Autumn – A Season of Renewal & Resolutions & Pasta with Grilled Zucchini, Tomatoes & Feta

This past Saturday marked the autumnal equinox. If you’ve forgotten what that means, well, day and night are each about twelve hours long. For the next few months, with each passing day, the sun will be a little slower to rise and quicker to set. Don’t let the end of summer get you all mopey. The fall is beyond beautiful in New Hampshire.

Most mornings, an enigmatic mist shrouds the lake. On their way south for the winter, geese squawk overhead. The highways and byways become increasingly colorful. Most days, you’ll want to grab a sweater before heading out the door but you can usually shed it by lunch. Speaking of lunch (as well as breakfast, dinner, coffee, cocktails and a snack), pumpkin spice is suddenly in everything from coffee to martinis as well as cheerios, muffins and barbecue sauce. I like pumpkin and I like spice but I think the world has gone a little nuts with this pumpkin spice business.

Anyway, it’s autumn in New England and my favorite time of year. With beautiful weather and foliage, you can’t help but feel good about life. Why not funnel that goodwill into taking another crack at some still unmet challenge? After all, bitterly cold January is hardly a good time to resolve anything. Spring might work but it’s not particularly timely in New England. Then, when it finally comes, it only lasts a few days.

But fall, fall is good. It could be years since you went back-to-school but you still know the joy of new shoes and a fresh start.

What will your fresh start look like? What will you do this fall to renew yourself? You don’t need a total reinvention. How about you work on three things? For instance – try something new that will bring you joy. Next, develop a new habit that will give you peace. Finally, do some good.

Find joy. Besides shoes, where will you find joy this fall? It could be as simple as finally painting the living room that new color. I’m a strong believer in the power of small things. I have made more than a couple big, audacious changes in my life. Most of them worked out very well. More often than not, these life changes were preceded by a considerably smaller step or two.

Discover peace. It could be yoga or meditation or weed wacking the garden – find what brings you peace. You’ll know it when you find it. As if by magic, your overactive brain will relax and you’ll gain new perspective. We are so proud of our ability to multitask that our senses are constantly in overdrive and under attack. Whether it is once a day or once a week, give yourself a break. For one hour, do something that puts your mind at rest and revitalizes you.

Do good. The world can be a harsh place. You can make it better by practicing small acts of kindness. Sure, a huge foundation to end illiteracy or world hunger would be wonderful but small is also good. Rake leaves for a neighbor, hold the door for a stranger and smile. Little things will make the day brighter. A few years ago, someone distributed at least a couple dozen mini pumpkins up and down my street. Perched on stone walls and fence posts, they cheerfully decorated the neighborhood. Those little pumpkins didn’t cure cancer but they made a lot of people smile.

Here’s to a joyful, peaceful and kinder fall. Bon appétit!

Pasta with Grilled Zucchini, Tomatoes & Feta
It’s much too early to put the grill away. Pasta with grilled vegetables and fresh herbs from the garden is a wonderful dish to help you transition into fall. Enjoy!
Serves 8

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Pinch red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 red onion, cut in thin wedges
Olive oil
About 1 pound cherry tomatoes
4-6 zucchini (about 2 pounds), trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 pound short pasta – try rigatoni, fusilli, cavatappi or fiorelli
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
About 4 ounces feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano

Put the garlic and vinegar in a bowl, season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the onion in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Put the onion in a grill basket and, stirring from time to time, grill until tender-crisp and lightly caramelized, about 6 minutes. Remove the onion from the grill, add it to the garlic and toss to combine.

Put the tomatoes in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Put the tomatoes in a grill basket and, stirring from time to time, grill until lightly caramelized, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the onion and garlic and toss to combine.

Brush the zucchini halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the zucchini for 4 to 6 minutes per side or until nicely browned and tender. Remove the zucchinis from the grill, chop into bite-size pieces, add them to the other veggies and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions less one minute. Reserving a little pasta water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the vegetables and 1/4-1/2 cup pasta water and toss to combine. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to a large serving dish, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with feta and herbs, toss to combine and serve.

Serve as a main course or side dish with grilled chicken or fish.

