Masala Chai Spiced Tofu and Coconut Kale

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I used to work in an office with one of my best friends. We didn’t actually work together much, but we worked in the same office. We started a daily ritual of having tea every afternoon around 2:30, taking a quick five minute break to steep some tea and check in to see how things were going. I really enjoyed the ritual of taking a break to patiently wait four minutes for the tea to steep before bringing it back to my desk. It calmed and refocused me to have a productive afternoon. In the culture of instant gratification in which we live, there is something special about the daily ritual of forcing yourself to wait for the tea leaves to work their magic in your mug.

So lately I have been thinking a lot about patience and slowing down. And, naturally, as my thoughts often drift to food, I have been thinking about tea and crockpots and marinades and slow roasting. I had this idea to marinate tofu in very strong tea to infuse my cooking with the same flavors that I usually reserve for my mid-afternoon tea breaks. It took two attempts to get the method right, and the end result is a masala chai spiced tofu that is bursting with flavor.

Either I am more attuned to the tea popping up all around me, or there is a similar trend going on in the craft beer world, because the same weekend I made my first attempt at chai spiced tofu, I tasted this delicious brew:

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Local Richmond brewery Ardent Craft Ales released its Earl Grey Brown Ale to a packed tap room last month, and it instantly became one of my new favorite beers. I’m happy to see so many craft breweries playing with this style, because while I love a good IPA, how many IPA’s do you need on your menu? I’ve seen some great creative brown ales in the last couple of years, including this tea-inspired one.

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Ardent Craft Ales Tap Room

Then a couple of weeks ago, Kyle and I picked up Japanese Green Tea IPA, a collaboration beer from Baird, Ishii, and Stone Brewing Company. It tastes exactly as you would expect it to. An India Pale Ale infused with the taste of matcha green tea powder. Citrusy, bitter, floral, herbal. . . it’s a lot a flavor in a glass. If you like green tea, please try it.

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So, enough about what we’ve been drinking. Back to what we’ve been eating. I found some purple kale at the farmers’ market, and I made a coconut curry kale recipe to go along with my chai spiced tofu. It turned out beautiful and tasty, so I jotted down the recipe and included it below. So let’s get cooking!

Masala Chai Spiced Tofu

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Ingredients:

  • 6 masala chai tea bags
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 – 14 oz. block of firm tofu
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Preparation:

  1. Drain and press tofu. Cut block into six slices.
  2. Heat water almost to boiling in a teapot. Combine tea bags and 2 cups of hot water in a jar or bowl. Steep for 4 minutes, then remove tea bags.
  3. Arrange tofu slices in a glass dish. Pour concentrated tea over tofu. Marinate tofu for one hour at room temperature, turning tofu once halfway through marinating.
  4. Drain tea from tofu, and reserve 1/2 cup of tea marinade.
  5. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of tea marinade, soy sauce, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and honey. Stir to mix the sauce thoroughly.
  6. Heat 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  7. Add tofu slices to hot pan and cook until browned, about 5-6 minutes per side.
  8. Add sauce to pan and cook until reduced by at least one half. Suggestion: serve tofu while hot, over basmati rice and cooked greens like Coconut Curry Kale.

Coconut Curry Kale

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Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 bunch of curly kale
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons madras curry powder
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut or unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Remove stems from kale. Chop stems in bite-sized pieces and tear leaves into a separate bowl.
  2. Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. When coconut oil is melted, add chopped kale stems and garlic to pot. Saute for five minutes.
  4. Add kale leaves, ginger, and curry to the pot. Saute until kale is bright green and slightly wilted.
  5. While kale is cooking, in a small pan, heat shredded/flake coconut over low-medium heat until toasted. Remove pan from heat.
  6. Add lime juice, toasted coconut, and salt and pepper to the kale. Toss and serve immediately.

