Sunday, January 24, 2021

When Salad Becomes Art

My friend would call me the Salad Queen. On different occasions when she had dinner at our house, I would usually serve some type of salad to go with the main meal.

During this past summer I was making several trips to the Farmer's Market and preparing a lot of meals at home. Often I ended up with small bits of stuff leftover, so I decided to put my Salad Queen skills back into practice, but this time, the salad would become the main course.

It's easy for anyone to put together an elegant and tasty salad, and it helps when you're trying to get your daily 9 in the fruits and vegetables nutrition category.  Most ingredients are optional, so feel free to mix and match.

  1. Start with your protein - chicken, beef, pork, fish or shrimp - broiled or stir-fried. If you're vegetarian you could use a boiled egg or beans.
  2. Add a bed of leafy greens - lettuce, kale, spinach or a mix of spring greens.  
  3. Include a carbohydrate component—potatoes or sweet potatoes, quinoa, rice, or noodles.  If you don't have one in the salad, you can always add a side of bread such as a dinner roll or slice of toast.  
  4. Add finishing touches of roasted nuts, green onions and a light dressing. 

The key here is variety.  Use different colors, textures, flavors and temperatures—soft, smooth, and crunchy, sweet and savory, warm and cold. You can also vary the size of the ingredients—keep them whole, slice them to reveal the inside colors or cut them on the diagonal to create different shapes.

Adding a regular egg or a few quail eggs acts as a focal point or punctuation mark—a completion of the whole dish.  And don't forget the presentational elements—using decorative plates, placing contrasting colors next to each other, or choosing colorful placemats as a backdrop.  

Below are some of my examples that you can mimic or modify. 

I'll call this one the Beef & Bean Salad. On one section of the plate is a mixture of sliced beef, stir-fried with onions, garlic and other spices along with black beans over rice.  On another part of the plate is a bed of mixed greens topped with sliced pea pods, radishes, and cucumbers.  Bright red bell peppers and quartered tomatoes contrast with the green vegetables.  Nestled at the bottom is half a hard-boiled egg. Sprinkle with sliced green onions.  I don't usually use bottled dressing on my salads.  For raw, unflavored veggies I  drizzle a light oil such as olive, grapeseed, hazelnut or avocado, add a dash of rice vinegar and/or a squeeze of lemon or lime and a little salt and pepper. 

This one features lamb and squash. The lamb is stir-fried with a mix of Mediterranean spices - garlic, cinnamon, mint, thyme, rosemary.  Lay down a bed of freshly washed spinach.  The squash is a roasted delicatta with cumin and salt.  You can roast most vegetables - squash, eggplant, zucchini, potatoes - in the broiler on 550 degrees. (Also sturdier skinned fruit such as apples, peaches, pineapple or pears.) Toss or brush them in oil, sprinkle with seasoned salt, garlic or basil (for veggies - nothing for fruit) and cook until they are tender and slightly charred. Bell peppers can be roasted whole without oil. 

I was surprised to discover how well roasted sweet potato tasted over plain quinoa.  The sweet potato chunks use seasoned salt, a bit of pie spice and rosemary.  The cooler elements include sliced tomato and halves of boiled quail eggs.  Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts or other savory nuts such as slivered almonds.  

This one is a breakfast salad—a great way to start the day and get your veggies in at sunrise.  Green leaf lettuce is topped with pineapple, strawberries and whole pea pods.  Sprinkle with a sweeter type of nut such as chopped pecans or walnuts.  Add a side of toast and maybe a serving of yogurt. 

This tasty piece of work is a BLT salad plus.  Warm bacon strips are placed over mixed greens. Neighboring cucumbers and radishes provide the cool contrast.  Once again, the roasted sweet potatoes over tri-colored quinoa provide the hearty carbs.  Cherry tomatoes and a small cluster of pecan halves are added to the greens. (The pecans can be sweetened by pan roasting them slowly on the stove with a spoonful of honey.).  I think there is also a roasted pear in the center.  Again, all of these items are optional including the hard boiled half egg and the sliced green onions in the center.   

