Quinoa + Winter Squash Bowl with Cumin + Lime

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Each year at the beginning of the holiday season, I try to reflect on the people and experiences for which I am grateful. This past week, I’ve been selecting snippets to share, either directly, over on Facebook, or here in this space. When I reflect on the objects that matter most in this life, there’s only a short list: My bible, my wedding ring, my running shoes. Perhaps another day I’ll share about the first two, but this reflection and recipe are about the symbolism of the shoes.

 

Each pair is temporary, special only for a time and then easily replaced. Once done, they get jammed into our tiny front closet, worn out completely in garden work, and eventually tossed in a donation bin once a sizeable pile has accumulated. I tend to treat each pair extra nice until it hits 400-500 miles and then all emotional attachment is heaped on the next. The shoes I’m currently running in are neon-orange and turquoise, and they contrast with whatever I tend to throw on above. Depending on the day, I can pull off looking like I’m late to a one-act circus show.

 

I started running within the first couple weeks of moving into my freshman dorm in college, and over the many years since, I’ve come to know each of the places I’ve lived and visited in my running shoes. I have run 5am dim streets in Limerick, jet-lagged, no phone, no idea where I was going, no one in the whole world knowing my location. I’ve run the streets of La Grande, all hours of the day and night, just to feel alive and at peace. I’ve gotten to know the nooks and crannies of Corvallis, the suburbs of Dublin north and south, the pear orchards and cattle ranches of Southern Oregon’s Phoenix and Eagle Point, the Christmas tree farms and nurseries of Sandy, the angry farmer’s dogs on the outskirts of Albany, the oak savannah, communter-town streets and horse farms of Wilsonville. There was a month when I ran the rural-ish Keizer roads, and then a school-year of running all the west-side neighborhoods of Roseburg. It’s safe to say I’ve seen a good portion of Oregon in my running shoes, both the streets, forested and mossy trails, the beach, and the infinite farm roads. And still, there are all the travel cities I’ve gotten to know in between.

 

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Far more than what I’ve seen in these shoes and the ones that have come before, is what they’ve made me feel: Release from the worry and guilt that makes up my personality. Clarity; knowledge of what sits right in my soul. Cleansing from anger. Cleansing from feeling anything at all. I’ve caught up with good friends and high-fived others out on the paths. I’ve been visible and seen–a role model to the neighbors who knew me as “that runner girl,” and my current neighbor, a 55-year-old bachelor, who frequently runs out the door in his skivvies(!!) to ask, How many miles today? I’ve skipped biology lectures and headed for the trails instead. I’ve conjugated Spanish verbs over and over in my head, and I’ve run faster each mile, using my anger over a guy to fuel each step. I’ve pumped up the techno-dance-treadmill-tunes, and I’ve taken all my closest girl friends out for one last run as a single lady. I’ve listened for the first sounds of the birds in the morning and taken in countless sun rises that never fail to leave me astonished and breathless at the beauty of this world. I’ve meditated on simply living and breathing and just plain being a better me.

 

These shoes have enabled me to find out who I am, to push myself beyond the comfortable, to accomplish things, to release my competitive spirit. They’ve been a way to spend happy weekends with William–and most of all, they’ve helped me to develop a better relationship with my body, to be able to listen and nourish it with the foods and nutrients it needs.

 

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This recipe is one I’ve eaten countless times these past few weeks. After a long or hard run, I tend to go through phases where I desire certain foods. I’m of the belief that my body is either telling me I need to eat those foods because of their nutrients–or I’m simply crazy. Perhaps, a little of both. ;) Eggs, quinoa, and winter squash have been on repeat lately and like many of my favorite recipes, this one came about when I grabbed a random bunch of ingredients from the fridge in a post-run hunger. It was perfect from that first time to every subsequent helping I’ve made since.

 

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Quinoa + Winter Squash Bowl with Cumin + Lime, serves one
1 Tbs. cumin-lime dressing, see below
1 jalepeño or slightly spicy pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1- 1 1/2 cups roasted winter squash, chopped
2 eggs
large handful of spinach or other greens
1 cup cooked quinoa
more dressing, to taste
  • In a medium-sized skillet, heat 1 Tbs. dressing on medium high. Sauté peppers for 5-10 minutes until soft, and then add roasted winter squash. Cook for 2-3 minutes more, until squash is warm.
  • Crack eggs directly into the skillet, and stir them amongst the vegetables, making a scramble.
  • When eggs are almost cooked through, add spinach and quinoa and heat through entirely.
  • Pour it all into a bowl to serve, and add more dressing to taste.
 
Cumin-Lime Dressing, adapted from Laura 
1 small jalapeño, seeded
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
juice of 2 limes + a little bit of zest
1 tsp. honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper
  • To make the dressing, puree all the ingredients together in a food processor or blender, and salt and pepper to taste.

Summer Slowness- and SimpleTaco Salad Bar

 

Growing up, I always thought of summer in terms of its slowness.  Sure there were the numerable fairs, 4-H meetings and camps, and horse shows.  But what I thought of summer were the long stretches of hours and days in between. These implied camping with the grandparents, playing barbie and build-a-fort with the neighbor children, having a chance to “catch up” with the television, and having hours to while away the time with a good book.  Summer implied stress-free, no obligations, fun.