Veggie Redux: Vegetarian Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole

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Does anyone else remember this dish from childhood? This cheesy casserole of broccoli, chicken, and rice was one of my favorite meals while growing up. I remember digging into a plateful of creamy, cheesy broccoli rice at the end of many a late soccer practice. When the weather started to get cooler and the days got shorter, I would spend the waning hours of daylight doing trapping drills, taking shots, and scrimmaging with my teammates. Sometimes it got so dark that our parents headed to the cars to run the heat and illuminate the field with their headlights. When I finally got home, cold, muddy and famished, a cheesy casserole was the ultimate comfort food.

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Quorn Naked Chik’n Cutlets make it easy to recreate this dish without meat*. If you’re not into meat substitutes but you want to replace the protein lost from removing the chicken, add a can of chickpeas or a block of silken tofu to the mixture before pouring into the casserole dish and baking.

My intention is that this hearty casserole will be a welcome treat for Kyle when he gets home from a late bicycle ride or a long day of work. Because it’s a one dish meal, I can make it ahead of time and then pop it in the oven to reheat, and cleanup is very easy. I hope that this crowd-pleasing dish finds a place on your table as the weather gets cooler and the annual nesting and hibernating begin!

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Vegetarian Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole

Serves 8

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups short grain brown rice
  • 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 cups frozen broccoli, chopped
  • 4 ounces artichokes (frozen or marinated), chopped
  • 1 – 9.7 ounce package of Quorn Naked Chik’n Cutlets, thawed and diced
  • 2 cups lowfat milk
  • 2 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat vegetable broth over medium heat. Add brown rice and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 40-50 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.
  2. While rice is cooking, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, broccoli and artichokes. Saute until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add naked chik’n cutlets, diced, and continue to cook over low-medium heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. In a medium pot over medium heat, combine milk and flour with a whisk until fully incorporated. Cook for 8 minutes then remove from heat.
  5. To the milk sauce, add yogurt or sour cream, 1 cup of shredded cheese, tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add the brown rice and cheese sauce to the large pot with the vegetables and vegetarian chicken. Transfer to a large casserole dish and top with 1 cup of shredded cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

*Not a sponsored post, just a fan of Quorn!

What the Heck is a Chayote Squash, and What to Drink for Cinco de Mayo?

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These weird little squashes have been staring at me from a bin in the produce section of my grocery store for far too long. I have passed by the bright green chayote squash dozens of times, wondering how to cook them and what they taste like. I finally picked up three of these weird little gourds last week, and I stumped the cashier when I went to check out.

“Excuse me, what is this?”

“Chayote. C-H-A-Y-O-T-E.”

“I don’t see the code for that, are they pears?”

“No, they’re labeled ‘chayote squash’ on the bin. Maybe they’re under ‘squash’?”

asks coworker in next lane: “Do you know the code for these?”

coworker: “No, they look like pears. Charge her for pears.”

Pears were $3.99 per pound that week, and I have no idea how much the chayote were priced per pound. I guess chayote is not a fast-mover at the Carytown Kroger. In the cashiers’ defense, the chayote does look a bit like a pear that is trying to eat itself.

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The chayote originates from Mexico, where the fruit, leaves, blossoms, and roots of the plant are eaten. The squash has a very thin green skin attached to the green-to-white flesh. The skins and seeds are edible, although I found that many recipes call for the skins and seeds to be removed. The flesh is very crisp, and the raw squash has the texture of a potato and a very mild flavor like a broccoli stalk. The chayote can be eaten raw, but it is often cooked and seasoned, or eaten in a sauce with other more flavorful ingredients.

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I found a great vegetarian recipe for Chayotes Rellenos from world-renowned chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, of The Border Grill in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Santa Monica. I had never tried one of their recipes before, so it was an evening of firsts.

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The chayote was very easy to work with. I left the skins on, but boiling caused them to peel off. The texture and flavor of the cooked chayote was similar to summer squash. I loved that this recipe incorporated epazote, and the crunch from the almonds added an unexpected and pleasant texture to the filling, which probably would have been pretty mushy otherwise, due to the cooked squash and mushrooms.

