NEW RECIPE! Potato, Carrot and Leek Soup

carrots
Fresh in-season carrots are so sweet and delicious.
leeks
Don’t be afraid of leeks. They are awesome.

I picked up my CSA box yesterday that contained two fresh leeks and a bunch of carrots.  Because it’s late August, my immediate thought was “I’ve got to make some soup!”.  There was a time when I was petrified of leeks.  Like, I had absolutely no idea how to use them or prepare them.  I found myself intimidated.  But I decided several years ago to just get over myself and once I went leek, I never went back.  So, I got home from the farmer’s market, found a bag of potatoes in the pantry, and got to work. It was lunchtime and we were hungry so I didn’t stop to snap photos.  Trust me, though, this is a soup you’ll want to make over and over again.  Note: When leeks are unavailable, substitute any mild sweet onion such as Vidalia.

This soup is hearty without being overly heavy.  It smells fantastic while cooking. My husband, who was outside doing yard work, kept catching whiffs of it as he walked by the back door and couldn’t resist asking for a sample before it was done. You will find yourself making this a go-to soup all fall and winter long.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2-3 Tablespooons butter (or olive oil if you want a vegan soup)
  • 2 large leeks, washed well and chopped, white and light green parts
  • 5 celery stalks, chopped
  • 8 cups vegetable broth (I prefer using Better Than Bouillon)
  • 6 large potatoes, scrubbed and quartered (I leave mine unpeeled, and you can use essentially any kind.  Russets might get mushy if you care about that kind of thing.)
  • 8 carrots, chopped (again, I wash mine well and leave unpeeled)
  • 1 squash, any size, quartered (you can omit this, but I happen to have a lot from the CSA box to use)
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt, depending on the salt content of your broth/bouillon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • Pepper to desired taste (generally 1/4-1/2 teaspoon)
METHOD
  • Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium-high heat.  When the pot is nice and hot, cook leeks and celery until softened, about 5 minutes.  Make sure not to burn the vegetables.
  • Add the broth, potatoes, carrots, squash,  garlic, salt (if desired) and bay leaf
  • Bring the soup to a boil and cook until potatoes and carrots are fork-soft (about 20 minutes).  Remove bay leaf.
  • Using an immersion blender, blend soup in short bursts until you have a mixture of smooth and chunky soup.  If you prefer totally creamy soup, use the blender until everything is combined.  We prefer more of a “stew” consistency.  (If you don’t have an immersion blender, a counter top blender would also work.)
  • Return the soup to the burner and simmer on low another 20 minutes or so to let the flavors come together completely.

This soup makes fantastic leftovers.  The soup with thicken the longer it sits.  If you want a thinner soup, just add some water or other liquid when you reheat.

Run, jog, slog

Last night, after dinner, I admitted that I had put off my training run all day.  I had gotten caught up in fun summer activities with my 10 year old and her friend. So, instead of putting on my pajamas and sitting on the couch with my husband for an episode of Orange Is The New Black, I had to put on my running clothes and get out there.  The positives: it was a nice, cool night.  There’s a beautiful lake nearby. I would be inspired by everyone else who would inevitably also be out there running.  The negatives: RUNNING.   I’m not a natural runner.  Even at my most fit, as a high school athlete, I hated running.  I do it now because it keeps me challenged. I love that even after months of not running, I can revisit it anytime I want. It’s free.  It’s empowering. I’m never alone out there.

Three years ago I heard about a new race series called Esprit De She.  It’s a series just for women and it’s open to ALL women, runners, joggers, sloggers and walkers alike.  I say that I run but really it’s a mix between jogging and slogging.  It’s not pretty and it’s not fast. Anyway, I became a “founding finisher” of the two races in my area that summer, and I haven’t missed one since.  In fact, this year they made me an Ambassador because of my enthusiasm for this race.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that a good portion of my enthusiasm comes from the free wine and dinner provided after each race.

esprit de she 4
You get two free glasses of wine and a keepsake glass after each race!

Also there is so much swag it’s insane.  I love all the samples. I love the cute tank I get every year.  I’m serious, but also I really love that it’s such an empowering event for women.  I see ladies of all ages, shapes, sizes and ability out there, and they are all proud of their accomplishments.  They are smiling and hugging and high-fiving each other.  It gives me all the feelings.

 I’ve made brand new running friends at the Esprit de She events, and I’ve brought along lots of good pals too.

Esprit de she 8
Good friends sweat together.
esprit de she 2
One of these ladies is a good friend and one is a brand new one! Yay for friends.

