DINNER IMPROV: Spicy Mexican Inspired Pasta

Allow me to set the scene:

I have nearly recovered from a bad cold, then Ryan gets hit with it. There has just been a snow storm the night before, and the street still hasn’t been plowed. In the daytime, the sun shines on the snow and everything is so bright it nearly burns your corneas. At night, everything emits a pale glow. Everything’s quiet.

Working from home has it’s perks, as we were able to stay in pajamas all day long. (ALL DAY!) The bed was like a liferaft, and the only time I left it was to make some food in the afternoon. I wanted something filling (all that laying around and cat-petting makes you hungry, after all) but also full of lots of nutrient rich foods to aid in our flu-symptom recovery.

And I came up with this! Let’s break it down, nutritionally.

The TOMATOES have a ton of lycopene (one of the highest of all foods!), which is an awesome antioxidant. The CHIPOTLE PEPPERS have capsaicin (the thing that makes your mouth burn!) which is great for aiding digestion and helping to relieve pain. The super-amazing GARLIC can help your immune system, and has antibacterial and antiviral properties. The SWEET POTATOES have so much great stuff, not limited to fiber, protein, iron, calcium and lots of vitamins A and C. The BLACK BEANS have health-protecting isoflavones, fiber and protein. And the AVOCADO supplies healthy omega-3’s.

Okay, plus it was delicious, easy and inexpensive! Here’s what I did:

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 box of whole wheat pasta (I used linguini)
  • 1/2 large red onion, sliced into half-moon pieces
  • 3 small sweet potatoes, skins removed and then cubed
  • 1 large 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 large chipotle pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano OR cilantro
  • 1/2 can black beans
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

Boil water for the pasta. Preheat oven for 425 degrees.  In a mixing bowl, add the sweet potatos, red onion and enough olive oil to coat. Toss with salt and pepper. Add mixture to an oven tray and cover with aluminum foil. (The foil will trap the steam and cook the potatoes faster!)  When oven is ready, add the potato and onion tray. Cook the pasta til desired tenderness.

In a food processor, add the can of tomatoes, garlic, chipotle and oregano. Blend on high until garlic is mixed in. Add salt to taste.

After about 15 minutes, the potatoes should be soft. Take the tray out of the oven and test one to make sure! Add the potatoes and onion to a large mixing bowl.

To the mixing bowl, add the pasta and black beans. Mix everything together.

Add the tomato sauce. (I had a little sauce left over… use as much as you’d like!) The sauce won’t be very thick, but it will coat the pasta and veggies nicely and pack a lot of flavor!

Add sliced avocado to the top, add a little freshly cracked pepper.

This colorful, flavorful dish will hopefully lift your spirits if you’re feeling a little under the weather or have gone stir crazy from being unable to leave the house due to icy roads and ferocious winds.

Stay healthy and warm! And if you need some help in the “warm” department, consider getting a new addition to your family and adopting a pet! (*Pet adoption is a big deal and shouldn’t be done unless you’re sure you can properly care for it.)

But if pet adoption is something you’ve considered for a while, decide if you’re ready to be a cat or dog Mom/Dad and if you ARE, check out some of the cuties at your local shelter. Think about how nice it would feel to share a cozy bed with a furball that loves you unconditionally!

Go over to PetFinder.com to see who’s up for adoption in your area.

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SARAH PALIN SHOOTS DOWN SANTA: Sort of.

Hunting? On Save the Kales? Jaime, have you lost your mind!?

I’m happy to say I did, for a few brief minutes, as I played Sarah Palin last weekend in a sketch for The Associated Mess holiday sketch/improv show, brilliantly titled “Oh Christ!Mess”. The Mess is a super talented improv comedy troupe performing many shows every month at theaters and public and private events.

In 2010, they began to write sketches to incorporate in special holiday-themed shows. I was so honored when after Dustin Yenser wrote the “Palin Shoots Santa” sketch the troupe  unanimously  decided that, despite my not being a member of the troupe,  I should play the part of Sarah Palin. (Thanks in no small part to strangers everywhere telling me I look “exactly like” her, plus an Eastern Pennsylvania accent that sounds midwest/canandian.)

When I swapped out my glasses for her aluminum, rimless styled ones, the transformation was complete. I hope you’ll all forgive me.

Thank you SO MUCH Associated Mess, for many belly laughs and out-of-context quotes I take to work the next day that no one understands.

Cheers to you in 2011!

