Monthly Archives: November 2015

Balsamic Seared Tuna Steak with Garlic Spinach & Onions

Purposefully, I did not start this blog as a way to develop a recipe site, despite the encouragement by friends to do so.  The reality is that I am very much an at-home cook and, although my life consists of plans and schedules, not a calculated “chef”.

I learned to cook by age 7 (actually probably closer to age 3!) through shadowing my grandmother Rosemary.  My skills were enhanced after moving around a bit as a young adult.  My palate was expanded as the result of greater exposure to different cuisines and at-home, family styles.  At some point, through a collection of observations paired with trial and error, I learned attributes for foods and flavors.

Now, I sort of just do.  I follow some great recipe blogs and have no desire to compete with their awesomeness!  Another reality is that from most of those other blogs, I draw inspiration, but will often do my own variation.

However, as this blog is in its infancy, I have come to realize that despite best of intentions of an organized, clear calendar, it can be hard to keep up with blogging as a side “gig”.  Therefore, I will sprinkle a few of my own “recipes” into my blog.  Of course I will also continue to special mention those other awesome blogs along the way, particularly as they relate to the other content I publish.

Last week I made a new variation of pan-seared tuna steak.  This recipe worked out great and was easy to make.

Balsamic Seared Tuna 2

First, I started with a low-medium heated pan (I have a gas stove) and began to caramelize chopped onions in coconut oil.

Meanwhile, I prepped the raw tuna steak with a little salt and pepper on each side.  Then, I added some granulated garlic to the pan when the onions were partially cooked.

Next, I added the tuna directly to the pan with the onions still in it (cooked halfway) and turned up the heat slightly.  (I would suggest doing this before the onions are at a half-way tenderized point.  Otherwise, you will have burned, charred onion “chips” which is not the desired outcome).

Tuna steak cooks rather quickly.  Basically you watch the flesh color change from bright pink to grey.  Once the bottom looks like this, despite pinkness in the middle and top, flip it.

Once I flipped the steak, I added raw spinach to the sides of the pan where there was space left in the pan (and on top of the onions).  Immediately, I sprinkled a light coat of olive oil over the uncooked spinach.

I try to avoid cooking with oils, except coconut, because they break down from the heat and become less healthful.  However, due to the firmer consistency of coconut oil, sometimes a cook timing aspect makes  me use olive oil.  Since the fish cooks quickly, I used olive oil.

As the fish finished to turn in color (cook), the spinach wilted and onions completed their path towards caramelization.

To plate the dish, I first removed the tuna from the pan, then topped with spinach-onion combo.  For the finale, I drizzled cool balsamic vinegar over the top.

The reason I saved this for last versus adding to the hot pan was to preserve some of the microbial aspects of balsamic vinegar (fermented food).

Balsamic Seared Tuna Steak with Garlic Spinach & Onions

Balsamic Seared Tuna 1

Ingredients

  • 1 tuna steak
  • 1/4-1/3 of a medium-sized white or yellow onion, chopped
  • Up to 1 Tbs of coconut oil (due to the method for onion caramelization, you may need the full tablespoon)
  • 1/2 Tbs of granulated garlic or garlic powder (adjust for preference)
  • 2 dashes each of salt & pepper
  • 1 healthy handful of raw spinach
  • Olive oil (desired, but likely close to 1/2 Tbs)

***A note on Tuna Steak (or fish in general), it will continue to cook inside after removed from the pan.  Therefore, especially with seared tuna, a little pink is o.k.  Restaurants typically serve it quite pink inside and in a sliced presentation.  This is really personal preference.  However, be sure to not leave it on the pan too long.  It will dry out and become tough.

If you aren’t familiar with cooking it, I would recommend cutting into it before removing it from the pan.  If its still really pink for your preference, leave it on a little while longer, then remove.  This doesn’t create a beautiful presentation, but it allows you to learn what the outer sides should look like when it is cooked to preference.  Bottomline, it will cook in a matter of minutes, so don’t walk away from it either.

A Holiday List

2015 Holiday Suggestions

When I started pulling my materials together for this late last month, I didn’t realize how comprehensive my list would end up.  Flipping through my collection of business cards, it turns out that I was introduced to quite a few new products over the last year including those offered from small, locally oriented vendors with passion, personal connection, and value-focus to their product lines.

Gift giving practices will vary from person to person, but my hope is for those making purchases this holiday season, that “consumer vote” will support some of these great products and services.  With “eco-friendly” and “shop small” concepts in mind, a few of my favorite new 2015 finds as well as some old stand-by options are included in this suggestion list:

Essential Oils

The applications for essential oils are immense; aromatherapy, medicinal, personal hygiene, and household cleaning, to name a few.  Good ones don’t come cheap, however.  If you are looking for a resourceful, yet indulgent gift, consider essential oils.

