Smoothies make tasty, on-the-go breakfasts

About 16 months ago I started closing in on taking control of my health. I decided to make deliberate, steady changes to most of what I ate. Mostly, it was a matter of working with my own body to develop a healthy lifestyle tailored for me.

One key to my success has been adding more plant-based foods to my meals. Lunch and dinner were easy, because I love a good salad. Homemade vinaigrette, lean meat and colorful veggies make me feel spoiled. There wasn’t a problem adjusting there.

Breakfast was another story.

On the days I’m called in to substitute at school, I can’t always sit down to breakfast. If I skip the meal, my brain and metabolism gang up and go on strike. I have to have something quick. Yet staying away from simple carbohydrates means I’m not grabbing toast like I once did.

Growing up, we often drank a glass of powdered breakfast drink mixed in milk. I suppose it was our version of a instant meal. I don’t eat processed food, so that wasn’t an option for me, either. But the answer wasn’t too far away.

My go-to breakfast is a smoothie. If I prepare my ingredients ahead of time, I can be done in less than 10 minutes. I pour it into my cup with a lid and off I go. When I’m not in a hurry, I sip mine in a frosty glass. Either way I have a tasty, filling breakfast that keeps me feeling great all morning.

Smoothies are versatile. You can adjust them to your nutritional needs as well as taste. It’s easy because you can mix and match your ingredients. It’s no secret: I like to play with my food. Smoothies give me choices and still make me feel great!

 

Spinach is a healthy option for smoothies.

Adding half a frozen banana will sweeten a smoothie made from green veggies.

 

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Savor the process of clock-gobbling gumbo

Christmas dinner hadn’t even made its way into plastic containers when the ads for weight loss came blaring out of the television.

It’s that time of year we’re barraged with messages telling us to change our lives because well, it’s the new year. Whether it’s smoking, weight loss or another life-affecting habit, we’ve all considered making resolutions to improve our lives.

With the commercialism moving from Christmas to self improvement, I was surprised to find a list that names “spending more time with friends and family” as the top resolution people make.

It’s been on my heart, too.

In the past year I’ve been making an effort to make my connections face to face with friends old and new. As a family we’ve become intentional about our time with each other. Not just to be together but to find ourselves present with each other, sharing our hearts, our laughter and tears.

What better place than around a table with good food?

With good food I’m learning to embrace the process.

Cooking is art. It’s a beautiful expression, like paintings or music are always more lovely when shared.

My daughter has helped in the kitchen from a young age. Now that she’s married and out on her own, she’s taken on some of the meal planning for special occasions. She’s even mastered the art of some more involved dishes.

This year Rachel planned a gumbo night leading up to Christmas Eve.

In the past we grabbed something quick and easy, but she wanted to take it on.

Gumbo done right can easily take five hours to cook, and it’s worth every minute. You start by making chocolate-colored roux (pronounced “rue”) by patiently cooking flour in oil. The dish takes a nutty taste created by almost burning the flour. Gumbo involves chopping, stirring, browning chicken and adjusting spices during hands-on time. To be sure, there is plenty of simmering to be done.

A staple of Cajun cuisine, this gumbo holds up great in the freezer and makes a wonderful leftover. Once you have a perfected making roux, the remainder of the recipe is a breeze.

This go-round, as I sat back and (mostly) observed, I was struck by the process. How often do we forgo great food because we don’t want to work through the process? We forget that the process is part of the experience.

We’ve given up making messes side by side in order to get from one point to another. We forget that sharing a kitchen and breathing the same space feeds relationships. We lose the feel of lettuce tearing in our fingers, the rhythm of knives against the chopping block, the spices filling the air as the sound of a hot pan crackles with each addition.

My friend, Tonja, walked me through the process of this authentic Cajun dish long ago. We’re both proud to have passed it on to another generation. Another gumbo-making friend is a minister in Washington. Jada has been an influence on this journey as well. One morning as we were leaving a gathering of friends, she said, “Our family’s most powerful ministry tool is the large table in our front room.”

In the past year I’ve been learning to share my table more often. With this latest revelation, I hope to share my kitchen counters as well.

I’m looking ahead to a tasty and satisfying year!

