Monday, April 28, 2008

My Sonnet to Green Tea

Green Tea

(a cup of green tea at Serenity Tea House)

Green Tea
You are so good to me
Your flavor is delicious and mild
The caffeine you contain naturally does not make me wild
When I need my tummy to settle
I brew green tea in my kettle
I wish everyone could enjoy your flavor
Your aroma, taste and warmth is easy to savor
You always help me relax
And here is one true fact
I will drink Green Tea morning, noon, and night
Because you are always Just Right!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Rice Pilaf"- Our Armenian Family Favorite

Grandma Rose and Her children- Linda, Michele, Laura and Michael

The whole family!
*These pictures are from my Grandma Rose's 80th birthday party in June 2007.*

For as long as I can remember, there is one dish that is especially unique to my family and that my mom would prepare very often.  Whenever my Grandma would visit in the summer we would almost always eat outside at the picnic table and my mom would get the grill going.  We had a charcoal grill that always took awhile to come up to temp.  While we waited, it was the job of my sister and I to assemble the shish-kabobs, which usually included peppers, onions, mushrooms, chicken or steak.  Our hands would be all slippery from the marinade and the ingredients were cold, so our fingers would go numb, making it difficult towards the end to skewer the pieces, but we made do.  Whoever had the job of taking the dishes back into the house would be greeted by a very yummy aroma of a special Armenian dish cooking on the stove.  This special dish is known as "Rice Pilaf".  We all know that when the rice is steaming, the lid must stay of tightly, for the end result is well worth the wait!  

"eem tah-TEEK"- Armenian word for "My Grandma"
My Grandma Rose is a full blooded Armenian, which makes me a quarter-blooded gal.  She used to come up to visit from downstate every summer.  We always looked forward to her coming because she usually picked the hotels with a big pool to play in, and that was a real treat.  We always planned our days around "Jash" Armenian word for dinner, and at least one of those meals always included Rice pilaf.  Some research has found Armenian history extends back to the stone ages.  Armenia is located between Europe and Asia, where Turkey lies to the West and Iran to the South.  We are a proud group of people, who are very driven to succeed in all we set out to do.  A famous Armenian some of you might know is the singer/actor Cher.  Rice pilaf is well known as an Armenian dish that is meant to complement the meal.  The base is rice, but you can add whatever you want to it.  My family always liked to take Shish-kabobs and assemble them on top of a mountain of pilaf.  My mom would usually warm-up canned corn with regular weekday meals that included pilaf, and then my sister and I would mix the corn right in with the pilaf and lots of salt and pepper.  Nowadays, my own kids have claimed that pilaf is one of their favorites!  I don't make pilaf as much as they would like, but when I do make it, there are no leftovers. 

I hope you get a chance to enjoy our family favorite.  You can try out the recipe yourself, and let me know what you think.  Or you can come over to our house for dinner sometime and I'll prepare a big pot of it so you can make your own pilaf mountain.  
 "mehr-Cee"  (Armenian word for Thank-you!)

Rice Pilaf:

-1/8-1/4 cup of butter/magarine/(I use 1/8c soy margarine and it works fine)
-1/2 crushed vermicelli
-1 cup long grain rice  (brown rice is OK but it might need to steam a little longer)
-2 cup chicken broth (I use organic vegetable broth and it comes out great, but the chicken broth is what Grandma and my mom usually used)
-1 tsp salt 
-1/2 tsp pepper to taste

In heavy saucepan with tight fitting lid, melt butter over medium heat.  Add vermicelli and stir constantly until lightly browned.  Add the rice and stir grains until they are coated with butter.  Add hot broth, salt and pepper.  Stir thoroughly and cover- turn heat to low and steam 30 minutes.  Do not remove lid until cooked.  When done stir to fluff.  Recover and let sit about 10 minutes more.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Coffee can be EVIL! (At least to me it can be!)

