Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Green of Spring ~

"Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring?”
― Neltje Blanchan

The date on the calendar says that today is the beginning of Spring, but you wouldn't know that by looking outside of my window today. It's gray and gloomy with more rain in store...and really, how the heck did it become spring already? Is anyone else asking themselves this question today? With the change in seasons shifting from winter to spring there's,of course,all of the known cliche's and philosophical sentiments regarding dark to light, end to beginning, new life, renewal, etc. It's all true along with the evolution of shifting seasons; however, this spring I'm feeling more inspired by a primary color that continues to draw me in...that color is green, in all it's varying shades, tones and uses. For me this season, green has become my inspiration and source for awakening.

I'm in the midst of a growth cycle and find it curious that during this period of change and possibility, I'm innately being drawn to green without ever feeling this way before. I was always more of a "red" person drawn to colors of power or something like that. But even during my yoga classes as I'm sweating it out and burning my internal fire, I'll look up and find myself entranced by the two-toned green ceiling. It's powerful and draws me in so deeply that I forget my legs are quivering and my shoulders resisting one more downward dog, and my body becomes less resistant...thank you green. According to the Wikipedia definition of green, I'm right in line with its authentic meaning. "The word green is closely related to the Old English verb growan, "to grow". It is used to describe plants or the ocean." In reference to green as it relates to nature and culture, they say this..."In many folklores and literatures, green has traditionally been used to symbolize nature and its embodied attributes, namely those of life, fertility, and rebirth." I love that.

This theme has been subtly infiltrating my kitchen, as well. These past few weeks I've been very drawn to large, leafy-green veggies and a bit obsessed with Kale and rainbow Swiss Chard. I know...it's a little kooky but who can walk through a farmer's market without being drawn in by these leafy friends just begging us to saute them or use them for nourishment in a tasty soup, huh? Well, I for one cannot pass them by without bringing a few of them home. The last soup I made was one I had never tried before, and is now certainly set to be repeated. It's easy to make and so healthy, while loaded with vitamins and flavor.

Herb, Chard and Feta Soup ~
4 Servings (Courtesy of Bon Appetit, January 2012 issue)

The sharpness of feta and the brightness of lemon juice take this winter-to-spring soup in a bold direction.

- 2 Tbsp. olive oil

- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped

- 2 garlic cloves, crushed

- 1 lb. Swiss chard leaves (center and stems removed) or spinach coarsely chopped
(about 10 cups)

- 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth

- 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

- 1 Tbsp. dried mint

- 1 Tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

- 5 oz. plain Greek-style yogurt (about 1/2 cup)

- 1/2 cup mixed chopped herbs (such as parsley, cilantro, and mint), divided

- 4 oz. feta, crumbled, divided

- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

- Fresh lemon juice

- Olive oil

Soup: Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until translucent and soft (do not brown), 7-8 minutes. Stir in chard, broth, parsley, cilantro, fresh and dried mint and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return to pan/pot.

Do Ahead: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill. Re-warm soup before consuming.

Garnishes: Place 1/3 of yogurt in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup warm soup; whisk until smooth. Repeat process twice more, adding a total of 1 cup more soup. Whisk yogurt mixture into soup in saucepan. Stir 1/4 cup herbs and half of feta into soup. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon if desired.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with remaining 1/4 cup herbs and 2 oz/ feta. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

Inspired once again after wandering through the Farmer's Market at the San Francisco Ferry Building last Saturday, I grabbed a few bunches of this gorgeous rainbow Chard along with...Kale, you guessed it, and threw together this simple, delicious and totally gluten-free meal. Pair it with a nice Pinot Grigio and you are in for a treat!

Sauteed Fresh Shrimp with Chard and Kale ~
Serves 4

- 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion

- 2 Tbsp. grape seed oil

- 1 tsp. garlic salt

- 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds

- 1 bunch of fresh Swiss Chard (stemmed, chopped and washed - prepare ahead of cooking shrimp)

- 1 bunch of fresh Kale (stemmed, chopped and washed - prepare ahead of cooking shrimp)

- 3/4 lb. of fresh-caught large shrimp (USA caught fish always preferred)

- 1 cup Quinoa

- Sea salt and pepper to taste

- 1/2 fresh lemon

Prepare: Saute onions with grape seed oil and soften for 7-8 minutes.
Add shelled, veined shrimp and saute on medium heat until they begin to turn pink. Add chopped chard and kale along with drizzle of some olive oil. Saute together for 5-6 minutes until shrimp are cooked through and kale/chard are wilted. Sprinkle in sesame seeds, salt and pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Quinoa - Prepare quinoa ahead of time. Bring 2 cups of water or broth to a boil. Add 1 cup of quinoa and stir occasionally on low heat (with cover) for 15 minutes or until all moisture has evaporated.

Divide amount of quinoa and top with sauteed shrimp and veggies. Season to taste and squeeze lemon - I also add another few drops of olive oil on top.

