Quinoa Salad on Bondi Beach

Over the holidays I traveled to Sydney, Australia with my family. The initial reason for traveling there was a family wedding, which also became a family reunion- we had 4 generations of family members congregate from different parts of the US, London, Canada, South Africa, Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong, and all over Australia.

Staying in a house within walking distance to Bondi Beach gave us the opportunity to easily take advantage of this world famous attraction. We started many of our days with the Bondi to Bronte walk, a 6 km path along the cliffs from Bondi Beach to Bronte. Each new step presented a view more breathtaking than the last and we had to consciously refrain from constantly taking pictures. I kept reminding myself to take it all in, it all being too beautiful to even seem real.

Walking up from the beach, the streets are lined with one cafe and restaurant after the next, with juice bars, gyms, bathing suit shops, and boutiques in between. My sister and I were looking for an afternoon coffee (tea for me) when we stumbled into a bookstore called Gertrude and Alice. A step into the shop felt like entrance into another world.

Time felt slower, softer, and more dream-like… surrounded by cookbooks, classics, magazines, and mystical texts, it was a place I could see myself getting lost in for hours. We resisted temptation and stuck to our plan of tea and coffee, mentally bookmarking the spot for a return visit.

couple days later, we bumped into my aunt on our way to eat lunch, and she suggested we try a quinoa salad she had just eaten. At first, quinoa did not sound so appealing since I had eaten so much of it while there, but she insisted it was worth getting anyway. When she told us it was from Gertrude and Alice we were also happy to have an excuse to return. We decided to share the Griddled Halloumi salad my aunt had recommended, minus the halloumi, for which the chef had offered to substitute in avocado.

Being the small cafe it was, we eagerly watched as the chef assembled the salad behind the counter, warming the vegetables on a small griddle. When we were handed our salad we immediately regretted not each getting our own.

The salad was an immediate success; Red quinoa, mixed greens, and warm roasted butternut squash, griddle onions and tomatoes, topped with sprouts and fresh slices of avocado. I had almost forgotten about red quinoa, since white is more commonly served and what I make myself, but the red variety is firmer, chewier, nuttier, and so different it almost seems unrelated to white quinoa. It also held up well with the warm vegetables. Before we had even finished the salad we agreed we would have to come back for our own before the trip was over.

Being back home less than a week and still suffering jet-lag,  this salad seemed like the most appropriate way to deal with my post-vacation blues. I roasted the vegetables first, since the butternut would take the longest, and then cooked the quinoa.

The tomato only needs to be in the oven for about 10 minutes, enough to soften and warm, but it should still hold its shape. Since the onions and tomato take less time than the butternut, I warmed them again in a pan on the stove right before assembling the salad. I also brewed a berry tea similar to the one I had enjoyed in the Bondi cafe, having it warm not iced since I was now back in the cold winter.

Sitting at my table I sadly couldn’t replicate the view and company I had cherished in Australia, however, this salad was truly delicious, and the perfect meal to enjoy while reflecting and reminiscing on my incredible, one of a kind, vacation.

On our last day in Sydney, we made sure to have a final lunch at Gertrude and Alice, each ordering a Griddle Halloumi salad, minus the halloumi.  I made special note of exactly what was in the salad, planning to replicate it when I was back in my own kitchen.

 

Warm Vegetable Quinoa Salad

Inspired by the restaurant: Gertrude and Alice, Sydney, Australia

1 cup Red Quinoa

1 cup Butternut Squash, peeled and cubed

1 Tomato, any variety

5-6 Shallots, peeled and cut in half

About 2 Tablespoons Coconut or Olive oil

Course Sea Salt

4 cups Mixed Greens

1/2  cup Sprouts

1/2 an Avocado

 

Lemon Vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons Lemon Juice (about 1 lemon)

3 tablespoon Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard

Pinch of each Salt and Pepper

 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 375′ F. Place cubed butternut on baking sheet and cover with 1 tablespoon of oil and a sprinkle of salt. Bake for 45 minutes, or until squash is tender and slightly browned.

Line a second sheet with parchment paper. Cut the tomato and shallots in half and place on baking sheet. Cover with oil and salt and bake for 10 minutes. Remove tomatoes and roast onions for an additional 15 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the quinoa. Rinse quinoa and place in a medium saucepan with 1-1/2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil then turn down heat to simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake.

