Thrifty Thursdays: Guilt-Free Veggie Ramen

I have a confession to make; one that may jeopardize how you feel about me and my proclaimed healthy-eating habits...
I love Top Ramen.
Why does it feel dirty to simply type it? Yet, It's true- ever since I was little (as in middle-school when I wanted to "cook for myself"... not little as in I was raised on the stuff) I have had a fondness of the dehydrated noodle block and mystery seasoning packet combo "meal" that seems like a great bargain at around $0.15 a pop. Don't judge me. It's not like I ate/eat it every day... it is just a sort of rebellious indulgence (yes, I know that word is reserved for things like foreign chocolates and expensive cheese...but humor me) every once in a while...for instance: when your husband leaves for a week on business and you let all the talk about cooking-well-for-one fall to the wayside. Which brings me to this week's Thrifty Thursday recipe- my very own health-conscious, veggie-packed version of the beloved dorm-room staple...sans the blood-pressure-raising, sodium-death-bomb "mystery" seasoning packet, and with a whole lot of creative flare. 

Not only will this guilt-free recipe satisfy your own salty-ramen craving, but it will make more than enough for leftovers to get you, and your dorm-mate, through a few days of hellish final exams, or at least a few nights at home in front of the TV- tuned to some trashy reality show (it's probably scientifically proven that Ramen tastes 10 times better when you're invested in some other 'forbidden' activity). It's Ramen, only better...still quick n' cheap but without the need to store it out of sight in a cupboard, behind the couscous and trail mix. Enjoy!

Guilt-Free Veggie "Top" Ramen 
about $8 makes 6 servings

1 package Chinese chowmein or ramen noodles (I found them at WF in the Asian section)
1 32oz box vegetable broth
1tbsp lemongrass paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 head baby bok choy
1/2c carrots, chopped
1/4c red bell pepper, chopped
1/4c sweet/yellow onion chopped
1/2c cilantro, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1c shitake mushrooms (dried/soaked or fresh)
2 lime wedges
1 egg lightly beaten (optional)
1 tsp chili powder
salt, pepper to taste

1. Cook noodles according to directions on package. Drain.
2. Bring vegetable broth to a boil. Add lemongrass & ginger paste, soy sauce, garlic, onion, stir well for 2 minutes.
3. Add carrots, bell pepper, mushrooms, bok choy. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
4. Add noodles, cilantro, chili powder, lime juice from wedges, salt, pepper to taste. If using an egg, pour it slowly into the pot, stirring quickly, it cooks almost instantly). 
5. Make it fancy-lookin' with cilantro garnish! 


Monday's Music to My Ears: In a Little While

Much to the dismay of my husband, and countless friend's throughout my life, I have never professed to being a huge fan of cult-favorite band U2. I don't deny Bono's insane vocal range or Edge's guitar-shredding solos, but it's always been hard for me to see U2 as more than the "masters of the epic intro and outro"; a multi-genre-jam-band. But yesterday I dropped Dan off at the airport for a week-long business trip and on my way home, a song came on the radio that I don't think I had heard before. I recognized it right away as U2 but I was so hooked by the relatively simple intro that by the time the lyrics started, I had decided I needed this song. Within a minute I had tears in my eyes. Maybe it was having to say goodbye to my husband for a week. Maybe it's because it was Easter. Maybe it's knowing that this is something that we've all hoped for, or promised, at some point in our lives. Whatever it is, it's an incredible, sweet picture of an incredibly-human longing..

While searching for it online, I started reading the lyrics of some of U2's other songs. Stripped down, without all the busyness, I was able to just reflect on the words; these popular songs transformed into intimate poems, (please spare me the "duh" moment, U2 fans!). I guess I had to come to this realization on my own, but the timing couldn't be better- we are going to the first show on U2's summer tour in a few weeks (my gift to Dan two years ago... but it was postponed because of Bono's surgery) at Mile High Stadium. I am looking forward to hearing this song, and I hope it's introduced the same way- as a tribute to epic punk rocker, Joey Ramone (of the Ramones) who is said to have been listening to this song as his 7-year battle with cancer came to an end.

You can hear Bono's intro in the video below, but I hope the lyrics speak to you in their own way. It's a rock and roll "gospel" song of hope; about 'slowing down our hearts' and being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and believing that there is a chance for us all to have a happy ending... "in a little while".

"In a Little While", U2


Choosing Life

Just as the rain and snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
-making it bud and flourish-
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
So is my word that goes out from my mouth
-it will not return to me empty-
but will accomplish what I desire,
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
~Isaiah 55:10-11~

So often the words of the Bible and the message of Easter- that Jesus has once and for all bought our freedom and given us the opportunity to live in fellowship with the Lord- fall on deaf ears. They can seem distant, detached, and rehearsed. The message feels more like a reminder of something that happened instead of a call for us to engage in what is happening. But I believe that right now, today, no matter where we are or where we have been- we are given an invitation to take an active role in the resurrection of Christ. This is not a time for passive reflection (Lent - Good Friday is a great opportunity for some designated remembrance), it's a chance for us to take advantage of the new life that Jesus has given us- Life to the fullest. 

