Sunday, January 18, 2015

My "Go To", Easy, Healthy Recipies

Hey friends.

One of my 2015 New Year's resolutions was to cook at home more. I was feeling not so great about my health, my energy levels, my body, or my spending habits towards the end of last year. I missed feeling healthy. So I decided to try to go back to cooking more at home instead of constantly ordering take-out and going out to eat. This can be soooo hard, especially because I'm blessed to live a social life- and what's better than going for a meal with friends? And because, after a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is cook. I'm just really hungry, and I want to eat, now. If I'm really hungry, I tend to be useless. Sometimes I actually get headaches, or get weak with hunger. Literally useless. So ordering or going out, especially if it's cheap, can be a really easy habit to fall into.

But, I told myself I want to try to eat/cook at home 3 nights a week. So far, I've actually been doing alright, and I've found it easier than I thought it would be.

This has caused me to resurrect some of my favorite, easy, "go to" recipes. When I first moved to China, I found it hard to adjust to finding, or not finding, certain ingredients. But now, I pretty much have figured out how to find what I want to eat, or how to substitute for it.

Anyway, since I'm digging these out (I already had them typed somewhere), I thought I'd share, in case anyone else could benefit. They're all pretty easy, because, let's be honest, I can't be asked to deal with precision cooking.

ps: I didn't know what to call some of these things.....and sometimes making a title just seemed redundant.


(sometimes any kind of bell pepper, if you feel like it)
Salt, pepper
Olive oil OR
coconut oil (works with both, just has a different flavor)

1.) Wash and cut okra crosswise (discard tip and "root") (so you get little mini okra wheels)
2.) Dice onion and garlic
3.) Add oil to pan or wok, sautee garlic, onion and okra (sometimes I start the onion going first while I finish cutting the okra......however you want to play it)
4.) While that's happening, dice tomatoes (I like equal parts okra what works for you)
5.) If you're using a bell pepper or two, you would dice those now too
6.) Add tomatoes and peppers to mix
7.) When okra gets "slimy" (that sounds gross, but it isn't) and tomatoes are softened, add basil, salt, and pepper to taste.

Once I start the sauteeing process, I usually cook it for maybe 6-10 minutes....depends how crispy you like your veggies, how much you are cooking, etc. I guess I eyeball a lot of stuff.....writing it out is making me realize how not exact my cooking is........



Sweet Potatoes
Yellow Squash
(You could probably also add bell pepper or zucchini or carrots)
ginger (fresh or powder, whatever you have)
coconut oil (I'm sure you could use olive oil here, but the coconut oil kind of made this awesome)

My cousin and I kind of made this up with what was in my fridge after yoga one it's very not precise.....but it was surprisingly, awesomely good.

1.) Cut onion and garlic (or use garlic powder, or that pre-minced stuff in the jar)
2.) Cut sweet potatoes (with skin-so obviously, you'd wash them well first) into cubes
3.) Sautee garlic and onions in coconut oil (I don't know how much, you won't need a lot)
4.) Add sweet this point, I think we added a bit of water and a lid and sort of steamed them for a little
5.) Cut yellow squash and any other veggies you choose to add....
6.) Add veggies
7.) Add spices to taste
8.) I just remembered that I think she added a bit of butter as well, which really gave it some flavor, but I made it another time without butter and it was still good.

I think it took maybe 20 minutes, but that included cutting veggies and such......the steaming helped cook the potatoes because they take a bit longer than everything else. Also, the onions were cooked enough that they caramelized, which added to the sweet/tangy thing that this has going for it with the curry and cumin.....but since you aren't a huge fan of the sweet, maybe don't let the onions caramelize.

Tomato Cucumber Salad-this one is cool because you can make it with things entirely from your garden (if you don't add cheese...but you should always add cheese)


1.) cut veggies (technically fruits....but I'm gonna call 'em veggies), somewhere between chopped and diced, equal parts cucumber and tomato
2.) Mix together in bowl, include all juices.
3.) Add salt, fresh basil, and chunks of fresh mozzarella to taste.

This takes as long as you take to chop veggies

-Some people like it with some kind of a vinaigrette dressing and/or some olive oil. I prefer to let the veggies make their own dressing with all their juices. This really doesn't keep for more than a day (like, you could do dinner and lunch the next day, before it gets too acidic) 
-You can add red onion and bell pepper (orange really makes it colorful!) for a different flavor
-You can not add cheese....but who would do such a thing?