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I topped the cooked stuffed squash with some fresh pea shoots, which were an impulse purchase from Relay Foods. I normally would have tossed some cilantro on there, but I was out (rare occurrence!). One thing that recipes for stuffed squash or eggplant NEVER tell you is what to do with the extra filling. Am I the only one who always has extra filling after stuffing my vegetables?

I put the extra filling in a glass baking dish, topped it with cheese, and baked it at the same time and temperature indicated in the recipe. It worked out great.

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If you’re feeling inspired by Cinco de Mayo and you want to try out a Mexican dish besides tacos or nachos, I suggest that you give chayotes a try. Although they do not pack a ton of flavor on their own, they are very versatile and do soak up the flavors around them. Next I would like to try them in a really spicy curry, topped with chopped fresh mango, and I do not intend to wait for another holiday to do it.

What to Eat on Cinco de Mayo

If you are feeling less ingredient-adventurous but you do still want something Mexican-inspired on your table this week, check out my recipe roundup from last week.

What to Drink with Mexican Cuisine

If you want to branch out from the standard Corona, Sol, or Tecate that are very popular this time of year, head to your local craft beer store. Kyle and I collaborated on this list of brews drink with Latin American food.

For an authentic Mexican beer that is a cut above the rest, seek out Negra Modelo or Bohemia.

For a local Virginia alternative to the Mexican light lager, try Blue Mountain Brewery Lager or Legend Brewing Co Pilsner.

If you like hoppy beers, try Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai or Smuttynose Finestkind IPA.

If you intend to sit on a porch and sip beer for a few hours, pick up Sierra Nevada Summerfest or Lagunitas Daytime.

And if you just want a beer that looks great in a Cinco de Mayo party spread and is refreshing on a warm evening out on the back deck, pick up Breckenridge Brewery Agave Wheat. When you choose a beer that is infused with an iconic Mexican ingredient and labeled with a skeleton wearing a sombrero, you get an A+ for sticking to a theme!

 

Pecan Crusted Tofu with Raspberry Mustard Sauce

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Lately I’ve been working hard, eating breakfast and lunch on the go, and craving comfort food for dinner. A plate full of vegetables with a side of crunchy pecan crusted tofu was exactly what I needed one night last week. I used a handful of fresh raspberries to make a sweet and tangy mustard sauce that complemented the pecan crusted tofu pretty well. The color of the fresh raspberry sauce was so bright that it definitely got me into the spring spirit!

Raspberry season is right around the corner, and I expect to start dipping everything in this bright red sauce very soon. I have breaded and pan-fried tofu before, but haven’t found a great breading that holds up in the oven. This pecan crust sticks to the tofu and hangs on through baking, and it stays crunchy in the oven without getting dry. Sure, it would probably be fantastic pan-fried in oil, but it works great for baking too.

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Pecan Crusted Tofu

Ingredients:

  • 1 block of tofu (12-16 oz.), drained and pressed
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or sub pecan milk or soy milk)
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Pour almond milk into a shallow bowl.
  3. In another bowl or deep plate, add all other ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Cut pressed tofu into 1/2-inch thick slices. Dip tofu slices in milk, then cover in pecan/panko breading on all sides.
  5. Place breaded tofu in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Raspberry Mustard Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raspberries, chopped
  • 1/4 cup honey mustard
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup

Preparation:

  1. Puree raspberries in a food processor.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine raspberries, honey mustard, and maple syrup. Heat, while stirring, until sauce is bubbling, then remove from heat.
  3. Strain sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds and pulp from sauce.
  4. Serve sauce hot, drizzled over pecan crusted tofu.

Have a wonderful week!

Mung Bean Pasta

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I have been trying to use my cookbooks more often. My effort has paid off with a lot of new knowledge about ingredients and some great go-to recipes that I never knew I always had, sitting right there on the bookcase in my kitchen. One thing that I was surprised to learn was how healthy mung beans are for you. Featured in my new favorite recipe for Pad Thai from Terry Walters’ Clean Food cookbook, mung bean sprouts are surprisingly nutritious. So when I saw Mung Bean Fettuccine in the grocery store, I had to give it a try.