Place quinoa and mixed greens in a large bowl. Mix with dressing and transfer to a serving dish. Layer roasted vegetables and sprouts, and top with sliced avocado.

 

Vanilla Almond Granola

Not being a huge fan of dried fruit, I kept my usual nuts and seeds and added some coconut. I also used almond extract in exchange for my usual vanilla. My favorite part of the granola is the different textures. I like to use both slivered and sliced almonds, making the granola that much more interesting. This particular recipe takes a little more patience than my usual one; It slowly bakes in the oven for 2 hours at a low temperature. The granola is just slightly sweet, but it is easy to sweeten more or less based on your taste preference for sweetness.

There is something special about mornings… the quiet in the house and sleepy feeling in the air. While I often choose to sleep in on the weekends, there is something about getting up early to take advantage of the stillness.

With the jar of granola sitting on the counter and the aroma still strong in the air, I can’t help but think of the magic of granola; Each individual ingredient is delicious on its own, but once you combine them all you get something even better. Aristotle said it best: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Cinnamon Almond Granola

2 cups Rolled Oats (Gluten Free if needed)

1/2 cup Unsweetened Coconut Flakes

1/4 cup Raw Sliced Almonds

1/4 cup Raw Slivered Almonds

1/2 cup Raw Sunflower Seeds

1/2 cup Raw Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)

1 tsp Cinnamon

3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil, melted

1/4 cup Maple Syrup

1/2 teaspoon Almond Extract

Preheat oven to 250’F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, syrup, and almond extract and pour over the dry ingredients, stirring well to coat evenly. Transfer to the baking sheet and bake for 2 hours, until golden and dry.

Remove granola from the oven, and allow to fully cool, before using a spatula to release and break up the granola.

Book Review: Super Natural Every Day

Heidi Swanson is the luminous author of the blog 101 Cookbooks.  She’s been writing for years (years!) and is literally almost a goddess in the food blogging community.

I immediately checked her website out and was amazed.  There are hundreds (probably thousands) of posts, each carefully and lovingly perfected, with gorgeous photography.  The recipes are detailed and easy to follow.  But aside from that, I just love Heidi Swanson’s voice.  You get the feeling that she’s talking to you like you’re her friend.  She teaches without being overbearing, encourages without making

I jumped at the chance to review her new cookbook because it’s vegetarian!  And we all know how I feel about vegan and vegetarian cookbooks (hint: GOOD).  I cracked it open and barely got through the first pages before having to stop and make food.  The very first recipe – Cucumber Salad – was divine.  Swanson states in the heading of the Cucumber Salad that she hopes this recipe will set the tone for the book, and it does.

It was simple – I had every ingredient except lemongrass already in my pantry – but sophisticated.  The dressing also didn’t use any oil, which I very much appreciated, since I usually have to substitute oil.  I then only made it to the next page before making the Fennel Stew, and then the Red Lentil Hummus.  I would have never thought to make something like her Mashed Yellow Split Peas, but I’m terribly glad I did.

The book is split into two main sections, Near and Far.  Near includes recipes inspired by her life in California.  Far includes recipes from Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, and India.  From Harira in Morocco to Baby Artichoke Salad in France, the recipes span cultures, ingredients, and tastes.  I personally found myself staying in the “Near” section of the book more.  I’m not sure if that’s because I liked the recipes more, or if I’m just more comfortable and familiar with those ingredients.

There is no way I can top the gorgeous photography in Swanson’s book, so I’ve included a few photos from her website below so you can see the mouthwatering recipes for yourself.  As a note for vegans, many of her recipes include dairy and eggs.  Some of them are easily substituted for vegan versions or left out, but I wish a larger percentage of the total were completely vegan.  Still, the simplicity and deliciousness of the meals as a whole makes it worth it to me.

Swanson’s book Super Natural Every Day can be found on Amazon, or where any vegetarian/vegan cookbooks are sold.

Planning Ahead: 6 Ways to Make Dinnertime Painless

We’ve all been there – rushing home from work late, already feeling as though we’re about to starve to death…and then staring at the pantry and fridge with no idea what to make for dinner.  Nothing is prepped; we have no plan.  The growling in our stomach grows louder until it drowns out all reasonable thought, and we reach for processed convenience foods that can be made in a jiffy.