Zucchini or Spaghetti Squash Pizza (though I've only made it with zucchini)


Zucchini or Squash- 1 1/2 cups (squeeze water out as much as possible....that is kind of important)
2 eggs
1 cup cheese
Pizza toppings (here is a good place for homemade pizza sauce....for which I still haven't figured out a good recipe...)

1.) Shred zucchini, squeeze out water.
2.) Mix with eggs, spread on greased cookie sheet (to mimic dough)
3.) Bake for 15 min and 350
4.) Top with sauce and other toppings (you know, like bacon) and bake at 350 for another 5-10 minutes until firm.

For me, it hasn't come out in a "you can eat it like a slice of pizza" way (I think a lot of that depends on how well you drain the juices), but you can still eat it and it tastes good, I think.

*Note-as I was re-reading this from where it was written in my recipe box, it occurred to me that maybe you are supposed to mix in the 1 cup of cheese with the egg and zucchini initially, and that might help better hold the "crust" together. I've never tried doing that....but you could.

Baked Eggplant


Basil (I've found that dried basil works better here, because it is easier to "sprinkle", unless you're really good at mincing fresh basil)
(can also add Oregano and/or salt to taste)
Olive Oil

1.) Slice eggplant crosswise into pretty thin slices
2.) Put slices on lightly oiled baking sheet/pan
3.) Baste or "paint" slices with olive oil until well covered
4.) Sprinkle basil (and/or other spices) liberally
5.) Bake between 350-400 for 20-40 minutes (It has been different every time I've made them, and I never remember the optimal temperature/time combination)
      -Cook time depends on thickness and number of slices and desired "doneness" of your eggplant. I like it to be on the softer side, so I usually let it cook until it is rather soft when pieced
       in the center with a fork.
Can be eaten hot or cold.

Note: You can cook other veggies in the same way, just vary the spices......from carrots (good with rosemary), to sweet potatoes, to red potatoes (also good with rosemary, onion and garlic, and cheese.....and ranch dressing.....getting progressively less healthy), to who knows what all. Baked/roasted veggies rock.


Tacos/Taco Salad:

I'm assuming you know how to make tacos....but just make a taco salad instead of using tortillas....or, use romaine lettuce leaves as the tortillas. If you need a recipe for how to make taco meat/what spices to use, I'd be happy to oblige. (I usually use turkey....but local (well, when I was in Princeton, it was local) buffalo is also good....and sometimes I use black beans instead of meat. Sometimes I also add onion and green pepper in with the meat while cooking it to add addition flavor and texture).


Jicama Salad (the recipe I found below calls for an orange, which I'm sure is great, but I've had it without and it is still awesome)

The lime juice and cilantro (coriander for my British friends) combine with the jicima to make this so refreshing! Plus, being a root, jicama is a great source of fiber. I find it to be a very refreshing veggie.


Steamed veggies


Veggies you want to eat, like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, spinach (fun fact, your body cannot really digest/absorb the nutrients in spinach unless it is cooked), zucchini, yellow squash etc

Really, I'm sure you know how to steam veggies. But I will say, steamed asparagus topped with swiss good.


Olive oil
Yellow Squash
Basil (maybe)
Bell Peppers (maybe)
(Green beans, if you want, or white beans, or yellow beans)

1.) Slice or dice all veggies
2.) Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil (maybe like 2 tble spoons)
3.) Add tomatoes, stir, add about half the desired amount of oregano, salt and pepper
4.) Add Zucchini and squash (and peppers), stir and add other half
5.) Cook till everything is soft and you have almost a sauce kind of thing going on from all the juices (maybe like 5 minutes)
6.) If you are adding green beans, you can either cook them seperately (like steam them, or boil them) and then add this mixture on top....or you can try adding the beans in step 2.5 and cook them a bit (because they take longer) before doing step 3.

The key to making this one totally awesome is the right spice balance....which my dad has perfected, and I have not.

Mango Mint Chutney

Haven't tried this yet, but it sounds awesome!


2 tbsp. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch dice (you should already be able to tell, this one is written down and I'm not making it up)
1 small red onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 large ripe but firm mangoes (about 1 lb each), peeled and cut itno 1/2 inch dice
1 tbsp. sugar (you could probably sub maple syrup or honey or agave, or stevia or some other sweetener)
1 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp. lime juice
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Warm oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, 3-5 minutes
Stir in mangoes, sugar, cumin, salt, and pepper.
Reduce heat to medium, partially cover and cook, stirring often, until mangoes have completely softened, 20-30 minutes
Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.
Let cool.
Cover and chill until ready to serve
Just before serving, stir in mint
Adjust seasoning to taste

This would be awesome over talapia or salmon....or maybe even over chicken. And over a bed a greens.