We were all created with a heart that's filled with desire- desire for things we may not be able to fully grasp or categorize. We all have the desire for community, love, success, purpose... God knit them into the corners of our hearts and Jesus promises us a life that can fulfill - not ignore or eliminate- each and every one of them. An intimate life with the Lord is not dependent upon our ability, or willingness, to sacrifice all of the things we love and hope for- it is to give God the opportunity to fill our desires His way- according to his perfect plan for us- a plan for each of us to live our lives to the fullest. 

John Eldredge writes in his (awesome) book, Desire, about Jesus's reaction to the lifestyle that was accepted by (or forced onto) the people he encountered. They were expected to live according to duty, not desire, and adhere to the expectations of society. Knowledge and religious piety trumped experience and emotion. People-from the lowest servants to the highest priests- had simply accepted that there was no place for their intimate desires in this world. Not according to Jesus.

"To the weary, Jesus speaks of rest. To the lost, he speaks of finding your way. Again and again Jesus takes people back to their desires. 'Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you'(Matt.7:7). Ask, Seek, Knock...these are outrageous words, provocative words, that invite and arouse desire. What is it you want? Jesus provokes desire; he awakens it; he heightens it. The religious watch-dogs accuse him of heresy. 'Not at all', he says, "this is the invitation God has been sending us all along'. (Eldredge, Desire, 37-38). 

Easter is God's invitation, embodied. Put into human terms. Attainable to all of us. It's not a time for us to simply acknowledge what has already been done. Easter is an invitation for us to do something about it. Every day we have the opportunity to choose life. This was the message at church this morning. Every word, every minute, every dollar we are given is another opportunity for us to choose life- choose community, choose love, choose success, and choose purpose- to choose to give God the opportunity to fulfill our heart's deepest desires. Ask the hard things that we've been afraid to ask, seek the reward and the life that is promised, knock on the door of opportunities we never dreamed were there. Everyone's invited to...
 what if we all actually did? 


Thrifty Thursdays: Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad

It wasn't easy (ok, maybe it was) but I managed to create a meal sans mushrooms or Mexican flare! With spring in full swing, and summer weather making frequent cameo appearances, I wanted to share a tasty spin on a potluck-picnic classic. By combining some pasta-salad basics with a few gourmet touches, I've created an unexpectedly, unpretentiously, unbelievably delicious portable feast for the senses! Get the blanket, frisbee, and wine coolers ready, and set out for a perfectly lazy, homemade, lunch in the park!

Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad
$10 makes 8+ servings

1lb Penne pasta
1 tsp olive oil
1/2c each, green & red bell pepper
1/2c red onion, chopped
1 med. Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
1 small can, sliced black olives
2 cloves garlic, minced
1c mayo
1/2c shredded parmesan
1c smoked mozzarella, cubed
1/4c white vinegar
1/2 lemon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt & pepper to taste
1/4c chopped fresh parsley

optional additions: 1/2c  frozen (cooked) spinach, chopped and/or 1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, chopped

1. Cook pasta al dente, drain well (rinse with cold water to retain shape), return to pot. Add olive oil and smoked mozzarella cheese, stir until melted. (you may need to keep it on low heat)
2. Add mayo, vinegar, cayenne, salt, pepper, onion, garlic. Stir well. Remove from heat.
3. Add the bell peppers, (spinach, artichokes), then tomatoes and olives.
4. Toss with parmesan, parsley, and juice from 1/2 lemon. Serve hot (Dan's fave) or cold (my fave!) with a refreshing summery beverage (vodka lemonade, anyone?)


love my OXO hand chopper!


Oh, Lovely Lavender!

This pretty collection of photos was inspired by light and lovely shades of lavender. Whether you're lucky enough to designate a corner of your garden to this delightful herb or are simply drawn to it's sweetly soothing scent, lavender has been a time-tested, and loved, element of life. Each of the photos below whispers to the endless ways that lavender's lovely palette transforms everyday items into ethereal objects of whimsy and grace. Perfectly pretty! 

Here is one of my favorite songs from childhood (from a Disney cassette!) that pays homage to lavender itself. 

"Lavender Blue", Burl Ives (Disney)


Monday's Music to My Ears: Mark Abis

This Monday's tune is a song by a very talented, though lesser known artist, Mark Abis.  He has only released one CD, "Changing Inside" (2005), but I highly recommend it. He has a whispery, folky voice and his songs are poetic but catchy. This is one of my favorites of his,  "All For a Woman's Love", but I found this super random video on youtube that someone made by splicing together footage of old miners. About a minute into it, I decided that it was a cute, though odd, idea- but I'm just thankful I was able to find his music online. Check it out (the song, at least!), and if you love it, pop over to itunes and pick up "Pink Tulips", and "Stronger than Desire" as well. Enjoy!


