Hey–It Worked!

couscous dish

So, OK.  I admit it.  Even I have those days (like during the first week back to school) when I’m scratching my head going “What the heck are we gonna have to dinner!?”

This is my new couscous dish.  It took me 15 minutes to prepare and about five to clean up so there.  And it’s nutritious.  And my family liked it.  Josie was only so-so but the other two asked for seconds.  Two ‘outa three ain’t bad!

Michelle’s Couscous Dinner:

Ingredients: 1 16 ounce box of couscous cooked following directions with chicken broth instead of water, 1 bag of peas (steamed) diced leftover chicken.

Directions: cook couscous according to what the box says.  I always prefer mine with chicken or veg. stock instead of water but you do what you gotta do.  When done mix in peas and chopped up chicken.

What I love about this meal (besides the fact that it’s east-tasty-healthy, that is): It may be the Midwesterner in me but I find it very satisfying to provide a complete meal in one bowl.  On these still warm school nights when my kiddos can’t wait to wolf down their dinner so they can run back outside and play, this type of meal is perfecto.  Then you do the math: one pot for dinner (OK two if you count the peas) and a bowl for each family member… garlic toast was served on the side so one more plate…

Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, Grasshopper.

If you’re shaking your head and thinking: “Oh yeah?  Great.  But my kids will never eat that.” I can only shamelessly promote myself so many times on my own blog: contact me and sign up for “Come to the Table” like Karen, Ana, and Cat did for next week…

p.s. a bloggy thanks to Kimber, Anamaria and Lydia for attending “Meal Planning 101” this week.  We had so much fun!!!  🙂

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Say “Hello” To My Little Friends…

melons

Summer melons from my local farmers market.  Want to make me smile?  This should do it.

We’ve been enjoying some summer excursions–which have been a total blast–that have caused us to miss our weekly fave farmers market–which is a total drag.  But this week we were in town!

From time to time I post my treasured farmers market produce for your viewing enjoyment.  This photo features the famous hand of my farmers market sidekick, Josie.  She wanted me to say that.

I am not one of those healthy-foody-type gurus who make people feel guilty by saying things like “You should really be buying your produce from a local farmers market.”

There are high points in every growing season, though.  Right now is one of those moments.  Summer fruits and vegetables are at a real peak in So-Cal.   Besides these gorgeous melons, stone fruit (peaches, plums, etc…), tomatoes and green beans are also in a real state of cha-cha.

If you haven’t been to a farmers market in a while, my advice for well rounded summer bucket list is to hit one in the next three to four weeks.  In other words: You should really by buying your produce from a local farmers market!  Maybe not every week, all your produce, all the time, as a life style.  If that ain’t your gig; fine.  I’m not judging.

However, if you don’t get your hands on one of these farmers market melons soon, I’m here to tell ya: you will be missing out on a real treat.

Packin’ It Up!

picnic lunch

Nothing says “summer” to me more than picnic lunches.

There are plenty of things I dislike about living in Los Angeles County.  Housing is ridiculously expensive.  Traffic can be a bear.  Some parts of town aren’t so nice…

There are plenty of things I absolutely love about living in Los Angeles County.  The weather is ridiculously gorgeous.  The crowds are made up of people from all over the world.  Some parts of town are way cool.

If I focused on the dislikes, I’d be frustrated.  Due to big-city-modern-day-life-issues my children will never grow up like I did; roaming the neighborhood freely on bikes without mom knowing their exact whereabouts at all times.   This ain’t southern Minnesota (and it ain’t the 70’s either!)

So I focus on the cool stuff.  My kids have soooooo many experiences at their fingertips that I never even dreamed about when I was a child.  There are free summer concerts (often with big-name recording artists!) and multicultural fairs.  There are free/cheap museums galore.  There parks everywhere and (my personal fave) there are miles and miles of beaches.

When we head out for our various summer excursions–my regular reminders about the positives of raising a family ’round here–I do like to pack some tasty and healthy food for my crew.  We partake in food events, of course, but often I bring along the staples and we splurge on a treat here and there.  This meal planning not only serves the purpose of keeping us healthy, it is the more economical approach to travel.  I know my grandmother is smiling down on me when I say that. 🙂

A typical Calva-Despard lunch-on-the-go looks like what I have pictured above.  Sandwiches containing nitrate free meats are prepared on whole grain bread.  Summer pea pods and fresh carrots are ready for mouth popping fun.  Fresh watermelon awaits our finger tips.  Roasted peanuts are fun and packed with protein.  Kalamata olives are a salty treat, and for our sweet desires I baked homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie bars.  These are not “healthy” per se, but as I prepared them myself I control the ingredients and don’t worry about multisyllabic hydrogenated goop.  (They are also sliced into small squares as a little sugar is nice, but we don’t want to go overboard now do we.)

