malls / quinoa black bean salad with mango

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So I’m not really a mall person. I like clothes and everything, but I’d rather buy online or go to a single store with a single mission. Because malls are time warps. Every time I go into one I find myself burning through hours as easily as if I were stalking people on Facebook. The exits are strategically placed at the ends of dark corridors or in the corners of department stores behind frilly necked nightgowns and granny panties so you can’t find your way out without a struggle. And they’re filled with strange people. Translation: oversized underdressed Americans who like to spend their cash on tube tops and frappucinos. When I enter, it smells like chocolate chip cookies and perfume. I’m made instantly aware of the neon lights buzzing overhead, the clip clop of heels over shiny oatmeal floors, the nauseating bubblegum pop of Katy Perry, and my inner chorus of “What did I come here for again?”

I aimlessly wander through the makeup aisle in Nordstroms. A woman with fake eyelashes and a makeup explosion offers me a sample of Britney Spear’s new perfume. I politely decline, but she sprays me anyway. My unicorn friend sneezes and nudges me towards a Starbuck’s. We both get a hot tea since we’re freezing, then wander into a store. The other shoppers we pass generally fall into two categories: the stressed out I-will-silently-push-into-anyone-looking-through-the-same-sale-rack-as-me nutsos or the salted pretzel eating the-mall-is-my-social-hub tube toppers. There are also the elderly, who treat the mall like a park and stroll about in big white sneakers and sweatsuits with no intention of buying anything.

 Inside the store, folded shirts and the smell of cotton flash me back to my short-lived retail days (see Adventures in Hawaiian Employment ), and I smile apologetically at the salesperson, knowing the torture she is enduring. Translation: an endless day of shirt folding and daydreaming in a windowless white box with bad music and worse pay. My unicorn friend takes some clothes into the fitting room, while I mindlessly slide through hanger after hanger of a sale rack. I pick out a few beaten up looking shirts that have been touched, tried on, and re-folded a thousand times and try them on. The lighting in the fitting room is a dimmish yellow and shines over your body in that flattering way that makes you look a hundred times heavier with dark circles under your eyes. And because it’s a three way mirror I get to see my hot self from the front, side and back all at once. Disgruntled, I put my clothes back on. I momentarily debate whether I should hang the clothes back on their hangers (since that’s what my mom does and I feel like a bad person if I don’t), but instead I channel my inner dad and reassure myself that the salesperson has nothing better to do. Meanwhile, my unicorn friend has been hemming and hawing over whether he should buy a shirt he likes. I can hear my mother asking: “Will you wear it?” or “Do you need another shirt?”, and I suddenly feel exhausted. Mall exhausted. In the end, my unicorn friend puts the shirt on hold, which we all know means I’m not going to buy it.

Now that you’re drained from a trip to the mall, why not refresh yourself with a delicious black bean and quinoa salad? Cumin, mangos and bright crisp veggies play supporting roles in this protein packed summer dish. It’s a cinch to make and keeps well in the fridge too. Hooray for easy summer dishes!

“hedgehogging” the mango
quinoa cooling on a half sheet pan
summer black bean & quinoa salad with mango!

Quinoa & Black Bean Salad with Mango

1 mango, peeled and diced *see my note below on the best way to dice a mango

1 red pepper, seeded and diced

1/4 cup red onion, diced OR 1 cup scallions, sliced thin

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

2 cups quinoa, cooled

1 can or 1 1/2 cups black beans, rinsed and drained

3 T red wine vinegar

2 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T tamari or shoyu (naturally brewed soy sauce)

2 tsp cumin

juice of 1 lime

fresh black pepper to taste

optional additions include: diced cucumber, diced avocado, crumbled blue corn chips, and hot sauce

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Allow to cool fully on a half sheet pan or cookie sheet. Then combine the cooled quinoa with all of the other ingredients in a large bowl. Serve immediately or chill in the fridge for later. I like to plate my salad over a few lettuce leaves and top with blue chips (Garden of Eatin’s Red Hot Blues are my favorite!) Serves 4 unicorns with post-frappucino caffeine jitters.

