Spring Is In The Hair

February 28, 2011 at 12:32 am Leave a comment

I saw my breath at 7:20 a.m. a few days ago. No biggie. Except that I was on our enclosed two-and-a-half-season porch doing pre-breakfast Tae Bo at the time. It’s my Rocky Balboa thing – stocking cap, knit gloves, hooded sweatshirt, determined expression; the whole bit. 

But oh, the week we had leading up to that. Teeter-tottering temperatures had taken us from 4° to 44° in a mere three days, and by day four, I was finishing my midday walk in shirt sleeves, enjoying a 54° high – in both senses of the phrase.  

This week, the reverse: We’re in the 30s for part one and dropping to below-average temps for part two. Again, no biggie. Once we hit late February in these parts, it’s a waxed toboggan ride downhill to spring from here. You can take a lot of snow, which we have, and dipping temps, which we have, once you know ‘Ol Punxsutawney Phil has done his thing. Even adjusting Phil’s prognostications based on geographics, we can figure eight weeks from February 2nd as a benchmark. Truly no biggie. I am already dreaming of bidding au revoir to the dreadful phenomenon known as “hat hair.” 

And bless that mother-in-law of mine. She called me in to the lower-level grandma apartment this afternoon to see her miniature jonquil garden in full bloom on the bay window sill. That kind of event helps reassure us of what’s in store. Gardening books are climbing onto best seller lists all around the Midwest about now, as eager green-thumbed types draw a breath of hope from such indoor miracles as those tiny golden daffodil blooms. 

I myself have two black thumbs. My impatience for spring has more to do with a craving for prolonged daylight and the joy of seeing God’s handiwork blossom in all of the untended natural areas around us. Even a field of dandelions in the local park can be a lovely thing, since no one expects those grounds to be forced into a state of perfection. A sprinkling of sunshine-yellow in a sea of emerald. Color, at last, after this long monochrome stretch. And no inept planting efforts required on my part.  

But my spring yearnings also tie into being bored limp as a disgruntled teenager with the same Sunday roast beef dinners, pork and sweet potato stews, and mounds of roasted root vegetables that had me salivating last October. While more reasonable folks fantasize about the rainbow of colors they will soon sow all around them in the moist, warm April soil, I am scouring every source available for dishes that shriek out for spring veggies and summer fruits and light protein sources. 

So phooey on the weatherman’s predictions. This week I’m in dress rehearsal mode, gathering up any recipe that hints of vernal renewal and warm-weather ingredients. This trawling expedition nets me a random but enticing assortment: Orzo and Feta Salad and Tuna Waldorf Salad from commercial sources, and my versions of Aloo Tikki and Tilapia Hash as demonstrated by local chefs. 

And for dessert, how about one of the reduced-guilt indulgences recently published on Prevention.com from The Flat belly Diet (or as my brother-in-law calls it, The Fat Belly Diet; works either way, really). I like the sound of a Chocolate Quesadilla for a light, sweet post-meal treat.  

Then maybe I’ll make a March appointment with my hairdresser. A new spring ‘do to go with my new spring ‘tude. Get thee behind me, hat hair!

 The orzo and feta salad was inspired by a recipe on my container of President Fat Free Crumbled Feta, and it fits the busy-day, no-time-to-fuss requirements very nicely: 

12 oz. pkg. orzo                                                                       6 oz. plain feta crumbles

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes                                           1 C pitted Kalamata olives

½ C chopped fresh parsley                                                   2 TB olive oil

2 TB lemon juice                                                                     salt and pepper 

Add orzo to three cups boiling water (or broth), reduce heat to medium high, and simmer briskly for eight minutes; drain. Halve the tomatoes and olives. Toss slightly cooled orzo with oil and lemon juice in a large bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. (I like to add a pinch of garlic powder, too.) Fold in tomatoes, olives, and parsley. Best served at room temperature, in a sun-filled corner of your eating area. Serves four as a side dish. 

The apple, celery, walnut tuna salad is literally “as seen on television,” – a television commercial, to be exact. I lighten my approach by blending plain yogurt with miracle whip and a spritz of lemon juice:  

¼ C Miracle Whip                                                        ¼ C nonfat plain yogurt

1 TB lemon juice                                                           3 cans water packed tuna

2 med apples, cored and chopped                             1 C chopped celery

¼ C currants (optional)                                                3/4 C coarse-chopped walnuts

2 lge carrots, coarse-grated                                         mixed greens  

Whisk together Miracle Whip, yogurt, and lemon juice in a small bowl. (Add a pinch of onion powder or paprika, if desired.) In a large bowl, toss the drained tuna, crumbling it into largish chunks, then fold in the apples, celery, currants, grated carrot, and walnuts. Pour blended dressing over all and toss gently. Serve on a bed of mixed greens to 4-6. For a picnic – you remember those – pack lettuce separately from salad along with some crusty whole grain split rolls, and add a slice of baby Swiss to each roll before piling on the greens and tuna salad.  