You will also notice a 3/4 bag of Trader Joe’s baked cheese curl things.  Again; not a “healthy” choice, but better than most.  A small portion for everyone brings a smile to faces without too many nasty calories to other places. (plus, I don’t like them so I’m not tempted.  Ha!)

One thing not pictured is our beverage.  Usually water, although I have been known to grab some small cans of apple juice or small carbonated juicey-drinky things.  I’m not big on the waste producing juice box scene, but I will admit that an occasional little something special to drink is appreciated even by me.

Ahhh… summer time!

 

Glass ‘O Green Stuff

green juice 3

I’m a big drinker.  Yup.  I love to drink stuff of all kinds.  I’m a  fruit smoothy lover and have been poking fun at my girlfriend, Noeleen, for drinking what appears to be a daily thermos of blended grass for a long time.

To shut me up she brought me some to sample (finally took the hint!) and I thought I’d share her concoction with the world–or at least my little corner of it.   I know you can drink green leafy thingies, and have done so before.  I must admit, however, that it is a bit odd to look at some fresh greens and think…

green juice 1

..I am going to drink this.  Weird, I say.

This glass ‘o green stuff, my friends, is darn tasty I will attest.  And I don’t mean that in a “I eat so much healthy food that my taste buds have morphed into a state where even weird things taste good.”   I am not one of those “dark side” kinda folks.  Promise.   Really

Noeleen’s Glass ‘O Green Stuff (which I modified and still enjoyed–see my version, below)

Ingredients:
1 cup juiced pineapple (if that’s too intense trader joes has 100% pure pineapple juice;)
you can also substitute the juice for water…it still tastes great!)
1 Granny Smith
1 handful of spinach
1 handful of kale
1 handful of frozen pineapple.
Directions:
cube the apple and put in blender with water or juice.
blend the heck out of it;)
add the spinach & kale
add the frozen pineapple
enjoy:)
Michelle’s version (aka: I didn’t have exactly what Noeleen described so I took a few liberties… so unlike me.)
Ingredients:
handful spinach
1 handful kale
few big scoops of apple sauce (I had bought a Granny Smith apple for just this purpose, but Mike found it in the fruit bowl before I got to it!)
can of pineapple including juice
few ice cubes
Directions: (and here’s a pre-blending photo for your viewing pleasure)
green juice 2
Blend the heck out of it and drink!
Tips: I think the key is the pineapple in one form or another.  It has such a sweet and tangy flavor that it can work with, well, some green leafy stuff that you wouldn’t likely consider drinking in the first place!  The apple, whether fresh or as a sauce, provides some added sweetness of course.  I think strawberries would work well.  Wouldn’t go for melon, though, as I think it would be too mild.  I mean, we are drinking kale here; you need some power behind it!
While Noeleen’s kids love this beverage, mine were–surprisingly–not so enthused.  For me though, I like to make one of these a couple times a week and keep it in the fridge.  I can grab a glass here or there and know I’m getting some quick and good nutrition for a girl on the go.
Some final nutritional notes on kale (aka: the Queen of greens!)…
Kale is high in fiber and contains no fat.  Kale is high in iron, vitamin A, C and K, is loaded with calcium and is filled with powerful antioxidants.  It is an anti-inflamatory food that also supports good cardiovascular health.
That’s a lot of bang from a small little green guy.  Hope you enjoy this tasty and healthy recipe!

Kitty Purgason’s White Chicken Chili

Kitty Purgason's Chili

I met this chili, and Kitty Purgason, at the Pasadena Covenant Church meal contest last fall.  This church provides shelter and meals to homeless folks on cold, wet winter nights..  Roughly 12 members of the congregation volunteered to whip up their favorite home-cooked recipes, provide a “taste off,” and use a vote to choose the upcoming menu.

People, this is my kind of church experience–it’s got “Midwest” written all over it.