*A note on mangos…they are impossibly sticky and have an absurdly large pit in the middle. For a long time, I found them too annoying to eat, until I learned how to “hedgehog” one. Stand your mango up on a cutting board and slice one side from the top to the bottom as close to the pit as your knife can get. Repeat with the other side. Using a paring knife, slice through the two pieces lengthwise and widthwise without piercing the skin. Then invert each piece and gently slice off the mango cubes. See picture above for what your mango should look like!

inoculations from hell / grilled watermelon salad

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So my family and I are going to visit Africa. When I think of Africa I picture lions, zebras and elephants like any other ignorant foreigner, but I also picture giant anacondas, typhoid fever, and lots of bottled water. In a nutshell, we have to get inoculated. This word sounds harmless enough- perhaps even enjoyable because of its similarity to words like intoxicated, innocence, and inner-tube. But let me be clear: getting inoculated has nothing to do with pleasantness and everything to do with large needles.
The office for infectious disease smells like its filled with them (translation: a too warm grey blue box reeking of latex and dirty people). I check in with a lady wearing scrubs decorated with kittens playing with a ball of string and chuckle at her perfectly executed presentation of the stereotypical hospital receptionist (translation: overweight middle aged she-man who used to care but now just rescues cats and watches reality TV). She’s tucked behind a glass window (I can’t help but notice the fingerprints and dried spit before she slides it open and hands me a clipboard). “Just grab a pen from the jar,” she tells me. I look at the jar of used looking pens and scolded myself for hesitating. It’s just a goddamn pen, I tell myself. I am here for disease prevention…disease prevention. I keep repeating this in my head to drown out my inner chorus of: this place is festering with disease…this place is festering with disease. The paper on the clipboard asks me if I have AIDS, if I’m pregnant, if I’m allergic to anything, if I take blood thinners or anti-psychotics, if I’m depressed, if I have heart disease…
No, I say to myself, but I’m a panic stricken vegan with germaphobia!
My unicorn friend is eating the fake green hanging plant in the corner. I roll my eyes and sarcastically ask him how a plant can grow without light. Green plants can grow anywhere, he argues, while chewing on a plastic leaf. I snort and turn my attention to the wrinkled Good Parenting magazine on the side table. I open it with my fingertips and discover that a few pages have been ripped out. Who rips out magazine articles? I wonder briefly. After learning that the first year of a baby’s life costs around 50k, I pick up a pamphlet on HIV. It takes me about 2 minutes to convince myself that I have it.
The doctor emerges from behind a grey door. He’s just finished up with my sister, who’s in some sort of post traumatic shock (translation: she doesn’t like hospitals or people generally, especially people who tell her to be very still for any period of time and stick her with large needles). I can’t say I blame her. Her boyfriend is smiling and tells us that the needles were “This big!” (gesticulating wildly and giving the impression that the needle was the length of a large cat).