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One Year Ago – Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema
Two Years Ago – Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde
Three Years Ago – Applesauce Scones
Four Years Ago – Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard
Five Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Six Years Ago – Lemon Rice Cakes with Spinach & Manchego
Seven Years Ago – Apple Crumb Cake
Eight Years Ago – Ginger Scones
Nine Years Ago – Curried Eggplant Soup
Ten Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have any fall fresh start resolutions? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

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Resolute or Not? & Whole Grain Pilaf

Can you believe it? It’s been almost a month since you vowed to exercise more, drink more water, drink less wine or coffee or both, call your mom every Sunday or eat more vegetables. Sound familiar. No? Maybe you wanted to start a journal, practice yoga, get out of debt or a myriad of other self-improvements.

Unfortunately, if you’re like most people with good intentions to improve, your resolve has already started to crumble. Let me guess, your running shoes have been sitting in the closet since the second or third week in January. The last time you called your mom was New Year’s weekend. Your journal has four entries and your eating habits, well, they’re more or less unchanged.

Is it time to feel like a failure? Absolutely NOT! Depending on what study you read, as few as eight percent of us actually keep our resolutions. If you’ve slipped, you aren’t alone. And, if that resolution is really important to you, you’ll get back on track.

A lot of people don’t bother make resolutions. Some, definitely not me, don’t need to. They are perfect. Or at least they think they are. I’d guess another group is tired of making the same-old, same-old promises that they can’t/won’t/don’t keep. They’ve given up. As for the rest? Since I’m often among them, I’d like to think that we have become more or less comfortable with our imperfections. Isn’t there some line about being perfectly imperfect. Or is it imperfectly perfect?

Why am I so haphazard when it comes to resolutions? It’s not that I don’t want to improve; I do. If pressed, I’ll even come up with an answer. Take this year. A deadline was looming and I felt the need to write something (anything) down. I did a little research and joined the popular table. I claimed I would enjoy life to the fullest in 2016. Hardly original, enjoying life was this year’s number one resolution.

I should have gone with sit-ups, push-ups and weight training three times a week but I wasn’t ready to commit; at least not in public. Instead I took on this big idea which means lots of different things to as many people. If I’m serious, and I’m not sure that I am, I’ve got some thinking to do.

For starters, what does living life to the fullest even mean; or at least what does it mean for me. Do I join a motorcycle gang, skydive or take an exotic trip? Should I gather up a bunch of lists of must-read books, tackle any I’ve missed and reread my favorites? Do I look inward and meditate twice a day or surround myself with vibrant, interesting people or both? Maybe it’s as simple as eat, drink and be merry. Nah, it must more than that.

My life is good now but, heck, it could be better. Coming clean, I confess my resolution was both expedient and glib. To make it more, to make it real, I’ll need some time to figure it out. That said, I’m not starting from scratch. There are a couple of things that I’ve determined already. First, full is not busy; I’ve got plenty of busy. Next and in the same vein, a huge bucket list is not the answer. At least not for me. Finally, one thing is more or less certain in my full life. With apologies to Harley fans, there is very little chance that motorcycles will be involved.

Here’s to a full life and bon appétit!

Whole Grain Pilaf
Rich in protein and fiber, whole grains and nuts make a hearty and healthy pilaf. If one of your resolutions was to eat healthy, try this delicious side dish. If not, try it anyway! It’s that good. Enjoy.
Serves 4-6

1/4 cup wheat berries
1/4 cup brown rice
1/4 cup wild rice
1/4 cup red quinoa
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1-2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1-2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
Garnish: fresh chopped parsley

Put the wheat berries in a jar, add 3/4 cup water, cover and store in the refrigerator overnight.

Put the wheat berries, brown rice and wild rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse well under cold water.

Put 4 cups of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the wheat berries, brown rice and wild rice, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 30 minutes.

Put the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse well under cold water. Add the quinoa to the wheat berries and rice and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes or until tender.

Strain the grains through a fine mesh sieve and drain well. Depending on how well you rinsed them to begin with, the grains could be sticky. If you like, rinse them under cold water and drain well. Reserve.

While the grains cook, lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion, carrot and celery, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Stir in the wine and simmer until reduced by half.

Can be made ahead to this point, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate separately for up to a day. If prepping ahead, reheat the vegetables in a large skillet before continuing.

Add 1-2 tablespoons butter to the vegetables, melt and stir to combine.

Add the grains and hazelnuts to the skillet, toss to combine and sauté until piping hot. Transfer to a serving dish or individual plates, sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.