I love that I’m showing my 10 year old daughter that I care about staying healthy, engaged in the community, and that friendships are important.

esprit de she 7

Esprit de She events are held all over the country.  And they really are so much fun.  Click on the link if you want to find one near you.  If you want a discount of 10% you can enter my code which is EDS074.  If you haven’t run or it’s been a long time and you need some structure and a training schedule, I really like Hal Higdon’s plans. They are easy to follow and will help you stay motivated.

Badge_200X200 copy

If you are in the Twin Cities area, please let me know that you are registered and we will meet up and start together! And have a glass of wine after! There is a Maple Grove race on September 17! 

Whatever you choose to do, I guess I would just like to say GET OUT THERE.  STAY ACTIVE. FIND SOMETHING YOU LOVE.  MAKE TIME FOR IT. As someone once said to me, “You don’t have to exercise, you get to exercise”.  And they were right.

Peanut Butter and Banana Wraps For Back To School

peanut butter banana tortilla
Peanut butter, bananas and granola wrapped in a whole grain tortilla

Now that it’s back-to-school time, I have received several requests from friends for easy after school snack ideas.  I’ll admit, sometimes we just go with a Kind bar or a Lara bar (both options have less sugar and minimally processed ingredients).  But many times it’s apples and peanut butter, guacamole and whole grain tortilla chips, a whole wheat pita with some olive oil, a piece of fruit, or some fresh veggies.  Sometimes I get creative and try new things.  The after school snack is a great time to try new ideas with your kids, because they tend to be ravenous when they come home from school and more willing to try new foods!

One of my daughter’s favorite easy but delicious snacks is a whole grain tortilla filled with banana and peanut butter.  You could also add granola in there for added “heft”, especially when using this as a breakfast or lunch idea.  These wraps travel really well, so put them in your kids’ lunch boxes, and bring them along for when you need a quick dinner between activities.  There’s great protein and healthy fats in the peanut butter.  The banana is full of potassium and fiber (you could also use apples in here).  The granola has a nice crunch, especially if it’s homemade and/or one that isn’t crammed with sugar (I really love the Purely Elizabeth brand).

Keep an eye here for more healthy snack ideas. If you have any recipes for snacks your kids like, please comment and share below!

Rosemary Infused Simple Syrup

Rosemary infused simple syrup, gin, and seltzer water. Simple and refreshing.

In my world, the one in which I try really hard to eat healthy foods most of the time, I also leave room for decadence. Right now I’m sort of obsessed with cocktails. I’m not talking Bud Light Lime-a-Ritas (although they serve a very important purpose in very specific situations, let me get back to you on that). I’m talking about well made cocktails using high quality ingredients. Last weekend I posted a recipe for the Blueberry Balsamic Liqueur I made.  Sunday night I was lucky enough to try something called a Berry Patch which included blueberries, gin, lemon juice, and rosemary-infused simple syrup.  My favorite part of the cocktail was the rosemary flavor.  I got excited because I had leftover simple syrup from the blueberry concoction and I also had rosemary in the freezer that I harvested from the garden last fall.

It’s so easy.

ROSEMARY INFUSED SIMPLE SYRUP

  1. Take about five springs per cup of simple syrup and simmer both in a small saucepan on the stove for about 5-10 minutes, watching carefully that it doesn’t boil or scald.
  2. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Strain out the rosemary sprigs and pour the syrup into a clean jar.  It should last about a month or so in the fridge.

Wondering how to make simple syrup in the first place?

  1. Take equal parts of sugar and water and combine in a medium saucepan.
  2. Stir the mixture over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 3 minutes.
  4. Pour syrup into a container to cool.  Store in a jar in the refrigerator.

Cheers!

Japanese Meatballs — Review and Recipe

meatballs and sauce

As you might already know, I’ve committed to cooking my way through Gwyneth Paltrow’s newest cookbook It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great. This, by the way, is a huge statement.  These recipes will make me LOOK GOOD?  AND FEEL GREAT!? I feel like I should take before and after photos or something.

We last made Vegetable Potstickers that were a huge hit.  We ate those up very quickly.  To summarize the experience: they weren’t super difficult to make (although they weren’t easy either) but were very messy.  I was looking forward to making the Japanese Meatballs because they looked much easier and less messy to make.  Plus we like meatballs.

With some help from my blog readers, I decided that I am allowed to make substitutions to recipes as I see fit.  My good friend Becky pointed out that I was actually doing my readers a service by suggesting substitutions and tweaks that other busy people might also appreciate.  Take, for instance, the Chinese Five Spice Powder called for in the dipping sauce.  I really dislike the taste of this particular spice blend.  My sister in law told me that she hadn’t ever heard of it and could I please recommend something different.  I’m thinking that a lot of other people probably don’t have it on hand.  So, I made the Hoisin Sauce without the spice powder thinking that I could taste it and add something back if I thought it needed it.  Turns out the Hoisin Sauce tasted phenomenal without it.  So, there you go. Another substitution came in the form of using turkey rather than chicken, because the grocer was out of ground chicken.

