Wednesday, December 30, 2009

OMG! Best Minestrone Soup EVER!

For Christmas my BFF, Judy, sent me (among other things) a copy of this magazine that I'd never even heard of, but is it ever a-may-ZING!  Just check out that cover photo - does that soup look GOOD!  I read it from cover to cover and dog-eared the pages for the recipes I wanted to try.  The first one was that soup on the cover - Minestrone Soup with Quinoa.

I rushed out immediately and bought the ingredients.  Now, I've made minestrone soup before, and it was good, but this recipe is different.  Not just the quinoa, which is a new food that is in my vegan diet (and I love it), but there were other differences as well.  FRESH herbs instead of jarred, fresh tomatoes, not canned, and fresh spinach, not frozen, and cut chiffonade.  (Luckily, the magazine included an explanation on how to do that: stack the leaves, roll tightly, slice across w/a sharp knife, then fluff to separate.  And fennel, both bulb and seed.

Fennel.  Huh??  I vaguely knew what that was, but had never purchased it. I had to read the tags on the various bins at the market to make sure I bought the right thing!  My first fennel!  Then I had to look up on the internet how to prepare it.  We did have fennel seeds already in our spice cabinet - I don't think I've ever used them, though.  The fresh fennel has a very pleasant and mild anise taste, as well as a delicate crunch.  (We've since used it tossed with other greens in salad and it's delicious.)

As you can see, there's a lot of slicing, dicing, and chopping to be done for this recipe.  Not just the vegetables, but the herbs, too.  I have a pot of basil, and there's thyme growing in my garden, so I did some harvesting.  Nothing like the feeling of eating something you've grown yourself!  I'm also really getting into the zen of the washing, peeling, and chopping of fresh produce.  It's become a relaxing and enjoyable activity, instead of a chore.  I guess that's a good thing since, these days with the vegan diet, I'm processing a LOT of fresh produce!

I also needed to crush the fennel seed.  Back to the internet!  I read that I could either use a bowl and pestle, which I don't happen to have, or a coffee grinder.  I have a coffee grinder so I got that out and whirled those seeds around until they were a nice fine powder.

Carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and the ground fennel seeds sauteeing in olive oil.  You just won't believe the delicious aroma that rose from this pot!  After about 8 minutes I added 6 cups of water, cannellini beans, the tomatoes, and quinoa.  I brought that to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer gently until the quinoa was tender, about 20 minutes.

Doesn't it look gorgeous??

At that point I removed the bay leaves and seasoned it with sea salt and fresh-ground pepper.  Just before serving I added the spinach and basil.  This last step, I found, made a huge difference in retaining the color of the spinach (eye appeal!), as well as allowing the flavor and scent of the basil to be released right at the time of serving.  Is your mouth watering yet???  Grab a spoon because here's the finished product:

I didn't, but you can choose to garnish your soup with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, as the recipe suggests.  Isn't that a gorgeous bowl of soup?  The bright colors of the spinach and carrots, the plump beans, the rich-colored broth.  I gotta tell you - it tasted as good as it looks.  I don't think I've ever made a better-tasting soup.

Here's the recipe:
Minestrone Soup with Quinoa
{from Clean Eating magazine January/February 2010}

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 cup fennel, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup red onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1-1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained
2 cups fresh plum tomatoes
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh spinach, cut chiffonade*
3 tbsp basil, thinly sliced
2 ox. Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated (about 1/2 cup), optional


In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.  Add carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.  Add 6 cups water, beans, tomatoes and quinoa.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer gently until quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Stir spinach and basil into soup just before serving in warm bowls.  Garnish each with 1 tbsp cheese, if desired.

Nutrients per 8-oz. serving (including cheese): Calories: 137, Total Fat: 5 g, Sat. Fat: 1 g, Carbs: 19 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugars: 3 g, Protein: 5 g, Sodium: 70 mg, Cholesterol: 0 mg.

Give it a try; I think you'll love it!

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Secret to Good Health - Memories of Me Monday

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER:  "What is your secret or recipe for good health?"