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The package boasts an extremely high protein and fiber content as well as a high iron content, and states that the pasta is a great gluten-free alternative to wheat pasta. I am not gluten-free. In fact I think gluten is one of my favorite foods, however I am always looking for tasty protein sources so I had to check it out. Mung beans, which are low in cholesterol and high in soluble dietary fibers, can also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Until recently, mung beans had only entered our household to fill Kyle’s iron palm training bag for Wing Chun (Kung Fu), so it was a pretty big deal to start tossing mung bean sprouts in salads and stir-fry dishes. Experimenting with the fresh, crunchy sprouts was fun, but those beady green beans were a little scary, so it took us awhile to take the next step. Opening this bag of wavy green noodles was intimidating, but we were willing to give it a go in the name of science.

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After cooking and rinsing the noodles, I tasted them plain, and they weren’t too bad. I have to be honest though, they do taste a little… grassy? Because they are naturally chewier than regular pasta, it was pretty easy to get them al dente. However, I thought they really needed some flavor (besides “health food” flavor), so I mixed them with sauteed asparagus and baby bok choy, a soy dressing, and toasted sesame seeds. A drizzle of chili sauce made the meal complete.

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I thought this salad would work well either hot or cold, but I definitely preferred it hot. The noodles were so chewy after being chilled that I had a hard time getting through half of a serving before feeling full. I guess that could be a good thing? It felt weird to me, so I reheated them with a few minutes in the microwave and a generous portion of sambal. Kyle enjoyed the dish both hot and cold, so I guess you will have to decide for yourself!

The flavor combination was very fresh and springy, and versatile enough to work with any type of grain, so I recommend that you try it out even if you substitute a different kind of pasta or rice for the mung bean fettuccine. We are now firmly in the spring season, so break out that bright green asparagus and your favorite set of chopsticks and chow down!

Sesame Mung Bean Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables

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Ingredients:

  • 7 oz. dry mung bean fettuccine
  • 3 Tbsp sesame oil, divided (2+1)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 baby bok choy
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup liquid aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (sriracha or similar)
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, rinse and set aside.
  2. Chop asparagus into 1-inch pieces and roughly chop baby bok choy, discarding the ends. Thinly slice the green onions.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 1 minute. Add bok choy and asparagus and saute until tender and bright green, about 3 minutes.
  4. To the vegetables, add garlic and saute for another minute.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the liquid aminos (or soy sauce), brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, and chili sauce.
  6. Add pasta and sauce to the pan with the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook until heated throughout. Add toasted sesame seeds and serve while hot.

Moroccan Kamut Salad

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I was recently perusing the grains at the grocery store and came across one that I had never seen before: KAMUT®. It looked like wheat berries, which I love, and it came in pretty packaging, an attribute for which I will eternally be a sucker, so I tossed it in my basket to try at home after a little Internet research. The brand I bought was Bob’s Red Mill Grains of Discovery series.

Ancient grains are supposedly hot this year (who decides these things?), so I have completely bought into whatever marketing scheme placed the attractive bag of wheat on the shelf and subsequently into my cart. . . then into my kitchen, onto my dinner table, and. . . within this blog post. Should I have named this post “Meta Kamut® Salad?”

I can guarantee you I am not being paid by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Grains to write this post, so let’s learn something, shall we? First, KAMUT® is the trademarked name for a certain type of Khorasan wheat (turanicum variety Q-77). The exact origin of Khorasan wheat is unknown, but it is believed to have been originally cultivated in the Fertile Crescent. According to one legend, Khorasan wheat was once near extinction until an American airman mailed some seeds found in Egypt back home to his family in Montana in the late 1940’s to cultivate, thus reintroducing the grain to modern cuisine. It’s a nice story that I don’t think I believe, but it does make for good dinner conversation. If you are blessed with a table full of dinner guests who believe in dining without smart phones, you could really embellish this tale into a great story, without fear of someone fact-checking you halfway through the main course.

