Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Best Lunch Salad

Not too long ago, a friend observed that she wished people would stop serving salad as a meal. It doesn’t matter if you try to fancy it up with fruit or chicken, she said. Salad’s place is as a vegetable, a side next to the real food. This made me laugh for two reasons. One, I had just hosted a little lunch at my house where the main course was spicy honey chicken salad from the Our Best Bites blog.

The other reason for laughing, though, it that I used to completely relate to her opinion. I'd eat my greens for the pleasure of checking off my "vegetable" box and then quickly move on to more delicious fare. In the house where I grew up, most of us never even added salad dressing. Am I right, Elin? It was rabbit-food, basically.

Yet now for my confession: I eat salad for lunch almost every day. No, I'm not on a diet, and no, I don't hate myself. Rather, I have come to realize two important things. The first is that vegetables are crazy-good for you. While so many foodies advocate cutting out gluten, dairy, or any-oil-but-coconut-oil, I believe that the best thing many of us could do for our diet is to add more fruits and vegetables. 

I remember studying the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet in nursing school. This isn't a "diet" as much as healthy eating guidelines to help lower high blood pressure. It mostly aligns with the original "Food Pyramid" which we all learned in elementary school: healthy whole grains, lean meat, low-fat dairy, healthy oils, limited sweets and, of course, fruits and vegetables. What startled me was the amount of servings it recommended for the latter two. Any guesses? 4-5 servings of fruits and 4-5 servings of vegetables.

That was twice as many as I thought we were supposed to get! That stupid "5-a-Day the Color Way" commercial deceived me! 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables sounded like so much. But the benefits to those who eat this way are remarkable. Aside from lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol, this diet also is associated with lower risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, kidney stones, and diabetes. And, no surprise, those who follow it also tend to maintain a healthy weight.  (Find out about it at or here.)

My nursing and nutrition classes really helped me shift my paradigm on vegetables, and I have a goal to incorporate them into our families meals and snacks. One wonderful way to do that is by making delicious salads. At first, salads seemed like a pain. I felt like I needed lots of ingredients which would go bad before I used them all up. I'm too poor to waste food! Yet I finally found "The Best Lunch Salad." It's simple, and the ingredients will last from several days up until a week. Plus, it tastes like happiness.

The Best Lunch Salad

First, I use spinach. I'm sure there are other tasty greens out there; any will do! Yet spinach is packed with lots of good nutrients and lasts a whole lot longer than lettuce. I was throwing out so much romaine, but no more. I almost always have a bag of baby spinach on hand.

Next, I add roma tomatoes. I like that they are small and sweet, just the right size for a personal salad. Cherry or grape tomatoes work well, too. 

Next, avocado. True to form, I love my California avocados. I also love that you can buy a whole bag of them at grocery outlet for $2 when they are in season! Seriously! This bag only cost $2! I usually use half an avocado per salad and save the other half for the next day:

To make my salad filling, I like to add protein. Often, I'll keep a stock of boiled eggs in the fridge and slice one on top. Other times, I have a supply of cut up perfect chicken on hand to add.

Then I top it off with mozzarella cheese. Nothing beats expensive, fresh, soft mozzarella cheese that comes in those tiny little balls. Mmm. Yet I can't afford such luxuries, and so shredded mozzarella in a bag is also very tasty. I actually really like Walmart's mozzarella; the pieces are big and soft.

Can you see the healthy goodness? Toss it with some Italian salad dressing (yes, I do use dressing nowadays), and it tastes good, too. Happily, I find that as I eat more fruits and vegetables, I naturally eat less and less junk food, without even trying.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Wedding Greeting Card Mat

Several years ago, I ran across a box that contained many of the cards that were sent or given to my parents when they were married in 1941. As you can imagine, they are charming reminders of a by-gone era, and I hated to throw them away. So with my mother's permission, I absconded with the box and decided to use the cards to create a customized mat to frame one of my favorite pictures from their wedding.

There were too many cards to use all of them, so I tried to choose ones that were unique, unusually charming, or that had been given by special family members or friends. For example, one of my father's neighbors was President Heber J. Grant, prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time. He sealed my parents for time and eternity in the Salt Lake City Temple, so his card is a lovely treasure.