A few classic, reliable vendors include doTerra or Young Living, but there are certainly others worth considering.  It takes a little research into quality standards, but you won’t regret the knowledge gained from exploring this path.

Earlier this year, I met a bright representative of Young Living at an eco-friendly beauty event and learned all about Thieves’ Blend, which comes with a historical story.  It is pretty well accepted that 15th-century French thieves used the blend to cover the inner side of their masks, due to its antibacterial properties, when entering households affected by the plague.  Despite its controversial past, it is still highly revered today.

There was a raffle associated with the event and I was fortunate enough to win a bottle of Young Living Thieves’ Blend household multi-purpose cleaner formula.  So far, it has been fantastic to use.  Not only is it quite remarkable how well it works, it smells great.  It is a much better choice as compared to synthetically “scented” household cleaner formulas.

Finally, if you are looking for finished formulas for a variety of body care, check out Town & Anchor.

Storage

My family does an annual game that falls somewhere between white elephant and naughty Santa.  Anything from gently used to brand new can be included as one’s entry as long as newly purchased items don’t exceed a high price point.  Last year storage items, particularly those for the kitchen, seemed to be the most frequently stolen and chit-chatted over throughout the game.

Mason Jars – beyond traditional canning, there are so many uses for these.  They are great for storage, salad jars on the go, fermented foods, smoothies or lemon water, and personal care products.  Most craft stores sell lids with pumps for lotions or liquid soaps.  Even better, the price point is low.  With the versatility of these jars, the value is clear.  Plus, they come in a few different colors.  A ribbon or holiday trim can easily be tied around the lid for a simple, festive presentation.

Stackable Kitchen Storage – several years ago I came across clear, glass kitchen storage canisters at World Market that had a black chalkboard label area pre-stamped on.  At the time, I bought a handful of them in a variety of sizes.  Later, when I started buying almost all my dry goods from bulk bins, I went back for more.  Only this time they had been redesigned to have lids shaped in a way for stacking.  Genius!  Although it has seemed they have phased out using the chalkboard label, you can still purchase chalk board decals.

*See photo at bottom

Beauty & Eco-friendly

The list of chemicals in traditional cosmetics is alarming.  The good news, there are better alternatives.  I was fortunate to be introduced to a few alternative options this year including, but not limited to the following:

Beautycounter – sold through independent consultants, the products are developed to avoid approximately 1,500 chemicals that have either unsafe or inconclusive evidence of safety.  The company also takes a proactive approach educate consumers on cosmetic ingredients, not just sell product.  I was specifically touched by the back side of their business cards in which a “never list” of ingredients to avoid is printed.

Biba Lips – founded with a focus on glamour without less preferred ingredients, such as parabens, synthetics, or artificial fragrances.  “Biba” translates to a beautiful woman both inside and out.  The lip color line is beautifully crafted with botanicals centered on nourishing qualities and packaged in a gold-toned mirrored compact.

Bonnie – handcrafted in Chicago, Bonnie equals more than just lip balm.  The line includes facial masks, lotions & body serums, and natural perfumes.  Even better, the labeling is artistic and fully designed by the owner.  Hello stocking stuffer!

{blade +bloom} – scrubs, soaps, and body balms.  The coffee scrub is phenomenal.

Smart Handbags

A great bag can be hard to find.  Two new options I found this year are below:

(Undercover) POPULAR – specializing in self-proclaimed “upcycled vintage”, the designer finds creative ways to use retired products such as old footballs made into a handbag or wine corks turned into fun and novelty bottle charms.  She also offers a wide selection of vintage handbags and accessories.

PoCampo – I was nearly sold at first site.  These tactfully made bags are not just attractive and eye-catching, they are incredibly resourceful.  Tailored to incorporate our mobile device driven world with an on-the-go lifestyle, their designs are weather-proof and perfect for all commuter types; bike, transit, or car.

Spirits, Botanicals, Brews, & Accessories

I came across Strongwater at a craft festival.  I was blown away by the thought and care put into this old-fashion craft spirit and liquid botanical business.  The Colorado-based, young entrepreneurs focus on classic cocktail mixers based on apple cider vinegar with infused ingredients and herbal bitters extracted in grain alcohol.  Each tailored to blend flavor with apothecary health benefits.

If looking for a great complimentary product, check out 3-Switch glassware or DropCatch barware.  Completely indulgent and cool, fun products, the funky glasses and decanters 3-Switch offer are perfect for holiday cheer while DropCatch’s bar accessories are classic, stylish and practical, including their signature magnetic bottle openers.