Khorasan wheat grains are roughly twice the size of the common wheat kernel which makes them very attractive in salads. They have a nutty flavor with a pleasant chew when cooked properly. They can also be milled into flour for use in baked goods. One clear advantage of Khorasan wheat over common modern wheat is that it has a much higher protein content; at seven grams per serving, it has up to 40% more protein than common wheat. Khorasan wheat also contains a higher percentage of selenium, zinc, magnesium, and amino acids. Full nutritional information is available on the Bob’s Red Mill website.

Would all of these spices marry up with this ancient grain, feta cheese, kale, carrots, and pomegranate arils anywhere in the world besides my kitchen? Who knows, but the combo tastes pretty awesome. This salad is tasty served warm or cold. Plus the salad is a nutritional powerhouse that would make for great make-ahead lunches that would leave you satisfied all afternoon.

I enjoyed the flavor and texture of the Khorasan wheat so I think I will use it again. However, this ingredient does require a little planning, as the wheat berries have to soak in water overnight. Not a quick go-to pantry ingredient, but one that is worth the wait if you plan meals better than I do most nights.

Moroccan Khorasan Wheat Salad (serves 4)

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup KAMUT® brand Khorasan wheat berries
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable stock
  • 4 threads saffron
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided (2 + 1)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Cover wheat berries in water and soak overnight, or at least six hours.
  2. In a medium pot over medium heat, bring vegetable stock to a boil. Add saffron and wheat berries and simmer, covered, for 50-60 minutes or until tender.
  3. In a large pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and saute until onion is translucent. Add spices (ginger through cayenne) and saute for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add garlic and kale and saute until wilted. Add lemon juice and turn heat to low.
  5. Add carrot-onion mixture and wheat berries to large pot with kale and cook until warmed throughout.
  6. To serve cold: remove from heat to refrigerator, chill this mixture for at least one hour, then add feta, pomegranate, and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. To serve warm: remove from heat, add feta, pomegranate, and salt and pepper to taste, then serve immediately.

Do your goal setting skills need a tune up?

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It’s a new year, and with new beginnings come resolutions and goals. The local gyms are packed with ambitious resolution-makers, home organization paraphernalia is on sale at Target, savings accounts start to grow again, and the grocery store is sold out of all my favorite health food. I think rebooting at the beginning of the year is a very positive thing, and I always take this time to set some goals for myself for the coming year.

However, we all know that resolutions and goals usually fade after a month or two. This is evident when I no longer have to wait in line for a cardio machine at the gym, or have to visit three grocery stores in order to find fresh kale. I don’t always follow through with my resolutions either, but I have learned a few things about setting and meeting goals, which I think may be helpful knowledge for you, especially at the beginning of a new year.

I recently learned a lot about goals while recovering from my bike accident last October. Almost immediately after being discharged from the hospital, I wanted to know when I could do my favorite things again. I actually tried to convince Kyle that I may be up for a hike later that week. Yes, both my arms were in casts, I likely had a few broken ribs, I was on a hefty dose of painkillers, and I had two surgeries on the horizon. When it all sunk in, I realized that I would not be able to live an active lifestyle that week, or for the next several weeks, until I had met some recovery goals.

I have always been a very goal-oriented and determined person, so I visualized the things I wanted to be able to do after recovering from my injuries, and I focused on those things to get me through the first few weeks. Cooking a meal unassisted was at the top of that list. I couldn’t even hold a fork for the first few days, and my family had to take turns making my food, feeding me, and doing self-care tasks like brushing my teeth. Because I am a very independent person, this was pretty tough for me to handle. I was pretty helpless, and a home cooked meal felt very far away.

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I started physical therapy one week after my surgeries, and the therapist asked me what hobbies, aside from daily activities and work, I wanted to be able to do after recovery. Yoga and riding a bicycle were right below cooking on that list. The slightest touch to my wrist sent pain shooting up and down my arm, but I wanted to be able to hold a downward dog when this was all over.