My Michigander transplant girlfriend, Lisa, is a Covenant Church member and she lets me tag along when I’m in the mood.  As a native Minnesotan raised in a Methodist home and church, from the first time I popped my eclectically-spiritual face onto the Covenant scene I felt right at home.   Throw in a pot-luck taste test with a recipe made by the you-can’t-get-more-Midwestern-than-this: Kitty Purgason… Girlfriend, that is a taste of Michelle’s heaven.

The Midwestern United States isn’t exactly known for its gourmet approach to food.  Common references to “casseroles” and questions regarding the usage of cream of mushroom soup have arisen.  And while, yes, casseroles (actually, the correct term is “hot-dish,”) and cream of mushroom soup are something with which we Mid-westerners are familiar, we offer much more to the culinary world.

The Midwestern philosophy to cooking is actually quite a hat-tip to the modern mama.  Savory.  Efficient.  Satisfying.  Wholesome.  These are words that, when used to describe dinner, are often met with smiles.  I said SMILES.  Who couldn’t use more of those at the table?

I love Kitty Purgason’s White Chicken Chili for three reasons.  First of all, it’s easy-tasty-healthy. Second, the ingredients can be kept on hand (most in the pantry) for easy whip-up’ed-ness. Also, you can totally fudge the quantities on pretty much everything (just throw in extra this if you are missing a can of that) and still present a delicious meal for your family.  Now you can smile too!

Finally, the name Kitty Purgason makes my heart smile.  Back in Rochester, Minnesota I had a classmate named Kitty who, in the third grade, helped me with fractions and taught me how to draw trees that didn’t resemble lollipops.  My childhood friend, Kitty, was friendly and generous, much like the Covenant-Church-Kitty I recently met.

Besides “Calva,” my elementary classroom rosters had a list of surnames including Torgrimson, Olson and Thompson.  So, when kind hand of someone named Kitty Purgason was extended to me over my chili sample that fall day, I just knew this recipe would join my life and table.

Now it can join yours too.

Kitty Purgason’s White Chicken Chili

Chili Ingredients: 1 chopped onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves, couple three cans chicken broth (0r approximate equivalent), leftover diced cooked chicken, 1 can drained white or pinto beans, 1 can corn (drain but save liquid in case you need it), 1 can chopped tomatoes with liquid, 1 (or 2) small can mild green chilis, optional: chopped fresh tomatillos if available.  See toppings ingredients below…

Definitely serve with: fresh lime, tortilla chip crumbles Optionally serve with (unless you’re at my house, then this is definite too!): sour cream, fresh chopped cilantro, diced green onion, hot sauce

Directions: Saute onion and garlic with a few splashes of olive oil.  Add everything else and bring to a simmer.  Um… you’re done and it likely took all of 12 minutes.

Notes: This is a very mild chili, which works great for my kids.  We all love the lime and chips on top and I put the rest of the accoutrements on the table and we sprinkle as desired.  Mike and I add hot sauce, but of course…  Doctoring your bowl of yum up with all the fixin’s is really half the fun.  Also, even though I live a stone’s throw from a Latino super market and could get tomatillos in a second, I have never gone to the trouble when making this recipe and and it still tastes stellar.

Final Note (still with me?): Feel free to use fresh corn, fresh tomatoes, etc… if you have them on hand, of course.  But isn’t it nice to know you don’t have to?

Spreadin’ the Word

MOM's Club 1

Recently I’ve had the privilege of speaking with some super-cool moms at MOM’S Club of Altadena and MOM’S Club of Monrovia. (Hey Ladies!  Loved meeting with you all!)

As moms today we have modern conveniences coming out ‘our ears–so why do so many of us struggle with nutrition?

Maybe it’s because–thanks to modern conveniences–it’s so easy to pop processed foods into lunch boxes as our kids sprint out the door.  Maybe it’s because as a society we place far more emphasis on test scores than we do on eating properly.  Maybe it’s because we’re all so dang busy…

What I have learned since beginning my family-journey  nine years ago is that if you want to eat well and get your family to do the same, you have to be very intentional about it.  If you’re occasionally flipping through a magazine article or glancing around at what most people consume, well, you’ll see it’s a low bar.

I’ve seen statistics that state somewhere around 4% of children eat properly on a regular basis.  Childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes is rising so quickly that experts predict our kids’ generation will actually have a shorter life expectancy than ours.