SMALL BUT MIGHTY: Brussels Sprouts as a Late Night Snack

Today’s post is about a great little wintertime nutritional powerhouse – the humble, often criticized brussels sprout. Before we delve any further, let’s get one thing straight:

They are Brussels sprouts. BRUSSELS. Sprouts. Brussels, with an “s” on the end.

They are named after, surprise surprise!, the capitol of Belgium (which is “Brussels”, if you haven’t had coffee yet) as it’s believed their origin comes from around there. What a fun piece of trivia for your next social gathering! You’re welcome!

They grow on long stalks that sort of look like a pineapple and a cabbage had a baby.

Unfortunately, these guys evoke bad childhood memories, perhaps a parent swirling a forkful through the air chanting “Open the hangar, here comes the airplane” while you grimaced in disgust.  Like a lot of green veggies, these poor little guys have been overcooked and boiled to death for years. Trust me when I tell you, there is still hope. I bet you can make peace with them after all.

And you should, because they are part of the “cruciferous” family of veggies, which also includes the beloved kale, broccoli, bok choy and cabbage, among others. Crucifers (sounds so… dark) are packed full of great things, like vitamins C and K, tons of fiber and calcium, and studies have shown that eating 1-2 servings a day can reduce your risk of cancer thanks to their large doses of phytonutrients. (“Fy-toe-nutrients” – phyto meaning plant-based.)

You can do all kinds of tasty things with brussels sprouts, but my favorite way to eat them is after they’re roasted. They have a much different taste than any of the bland, soggy boiled things that may have been passed off to you before.

Here’s a recipe that takes under 5 minutes of prep time and only 4 ingredients – but here’s the best part: cooking brussels sprouts this way makes them so tasty, you will want to pop them in your mouth instead of potato chips and candy. I’m serious! Remember how yummy the kale chips are (click link for video)?  What’s wrong with eating green leafies instead of fried fatty foods? NOTHIN’.

If you have a well-stocked pantry, the ONLY ingredient you will need to buy are the brussels sprouts. For this recipe, I used about two pounds, though you can use less! Or more! Whatever!

INGREDIENTS

  • about 2 pounds of brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
  • olive oil to coat
  • (sea salt)
  • 2 Tbsp spicy mustard
  • 2 Tbsp agave nectar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Halve the brussels sprouts and put in a large mixing bowl.

Add just enough olive oil to coat them, mixing them around. Spread them evenly on a baking tray (with sides) and add a few shakes of sea salt. Bake for about 10-15 minutes until the brussels sprouts are vibrant green and just starting to brown. Turn over and toss around the tray.

In a small bowl, whisk the agave and spicy mustard together. (Use the same bowl you mixed the sprouts and oil in to put down on cleanup!) Add more or less of either to taste, but an equal ratio tastes great!

Do you like this unnecessary photo of the agave, mustard and stray brussels sprout leaf in a bowl?

 

Using a cooking brush, brush on the agave and mustard mixture until all is used. If you run out, make a little more using an even amount of each.

Put tray back in the oven, roast for another 15-20 minutes, tossing once more to brown the brussels sprouts. Take them out when they are soft (not mushy!) and browned.

It may sound ridiculous, but between Ryan and I, we polished off the entire 2 pounds of brussels sprouts in the evening. Every time we walked past the tray (where I was attempting to cool would-be leftovers) we kept grabbing a handful, til they were gone.

Try this recipe, see what you think! You can roast them a number of ways with many different herbs and spices, but this way is simple and satisfies the desire for something sweet and savory.

“COINCIDENCE is the Word We Use When We Can’t See the Levers and Pulleys.”

Remember two posts ago when I wrote about feeling drained, sometimes sad and unmotivated? Isn’t it funny how we are so quick to pick up our friends’ hearts when they are broken and depressed, but have a hard time telling ourselves the same lovely truths that can get us smiling again?

Yesterday I came across a post on one of my favorite inspirational blogs that was nearly a direct reply to that previous post. I got goosebumps on my arms when I read the last lines, “Your life matters and YOU matter”. I had just said that to all of you, but had not yet told it to myself in such a blatant, Listen-To-Me-Missy-I’m-Talking-To-You kind of way.

So please, READ THIS and take it to heart, take it to YOUR heart (and brain!).

(click on photo below to enlarge and read)

We are so much more than the sum of our parts. When you find yourself lingering on the parts of you that you’re not pleased with – regrets of the past, a mistake you made with a lesson that has yet to become clear, dissatisfaction with a job or lack of one, a longing for a family or relationship you don’t have, guilt from feeling like “imperfections” are all wrong and all your fault…

… Remember that everyone who knows you is your friend because they see a beauty in you. You give them a special joy in their life that no one else can provide. Look for the ways you do that in your own life, too. There are so many more ways than you will be able to comprehend! Trust me.

