about bliss

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

summer kitchen sink salads

One of my favorite vendors at our farmers' markets is a young couple, just graduated from college. They grow interesting and heirloom varieties of all crops, and I always stop by their stand first. For the past month, their table has been filled with head lettuces of all textures, colors, and sizes. From crunchy Ice Queen (a flavorful and crisp iceberg style lettuce) to frilly Lolla Rosa, to baby romaine, all of the lettuces are delicious, and provide a perfect bed for "kitchen sink" style salads.

Every Saturday, I buy three or four heads, and come home and wash, de-slug, and spin the tender leaves. Every weekday at lunchtime, I haul out the salad spinner and fill a small serving bowl with lettuce before contemplating my next toppings. I've let the farmers' market offerings guide my toppings, which means I've been incorporating strawberries, cherries, sugar snap peas, scallions, carrots, and radishes into the salads. I've added avocado, various cheeses, pecans, chickpeas, and/or pan fried tofu for protein and complexity.

I always make my own dressings, a single serving at a time. With a variety of vinegars, several olive oils, citrus, and sweeteners to choose from, I craft tangy, light, and satisfying vinaigrettes.

vinaigrette fixins from Michigan, Italy, and Wisconsin
Here are a few particularly winning combinations for inspiration. Let your fridge and pantry, as well as your taste and cravings, guide you:

Strawberry-Avocado-Carrot-Cucumber-Sugar Snap Pea-Scallion-Pecan-Bel Gioso Four Cheese Blend with Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

 [no photo of this one. sorry!]

Cherry-Avocado-Feta-Pecan-Carrot-Scallion-Chickpea with Cherry Balsamic Vinaigrette

Juicy Michigan cherries are the star of this salad. 
Sugar Snap Pea-Carrot-Scallion-Tofu with Spicy Peanut Dressing

A glamour shot of Ice Queen lettuce, which holds up particularly well to this heavier spicy peanut dressing in this Thai-influenced salad.

These salads make lunch different and delicious everyday. Filled with several servings of fruits and vegetables, and lean protein, these salads are nutritional powerhouses...that taste decadent, and provide lasting satisfaction and fullness, especially when paired with a homemade roll or buttered honey whole wheat toast. 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

new recipe challenge: falafel

So often, I read food blogs and swoon over the gorgeous photography, the featured edibles glistening in the perfect natural light, the prepared dish clearly a flawless execution of the recipe.

This is not one of those blogs.

I'm being authentic.

A month or so ago I read this post on lifestyle blogs from Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan. I love her honesty, the glimpses of a real family home. While I wish I had a Pinterest-worthy workspace, I am a cluttery person. Give me a desk or table or dresser and you'll find the top strewn with the random detritus of my daily life. Currently, at my home desk you'll find projects in process: my new (pink!) filing cabinet waiting to be filled; the vintage St. Vinnie's photo frames from our wedding waiting for fabulous photos; the sweet daily yellow notes from G waiting to be filed; lipstick, bracelets, aromatherapy mist, books (always books) waiting to be properly relocated, stored, stacked.


You should see my desk at work.

But I love this space, the light pouring in from the East facing window, the succulent terrarium I made (pinterest-inspired) a few weeks ago, my vintage desk and filing cabinet, my bulletin board, and photos from Paris (c. 2010).

But I digress.

What does this creative clutter have to do with falafel?

Let's turn to photo inspiration:



I used a recipe from Olives, Lemon, and Za'atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking, by Rawia Bishara, which I checked out from the public library. Like most falafel recipes, this one calls for chickpeas that have been soaked, but not cooked. I used chickpeas I had previously cooked and froze in their own luscious broth. They were too wet, and the first patties oozed and defied crisping.


I added panko to the rest of the batter, which helped firm the patties, but they still resisted a deep crispiness, largely due to my minimal-oil pan frying technique.


And yet, the flavor was amazing—fresh, spicy, comforting and thrilling all at once. We tucked them into pita with a thick tahini sauce as suggested by Bishara.


Less than photogenic, but adventurous and delicious. 

Messy and satisfying.

My kind of world. 





Monday, June 30, 2014

summer fun: mini golf


Yesterday, Gregg and I visited our favorite mini golf course for the inaugural round of the Summer. We've been golfing this course, Harbor Pointe in Sheboygan the past few years. I love the location, nestled along the Sheboygan river, near the harbor where Lake Michigan beckons with rolling waves and refreshing breezes. 

