[The Kitchen Kitten] Walnut + Blue Cheese Salad

I almost fell off the bed this morning when I saw that it was December 17th; no, time did not stop for me on my 29th birthday and yes, I’ve been paying attention as the days pass – but the month is halfway over and I can almost count the day to 2014 on my fingers.  Man, oh man – it’ almost that time of year.  At the office, it means the first quarter of the fiscal year and the directors are making sure that all of our ducks are in a row, crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s.

But, on a more personal level – it’s almost the holidays, meaning whatever free time I thought I had will be gloriously overrun by family, friends and festive celebrations – three of my favorite F words, believe you me! However, since there are only 24 hour in a day and I’m always trying to cram three too many things into it, the one area of my life that I almost ignore when I’m busy is my appetite.   And take it from a Pro, that can throw your whole day in a downward spiral if you don’t tackle it in time.

Good new is that I’ve found the perfect, quick and easy fix – in the form of a salad!  I know what you’re thinking – silly rabbit, tricks are for kids!  True – but this tried and true meal can range anywhere from an appetizer salad to a full meal depending on how stacked you’re willing to make it.  One of the best things about salads – minimal prep-time.  Simply stock the fridge with your favorite dressing, fresh veggies and  then toss some arugula, red leaf lettuce or one of those convenient pounce of mixed green and your kitchen will always be prepared.

Before we go to the next step, expand your mind a bit about what can go into a salad.  Since cucumber, tomato and avocado are all fruits, why not toss in some slices of mandarin for a splash of citrus? Why not shred some of your favorite meats and cheeses for a boost of added protein, or add some nuts?  The possibilities are endless if you put your mind to it! The salad below is what I like to think of as a ‘next level’-salad – you have the incredible, savory flavor of the blue cheese melding with the sweet, smokiness of the candied walnuts, then the complementary cold and refreshing flavors of cucumber and beets leaves the pallet wanting more.  And trust me on that last part – I make this salad at least twice a week now! Now, onto the good stuff.

Tools:

  • 2 bowls – 1 large, 1 medium / small
  • cutting board
  • sharp knife
  • cucumber peeler 
  • muddler (or, object with a blunt end)
  • salad tongs (optional)

Ingredients for 2:

  • 1 cup Baby Arugula (or greenery of choice)
  • 4 oz Blue Cheese Crumbles (If the taste is a little much, try Goat Cheese or Feta)
  • 6 oz Candied Walnuts (chopped or smashed)
  • 1/3 Cucumber
  • Trader Joe’s Goddess Dressing (or whatever your pleasure may be)
  • 6 oz cold Beets
  • Last, but not least – beats: I’ve really been digging on Emancipator lately – it’ perfect  stop-and-smell-those-roses type of music.

Optional: Upgrade yo’self, because you’re a boss like that:

  • Fresh Baby Shrimp ( .5 lb)
  • Granny Smith Apples (1 diced)
  • Prosciutto (4 slices)
  • Ground Pepper + salt (Tsp each)
  • Cherry Tomatoes (10-15)
  • Scallion slices (enough for flavor; to each their own)

The Basics: Mixed greens, beet, cucumber, blue cheese, candied walnut and Goddess dressing

 

Now, let’s get down to brass tax – and it’s incredibly simple:

  1. Wash your lettuce / arugula / whatever greens you selected and tear them into edible morsels, toss into large bowl and set aside
  2. Peel and chop the cucumber and beets (and other juicy veggies), throw into large bowl with greens and mix well
  3. In a small bowl, take your candied walnuts and your muddler and get your smash on until the pieces have become about a quarter the original size
  4. separate the blue cheese crumbles in your hand a bit and toss in with the walnuts
  5. Load the large bowl with dressing, toss for a bit then throw in the content of the small bowl

Voila – your ten minute meal is le served!

Oh, Snap: Comfort Food

How many times have you heard the following from friends, family and your partner: the way to my heart is through my stomach.  But did you know that their statement actually holds weight? One thing that I didn’t know until I read a fascinating book on Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman is that not only are there a significant amount of serotonin receptors in our stomach, but most of the serotonin we posses is manufactured there!  Lining the walls of both the intestines and digestive track are loads of enterochromaffin cells and these little guys are responsible for creating a whopping 90% of it.

I’ve always landed firmly on the taller side of life.  When I was born I was 19″ and a tad under 6lbs – leaving me pretty tall and lean on the BMI chart.  Growing up, not a whole hell of a lot changed – by 4th grade, I was taller than all my gymnastics instructors and realized that was definitely not my calling.  By 6th grade, I was 6’0 and had stopped growing – but when it came to filling out, I didn’t. My metabolism is somehow quicker than my mouth and no matter what I ate, or how (in)frequently I seemed to hit the gym – gaining weight has never been my strong suit, especially after I stopped playing competitive sports.