All I have to say is that I have certainly learned my lesson when it comes to drinking coffee.  Most likely since I haven't had any coffee in two months is the reason why I am feeling like a looney toon at the moment- I am normally a tea drinker, so when I do have coffee it usually sends me into a tail spin.  It might be fun if I didn't have to buckle down and study tonight.  I am going to do my best to channel my frazzled energy high into quality chemistry knowledge retainability- (Is retainability a word?)  It seems crazy to me how something so simple as a small cup of coffee can affect my body is such a wild way!  All I can do is wait for it to metabolize out and hope it doesn't leave a headache in its tracks on my brain!  I think this gives me an interest to research the effects of caffeine to the human body.  I'll let you know what I learn, but it won't be until after I ace my Chemistry finals, so be patient with me.  Back to the Books!!! xoxo   

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Can't Ignore What I Know

Lately there have been some pretty significant changes in my lifestyle, and I feel that I have become a giant sponge- eager to absorb all the knew information and knowledge that will help me along my path to becoming a resource for nutrition seekers of all walks and ages.  My goal of obtaining a PhD in the field of Nutrition is becoming more and more real with each day that I step out into the world.   By attending school, reading books and articles, watching Food Network-(I really love that channel, especially the show Good Eats) and exploring the culinary world by creating and practicing all types of techniques with grilling, baking, and mixing foods of all kinds, I have made leaps and bounds over the past year.  I feel like I can't learn fast enough and I am always interested in talking about anything that has to do with FOOD, nutrition, fitness and overall health and healthy lifestyles.  Not many people know this about me, but one of the most significant changes I have made (and I truly don't want to make a big deal about this, please realize it is a choice I have made for myself and I am very happy with this decision for my own reasons) is becoming what most people would consider a vegetarian.  I'm not going to go into all the specifics except to say that since I have made this switch I have felt better than I could have ever imagined both physically and mentally.  It wasn't a change that seemed that drastic since the majority of what I was eating did not involve what I am not eating now.  Whew- that was a big confession for today and I think that is where I will leave it for now.  Basically what it all comes down to is this- the the more I know, I have learned I must be responsible with that knowledge and follow my heart, if for anyone, most of all for myself.  Much of my passion I must admit does come from the satisfaction of knowing I am creating a healthy environment for my family too.  It is their decision to eat and enjoy what they want, but I will always make it a point to offer them the healthiest choices I can come up with.

"It tastes like Chicken!"

First a short update:  Riley, who didn't get to try the Humsagna I made especially for him the night before, ate two whopping helpings for dinner the next night and said it was the best Lasagna he had ever had- That's my boy, who always knows how to make his Mama feel special!

Last night dinner at the Sheffer's involved an introduction to a new food.  I knew that I had to really make it good or I would lose them on the first try.  It could possibly solidify Tod's ideas that "Tofu" just didn't look that good, so why would it taste good.  I had been reassuring him for the past week that this white lump sitting in our fridge was going to be really yummy as long as it is prepared the right way.  He would usually respond with a raised eyebrow and them smile at me in that way that tells me "Alright I'll let you try."  So in the days preceding this big unveiling of a new food to my family, I spent time on line and in my cookbooks, trying to find a recipe that would do justice to the white lump in the fridge.  I finally settled on a recipe that involved marinating the tofu and then baking it in the oven.  The marinade was super simple to put together and the whole ordeal took maybe 10 minutes to prepare.  While it was cooking my two kiddos both came out to the kitchen with their noses high in the air, telling me that "something smells really good Mama."  I decided not to tell them what it was and let them guess.

30 minutes later I pulled out my baked tofu and put it on top of salads for my family.  The kids thought it was chicken and didn't make any comment that would suggest they thought it could be anything different.  Tod got home late that evening so his tofu bites had cooled but he seemed to like them in his salad and also commented that they would be good in a wrap.  His summary of Tofu is that it basically must take on the taste of whatever you pair it.  For the most part I think he is right.  So I have made the assumption now that we can integrate Tofu into our regular family food fare and my family will not raise any objections.  Mission accomplished, successfully!  I am so happy! :)

You can find the recipe I used at this address:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I'm in Love and Introducing "Humsagna"

I am in love and I want everyone to know about it.  I can't keep this love affair secret anymore.  It is all I ever think about, dream about, fantasize about...  I am always coming up with reasons to spend time with my love.  My love gives me energy, I feel strong and happy when we are together.  My love completes me and helps me be the best I can be.  When we are together I feel very creative and I feel like I can do anything I want to do.  There are no limits when we are together.  My mouth waters when we are near one another and I can hardly control myself.   My love comforts me, satisfies me and fulfills what I hunger for in every way.  I would like to introduce you all to my secret love....  my love is FOOD!