Beet Soup

Fun Fact: Traditional Polish dish, served on Wigilia (


4-6 Beets (Bears and Battlestar Galactica)...depending on size
Onion (maybe, if you want)

1.) Scrub beets well. If you don't, your soup will literally taste like dirt (sadly, I know this from experience)
2.) Cut off root end, but you can leave the leaves to add flavor.
3.)Bring enough water to cover the beets (probably at least 4 cups) to boil
4.) Add beets and to boil, and let cook/simmer until beets are soft (usually 30-45 mins)
5.) Take beets out, remove outer layer of skin (which should basically fall off if they are cooked properly) and cut off leaves. Slice or dice beets and put back in the pot.
6.) Cook maybe 5-10 more minutes (or longer to seep in a bit more flavor), salt to taste.

Note: If you are going to add onion for extra flavor, you can either add diced onion during step 4 or 5.
Some people also add vinegar and dill weed. I'd personally skip the vinegar, but sometimes the dill is nice.

Serve hot or chilled.
Often, people add sour cream (or I sub yogurt instead) to their bowl when eating.....makes the soup creamier and adds a nice flavor)


Pesto Quinoa


Pesto Sauce (of course, you can make your own)
Chicken broth

1.) Cook quinoa, use chicken broth instead of water. I like to cook it in my rice cooker, but stove top works too.
2.) Dice a tomato or 2, depending on how much quinoa you make.
3.) Add tomatoes and pesto sauce, stir
4.) Enjoy- because it is seriously yummy.

Using red quinoa is fun.
You can also bulk it up by adding peppers or other veggies.

Quinoa salad:

or google other recipies


Mashed Cauliflower

Skip the step about adding instant massed potatoes. Gross.


Cauliflower with lemon tahini sauce


1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 cup tahini
1/2 tsp. garlic powder...or just mince a clover of garlic
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tbs. organic extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs. lemon juice
2-3 tesp chopped fresh parsley

1.) Steam cauliflower 9-10 minutes until tender
2.) Meanwhile, mix tahini, garlic, and salt together in small bowl until no lumps remain. Mix in oil, then lemon juice, then 1 tbs water. Allow sauce to sit for a few minutes, then mix again, add 1 tbs more water if you want thinner sauce.
3.) Spoon cauliflower onto serving platter and spoon sauce over cauliflower. Top with chopped parsley


Sauteed Chard


1 bunch (about 1 lb) chard (any color)
2 tb olive oil
1 tb lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

1.) Slice stems on the diagonal about 1/2 inch wide. Coarsely slice leaves
2.) Heat 1 tb. olive oil in a wide casserole or pan. Stir in stems, cover, and cook over low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Add leaves and stir. Cover and cook over moderate heat until tender, another 3-4 minutes.
3.) Remove to a serving dish and drizzle with remaining oil and lemon juice. Add alt and pepper if desired.

I don't really have a recipe for this because I always wing it, but you can use spaghetti or butternut or acorn squash  as spaghetti noodles instead of noodles, just add red sauce. 
Instead of red sauce, you can also do butter and salt and cinnamon and is pretty awesome and very fall appropriate. 

Then there are just standard things like salads, collard greens, baked chicken, grilled chicken, broiled fish, salmon filets....they're pretty simple and don't really require recipes.

Let me know how it goes if you try any of these. Or let me taste them. Either way.

Happy cooking :)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Father and Daughter Dive the Great Barrier Reef, or, That Time I Found My Dad in Oz, or Divers Down Under (the Sea)

Tuesday December 30th- Brisbane

Finding Gary!

Today, I found dad! Woo! We had a lovely reunion, after a year without seeing each other,  in the Brisbane airport. Originally, when planning the trip, we were going to rent a car and drive up the East Coast of Australia, from Brisbane to Cairns, stopping to dive along the way, and then doing a few dives on the Great Barrier Reef once getting to Cains. 


