Breakfast Quinoa — Take I

Every kitchen-minded friend of mine has one or two key ingredients that they just can’t imagine surviving without — and I’m no different. Fresh garlic, olive oil, avocado, kale… Those are definitely some of my favorites, but there is one thing I am even more loyal to — and that’s quinoa.

I remember the first time I heard about quinoa. I was a newly recommitted Weight Watchers member (for possibly the 3rd or maybe 4th time) and I was on a mission to find some new-to-me healthy, whole grains that didn’t involve the words “brown” or “rice”. And after searching high and low, I finally came across a small package of this mysterious new ingredient. And it didn’t take me long to become attached, finding recipes to eat this for every meal — dinner, lunch, and even breakfast.

So when I heard about someone using quinoa in place of oatmeal, my interest was piqued. After some trial and error, I found success with this recipe. Fun fact? This recipe was even featured by FitSugar during their “Get Fit for 2010” challenge — go me! And while that may have been well over 2 years ago, that recipe is still going strong in my kitchen.

This is also a great recipe to make ahead for a week full of healthy breakfasts. I usually whip up a batch of this on Sunday afternoons, so all I have to do is add my fruit of choice and the yogurt, or almond milk, before sitting down to breakfast.

Summertime Breakfast Quinoa

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and picked clean of any debris
1 cup water
1 cup juice, cider, or nectar — I prefer something fresh-squeezed, or a no sugar added variety
2 tbsp walnuts, chopped
2 tbsp chia seed
1 cup blueberries, rinsed
2 fresh plums, pitted and diced
2 cups of plain yogurt, or almond milk

Directions:

Bring the quinoa, water, and nectar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Let cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let the quinoa cool completely. Carefully mix in the walnuts and chia seed and divide the mixture among 4 bowls.

Top each bowl with an equal amount of fruit and 1/2 cup of the yogurt or almond milk just before serving.

Additional Notes:
There are plenty of seasonal variations that work with this recipe as well — proving that something this good never goes out of style. Keep tuned here and I share a few more of my favorites over the next few months!

What is your favorite “go to” recipe that you enjoy all year-long?

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Just a Little “Spring Cleaning”

As soon as I open up my front windows and blinds to let the fresh spring air in my apartment, I become overwhelmed with an urge to clean up.

And by “clean up”, I mean CLEAN UP. Everything. From dusting the light fixtures on the ceiling to changing over my comforters to cleaning out the fridge — no inch of my apartment is spared.

Well — that’s not necessarily true. Over the past few years, one part of my apartment has just become more messy. I am a hoarder of pantry staples. I can’t help it. Canned tomatoes, broth, pastas, rice — when my brands go on sale, I stock up. And then before I use them all, they go on sale again and I stock up all over again. And my cupboards — and my waistline — have suffered as a result.

So when I opened up my windows the other day, I took a good long look at what I had been avoiding and decided it was time to make a change.

Before: What's all that crap?

I cleared off my counter, grabbed my step stool, opened up the garbage can, and got to work.

Shelf by shelf, I pulled every single item out of the cupboard and made three piles: whole, unprocessed/bulk foods; whole, packaged foods; and processed crap. I allowed myself to keep three items from the “processed crap” pile — a pack of tootsie roll suckers, my can of milo, and a jar of chocolate-hazelnut spread. Oh — and a jar of hot giardiniera. I dare you to even try to pry that from this former Chicago girl’s hands. These items were then put high on the top shelf, which forces me to grab the stool in order to reach them — that takes some serious commitment right there.

The whole, packaged foods include my “larabars”, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, tuna (in water), whole grain cereal, steep cut oats, whole grain pasta, wasa crackers, raw honey, vegetable broth, and dried cherries and other fruit. I purged a few items that I either won’t use within the next 2 – 4 months, but simply reorganizing and taking stock of what I have on hand was a huge step. I tried to centralize these on the second shelf — easy to see and grab when cooking.

The last part was my favorite part. Pulling out my pretty OXO containers and organizing all of my bulk, unprocessed, whole food items — quinoa, rice, cornmeal, nuts, seeds, lentils, popcorn, nutritional yeast, and unsweetened coconut flakes. These containers went front and center.

After: All clean!

Much better. Not perfect — but better.

Knowing what I have on hand and keeping my cupboard and pantry well-organized definitely helps to get my one step closer to eating in a fresh and “clean” manner. And that’s exactly what I need right now.

Do you have any “spring cleaning” rituals? What are some of your favorite “clean” pantry staples?

Homemade Almond Milk

Making the decision to start eating “clean” wasn’t one I made lightly — I gave consideration to the foods I already have in my pantry and knew I didn’t want to throw anything away without cause, and I also started thinking about the cost going forward. Being on a fairly limited budget, creativity will be key. Luckily, I’ve become quite fond of the bulk foods aisles at my favorite grocery stores.

