Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Life in the Fast Lane

As a nurse, I work 12 hour night shifts. I am also currently in school, and this semester I am in class two nights per week. As a result, I often feel like I am at the end of a sling shot being whipped around in circles as the days fly by. I usually start every semester bright eyed and bushy tailed, with all kinds of plans for how I will keep up with my work, forgo sleep for exercise, and keep up with my menu planning and cooking 4-5 times/week. Invariably, I fall behind. Delivery creeps back into the weekly budget, and fresh vegetables bought with visions of complicated (or even simple) dishes are thrown out as I fail to keep up.

I was at this point several weeks ago when spring break, that glorious week in March that makes me feel like everything might just work out, came around. For seven short days, I plugged away at my overdue readings, hit the gym, and caught up on housework. Oh, and I cooked. And with every dish, I felt like I was getting a little closer to my former self. And then it was over, and not that long after I found myself tossing all of the almost-turned vegetables together with some rice and lime juice and calling it dinner. Actually, that was just fine too.

Here's what I made back when I had my sanity:

Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Gorgonzola-Tomato Salsa
Adapted from Cooking Light

2 cups chopped tomato (I used cherry tomatoes)
1/3 cup minced red onion
1/3 cup chopped basil
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 lb pork tenderloin, cut into 12ish slices
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in large nonstick skillet. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Add to skillet, cook 3-4 minutes per side, or until done. Divide evenly among 4 plates, top with salsa. Enjoy!

Monday, April 19, 2010


In my house, we divide the cooking responsibilities like this: I do all the cooking and grocery shopping. I feel comfortable with this because my partner (DP) has really given it a good try. She cooked a special meal for our 6 month anniversary (oh so long ago!). It didn't end well. We tried the whole: "one night a week is your responsibility." We generally ordered take out. More recently, DP tried to cook some of her favorite recipes for her family over the holidays. I took this as a sign that she might be turning over a new leaf, but she assured me that it only confirmed her hatred of the activity.

It's fine, because I love to cook. Going to the supermarket is a favorite pastime, and nothing pleases me more than a refrigerator stocked with fresh ingredients, waiting to be turned into meals for the week. Still, every week, I ask: "Any requests from the store this week?" And invariably the response is either "Everything!" or, more usually, "No." Which is why, a couple of weeks ago, when I asked the same question and I got the answer "Portobello mushroom pizzas!" I was a little bit excited. Still, I wasn't quite sure what it meant. Pizzas with portobello mushrooms on them? No, it was explained. Portobello mushrooms as the crust, topped with sauce and cheese--like a english muffin pizza.


Portobello Mushroom Pizzas
recipe by DP
This is a very loose recipe. You can use whatever kind of sauce, cheese, or toppings you like. The amounts are approximate--I didn't measure.

4 portobello mushrooms, stems detached, chopped and reserved
!/4 cup tomato sauce (or more, as needed)
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese (low fat, if desired)
olives, toppings, etc

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place mushrooms on baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, until soft and cooked through. Remove from oven and set aside.
While mushrooms are cooking, saute chopped stems in 1/2 tsp olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Top mushrooms with sauce, cheese, olives, and chopped, cooked stems.
Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serves 2. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Vacation Rituals

When my family went on vacations, my mother would start packing months before our departure date. She would pull our suitcases from the attic, and we would get to go through our summer clothes and pick out our favorite items to wear while away. All the while, we'd be dreaming of warmer weather and our upcoming trip. We'd take inventory and sometimes buy a special "vacation outfit," carefully tucking it away so it would be fresh and new for our travels. Anticipation built with every packed dress, t-shirt, and bathing suit. This routine was, I'm sure, part of being organized and making travel with three small children slightly easier. As we did it more, it became our little vacation ritual, part of the experience of travel itself, and a way to begin the fun and daydreaming a bit earlier.

As I travel more and more as an adult, I am starting to develop little vacation rituals of my own. The pre-vacation pedicure (to start the relaxation a day early). Staying up almost all night before an early flight (to sleep better on the plane). And, the week of salad upon returning home. Salad week is less about prolonging vacation, and more about transitioning back to real life. Because as much as traveling is relaxing and fun and full of adventure and good food, settling back into day-to-day living recharged and with a refreshed attitude is what going away is all about.

I was just here:

for a week with my family celebrating my parents' 35th wedding anniversary. Coming back to the cold feels cruel and inhumane right now, and so to ease back into it we went out for dinner tonight and had one last Dark and Stormy. Tomorrow, though, I'm making this:

With it, I'm going to start the process of getting back into life, while hopefully maintaining some of the relaxed attitude that is so characteristic of island living.

Carrot and Beet Salad
adapted from Jamie at Home, Jamie Oliver

4 large or 8 small beets (golden, red, chiogga, or a mix)
1 bunch carrots, peeled and tops trimmed (I like to get the rainbow ones when I can find them)
1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
fresh herbs: rosemary, parsley, basil, and/or mint (or whatever else you have kicking around that needs to be used), roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F. Roast beets using your favorite method. I alternate between wrapping them individually with foil and tossing them in the oven for 40-90 minutes (until soft when pierced with a fork), placing them in an inch of water in a pan and roasting for 40-90 minutes, or placing in a foil lined pan, covering with foil, and roasting for 40-90 minutes. With the latter you could add a few sprigs of rosemary to the pan for a nice flavor. Remove from oven and cool, peel and cut into approximately 1 inch cubes.

While beets are roasting, place carrots on a foil lined baking sheet, toss with 1-2 tsp olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. You could also add some fresh rosemary. Place in the 400 F oven and roast for approximately 20 minutes, until softened (but retaining some crunch). Chop into roughly 1 inch lengths.

Place beets and carrots in a medium bowl. Add 1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, remaining oil, sea salt and black pepper to taste, and herbs. Adjust seasonings to your liking. Serve over mesclun, add goat cheese and chicken breast or pork tenderloin medallions for a main course.