July 2012


Happy Monday! Busy weekend again with more home improvements.  But before I start showing those pictures, I want to share a recipe featuring our Flavor of the Week: basil!

This is one of those herbs that’s supposed to be really easy to grow, but I’ve always had trouble growing them in pots. Either the soil was filled with bugs, slugs destroyed them, or it was just too hot for their roots. I used to always buy huge bunches for $2 in Chinatown and they had both Thai and sweet basil varieties. The Thai basil has darker, thicker leaves and a more “peppery” taste. I made pesto with both varieties, and couldn’t taste much of a difference.

Here is a quick n’ easy no-cook topping for your pasta that can be kept in the fridge for a few days. If you don’t have enough basil, cut it with some baby spinach (they’re milder than the grown-up kind!) Add some cream and warm up before adding cooked pasta, or serve over chicken. Any way you slice it, it’s delicious!


Add more or less basil, if you like (less here.) The lemony creaminess of the pine nuts can shine on its own.

Lemony Pine Nut Pesto
The lemon combines perfectly with pine nuts, but feel free to use pecans, walnuts or cashews. Inspired by Pine Nut Cream recipe from Going Raw by Judita Wignall.

3/4 cups raw soaked pine nuts or other raw soaked nuts
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, mashed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup basil leaves, torn
1 cup baby spinach leaves, torn

Add nuts to a food processor or blender and pulse or blend on medium-low until pasty but coarsely chopped. Add lemon juice, garlic, salt, and oil. Blend for a few seconds until combined. Blend in basil and spinach, turning off machine and scraping down sides when necessary. Enjoy on pasta, as a veggie dip, or sandwich spread.

On to home renovations!

KITCHEN: I primed more of the kitchen, as well as the cat’s litter box:

Primed cabinets on the right and wall on the left. And there’s our new fridge!

The cabinet doors went from red to white on the cats’ litter box, Trixie was the first to try it out.

Put a new pattern on the display cabinet:

The original burlap looked dull against a white wall so I replaced it with some fun polka-dots!

Primed the formerly red plant stand and covered the glass top with the same fabric used in the cabinet.

YARD WORK:

The other morning Trixie and I noticed this beautiful purple hibiscus in the back yard:

Looks healthy, but I think it would like more sun.

I’ve seen tons of these plants in red, white, and yellow at Lowe’s but didn’t think anyone would buy one to plant outside…won’t the freezing temperatures kill it? Apparently not!

Purple hibiscus

There were some other trees crowding it out and blocking the sun so I asked my husband to clear the area around it. Now there’s plenty of sunlight to reach the hibiscus, and looking at the newly cleared space is giving me some outdoor ideas…

The whole area behind the hibiscus is now cleared. It would make a lovely sitting area.

I am not much of a flower-planting person but after seeing this hibiscus, I think I’d want to add more color to this part of the back yard…and maybe add an herb garden!

It’s the last WIAW that focuses on Fun, Food and Fitness, but after a few weeks it should become habit, right? It certainly seems to be going in that direction, and I can only thank Jenn at Peas and Crayons for this month’s fit-focused theme!

In the way of fitness, I’ve been getting back to a regular schedule with Jazzercise DVDs as well as these awesome workouts:

Last December I was looking for some ballet-inspired workouts (never danced, but I took ballet classes in college and loved it!) and came across Ballet Body by Leah Sarago. The workouts are challenging, to say the least, and uses body-weight resistance with ballet, pilates, yoga and other dance-inspired principles to strengthen and elongate your muscles. Leah focuses on form, so the moves look beautiful and graceful but it takes a LOT of strength and control. Sound like something you’d like to try? Visit Leah Sarago Fitness to find out more about these workouts, see a video trailer, and learn more about Leah!

I exercise in the mornings and have a cup or two of coffee before I start. Post-workout breakfasts have been looking something like this:

Refreshing and healthy!

This protein shake & fruit salad provides you with lots of vitamins, minerals, and protein, plus it’s low in fat. Also, if you’re not big on drinking your 6-8 glasses of water per day, this will definitely count towards it (about 14 ounces in the shake, plus some from the fruits…hey, that’s about two glasses right there!)

Lunch was tuna-tofu salad seasoned with Spike (flavorful no-sodium spice blend):

Those flax chips are nice and crunchy but to be honest, I didn’t like the tuna mix that much…Bumble Bee Tuna is pretty mushy.

