SNACKS!

dates with nuts

OK.  So, before I launch into my shpeel I want to say one thing: I really do despise it when someone professes the ease of substituting healthy options for junk food cravings.

Perhaps you’ve heard of how “a fresh crisp piece of celery is a great replacement for, like, potato chips!”  Yeah right.  In fact, just like with Lay’s, I can’t eat just one!  I often finish the whole bunch of celery before I realize what I’ve done.  It’s that good! 🙂

My personal defense against eating nasty snacks is to not buy them.  Or, if I do buy salty thingies (I have three kids and I’m not a tyrant for heaven’s sake!) I purchase things I don’t personally like.  We currently have a bag of TJ’s brand baked curly cheesy snacks… and probably some pretzels, pirate’s booty… I think that’s it.

I’m mostly a savory girl, but I do get sweet cravings too.  Above is one of my fave snacks when I’m in the mood for something sweet.  If you promise not to snort I promise not to even imply it’s “a good substitute for chocolate chip cookies.”  There is no substitute for chocolate chip cookies, honey.  End your search now.

But there are really tasty, satisfying, healthy foods you can consume that can give those taste buds a good hug from time to time.  Enter: dates with nuts.  YUM.  I buy my dried fruit at the farmer’s market, but you can get it lots of places.  Just be sure to try options if you don’t like it as the quality can really vary.

A few dried dates with some delicious nuts–especially pecans… oh my…–is just what the doctor ordered for me when I’m in the mood for something sweet.   Ya’ got yer fiber, ya got yer protein, ya got yer vitamins.  Another combo I like is cashews with craisins.  Yum-oh.

Unsolicited tip: try to eat unsalted nuts if possible.  Way healthier, of course.  If you feel like you just can’t do it (Mike used to be this way) mix salted with unsalted and slowly work your way toward salt free.  Once you get there you won’t miss the salt at all.

Winter Salad

I know I use the word “love” excessively when I talk about food, but, well, I really do love a good salad!

In my humble opinion, a “good” salad should contain a variety of textures and colors and be filled with seasonal produce, when possible, that combine to make interesting and varied flavors.  If you are looking for the iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing, you can stop reading this post now.  If you’d like to tantalize your taste buds (oh my!) and whip up something delicious and nutritious, keep reading…

For a southern Californian, it is easy to make fresh salads year round.  But what’s a meal maker to do if it’s January and one happens to live in, for example, Otisville, MI?  Don’t despair, Michigander amigas!   It is still possible to make a decent winter salad, even if you live in the temporary tundra.  You likely won’t be hitting the farmers market this weekend like I will, but I think you’ll find most of my suggestions at super market near you.

If I use leafy greens, I always start with something dark.  For this salad I used spinach.  You know those fancy restaurants that serve salad sculptures precariously balanced on plates with artsy looking leaves and stalks so large that even a muppet could fit in his mouth?  I hate that.  I like my salad to be easily poppable into my mouth.  You can use a knife or, my fave time saver, poultry shears.  Snip, snip, done!

cutting greens

I chopped up some carrots, celery, cucumbers and then cabbage.  I especially like the striking contrast between the bright white-ish cabbage and the dark spinach.  I do say it is a quite a nice visual, don’t you agree, Dah-ling? (see photo below)

In the summer, there’s nothing (NOTHING) better than a ripe red tomato in a salad.  But in the winter there’s nothing (NOTHING) more disappointing than a white, cakey tomato in a salad.  Don’t do it!  Yes, you need something acidic to make your salad truly del-ish, but there are many better winter options than a lackluster tomato! Even with So-Cal’s year round produce scene, options are still seasonal.   Try a tart apple, fresh or canned sliced pears, or what I used in this bowl of yum: some fresh oranges.

Another winter salad secret of mine is craisins.  Yum!!!  These tart and tangy little garnet gems (they seriously do look like jewels, don’t they?) are the perfect complement to my almost-done masterpiece.

craisins

My kids are well-trained (hello–I hope so!) to eat a good salad, but prefer it without cheese or red onion.  So I usually toss theirs with a balsamic vinaigrette, serve them, and then add the rest for the grownups.  I adore thinly sliced red onion in pretty much any kind of salad, and I also like a dash of cheese.  In this salad I used a mild and salty crumbled feta.  Parmesan or goat cheese could also have worked.   If I use pears, I sometimes like a mild blue cheese.

People who enjoy my salads often get annoyed when they discover that I usually mix the dressing right on top as I go.  “How can I recreate that Michelle!?”  I like a few dashes of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic salt, pepper, sugar, sometimes mustard, sometimes honey, sometimes apple cider vinegar, sometimes celery salt…  (Sorry.  That’s not helpful; it’s annoying.  I think you get the picture…)

I promise to post some actual salad dressing recipes soon.  Honestly, though, when you’ve got so much good stuff in your bowl, a simple vinegar and oil (my general go-to) dressing from a bottle can do just fine too.

Drum roll please… Tah-dah!

salad

Some tips: Add the juice from oranges or pears to the dressing: yum!  This salad was served as part of a meal, but you can make your salad the main dish by adding some protein and maybe some bread or crackers on the side.  My preferred protein pals include chopped chicken, chickpeas, kidney beans or fresh nuts (walnuts, pecans=smile.)  Candied nuts taste marvy, but pack on the calories, so I usually just use plain.

Get creative with your salads.  My mom likes chopped cauliflower and broccoli in hers.  Sometimes we don’t even include lettuce or other leafy greens.  Gasp!  I know.  Shocking.