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One Year Ago – Tartelettes au Fromage avec Saucisse et Poireaux (Cheese Tartlets with Sausage & Leeks)
Two Years Ago – Chicken, Sausage & Bean Ragù
Three Years Ago – Spicy Tequila Chicken Wings
Four Years Ago – Caribbean Black Beans
Five Years Ago – Fettuccine with Escarole, Radicchio & Mushrooms
Six Years Ago – Cassoulet
Seven Years Ago – Caribbean Fish Stew

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How are you doing with your resolutions? Are you resolute or not? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

No Excuses & Spiced Chai

no_excusesIf it’s the New Year, it’s time to make resolutions. Maybe it’s those few extra pounds you packed on during the rainy days of December. Or the undeniable fact that you haven’t done a lick of exercise since Memorial Day. Or you still have half a dozen boxes waiting to be unpacked in the garage. And oh, you moved to New Hampshire in 1997. Or, or, or …

Perhaps 2015 should be the year of no excuses. You don’t have to tackle the whole world or even your little piece of it. Just choose three things. Heck, take it down to one thing for that matter. Then, make a plan and make the time.

The difficulty with New Year’s resolutions is that they are, for the most part, all about deprivation. And perhaps more important, draconian in scale. After all those lovely holiday sweets and treats, we vow to spend the month of January subsisting on water and celery sticks. We promise ourselves that we’ll get up at five to run five miles before breakfast. We swear to spend every weekend from now until eternity, cleaning out closets, emptying boxes and taking trip after trip to the dump.

What’s the fun in that? Is it any wonder that less than half of us succeed in keeping our resolve?

So here’s the deal. If you want to tackle your resolution without excuses, you need to figure out what works for you. This winter and well into the future.

Neither man nor woman can live on celery alone but you can probably exist without that fancy coffee drink you indulge in every afternoon. Swap it out for a brisk walk around the block or a set of jumping jacks followed by a few deep breaths and a lovely cup of tea. If your undoing is that heavenly dish of gelato after dinner, stop buying it and change your after-dinner ritual. Do a crossword puzzle or learn to knit. You might be surprised at how easy it is to make one small change and, more important, what one small change can bring – a healthier, slimmer you.

Now ask yourself, will you really hit the icy streets when it is still dark and the mercury is hovering around zero? If not add a lunchtime or end of day Zumba class to your schedule. You’ll dance, laugh and maybe make a new friend or two. Or try a spin class or drumming. Choose an exercise routine you’ll love and you’ll be hooked for life – and a fitter life at that.

What about those old boxes in the garage? If you haven’t needed, let alone wanted, the contents in five, ten or a lot more years, you probably won’t need or want them … ever. Donate them. Find a rummage sale, a jumble or yard sale and hand them over. Don’t bother open them; just drop them off. Ignore that nagging feeling, the worry that there might be something important inside at least one of those boxes. Just stop by the sale as soon as it opens. Give a look around and buy back that almost forgotten treasure. The price will be small compared to the hours of unpacking and sorting you saved. Moreover, the nonprofit who received your boxes will be more than grateful for the money you helped them raise.

So, let 2015 be the year of no excuses. Think small when you make your resolutions. Think realistic when you set those goals. Think creative when it comes to solving a problem.

Have a wonderful 2015 and bon appétit!

Spiced Chai
mugThe spices and tea will give you a lift and that little bit of protein from the milk will keep you going for the rest of the afternoon. Enjoy!
Serves 2-3

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups water
4 teaspoons loose black tea (or 4 tea bags)
About 1/3 cup nonfat milk per cup
Brown sugar or honey to taste

Put the cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, allspice, pepper, cloves and salt in a small saucepan, stir in the water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 minutes. (You can do jumping jacks, stretches or sit-ups while the spices brew if you like.)

Return the pot to the stove and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the tea, cover and steep for 3 minutes.

While the tea brews, heat the milk to steaming on the stove or in the microwave.

Strain the chai through a fine mesh sieve into mugs and discard the tealeaves and spices. Add hot milk and sugar or honey to taste to each mug.Spiced_Chai_04

A similar sized Caramel Brûlée Latte at a well-known coffee shop will set you back about 370 calories. Keep it to a teaspoon of sugar or honey and this tasty chai can be enjoyed for about 50 calories. If all you do is switch out that afternoon latte for this chai every day, you could lose about thirty pounds in 2015.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Cauliflower, Radicchio & Arugula Salad
Two Years Ago – Old Fashioned Pot Roast
Three Years Ago – Pasta from the Pantry
Four Years Ago – Tartiflette – An Alpine Casserole with Cheese & Potatoes
Five Years Ago – Four Cheese Lasagna Bolognese with Spinach
Six Years Ago – Curried Chicken and Lentil Soup
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? What’ are your smart strategies to keep them? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015