When I was in the 6th grade I joined a diet club to lose weight (I've always had the vaguely held idea that if you stayed slim you stayed healthy). Actually, my two best friends, Judy Rich and Jill Brunson and I created the club ourselves.  We were the only members.  We planned to meet once a week at Jill's house.  During our first meeting we weighed ourselves and wrote the date and our weights in a little notebook.  I had a tiny calorie-counting book that I'd bought at the dimestore that we carefully studied, picking out the foods with the least calories and planning to only eat those foods.  But when you're an active 11-year old girl it's a little hard to just eat lettuce and radishes, especially when you don't even like radishes!

The club didn't last long.  We went on to create other clubs, the three of us, including a plant club where we all purchased tiny seedlings and measured their growth each week, a writing club (we were all working on novels), and a music club, where we kept track of the songs we heard on the radio each day, and how many times we heard them (a practice Judy and I continued for several years even after this club went the way of the others).

Truth be told, however, my "secret" to good health was my parents.  The food we ate was predominantly freshly prepared and homemade.  Spaghetti sauce was made from scratch, as was mac 'n cheese (no blue box full of preservatives), beef stew, fried chicken, sloppy joes, enchilada casserole, meat loaf, and creamed tuna on toast.  Sometimes we kids got hamburgers while my mom and dad each enjoyed a steak.  My mom was too thrifty to cook steak for us; it was too expensive, and we were surely too young to appreciate it.  Now and then when my mom was too busy to cook we ate Campbell's Pork 'n Beans and boiled hot dogs, a meal we called "weiners and beaners,"  or Campbell's tomato soup & grilled cheese sandwiches.

As for vegetables, we kids mainly got served canned peas, canned peas & carrots, canned green beans (my most despised veggie), or canned corn; once in a while we got creamed corn.  Potatoes were baked in the oven and had a hard, sometimes crispy skin (which we kids wouldn't eat); sometimes they were mashed or boiled.  My parents ate cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and lima beans, but my mom seldom bothered trying to serve them to us - I expect she figured why waste good food and money when we were sure to refuse to eat them?  I don't think I ever saw a brussel's sprout, fresh spinach (instead of frozen), kale, mustard greens, any kind of squash, or even knew that peas grew inside a pod until I was an adult.

Salads were iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes, with Thousand Island dressing.  Grocery stores hadn't yet begun offering the vast variety of leafy greens you see now.  Arugula?  We'd have thought that was some kind of exotic, foreign dish!

My mom did go through some phases with our family meals.  There was the time period when she was grinding all her own wheat in the basement of our home in Minnesota.  I think that only lasted a few years, but she baked bread my entire childhood (at the time I had no idea how lucky I was).  Then there was the "Spam phase."  We got spam-burgers, spam and eggs, spam casseroles, and spam loaf.  I liked it best fried 'til crispy with eggs (to this day I get the occasional craving for Spam 'n eggs).  Another time she experimented with a soy meat substitute that I remember as being the consistency of mealy ground meat.  It wasn't bad tasting, but it was hard to get my siblings and I to even try anything new, let alone accept it as part of our "normal" family meal routine.  As soon as we knew it wasn't really beef, we rebelled against it.

My dad cooked, too, but he was mainly a breakfast kind of guy.  He was the one who made Spam 'n eggs most often, usually on weekends.  He also like to fry up slices of bologna.  He was our designated pancake-maker, and he was the one who most often wrestled with our heavy waffle iron, forcing it to give up perfectly crisped waffles.  He fried eggs and scrambled eggs and, when he didn't feel like cooking, got out the Cheerios and Corn Flakes and poured us each a bowl with sliced bananas and whole milk.

My mom packed our lunches for school, too, not to mention my Dad's lunch that he took to work every weekday for over 50 years. Our sandwiches were nearly always on my mom's homemade bread (which we didn't appreciate then, but sure do now); tuna w/mayo and a bit of lettuce, or peanut butter and jelly or, less often, bologna.  There was always a piece of fruit, an apple, orange, or banana, and two homemade cookies, usually chocolate chip.  I remember having a lunchbox off and on during my school years, with a thermos of milk, but I remember a lot more years of just using a brown paper bag and buying a carton of milk in the cafeteria.  In Minnesota, in the 60's, I can remember that milk costing just one penny!