Thrifty Thursday: Creamy Leek & Wild Mushroom Bisque with Artisan Cheese Board

While looking through the Thrifty Thursday archives for another fun dinner idea to share for this week, I realized two prominent trends... I seem to have an affinity for wild mushrooms and Mexican-inspired cuisine! Whether or not this is a problem, you'll have to decide for yourself, but it looks like I have to do something drastic in order to break out of my rut.

 If I am successful or not, we will find out next week- but for now, I wanted to share one of Dan's favorites that we discovered while my family was in town this past Christmas, but have recreated several times as a yummy, comfort meal. This savory soup recipe yields 6-8 servings, but it's great for lunch-leftovers and it freezes well, so enjoy some tonight  and as a quick homemade meal in weeks to come!

Creamy Leek & Wild Mushroom Bisque
$12 makes 6+ servings

1c mixed wild mushrooms (shitake, cremini, portabello, oyster, etc), chopped
1oz dried porcini mushrooms, chopped (chopping while dry is easier!)
2 leeks, finely sliced
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4c vegetable broth
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsbp butter
1/2c heavy cream
1/2tsp thyme, finely chopped
salt, pepper to taste
fresh thyme to garnish

1. Soak porcinis in 1c warm water for 30 mins. Chop, slice, prep all ingredients.
2. Thoroughly squeeze porcinis, save liquid and set aside. 
3. Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan until melted. Add leeks, shallots, garlic, sautee for 5mins.
4. Add fresh mushrooms, stir over medium heat until soft. Slowly pour in broth, bring to a boil.
5. Add porcinis, liquid, thyme, salt, pepper. Simmer for 30mins.
6. In a blender or food processor, puree 3/4 of the soup until smooth and creamy.
7. Return soup to saucepan and do a quick taste test (need more salt? good consistency?)
8. Garnish with fresh thyme sprig, serve with toasted baguette and a glass o' Pino!

Artisan Cheeses, Olives, and Figs...oh my!

Fellow cheese fans, rejoice! Now indulging in gourmet and specialty cheeses from around the world is easier and more affordable than you thought! There's a good chance that your local grocery store has a specialty cheese counter where they sell selections by the pound, but they often cut off too much, too little, or have small 1-5oz portions left that they sell as 'samples'. I picked up a few different kinds from Whole Foods for about $2 each, and paired them with dried figs and mixed olives for a tasty appetizer!

We got to try Ford Farms Seaside Cheddar, Aged Parmesan, and creamy Dill Havarti. The olives are from the gourmet olive bar at Whole Foods and the figs can be found on the bulk aisle. All together, this tasty spread cost about $10... the perfect pairing for an at-home wine tasting or snack!

Psst...stick this in your Valentine's Day idea reserve... when you cut dried California figs lengthwise, they form a natural heart-shape! Cute! 


Just like honey, from the bee.

"To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee. One clover and a bee. And revery. The revery alone will do, If bees are few"
~ Emily Dickinson

Not long after spring's first buds start to bloom, earth's most auspicious creatures set out to fulfill their life's work (literally). If you haven't noticed them yet, you'll likely hear their telltale buzzing next time you walk by a patch of flowers, but before you start frantically swatting the air, rest assured- those little honey bees have been eagerly anticipating their opportunity to furnish their hive and the last thing they need is for you to get in their way. 

Honey bees are the world's most diligent workers- they toil from the day they emerge from the hive until the end of their short lives (without even stopping to sleep!) to produce the precious nectar that is used for both nutritional and architectural purposes.

 Ancient records describe man's interactions with this liquid gold and how it was highly regarded for its health and healing benefits. Today, honey continues to be a prized commodity. It is used in everything from granola bars to bar soap and simplified renditions of bees and their dwellings are printed, stitched, and stamped onto tea-towels, trinkets, and more - even its name has become a term of endearment for our loved ones. This photo collection celebrates just a handful of the countless ways that honeybees, and honey's delicious golden hues, make their way into our everyday "hives". 

~a taste of history~
1. Honey bees produce 1/2tsp of honey during their lifetime (45 days, they never sleep!)
2. Honey never expires- some was recently found in Egyptian tombs, still fresh!
3. It's used to produce the world's oldest alcoholic beverage, mead (honey-wine)
4. Honey has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, and helps prevent scarring.
5. It is a common ingredient in natural bath products for it's gentle cleansing and  moisturizing properties.
6. The color of honey depends on the region in which it's produced, and what plants/pollen sources are available for bees.