This course challenges the amateur and experienced mini-golfer, with several traps and water features, and a tricky lighthouse hole. 


We listened to James Taylor, Carol King, and America fill the course with mellow, relaxed tunes. 


I beat Gregg on one hole. 


We considered golfing another 18 holes for half-price, but decided to walk to the end of the pier, and then drive to Duke of Devon for a refreshing beverage; their ginger lemonade hits the spot after a morning of low-stakes, high-pleasure mini golf. 


I love the simple challenges of mini golf—avoiding the traps, keeping the ball on the green, and mostly, putting. I am not a great mini golfer, and I don't try to be great. My goal: revel in the sporadic straight, sure shot; trash talk Gregg; and enjoy the Summer day.

Our city is currently building a mini golf course, set to open later this Summer. I'm eager to support this community venture, and maybe, accidentally, improve my game.

Gregg, you're on notice.

With practice, perhaps I'll win...TWO holes.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

new recipe challenge: quinoa burrito bowls


I'm embarrassed—I've been scared of quinoa. 

I'm a vegetarian. I believe in eating a wide range of grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables. 

Quinoa, along with kale, spinach, blueberries, and broccoli, embodies holy-healthy-healing in the food world I (mostly) live in. 

But. I cooked it several years ago and...didn't really like it. Was it the lack of flavor? The texture? The strange curlicues coming off of the individual seeds? 

I don't know. 

I wanted to try again, after reading many recipes featuring the seed, after being reminded that it's a complete protein, after ogling my friend's quinoa-based salads at work meetings. Perhaps I could sub quinoa for rice in one of our standard meals...

I planned last night's meal, burrito bowls, around the vat of black beans in the fridge (a trip to Fleet Farm is in order to stock up on freezer containers!) These beans are phenomenal—flavorful, easy to cook, and economical. If you're in West Michigan, check out Shady Side Farm

I was also inspired after reading the NPR story about President Obama's recent DC peregrination in search of everyday food: "I just walked over to Chipotle's for lunch. I caused a lot of havoc as you might expect," the president said. "It had been awhile since I had the burrito bowl, and it was good." I can sympathize. Gregg and I love Chipotle burrito bowls, though our nearest Chipotle is a good 45 minute drive away. 

Homemade burrito bowls are versatile, customizable, simple, and delicious. I usually use brown rice as the base, but substituted quinoa. To increase the flavor of the quinoa, I followed the preparation from The Kitchn, with a few modifications. I sauteed vidalia onion and garlic in the olive oil before adding the quinoa; I tossed in a chunk of carrot and celery, along with a bay leaf, to simulate the vegetable broth I didn't have. Before serving, I pulled them out of the pan. The garlic and onion melded with the fluffy quinoa, and the aromatics added subtle flavor. A drizzle of olive oil and skiff of salt at the end completed the base of our burrito bowls. 

To elevate the black beans, I sauteed vidalia onion, garlic, and a small piece of a chipotle pepper (packed in adobo) in olive oil before adding the beans. I tossed a handful of scallions in at the end. 

I also sauteed red bell peppers and vidalia onions with a sprinkling of chili powder and salt. 

Add avocado, cilantro, tomatoes, jalapenos, scallions, shredded 9 year aged Wisconsin cheddar, and sour cream, and the burrito bowl buffet was ready. 



With this blog in mind, I artfully arranged my bowl in sections, much to the amusement of my husband. I skipped the jalapeno pepper rounds and went light on tomatoes (and then passed them off on Gregg). 

In the interest of honest blogging, I share this second photo of my burrito bowl post-photo shoot and pre-eating. A glorious mess. 

The fresh flavors of the raw ingredients married with the earthy, hearty tones of the quinoa and beans, creating a satisfying dish. The quinoa was delicious, a pleasant change from rice, and a superfood to boot. Welcome back to my pantry, oh wonder seed. 


As a bonus, I share this commercial, popular last football season. It's been so effective that I can barely pronounce quinoa correctly. 




Sunday, June 22, 2014

new recipe challenge: white loaves, mini crustless quiches, and tuna pasta salad

It's a cool, rainy week in Wisconsin. 

I'm coming off a month of life transitions...grieving the loss of my kind, gentle mother-in-law to cancer, and celebrating the marriage of my one and only kind and funny brother to his bride, a generous, beautiful woman I'm thrilled to call sister. 

It's been a month to remember.

I'm taking refuge in reading novels and cooking. I finished the airy darkness of Nora Roberts' latest Shadow Spell, and am now savoring Anna Quindlan's Still Life With Bread Crumbs. 