My unicorn friend and I follow the doctor into his small office and I immediately feel claustrophobic. It’s another grey blue box. It has a window that looks out onto more grey buildings, and his desk is completely hidden beneath never-ending stacks of papers and charts cloaked in dust. A few family photos have managed to hold onto the edges of the mahogany surface. The wall opposite the window has a bookshelf lined with thick boring books that no one ever reads. The doctor tells us to have a seat, then launches into a freaking dissertation about the importance of vaccines when traveling to Africa. I want to say, Yeah, I know all this, that’s why I’m here you idiot. No, I don’t want to get Hepatitis from fruit salad or Typhoid fever from bacteria infested water. Yes, I’m fine with getting Tetanus. And Polio. Yes, yes…just DO it already! The longer I sit in this grey blue box of dust and disease, the more likely I’m going to contract a Staph infection! My unicorn friend calmly asks if the scar on his arm from a previous vaccination reaction will be an issue. I groan as the doctor goes into a detailed explanation of the hows and whys of vaccination reactions. I am stuck to my seat with sweat. I need to get out of here. After what seems like a full calendar year, the doctor asks us if we want to watch him prepare the inoculations. “Is it interesting?” asks my unicorn friend. My eyes swell like two glass orbs and I nearly shout, “Jesus, you don’t have the shots ready yet?”
Suddenly I picture a petri dish writhing with a typhoid amoeba monster and our sloth of a doctor coaxing it into a giant needle with soft encouragement. Beads of sweat form on my forehead and I grab my unicorn friend by the mane and drag him to the waiting room. It’s cooler in there at least. The lady with the kitten scrubs beams at us and I’m reminded of the fact that no one else has come or gone from the office since we arrived 108 hours ago. How many shots does this guy dole out per day? I wonder with increasing fear.
20 minutes have passed and I’m eyeing the air vent like it’s a MRSA filled enemy, floating into the grey blue office like the Ebola virus from Outbreak, just when Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo realize that it’s airborne…
Come on in, says the doctor with a toothy grin. I am fairly certain at this point that I am in Hell and this doctor is Satan and all I’m going to do for the rest of eternity is wait for and then receive shots in his infernal office.
The exam room is blindingly bright from the neon light buzzing overhead. There’s a bed covered in stiff white paper and a framed print of one of Monet’s waterlilies. I sit on the edge of the bed with a loud crunch after deciding that I’m getting the damn shots first. Two in each arm, Satan says with a smile. Oh, you sadist sloth! I want to yell. When the first needle goes in, I try to ignore my sister’s earlier bravado about vaccine reactions and subsequent paralyzation of the legs. They hurt like hell, but its pure bliss compared to sitting in Satan’s dusty office or the grey blue waiting room filled with MRSA.