 "The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam"
~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees


"I hadn't been out to the hives before, so to start off she gave me a lesson in what she called 'bee yard etiquette'. She reminded me that the world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don't swat. Don't even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee's temper. Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved." 
- Sue Monk Kidd,  The Secret Life of Bees

Van Morrison, "Tupelo Honey"


Monday's Music to My Ears: Colorado Girl

This Monday I wanted to share a sweetly simple song by one of the most talented folk singer/songwriters I've heard. His voice is certainly an acquired taste and his melodies are basic, but the true power of Townes Van Zandt's music lies within his gritty, soulful lyrics which tell stories of love, loneliness, and longing that we can all relate to. "Colorado Girl" is one of my favorite songs of his, and while there is nothing flashy or even catchy about it, I can't help but wish it were written about me. I must have played it half a dozen times during our recent drive from California to Denver (sorry Dan!). It was the perfect soundtrack as we wound our way through the Rocky Mountains and watched the sparkling Mile High City lights come into view.

Townes Van Zandt, "Colorado Girl"


Thrifty Thursdays: Wild Mushroom Goat Cheese Mole Enchiladas & Vanilla~Cucumber Margaritas!

We literally set foot in our kitchen late last night after three weeks of our road-trip-world-traveling marathon and despite utter-jet-lagged-exhaustion, the thought of cooking a meal in my own kitchen sounded surprisingly delightful. So, this morning I flipped through another one of my dusty cookbooks that I've never opened and found an easy 'mole' sauce recipe.

Traditionally, spicy-chocolatey mole is a very tedious and time-consuming process, reserved for special occasions, and is typically served with chicken...therefor I have never had the pleasure of trying it- so take this into consideration if conducting your own taste-test. However, my own version, while still spicy and chocolatey, is vegetarian, quick, and simply deeelicious, though it certainly doesn't claim to be "traditional"... but after all, enchiladas aren't traditionally filled with wild mushrooms and herb-infused goat cheese!

Although Mexican abuelas may not whip this up any time soon, this recipe will deliver a meal that will delight your senses and give you a chance to try a little homemade mole of your own! Also, we paired it with an original cocktail-concoction you simply must try... Vanilla Cucumber Margaritas!! I've added the recipe for these deliciously dangerous drinks below- just try to refrain from indulging on an empty tummy, or you may never get around to making the enchiladas!

Wild Mushroom & Goat Cheese Mole Enchiladas
about $16 makes 8 enchiladas/4 servings

For the Mole:
1/4c olive oil
1/4c sweet or white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 anaheim chiles, seeded and chopped
2 serrano chiles, seeded and chopped
2 tomatoes, cubed (or 8oz diced canned tomatoes)
1c vegetable stock
1/4c semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp chopped/sliced almonds
1tsp sugar
1 tbsp chile powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper powder
1/2 tsp salt

1. In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil on medium heat
2. Add garlic and onion, cover and saute until tender/translucent (about 5 mins)
3. Mix in remaining ingredients, stirring until well blended, simmer on low heat for 10 mins.
4. In a blender, puree the sauce until smooth and creamy.

For the Enchiladas:
16oz fresh wild/mixed mushrooms (shitake, porcini, portabella, cremini) chopped
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2c chopped green onion
1/4c fresh marjoram, chopped
1/4c fresh cilantro, chopped
8oz fresh goat cheese
1/2c olive oil
1/2c vegetable oil
2 tbsp pepitas
8 white corn tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 350', in a skillet, heat olive oil on medium heat.
2. Saute mushrooms for 5 mins, add green onion, garlic, marjoram, and cilantro*. Cook for 3 mins, stirring occasionally. *save about 2tbsp for garnish when serving.
3. Add goat cheese, mix quickly and evenly, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
4. Wipe skillet clean, add 1/2c vegetable oil, increase heat to med-high.
5. Before oil starts to 'pop', place a tortilla in the oil and cook 10-15 sec. on each side, set aside on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
6. Fill each tortilla with approx. 2 tsp of mix, roll and place seam-down on an oiled baking pan.
7. Pour mole evenly across top, sprinkle with pepitas, and place in oven for 10-15 mins until sauce begins to bubble.
8. Remove from oven, garnish with marjoram/cilantro and serve while hot with a dollop of sour cream, beans & rice! Enjoy!

Vanilla~Cucumber Margaritas!
(on the rocks!)

2 oz white tequila
1 oz vanilla vodka
1 oz triple sec
4 oz lemonade (or fresh lemon juice w/ 1tsp simple syrup)
.5 oz lime juice
1tsp muddled cucumber and lemon, thinly sliced
salt for rimming

1. Rim 16oz glass with lemon juice & salt, add ice cubes
2. In a separate glass or martini shaker, muddle cucumber and lemon slices
3. Add liquid ingredients, shake/stir well
4. Pour, serve, sip...smile. Garnish with a ring of cucumber or lemon if you wish!