For an afternoon snack, I had a couple of Carrot, Almond and Raisin Energy Bites from a recipe posted by Baking Serendipity (please go to her website to view her awesome recipe and photos!) I love the combination of freshly grated carrots and peanut butter, though I did substitute almond butter to suit my husband’s taste. I like the chewy texture of the oats right after I mixed them, and if you let them sit overnight they get softer from the moisture, but are still delicious:

You can pop this whole thing in your mouth!

Dinner was a quick mish-mash of crumbled sausage, mushrooms, onions, kale, tomatoes & carrots. I also cubed up some “soft” tofu (package says ‘soft’ but texture was pretty firm) with our first home-grown, prematurely picked cucumber and seasoned it with shoyu, ginger, and sesame oil:

Tofu, cucumber, shoyu (soy sauce,) fresh grated ginger and sesame oil. I was more anxious to eat that than the mish-mash. :)

All the food pics were taken with my LG phone camera but I miss my old phone which had a much better camera (Samsung Solstice.) I’ve been busy with other things and haven’t been devoting as much time to nicer food pics this week, but I assure you they will be back!

I know we don’t always lug around our SLRs, so what kind of phone do you have? Does it take great pics? What do you like/don’t like about your phone camera? (I can’t shut off the noise of my ‘shutter’…way too obvious when I’m taking a photo of restaurant food!)

Normally Mondays are when  I share a new Flavor of the Week, but this weekend was once again filled with home renovation projects that took up more of my time than I anticipated, so it’ll be postponed until next Monday. Today’s post is a mix of home renovations and a very fun and frolicky episode of 23 Paws, sponsored by Cinnamon at Eat, Pray, Tri! I’ll start with the serious business of home renovations first. :)

It all began on Saturday with my husband opening up a wall panel out on the porch and discovering an infestation of these picnic crashers in a corner post which has supported this lovely house for over 200 years (I made the picture small in case anyone doesn’t care for bugs/insect pics, click on the picture to see a larger view):

Carpenter ants

Carpenter ants! The closet on the porch had some water damage. After opening up the wall panel, we realized how extensive the damage really was. These carpenter ants are eating away at one of the main posts of the house. It seems their nest has been exposed, but we’re definitely having an exterminator come over to get rid of them once and for all!

After seeing this damage, I got really upset…more like mad…more like pee-ohed! I felt invaded by these tiny creatures, and the added expense getting rid of them just pushes back other projects we had planned. There was nothing I could do about these ants, or about the rotting pillar, and I needed to take my anger out on something…ah, the kitchen floor!

Before: cracked and water-damaged vinyl tiles made the kitchen floor uneven, dirty, and our chairs always got caught up on the curled-up edges of the tile.

After: the bare wood floors are nice and even, no water damage.

It took about 2 1/2 hours to remove all the nailed-down sheets of tile, and the thousands of nails that were used excessively to hold them down. The next day, my plan was to move out the stove and a section of cabinets to remove the rest of the old tile. The cabinets were nailed to the floor as well as the walls, but my husband and I were able to pry and saw it free! After that, I decided to start painting.

Still had enough anger the next day to prime some of the cabinets, part of the wall, and spray paint the handles shiny silver.

All in all, it took about 5 1/2 hours to pry the cabinets from the floor & walls, get rid of the tile underneath, and paint just this section. Still lots more to go, and if it weren’t for the discover of the ants, I would have never been motivated to get started. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it?

Okay, now to the fun part of today’s post: it’s 23 Paws, hosted by Cinnamon at Eat, Pray, Tri23 Paws is a monthly meet-up for bloggers showing off pictures of their favorite animals in action. Since the first half of my post was all serious and a bit stressful, here are some not-so-serious and very relaxing photos of my cats enjoying their favorite plant: catnip!

Here’s Sammy hogging the catnip shortly after I planted it. I thought that plant wouldn’t make it through the week, but it’s pretty resilient.

That catnip plant that used to be picked on grew like the weed that it is! Sammy is going nuts over a freshly crumpled leaf. That’s his drool that he’s lying in. :)

Awww…Wolfie had a whole branch of catnip and Trixie cautiously looked on.

Trixie, unabashedly giving herself to the allure of the catnip.

Do you have any catnip for your cats? How do they react to it? :D

Recipe ReDux

This month’s Recipe Redux theme is “Beat the summer heat with no-cook meals!” Two weeks of hot and humid weather made it easy to be creative with cold foods, and using fresh, raw ingredients only made it better. I was already planning on making a watermelon soup for this month’s recipe redux. But it needed more than just the refreshing watermelon. I needed it to hit your taste buds in all the right ways, and I think I found just the way to do it.