Worse yet, we order takeout!  The amount of processed ingredients, sodium, and fat in vegan convenience foods and most takeout is astronomical.  We satisfy our hunger in the moment, but don’t do any favors for our health.

The only way to beat the hungry monster is to have a plan for dinner!

It’s hard to eat healthful, life-giving plant foods when you have nothing prepared.  Unless you’re eating a raw salad, most plant dinners require some cooking time.  In this post, I’m sharing my top six tips to make dinnertime painless.

1. Make a master list of recipes from your favorite cookbooks or online (make sure you save the link if it’s an online recipe).

Pick one, two, or more each week from this list to make.  This recipe list will cut out a lot of time you may spend flipping through cookbooks or trying to think up dinner ideas.    When you’ve chosen the recipes for the week, you can quickly flip to the correct page in the correct cookbook and add any ingredients you may need to your grocery list.

2. Have themed dinner recipes for each day of the week!

This is especially fun if you have children.  A few examples of themes you could use are:

Slowcooker Sundays
“Meat”loaf Mondays
Taco Tuesdays
Leftover Wednesdays
Veggie Burger Thursdays
Pizza Fridays
Spaghetti Saturdays

Of course none of these themes are prescriptive.  You can make up your own themes, or switch the days around.  Stick with what works best for your family!  It will put your mind at ease to know that on Thursdays, all you have to do is whip up some veggie burgers for dinner.

3. Make a meal plan before you go grocery shopping.  This is CRUCIAL.  Don’t go to the grocery store without a list.

You’ll end up wandering the aisles, buying food items that don’t go together, just because they look good.  It’s okay to buy a unique fruit, veggie, or grain to work into your week’s meals; but buying a hodge podge of foods with no plan for how to integrate them will only set you up for failure.  It may also increase your food waste at the end of the week, when unused items have spoiled and must be discarded.

4. Prep meals or portions of meals in advance if you can.

If you’re putting a meal in the slow cooker, have everything chopped and ready the night before so you can dump it in before you leave for work the next morning.  If you’re making tacos, make a double batch of the taco filling and freeze half so you can easily thaw it when you’re short on time.  If you have mashed potatoes in two meals in one week, make enough for both meals at one time.

5. Batch cook one pot of rice and beans at the beginning of each week and store in your refrigerator. 

This will ensure you have something that can be heated up in the microwave for a meal in a snap.  Rice and beans also make great lunches throughout the week – it’s a filling meal that won’t weigh you down in the afternoon like animal based lunches can.  If you don’t want to cook beans, keep a few cans in your pantry.  Microwaving a bowl of rice and beans takes less time than going through a drive-through or ordering food that has to be delivered.

6. Keep frozen veggies stocked in your freezer.

Veggies are a great way to add bulk to leftovers and turn something into a brand new meal.  Have a little spaghetti and sauce left?  Add a pound of steamed broccoli and some vegan parmesan.  Have a veggie burger patty but no bun?  Serve it in a lettuce wrap instead with some edamame on the side.  Leftover “meat”loaf?  Sauté frozen collard or turnip greens, microwave a potato, and presto!  Dinner in a snap.

A little planning will give you a HUGE advantage.  Plan because you love your body, and what you put inside it is important.  Plan because you and your family deserve meals that promote health instead of harming it.  Plan because it will save you money!  Plan, so that you are set up for success before you take your first bite that week.  Plan so you never have to be stressed about “What’s for dinner?”

Plan and beat that hungry monster.

Warm Cinnamon Sugar

I might actually come to the finish right at 50k. I’ve expanded on Trixie’s relationship with Erik as he gives her a ride home and I spent some time really analyzing how she sees and feels things from her four inch tall perspective. I also got to play around with why, since fairies can enlarge and shrink other objects but not themselves. Here is what Trixie says about that.

…the scent of warm cinnamon sugar engulfed me. My wings fluttered in response to my stomach’s growl. When I turned the corner to the kitchen, I found Erik just putting the glaze on the buns. “Don’t be skimpy on the sugar,” I warned him. “I’m going to need all the energy I can get today.”

