Lemony Asparagus Artichoke Pilaf

As soon as asparagus shows up in the markets we all know that spring has definitively arrived. That moment emerged a number of weeks ago in San Francisco and I have been itching to make something with it ever since. I knew I wanted to do a pilaf with rice and lemon juice, and then the red pepper caught my eye at the store so I added that to my cart. I already had scallions in my fridge from another recent meal and knew they would make a great addition. So I thought I was all ready to make the dish when it struck me that I needed to add artichoke hearts. So back to the store I went.

Did you know that asparagus has magical powers. Oh, yes, it does! It can actually change the aroma of your urine—what other food do you know can do that? Moreover, not everyone has the ability to smell this transformation. Apparently, some people lack the gene to smell “asparagus pee,” while the rest of us (me included) can. For a long time I thought I was one of those people who lacked this gene; however, I later realized that was just because I never used to eat asparagus.

What’s interesting is that while only some people can detect asparagus-pee, I’m pretty sure I have yet to meet one of those people who can’t. Granted, my sample size is fairly small because I don’t talk about asparagus-pee with everyone I meet, but I’d say I know at least 20 people who have confirmed they have it and not a single person who doesn’t. So now I wonder what the ratio of asparagus-pee detectors to non-detectors there are in the world? How about you? Care to divulge whether you’re a detector or a non-detector? Or are you too shy or, as a European would say, prude?

Lemony Asparagus Artichoke Pilaf

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 14 (or so) asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces. Also, if your spears are very large and you have the time to peel them with a potato peeler, go for it. It makes them so tender!
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, chopped small
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups white rice
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • basil chiffonade (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups edamame (optional, see note)

Cook Rice: I buy my rice in bulk and first like to rinse it in a sieve before placing it in the saucepan so after you’ve rinsed your rice, place it in a medium saucepan with the water over high heat. Put a lid on it and let it come to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn down the heat and let it simmer, covered until all of the water has been absorbed about 15-20 minutes.

Saute Veggies: Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. When the oil is warmed add the onions and let them cook for about 7 minutes then add the garlic, asparagus, and artichoke and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red pepper and saute for another 2 minutes. I prefer my veggies to be just barely cooked so that they still have some crunch in them. Mushy veggies in a rice pilaf = disgusting.

Toss: After the rice and veggies are cooked, you want to toss them together in a very large bowl. I poured in a little rice and then added some of the veggies, tossed them, poured a little more of each and tossed again and continued to do this until all rice and veggies were used and distributed evenly. I then added the scallions, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Lastly, I chopped up some fresh basil chiffonade and used that as a garnish, which went very well with the rest of the flavors in the dish, but you can totally leave it out if you don’t have any on hand.

**Note: If you want to turn this into a main dish for lunch or dinner, I suggest adding edamame to it. Just microwave or boil the edamame until heated through and then toss it in with the rest of the veggies and rice. You could even add it along with the asparagus and artichokes as you’re sautéing the veggies.

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The Most Amazing One-Ingredient Ice Cream!

One Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

OMG! I’m obsessed! Obsessed with my newest discovery of one-ingredient banana ice cream. Yes, it’s just bananas and it’s as creamily smooth as soft serve ice cream.

I readily admit that I’m an ice cream addict. I’m pretty sure that it runs in my family as my brother and sister are severely afflicted as well so I think it’s safe to blame genetics on this misfortune.

The other night during one of my “CHRISTINA NEEDS ICE CREAM RIGHT NOW!” moments, I downed an entire pint of this stuff.

Nada Moo Maple Pecan Ice Cream

It was just what the doctor ordered! The only problem is that it was 10pm at night and consuming large amounts of sugar late at night keeps me up. So as I lay in bed well after midnight with my heart racing and not a wink of shut-eye in sight, my late night ice cream binge wasn’t looking like such a hot decision after all. Sadly, I know this about myself—how sugar affects me. And I clearly knew how late it was, yet could not stop eating the sweet creamy bliss. *sigh*

However, I’m thinking that this holy-mother-of-god-amazing invention of only-banana ice cream just might be my savior to late night cravings since fruit sugar (fructose) does not affect blood sugar levels the way that refined sugar (glucose) does!

One Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

Also, I must clarify. When I say ice “cream” I am, of course, referring to those of the non-dairy variety, which I dare say are better than the kind made from a lactating bovine. And with the overwhelming number of different companies producing such a wide variety of flavors it’s hard not to find at least a couple that you will love. You have choices from coconut to soy, almond, cashew, and rice based ice creams—so, yeah, lots to choose from. That Nada Moo kind I had the other night was awesome and I want to try other flavors of it, but my favorite kind that’s available nationally is Ginger Cookie Caramel Coconut Bliss. Sooooo good! Almond Dream is also another great brand and I actually love the straight up vanilla one. And if you’re in the Bay Area you cannot miss trying Scream Ice Cream—it takes the cake (heh) as best ice cream in the world and makes me salivate just thinking about it.

Somehow I missed the internet craze about this banana ice cream when it initially hit as it seems to have been all the rage a number of months ago. Apparently there is even a special banana ice cream making machine on the market. I don’t mean to knock it, but if you have a food processor this tool is completely superfluous and just another unnecessary kitchen gadget. You’re just blending bananas!

Toasted Coconut Banana Vegan Ice Cream

Ok. Ok. Enough chit chat. Onward with how to make this mother of all inventions!

You first want to slice some ripe bananas and stick them in the freezer until frozen (I like to wait a day to make sure they’re solid.) Then you throw them in your food processor.

Frozen Banana Slices

And start to process…you’ll see it turn to chunks and then start to get a bit smoother.

After blending a few minutes more it’ll start to get even creamier. I like to periodically turn on the machine and scrape down the side and spread out any chunks so that it gets evenly pureed.

I really love it at the stage in the above photo on the right, but you can continue blending until it’s even creamier like the one below.

Banana Soft Serve Ice Cream

I’ve noticed that if you don’t add any additional fruit to your ice cream, when you refreeze it maintains that soft creamy consistency. However, if you add strawberries, for example, the refrozen version becomes harder and tastes more like sorbet.

One Ingredient Vegan Banana Ice Cream

I also enjoyed topping it with chocolate sauce, strawberries, and toasted coconut.

Oy…clearly, I’m very inexperienced at photographing frozen foods because, in retrospect I realize that I should have frozen the plate and then let this trio sit in the freezer for a few minutes before photographing it—meltytown!

One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

Ingredients

  • at least 2 frozen bananas (or banana slices)
  • (optional) splash of vanilla

Puree Bananas: If they’re not already sliced, I recommend chopping up your frozen bananas before putting them in the food processer. Once you have slices, whirl away for several minutes until you have something akin to soft-serve ice cream. Feel free to sample along the way as you’re scraping down the sides of the bowl 🙂

Also, feel free to experiment with adding other flavors or foods to the mixture. So far I’ve tried:

  • berries
  • coconut and coconut milk
  • molasses and cookies
  • sunbutter (which was heaven for me—it’s funny, though, that the combination of the two oxidized to create an unappetizing grey color to whatever parts were exposed to air)
  • chocolate
  • OMG pumpkin!
So if you haven’t tried this little experiment yet and are fond of bananas, you’re missing out! Perhaps it, too, will satisfy your late-night ice cream urges.

One Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

Arame Purple Cabbage Slaw with Tahini Goddess Dressing

Arame Slaw

Spring has apparently sprung (or was bypassed in favor of summer?) for my dear friends and family in Michigan where they’ve been enjoying record high temperatures. Even though it’s still possible that they’re in for a good Mother’s Day snowstorm (it wouldn’t be the first time!), for now they can savor the warm weather and perhaps enjoy the colorful fresh veggies spring has to offer like this favorite slaw of mine.

Arame

In general, I’m actually not a huge fan of seaweed. The strong fishy flavor is usually what turns me off to it. I do enjoy sushi rolls occasionally, but even the nori on rolls can be a tad too strong sometimes (I know, I’m weird, right?!). I’ll still eat them, but there’s something about that flavor that can be so offensive to me. And that’s what I love about arame because it lacks that distinct fishy flavor and is one of the most mild sea veggies there is.

Above you’ll see the lovely arame in it’s dried form and this is what you’ll be looking for when you purchase it at the store. For this recipe, you’ll want to pull it out of the bag and cover it with warm water to soak for at least 15 minutes.

While your arame is soaking, chop the veggies and make the Tahini Goddess dressing. Before moving on, I have to stop right here and mention that this dressing is possibly my all-time favorite. In college I used to purchase Annie’s Goddess dressing at my local co-op before learning how to easily make my own homemade version of it. The homemade version is just as good, if not better (and doesn’t use any extra oil!), if I dare say so myself. 🙂

Once you’ve chopped your veggies and placed them into a large mixing bowl you’ll have this beautiful rainbow of colors.