After talking to multiple travel agents in Australia, and thinking a bit harder, and talking it over with dad, we realized that we didn’t have as much time as we thought, and that if diving the reef was to be the purpose of the trip, our best option was, indeed, to get straight to the reef in Cairns. This required booking another flight, from Brisbane to Cairns. We thought, if dad’s flight got in on-time, that we’d have time to see some of Brisbane and fly out in the evening.

But then, dad arrived minus his dive bag- which the airlines seemed to have lost. :(

When I found dad, we had to make some calls trying to sort this out- since losing a bag full of all of your dive equipment, including your dive computer and new prescription mask, really sucks. By the time we sorted that out (still no real work on his stuff- we’ll see, fingers crossed!) it was too late and too expensive to leave the airport and make it worth the money we’d spend, so we hung out in the airport and caught up. I was able to show him a bunch of pictures from my travels since I moved to China, and we had probably one of the best times I’ve ever had in an airport……until we tried to go to Cairns.

We boarded, we heard the security speech (oh my gosh- I have heard that speech waaaaayyyyy too many times lately), and started pulling away from the gate.

Then, we stopped, an announcement about some very official sounding part was made, and we started pulling back into the gate. About 30-40 minutes later, in the sweltering plane, just after they’d served us water, we were told the very official sounding part was actually a big deal- and it was big time broken, so we couldn’t fly. So we got off the plane. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been told to un-board a plane I’ve already boarded, but happy to get off a plane that might not work, especially with all the scary flight stories in the news this year!

We waiting another 30 minutes or so before we were told to change gates, and soon we’d be boarding another plane! EXCITEMENT! By this time, poor dad had been traveling for over 48 hours (including a cool day trip in Taipei, which provided some neat pictures- and now dad knows some fun Chinese culture facts, and he wants to visit more of China)

We FINALLY got in the air and, thankfully, made it to Cairns quickly and safely. Also, we were on a plane with an Australian Basketball team from the NBL- the National Basketball League. And Boy were those dudes tall. And some of them were pretty handsome of course dad goes: "Hey, my daughter wants to marry you." Insert blushing teenager here......thanks dad.

 We had arranged an airport pick up- for 8:45, but it was 10:30 before we landed, so it took some borrowing of really nice stranger’s phones (this has become a bit of a travel theme for me), and some more waiting, before we were picked up by a friendly Hungarian man who took us to our Air BnB housing for the night.

Just a few hours sleep before we had to be up and at ‘em to get on a dive boat!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014- New Year’s Eve!

This morning, we got up bright and early  to walk to a hostel near where we were staying, to be picked up by a van, to be taken to a bus, to a boat, to another boat!

The views on the first boat were amazing! Mountains, crystal clear and blue water, bright blue, sunny skies, and the ocean was smooth as glass. I barely got queasy! Dad was already right in his element and loving every minute. He especially enjoyed the dive instructors humour.

We’re staying on a boat called the Kangaroo Explorer (how Australian!) and we have a lovely cabin. Our boat has 3 stories- and we’ll be living aboard for 3 days and 2 nights. Luckily, all dive gear was included- so dad still gets to enjoy diving, even though the airlines lost all his stuff.

We’ll be doing 3 dives today. I’ve never scuba dived on New Year’s Eve before- nor have I spent it on a boat- and it has been YEARS since I’ve rung in the New Year with my dad. It’s pretty special that he and I get to share this trip together- and I’m really, really thankful it gets to happen.

Our first dive today was mediocre- the visibility wasn’t the great, and we both had problems with weight belts, so we had trouble staying under as long as we would have liked. That said- it was still an awesome dive! The water is bath-tub warm, and the colors of the coral, even in poor visibility, are vibrant and beautiful. I saw so many colourful and interesting fish! There was even a HUGE barracuda. And we saw sweet sea turtles hanging out on the surface while on the boat.

The "We're in Australia, on a boat, on THE GREAT BARRIER REEF! pictures:

I was pretty exhausted from not much sleep the previous two nights, so dad is currently enjoying the second dive without me.

And tonight, around 7pm, after dinner, we’ll go on a night dive. I’ve done one night dive before- and it ended in a jelly fish sting and near night mares. The things deep

 in the ocean at night at truly terrifying, friends. They glow, and have big teeth, and look like the monsters that would attack children’s nightmares.

Nonetheless- I’m gonna brave it and do a night dive as long as dad is also up for it. Night dives are his favourite. Except all dives are his favourite.

Then, if we can find a cork screw- we’ll open up the wine I bought from the winery near Melbourne and toast in 2015!