And I made bread. 

I craved the fragrance of yeast warmth, and also wanted to bake a simple white loaf that would live up to our expectations. G and I have different tastes in bread--he leans soft and malleable, while I prefer crusty and substantial. Yet both of us love a flavorful white bread, with a thin crackly crust, the scent of butter, and a soft interior. I used the recipe for white loaves from Baking With Julia, the companion cookbook to the PBS show that aired years ago (but reruns on some PBS and create channels). This simple bread meets all of our criteria and was, unlike other breads, simple to make. 


In keeping with my summer bucket list and my quest to make G's recent birthday special, I made mini crustless quiches for a portable breakfast (served with buttered toast made from the homemade bread). One of our favorite quiche combinations is caramelized onion, spinach, and feta. I added fresh basil and a not-hearty enough squirt of Sriracha to the egg mixture. What a simple, delicious make-ahead breakfast! And the add-ins are endless...broccoli, peppers, mixed herbs, Gruyere or other interesting cheeses, squashes, and even breakfast meats for my non-vegetarian husband.  


For a lunch treat, I made tuna pasta salad, a favorite of Gregg's. Single serving tuna pouches are the greatest gift for tuna haters (me). Open, squeeze out the tuna into whatever dish you're making, and be done with it. I used small shell pasta to nestle all of the veggies and tuna chunks. Tiny diced red and yellow peppers, a good chunk of a zippy jalapeno, diced with seeds and membrane, for my spice-loving husband. Vidalia onion, Famous Dave's spicy sweet pickles, salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. I doused the salad with white balsamic vinegar, a drizzle of olive oil, and a big scoop of plain Greek yogurt. I hoped the salad was as delicious as it was pretty, since I didn't taste it. G loved the spicy kick, the pickles, and the combination of veggies. 


New recipes and cooking workday breakfast and lunch for G: check these two items off of my bucket list. Thus inspired, I will continue to play and experiment! 


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

new recipe challenge: carrot and chickpea salad


Tender carrots, crisp chickpeas, nutty sauce: what's not to love? This salad, from my favorite food blog Smitten Kitchen, would brighten up a cold winter day. It's also a fitting counterpoint to delicate Spring asparagus (which we're eating every day, every which way). Last night, I made a simple pasta with frozen snap peas, fresh roasted asparagus, and a Greek yogurt-lemon-Parmesan sauce. This salad added a hearty dose of protein and color to the meal. I omitted the pistachios and parsley from the original carrot salad recipe, working with ingredients I had on hand. Neither Gregg or I could decide whether we liked the pasta or salad better, a positive sign that both dishes are keepers. The lemon in both dishes helps create a cohesive meal, and the bright citrus tang cuts through the creaminess of both sauces.


Monday, June 09, 2014

Summer 2014 Bucket List


My friend Pam recently posted her Summer 2014 Bucket List, which inspired me to kickstart my daily journaling habit (long lapsed) and return to blogging with a simple, fun, and easy writing task: creating a list. I love lists--they embody possibility and planning, goals and dreams. Lists are shorthand for projects that promise unexpected discoveries; lists lay out simple tasks to be completed. Lists ground my free-flowing creativity in direction and order.

Dharmagirl's Summer 2014 Bucket List:

1. Bake macarons.


2. Attend at least one outdoor concert (preferably Summerfest).
3. Hike.
4. Go sailing with the WTFS women.
5. Paint our bedroom.
6. Finish Grandpa's memoir.
7. Submit flash fiction pieces to my online class and complete G's flash fiction challenge.
8. Write most days, starting with morning pages.
9. Read every day, not just at bed-time, but throughout the day. Read across genres.


10. Walk, bike, and yoga most days. 


11. Reconnect with friends via email, letters/cards, phone calls, and visits.
12. Make a photo wall in the living room.
13. Organize our bookshelves.
14. Cook a new recipe each week.
15. Challenge myself in small ways--hard reading, more sun salutations, etc.
16. Spend time in Michigan.


17. Take myself on more short solo excursions.
18. Recommit to formal daily training with Hazel.
19. Make breakfast and/or lunch treats for Gregg.
20. Get a tattoo.
21. Visit with colleague-friends.
22. Create!
23. Decorate with fresh flowers. 


24. Visit the Madison farmers' market.
25. Have friends over for drinks, dessert, dinner.
26. Take a mini-break with Gregg.