I started to realize this passion rising up in me a few years ago.  I have always loved food, but I never really took the time to get to know it, understand what it was capable of doing for me and my life.  I always used to eat just because that is what I knew to do instinctively.  It wasn't until I started to embrace my passion and take the time to look inside my feelings that I discovered how in love I really was.  It was kind of like being friends with someone for a long time but never really getting to know them.  Until one day I found myself asking more questions, and wondering more about  how food effected my life.  Now I can't learn enough fast enough and I find immense joy in spending time creating my own dishes and cooking for my family and friends.  Truthfully, one of the only reasons I stay so active in my job and fitness is so that I can eat as much food as possible.  And there is always the taste testing (my favorite part)  Here was my time spent with my love this weekend:  We made homemade split pea soup, "Steph's Banana Bread", Tomato Basil salsa, homemade hummus and Sundried Tomato Basil Pesto, Fruit salad with honey dressing, and a new creation I came up with all on my own "Spinach Mushroom Humsagna."

I went to make a lasagna today with a few challenges.  My son Riley can't eat dairy right now and after I already started boiling the lasagna noodles I realized I didn't have any easy access tomato sauce (pasta sauce in a jar)  I am actually glad this happened because it forced me to think outside of the box or jar in this case and make my own homemade sauce.  Also I substituted cheese with hummus.  I wasn't sure what it would end up like but the family feedback was very positive and I myself loved it. (But I am always biased with my own babies)    So here is the recipe.  I am starting to learn to write these things down as I create or otherwise they are hard to duplicate.  It does take a little time to set-up but there are ways to simplify the recipe for the sake of available ingredients.  (You can use store bought hummus, and sauce)  Its my second creation now that is also completely vegetarian which is kind of exciting for me too.  

Spinach Mushroom Humsagna:

-10 oz pkg of Frozen Spinach
-2 cups of Sundried tomato Hummus-  Homemade or store bought is fine- the more garlic taste the -better in my opinion
-1 small onion chopped 

-1 oz of dried porchini mushrooms (blanched in boiling water for 5 minutes and chopped)
-1 portobello mushroom cap
-3-4 minced garlic cloves
-3 cans of diced tomatoes- Fresh is better about 5 cups chopped
-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp black pepper
-1/2 tsp oregano- small handful of fresh chopped is better
-1 tsp dried basil- 1/4 c of fresh chopped is better
-1 tbsp of organic turbinado sugar to taste (add more of less to cut the acidity of the tomatoes)

-12-14 Whole wheat lasagna noodles cooked and patted dry before using to layer in pan

Preheat over to 350 degrees

Thaw frozen spinach, drain all the water out of it and mix it together with the hummus and set aside for the moment
Satay the portobello mushroom minced garlic and chopped onion until they are tender
Combine diced tomato, basil, oregano, prepared pochini mushrooms, onion and portobello, sugar, salt, pepper, garlic salt in a sauce pan and cook on med-high heat for 20 minutes or until tomatoes are cooked down. 

While sauce is cooking down boil the noodles and get the pan ready for assembling the lasagna.
Spray the pan with a little cooking spray or brush with olive oil.  Lay out 4 noodles on the bottom of pan.  Spread half the spinach and hummus mixture on noodles and then spread a layer of 1/3 of tomato sauce.  Start another layer of 4 noodles, hummus mix, 1/3 sauce and 4 noodles again.  Add remaining 1/3 of tomato sauce, cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.  Pull out of the oven and let stand for 10-15 minutes before cutting.  This is completely vegetarian but you can add cheese to the layers if you want (mozzarella or parmesian would be best)-  My family added a Romano blend to the top of it and said it tasted great!  A yummy salad and loaf of loaf of crusty bread round out the meal wonderfully.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How to take care of your banana bread.

This was a cute thing that happened this morning that involves my wonderful husband, Tod.....  I made banana bread last night and it was a creation almost all my own.  I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled it out of the oven, since it was a beautiful golden brown and cooked to perfection all the way through.  (Basically it wasn't a dried out brick)Sometimes when I wing it, my creations end up being trashed.  Well Tod absolutely loved the bread, he actually exclaimed this morning that this was "my best creation banana bread yet, the best banana bread he ever had in his whole life!"  Wow, I felt so special and my cooking confidence just went up 10 points!  So I decided I should try my own little wonder, and I personally love the end piece.  Since Tod had already cut that off the one side- I went for the other side.  Within minutes I was reprimanded for doing this awful deed.  I mean how could I cut from the other side, didn't I know that it would "dry the whole loaf out now!"  I personally don't think this will happen, but Tod is convinced I ruined it!  I guess we will see later today if it will dry out- or maybe by tomorrow if the bread lasts even that long.  If I know my family it will be gobbled up before that happens, so I'm not worried.  I just thought it was funny that "How dare I cut from the other side of the loaf"  I guess I should have known better.  :)

