Hump Day Inspiration – More Zucchini

Photo, stuffed zucchini

This past Sunday night I was determined to use as many random vegetables leftover from our farm share as possible. When I did a quick mental survey of what we had left–zucchini, cherry tomatoes, purple basil–I came up with the idea of making vegetarian stuffed zucchini and serving them alongside whole wheat cous cous with chick peas.

Stuffed Zucchini:

  • 2 medium-large zucchini
  • 1/2 a bunch of scallions
  • 4 baby bell peppers
  • 2-3 large heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • purple basil (I grabbed about a handful, then coarsely chopped the leaves)
  • garlic (1 clove)
  • white wine (optional, I happened to have an unfinished bottle of Torrontes in the refrigerator)
  • grated cheese (optional, but if you are using cheese I recommend a parmesan-type)

Cous Cous:

  • 1 cup whole wheat cous cous
  • 1 cup canned chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • seasoning: I used dill, sumac (you can substitute fresh lemon juice to taste) and marash pepper (any kind of mild to medium hot pepper would work)


  • preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • lightly grease a baking dish with olive oil
  • slice each zucchini length-wise in half and scoop out the center seedy portion with a spoon (you will have “boats” about 1/4 inch thick)
  • place the zucchini boats in the baking dish cut side up and drizzle with olive oil and sprink with a tiny bit of salt
  • coarsely chop the seedy bits; smash and mince the garlic; slice the scallions ; seed, then slice or chop the bell peppers; chop the tomatoes
  • pour about tsp of olive oil into a heated non-stick skillet over medium heat, and add the garlic and half the scallions, after they start to soften add the bell peppers and zucchini, when everything is starting to brown, pour in just enough white wine to deglaze the pan and stir to mix
  • add the tomatoes and minced basil and remove from heat
  • salt to taste
  • place the zucchini boats in the baking dish and carefully portion the vegetables inside
  • top with a sprinking of grated cheese if desired
  • bake uncovered for about 35 minute

Cous Cous:

  • in a medium sacepan, heat 1 cup of water or broth
  • clean out your skillet, pour in another teaspoon (or two) of olive oil
  • saute the other half of the scallions with your spices, as soon as they start to turn fragrant, throw in the chick peas, saute just to coat the chick peas, turn off the heat
  • as soon as the water/broth comes to a boil, add the cous cous and the chick peas
  • stir, cover, and remove from heat
  • let steam-cook and enjoy a glass of wine while the zucchini finishes baking
  • open the pot, fluff with a fork, salt to taste (I sprinkled in some more of the basil), and serve

Snap, Crackle, POP – Chiropractic Adventure #1

Back in August I attended Instructor Appreciation Night at my local Athleta store. They provided healthy snacks, a goodie bag, first glimpse at their new fall line, crowd-free shopping at a discount (I bought the “Cuteness Skort” skort in purple), and coupons to share with our participants. Also on site were reps from a local office offering a free chiropractic assessment and a half-hour massage.

For as long as I can remember, my body has often sounded like a bowl of rice krispies in milk. I’ve even apologized to participants sitting near me in yoga class because I assume the sound of my hip popping or my neck cracking must be distracting if not disturbing.

Cartoon image of knuckle crackingAdd to that getting hit by a car while cycling–twice over the past fifteen odd years–daily punishment from teaching high-impact and weight-bearing fitness classes at the gym, and a free checkup seemed like a good idea. When I realized that one of my best friends, Kim, actually works in that same chiropractic office, I booked an appointment on the spot!

Apparently, getting evaluated by a chiropractor involves more than someone feeling your back. When I first arrived, I was asked to fill out a lengthy health questionnaire and then watch a short video about chiropractic. The video discussed the theory behind the practice: that spinal dysfunction can lie at the root of a whole host of ailments (everything from headaches to allergies); it didn’t mention that the inventor of chiropractic was a grocery store owner and magnetic healer named D. D. Palmer. The video and supplementary handouts contained some gruesome illustrations of spinal subluxation and deterioration; they didn’t mention the fact that spinal subluxation is not necessarily detectable by xray nor has any study been able to prove that there is a relationship between subluxation and disease. In fact, studies have reached quite the opposite conclusion.

Cartoon of chiropractor

So why does it feel so good when to pop a hip, neck, back, or even sternum? Why do people love cracking their knuckles? I’ve always heard that knuckle pops and back cracks are basically “joint farts.” Apparently, when you stretch your knuckles or other joints, the gasses dissolved in synovial fluid form bubbles and eventually burst and cause the “pop.” The surrounding muscles relax as a result of this process, which leads to that feeling of relief. If you want to read more about the whole process (which also reassures you that you aren’t inviting arthritis by cracking your joints), check out this article from HowStuffWorks: What Makes Your Knuckes Pop?

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m actually pretty glad that studies don’t wholly support the subluxation theory. It just strikes me as a pretty bad design flaw if a slight shift in our spines could bring on an onslaught of degenerative wear and disease. Imagine our paleolithic ancestors saying, “Oh sorry, guys, I can’t join the bison hunt today now because I threw out my back working on that cave painting yesterday,” and suddenly our survival as a species seems improbable.