Another twist on the bacon salad - this one has the bacon over kale on one side of the plate with leftover crinkle cut fries.  The other half is the sweet potato over quinoa mix.  In the long center are the cool elements of whole baby bell peppers, cucumbers and green onions. 
This striking example actually looks better than it tasted.  It's a mayonaisse-based pasta salad with ham and veggies (carrots, onions, bell peppers) over sharp tasting greens like chard or bok choy.  The sliced tomatoes and cucumbers add a nice border to the bottom edge.  If I do this again, I would boil the vegetables to soften them before I added them to the pasta.  I would also use a different bed of greens with a more mild taste such as romaine lettuce or spinach.

A few of my favorite things... Here you'll see a pork and onion stir-fry over romaine lettuce and a featured section of matchstick sized roasted asparagus.  Appearing again are the roasted potatoes over tri-colored quinoa, the cool cucumber slices and the signature hard boiled egg slice.  A very nice mix. 

This lighter meal features Chinese cabbage that I grew in my deck garden.  I sautéed shrimp, pork, onions and water chestnuts in sesame oil and coconut aminos (or soy sauce) and spread it over rice (brown or white), but you could also put it over thin rice or buckwheat noodles.  Add a side of cold cucumber quarters and top with green onions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. 

I'll admit the above selections have a lot of parts and pieces, but you can do just as well with fewer items. Below, I've taken some leaves from a tat soi plant (which is tasty all by itself) and added small kale flowers that I found at the farmer's market.  I highlighted the kale with strawberry slices. 


Below is a jpg with some general guidelines for creating your own edible masterpieces.  Feel free to share some of your combinations in the comments section of this blog.  

Happy eating!

Friday, January 15, 2021

The "11" and Being Contagious

My cousin calls it the "11."  I have the 11.  He has it, too.  Some of my brothers and sisters have the 11.  My dad, my aunts and uncles who have passed away—they all had the 11.  It's those two parallel creases between the eyebrows that makes us look like we have a perpetual frown. 

I've seen it on other people, but in my family, it's a distinctive part of my DNA, especially on my dad's side of the family.

Whenever I'm in line at the supermarket, buying a newspaper at the convenience store or waiting to get my almond milk latté, if I'm the slightest bit tired or distracted, the "11" deepens, and I can come across as annoyed or grumpy without even trying.  

"Sorry you had to wait so long, Ma'am," says the clerk when I get to the head of the line.

Huh??!!  I didn't say anything!  And I really didn't mind the wait!

If I give someone a cheerful smile, it can compensate for the 11's false message. But when I wear a mask, people can't tell if I'm in a good mood or not. 

Masks are a good thing right now. We wear masks in public spaces to keep us from being contagious.  It's also the law.  I'll admit that sometimes a mask makes me feel invisible or anonymous; And if I wear one for extended periods of time, I have trouble breathing because my nose is crooked and one of my nostrils has less airflow than the norm. (The deviated septum thing is on my mom's side.) 

But on the other hand, a mask also gives me a different mindset. I can be whoever I want. A masked crusader with a dual identity?  A sought-after writer or choreographer who disguises themselves to ward of public attention?

😷    Ok, maybe more like—nobody recognizes me, so why not have some fun with that?

Going to the grocery store has become such a monumental task. What time are they open?  Do you have your list?  Did you remember your mask? Hand sanitizer? Reusable bags? Refillable water jugs?  Oh, they're all out of my favorite yogurt this week. I wish that guy over there would keep his six-foot distance!

So, sometimes to release the tension, I'll sing to the retro 80s tunes while I put apples in my cart, or I'll practice social distancing choreography—the waltz hesitation step or twinkle turn to avoid other people; some modern dance upper-body spiraling to face away from those who are passing too close. 

If I see the same shopper more than once, I'll pretend that at any moment we could become lifelong friends. (After all, we're both buying the same brand of frozen spinach!)