Now that you’ve been to Hell and back and have enough vaccines to roll around in Malaria-infested waters with hippos and anacondas, why not invite them over for some grilled watermelon salad? I was very skeptical about grilling fruit at first, but now I realize that when you grill fruit it actually caramelizes and makes it even sweeter. A punch of balsamic reduction and some cashew cheese (Dr. Cow makes the most delicious vegan cheese I’ve ever tasted. Look here: Dr-Cow | Products | Aged Cashew Nut Cheese.), and you’re in for a serious flavor explosion.

Grilled Watermelon Salad with Cashew Cheese

1/2 (5 pound) watermelon, rind removed and cut into about 8 squares
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
splash of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & fresh pepper to taste
2 cups arugula
1 container Dr. Cow cashew cheese sliced thin (or “cheese” of your choosing)

Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until reduced to a think syrup and set aside. Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium high heat. Drizzle enough olive oil over watermelon slices to coat and place on hot grill. Grill each side about 3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Season with sea salt. To assemble, put a handful of arugula on a plate and top with two slices of grilled watermelon, a drizzle of balsamic reduction and a few pieces of cashew cheese. Serves 4 unicorns with sore arms and paralyzed legs.

concerning the dentist / roasted beet & chickpea salad

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So I’m not a big fan of going to the dentist. It’s nothing in particular, just the general atmosphere and post-cleaning stomach ache from swallowing the electric blue mouthwash in miniature paper cups and recovering from the embarrassment of not being able to figure out which button fills the cup and which button cleans the bowl. The waiting room isn’t so bad except the magazines have that used quality about them that tempts my germophobia to come out in full form (translation: inability to open magazines followed by fixation on other frequently touched objects: doorknobs, pens, seats that have recently become available and are still warm, etc). As soon as they call my name and whisk me through the milk toast colored door, I can smell the mouthwash and latex gloves. The chairs are comfortable, but then they shine that unearthly looking spaceship lamp into your mouth while asking you how your family is. You have to time when you’re going to answer because the tools keep going in and out of your mouth and you inevitably have one of those awkward moments when you speak just as their about to put the mirror back in. They wait for you to finish telling them about your dog’s weight problem and you resume your vacant stare at the popcorn ceiling. Why don’t they hang some artwork or a crossword puzzle or a flatscreen on the ceiling instead of forcing you to stare at the air vent while listening to soft rock? The chair comes down and it’s time to rinse. I catch a view of the pastel print of a white chair in a garden and become sidetracked by my preoccupation with judging people who love crappy art. I hit the wrong button and my blue mouthwash overflows into the ceramic bowl. I swish it around and spit, managing to dribble on my stiff paper bib. After the dentist polishes my teeth with bubblegum flavored grit (half of which I end up swallowing), Mr. Thirsty comes out. Mr. Thirsty is the miniature vacuum cleaner that slurps up all the liquid in your mouth before you choke on it. When I was little they used to try to pump me up with excitement by smiling and saying: “Here comes Mr. Thirsty!” I was more traumatized than excited, for by that point I had already discovered that when adults get overly excited about something in a hospital setting, it means you’re not going to like it. I end my appointment with a visit from the big man himself, the head dentist. I’ve been going to the same dentist since I was little, so when he recently retired I didn’t know what to do. A new dentist came in and they said I should go to him. I said fine. My old dentist was a hippie type with a vegan daughter and we got along great, so when the new guy walked in with a crew cut and hungry looking eyes, I became anxious. He’s about six years old and shakes my hand so hard that my bib unhooks. His teeth are blazing white and he looks like he hasn’t seen the sun in a decade. The mirror and the pick come out and he examines my teeth with exuberance. I’ve never had a cavity before and I’ve never had any work done. After he pokes around, he tells me that I have a cavity and need a filling. “Really?” I ask. I wonder what I’ve been doing wrong. He says it’s no big deal. So I get the filling and a few hundred uninsured dollars later, I’m back at the office for another cleaning, and guess what? This time I need a few hundred dollars worth of x-rays and two more fillings. Now I’m getting suspicious. I ask to see the x-rays, but all he shows me is a bunch of light areas and dark areas around my teeth. When he points out the “bad” areas, I lightheartedly mention that he could be showing me a picture of space and I wouldn’t know the difference. He laughs uncomfortably behind a set of magnifying spectacles that actually make him look like he’s from space. I make the appointment for more fillings, then make the mistake of telling my dad (translation: my dad thinks everyone is always after your money and you can’t trust anyone, especially young dentists and car dealers). He tells me what I want to hear. “Your teeth are fine…he’s just trying to make more money off of you.” Solution? I’m switching dentists, and may or may not be suffering from two life threatening cavities.

When you’re worried about cavities, what should you make yourself to eat? A huge crunchy salad of course! This salad is a perfect Big Love style marriage of creamy, sweet, tangy, and salty.

Roasted Beet & Chickpea Salad

2 red beets, scrubbed & ends removed
1 cup cooked chickpeas
small handful of fresh dill, minced
1 avocado, pitted and chopped

for the dressing:
1 T dijon mustard
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 T olive oil + more for baking beets
sea salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Place beets in baking dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and cover with foil. Bake for an hour, or until a knife easily pierces the beets. Allow to cool, then remove skins and chop. In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients, then toss with salad and enjoy! Feeds two unicorns with post-traumatic dental stress.

beets ready for roasting!