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For a week or two, these goals gave me hope and inspired me to work hard on the simple therapy homework I was given. Then these ambitious goals made me frustrated. I spent a lot of time thinking about how long it would take for me to achieve them, and it made my situation feel hopeless. When I expressed this to one of my good friends, she told me that I should simply make smaller goals for progress, instead of getting hung up on the big goals that were so far away.

This immediately made a lot of sense to me. After all, I didn’t run a half marathon earlier that year by setting out to run 13.1 miles in the first week. For three weeks, the longest distance I ever ran was 3 or 4 miles. I knew I would get to 13.1 eventually, but I set a goal for each run in my training plan and I focused only on that accomplishment for the day.

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For me, the first few mini-goals were things that most people with two functioning arms would take for granted. Brush my own teeth. Take a shower without help. Pick up a cup of coffee and drink it. I dropped the toothbrush, spilled the coffee, and took a 90 minute shower the first time I met each of these goals, but I achieved them nonetheless, and celebrating my progress made me feel that I was one step closer to that downward facing dog.

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Six weeks after the accident, I was cleared for limited cardio, and only on the stationary bike. My doctor was worried I might fall doing anything else, including using the treadmill. It was a big moment when I jumped back in the saddle and started to pedal, and an even bigger one when I successfully completed 30 minutes on the bike. I re-entered society soon after, showing up to classes at Boho Cycle Studio here in Richmond and feeling inspired by the tough workouts and energetic, hyper-motivational instructors.

Another mini-goal was being able to chop vegetables, and although I did not have full range of motion or much strength at all yet, I chopped a head of cauliflower in week 7. You can see in the picture below that the form is horrible, as I couldn’t fully grip things yet, but being able to finally contribute to dinner preparation again meant a lot to me. In the same week, I was cleared to drive a little too, which gave me a great sense of independence and a boost to my self-esteem.

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I had an ambitious goal in mind around mid-November, and that was to help prepare some of Christmas dinner. I ended up helping out a lot in the kitchen on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I had not completely achieved my goal of cooking on my own yet, but this felt like a big step in the right direction.

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And now I am thrilled to announce that after nine weeks since my surgery, I have finally prepared a dinner by myself, start to finish, with no assistance from my husband or anyone else. This weekend, I made a Mediterranean-inspired spinach and artichoke pasta dish and it was really good! Simple, but good! Progress!

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Goals are achieved one day at a time. When you have really big goals and dreams, it is good to keep them in mind for motivation, but sometimes it can get overwhelming and frustrating to think about the long road ahead. If you struggle with this like I do, you should set smaller milestones for yourself, and celebrate progress along the way.

If your goal is to lose weight this year, make a promise to yourself that today you will spend 30 minutes at the gym, or today you will pack a healthy lunch for work tomorrow. After a week of good days, reward yourself with a fresh juice and celebrate your progress. If you are setting out to be more organized, don’t bury yourself under a pile of home organization systems and tackle the whole house at once. Instead, set a goal for today to organize just the bills, or just the kitchen utensil drawer, or to pick up and put away twenty things before you go to bed.

With a long-term plan in place, and a series of small goals accomplished day by day, you will eventually reach your big goals at the end of the road, and be much happier and motivated along the way. Good luck, and happy 2014!

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Spinach & Artichoke Pesto Pasta

4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. fresh or dried pasta (I used Bombolini pasta shells)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 14 oz. can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto (my favorite recipe here)
  • 1/4 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • 2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
  3. Add garlic to pan and saute 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add artichoke hearts and olives to pan. Saute for 3 minutes or until warm.
  5. Add tomato, spinach, and pesto to pan and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. If spinach and tomato are dry, add a half cup of water to pan.
  6. Add cooked pasta to the pan and season with lemon pepper, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until warmed.
  7. Top with a drizzle of olive oil if needed and serve with crumbled feta on top.