I try to have deeper conversations with the clerks and address them by name if I happen to see their name tag.  

The other day I was at Fresh Thyme standing in my incremented isolated space marker, six feet away from others in line. To pass the time I be-bopped to the music with a package of frozen pocket pizzas tucked under my arm.  My basket was on the floor so I did some foot work around it.  Pretty soon I heard the guy behind me drumming on his grocery cart in time to the music. I think I've started something here!  :-)

I guess if I have to have to wear a mask and bear the mark of the "11," then I really don't mind if it causes me to be contagious in better ways.  

Happy 2021 everybody!
Sculpture near Mojo Coffee
artist unknown

Monday, December 14, 2020

Untied States

I remember when my friend and I found what we thought was a two-dollar bill on the sidewalk near the neighborhood candy store.  We were in elementary school, and at that time, two-dollar bills were rare, at least until they started printing them again for the bicentennial.  On closer inspection, we saw that it was a phony—a Twe Dollar bill with a number three in each corner and Andrew Jackson's face captioned with Jefferson's name.  Beneath that:


Apparently, it was a marketing gimmick for a coffee company. The bills came out of a gumball machine.

I no longer have that phony three-dollar bill (although I just saw one on Etsy), but how appropriate it would have been for this year—"untied," as opposed to united—something our country has not been for a long time, and "anemia"—as we're all still dealing with "sickness" on many levels.

It's been interesting year, hasn't it?  I thought I'd be writing blogs all summer long, but back in May when I stopped blogging, it was because of all that was going on in Minneapolis - George Floyd, the protests, the riots. I remember waking up one morning and when I checked the weather, instead of partly cloudy, sunny, clear, or even rainy, it said SMOKE.  There were fires, looting and citywide vandalism.  

Many of my friends and acquaintances were either out protesting, cleaning up the damage, collecting food donations, or trying to keep their homes and neighborhoods safe by chasing off looters or ferreting out gasoline soaked logs and rocks stashed in the bushes. 

Posting my everyday activities and insights seemed petty.  I also didn't feel like writing a blog named "Minneapple" when I wasn't even sure if I still liked living here.  

While I admire what others are doing and some of the much needed awareness of injustices that it brings, I am not an activist.  I am also not a good Samaritan.  I'm neither conservative nor liberal.  What I am is a critical thinker who can see many sides of an issue, all the variables, pros and cons of differing viewpoints.  I feel things deeply, and I am often easily overwhelmed.  This doesn't mean I don't have opinions; I just don't share them as freely or readily as others do.  I didn't feel like writing because each time I figured out something to say or some type of response, the situation changed and something new happened. 

Instead, I edited my fiction manuscript for the umpteenth time, sent out sympathy cards to those whose loved ones had died from Covid or other things, listened with sincerity to my coaching client who was dealing with racist graffiti on the sidewalk of her suburban home, and tried to find ways to encourage and validate more than a few individuals dealing with depression.

Coffee snob updates, deck garden ponderings, my new routines seemed petty, but this is what I do—offer a unique and sometimes quirky perspective, find connections, community and common ground, but also seek God's hope and peace in the seemingly insignificant things and the tiny victories.  What I do, what many of us do, is not big or newsworthy, but we do make a difference.  Glue holds things together.  Glue is also sometimes invisible.  I also have my own sources of glue for which I am very grateful. 

The UNTIED STATES OF ANEMIA will go on, at least for a while yet.  Maybe indefinitely.

But on the real currency:  E Pluribus Unum, (Out of many, one), which is another way of saying, "We're all in this together."

Friday, May 1, 2020

This is the Day....

When the alarm on my iPod rings each morning, I have it programmed with the message, "This is the day the Lord has made."  (Or actually, it reads as "This is the day th... now slide to view")

Lately, I've been getting up just as the sun rises because it's such a glorious concert and it's different every single day and each person experiences their own unique perspective of it.

During this time I've been able to connect with family members and friends that I don't usually have time to see or talk to.