Cartoon caveman

So armed with an arsenal of skepticism, I watched the video, received further information from a “Patient Educator,” stood on two scales so they could measure how I balanced my weight, got my posture photographed for evaluation, and had each vertebra examined by the doctor. I was told at the end of the session to schedule a follow-up, when I would receive the results of my evaluation and a game plan (and could schedule my free massage).

Check back soon to find out what I was told and how I reacted.

Zucchini–the Fruitcake of Summer

Last week’s CSA share featured zucchini, perhaps the summer’s most maligned vegetable. If you don’t live in a town filled with home gardeners and farmers markets then you might not be familiar with zucchini overkill; but simply put, zucchini is the fruitcake of summer. Despite its tendency to overstay its welcome, some of us are still enjoying that lovely summer squash (as we will fruitcake for that matter)

Sign announcing "Leave zucchini on your neighbor's porch month"

A complex computer algorithm must be driving Highland Orchard’s CSA, because we’ve only received zucchini twice all summer. For this reason, I was practically ecstatic to find two beautiful zucchini in last week’s share. Also included were two ripe tomatoes, three beets with greens, corn, basil, and more. As soon as I saw the zucchini thoughts of an herby roasted ratatouille entered my mind. Luckily we just happened to have a few purple and white striped eggplants and an onion waiting at home. Is it just me, or does the universe sometime seem to be run by an empathetic cook with a taste for global cuisine?

Cartoon image from Pixar's Ratatouille

Because my boyfriend and I have slightly different eating habits, if he’s planning to make, say, pork chops for himself, I will prepare something that will work as a side for him and a main dish for myself. At some point last week he bought fresh chicken sausages. You know those math puzzles where they give you a string of numbers and you have to guess what comes next? They baffle me. Seriously, unless the sequence is 5, 10, 15 … the answer might as well be “antelope,” because I can never see the pattern. But present me with a random collection of ingredients, and–while I might not be able to use every single item (radishes, the eternal conundrum)–I’ll immediately start planning single dishes or even whole meals. The minute I saw those sausages I knew the time had come to break out the zucchini: grilled or pan-seared sausages, roasted ratatouille, and polenta with pesto. What a perfect meal! In fact, I was so enthusiastic about roasting vegetables that I filled two trays and planned on leftovers.

photo close-up of the ratatouille
Ratatouille Redux (better the next day)

Roasted Summer Vegetables:

  • two medium to large zucchini, cut into half moon slices
  • two small (not baby) eggplants, half-inch dice
  • one medium sweet onion, diced
  • grape or cherry tomatoes, pricked with a fork
  • olive oil
  • oregano (herbs de provence works well too)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Toss the the zucchini with a light sprinkling of oregano in small amount of olive oil and place in an even layer on a lightly greased non-stick cookie sheet. Toss the eggplant and onion in a bit more olive oil and spread into a greased baking pan. Place both in the oven. After 10-15 minutes, check your zucchini. When they are brown on the bottom, flip them and add the tomatoes to the cookie sheet. Stir the eggplant mixture. The vegetables should be done in 25-30 min. Toss everything together, season with salt.

Note: once the zucchini were done, I placed the eggplant mixture under the broiler for a few minutes for additional browning.

Basil Pistachio Pesto (vegan)

  • bunch of basil (about a cup, chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons of pistachios
  • 1 clove of garlic – peeled, smashed, and minced
  • 1 tsp nutritional yeast (more to taste)
  • olive oil
  • salt (I use Maldon salt for almost everything)

Place the basil, pistachios, garlic, and nutritional yeast in a blender. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Pulse-mix for about 30 seconds. Mash everything down with a spatula, add more olive oil, and mix again. Repeat until desired consistency. Season to taste with salt, pepper (if desired), and additional nutritional yeast.

As my boyfriend cooked his sausages, I pan fried slices of ready-made polenta. I dolloped the pesto on the polenta and garnished his vegetables with a parmesan-romano blend. The meal looked beautiful, but it it left me a little disappointed. Although I love roasted vegetables, the classic “stewier” form of ratatouille would probably have better complemented the polenta. We were also running low on tomatoes, so the dish didn’t feel balanced.

Another reason to love leftovers? a shot at redemption, a fix for a flawed meal.

The next day I smeared fish fillets (cape capensis) with the leftover pesto and baked them at 350 degrees. While they cooked, I reheated the vegetables in a skillet along with a diced fresh tomato. Served alongside local sweet corn, this turned out to be a real winner (despite the ratty photo of a warmed-over plate taken with a Blackberry)!

photo of dinner plate
Dinner, Version 2

Vegan MoFo – My Fruit Addiction

happy cartoon vegetables
Vegan MoFo

It’s been weeks since I’ve blogged. And now that Vegan MoFo (Vegan Month of Food) is upon us, I need to get back in the game. Over the summer, I quietly dropped meat and “obvious” dairy from my diet. I’m still eating fish and seafood, and I’m not one to turn down the occasional pastry, but summer’s quintessential burgers on the grill? pizza for movie nights with my boyfriend? neither of these, nor even my beloved fro-yo, has graced my palate in months.