Vegetable Bowl

After the arame has soaked for at least 15 minutes it will look like this. You then want to strain it with a sieve and squeeze out (with your hands) as much excess water as you can before adding it to the rest of the salad.

Soaking Arame

Toss all of the veggies including the arame together and then add the tahini sauce and toss again until everything is well coated and the dressing is evenly distributed. Easy peasy, hey? At this point you’re done and ready to enjoy!

Arame Slaw

Arame Purple Cabbage Slaw with Tahini Goddess Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 small head purple cabbage, chopped into small strips
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin slices and halved
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
  • 2 cups dried arame

Tahini Goddess Dressing

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (roasted or not roasted—either works just fine)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (tamari, shoyu, or Bragg liquid aminos—whatever you prefer)
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Soak Arame: Place the arame in a medium bowl and cover with very warm water. Let it soak for a minimum of 15 minutes. It always takes me a bit longer to prep the rest of the veggies and tahini sauce so I just let the arame soak until I’ve completed all of that.

Chop Veggies: While the arame is soaking, chop all of your veggies and place them in a large bowl.

Make Dressing: Place all of the dressing ingredients in a mini food processor or blender and blend until completely smooth.

Assemble: Toss the veggies and arame together in the bowl and then drizzle the dressing and toss again until all veggies are evenly coated with the dressing.

Eggplant Chips

Eggplant Chips with Basil Pesto

Every year my CSA will deliver one too many eggplants to my door. Too many being more than zero. Seriously, I don’t like eggplant. Neither the texture nor the flavor appeal to me, but knowing that I should eat a variety of foods in my diet, I attempt to choke them down every so often without paying too much attention to the slimy, unpalatable food I’m consuming.

Often times, when I don’t like a particular food, I whip out my trusty blender (or food processor) and puree the crap out of it. I also make sure to include a bunch of other strong flavored foods in my pureed concoction to mask the icky taste.

So when eggplant season arrives, I often find myself swimming in batch after batch of baba ghanoush, but that gets old pretty fast and, really, there’s only so much baba one can eat in a month without turning into Aladdin himself.

eggplant slices

A few years ago (during said eggplant season) I wondered what eggplant chips would be like. After all, I was making kale chips (so amazing!) daily because I loved them so much so I decided to give the eggplant chips idea a whirl. Lo and behold I found myself with another recipe where I could actually eat eggplant without holding my nose. Eggplant, you have been redeemed in my book!

So for all of you other eggplant haters out there, here’s a simple way to use those pesky purple nightshades when they end up in your CSA box later this year. And for those of you who already love eggplant… well, I guess you’ll just have yet another way to enjoy these buggers.

Eggplant Chips with Basil Pesto

Eggplant Chips

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant (any variety, but preferably one that is long and thin like a Japanese eggplant)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • dried herbs of your choice (I chose thyme for this batch)
  • salt and pepper

Sweat Eggplant: Slice the eggplant into thin slices (1/8 inch or so) and lay each slice on a cooling rack. sprinkle salt on each slice and let it sit for at least 30 minutes or longer. This step is important in reducing the bitterness as well as removing excess water so that it can crisp up easier. After your eggplant has sweat all it can sweat, blot off the excess water with paper towel.

Prep: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Season Eggplant: Lay each slice in a single layer on the baking sheet and, using a brush, coat each one with olive oil (don’t be stingy on the oil). Sprinkle the top with salt, pepper, and herbs. Flip them over and do the same to the other side.

Cook: Bake for 10 minutes, take them out of the oven, flip them over, then bake for another 10 or so minutes. Depending on how thick your slices are you may need to cook them longer to get the desired crispiness and potentially flip them over yet again. Also, be sure to keep a close eye on them while they’re baking and remove or relocate slices that are getting too brown—the last thing you want to be doing is choking down charred eggplant seeing as the whole reason for this recipe is to make eggplant more desirable to the palate.

I hope you enjoy these crispy, do-not-taste-like-eggplant eggplant chips as much as I do!

Note: I had some wilting basil that was about to throw itself in the compost if I didn’t use it immediately and made a batch of pesto (pictured) for dipping my chips. This combination was amazeballs and I realize that I could have even brushed the eggplant with it before placing in the oven! I really want to try this next time!

Climbing Mt Diablo

One of my favorite things about living in California is the copious abundance of natural beauty that surrounds us. From the oceans and cliffs to the mountains and valleys to the redwood forests and crazy hot deserts that stretch on as far as the eye can see. I don’t even think you need to be an outdoor enthusiast to be impressed with the glory this state has to offer.