So, we went on that night dive on New Year’s Eve…..and it wasn’t as terrifying as I remember- in fact, I rather enjoyed it! We both did.

After the dive, we went up to the 3rd deck of the boat and played a good game of chess. Dad won, as is often the case. The waves started picking up that evening, so there was a fair bit of boat rocking as was played. Literally as soon as we finished, I was starting to feel more and more sea sick- and I just made it to the bottom deck before I ended up feeding the fish. I hope hope they enjoyed my dinner. I DID NOT enjoy it the second time, coming back up.

Due to sea sickness, and tiredness, we both went to bed before 10pm. So much for wine and toasting in the New Year!

Thursday, January 1, 2015- Happy New Year

The first dive of the day was at 6 am, with a 5:20 wake up call. Neither of us was up for that, so we went back to sleep til breakfast at 7.

Then we did the dives at 8 and 10:30, had lunch and a nap, and dad did the 4pm dive while I continued my nap, and then did some writing.

During one of those earlier dives, dad got bitten by a trigger fish he was trying to photograph. The fish was not happy about having its picture taken apparently! No worries, it was just a nibble and dad is fine. 

During another dive, dad’s photographic eye saw a great shot and he was trying to get me in position to make it happen. Because of the current under the water, I was having trouble getting and staying in the place he wanted me for the shot. We had a bit of a silent Abbot and Castello skit for about 5 minutes, with dad pointing and motioning, me motioning that I understood- then having to swim up and away, and then around, down, and back, multiple times, and each time, the current pulling me away from the  shot he wanted. It was making me laugh, which makes the whole swimming underwater thing a bit trickier than when you’re not laughing.  I’m sure it would have been comical to watch me not be able to get to the spot he wanted me in for the picture. He eventually did a giant face-palm and we moved on. Sorry dad!

We then both did the after dinner night dive at 7pm. This night dive was not quite as good as the night before.

What was better though, were my sea legs. No puking this time! What else is getting better and better every day as well are dad’s legs. You may know he has bad knees (from college football, knee surgery, age, etc), and since getting on the boat and getting back into diving, he’s been walking faster, and getting up and down the ship’s 3 flights of stairs with increases speed and ease. I’m super proud of him for that- it’s pretty awesome to see!

Dad and I played 2 games of chess, and listening to some fun stories from the local dive masters. Lots of good stories and conversation, and still in bed by 11, because that 6 am dive is EARLY!

Friday, January 2, 2015- Last day on the boat

We both made the 6am dive this morning- and it was lovely. A nice warm-up for the day. Dad and I also took a few selfies underwater, so hopefully some of those come out. There should also be some good shark pictures (yes- SHARKS! Awesome.)

The best dive, perhaps of the whole trip (at least for me) was the 8:30 morning dive. We saw basically everything there is to see, including 3 turtles. The last turtle we saw was either trying to play with dad, or eat him…..but dad had to manuver a lot to get out of the turtles way, and the turtle just kept coming at him. 

Dad is currently doing his last dive.

Since I am flying tomorrow morning (dad flies much later), I had to stop diving. Because of the way air pressure works and all the science-y things about SCUBA diving, you have to have 24 hours of surface time after your last dive before you fly- so, sadly, I had to miss the last dive. Which means, I had time to snap some photos of dad, and write all this!

I can't dive because I have to fly selfie:

Dad is having a great time, and has (hopefully) got some great pictures! In true dad (old)fashinon, he is using a film camera to capture the under-water moments (film, what’s that?!). This should result in better colors and really, really great pictures. The only downside is that (you probably remember this from your pre-digital youth) you never quite know if you got that awesome shot until the film is developed- so as far as pictures go- we’ll keep you posted.

But, the photo reel should include: huge sea turtles, Laurie and Gary selfies in front of various cool things underwater, colourful reefs and fish, Sting Rays, Sharks!!!, barracuda, cuddle fish (like a squid), and a bunch of other awesome stuff. Dad took about 6 rolls of film, so here’s hoping we got some great pictures to send you!

It’s now our last lunch on the live-aboard boat, before we transfer back to the smaller boat that will take us back to Cains. I, for one, will be happy to be on land again, but I’m pretty sure dad could live out on this boat, diving every day, forever.

Ps: Guess what arrived 30 minutes after we got back to our accomdations- on land…..after we were done diving? Dad’s dive bag! With all his gear! YAY! And also- isn’t that the way?