Here’s the recipe, adapted:

MEATBALLS

1 lb ground turkey or chicken (or beef or lamb or any combo you prefer)

1/2 teaspoon salt (I like sea salt)

1/2 teaspoon pepper (Gwyn would say freshly ground, I say use whatever)

1 garlic clove or more if you love garlic, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon ginger powder or 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

1 tablespoon soy sauce (low sodium if possible)

2 teaspoons real maple syrup

meatball spices
Look at these beautiful spices and ingredients.

METHOD:

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with your hands and form into small balls.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes but keep an eye on them.

Hoisin Sauce (recipe below)

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup miso paste

1/4 cup real maple syrup

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

METHOD:

Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat, add garlic and cook about 30 seconds.  Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk to combine.  Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly for a couple of minutes.  Let cool and serve.

A couple of notes about the meatballs: there are no bread crumbs in there.  Gwyneth is gluten-free (of course she is.  I mean, obviously) So when you are shaping them they have a very soft, sticky, almost doughy consistency.  See?

uncooked meatballs
Uncooked meatballs

Not to worry, they bake up very nicely.  The recipe states you can bake, pan fry, grill or however-you-want these meatballs but gave no directions for any cooking, so I looked it up and decided I’d bake mine at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Check every few minutes to make sure they aren’t being overcooked. 

The result was that my family really enjoyed them, the sauce was my favorite part (visually, it isn’t beautiful — My daughter and I thought it looked like apple sauce, and my husband assumed it was a peanut sauce). I would definitely make these again and double or triple the recipe for freezing.

Stay tuned for the next recipe!

Weekend Cocktails–the Blueberry Balsamic Liqueur is ready! 


I pulled out the Blueberry Balsamic Liqueur that’s been brewing/marinating/getting delicious in my cabinet for the last week. The directions said it should smell strongly of blueberries. And it did. So, I strained it through a mesh sieve and promptly tasted a bit. It was heavenly. I patiently waited until evening to settle in with a proper cocktail. A bit of the liqueur and some tonic with a few fresh blueberries thrown in for health reasons (antioxidants).

The verdict is that it’s totally fresh and delicious and would taste amazing in mojitos, lemonade, or with simple club soda and muddled oranges. Click the link above for the recipe!

HAPPY FRIDAY!

LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!

The Japanese have a word that describes time spent in nature — it roughly translates to the phrase “forest bathing”.   It essentially encapsulates fully immersing yourself in the experience of being in nature.  You are “bathing” in the trees, the branches, the leaves, the sounds, the smells.  It might sound completely woo-woo but hold on a second — there is really something to it.

My favorite place to walk my dog Sammy. It’s right in the city and I can feel myself relax when I’m there.

Back in the 1980’s a neurobiology researcher named Robert Ulrich discovered that when hospital rooms had a view of nature, the patients healed faster than those that didn’t. Newer research has found a link between walking in natural settings and less depression and anxiety.  Not to mention we all know being outside and walking helps us stay active and fit.  Adding a natural component means we can also reduce our stress levels (which can lead to further health benefits).

A new program called ParkRx is seeing pediatricians and other physicians literally prescribing time in nature to their patients who are sedentary, obese or overweight and suffering from the repercussions, like asthma.  As one doctor said “Park Rx, therefore, serves two purposes: (1) to help create a healthier, happier society, and (2) to preserve and create more natural places through our next generation of environmental stewards, conservationists, and activists.  Giving children time in Nature to explore, especially through unstructured play, is essential to their overall development and well-being.”  I would add that giving ANYONE time in nature is essential to our well-being.

The photo above shows my daughter and her pals at the end of a two week horse camp. She comes home each day filthy and exhausted but so happy.

I have a friend who works for the USDA Forest Service in Arizona and he literally sleeps under the stars many nights.  His job is building trails and directing a team of employees and volunteers.  His Instagram account is stunning, and I can feel myself physically relax at just the sight of his photos.  It is such an amazing thing to see how being outside in the elements day after day contributes to his health and happiness.

Sunset at Camp
One of my friend Andy’s stunning shots of his adventures on the trail. This one is called Sunset at Camp.

So, if you are trying to add some healthy habits to your lifestyle, I would strongly suggest starting by finding time to be in nature several times a week.  If you are starting at no times a week, try just adding one or two.  If you are in an urban environment, find a tree.  Any tree.  Pay attention to how doing this makes you feel.  Do you breathe more deeply?  Do your shoulders become unhunched?  Can you feel your heart rate slow down? Take advantage of this totally free health benefit, and encourage your children to do the same.

Until next time!