Alex Mt Diablo

In early February a group of us went climbing on Mt. Diablo—as the name perhaps suggests, it can be quite sweltering there in the summer, but at this time of the year it’s pleasant enough for some serious outdoor activities.

Group Assesses

The day started off sunny and we were all enjoying basking in the warmth of it. Here the guys are assessing where to setup.

They all decided to tie into this face first. All of those grooves you see next to Mars’ feet are remnants of climbers past. When you climb on a top rope, the rope runs through an anchor at the top of the rock and can rub against the rock as you climb. Sandstone is such a soft rock that it easily erodes like that. I wonder how many climbers it takes to wear away just an inch of rock?

Mars Mt Diablo

Here you can see it even closer. Our crew made sure to set the anchor over the side of the cliff so the rope would not be rubbing against it, to prevent further damage so that everyone who comes after us can also enjoy the same rock. Also, I should point out that Mars is just sitting there on the edge of a 90 foot drop—that’s like standing on the ledge of a 9 story building window. It makes my stomach flutter (and Alex’s feet tingle) just thinking about it.

After the anchors were set and the rope was tied in, we headed down the hill to start climbing. Mars was first.

Spiderman!

Batman!

And then it was Tim’s turn. This particular face was very difficult and no one made it all the way to the top. However, where you see that girl climbing in the top right is the Amazing Face, which had some better holds and everyone was able to climb to the top.

Then it was Alex’s turn.

He was almost there, but it got super tricky at the top and impossible for our group to accomplish. If you look closely, you can see how wide of an angle Alex had between the rope coming from him, and the rope going back to Tim, his belayer. This meant, when he finally lost his grip, he swung like a pendulum all the way over to the other side and had to jump over the rope in the middle.

Later we ended up tying into Amazing Face, which you can see is aptly named.

It’s such a high climb that it took each of them about 40 minutes to complete.

Because the rock is sandstone, many of the hand-holds were just tiny little flakes, so small that you would never imagine you could hold onto them, let alone support your whole body weight. But when all that’s keeping you from falling 70 feet straight down is the tippy-tips of your fingertips, somehow your body makes it happen. (Oh, sure, there’s the rope too, but it’s not really there—just for emergencies.)

Tim Amazing Face Mt Diablo

So by the time Alex started to climb it, evening was setting in.

You can see it starting to get darker here and by the time we packed up and hiked back to the cars, it was completely dark. The park closes at sundown and we were just inside the gates so Mars and I rushed ahead to stop them from locking us out. Phew! No problems there—they hadn’t closed the gates and we were able to sleep in our warm beds that night enjoying the memories of our adventurous day 🙂

Deliciously Creamy Lima Bean Soup

Amazing Lima Bean Soup

I’m here to make more promises! Oh, yes, I am! This soup is phenomenal. Really. I’m sure you’re thinking that lima beans are the last thing you’d describe as phenomenal, but trust me this silky smooth, hearty soup is nothing short of amazing. Even if you despise lima beans, I’m willing to place bets that you’ll actually like this soup because when lima’s are pureed their creamy texture lends itself to a delicious soup base. No mealiness found here!

What I love about this soup and why I’ve been making it for many years is because it’s incredibly quick to put together (almost instant to make), it’s tasty, hearty, satisfying and loaded with protein, fiber, Vitamins A, C, and K, and manganese. So to break that down, it’s healthy, fast, and delectable!

Lima Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 10 oz. bags of frozen lima beans
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 heaping teaspoons dried thyme (don’t forget this ingredient—IMO, it completely makes the soup!)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook Beans: Empty both bags of frozen lima beans in a medium pot and fill with just enough water to cover. Cook the beans over high heat until they boil. Reduce the head to low, cover, and cook until heated through—about 10 minutes.

Sautee Veggies: While the beans are cooking, pour the olive oil in a medium saute pan and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 7-10 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the carrots and garlic and saute for another 7 minutes.

Puree Beans: While the veggies are cooking and after the beans are heated through, puree the beans in their cooking liquid either directly in the pot with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender until silky smooth. Return the pureed beans to the cooking pot and then add the cooked veggies. Add the dried thyme (I like to rub it between my hands to allow the flavors to come through more before adding it), salt, and pepper. At this point, you can either cook the soup for another 15 minutes on low heat or, if you’re pleased with the tenderness of the veggies and the flavors of the soup, eat it now.