Steph's Banana Bread Recipe:
2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp agave nectar
2-3 tbsp honey
1/2 c organic sugar
1/2 c applesauce
2-3 mushy bananas (the older the better)
1/2 cup organic yogurt (soy yogurt is best)
1-2 tbsp water (if the batter seems a little too dry add as needed)
1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup Walnuts (optional, but we like them)

Combine dry ingredients with a wisk and set aside
Combine first 4 wet ingredients until blended, add bananas yogurt, and vanilla and blend very well until almost smooth
Add dry ingredients just until all are moist (don't over blend)  Add water if it seems too dry.
Put batter into a greased loaf pan 
Add walnuts to top of batter in pan and push them in a little with spatula
Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 350 degrees until toothpick come out clean

Enjoy with your family or friends for an easy breakfast or snack!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Confusing World

Well this morning was a little sad in our home, for a truth about the world came to light for our little Riley and he was crushed.  I was talking to the kids about the fact that I would love to have chickens so that we could have our own supply of fresh eggs, and I just thought it would be fun to have chickens!  Riley loved the idea and added "if we have chickens then we will have baby chicks from the eggs and then we can eat the eggs in our fridge from the store instead."  We told him that we would not be raising babies but that we would be eating the eggs from our chickens if we had them, and that these eggs would not be able to ever become baby chicks.  Riley thought a moment and then said "we kill the baby chicks and eat them?"  And then he started to cry and ran back to Lauren's room.  As he ran away, Lauren starts yelling, "what do you think burger and chicken nuggets are Riley!"  This certainly did not help.  Tod and I went back to talk to him and to reassure him that the eggs we would get from our own chickens would not be killing, and that the only animals we kill are the ones we would eat.  Especially since recently this has become a huge awareness for me, and the whole world of meat and where it comes from and how it is processed and my leaning towards vegetarianism, it broke my heart that Riley had made this realization and had so much empathy for animals.  I realize the importance of certain proteins and that my children still need this type of nourishment, which makes the integrity of the meats we choose extremely important to me now.  I will not make the decision for my kids to become vegetarians, that is for them to decide when they are older, but I will always provide food that is the highest quality I can find, and that includes meat choices too.  And I will make sure that I keep my promise to Riley that we will only eat the animals that we know come from a clean source.  They will not come from places that are cruel and awful.  So today we made a call to the farm next to my mom's and are planning to pick up our organic eggs on Wednesday, a positive step towards making smarter, and healthier choices.  Riley is OK now but his reaction today reminds me how children look at our world and how sometimes it can be very confusing.  We say killing is bad, but then we kill animals for food.  What makes it OK?  That answer is the personal opinion we all arrive at in some point in our life, and it can change the more knowledge we gain.   The most important thing is to always be responsible for the things we know and do our best to follow our hearts in what we believe to be the right direction to follow.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm just a girl in the world

I'm just a girl, a girl who tries to live her life to the fullest everyday.  I hate to miss out on anything, and I live for being challenged and trying new things, going outside my comfort zone and spending time with my family and friends.  Meeting new people and making friends energizes me like nothing else, except for maybe food and fitness.  And don't even get me started on anything that has to do with Food, Nutrition, cooking, eating, recipes, dinner parties, desserts, Food Network, unless you are ready to hear all about it.  For this is my passion, where I exert all my creative energy currently and for my future.  I have always wanted to help others, and I have explored many different routes of how I can do this very thing, and every route always pulls me toward the world of nutrition.  I say almost daily that this career path will always give me an opportunity to help others because if there is one fundamental thing about our species and life it is this fact:  We all need food for energy, for life, to exist, and most of us have no clue how it all works.  Knowledge is power.  With knowledge comes responsibility.  With responsibility we have a choice to make, because in the end we choose who we want to be.  Its all about choices in the end, and I choose to be the best I can be everyday.  Its a choice I make every morning when I start my day.  It's what lies behind my smile, and its knowing I have the control- its a very powerful thing to be aware of.  So that's where I will begin- now you know one of my big secrets (which really wasn't a secret at all)  I can't wait to share all these thoughts in my head- to organize them and give them a place to rest here until I have an opportunity to savor them on a deeper level.  Good night for now and sweet dreams ya'll!