We may not have had fancy meals, but we had well-balanced meals. Mom kept up with the current info on what constituted a well-balanced diet, and she made sure we were fed appropriately.  Apart from the usual childhood illnesses (measles, mumps, and chicken pox), and the occasional bout of 'flu, I was hardly ever sick.

Thanks to my "secret" to good health.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

FOR NEXT WEEK: "Talk about, describe, the oddest or most unique person in your family tree."  Uh oh!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Free Red Gold Here

The Universal Donor ~ aka "Red Gold"

Ok, so sometimes I'm too sensitive.  Sometimes I let my feelings get hurt too easily.  Maybe I have an overdeveloped need to be appreciated.  Maybe I was just grumpy.  Or depressed from all the overcast, cloudy weather (I'm solar-powered, you know).  Coulda been any of those things that made me feel slighted by the woman at the bloodmobile.

I had received yet another email begging me to donate because, as usual at this time of year, "the available supply of O-negative blood is dangerously low."  I'm O-negative; also known as the Universal Donor because a person of any other blood type can be given O-negative blood if their exact type is not available, even a person with a positive blood type.  (Unfortunately, it doesn't work both ways - I can only be given O-negative blood.)

Mike and I have been planning to donate anyway.  He routinely donates about every 8 weeks, and I used to, until about two years ago when I began having trouble meeting the minimum requirement for iron.  But, the blood center is currently offering free cholestrerol screening with each donation and, since I've been on the vegan diet for about 2 months now and want to have my cholesterol re-checked - and I don't want to pay for it (my insurance won't pay for another lab test yet) - so I decided I'd take iron pills, eat spinach, raisins, & broccoli, and drink orange juice (the vitamin C helps the body absorb iron more efficiently), so that surely my iron level will be high enough to donate.

I used the link provided in the last email message from the Blood Centers of the Pacific, and Mike and I made appointments to donate at 5:45 p.m. yesterday, in Vallejo.  That was on Friday; I rec'd several more emails - appointment reminders - from the blood center; they didn't want me to forget!  I hadn't.  I was just as anxious - I wanted my new cholesterol numbers.

So Mike rushed home from work, picked me up, and we got to the Bloodmobile a couple of minutes before our appointment time of 5:45 p.m.  When we walked into the vehicle, it was packed with people.  All the beds were full, the little cubie where histories are taken was full, people were in the eensy waiting area, and we ended up standing in the entryway, looking around, and wondering what to do.  A moment or two later two more people came in behind us.  We attempted to make room, but there was nowhere to go.

A woman with a clipboard approached us from the front of the bus, looking frazzled.  Without even a "thank you for coming" she immediately lit into us with "we can't have this many people in the bus at once.  I realize most of you probably have appointments but you can't wait here.", what do you want us to do?  Mike and I both tried to ask where we should wait (it was cold outside on the sidewalk!), or should we come back later, but the woman didn't even take the time to listen to our questions, she simply turned away and went back to tend to those that were in the process of donating.  Mike and I just looked at each other.  I was incredulous, but at times like these I tend to react in one of two ways:  1. just give up and go away, or 2. pitch a fit.

Mike hates it when I pitch a fit and, to be honest, I don't like it either because it can get pretty ugly, and then I feel bad about it for a long time.  So I clenched my teeth, turned, and yanked open the door.  We paused for a moment outside, considering our options; hang around and see if maybe we eventually get called back in, or leave?  Knowing I was in no mood now to be patient, I said let's just go home.

Today Mike called and got us donation appointments tomorrow at the actual Blood Centers of the Pacific building in Fairfield where I assume there are plenty of beds, a warm place to wait, lots of workers to process us through, and a welcoming atmosphere.  (It's unfortunate that we have to go all the way to Fairfield but the small donation location on Redwood in Vallejo closed this past year.)

Cross your fingers for me, though, that my iron is at a high enough level for me to donate, and that my cholesterol is back down to a healthy number!

See you there?