Um… what the WHAT!?

I’m a “Generation X’er.”  What is my children’s generation going to be labeled?  “Generation heavier-die-younger?”

When I talk to moms about nutrition my message is triple motivated 1. I have a handle on easy-tasty-healthy food at my house (my kids are in that 4 %!) and I’m thrilled to share what I know.  2. I’m hoping that if more people like me do this we can, perhaps, come up with a different label for all our kids to share!

MOM'S Club 2

3. Besides reminding myself of the importance of what I do in the kitchen I always learn from other parents when I present.  It’s just as empowering to share my message as it is to get ideas from others.

Here’s to finding healthy journey for all our families–and to enjoying the experience along the way!

Making the world a better place, one meal at a time: that’s me. 🙂

Easy-Peasy Chili

easy chili

OK.  So my girlfriend, Jen, requested I deliver on my promise to post my chili scene before the weather turns.  As she is one of my favorite people on the planet (she helped schlep my kids and even brought me a gorgeous plant when I was on my imagined death bed last month,) this is a request I am happy to accommodate.

Michelle’s Easy-Peasy Black Bean Chili

Ingredients: 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 med onion (diced), 1 clove crushed garlic, 2 med bell peppers (diced–approximately 1 1/2 cups), Two 15 oz. cans black beans (with liquid–don’t drain’em!), One 15 oz. can diced, stewed or crushed tomatoes, One 6 oz. can tomato paste, 1 1/2 tsp. chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Simmer onion (any kind will do,) garlic and olive oil for a few minutes.  Add bell pepper and cook until peppers start to soften.  Add everything else, stir and bring to a boil/simmer until peppers are fully cooked.  You.  Are.  Done.

(OK.  Yes you can top off your creation with shredded cheese, diced onions, sour cream, what have you… Then.  You.  Are.  Done.)

Tips: You can use fresh tomatoes if you have them, but this is the “easy-peasy”  recipe so we’re going with that theme.  Any color bell pepper and any type of onion will do.  This is a mild version so my kids will enjoy it as well.  Often I serve my three little Gringo-mouths first and then add cayenne and chipotle powder or hot sauce to Mike and mine.

You can use other beans besides black (kidney, red, white, pinto) if you like, but I only include the liquid of black beans when I cook.  Any other kind tends to have that viscous water-ish situation that I prefer to drain.   It grosses me out.  What can I say?  So, if you use red or another type of bean, you’ll need to add water.

Meat (chopped leftover cooked chicken or cooked sausage, ground beef) can also be added to this recipe, but even my meat-and-potatoes husband found this version satisfying from the get-go.

Besides the obvious ease with which this meal is created (it literally takes me 10 minutes start to finish), I love how healthy and tasty this chili is.  Legumes baby!!!!

My final fave thing about this recipe is the variety of simple ways I can use it to make different meals.  There are soooo many ways, in fact, that I’m going to don this week “Chili Week!”  Tune in all week to see all the easy-peasy-tasty-healthy ways you can make this meal for your family too!

I usually double or even triple/quadruple this recipe, freeze or share with someone I love.

For today, we’ll go with two chili thingies:

Michelle’s fave: Chili with crushed tortilla chips on top (Hey–how did that beer get in the photo!?)

chili with chips

And we also like our chili with cornbread.

chili with cornbread

I usually use Trader Joe’s cornbread mix, and substitute buttermilk for regular milk.   Super yum.

What else can a mama do with chili?  Baby, just you wait…

SLAW

slaw

I’ve a confession to make.  Lately I’ve been a little OCD about cole slaw.  I know, right?  Of all things…

Since my “mouthy no worky” due to illness early this month, I’ve been slowly regaining my sense of taste.  For a few weeks now, even though my tongue is regaining a purpose in life, I’ve been desperate for foods that tasted like the good ‘ol days.

Enter: vinegar.  So I got a hankerin’ for some slaw one day and this idea turned in a two week long mission to find the perfect cole slaw recipe.  I decided that when I developed the recipe I liked, I’d post about it.

My friends, that day has come.