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Hearty gumbo is a great way to warm the insides on a winter's day or night.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup flour

8 cups chicken, vegetable or seafood stock

1 whole stalk of celery, cleaned and finely chopped

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

½ bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped

8 garlic cloves, mashed and finely chopped

1½ teaspoons fresh thyme, stemmed and finely chopped (less if you’re using dried thyme)

1 bay leaf

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon white pepper

Salt to taste

1 pound Andouille (a Cajun sausage) or other smoked sausage, browned and sliced into bite-sized pieces

3-4 pound chicken (white or dark meat, or a combination of the two), browned, de-boned and torn or cut into bite-sized pieces

1 pound or more of large raw shrimp

In a cast-iron skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Slowly add the flour and stir until mixture is thoroughly blended. (Note: This is the most laborious stage of making gumbo and, by far, the most crucial in its success. In making a roux, you are essentially “burning” the flour with the hot oil. The burnt flour is what gives gumbo its rich, nutty flavor.) Cook and stir the roux constantly, taking care to scrape the sides during the stirring process. Over a period of time, you’ll notice the roux beginning to turn a progressively darker color. The color you’re looking for is that of a dark, mild chocolate hue and consistency — the darker the roux, the richer the flavor of your gumbo. When your roux is finished, remove from heat to stop the cooking.

Though gumbo takes a long time on the stovetop, it presents a blend of flavors that makes the wait worthwhile.

Transfer the roux to a large stew pot or Dutch oven. Add celery, onions and parsley, garlic and dry seasonings. Stir and sauté over medium heat until vegetables begin to get tender (about 10 minutes). Add stock. Stir mixture until all ingredients are blended. Cover and let simmer for about 45 minutes. Add meats and stir. Cover tightly and simmer over low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove cover and simmer over low to medium heat for another 45 minutes for an hour. If using shrimp, add during the last 20 minutes of cooking. Salt and pepper gumbo to taste. Remove bay leaf and serve over hot steamed rice.

 

— Tonja Brossette

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Tamales are more than food

The holidays are full of beauty steeped in traditions both from family and society from the type of tree to grandma’s throw to the quilted tree skirt.

 

Our holidays have the must-haves that have been in place since the beginning, others have joined us over the years.

 

Several years ago my friend Victoria and I began making tamales together. We usually met in mid November. We would take an entire Saturday, cook the meat, mix a spicy corn masa (Spanish for dough) then roll the husks around the delicious meat and masa.

Tamales are not just cooked – they are assembled.

They were authentic: a recipe passed down from her mother and a tradition from her childhood.

We would have some that night and freeze the rest. We liked having them handy for those nights we wanted something special, but could make in a hurry.

What I love about tamales is the process. Tamales are not just cooked – they are assembled. It’s communal.

My brother’s family visited Roseburg a few years ago and I passed on my lessons to his family. We gathered around the kitchen table, comparing techniques, critiquing style and hiding the olives in each roll.

That’s what I love most about food is how it is meant to be shared from preparation to the smell to the taste to the feel in your belly.

Traditions are meant for community too. They are best shared and even better evolved to meet needs of those we love.

Last year we changed our Christmas meal from traditional fare to Mole Chicken with a side of store bought tamales. We were hooked.

We liked the casual yet festive feel. The chicken was plated on a brightly patterned platter in place of the formal dishes we’ve used in the past. The citrus dishes on deep red chargers added pops of color across the rest of the table.

We all came away with the same conclusion that this would be a tradition to keep.

Shortly before Thanksgiving this year, I took an unexpected trip to see my dad. With my niece home on a college break, I coerced her to join my brother and I around the table of masa, husks, pork and chicken fillings.

We made cornhusk ties and filled each one until we were out of meat. Laughter was our language that day.

We reached across the table to lend a hand with overstuffed husks or handing out extra ties. Connection was the result.

Coming together around food feeds more than bodies. It feeds our souls.

A lesson from my house to yours: This year do something fun, do something different and dare to make a mess. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to add spice!

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Jemelene Wilson's homemade tamales make a colorful addition to the holiday table.

Tamales

Dough:

3 cups of masa harina (Mexican flour) for tortillas

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

1 1⁄3 cup of lard or vegetable shortening

2 1/2 cups of broth

(Note: This only makes enough for about 16 tamales. We make a lot more than that at one sitting.)

Filling:

2 rotisserie chickens, deboned

1 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped

Salt to taste

One can black olives, if desired

Shred chicken and heat over medium-low heat in Dutch oven until warm. You can let it cool before assembling tamales.

Step 1: Soak cornhusks

Place the dried cornhusks in the sink or pan and cover with hot water, allowing husks to soak until pliable.

Step 2: Make the masa

Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in lard or shortening. Make well in the center. Pour in ¾ of the liquid. Add more liquid if needed to form a wet, thick dough.