This cold soup is incredibly refreshing on a hot day. The tartness of lime, the bit of heat from cayenne, and the fresh greens make this a delicious and nutritious soup or on-the-go drink. To serve it up with a color on each side, I used a piece of foil to make a ‘divider’ and poured the chilled soups on either side, then carefully removed the foil. It won’t be a perfect pattern, but have fun with it!

Refreshing and colorful, this Green Watermelon Soup is packed with vitamins and minerals.

Green Watermelon Soup

Watermelon puree:
3 cups chopped watermelon
1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons agave (if your watermelon is super sweet, you may not need any)
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch salt
1 tablespoon vodka (keeps it from getting too icy)

Add everything to blender and combine on low speed. Transfer to shallow bowl. Chill for 1 hour or until slushy with ice forming around the edges.

Green puree:

2 cups kale, baby spinach, or combination of both, loosely packed (note: you could also use wheat grass if you like, just omit/reduce agave)
1/2 cup slushy watermelon puree
1/4  large apple, finely chopped or grated
1/2 lime, membrane removed & chopped
1 teaspoon agave
pinch salt
3 ice cubes, crushed

Add everything to blender, combine on medium speed to crush ice, about 10 seconds, then combine on low for another 20 seconds or well-combined.

Assembly: transfer watermelon slush to a measuring cup and stir to break up icy chunks so you can pour easily. Tear a small sheet of foil to use as a ‘divider’ to be placed in the middle of your soup bowl. Simultaneously pour red and green mixtures into bowl on either side of foil. Enjoy immediately.



As fun as it is to load up my Pinterest board with ideas for a dream kitchen or dream outdoor kitchen, I realized (after watching my husband do all the dirty work,) that nothing is more important than taking care of the basics: electrical and plumbing.

Last Sunday he started ripping out parts of our kitchen floor to replace some old pipes and wiring that ran from the basement to the kitchen. He installed a new line and electrical for our washer and dryer that’s now located outside on the porch:

You can see the box he installed behind the washer. All new pipes & electric.

It was pretty difficult because he couldn’t access the pipes from under the kitchen floor; there is the stone foundation directly underneath so he had to rerun the lines the same way as the old ones by going horizontal about 10-12 feet amidst the laid-up foundation and wooden beams supporting the kitchen. It wasn’t a straight shot and the space was pretty snug, but thanks to fish tape and an assistant with smallish hands, he was able to get the new pipes and electrical through.

Then the next difficult part was soldering elbow pieces to fit the small spaces, then to solder them together in tight spots, like under the sink and within the wall. After he made sure the water lines were leakproof, he moved out the washer and we now have an empty corner in the kitchen for our future bathroom!

Not sure how we’ll do it, but we’ll get a bathroom down here.

With all the stuff going on inside, the garden outside is growing. Despite my parents raising tomatoes and roses commercially, I didn’t inherit their green thumb. This is my first time having a garden and I love seeing new growth every day:

cucumber tendril

I planted chamomile where I could see the flowers from the kitchen.

Sammy by the squash. He is the most camera shy out of the three cats.

A gray and rainy morning giving our plants a good soak.

Salamander enjoying the much needed rain.

I hope your Friday morning is off to a good start. I’ll be back tomorrow with a light lunch recipe for this month’s Recipe Redux!

Happy Wednesday! Hope everyone is staying fit and healthy as we continue with “Fun, Food and Fitness” sponsored by the very fit Jenn at Peas and Crayons!

Most of my meals could be considered on the healthy side, but there’s always room for improvement. I tried increasing my raw food consumption, but in effect I also increased calorie intake by eating too many nuts and soaked grain products! So right now I’m trying to figure out what are some good sources of lean (uncooked) protein. Well, yogurt has been working out so far, so I’m going to stick with that. Most other raw sources are high in fat, so if any one has suggestions, please let me know!

The other morning I was very, very tired, even though I slept earlier than usual (because  I was so tired!)  I didn’t do my morning exercise routine, but this morning I felt better so did my exercises, tried doing a hill run (puff, puff!) and came back to a watermelon lassi for breakfast:

Added 1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder and juice from 1/4 lime (I like it tart.) A few raspberries made it look pretty.

Lunch was a big bowl of cold watermelon soup…with a twist! I am saving the recipe for Saturday’s Recipe Redux, but I can tell you it was just what I needed for that hot, humid day. I can wait to share the recipe, but I can’t wait to share a teeny portion of my lunch:

green stuff??

Come back on Saturday to view the recipe and the rest of the photo!