“How many do you want?” He asked as he took the spatula to the baking sheet.

“Two please.” He quirked an eyebrow at me. “I only do this on special occasions.” I glided down to the floor and used a spell I had only cast a few times on myself. The room got smaller as I got taller. I had to focus on keeping my wings flat against my back so as not to knock anything over.

Erik stared at me, slack jawed. I smiled at him and walked over to him. Leaning in I could taste the cinnamon on his skin as I kissed his cheek. “I… I didn’t know you could do that.”

“It’s been a trial and error process. The first few times I forgot about including my clothes in the spell. That was tricky. Ended up having to replace two of my best jackets when I did that. Besides, at my normal size, I don’t spend very much in food or rent, or decorations.” I looked through his cabinets until I found the small plates and grabbed two of them.

“Why don’t you do this more often?” He said as he served the rolls onto the two plates.

I took them over to the breakfast nook that he had in the corner. The north facing window brought in just enough light where it wasn’t blinding to sit on one side or the other. After savoring the first bite, my wings instinctively tried to flutter with joy. “That’s why,” I said using my thumb to indicate the iridescent offending appendages behind me. “They get in the way.”

Well that’s it for me today. I’m dragging this out so that you all keep getting content. Hopefully, when this is done I will be able to post more about my writing misadventures. Keep writing, the finish line is in sight. Writing goggles down.

Shadows of the Leaves

Solar glare and shadows on the wall from the leaves

I wandered through a monument of conventional learning. Walls of stone, colored with warmth held none, save for where the sun shone brightly through the windows. I followed the light out to the parking lot where dozens of cars baked in the midday sun and wandered some more. I took a path around the building and across a set of railroad tracks to where a small trail, shrouded and hidden by lush summer foliage invited me to explore. The trail had been occupied before by those who had no home. Empty food cans and remnants of winter clothing were strewn across a patch of shorter shrubs covered and with discarded toys and books were all left behind.

It was a wonder that such a grove of natural splendor made me feel so distant from the world of man that I was just in. Was I just there? How long had I been on this path? The current of a great river triumphed over the traffic just barely visible through the trees. The warm air caressed my senses with a gentle relief from the humid river air, and a musky sweet scent from the flowering trees nearby.

I continued to wander and I watched the shadows of the leaves dance along the ground and give the illusion of other beings lurking in the shadows. A long willow branch bade me farewell with a light touch from its extended tendrils carried by the breeze. Once again I was at the railroad tracks behind the buildings of man’s learning.  However, should I need a reprieve from the cold walls and closed air; I know that not far away is my escape to the untamed natural haven.

Getting Too Much Excitment Lately!

Isn’t it interesting how little things can make you excited?

Lately, lots of little things have been making me smile or get excited. Last week I sang the National Anthem at the graduation for the school I work at. A lot of the students and staff didn’t know I sang and so when I got up there, a lot of jaws dropped before they turned to look at the flag. It was a rush of joy as I saw some of my students walk out in their caps and gowns. Some of these students had a lot of trials and challenges before getting to this day. 

Another little bit of excitement was the handshake I got before I left the stage. It wasn’t the president of the school or one of the faculty members, but the Governor of the State of NH. Granted it was just a handshake and a quick compliment, but from a person of status over the people I see on a regular basis, that made me feel very special.

Now, that day must have had some magic in the air because as I walked home (3 miles in a sun dress, but totally worth it) every road I went down where trees gave some shade, there were butterflies that fluttered around me. It was a little bit of natural wonder that made me smile along with the sun on my back. Then as I walked a person pulled over to see if I owned the car that had broken down a couple of blocks back. It wasn’t but it was really nice to be asked.

Then there is the stuff at home that makes me smile. While I am not a parent of a human child, I do have two dogs who give me so much joy. Parker and Munchkin are really cute separately and together they are a comedic duo. Parker is a 15lbs Yorkie Schnauzer mix and Munchkin is an 8 lbs Yorkie Chihuahua mix. She bosses Parker around even though she is younger and newest to the household. Their tug of war on their rope toys and sibling rivalry for our attention is hysterical, but it is when I am sitting watching tv and have them both sleeping on my legs like a furry blanket that I get to smile at my furry children, enjoying their warmth and their love.