I hate / miso hungry salad

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DSC_0238I woke up this morning filled with hope, a bluebird on my shoulder, and a perfect cup of black tea. Then I tried to purchase Radiohead tickets at 10am on…Sold out…but mysteriously available on Stubhub and other sites for the reasonable price of $600+. Are you kidding me Radiohead? I love you, but your whole “download our music for free” thing doesn’t jive well with this “given to the highest bidder” ticket nonsense. Now I feel cheated, and my bluebird has turned into an obnoxious bluejay, and my hope has morphed into the Obama variety. My tea however, was still perfect: a 5 minute steep of black assam, splash of soymilk, a touch of raw honey, and a cat hair or two (for protein obviously). So what if I can’t go see my favorite band this week? There are an infinite amount of activities I can partake in on a Wednesday night in Greenwich. Perhaps I’ll spend $100 on a plate of steamed veggies and a glass of wine at an overpriced restaurant or stay at home with my beasts and watch the Lord of The Rings trilogy literally play out in my own apartment. Speaking of which, at the present moment, Dragon (Samwise Gamgee) is lost in Mordor (closet under the stairs). I always know when she’s lost because of her particular mew. Dragon has many mews. The “I’m lost” mew sounds like a question, as if she’s saying “Hello? Is anybody out there?” or in cat language “Purrr-raaoooww?” I usually reply with “Dragon, I’m over here.” Since I’ve rescued her, she has managed to get lost in room corners, paper bags, closets, and sadly…open spaces. Frodo (ring-bearer and savior of Middle Earth) never gets lost and is generally quiet and introverted…with one exception: silverware. For some unknown reason, the sound of silverware clanking against itself turns Frodo into a bizarre creature who makes cackling noises and twitches his tail as though he’s developed a neurotic tic. It’s gotten so bad lately that when he even sees me opening the dishwasher, he begins to cackle; a pathetic “reh, eh, eh” sound that attempts to convey his great suffering. Toast (Sauron) makes all of the typical dog sounds, including the three syllabled whine “hymph, hymph, hymmm” and the “I hear something”, bug-eyed, ears glued back muffled half-bark “boooufff!”.

My point in all of this? Proving that I have a fulfilling life with or without Radiohead tickets.

It’s lunchtime and I still feel defeated so I don’t feel like cooking. Solution? Miso Hungry Salad! This masterpiece of a dish is so easy to make, and will impress all of your friends because you can use health term zingers like “probiotics”, “apple cider vinegar”, and “vegan”. They will think you are a goddess in the kitchen even if you’re planning a coup on and haven’t made up your bed yet.

Miso Hungry Salad

for the salad:
1 large head of romaine lettuce or lettuce of choice, washed, spun & chopped (tip: chopping lettuce is so much easier when you slice once or twice from the root to the tip of the lettuce head, then turn horizontally and chop until you reach the root)
1 cup cooked or 1/2 can garbanzo or black beans, washed and drained (I use Eden organic brand when using canned beans because Eden doesn’t line their cans with Bisphenol-A, a known carcinogen)
1/4 cup red onion, minced
Optional additions: 1 small cucumber, deseeded and diced, 1 avocado, pitted and diced & a handful of sprouts

for the dressing:
1 heaping tablespoon of the following:
Brown rice miso (I use South River Miso = so freaking delicious you could eat it out of the jar & it contains probiotics that will fill your body with healthy bacteria)
Apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar)
Tahini (I use Once Again organic tahini)
2 tsp Penzey’s Fox Point seasoning (or you can use a blend of sea salt, shallots, chives, garlic, onion & green peppercorns)
splash of water
3 T extra virgin olive oil

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except oil. Using a whisk, slowly stream in oil and mix until emulsified. Dressing should be thick, like a caesar or blue cheese dressing, but without any of the nasty dead fish or moldy cheese. Pour dressing over salad ingredients, toss, and serve to one or two ticketless unicorns.

for the shiitake bacon:
***this is an optional topping, but it will blow your mind and the minds of others.  It tastes like bacon, but it’s actually just a healthy mushroom.***
3 cups or 1 package shiitake mushrooms, finely sliced
1 T refined coconut oil
sea salt to taste
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over a high flame. Add mushrooms, but do not crowd (depending on the size of your pan, you might have to make this in two batches), and allow to cook, untouched (put down the wooden spoon!), for a few minutes until brown and crispy (your pan should be hot, smoking & sizzling…don’t get nervous). Flip the mushrooms over with a cock of your wrist or the use of your spoon, sprinkle with sea salt, and continue to cook until shrooms are crispy and dark brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a few pieces of paper towel to absorb excess oil. Serve as a topping for the Miso Hungry Salad (or just eat them off the towel and tell the unicorn that you overcooked them…)DSC_0247