Another beverage option is to look into local brewers that offer half and full size growlers.  This is a great way to support small-batch, sustainable, and/or organic brewers.  In Chicago, we have a fantastic addition to our local brewery community, Greenstar Brewing, http://www.uncommonground.com/greenstar-brewing.

Sustainable Produce, Seeds, & Other Organic Foods

Earlier this year, I was searching for off the beaten track gifts of a practical nature and the idea of sending up a produce box or signing the recipient up for a membership was suggested.  It takes a little digging within your respective communities, but many local companies specialize in local produce delivery, many times all or partially organic.  Another good place to look is locally owned and operated grocers.  It’s kind of free marketing for them, so it’s a win-win opportunity.

As for seed banks, it also takes a little digging to find organic vendors, but many of them operate online.  I have used SeedsNow a handful of times, including for additions to wedding gift baskets.  Spring planting themes would be great for holiday gift giving.

If you are seeking a good catch all vendor selling organic foods, teas, essential oils, and other health related products online, check out eSutras Organics.  Specializing in small batch products, they also have sustainability built into many aspects of their business model, including sourcing from smaller, artisan traders and offering discounts to customers who ship back their containers for reuse and recycling.

Handmade Soaps & Candles

It seems as though overnight, everyone is making soaps or candles.  Based on essential oils and natural ingredients, the aromatic combinations seem endless.  It’s hard to select just one.[1]  A few that I have been pleased to come across are as follows:

Soap Distillery – definitely a small-batch vendor, but not without a high level of uniqueness.  I recommend trying the Limoncello for a clean, fresh scent.

Cloud Nine Soap Co.  – this company covers all your needs for soap including body bars, a kitchen collection, designs for kids, shaving soap, and a laundry formula.  Not only are they resourceful, they have come up with some pretty great fragrance offerings.  They even sell “beer soap” which is actually infused with beer.  How is that for a unique gift option?  Also consider their skin & lip care items, bath accessories, and soy candles.

Peripeti Home – soy candles and home fragrances using essential oils over synthetics.  Seasonal fragrances include Holiday Hearth, Pumpkin & Ginger, and Cypress & Jasmine.

Artumie Candle Studio – handcrafted in Chicago and featured in select small shops across half a dozen states (also available through Wild Poppy Goods online shop, http://www.wildpoppygoods.com).  My favorite is Bergamot & Basil while Midwest Campfire is a close second and seasonally appropriate option.

The Sweet Side

There are a ton of sugar-sweetened products on the market, but only a few earn my vote.  Typically, I am looking for low sugar content (if any added sugars are used at all) and additive free, such as no gluten, dairy, or soy.  The reality is that good food products, especially those of specialty nature, often don’t come cheap.

One staple I have found is Theo chocolate bars.  For about $3.99/bar, a variety of options are available with mostly natural sweetening ingredients, such as coconut, versus added refined sugar.  For the holidays, they are offering Gingerbread Spice, Peppermint Stick, and Nutcracker Brittle specialty flavors at a slightly higher price point.  They also offer a Sea Salt Dark bar benefiting World Bicycle Relief.

This year, I also came across GrownUpKidStuff which focuses on chocolate and caramel sauces made without corn, soy, gluten, or nuts.  They also make a dairy free option.  A few of their options are definitely unique, such as a chocolate sauce infused with Big Fat’s hot sauce.

Finally, don’t forget organic spices, especially for your recipients who love to cook.  Again, a few decadent options can come at a higher price tag for everyday use.  The holidays are a great time to spoil your loved ones with a few extra additions to their spice cabinet.

Mom-made Fashions

Many years ago I befriended an outgoing young woman, Melissa, the mastermind behind Sew Like My Mom.  From what started as a hobby making colorful patterned handbags, and synergistic to her life as a mother, she has grown her business from crafty, homemade designs to the development of her own line of children’s clothing patterns.

***Watch for her four adorable children in her images and product marketing.

Other Unique Apparel, Home Goods, & Finds

Representing a hodge-podge, this list of vendors and retail stores cover a variety.  Most of which encompass eco-friendly offerings.

American-made – founded by a husband and wife duo, 50Roots serves to focus on American-made products representing products across the United States.  Carefully selected, from wine glasses to recycled messenger bags to a slinky, the product line is as diverse as the states in which products are made.  For the kiddos, check out their Eco-Kids arts and crafts and definitely do not forget to gloss over their “For Fido” options.