Step 3: Fill the tamales

Remove the husks from the water and place between towels to dry. Place husk on work area. Start with desired amount of the masa dough, spoon onto husk, spreading dough into a rectangle long-ways on the husk. Spread desired amount of filling down the center of the dough on each husk. Place one olive in the center of each tamale.

Step 4: Wrap the tamales

Fold the ends of the husk so it slightly overlaps the dough. Next, roll the husk around the dough and filling. Depending on the shape of the husks you may need to use two to keep the filling inside. This is a process that takes practice.

Step 5: Tie the cornhusks

You can tie both ends or just one of each husk with strips of soaked cornhusk. If you only close one end, you’ll need to steam them standing up. If your steamer doesn’t allow that, you can close both ends. Depending on the shape of your husks, you could also fold the ends similar to a burrito and make a rectangular tamale.

Step 6: Prep the steamer

Tamales are cooked in a steamer. Arrange the tamales in a single layer or stand them upright in the steamer basket, filling the space but not packing them tightly.

Tip: If desired, place a cone-shape ball of foil in the center of the steamer basket to help tamales stand up.

Step 7: Steam tamales

Place the filled steamer basket over at least 2 inches of water. Bring the water to boiling. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Steam the tamales until the dough pulls away from the cornhusks and is spongy and cooked through. Plan on at least an hour of steaming.

(Note: Check the water in the pan occasionally. This will ensure the steamer won’t boil dry and scorch.)

Make-ahead tip: You can freeze cooked tamales as well. Wrap and freeze cooled tamales in the cornhusks. To serve, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Place the tamales in a steamer basket over gently boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes or until heated through. You can freeze tamales before steaming them as well. Thaw before steaming and follow step 7.

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Boysenberry Cheesecake becomes traditional holiday dessert

Words we say and lessons we teach will outlive us. As a mom, I try to follow my mother’s example.

Mom was a wise, gentle soul who passed on what she learned along the way. One of my favorite pieces of marriage advice revolved around the holiday.

She knew from experience that blending families could be tricky. Special occasions can intensify those emotions and create family situations that can test our relationships.

When our family was young, we would spend Christmas Day going from my dad’s family to my mom’s. One year my dad finally made the announcement that we would be staying home. If anyone wanted to spend it with us, they were welcome to come over.

It worked out well. My grandparents even showed up before we were awake some years. (They were as excited as all of us kids.)

When Russ and I married, I had lists in my mind of what holidays would look like: the right food, decorations, movies and activities that bring the warmth of the past into the present. Mom encouraged us to find our own traditions.

Only six weeks after our wedding we hosted our first Thanksgiving dinner. Russ invited his three bachelor brothers to join us. I don’t remember how long it took, but I do remember the counter in our little apartment overflowing with every possible holiday menu item.

The only exception was pumpkin pie. Russ wasn’t a fan (still isn’t), so I decided to make a twist on his favorite dessert.

The man loves a good cheesecake. I found a great recipe for boysenberry cheesecake. After one bite it was declared our tradition, not only for Thanksgiving but for Christmas, Easter and a few birthdays as well.

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Boysenberry Cheesecake

Crust:

18 graham crackers crumbs (1½ cups)

1/4 cup sugar

5 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ingredients and pat firmly into the bottom and 1⁄3 up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake 20 minutes. Cool 15 minutes.

Cheesecake:

1½ pounds cream cheese, softened

½ teaspoon grated lemon peel

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 16-ounce jar or 1 1/3 cups Knott’s Boysenberry Preserves (We have tried other brands and in our opinion, nothing works as well as Knott’s.)

Beat cream cheese until creamy; mix in lemon peel and vanilla. In separate bowl combine sugar, flour and salt. Add gradually to cream cheese mix. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition just until blended. Stir in whipping cream.

Pour all but ½ cup cheese filling into already baked crust. Mix 2 tablespoons preserves with remaining filling and slowly drizzle back and forth across cheesecake. Using a blunt knife, gently weave through batter of cheesecake to make a ribbon pattern.

Bake at 350 degrees for 65 to 70 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 30 minutes. Loosen sides with spatula. Cool 2 to 3 hours longer.

Stir remaining preserves and spread evenly over cheesecake. Refrigerate overnight.

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Slowing Down for Brunch

Brunch at the Wilsons has been a tradition as long as we have been together. We got married in the morning so our reception could be a buffet filled with egg dishes, ham, fruit and blueberry muffins. The cakes were banana and spice to keep with the breakfast theme.