Another thing I was trying to be conscious of was my tendency to try to take on too many new recipes and goals at one time — often leading to frustration and a full garbage can of things that didn’t come out as I had hoped or expected. So this time around, I wanted to start with one new staple recipe. Once I’ve fully incorporated that into my routine, I will try something else.

Since dairy is one of the things that I’ve noticed that I’ve become more sensitive to lately, this homemade almond milk seemed a fitting place to start. While it may seem like an overwhelming and inconvenient thing to make on my own — I’ve actually found this version to be creamier and tastier than anything I’ve tried out of a “tetrapak”. While I haven’t given up cheese entirely, or a splash of milk in my coffee some mornings, I have started to reach for this more than anything else. It’s a keeper.

Learning whole foods at Whole Foods

Almond Milk
From: Whole Foods Market Healthy Cooking Class with Chad Sarno
Makes: 4 – 6 cups
Prep time: 5 – 10 minutes, plus soaking time for the almonds

Ingredients:
1 cup raw, whole almonds, soaked (please see note)
4 -6 cups cold water, filtered
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
1 tsp date paste, optional

Directions:
Place the soaked almonds in your blender. Cover with the cold, filtered water. Add the vanilla and / or date paste –for sweetness — if desired.

Blend on high until almonds are fully pulverized.

Line a strainer or sieve with cheesecloth and pour the milk through, into a pitcher. Once all the liquid has passed through, carefully gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze remaining liquid through the strainer into the pitcher.

Just a little bit messy!

Promptly store in your fridge. The milk should be used within 2 – 3 days — just make sure to give it a quick stir before using.

Any amount you won’t use right away can be frozen. I highly recommend the medium Ziploc “twist & lock” containers for this, they are easy to stack and stay pretty well sealed. Just be sure to leave some room at the top to allow for expansion — and make sure to use within 1 – 2 months after freezing.

Additional notes:
The biggest key to making this work is the soaked almonds. To best soak the almonds, place them in a bowl or large measuring cup — my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup works great. Cover with cold, filtered water and place in your fridge for at least 12 hours. 

I prefer to soak them for 2 days, rinsing them every 12 hours or so and replacing the water. Just remember, the softer the nuts — the easier the blending.

I’m not a big fan of waste, so I’ve been “dehydrating” the leftover almond pulp to use as almond meal in other recipes — like Elizabeth’s Paleo Crunch.

Straining the almond pulp

To do this, I simply spread the pulp out on a cookie sheet and let dry out in my oven — on the lowest temperature — for 1 – 2 hours.

What is your favorite whole food staple? Any favorite recipe?

Coming “Clean” — But Why?

The spring cleaning bug has me rolling on all cylinders. It started with organizing my desk, then my bookshelves, and then the pantry, and then dusting off my workout gear. My weights, yoga mat, Bosu ball, boxing gloves. I’m truly ashamed to admit how dusty they have all become over time. It’s more than enough to make it clear that something needs to change — my habits and my mindset. And if I want these changes to stick over the long-term, I need to really define the “Why?” behind making the changes.

When it comes to my health and fitness — defining a “Why?” should be easy. Right?

Wrong.

Is it about looks or all of the clothes that are now too small? Maybe. But I’ve been down that road before, and a smaller jean size doesn’t buy happiness outright. There is more to it than that.

Is it because I’m staring down the barrel of my 30th birthday? Maybe. But what will happen after the big birthday comes and goes? I don’t want to be facing 4-0 in the same place.

Is it because I feel like I’m stuck on pause while my friends and family are busy with weddings, babies, buying homes, making their last school loan payment while I’m just adding to mine? Maybe. But none of that is really about me. I’m really am happy for their successes and joys and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The one thing I keep coming back to is that I miss my old life — the running, the surfing (ok — maybe that was more paddling and wiping out than surfing but still…), the yoga, the spinning, the hiking, the Wednesday nights playing beach volleyball by sunset. Part of me wants to resent my move to Boston because it forced me to give up my access to most of those things. But the truth is — if I really want to, there’s a way to do all of it here. It’s just going to take a little more work than it used to.

I may never get over the peace of being able to walk 20 steps out my front door and being able to run along the ocean for as many miles as my legs would carry me. And I’ll never forget those few months I could roll over in bed and watch the waves break, while I tried to drag my butt downstairs and into a wetsuit.

But there is nothing stopping me from making the short 10-minute walk down to the beachfront running path here. And there is nothing stopping me from teaming up with friends here that already surf to make the trek to the shore. And there is nothing stopping me from getting up 30 minutes earlier each morning to make some time for yoga. And there is certainly nothing stopping me from treating my stomach like a glorified garbage dump.

I know it’s completely unreasonable to expect perfection right out of the gate, but each new day is an opportunity to practice living as clean and healthy as possible. And you know that saying, “practice makes perfect”? One day at a time, I will work to make the changes that I need in order to get the results I want to see. And while I may never be 100% “perfect”, I’ll be damned if I’m not giving it one helluva try.

What is the first step you take when you need to “clean” things up a bit?

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