Global and ArtisanTen Thousand Villages operates stores across the U.S. and features artisan-made products representative of over 3 dozen developing countries while promoting fair trade.  Shop with a conscious at this crafty, diverse retailer (also available online).

Interchangeable Sandals – one of the coolest products I came across in the last year, Mohop Shoes uses orthopedic materials, changeable ties and accessories, and are made from sustainably-sourced, recycled, or fair-trade materials.  Select from either Made to Order and Ready to Wear options and be sure to also check them out on YouTube.

Rustic, Artistic, and Practical – if looking for anything from jewelry to lunch bags to a chicken coop with a refurbished feel, be sure to check out Peg + Awl.  Led by a husband and wife duo, the pair designs an array of products all with a special touch of family inspiration.

[1] Not all soy candles are created equal.  If a vendor cannot speak to this, it may be worth passing on them for now.

Photo of clear storage canisters mentioned above:

0428130901

Following a Protocol

For any intention to live healthy, the need for planning and protocols will come about.  Under the context of a diagnosis, the need becomes even greater.  Although I have no intention of this becoming a blog about living with an autoimmune and chronic condition, there will be times that I will reference it as part of my personal health story.  Three months from now, I will surpass two years since receiving a formal diagnosis for autoimmune conditions.  In that time, I have taken careful consideration to observe a few key reminders, particularly in the adherence to a personal health action plan.

Life can be messy.  If everything were perfect and likely, we wouldn’t have concepts such as serendipity, fate, or dumb luck to help motivate us through life.  Take your diagnosis as an opportunity.  For me, this has entailed additional learning, meeting new people, and some re-centering of my values both as an individual and a health professional.

Be open to support from unlikely sources.  When I was diagnosed, I was between jobs, living on a very frugal budget, and without great health insurance.  I was using medical services minimally and those that I did use wouldn’t have been my first choices under different circumstances.  However, throughout my experiences, I have been greeted with help from those who I never would have assumed would be good sources.  Despite restraints and, in some cases, dead ends, I have found that most people working across health disciplines wish to help and are willing to extend a few extra minutes of their time to find the right resources.  Limitations may exist and are not reason to become frustrated.  Practice patience and remember that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.

Build yourself a team.  It is not realistic to expect one person to know it all, nor is it practical to assume that one health or medical professional will be able to meet all your needs, especially when formulating a lifestyle centered plan to approach a current diagnosis.  Take all aspects of health and wellness into consideration including, but not limited to nutrition, mental and emotional health, and financial advice.

Crosscheck sources.  Negative information can be alarming, while fragmented resources are often confusing.  It can also be easy to get up in arms about the latest claims (those of which may or may not have reliable, supportive evidence).  Initially, I was pretty unclear by what people were telling me or why so.  My research side went to sources such as PubMed to find the literature that better explained what I was being told.  Sometimes this clarified while other times it led me down inconclusive paths.  In many cases, I needed a verbal explanation.  Eventually, after assessing information across literature with that from personal and public professional resources, I began to connect the dots.  Never the less, the process remains ongoing.

Be your own advocate.  Although we have many trained professionals out there, they may not all be accessible to us.  Many conditions or family of related ones have advocacy groups that can help provide referential information or link you to lists of targeted providers.  In addition, we have to prepare ourselves to ask questions.  While doing so, respect other people’s time and be prepared for the possibility that they may not have the clearest answer right away.  Bottom line, be proactive and, by all means, do not play the victim.

Consider alternative resources.  Modern technology has allowed health information to be delivered through new methods, such as videos, virtual meeting platforms, and online forums.  In addition, many practitioners, especially those of specialty focus, are willing to meet with people in group settings, include blogs on their websites, and will even help patients look into alternative payment options, such as those that can be covered through Health Savings Account funds.

Don’t be afraid to let go.  Living healthy isn’t always the easy choice.  It may entail giving up things you once loved and, in some cases, a few some ones.  Throughout this process, I cannot reiterate enough how important adequate social support is.  It is normal for people to have some misunderstandings about what you are going through and why you are making changes.  Being realistic is imperative, however, those who come with critical or unsupportive approaches, may be better off let go.  They may have served a critical role in your life and past, but if they are detrimental now, it’s best to take your distance and stick to those who will support your health journey.

Strive for realistic goals, not perfection.  A successful health plan is considerate of behavior change, the environment in which we live, and the resources we have available to us.  It is important to set realistic goals.  When adapting a new protocol, it is both imperative and mindful to figure out where there can be flexibility if and when the strictest adherence is necessary.  This will vary from one person to the next, especially considering conditions of the chronic nature.  Learn from others, but set your own goals and respective protocol.