DINNER IMPROV: Kale, Chickpeas and Sweet Potatoes with Spicy Cashew Sauce

Welcome to “Dinner Improv” – a new category for when I’m tinkering around in the kitchen with whatever is on hand, and surprise! it just happens to turn out tasty. These are not planned recipes, and it’s likely my ingredient measurements were hastily combined. But sometimes the most beautiful things come when we don’t plan  for them, yes?

Tonight’s dinner was a blend of some various veggies and a spicy version of the cashew sauce I make as a vegan cheese sauce. (If you haven’t seen the video for it, check below!)

NOTE: The recipe in this video doesn’t taste exactly like cheese, but is to be used in the place of cheese – for example, on a pizza, mixed in with pasta, over veggies, etc…

The recipe below is has an altered version of that cashew sauce – take note that the sauce can be manipulated to taste a million different ways! It has a pretty neutral taste (unless you add the miso recommended in the video, which is sooooo good), so throw some fresh herbs in there, and have fun!

Onward to the recipe!

INGREDIENTS (veggies/beans):

  • 3 small sweet potatoes, cubed with skins left on
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, steamed or blanched in boiling water
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

SAUCE:

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp cayenne
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • water to desired consistency
  • salt to taste

Remove the kale leaves from the tough stems, and steam or blanch in boiling water. Set aside. In a bowl, mix cubed sweet potatoes enough olive oil to coat, and salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a tray and bake in oven at 375 degrees until soft and a little browned (about 15-20 minutes). On a separate baking sheet, spread out the rinsed chickpeas and bake in the oven with sweet potatoes. (Season the chickpeas if you’d like! Use some garlic, salt, spices, etc…)

When all the veggies are done doing their things, mix them in a big bowl. Now we’ll make the sauce! Start with  the raw cashews in a food processor, and pulse until they become powdery.

Presto change-o!

Add lemon zest, garlic and nutritional yeast. Drizzle on some olive oil and turn processor on low. Slowly add water little by little until desired consistency is reached.

Add spices and herbs – in this case, I added turmeric, cumin and cayenne. If using cayenne, add a little at a time. It’s not outright spicy but does have heat, so try it first! Salt will boost the flavor, so salt to taste.

When you’re happy with your sauce, pour it on your veggies and eat ’em up! (You can also dip pita chips in the sauce leftovers. Yum!)

This is a great recipe if you’re trying to incorporate more whole foods into your diet – you can use any veggies you want!

Everything in this dish is a whole ingredient – meaning nothing has been processed or has any added ingredients, so feel good eating it!

YOU MATTER: Public Thank You to… Well, You.

Friends,

It is with humility and honesty that I write this post. You may have noticed my absence from writing and updating as much as usual. I have been not only busy with work and projects, but emotionally the past month has taken a toll on me and I’ve found myself not wanting to think about anything (even cooking!) when I have free time.

Numerous situations I will not write about (on a public forum) have left me feeling helpless, defeated, belittled and occasionally targeted. If you know me or read this blog, you know I’m a positive person and do all I can to find a lesson or good in something that can be disheartening. However, when those things begin to pile up one after another, it can really take it’s toll. It’s left me exhausted physically and emotionally. I love getting dressed up, but my brain is in sweatpants and can’t get off the couch, so to speak.

Recently, my friend and fellow blogger Andrew (and one of the first people to be SUPER supportive of this project) wrote to me to say that some of my personal posts have inspired him to write about his own reasons (click link) for not updating his site as much due to mental illness. That truly means a lot that I have helped my friend tackle those problems in such a public way. It takes bravery.

I remember before I published one of the first personal posts I ever made on here (not a recipe or general info, but about what I’ve been trying to learn in life), I was so worried it would sound weird and make me look foolish, I called several people to ask if it was a good idea, or I’d just be setting myself up for ridicule and eye-rolling.

I’m happy to say that it’s the personal posts that have meant the most to me, and thankfully helped others like Andrew. When we find a public outlet for expression, it’s incredibly theraputic.

I make those posts as much for myself as I do for those of you who read them.

I’m not ready to delve into everything that I’ve experienced in the past year… perhaps in a few months. But this post is to remind you of two things:

1) When you are honest with yourself and other people, when you open up to them, you find an outpouring of support and love that you may not have imagined. You resolve potential conflict. You take all the problems you made up in your head and squash them. It’s incredibly peaceful. And you may get the added bonus of helping someone else.