For me, this is the first summer of having a “real-job” out of school. Disappointingly, despite the frequent Saturday trips to the beach or to visit home and old friends, or the impromptu beer and pizza nights or barbecue and backyard fire pit nights with friends, summer has lost its slowness.  Gone are the glory hours in between, where the ultimate result of deep thinking was to have intelligent conversations.

Now summer seems to want a juxtaposition with adult obligations–as all we truly desire is to have those lost hours back.  As I consider this; as I steal back a few lost hours of summer,  I’m left wondering if those times ever really left?  Or if those hours in between are still there, waiting to be used?

 
 

In my recent use of those lost summer hours, I theorized that the best taco salad needs the right dressing–a hint of spicy, infused with lime and a bit of sweet.  After experimenting a few times, I gained the perfect combination of cumin and paprika, honey, and lime, tamed with a small dab of cool yogurt.  Armed with this new dressing as the final accompaniment, this simple taco salad bar truly delivers.

 
 
Taco Salad
1 cup cheddar cheese, finely grated
3 Tbs. cilantro
3 scallion tops, thinly sliced
1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
3/4 cup corn
4-5 cups spinach mixture
beef taco filling (see below)
dressing of honey, cumin, and lime (see below)
tortilla chips
lime wedges
  • Prepare beef taco filling and salad dressing.
  • Assemble each ingredient in individual jars and serve as a taco salad bar.
  • Enjoy summer.  And its slowness!
 
Dressing of Honey, Cumin, and Lime 
1 Tbs. honey
juice from half a lime
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp paprika
1 Tbs. plain yogurt
  • Whisk all ingredients together until smooth, and pour or spoon over prepared salad.
 
Beef taco filling, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
1 1/2 tsp. canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 Tbs. chili powder
3/4 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. coriander
1 Tbs. diced fresh oregano
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
salt
3/4 lb. lean ground beef
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp. white vinegar
3 scallions, white parts only, thinly sliced
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook until softened and golden.
  • Add spices and salt; cook, stirring constantly until fragrant.
  • Add ground beef and cook until brown, breaking up into small pieces.
  • Add chicken broth, tomato paste, and vinegar.  Bring to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid has been reduced, about 10 minutes.  About halfway through, add sliced scallions and stir in.
 

Lovely Lemon Cake

Cakes.  When I was young I wanted to decorate cakes.  I dreamed of owning an eensy shop with the most exquisite flavors. Colors. Details. 

For years I attempted to decorate cakes that with their uneven edges and soft, fluffy frosting never turned out as I had imagined.

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Last year, I convinced my two roommates to take a cake decorating class with me.  This was the loveliest of adventures.  Anneke, Shannon, and I each baked a cake per week and attempted to learn what real cake decorating required: 

 

Lots of sugar, butter, coloring, and frustration.  Lots of boys stopping by for lots of cake. 

 

Not only was this a special opportunity each week for us to spend quality time together, it resulted in many interesting creations.  Like Shannon’s Proposal cake dedicated to Anneke’s boyfriend, Russel.  Or the “Wedding Cake” baked for the firehouse boys—which meant we never had to worry about getting immediate aid in case of a fire.  Perhaps the best creation that slid out of this class was Tyler’s birthday cake—the one Shannon spent all day creating.  Dark chocolate with vivid blue flowers.  It was served with what has come to be a delicate and infamous beverage—what Tyler termed “pond water.” 

After partaking in this class, testing more frosting recipes than I ever want to again, and getting frustrated with my own lack of patience, I came to the conclusion that I am not a cake artist. 

Yet I still bake lots of cakes.  Whenever I have time.  And decorate them.  These days the cakes end perfectly level.  The frosting consistency and flavor is just so. But the decorations—layers of petals, vines, and scrolls—they’d be better found in a real cake shop.

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Lovely Lemon Cake  adapted from Cooking Light.
1 1/2 cups granulated or ultrafine baking sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
6 egg whites
1 T. each lemon and lime zest
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 1/3 cups non-fat milk, plus 1 T. white vinegar
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1 t. each lemon and lime zest
1 t. lemon juice
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Lemon Curd Filling
3/4 cup sugar
1 T. lemon zest
4 egg yolks (saved from cake)
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 3 large lemons)
2 T. butter
Preheat oven to 350°.
To prepare the cake, coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray.
Add vinegar to milk and allow to sit until thick.

Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and the next 3 ingredients (through 1 tablespoon juice); beat well. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Spoon batter into prepared pans; tap pans on countertop to remove air bubbles.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack 10 minutes; remove cakes from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.

To prepare frosting, place lemon zest and next 3 ingredients (through cream cheese) in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth (about 1 minute). Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat). Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Prepare Lemon Curd Filling:

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk. Cook until sugar dissolves and mixture is light in color (about 3 minutes). Stir in lemon juice and butter; cook for 5 minutes or until mixture thinly coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cool. Cover and chill (the mixture will thicken as it cools).

To Assemble:

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with Lemon Curd. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. Chill 1 hour. Decorate as desired. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

 Pond Water
1 pitcher water
add any or all of the following to taste:
sliced cucumber
sliced orange, lemon, lime
melon chunks
basil, thyme, mint or other herbs

Chill until cold and water is murky.  Enjoy with friends and cake.