Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Balanced Life

After my "colorful" and full weekend, I came home to a week of rain and gloominess. Recharging my "battery" was top order. I got some "sunshine" by making time to meet friends and family during the week. Life can be a bit out of balance as the school year nears an end, prom, ballet recitals, concerts and finals. It takes a bit of effort to say "No" to some things and not over schedule the family. I recently heard someone say, "when you walk past the lilac bushes...pause, inhale and say whoa!!" Before we know it they are appreciate the moment. Something everyone has in common is that we are constantly striving for balance in our lives. When we tip the scales in either direction we need to come back to center to get that feeling of calm that happens ...if even for a few moments...a time when we are "mostly" living in our priorities and keeping our health and wellness in mind. Of course we never "arrive", but we can get better and wiser knowing what our own individual balance looks like.

"Balance" is a word cooks use in relation to combining tastes in such a way that they complement one another, with no one aspect overpowering the whole. Think of it this way: Drinking vinegar straight-up is painful, but add some olive oil balance the zing and you've got a vinaigrette. (Although...drinking a few teaspoons of raw organic apple cider vinegar in a glass of water before meals is very healthful. We do this and have grown to really love it...well, love might be a strong word, but like and see the benefits Eating vinegar before each meal helps to balance blood sugar and lower insulin levels, which typically spike after a high starch meal according to the September 2005 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The vinegar is a weak ascetic acid that fires up the digestive acids needed to break down a heavy starchy meal. I am going to share some basic vinaigrette recipes that will let you mix and match whole grains, vegetables and proteins to make great hearty salads all summer long.

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Eggplant Chickpea Masala (aka healthy meal in 30 min...better than take-out)

Heat the oven to 425. Chop up a big eggplant into 1/2″ pieces and put them on a baking sheet. Add 1 lg can of drained diced tomatoes and 1 can of drained, cooked chickpeas Mince 4 or 5 cloves of garlic and chop up a 2″knob of fresh ginger. Add those to the eggplant mixture along with a lot of olive oil, salt, and 1 tablespoon of garam masala. Roast for 20 minutes, stir, and roast for about 20 minutes more, until mixture is crispy on the edges and your whole kitchen is fragrant. Serve with brown rice and chopped cilantro, maybe a dallop of plain yogurt on top.

to sum that up: Chop eggplant, drain and dump the cans of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) throw some minced garlic and ginger a few generous glugs of olive oil, salt and a Tbsp. of Garam Masala (can find in most market's spice aisles). Put a pot of brown rice on. Chop up some cilantro. Be sure to have some plain yogurt on hand.

Summer is coming and salads will be center stage. Learning how to make a basic vinaigrette...that can be customized any way you like. So a vinaigrette is a dressing (or sauce) that plays specifically on the balance between acid and oil.

Whole grains, vegetables, protein...chicken, beef can be mixed with a vinaigrette. Mix different herbs and vegetables that are so plentiful at the Farmer's Market.

Basic Red Wine Vinaigrette
Adapted from the Culinary Institute of America, "The Professional Chef."

Makes 1 cup of vinaigrette, enough for dozens of salads

¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon minced shallot
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch sugar, optional, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
¾ cup canola oil (or mix of canola and extra-virgin olive oil)

  1. Combine everything but the oil and sugar in a bowl and let sit for 20 minutes.
  2. Taste the vinegar mixture — it will be sour, but if it feels harsh, add a pinch of sugar.
  3. Whisk the vinegar vigorously and pour the oil in thin stream. Alternatively, shake it all together in a jar with a lid, or zap it all in a blender or food processor.
  4. The vinaigrette will eventually separate; just re-whisk or shake before using.

Basic Mustard Vinaigrette
This recipe uses mustard as a stabilizer and forms a much richer emulsion, nearly the same consistency as the mustard you start with. Adapted from the "Dean & Deluca Cookbook."

Makes ¼ cup vinaigrette, enough for 10-12 salads if you dress them very lightly, like me.

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon cold water (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Whisk together the mustard and vinegar with a pinch of salt and a few cranks of pepper.
  2. Now vigorously — don't go all crazy and splash yourself! — whisk the mustard-vinegar mixture while you slowly drizzle the oil in a thin stream. It should look as if the mustard is absorbing the oil, giving you a nicely combined sauce. If the oil starts to pool a little at the top, stop pouring and just whisk it all together before resuming. Alternatively, shake it all in a jar with a lid or zap it in a blender.
  3. If it's too thick at the end (especially if you blend it), thin it with a tiny bit of water. (You'll be amazed at how much a little water will thin it.)
  4. If the vinaigrette separates, just whisk or shake or blend it back together before using.

Spring Salad with Feta and Radishes
(A Homemade Life)

Prep time: 10 minutes

2.5 oz. mesculin greens (about half of one of those plastic containers)

1 belgian endive, root cut off and sliced into thin slices

4 red radishes, trimmed and sliced paper-thin

12-15 sprigs of cilantro, just leaves (leave them whole)

Red Wine Vinaigrette, to taste

1/4 c. goat cheese feta, crumbled

1 haas avocado, thinly sliced

In a medium bowl, mix together the lettuces, radishes, and cilantro. Dress with red wine vinaigrette to taste (I used about 2-3 tbsp.)

Divide salad on four plates. Top with sliced avocado and feta. Drizzle with a little more vinaigrette. Serve.

Healthy Peanut Butter Protein Balls

1 c. natural peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
1 c. honey
1 c. diced apricots
1 c. sliced almonds
1 c. old fashioned oatmeal
3 Tbsp. Shaklee Energizing Protein
Cinnamon to taste

In a medium saucepan heat honey and peanut butter on stove over medium heat until texture is runny. Mix in apricots, nuts, oats and protein powder and cinnamon. Stir until ingredients are well coated. Let mixture cool in the refrigerator. Roll into bite sized balls. Enjoy!

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