2) Friends and human relationships are so very important. I want to formally thank everyone that has extended kindness to me, especially in the past few weeks. You have offered me rides when I had no car, you have let me cry and offered calm kindness, you have reminded me that the people who always find fault with you and thrive on negativity are the people I should spend the least amount of thought and energy on.

Some of you (as if by unexplained intuition) have gone out of your way at random to say such supportive and lovely things, to remind me that what I’m doing matters in a positive way, that I am appreciated and respected and I have made a difference to you and others. Thank you. So much.  When I’ve had a particularly bad day, I have reread your letters and texts, replayed your phonecalls, and reflected on those conversations.

(Before anyone asks, everything regarding my friends, family and relationship are going beautifully. These are in fact the things that make me the happiest. No worries there.)

After my Christmas/Housewarming party over the weekend (photos soon to come!), I saw that a friend posted a comment on facebook upon getting home from the festivities: “Faith in humanity restored”.

Last week, the night my friend before a friend moved out of town, we talked about how we had become very close in a short period of time, and I said I was so thankful to have known her even with our sometimes different opinions on politics, social issues, religion, etc. It’s a reminder that our differences can help us grow instead of divide. She explained that her philosophy is that NONE OF US HAVE IT ALL RIGHT, none of us have all the answers or completely understand the big picture. But we all have pieces. And when we come together in friendship, we put all those pieces together and get a clearer image.

I can’t believe how many wonderful friends have come into my life in such a relatively short period of time. There was a moment when I looked around my house, saw it filled to capacity with people laughing and hugging and dancing and smiling, and my heart swelled. You are my friends and my family. And you mean so very much. Thank you for being a part of my life, and for bringing positivity and love when I need it most.

(Everything Is Going To Be OK, print $39, pleasebestill via Etsy)

BLACK SUNDAY: Indie Craft Mart and Fun!

WOW, my heart is overflowing with excitement and love from everyone that came by the table this Sunday at the Black Sunday craft mart in Bethlehem. This fun event helped to support a local art/music venue, local crafters, and thus the community. Pat yourselves on the back.
Crystal, receptionist extraordinaire, (wo)manning the Eskandalo! Salon and WINK Magazine table.

Save the Kales! was there, hot pink tablecloth and all, with wintery grain salads, cookies and (gasp!) count ’em THREE KINDS of chocolate truffles. Mint Chocolate were the first to go, followed by ginger + vanilla and the only leftovers I walked away with were a few of the chipotle chocolate truffles. No complains here. Can we try to ALWAYS combine spicy peppers and cocoa, please?
They were, hands down, some of my tastiest treats yet (if I may say so!), and I especially thank my new friend Amy for boosting my ego immensely when she asked if I would ship them to her in another state. YES, when I figure out how that works!
I really needed this weekend. Despite carrying tables and food trays around all day (in heels, of course), that thing happened where I found myself enjoying a tasty Indian food dinner with good company – and we discussed the idea of doing what you can to improve your town instead of complaining about it and then moving somewhere else. One of my favorite topics!
And once again, the indie mart proved that there are plenty of people around who want to be involved in doing things to support art and community. And they did.
Danielle of Boxes by Kansas making pretty handmade boxes for all the neat gifts people were buying.

OMG WE ARE SO HAPPY.

There was photography! And art prints! And Andy Po’s old tshirts – oh my!


Kyle of Blind Willow Book Shop has the most impressive collection of bound and written word a girl ever laid her pretty little eyes on. Imagine someone with impeccable taste in literature owning a store – poof! Blind Willow exists. Fun side note: Kyle left this event only to find a surprise birthday party waiting for him at home. HAPPY BIRTHDAY KYLE!

The cutest ladies ever from C2G2 “ReJewelry”. The gals don’t mess around. They make amazing jewelry out of old/found shiny objects and it’s ALL SO BEAUTIFUL and I wanted EVERYTHING and am happy to have walked away with this amazing necklace made of an old metal door hinge (!!!) and a vintage pink brooch thing! YES!

Pretty!!!!!!

Lovely Loly selling her amazingly glam handmade hair accessories – think feathers and flowers and bows and sparkles!

Chris Reject of Lehigh Valley Apparel Creations (and helps keep up the Secret Art Space so we can do things like this!). He is wearing a handmade Christmas sweater. HANDSOME! Go get some shirts printed!

Alison of Eskandalo! Salon and WINK magazine made these incredible Christmas sweaters. MADE THEM!

… Three kittens in Christmas stockings hanging on  mantle: “Have a Meowy Christmas”.

CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?