I let my husband try some of the watermelon soup as a starter for dinner. He couldn’t eat/drink the whole bowl, I think the flavors were too strong? Green? Piquant? As our main course I made panko-crusted tuna tofu patties: 2 cans water-packed tuna, 1/2 cup medium or firm tofu (more, if you like,) 1 tablespoon white miso paste, 1 teaspoon Spike seasoning, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup shredded carrrots and a  dash of pepper. Squish tofu and tuna together with your hand, mixing well. Stir in rest of the ingredients. Divide into 8 balls, smash lightly to make patties (don’t make too flat, they’ll fall apart.) Coat in mixture of 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Coat with panko, crushed corn flakes or crushed corn chips. Fry in hot oil on medium heat until browned on both sides. Serve on buns, with rice, or on a salad:

You can see the big shreds of carrot in the mashed patty on the bottom and the delicious crispy panko coating on the top patty.

My friend Suzi asked me about watermelon sorbets, which I never made before (no ice cream machine.) I tried making one this morning, but since I didn’t add a lot of sugar, the texture just wasn’t the same. Xanthan gum helped to thicken it up and the vodka kept it from turning into a bowl-shaped block of ice, so rather than forcing it to become something else, I just ended up calling it a slushie.

It may look a bit underwhelming, but I urge you to try this recipe. The addition of cayenne and salt amplifies the lime and rounds out the sweet-sour-salty combination nicely. It’s not spicy and if you want to share with kids, simply omit the vodka.

Refreshing Watermelon Slushie
makes about 12 ounces 

1 1/2 cups mashed watermelon, about 2 cups chopped
zest and juice of 1/2 lime (zest first then cut lime in half)
1 tablespoon natural sweetener such as honey or agave (I used the hollowed-out lime rind as my ‘measuring cup’)
1 tablespoon vodka (used the same ‘measuring cup’ as above)
dash of cayenne
incredibly tiny pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum (helps thicken it up)

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a blender and mix on low speed until combined. Pour into a shallow bowl or dish and freeze for 1 hour. Stir, breaking up frozen chunks around the edges, and freeze for 2 hours more for slushy consistency.

The lime makes it refreshing, but cayenne and salt adds another dimension to this refreshing, low-sugar version of a classic summertime treat.

Going back to what I was talking about earlier in the post: what are some good sources of protein that are low in fat? How about veggie sources? How do you like to prepare them? I’m looking for more sources, so any suggestions would be most helpful!

If ever there was a fruit that says picnics, barbecues, and summertime fun all in one word, then that would be our Flavor of the Week…watermelon!

Even kitties need some refreshment! Image source: http://aboutalex.blogspot.com

There’s nothing like chewing into a big, fat slice of this summertime treat, both hands holding a two-inch thick piece with juices running down your arms as you challenge your sister to see who can spit seeds the farthest across the driveway.

There’s nothing like a refreshing slice on a hot summer day, but if you care to enjoy this vitamin-rich fruit, try it in a smoothie for a light and refreshing breakfast or snack (if you like pineapple smoothies, here is last week’s post with a pretty pineapple lassi photo.)

Watermelon lassi with protein powder boost

Watermelon Lassi – Combine 6oz. Greek-style nonfat yogurt and 2 cups watermelon chunks in a blender. Boost: add 1/3 scoop vanilla protein powder. Makes 20 ounces of deliciousness with approximately 210 calories and zero fat.

For something more substantial, just add granola and a handful of blueberries:

Watermelon-Berry Breakfast Bowl – In a cereal bowl, add 6 oz nonfat yogurt, 1/2 cup chopped watermelon and 1/4 cup fresh blueberries. Garnish with a tablespoon more of yogurt and top with a sprinkle of granola and chopped mint.

In the following weeks you will see more posts of healthier meals and fewer baked goodies. I know, it makes me a little sad to not enjoy the comforts of homemade cakes and cookies for the time being, but I am trying out a new exercise and meal plan to get stronger, have more energy and cut out extra fat in my diet as much as possible. It will be a nice change, and a challenge for me physically as I try out new exercises, but that’s what makes it more fun!

Here’s an excerpt from the Ayurvedic cookbook, Eat, Taste, Heal. In the chapter “Food as Medicine,” where they talk about the  Essential Ingredients for Health. It’s motivating and inspiring, and reminds us of our uniqueness:

Exercise Your Body and Mind. Physical activity keeps the inner motors of the body running with ease. Through exercising in accordance wit your underlying make-up, you have the ability to keep your body young and vibrant…in order to keep your mind clear and bright, also remember to exercise (your) inner talents and passions…if you regularly exercise your body and mind, you will help exorcise all imbalances and illness.”

Have a great week, everyone!

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