Using a plain white mat as a template, I put the cards together like a chaotic puzzle, making straight lines along the inner and outer edges but overlapping the cards inside the mat so that there were no gaps and the most interesting greetings, signatures, and illustrations were visible. (I apologize for the poor quality of these pictures. This hangs in our family cabin, and the only camera I had available was the one on my ancient flip phone. I hope what you see at least conveys the essence of the idea.)

After I had the cards arranged, I carefully stuck them in place using acid free mounting squares.

All of my parents' wedding pictures were in black and white, but I think I would have opted to go black and white anyway because I liked the way it looked with the faded/muted feel of the vintage cards:

 I chose a simple black frame and put it all together:

Think how well this idea could adapt for other special photographs. You could frame birthday pictures with birthday cards, baby pictures with cards that came with shower gifts, or school pictures with a collage of  spelling tests, math assignments, and art projects. My mother had exquisite handwriting, and I was thinking how fun it would be to frame a picture of her using excerpts from copies of letters she wrote to my father while he was serving as a missionary. Use your imagination and then share what you create!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Chocolate Brownie Trifle

Okay, I promised to give out this recipe weeks ago after I made this dessert for a get-together with my husband's high school buddies. It tastes a little bit like heaven, and the happy part is that it's easy to make! I modified it from Chocolate from The Cake Mix Doctor. I love this book. I hardly use real cookbooks anymore, what with the handiness of the internet, but this book is an exception.

Time for pre-recipe disclaimers? I only have a couple. The Cake Mix Doctor uses "frozen whipped topping" (code for "Cool Whip") in her recipe. Her reason is that since this dish is already so decadent, she wanted a topping that wouldn't add to the richness. Buying a tub of frozen whipped topping cuts out both calories and preparation, and the end result is incredible. That being said, if you're morally opposed to using Cool Whip (mom?), go ahead and beat up some fresh whipped cream. It will taste amazing either way.

Also, I feel like trifles can look really fancy and elegant, but my presentation never seems to live up to my expectations. So if you make this and it looks as good as it tastes, please post a pretty picture! You'll get a gold star and my admiration.


1 package (19.8 ounces) brownie mix (and ingredients to bake according to directions)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
optional: 1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 container (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed (or 2 cups whipped cream)
1/2 to 1 lbs fresh strawberries

Grease a 9x13 inch pan. Preheat oven and mix brownies according to package directions. Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips (and pecans, if desired). Bake until the outside 2 inches have formed a crust and brownies feel firm (typically 25 to 30 minutes for most mixes in a 350 degree oven. Again, follow the box's baking instructions and temperature, keeping in mind that the chocolate chips will extend the cooking time by a few minutes. Don't under-bake the brownies for this recipe!) Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

While the brownies are baking, whip up the mousse! Pour the chocolate chips in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. Pour the cream into a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring often. When it reaches a boil, pour the cream over the chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is well-combined. Place the bowl (and your electric mixer beaters) in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour.

Once the cream-chocolate mixture is completely cooled, remove from the fridge and beat on medium-high until it forms stiff peaks. This should only take 1 to 2 minutes; do not over-whip the mousse! It should look thick and, well, mousse-like (and it tastes like heaven; try a little!)

Wash, de-stem, and quarter your strawberries.

The brownies should be cool by now, so it's time for assembly! Three cheers for all ye folks who have a beautiful trifle dish. I... do not. I usually use a large glass bowl. First, crumble one half of the brownies into half-inch pieces. I find it easiest to use 2 forks for this part and tear little pieces off of the giant slab of brownie. But it matters not how: crumble half of the brownies and place the pieces evenly on the bottom of your serving dish. Next, add half of the mousse, making sure to spread it out in an even layer. Top with half of the frozen topping (or whipped cream). Repeat these layers, crumbling the remaining brownies, adding the mouse, and topping with a flourish of whipped topping. Add copious amounts of strawberries on top, and voila! Trifle. Spoon into individual serving bowls and enjoy. (If you're not going to eat it immediately, cover with lid or plastic wrap and keep chilled in the refrigerator. I'd recommend adding the strawberries close to serving time.)