Despite my love of elephants and other wildlife, my dietary shift actually began as an experiment in anticipation of the Yoga Weekend with Kino MacGregor. “You’ll be amazed at your flexibility!” people claimed. To be honest, any gains I might have made in flexibility are probably due to the lack of air conditioning in my house. BUT, my pores have never been so clog-free nor my sinuses so unaffected by pollen, and my often jumpy, nervous stomach has been pretty calm all summer. Now the weather has turned a bit cooler, a new school year has begun, and I’m teaching three writing seminars per semester in addition to those thirteen fitness classes a week. I’ve never consciously tried to control my eating, so maintaining my summer standards will be a new challenge.

One problem that I’ve sort of ignored all summer but really need to face is my fruit addiction. I kid you not. About mid-summer I switched our CSA from weekly to bi-weekly deliveries. To a certain extent, the shares were so bountiful that we were finding it difficult to consume everything quickly enough. Sometimes social engagements meant eating dinner out. Sometimes I was just too lazy to get creative in the kitchen after coming home from the gym at 8:30 or 9 pm. Sometimes I didn’t plan well enough and was left with random items that didn’t work well together (a bag of radishes and an eggplant, for instance).

But let’s face it, the biggest impediment to finishing farms shares lies in the explosion of Farmers Markets across Philadelphia. There is one happening practically everyday, somewhere in the city–which means ubiquitous offers of fresh, seasonal fruit.

Beechwood Orchard's strawberries for sale
Who could turn down this guy?

As a self-confessed fruit addict, I have a hard time resisting a box of sun-warmed blackberries or mounds of fragrant peaches. Just imagine, there I am cycling to or from work, when I happen to see people unloading crates and crates of plums from a truck. Pebble-skinned black plums … tiny yellow shiro plums … gorgeous, juicy “elephant heart” plums. Years ago I almost crashed into a curb while staring at a satin dress in a store window. Sure, it was a strapless, ruched, satin cocktail dress in a color somewhere between seashell and smoke, but it was still just a dress. And dresses cannot compare to fruit.

First I reach for a small box of blackberries … but the strawberries are so tiny, so perfect, and they smell so sweet. The donut peaches just look happy, and since they’re not quite ripe, we could let them ripen while we eat the berries. Then the guilt begins to creep. Although my boyfriend likes fruit, he is at heart a tomato man. “This is selfish,” I think. “The fruit is so obviously a treat for myself.” Next thing I know my bike is leaning to the right because the berries and heirloom cherry tomatoes cannot balance the weight of the peaches, which have somehow rolled across the bottom of my backpack. When I get home it takes all my spacial-organizational skills to fit the fruit around the corn, beets, basil, and zucchini already populating the refrigerator. But it gets worse. Every time I open the refrigerator door or walk by our hanging basket (where the peaches are ripening) I smell fruit. Breakfast, lunch, dinner? It doesn’t matter. I think, “I’ll just start with a small bowl of fruit and move onto a proper meal from there.” Right.

While fresh fruit certainly lies within the parameters of my diet, a bowl of berries–even with a dollop of coconut-milk yogurt and a sprinkling of nuts–doesn’t make a meal. And consistent substitution of fruit for meals results in unused items from our farm share, a tendency to lose weight, and stalls on strength gains. Ironically, despite my efforts at cleaning up my diet and getting even healthier, at last glance I ended the summer two pounds lighter than I began. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Two pounds? My weight fluctuates an average of five pounds on a daily basis!” Well, at barely five feet tall, size 5.5 shoes, and a size 3.5 ring finger, I’m just plain tiny. If I’m averaging a few pounds less, not only does my face look drawn, but I just don’t feel as strong. Most troubling, weight loss at my age could signal losses in muscle mass and bone density.

I used to say that I spent my 20s “getting smart” (3 post-graduate degrees), my 30s getting fit, and my 40s really confused. I’m not yet 50, but it’s high time I started putting the same long-term planning and care into my body that I put into my IRA. So in addition to working on prepping food over the weekends and maintaining our CSA, I’ve purchased a foam roller and committed to weekly chiropractic visits ($35 co-pay, 30 min massage included). Does chiropractic work? Do I believe in it? The jury is still out. Like my non-dairy experiment over the summer, I’m going to give it a shot and tell you what I think.

NOTE: I cannot tell a lie. It is nearly impossible for me to watch films from Asia and not crave Asian food. For what seems like a year I’ve been anticipating the release of Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster (click on the link for the trailer). We caught the film opening weekend and stopped at one of my favorite spots, Meritage, on the way home. Chef Anne Coll specializes in an artful blend of East and West. By the time we got to Meritage my brain was swimming in soy, so I ordered pan-fried dumplings (pork-filled, of course) and gleefully ate all four (click on the image for a recipe).

photo of Japanese potstickers
Japanese “Potstickers”