a new leaf…or several.

Hello, friends!  This morning, I am on my porch, listening to the birds chip away, and I have a moment of quiet bliss.  It’s been a while…

Lately, I find myself in the Farmer’s Market almost every day, and in my kitchen cooking A LOT.  And upon reflection, I’ve realized that the school year is almost over.  This means that I’ve been a brave entrepreneur, following my heart, and bringing happiness to people through food, instead of teaching kiddos, for close to an entire school year!  The time has flown.   My work as the “Food Fairy” is super fun and rewarding.  Not only do I enjoy the process of planning, shopping, and transforming ingredients into edible symphonies, I love the excitement on people’s faces when I enter their homes bearing gifts of deliciousness.

Recently, I’ve had my hands in all kinds of things food-related.  I presented at a local elementary school during Decatur Farm to School Book Week about eating fresh, local, and seasonal, which was a little tricky right at the end of winter in Georgia.  But I honed my “I can make anything work” teacher skills and set forth!

I showed the kids all kinds of Georgia grown winter produce and shared a Sweet Potato Soup using potatoes from Louisiana (since I didn’t think they would appreciate a Georgia collard green soup).   Roasted pumpkin seeds served as a great snack and provided a forum for discussion about utilizing all the parts of foods- tapping into their knowledge of the Three Rs.  I even made a ridiculously amateur video of myself shopping at the local Farmers’ Markets and cooking in my home.  Thank goodness I do not have a copy of that to share!

It was exhilarating to fuse teaching and food together.  Every child left with a follow-up guide for their parents: one kid-friendly dinner recipe, several suggestions for children’s cook books, and a list of tips for empowering children to become active participants in cooking and eating well.  I was amazed by the lessons children shared as their “take-away” from our conversation.  Somewhere in Decatur, there are children bugging their parents about healthy, local, seasonal eating!

I’ve also catered a few small events over the past few weeks.  One was a special luncheon for the principals of a local school district.  The Principals!  The school district in which I used to be employed!  No big deal…Ha!  I was sweating a little bit.  So much so, that I forgot to bring my camera.  But the feedback was positive.  Everyone enjoyed lunch and I did NOT have to go the principal’s office.  Phew.

There were a few photos taken at another luncheon- a corporate, fancy, glass walls kind of an office where a friend of mine works.  Restraint was the challenge for me in that situation, since the crowd prefers a pretty straight-forward kind of food.  I was urged to keep it very simple.

So, I cooked Buffalo Chicken Tacos with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing, Loaded Potato Salad

and Simple Cole Slaw.  My slaw had no apples, no nuts.  I did slide some thyme in there though!  The luncheon was a smashing success, and I heard that people came back for third and even fourth plates!  Woohoo!

On the client front, I have welcomed several new folks who are brimming over with positive comments, thankful for the change in their lives.  My heart just explodes with happiness when I get a message like this one:  The food was great!  I especially *loved* the corn/bean salad with spinach & lime.  I could eat that all week long (and actually, I did enjoy the shrimp for dinner one night, and just the salad for lunch the next day… and even a little bit of the salad as a snack over the weekend).   Last night, I made the pork tenderloin, and it was delicious.

Yay!  And I especially glow when I hear about clients who are joyous about cooking and sharing their food with friends.  Well, that makes me joyous too.

I am now planning for a family with a gluten allergy and Paleo Diet restrictions.  Creating balanced meals without the likes of dairy, beans, sprouts, peas, and grains is a test of creativity and resourcefulness!

And since January, I have been preparing vegetarian meals weekly.  On a typical Wednesday, I concoct three balanced meat-free dishes, being careful to include ample protein and variety.  This has been an adventure!  A new leaf turned over in my cooking life.  Everyone knows I’m a sucker for bacon.  And my traditional style is a “meat and two” sort of a plate.  But I have been playing with tofu like it’s my job.  Wait…it is my job!

I want to share some of the veggie dishes I’ve been cooking up- and maybe inspire you to cook something new and totally different!  Here’s a glimpse into a Veggie Wednesday at my house.

I always make a big pot of soup for these folks.  This week, it was a creamy zucchini soup.

I followed the same steps as I did when making carrot soup.  Simply butter, onions, garlic, flour- stir, stir, stir.  Hot milk, homemade veggie broth, seasoning.  Let it do its thing…

Then I blended and added some beautiful, fresh, flat leaf parsley at the very end.

Simple and delicious.  I toasted up some parmesan croutons to float in the soup, adding a little dose of tang and texture.