The first morning of our honeymoon we made our way to a delightful house-turned-restaurant with long couches to relax at the tables. Beautiful music played while we leisurely enjoyed delicious handcrafted food that had been expertly prepared. It’s among the best meals I have ever had in a restaurant.

For years waffles and potatoes were staples in our Saturday morning menu. That was until last September, when I changed yet another of my eating habits in pursuit of healthier living. Simpler carbohydrates had to go. I began avoiding anything that would cause a blood sugar spike.

Over this past year I have found that although I have worked hard at eating healthy for a long time, my plan had to fit me personally. That meant not only the whole, fresh foods that I have always loved but also it included trying something new to keep me from getting bored in the kitchen. After all, I always tell my friends, I still like to play with food.

While on this quest of healthy eating, I’ve become enamored with the beauty of sharing food with friends and family. It’s actually given me freedom because what I am creating is healthy. You don’t have to “go off your diet” to eat beautifully. I even eat what I once thought of as dinner food to start my day. One of my favorites is Breakfast Quinoa. Like almost everything I cook, I’ve made it my own.

Eating better hasn’t been a burden as much as it’s challenged my creativity. Our frittatas usually don’t have potatoes anymore and we just use a small amount of high-flavor cheeses (usually goat or sheep) instead of the alternatives. When I’m in a hurry I’ll eat a parfait made with plain Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. We’ve been known to drink smoothies with almond butter for something on the go.

Whatever it is, we serve our meals in the most attractive way possible. We still slow down for brunch, even when the menu is small. The table is set, we use real plates, true flatware and nice glasses. It’s about still treating every part of the senses to a quiet moment of the day. We treat those moments with the respect that relationships deserve.

When it comes to eating, my rules are simple:

• Everything must be made with whole ingredients (avoid processed foods).

• No simple carbohydrates, only complex.

• Limited dairy and grains.

• Lots of vibrant, locally grown produce.

• It must taste, look and smell delightful.

• Most of all, whenever possible, share a meal with someone you love.

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Breakfast Quinoa Jem's Way features sautéed onions, sausage and peppers layered with cooked quinoa and a poached egg.

Breakfast Quinoa Jem’s Way

The original discovery of Breakfast Quinoa was in the book “Bread & Wine” by Shauna Niequist. As she suggests, I made it my own.

Four chicken apple sausages

Medium onion

Diced red, yellow or orange pepper, optional

2 tablespoons butter or 1 tablespoon coconut oil

2 cups cooked quinoa

4 eggs

1 avocado, optional

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut up sausage to bite size pieces. Sauté onions, sausage and peppers (if desired) in oil or butter. Layer sausage mixture in individual bowls or ramekins (my favorite). Fry, poach or steam eggs leaving the yolk somewhat runny. Layer ½ cup quinoa on sausage followed by the egg. Salt and pepper as desired. If you are adding the avocado, dice it and sprinkle it over the top. Makes 4 servings.

A frittata makes a nice centerpiece for a weekend brunch.

Frittata

Anything you would put in an omelet could be put in a frittata. We like ours filled with vegetables, mushrooms and onions. We still occasionally put in a small amount of potato but haven’t missed it when we don’t. I don’t measure my vegetables, I just use what seems good to me. When I add tomatoes I put them on when it comes out from the broiler so they warm up but don’t cook. The avocado goes on the plate so it doesn’t get warm. You can add shrimp, bacon, ham or sausage. It’s up to you! Serves 2

Chopped veggies:

Zucchini

Yellow squash

Onions

Mushrooms

1 tablespoon butter or coconut oil

3 or 4 eggs whisked with a teaspoon of water per egg

¼ cup Manchego cheese, shaved

1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon

Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté vegetables until warm but still crisp. Pour eggs over vegetable mixture. Allow to cook for about a minute. Sprinkle cheese over eggs. Place in broiler. Watch carefully, depending on how close your pan is to the broiler, this may only take a couple of minutes. I set a timer and check at 2 minutes then 1 minute intervals after. It will be ready when it is puffy and golden brown.

This can be served hot or even room temperature.

A parfait of Greek yogurt, fresh berries and granola makes for a quick and easy breakfast.

Yogurt Parfait

½ cup plain Greek yogurt

¼ cup berries

Honey, just enough to drizzle)

Cinnamon

2 tablespoons granola

Layer ingredients in bowl or ramekin. This is a refreshing treat when you need a light breakfast.

 

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