Note: The rosemary garnish is completely unnecessary and would be ridiculous to actually eat with this soup—I just thought it needed some kind of accessory in order to be more photogenic and that was the best I could find in my fridge :). A few fresh thyme leaves would be more appropriate.

Lima Bean Soup

Wedding Day—February 25th, 2012

No matter how small or well organized they are, if you’re directly involved, pre-wedding prep always seems to be stressful or, at the very least, insanely busy. And this wedding was no exception. So as you would expect, up until the very last minute we were all running around like crazy setting up, but when it was final go-time and we all sat together at the ceremony a serene calmness set in. Set among the tranquil Redwood Grove of the Berkeley Botanical Garden, Zack and Susan said their very sincere, very beautiful vows to each other. Susan was first and proclaimed that she “had a lot to say” as she pulled out a piece of paper to read her lengthy, but carefully chosen pledge.

Susan Vows

The light was streaming through the canopy of the trees in such a way that illuminated both of them.

And then it was Zack’s turn. I must admit that I got a little misty-eyed as I could feel his emotions well-up when he began to speak.

Zack Vows

After their vows, everyone in attendance had to perform an activity with ribbons that symbolized the interconnected web of our friends and families. I loved that it drew every single person there into the ceremony, that it acknowledged each of us, and that it introduced my family to Susan’s friends and family whom we had not yet met (and vice versa, I suppose.)

Ribbon Ceremony

I love Naomi’s hand on Quinn’s shoulder as he flashes a very genuine smile in this shot.

It was so good to see Aidan vertical at the wedding. The previous day he wasn’t able to join us during any of the festivities because he had caught a nasty cold and was holed up in his hotel room trying to recover.

Aidan

After the ribbon exercise, it was on to the ring exchange and then the recession.

Recession

Then we all hung around for a bit as various group photos were taken. This is Zack’s aunt Pat who flew up from LA for the event.

Pat

And his father, Charles, who flew here from the Twin Cities.

Charlie

And, by now, everyone is well familiar with Nathalie who has quite the independent spirit for a two-year old. The funniest part of the ceremony was when the instant the music started she screamed “I wanna dance! I wanna dance!” while Naomi hugged her as she struggled to get loose and boogie. It was a completely appropriate reaction, in my opinion.

Nathalie Running Ceremony

Audrey, Aidan, and Alex’s lower half.

Audrey Ceremony Redwood Grove Berkeley

After photos were taken, it was on to the reception site in the Botanical Garden. A number of us enjoyed sitting outside on the bench to warm up in the sun.

Nathalie

The below photo is not particularly great, but it makes me crack up every time I see it because the context around what was happening and the looks on Ellie and Nathalie’s faces is priceless. Ellie is quizzically looking at my camera trying to find an ant crawling on it, while Nathalie’s looking at Graeme saying, “Dad, what the hell are you talking about?” To be clear, there was no ant on my camera. There’s no pulling the wool over these two girls’ eyes.

Nathalie

A series of three cute Ellie pics. She almost looks like a porcelain doll with her delicate features. Staring in wonderment. “What the heck did mom and dad just do?”

Ellie

Flashing her little bitty tongue.

Ellie and Tongue

And here she is pointing to something behind me saying “What’s that?” and, as I turn to look, steals a grape from my plate. Sneaky girl!

Ellie Pointing

And then there’s Nathalie who just enjoyed a plate of fresh strawberries where a little chunk of one didn’t quite make it in her mouth and now resides on her chin. And it’s because of that honesty and lack of perfection that I love this photo.

Nathalie with Strawberry on Her Face

Zack’s long-time friend, Paul, and his beautiful wife, Iliana.

Paul and Iliana

Paul and Iliana

And Susan’s close girlfriends.

Susan and Friends

Table and Group

In addition to Charlie and Pat, Zack’s lovely cousin, Ruth, joined us for the event.

Alex and Christina

Naomi Graeme and Alex

From the far right, Susan’s brother, Tim, his wife, Amy, and Susan’s cousin and her husband.

Tim and Amy

Susan’s niece, Katie.

Katie

Cherry Blossom

Flowers

The wedding favors and place cards for each guest was a small figure representing your Chinese zodiac. The kids (which includes Alex, of course) enjoyed the balancing challenge of stacking them on top of each other. At first there were three.

And then four…and then five.

After we enjoyed conversation and ate ourselves full, we packed up and headed back to the city after a quick detour driving along Grizzly Peak.

Damian and Paul Flowers

It was a beautiful and very genuine heartfelt event. It was so nice seeing everyone and I’m glad all of the out-of-towners could make it!