Chef Raghavan Iyer recently introduced Twin Cities viewers to Tikkis savory tidbits originating in northwestern India. In this application, they translate to small croquettes constructed of potatoes and peas. I refuse to use cilantro leaves because I think they have a tinny taste, so I substitute coriander. I also reduce the amount of both frying oil and sugar, which are almost always excessive:

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes                                  1 tsp ground coriander
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped                        2-4 fresh serrano chiles                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
4 slices fresh ginger, 2½” x 1” x 1/8”                        1 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 C frozen green peas                                              4 slices firm white bread

4 TB canola oil, divided                                              1 tsp cumin seeds
1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes w juice                        1 TB firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp cayenne pepper                                                  1 tsp coarse kosher or sea salt

Peel, cube, and boil potatoes until tender. In a large bowl mash potatoes with ground coriander. Process the onion, chiles, and ginger in a food processor until minced. Add to potatoes along with the salt and green peas.

Lay bread in a bowl and drizzle on enough water to soak; wring out each slice leaving it moist but still firm. Work bread into potato mixture. Using greased palms shape a heaping tablespoon of the dough into a tight round ball; flatten each ball into a 2” x 1/4” thick patty and place on a paper towel-lined cookie sheet.

Heat one tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook eight croquettes at a time for about five minutes, or until golden brown underneath. Flip and cook for another five minutes. Remove croquettes to the lined cookie sheet to drain. Repeat for two more batches.

To make the sauce, heat the remaining one tablespoon of oil (use less if you like, say one or two teaspoons) in a small saucepan over medium-high heat then add the cumin seeds and cook until brown and fragrant, about ten seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, brown sugar, pepper, and salt. Bring to a boil, lower to medium, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and tomatoes soften – about five minutes. Cool for five minutes, transfer to a blender, and puree until smooth.  

The fish chowder cum hash comes from local chef Mary Jane Miller, and was originally demonstrated using flounder. My adaptation reflects the facts that I like to lighten things up, and that I am a tilapia freak with an aversion to the very concept of “fish stock.” But many thanks to this creative lady for the lovely idea of a bright touch of fresh asparagus and shimmering red pepper. To serve two, gather:  

½ slice bacon, chopped                                               2 TB chopped onion                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     1 large Yukon gold potato, diced                               1 jalapeño, chopped
½ C frozen sweet corn                                                  ½ – 1C chicken broth
4 spears asparagus, in 1” slices                                  1 med sweet red pepper, chopped
2 tilapia fillets                                                                 salt and pepper

In a large skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Toss in the onion and stir fry for a few minutes to soften. Add the potato, jalapeño, corn, and broth. Cover and cook three-four minutes, or until potato is tender. Stir in the red pepper and then sprinkle in the asparagus and carefully lay the fish fillets on top. Salt and pepper to taste and add additional broth as needed. Re-cover and cook four to five minutes longer, or until fish flakes easily.

And for the tortilla dulce, you’ll need:

1-8” whole wheat tortilla                                             ¼ C chopped semi sweet chocolate chips                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 1 TB unsweetened dried cranberries

Spray a medium skillet lightly with canola oil, lay tortilla in pan, and toast one minute on each side. Sprinkle chips and cranberries on half of exposed side and fold other side over filling. Flip and cook 30 seconds longer, or until chocolate begins to melt. Cut into four slices. I’d like to try this with sliced strawberries for a preseason taste of summer, but I am pretty darned sure I’ll be eating all four of those mini wedges, no matter which fruit I use for filler.

Meanwhile, there is still a chill in the air as I ponder creative uses for the remnants of that mundane Sunday dinner. I settle on a homemade version of the old Taco Bell Border Bowl, building up layers of leftover wild rice pilaf with celery and water chestnuts, fat-free refried beans, and shredded roast beef moistened with pan juices or beef broth. Zapped to piping hot in a covered ceramic bowl, then tossed with lots of chopped white onion and cubed tomato, this concoction turns out to be excellent fuel for that sled ride through to winter’s end.

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And The Winner Is… Leg Lifts and Legacies

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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