Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Under the Tuscan Salad

Under the Tuscan Salad

In the summertime, cold pasta salad is a popular dish, especially when the weather is warm and chilled food is welcome.  A variety of pasta shapes can be used and this salad is often made with a zesty homemade vinaigrette, an assortment of vegetables, cheese, herbs and spices. Steaming hot Fettuccine Alfredo, Pasta al Pesto, and Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce are winners but during July it’s about cold eats.

The first summer I moved to Lake Tahoe, going to restaurants was something I did more than I do now. Blame it on becoming a food author. But back in the day when I was writing articles for magazines, I recall one time at our former Sizzler, a vegetarian’s delight. It was instant gratification time dishing up all types of salad include the noodle dishes—hot and cold. 
That particular hot night it was crowded, probably due to the heat and nobody wanted to cook. Instead of standing in line I played the machine where the big claw grabs a stuffed animal. On a mission to win I must have shelled out dozens of quarters. I complained to the manager. “The machine is rigged. I’m going to order the salad bar.” He opened up the money maker, picked out a big stuffed bear and handed it to me.  I smiled like a kid and thanked him.  I savored the different salads, especially the tangy cold pasta salad while sitting next to the furry prize that I should have won and sort of did. 
These days I make my own pasta salads. And finally, I mastered the art of putting together a cold noodle delight for old time’s sake inspired by the sweet restaurant manager who had a heart of gold for adults who like to have fun like kids do.

Tuscany Pasta Salad
1 ½ cups cooked pasta, whole grain rotini
½ cup all natural Italian dressing (or make your own vinaigrette with olive oil and vinegar)
½ cup tomatoes, chopped
½ cup broccoli florets, cooked
½ cup black olives, fresh, sliced (I used whole ones found at our friendly Safeway deli)
¼ cup bell pepper, chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons red onion, chopped
Black pepper and sea salt to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, mix pasta with dressing. Add tomatoes, broccoli, olives, bell pepper, and onion. Season well with pepper and salt for more flavors. Chill in refrigerator. Sprinkle with cheese. Serves 6.  Pair with a French bread or baguettes.

I was pleasantly surprised how easy this salad is to make. As a finicky eater I prefer to make my own salads because I know exactly what goes into it, from the type of pasta, ingredients of the dressing, and can pick out which vegetables I like. During the hot days ahead this salad makes a super side dish or can be served as a light meal. Either way it’s a keeper for the season of hot weather and summer adventure.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Memories of Victoria, British Columbia

By Cal Orey

Early July I found myself  keeping true to a vow and going to Victoria, British Columbia. I didn't know what to expect but whatever the trip brought me I knew it would be sweet solitude. After living at Lake Tahoe for almost two decades I finally get it. During the Fourth of July if you're not a tourist it's the time to take a vacation.

The thing is, while I craved quietude I did want a bit more excitement. Probably the most intense moments were when I was searched at the airport (blame it on jewelry), and the stowaway on a CRJ700 en route to Victoria. Not sure if the crew found the extra passenger but we were delayed 30 minutes.
Okay so I didn't follow the flock. I was going to go the popular Butchart Gardens but I truly prefer aquariums like the one in Vancouver. I didn't want to be sandwiched in between strangers on a van for more than one hour.  It was my idea to enjoy an impromptu, scenic time viewing seaplane rides (I should have done that), and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest which always includes water. 

Mine Every Morning
The memories I'll always cherish are the water moments: Swimming every morning and taking a hot tub without a soul; making contact with a solitary seal at Fisherman's Wharf; and taking a boat tour on the Gorge--it flows to the Inner Harbour and the open Pacific Ocean, my lifeline to the Golden State. I wished the swells were larger and water choppier but it was calming. Less than more people were on the boat as we listened to the captain spin tales of the inlet. 

Viewing local on kayaks reminded me of Tahoe as well as ducks and a few swimmers. But I admit I was bit by the boat bug. Decades ago my former significant other at the time took us to Catalina. I was hesitant to take the ferry due to listening to people who warned me about choppy water. The way over was a smooth ride as well as coming back to Long Island. Also, we rented a small boat (which almost capsized) but it was fun.
So this trip on the water was a fun one for me mixing memories of the past and present. Yet it made me wonder, "Why didn't I book the whale adventure?" Now that would have most likely presented more feelings of excitement.

Speaking of booking trips, I canceled the "tea experience" at The Empress. After all, I finished writing the book on tea, literally, and have more types of tea in my pantry than they offer. However, I did sit in the restaurant--not the tea room--and ordered white tea and a tossed salad. The tea was another unforgettable experience that I took home with me.
As I sit here in the mountains amid towering pine trees I'm craving a city and water environment. Perhaps this yearning comes from going to school at San Francisco and spending so many years there. I supposed my future travels can give me that boost of water that I love but maybe it's a sign to move on. Toying with the Northeast--Maine to Montreal--late fall. I long for diversity. And it may in reality be just 200 miles south of me in San Francisco. Maybe a book tour for The Healing Powers of Tea in January is going to be my next trip out of the Sierra--a sweet solace spot.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hello Victoria! I've Landed--Where's the Adventure?

By Cal Orey

By 4:30 P.M. on Saturday afternoon the CRJ700 (the plane I feared taking for years) landed. So, after starting at 2:00 A.M., and taking a cab, shuttle van, flight to Reno-Tahoe onto Salt Lake City, then Seattle and to Victoria, and finally a cab to my lodging--I was whooped!

On July 1 to escape chaos on July 4 in the U.S.,  I walked into the hotel lobby located at the Inner Harbour in Victoria. I felt like the desk attendant thought, "Look what the cat brought in." After handing her the proper ID and payment, off I was soaring up the elevator to the 14th floor--with a promise of a suite with a view. I was clueless to what I was getting because the hotel doesn't flaunt these special rooms.