Monday, December 21, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed


Sorry if you're looking for the  "Memories of Me" Monday was crazy-busy, and then we had a disappointing trip to the Bloodmobile this evening. I need to do what Jack and Scout are doing.

I'll try again tomorrow.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Girl Jockey

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER:  "What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?"


Because I loved horses (don't all young girls?)....

But then I grew too tall so I decided to be a writer.

But writing didn't pay so I eventually became a computer programmer/systems analyst.

I made a lot of money, but writing computer programs almost completely destroyed my creativity.

I've spent the last two years trying to get it back.

I'm almost there.

Maybe I'll dig up that half-finished novel and ... well ...

... finish it?!

FOR NEXT WEEK:  "What is your secret or recipe for good health?"


Monday, December 7, 2009

Every Life Should Have Nine Cats

1971 - Patches the Cat gives birth in my bedroom; me, Lisa, Denise, and Steve

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "What is your favorite animal, and why?"

If you know me at all, you already know my answer to this question:


Yep.  Really.  They are my favorite animal because they are SO cool, so regal and gorgeous, and they are the only Big Cats that actually LIKE water (there are white tigers at Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA., that dive underwater!) but, since I can't have a tiger as a pet I, have settled for my second favorite - CATS!  Orange-striped cats, to be exact - just like tigers!  And the pair of orange-striped cats that currently live with me also like water.

{I do have to mention that my fondness for orange-striped cats also came about because of a very special cat that was part of our family from about 1992 to 2000.  OJ.  However, because I'm spending this first year of Memories of Me posts concentrating on my childhood years (up to age 18), I'll defer writing about OJ, or Jack and Scout, until I'm ready to write about my adult years.}

I haven't always had orange cats.  Growing up in the 70's I had a grey-and-white cat named Sam.  Sam was a tomcat back when it was OK to be a tomcat.  Sam roamed the neighborhood every night, got in fights, and came home bloody and with torn ears.  Sam stole pork chops right off the family dining table.  Sam fathered numerous litters of kittens among our neighborhood's female cats.  Sam only liked me.  My mom didn't like Sam, she was scared of him, and rightfully so since he'd growl at her if she came into my room and tried to move him from my bed.   I loved that crazy cat.

One evening Sam went out for the night, as usual, but when morning came around he hadn't come home.  I never saw him again.  I didn't put up "Lost Cat" posters around the neighborhood, or spend a lot of time looking for him.  I think I just knew he'd probably fought his last fight, or didn't quite make it across the street ahead of a car.  I understood that cats, especially male cats, lived violent lives.  I had always secretly admired his bravery, independence, and adventurous spirit, even while I worried about his safety.

Another cat that we had was Patches.  She was a small female tortoise-shell cat and, as I've already mentioned, there wasn't much spaying or neutering going on back then so, naturally, Patches got pregnant.  She had her kittens on my bedroom floor.  We kids all gathered around to watch.  Being city kids this was our first experience at seeing animals give birth, and it was fascinating.  Patches had five kittens.  Four were tabbies or solid color but one, a female, was a pretty little calico - her coat had a snow-white background with patches of orange, black, and brown.  She was a real beauty.  The kittens eventually went to the local animal shelter, to be adopted out, but my mom has always expressed regret that she didn't keep that little calico, she was that pretty.

It's interesting to think about how far we've come, as a society, in the treatment of animals, just in my own lifetime.  When I was a kid it was not considered irresponsible to let your cats - and dogs, in many cases - to roam the neighborhood.  Nor was spaying and neutering an integral part of animal guardianship.  I don't know whether there were relatively fewer homeless animals then or not, or whether animal shelters are as overcrowded as they are now.  It was also an accepted part of life that animals often died from being struck by automobiles, poisonings, or fights. 

I'm very glad things have changed so much, and most people now consider themselves "guardians" of their animals, instead of "owners."

Are you wondering whether my life has had nine cats?

Let's see:

1. Sam
2. Patches
3. Callie
4. Bo
5. OJ
6. Leah
7. Tony
8. Jack
9. Scout

YEP!  And the plan is to have {at least} nine more.

FOR NEXT WEEK:  "What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?"