Every now and again your spouse does something cute or unexpected that makes you go “aww”. My husband, Adam, is not overly affectionate, but he is very intuative. The thing that he does that makes me smile is when he comes up behind me in my computer chair and starts rubbing my neck or puts his ice cold hands on the small of my back. He knows that there are days when my job takes a lot out of me and it manifests into physical pain.Somehow knows exactly the right time to try to help my sore muscles out.

So these are the things that excite me on a daily basis. Well that and when a song that I haven’t heard in a long time comes up on my mp3 player, but that’s another story for another day. Today, though I got some AWESOME news that makes me more than a little excited. I applied for a job for a freelance writing position and a copy editor position. It was just a thing that David told me to apply for because he thinks I write well. I didn’t think anything would come of it. I did not get the editor position, but I did get offered to be a new writer for them. 

Let me repeat that. I am going to get PAID to WRITE! This is the start I have been looking for! There are surely words to express the flood of emotions that I am feeling, but they are all evading me at the moment; probably to let me immerse myself in this joy. I called Adam and told him and he is very excited for me, and told me that this is just another push for him to do more with his music. So now that I have told him I can tell all of you. I knew I was a writer before. I wake up and go to sleep thinking about writing (and acting). It is what I was meant to do. Whether or not I am good, it is what makes me happy and now I have the means to start focusing on it as a career.

Thank you for listening to my news and I hope that it inspires you to go after what you want to do. There is no reason not to and you will be happier if you know you are doing what you love.

Janurary Update

I have arrived home. Well it was last week, but I spent so much time getting back into the daily routine of work, writing, recording, finding new audio to listen to… but I reminded myself that I need to update my lovely site.

There has been a lot of new things by me that have come out since I’ve been home.

I met Nobilis Reed while at Balticon and he asked me if I would be interested in reading a story for him… Well, I was under the influence of the evil mojitos but I agreed and still remembered about it when he e-mailed me afterwards. Giggle He calls me charming in the show notes. I think that just means that I’m fun to be around when intoxicated. The story is called Cursed Blades. It’s pretty hot and not safe for work (just as a warning).

Next up we have the long awaited Episode 8 of Prisoners of the Alliance. This is the first chapter of the heart of the story and I think you all will like the way it pans out.

Then there is a show in the audio drama sector. GAIAat BrokenSea is a show where I got to create my own character to be a fighter pilot. As many people who know me in person know I used to play Everquest 2… A LOT. So I wanted to make a lizard type creature and I named her after my main character, Sokari. In this episode I also do an impression of Marilyn Monroe and I am Terrorist #9. It is a part in the show, please do not think that I am an actual terrorist. The only people I would really terrorize are the peeps on Twitter that I heart oh so much.

Been doing several interview or arranging them for Scriveners Circle and we have both an interview with Jennifer Hudock and Scott Sigler on deck. David just needs to get the time to produce them. I really should try to help him out with that. Maybe one day someone will want to interview us wink wink.

Otherwise, I need to get writing. I have two new stories started, Part 2 of Prisoners of the Alliance, Stargazers, and I’m sure there are more things on my google docs that I need to revisit and flesh out.

Anyway, that’s my time. Stay tuned. I should have more updates soon!

Look, I’m posting Again!

Alrighty kids. I know you are all frothing at the bit to hear more about Stargazers, Absolution and the like. Let me just say, Absolution is a beast that I am taming slowly but surely with the help of Ayoub Khote and David Sobkowiak. We are working really hard to get it done but part of that requires me to record. (Bad Laura. Bad)

As to Stargazers, I realize I have been neglecting the story and its characters, so I am handing over the reigns to the woman who has lovingly helped me create the world, Gwendolyn Jensen-Woodard. I don’t know how she works on all the shows that she does at the same time, but she does it with style!

Other than that I have been actively being crafty and working on getting a job down in Massachusetts so I can move down there. As we all know the job market is crap right now, so it is really difficult for me to get out of the customer service field. If anyone has any leads, let me know. I have, however, started working on making things like those tiny top hats for ladies, and I have to say, I am excited by the product. I will post pictures later, but what do you think some one would pay for a custom made mini top hat?