Michelle’s (and Mike, my girlfriend Lisa and daughter Josie’s) Fave Cole Slaw

Ingredients: 1/2 head cabbage, chopped; 2 carrots, shredded; few slender pieces red onion (don’t need to much); 1/4 cup cider vinegar; 1/4 cup olive oil; 2 tsp sugar; few dashes salt; dash pepper

Directions: While you are prepping the veggies, bring the vinegar, olive oil and seasonings to a boil on the stove top.  With the sugar in there this will happen in about 2 mins, maybe less.  Mix your now kinda-syrupy and warm vinaigrette and pour it over the top of your naked veggies.  Toss all this yummy stuff together and let it sit for a few hours before serving.  That’s it!

Tips: I like unfiltered cider vinegar (but then I’ve been working on jump starting  my taste buds so it could just be me.)  I played around with several cole slaw recipes before I deduced this one.  I don’t mind the mayonnaise type slaws, but they are so darn unhealthy that I figured I’d put my energy into the vinegar based kind.

The real secret with this recipe lies in the heating of the dressing before putting it on the veggies.  It doesn’t blanch the cabbage, per se, but the heat does do a little voo-doo which is nice.  Plus, heating dissolves the sugar and makes for a nice light syrup.

This recipe is pretty mild, actually, but makes for a great side dish for BBQ chicken, tacos, ribs, sandwiches.   I like this slaw because it’s easy-tasty-healthy (my three fave food adjectives!)

There are fancier concoctions that yield some nicely complex slaw situations, but for the effort, cost and taste, this  simple slaw recipe gets my vote.

Finally (seriously, how much can a person say about cabbage!?) I never knew how darn healthy cabbage is for ya!  It’s loaded with fiber, vitamin C, E, calcium, serves as a blood detoxifier… plus it’s cheap as heck and literally lasts for weeks in the fridge.  No wonder it’s such a big staple for so many cultures world wide.

OK.  I’m done.

Mouthy No Worky

sick

So.  I’m feeling much better today, which is, you know, good.  Great.  It’s great.

Now if I could only taste things… yeah… that’d be kinda cool.

It’s a tad difficult to find inspiration for a blog called “Kickin’ it in the Kitchen” when everything I put in my mouth tastes like the photo above.  I have thumbed through my photo archives and find that the brilliant colors and pretty shapes annoy me right now.  (I do promise that even if I feel this way by Friday, I’ll pretend and post something tasty anyway.)

And so for today’s post I will leave you with this quote, which, although not too deep, I find particularly perfect as all five of the Calva-Despards stumble in and out of this dang virus which visited our home five days ago and still refuses to leave:

“You know, all that really matters is that the people you love are happy and healthy.  Everything else is just sprinkles on the sundae.” –Paul Walker

Ain’t that the truth!

PB&A

PB&A

I’ve been experimenting a bit this season with fruits in new culinary ways.  Apples and pears are so divine right now at my local farmers market and at the grocery store.

Last week I whipped up a turkey, provolone, red onion and sliced Bosc pear sandwich for Mike and me.  On his I put some Coleman’s hot mustard and on mine I put some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  On both of ours we gave a thumbs up.  Really nice combination.

My latest fave late breakfast/early lunch depending-on-my-schedule light meal is my newly titled “PB&A.”  On a toasted slice of whole grain bread, I put a light smear of peanut butter and then pile on some fresh, tart and gorgeous sliced apples.  Think apple w/peanut butter meets peanut butter sandwich or PB&J grows up!   (I am, like, so, like, mature now…)

This open-face sammy is super tasty, healthy and easy to whip up/clean up.  Just what a mama-on-the go needs to fuel her day!

Some particulars: Years ago I made the switch from the hydrogenated peanut butters (like Jif, Skippy, etc…) as I had read enough to turn me off.  It was tough at first to acquire a taste for the non-hydrogenated, natural peanut butters.  I used to salt (sounds weird, I know, but it worked) our peanut butter sandwiches until Mike and I got used to the simpler flavor.

Mike was a trooper as you can imagine how tired he gets of the “Honey!  Guess what cool thing I learned to help us be healthier!” type conversations I have been known to start… Now both of us–and the kids who never knew any different–agree that when we eat the more conventional peanut butters it tastes like candy.  Way too sweet.

Do keep in mind, however, that although natural peanut butter is a healthier choice than hydrogenated and is a good source of protein, it’s still loaded with fat.  Sigh… if only it weren’t I’d love to have about a 1/4 inch of it between my bread and apples… but smear is nice too.

Finally, I used Pink Lady apples on this PB&A.  Dessert?  The other half of the apple!