In case you haven't dined recently (or ever) at Piperade in San Francisco you are missing out. My good Basque friend and owner, Gerald Hirigoyen has mastered "West-Coast Basque cuisine" and so masterfully put Piperade and its sister eatery, Bocadillos, on the map for scrumptious and authentic flavors from across the Pond in Euskal Herria, or the Basque Country. I had the pleasure of spending a delightful lunch at Piperade with my mom recently, and this was our starter dish, Piquillo peppers, goat cheese, pistachios, golden raisins. No words..other than SI! The vibrant green spinach puree was captivating and so pretty!

My joy and fascination with food and food-knowledge continues. Last weekend I was invited to attend the amaaaaazing Edible Institute in Santa Barbara, or "Paradise" as I call it. I have huge respect for Edible Communities and I've even contributed some stories to my friend's wonderful Edible Reno-Tahoe magazine. To be surrounded by talented editors, reporters, writers, bloggers, film producers farmers, fishermen, and those deeply concerned and acting upon social food justice was deeply inspiring and enlightening. It stirred up this realization that no matter how much you think that you know about what you are eating or how it arrived on your plate, there is still SO much more to learn and to do. In the midst of such an educational weekend I was most inspired by the humble farmers and the commitment they individually make to produce the best products nature has to offer, with such care and a significant level of consciousness and earthly awareness. Oh, and my inspired tool of scripture for note-taking...a vibrant green (you guessed it) Moleskine journal.

As my affinity for all-things-green and growing continues, it feels awe-inspiring to look to nature, especially as we move deeper into spring, and enjoy all the simple mementos of growth she's created, while recognizing our own internal buds sprouting forth and seeking the light. It really is a joyful feeling to allow the simplest thing as a color to grab your focus, allowing it to translate into an action; growth.

Breathe in spring and remember...being green is always the best choice for our gorgeous planet.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Something about that light...

The winter months of January and February have proven to be particularly challenging and less illuminating, shall we say, than expected...but sometimes that just happens during the long, darker days of winter. Though the days are short and the nights long, winter can also become a valuable season I'm finding to move through wrapped in a warm blanket so your piggies don't freeze, while seeking clarity. One of my wisest and best-est friends emailed me this link last week pertaining to "winter" and what this season could really mean to many of us if we dare to shift our focus a bit, to broaden our views, and move out beyond our own preoccupations and worries. I found the words and intention spoken by Tony Robbins incredibly profound and helpful. I've never really been a fan of his, but after watching and listening to this snippet I chose to shift my judgmental view a bit and instead, see through his words into his heart. And isn't that just truly such a part of being so human? Passing judgement...bad girl.

I was stretching my legs last week on the trail around the Lafayette Reservoir, one of my truly favorite places to run and take in the beauty of nature. As I came around a particular bend in the trail I was literally stopped by what my eyes had naturally been drawn towards and were feasting upon...this photo (above) of a gorgeous Oak tree with the most amazing winter sunlight shining through. I'm pretty sure that my iPhone wasn't able to capture its perfect beauty but it did a pretty good job, considering. In that moment, I was reminded again of nature's beauty and truth. A tree can only stand in its place and be a tree. The sun is also just shining and doing what it knows to do for the past gazillion or so years...and when the two collide they are simply sharing the stage, never outdoing the other, but being who they were created to be. I love, no wait, admire the simplicity of that truth. There are no false pretenses in nature. A Range Rover won't help that Oak look any cooler, if ya get my drift. And just to sum that thought up, today's Yogi tea bag affirmation says so much, "Live in your strength." Wise little tea bag.

I was so inspired by the simplicity of such glorious light I decided to cook a new recipe that night with simple ingredients and minimal prep/cook time. In the mood for chicken and grilled romaine (which is really a treat), I came up with this little number (aided by my new Bon Appetit app, I have to admit) that's easy on the budget and sure to please everyone at your table, assuming they aren't offended by their salad being baked in the oven and a little charred!

Parmesan Chicken with Ceasar Roasted Romaine ~
4 Servings - The heat chars the edges of the edges of the romaine leaves and softens the inner layers.

- 7 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breasts

- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

- 1/2 Cup grated Parmesan, Pecorino, or Asiago cheese (about 1.5 oz.)

- 1/2 Cup gluten-free bread crumbs (Glutino makes a good product)

- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

- 2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley

- 2 Garlic cloves, chopped, divided

- 2 Large hearts of romaine, halved lengthwise

Preheat over to 450 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Season chicken with salt and pepper; place on prepared sheet. Combine cheese, bread crumbs, 2 Tbsp. oil, parsley, and 1 garlic clove in medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Pat bread crumb mixture onto breasts. Roast chicken until crumbs begin to turn golden, about ten minutes.

Drizzle romaine with 1 tbsp. oil and sprinkle with remaining 1 chopped garlic clove. Season with salt and pepper. Remove sheet from oven; place romaine around chicken. Roast until chicken is cooked through and lettuce is browned at edges, about 5 minutes. Divide among plates. Garnish with lemon wedges for squeezing over.

The finished product after thorough taste-testing - It passed with big "Yumms" all around the table.

I seem to be learning more and more...that simple really is more, and more, really is less.

A tastier way to live, as it turns out!