I never intended to be a foodie. In fact, I know a considerable amount of people – including my family – who  consider my love of cooking, nomgasms or food porn absolutely ludicrous.  It’s not that I’ve found food repulsive or I hate eating – it’s merely the fact that ever since I can remember – food and I have had a fairly indifferent relationship with each other.  I used to find myself going throughout the majority of the day without a meal; granted, I was grumpy, fatigued and not exactly pleasant to be around but at the time I attributed that to having high anxiety or being diagnosed with depression.

Thankfully, I have a support system that both lifts me up and fills my stomach –  they’ve taught me that comfort food has a purpose and a nourished stomach is a nourished soul.  I’ve found that one of the most important things about food, fitness and nutrition is to have both a routine and a goal; one without the other is slightly pointless.  I’ve gone from bypassing lunch to scouring the dessert bar, from breakfast on the go to breakfast in the apt – and it’s really made all the difference.  For the first time in my adult life, I can honestly say that I love food and thanks to living in Los Angeles, I’ve had the chance to experience so many different restaurants, as well as almost any type of food you can imagine!  I’ve slowly but surely been collecting a list of my favorite noms and I’m stoked to be able to share this with everyone =)

 

Loaded Mac & Cheese from Elephant Bar

Bacon wrapped asparagus from Sushi USA

Uni – my ultimate.

Basil, tomato and mozzarella skewers; made fresh by yours truly!

Shrimp, avocado, tangello, cucumber and tomato salad. Also known as veggies that are really fruits.

Drumstick ice cream cones; omnom!

If you’ve never had Calypso Lemonade you’re in for a real treat =D

Only the best for my sweet tooth – Sour Patch Berry Kids and Mike & Ike Tropical Typhoon!

Macadamia, raspberry pancakes – proof the best recipes are still in your head =)

Mango & Sticky Rice!

Potstickers: I could survive off these.

Mango & Vanilla Creme Puffs from Beard Papas; only the best!

Can’t go wrong with a Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup!

Steak, medium rare. Always.

I ❤ Sushi.

BTA Benedict from Tart – my breakfast standard.

Waffles Versaille from the French Crepe Company at the Grove

Dim Sum @ Bao

My Step-Mom’s Pumpkin Pie

Workout Wednesday: Putting a Cramp in your Style

I think each of us has been here before:

It’s been a while since you’ve worked out, but your playlists are updated and your gym clothes are ready to rock.  You eagerly drink some water, jump into your running shoes, suit your earbuds up real nice and head out the door.  When you hit the sidewalk, your legs begin bouncing – urging you to move forward.  As your iPod shuffles to your latest favorite song, you break into a skip, then a jog…and finally a run.  You’re feeling your energy as your feet hit the pavement, you might even be singing along without realizing it – and then you notice it, a stitch in your (insert appendage here).  Then it cripples you – and you’re left wondering: what is wrong with my body?!

Well the answer, my pretties – is that your workout just got cramped. As an athlete, I can tell you from a lot of personal experience that there’s nothing worse than getting into the groove of a good workout and getting sidelined by a cramp.  In the back of my head, I’m thinking – hey, body! why are you acting like its your first rodeo?!  But the fact of the matter is that no matter if you’re a world class athlete or about to commit to your first workout – cramps happen, but you can help!

The most common cramps for me are side cramps while running, foot cramps as a swimmer and calf cramps after a workout or a long night of dancing.  So what exactly is going on and what can we do if we want to keep the workout going?

Make sure you’re warming up properly and breathing right during the exercise.  If you’re planning on going for an epic run, try walking or jogging to warm up your entire body and make sure your body is hydrated enough to sustain the ass kicking you’re giving it.  If you notice a cramp coming on, try to even out your breathing and avoid exhaling when your feet hit the floor, if it won’t go away give yourself a break and get into some stretches.  Your body is a temple, you don’t want to destroy the foundation.

On the typical, cramps have one of two causes –  dehydration or poor nutrition. 

Think about things this way – your body is approximately 80% water but your muscles are closer to 75%; so when you work out, your muscles get dehydrated faster than your body.  When this happens, the muscles lose elasticity, become taut and eventually – if not re-hydrated – they’ll spasm, or cramp. The other possibility is that  your body is lacking in essential vitamins like iron, calcium and potassium, which is key for preventing muscle cramps.

Lucky for us, these are things we can control.  At the very least, on the daily you should pop a multivitamin in the morning and get your 8 glasses of water. In this “go-go-go” world, it’s hard to avoid caffeine and soda. However, if you’re serious about treating your body well – either curb your use of diuretics like coffee, soda, alcohol and energy drinks which naturally deplete your body of water, or for every “naughty” drink have double the amount of aqua.  When it comes to nutrition, an apple a day might keep the doctor away but a dose of potassium a day will keep the cramps away.  Dried fruits like apricots, prunes, dates, coconuts, figs and raisins contain a whole lot of it. And for the fresh fruit lovers, try throwing more avocados, bananas, peaches and oranges in your diet.