I'm grateful for the healthcare and emergency workers who are risking their lives to help others during this pandemic.  I pray for them and those who are in sheltered-at-home situations that are far from home or that are abusive or dangerous. I pray also for those who are dealing with grief and the loss of loved ones.

I found something that I wrote in a blog from 3/7/2017.  The subject matter was different, but it applies for today:
"The slice I can offer you today is to focus on what you still have and what you hold dear. Hang onto it, be grateful for it, but be willing to let go of it if you need to because, really, nothing belongs to us in the first place.  Take nothing for granted - your relationships, your time, resources, the air you breathe, privacy, safety, the health you have that earns your living - because one day, it may no longer be available to you."
Take a moment to turn your volume way up as you watch this video so you can catch all the sounds included in this particular display.  (Taking back the corona.)

"This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Please, Lord, please save us. Please Lord, please give us success."  Ps. 118:24-25

I am thankful for YOU.  Be blessed, stay safe and happy May Day.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Slices of Toilet Paper

Our own toilet paper saga:

Several weeks ago, just before the toilet paper shelves became vacant, we were at the Target right at the time when they were bringing a pallet of a few remaining packages into the aisle. There were about five families waiting to take the last of it. We took one of them, an 18-roll pack, and figured we'd be set for a while.

About a week later we were looking around for that package.

"Do you know where it is?"

"Did we leave it in the car?"

"Is it in the basement?"

We checked the sales slip and concluded that we truly had purchased that pack of TP, but probably left it on the cart. Oh, golly, someone got lucky that day when they found our TP!

My next mission became very clear, and I spent a rainy afternoon traveling to three Targets and a Menards in search of the precious stuff.  I finally found some at the Midway Target, and at that time there were a few 6-packs left, but they were rationing them.

(I stalked a guy at Menards who had a tall 12-pack in his cart and finally asked him where he found this precious commodity.  "Upstairs in the middle aisle, but this was the last one."  The only reason he had it was because it was restocked by one of the clerks who confiscated it from a customer trying to buy one too many rolls.)

So, I went home with my 6-pack but knew that it wouldn't be long before I was out on the hunt again.

It would be nice if the story ended there, but it didn't.  One morning I came into the bathroom and found claw marks on one of our precious rolls. My three-year-old, 17-pound, Maine Coon tabby had decided to become kittenish!  I've had this cat for 2 1/2 years and he's never gone after the TP before.  Why now?  What's up with that?

"You are an adult cat," I reminded him. "You have a nice scratching post and plenty of toys to play with.  You don't go need to use the toilet paper!"

Reluctantly I extracted and discarded a few layers from the roll and then stored the roll with the rest in a metal canister.

(sigh) You just can't reason with a cat.

At home, on the throne

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Slices of Life and Covid-19

I thought I'd add my voice to the song-and-dance mashup of all that's happening in the world, but honestly, I've tried many times to write this blog, and there's not much more I can say about the Corona virus and its impact on daily life that hasn't already been said.

Or maybe there's too much to say, too many tangled threads, scattered thoughts, so that it's hard to grasp, focus, make sense of it all. There's also the risk that anything I write about my personal experiences could be taken the wrong way or sound insincere to people who are in different, possibly more vulnerable situations. But I need to share something of my disjointed thoughts, so here goes...

For me, life hasn't been all that much different. And yet, it is.

I was surprised how quickly I kicked into survival mode. I grew up in a large family, raised by Depression-era parents whose main concerns were about gathering supplies, staying close to home, using what you have on hand, staying healthy and making sure you get enough to eat. So, when my spouse and I went to Target a few weeks ago and saw that the bananas, frozen food and toilet paper were gone, (It shifts every week - now it's the spices and the frozen treats) I didn't panic. After all, there are still plenty of options in this big city. I know many of them because of how much time I spend hunting for allergy-free options each week.  If we need bananas, somebody will have them or we'll eat something else.