Making your own croutons is such a cinch, and then you avoid the need to pay over $3.00 for a box at the store that has additives and preservatives.  Just take a few slices of bread (you can even mix the types of bread) and preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Cut the bread into cubes and place the cubes in a bowl.  Drizzle with EVOO and season with your choice of paprika, granulated garlic and onion, dried herbs, and salt and pepper.  Toss the bread to evenly coat each piece, and spread them out onto a sheet pan.  Bake them in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes, turning once in the middle and keeping a close eye on them in the end to avoid a sad, burning situation.  Remove the croutons from the pan right away so they can cool down without continuing to cook.  Voila!  Homemade croutons.

I also made a simple salad to pair with the soup.

Did you know that pistachios have the highest fiber content of any nut?  These are Turkish pistachios from our Farmer’s Market.  I just combined Balsamic vinegar and olive oil with salt and pepper for a clean, simple dressing.

Also on this Veggie Menu:  Asian Spiced Roasted Tofu with Veggie Stir Fry and Green Rice.  Mmmhmm.

While I cooked the long grain brown rice, I blended a mixture of fresh spinach and cilantro and a clove of garlic.  I’m obsessed with my mini-food processor these days.

Then, I just combined that with the cooked rice.

Stir it together and you have a beautiful, green rice with lots of flavor.

I must give props to Mezcalito’s in Oakhurst!  Their green rice has intrigued me for many moons. And their menu lets the diner know that the rice is green because of a mixture of cilantro and spinach.  I have no idea what ratio they use in their kitchen, but I figured I’d give it a whirl- and it’s a smash hit.

Meanwhile, I roasted my tofu in a 425 degree oven.  This time, since I knew the entire dish would be bursting with flavor, all I did was blot away the water in the tofu, tossed it in EVOO, and sprinkled it lightly with Asian Five Spice Powder and salt and pepper.

The key is to cook the tofu at a high temperature so it becomes nice and crisp on the outside.  I have learned that marinating tofu in juices, milk, yogurt, and any variety of spices works incredibly well.  And the longer you let it soak, the more flavor it will absorb.

I also prepared a yummy sauce using 2 Tablespoons of low sodium Tamari- a new love of mine.  I see it as a darker, cleaner, more rounded version of soy sauce.

3 T pomegranate juice

the juice of a lime

1 T rice wine vinegar

1/2 t garlic chili paste

a good splash of sesame oil.

Always taste your sauce for balance.  Soy sauce, Tamari, and Fish sauce are all very salty and should be used in moderation.  I usually like to balance that salt with a touch of sugar, or honey, or agave nectar.  This time, pomegranate juice added a bit of sweetness along with tartness to round out my sauce.

Then, it all happened really quickly.

Into my wok, a touch of oil, my garlic and ginger.

Then, the beautiful mushrooms- try every kind you can get your hands on.  They are all soooo wonderful!

I let them cook down a bit, and then added my broccolini.  Quick-cooking and sweet.

Daikon…a giant, white radish.

Cilantro- such a versatile herb.

And then I realized I missing a color.  My poor carrots had been neglected!

Once the carrots had softened for a minute, I added my sauce and tossed it all together.

And that cooked for a few minutes more.

A full meal of vegetarian goodness for my clients to enjoy.

I’ve been blathering on for quite while now, but I want you to know that there was also a huge Veggie Mexican Lasagna on the menu this particular Wednesday.

A layered masterpiece with homemade refried beans

and pico de gallo.

Love in every layer.

And the finishing touches.

The beauty of creating a Mexican lasagna, is that you can completely personalize the layers with salsa verde, jalapeno cheddar cheese sauce, cilantro pesto, ground turkey, chorizo sausage…the possibilities are endless.  This dish can be cooked, cut, and frozen in individual portions for lunches or quick dinner solutions as well.

As you can imagine, my Wednesdays are full of amazing colors and smells.  It’s a tribute to the powerful flavors and textures of fresh vegetables.  With a little bit of inspiration, this meatless menu stands on its own two feet.

I am thankful for the opportunity to play with food and the challenge to create original dishes each week that celebrate the edible gems of our Earth.  I hope that you are feeling motivated to try something new in your kitchen this week.  Look out for exciting upcoming posts that will highlight beautiful, locally and naturally grown fruits and veggies from Turtle Bend Farm’s crop sharing adventure.  I pick up my first bag of goodness on May 15th!   And I can. Not. Wait.

Happy cooking and eating to you!



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