united in calling and kingdom.

The fresh vegetables represent those of us who are going. Mostly inexperienced, fresh in the faith, and not particularly spectacular in ourselves. But we are willing to be used, and that makes the difference. In the grand scheme of things, we probably won’t be noticed but hopefully the effects of our lives will be noticed. We are dependent on the power and strength of God to work in and through our weaknesses.

The roasted nuts and seeds and corn kernels represent the work we are doing — planting seeds in kingdom of God, doing our small part in the Lord’s harvest and waiting for Him to bring the increase. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37,38)

The long roasted vegetables are in the dark oven a long time before they are added to the salad. These represent the people we are trying to reach — people who are in a dark world, waiting to be brought into God’s kingdom. My prayer for next week is that I will be able to shine the light of Christ to the young children I’ll be with so that they can live their whole lives in fellowship with Him.

Everything is seasoned by prayer, just as the croutons and dressing add flavor and seasoning to the other ingredients. Ministry without prayer is just plain work. It’s prayer that gives it wings to fly and make a difference. Prayer is the power through which God’s power flows. It also binds Christians together across the globe. Will you pray for me and my team as we travel to Queens, for the church there reaching out to un-churched families and for the children many of whom have never heard the gospel?

One by one, the ingredients are added and tossed together. Ministry in God’s kingdom brings together people of all kinds — different in ethnicity, community, and personality — but when doused with the grace of God and bound by fellowship in Christ, seasoned with prayer, we are able to produce something. Something of substance, carrying the aroma of Christ and the flavor of the Gospel, presented in such a way that others are drawn to. And keep coming back for more.

Missions Trip Salad

1 head of romaine lettuce, broken into big leaves
3 c. fresh spinach leaves
2 c. shredded cabbage
1/2 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 c. sunflower seeds
3/4 c. corn, fresh, canned, or frozen (if using frozen, thaw beforehand).
1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/2 c. chopped carrots
1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
1 c. broccoli florets
Homemade croutons: 1/2 loaf crusty Italian bread, 1 t. garlic salt, 1 T. Parmesan cheese,
1 t.oregano, 1 t. basil
Spices to taste: oregano, basil, pepper

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400. Lightly spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Spread walnuts, sunflower seeds, and corn on pan in a single layer. Roast in the oven 8-10 minutes until the nuts are a golden brown and give an aroma. Set aside in a dish to cool.
2. On the same pan, place tomatoes cut side down and broccoli florets. The nuts should have given off enough oil to not need to respray the pan. Roast in oven for about 20-30 minutes, until the tomatoes are shriveled on the outside, but with a little juice left inside. I like to then the oven on broil for 3-4 minutes to get a blackened edge on the tomatoes. Set broccoli and tomatoes aside to cool.
3. While your nuts and vegetables are roasting, begin preparing your green base. Combine romaine, spinach, and cabbage in a large bowl. Mix in the carrots and cucumbers.
4. Once everything has cooled, toss broccoli and tomatoes into the salad and top with nuts and corn. Avoid over-mixing as the nuts and corn tend to fall to the bottom of the dish. Finally, top with homemade croutons (recipe follows) and sprinkle with oregano, basil, and pepper. Serve with a Balsamic Vinaigrette or dressing of your choice.

Homemade Croutons:
Preheat oven to 400 and spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Cube Italian loaf into 1-inch squares. Arrange cubes on pan in a single layer and spray over them with cooking spray. Sprinkle with oregano, basil, garlic salt, and Parmesan cheese and mix croutons around pan with a wooden spoon to evenly coat. Bake, stirring once or twice, for about 10 to 15 minutes until the croutons are crisp and brown on the outside, but still somewhat soft inside. Let cool before adding them to salad.

This could alternatively be named the Get-All-My-Veggies-In-Before-a-Week-of-City-Eating Salad. Kind of has a nice ring to it, no?