Hyperawareness. Also from large family experiences. In a small house with fourteen people if someone gets sick, you all are exposed.  Eventually, you get used to each other's germs, but then you go out in public and encounter new germs, so you deal with this. Doesn't everybody wash their hands thoroughly, push through public restroom doors without touching the handles, keep their distance from others who are coughing or sneezing?

Hyperawareness and being in survival mode is a creative yet exhausting way to live, but what's different now is that I don't feel like I'm the only one.

I work from home among household distractions. The lines blur between life and work, entertainment and "research." Now, everyone else knows what this is like.

Tutoring has been the easiest transition.  I've been meeting with my regular students on FaceTime or Zoom and in some ways the opportunities have increased.

I was excited to see some of my favorite dance classes go online - ballet, jazz and modern. I've also been adding other things such as yoga, hip hop, Gyrokinesis and African Dance. I can take dance from instructors in New York, LA or Chicago.  I dance in my den with my computer hooked up to our larger TV screen. I was not excited by how hard it is to avoid kicking over the wastebasket, to pirouette or sutenu on carpet. You have to pretend you have more space than you do, stretch your limbs, but don't hurt yourself.  It's also an interesting challenge because you can't sneak a look at your fellow dancers if you get lost, and you constantly feel like you're doing a solo a few feet from your instructor's face. (!!)

I truly believe God is in control. I look forward to seeing what comes of all of this, how it is part of his plan, but I don't always enjoy every step of the journey.

I had this fantasy that God would take the world, like a marble or even a tiny piece of gravel in the cradle of his hand and make it new and clean, shining it up, polishing it or dipping it into a gentle disinfecting solution, either with a drenching rain or a day of intense heat to burn off the disease and make everything new.
"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." Heb. 16:9
I've asked myself what can I offer during this time. I've seen a lot of creativity--people talk about making masks, gratitude, self care tips, nature walks, online video offerings. I've had some grandiose ideas about expanding my skills virtually in writing, dance and tutoring; however, trying to make this happen can be exhausting as well.

For right now I'm going to offer something less tangible. Perspective. And this reminds me of a scene from the movie Ratatouille where Anton Ego, the hard-nosed food critic comes to dine at the French restaurant. The waiter asks what he'd like, and Anton closes his menu and says,
"You know what I'm craving?  A little perspective. That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?"
Spoiler alert ahead (although, hopefully most people have seen the movie):

So Remy, who is a rat and a talented chef, gives Anton an artistic, plated version of ratatouille, a classic comfort food, something to remind him of his mother, his childhood home, love and security.

Take some time to enjoy this scene.

Thanks for reading. Happy Spring!  Be well and stay safe.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Embracing Winter Part 3 - Snowshoeing

What a wonderfully tolerable February (so far)!  I've been able to have several opportunities to embrace winter without freezing my face, toes or fingers and I hope I can continue my excursions for a few more weeks until mid-March.

I've been wanting to try snowshoeing for a few years now and when my neighbor friend found an event at Mississippi Gateway Regional Park, we decided to go. You can't beat the price - $5.00 per person.

There were about 25 of us, and half had not snowshoed before.  At first the shoes were a little tricky to get on. You had to get them around the toes and heels of your boots and then yank on the straps to tighten them and lock in the clasps. Even in 20 degree weather, the fingers got numb. 

 The views were great. We traipsed across the marsh, found footprints from mice and otter and other small animals, and disrupted several ripe cattails. (I love squeezing them so they spread out like a fleece blanket on your glove and then scatter beige fluff into the air.  It annoys those nearby, but it's so hard to resist!)

We also had some nice views along the river.  I've been a river rat my whole life (my family owned a houseboat for 30 years) and it was very satisfying to be able to visit the Mississippi in a different part of the city at this time of the year.

Would I do it again?  Yes.  It's a nice alternative to walking, but also gives you a way to travel over deep snow without sinking in.  For a first time trek, this location was ideal, but there are several places that offer snowshoeing rentals. Check here for some of the larger parks and facilities.