Once on the 14th floor, I slid the card key into the slot, slowly opened the door and walked into the hallway, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. I was greeted with three large windows boasting an island city, mountains, water,  and much more. I did adore Montreal, Vancouver, and Seattle but this room did have something unique. An English decor with Mediterranean colors of red, gold, and white made me feel out of my comfort zone but oh-so comfortable like home. The thing is, cloudy skies and rain like in Seattle are my cup of tea and this trip gave me blue sky and sunshine--not romantic.

Next up was the phone. Room service. After being surrounded by people and motion for hours and hours, I craved solitude. I hadn't eaten much for the day--coffee, tea, pretzels, and bottled water. 

Being a vegetarian sometimes when out of the country you will find yourself limited. "No baked potatoes?" I repeated to the voice on the phone. Felt like she assumed I was a strange Californian. I scanned the menu (several times). Sadly, there were no basic green salads either with my favorite vegetables. I pulled a Meg Ryan in "When Sally Met Harry" and ordered a salad with tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese, vinegar, olive oil, and French fries. I thought it would be a light meal...

When the food was brought into my room I was pleasantly surprised. The salad was not a side salad but a main dish (for me). The fries? A portion for four. While I was satisfied, the skinny health author who loves to fit into her skinny jeans, I ate about one third of the meal. Done.
The views of Victoria were calming and refreshing. After all, it took me a while to get it that that was my entertainment. There were no pay-per-view movies. No movies! As a film buff who views movies (drama, thriller, romance, mystery, and sometimes horror), I was horrified that I was movie-less! By 9:00 P.M. I fell asleep despite that it was still light outside much like Alaska in the summertime. Another surprise. No dog to take out. No cat to cuddle.  Still, I had landed in Victoria, British Columbia. My main goal for several years  had been achieved.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Water and Watermelon, Canada-Style

Chilling with a Watermelon (Summer Salad)

This time of year at the grocery store seeing watermelons is a common sight. While this red melon (usually with seeds) is not my favorite fruit—it is a summertime favorite. I caved and tossed a small watermelon into the cart next to other seasonal fresh fruit. A watermelon fruit salad can make this no-cook food something to love...
Last week I did flee the Langolier-type tourist invasion, ending up in Victoria, British Columbia--a beautiful, calm retreat. One treat of the hotel I stayed at was a breakfast buffet in the concierge room. I recall seeing fresh pieces of a variety of summer fruit including pineapple, green apples, oranges, and watermelon. While I didn’t include them on my plate with a croissant, scrambled eggs, orange juice, and a large cup of coffee—I do remember the bright red chunks but it was the green apples I took back to my room for snacks. 

Actually it wasn’t the fresh fruit that wowed me overlooking Victoria Harbour; it was a seal at Victoria Pier. I experienced plenty of shops and eateries, boats and house boats, all full of charm. One of my goals for this adventure was to smell sea air, go on a boat ride, and bond with a seal like I used to do in San Francisco. After a pool swim in the morning, I strolled on the pier in search of seal. Almost immediately my eyes met with one single marine mammal in the water. It swam inland right up to me as if to say, “Hello! Welcome to Victoria.” I said, “Hey! What a good boy!” Once the seal was close to me (and the tourists could see clearly it was swimming in my direction) I snapped a photo or two and felt an instant connection to Mother Nature’s creature and Canada’s water.

Watermelon Summertime Salad Bowl
* * *
1 mini round seedless watermelon
Assorted fruit, 2 cups watermelon chunks, ½ cup each of sliced strawberries, orange slices, apple chunks, and peaches
2 tablespoons raw honey (local)                            
1 lemon, juice  
Cinnamon, nutmeg to taste

Using a sharp knife, slice a thick slice from bottom of watermelon to make a flat base so the melon will lie nicely on a large dish. Slice the melon in half. Scoop out melon of one half. Slice it like a checkerboard. Make horizontal and vertical cuts for watermelon square chunks. Scoop fruit out and place in a bowl, add other fruit. (It works well with kiwi, grapes and other melons.) Mix in honey, lemon, and spices. Cover and chill in refrigerator. Serve in bowls and top with Greek yogurt or gelato. Serves 6-8. 

This watermelon fruit salad is easy on the eyes and good for you, too. Watermelon is low in fat and calories, plus it provides some nutrients, including vitamin C and disease-fighting antioxidants. A watermelon salad like this one makes a super centerpiece for a picnic outdoors, brunch, or after dinner dessert. It’s easy to make and will help you chill, and give you time to enjoy the water at Lake Tahoe or escape to British Columbia's waters during our heat wave. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Healing Powers Series Author's Adventures in Victoria, B.C.

By Cal Orey

Last week during the Fourth of July invasion of the tourists at Lake Tahoe I kept a promise to myself. I fled.  I didn't want to cope with dogs off leash, flood lights, hot tub late night delight, and chaos. I craved quietude. 
Months prior this year I booked a trip to Canada. I've been to Vancouver several times but not Victoria. It was taking the ferry or CRJ700 that spooked me. This time, however, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and just did it...

Getting up at 2:00 A.M. to catch a cab, shuttle and 6:20 A.M. flight was a challenge but not as grueling as I had anticipated. Actually, taking my Aussie Skyler to the kennel earlier in the day was more heartbreaking. He had a semi-anxiety attack (put his bum on the floor and played mule to protest); and I cried out loud when calling the kennel a few hours later to see how my boy was doing. We both are super sensitive, Type A, high maintenance souls and do not like to be apart. A soulmate with paws? Speaking of paws...

My Siamese-mix Zen sensed I was going. He was extremely affectionate the last night except for shredding my arm later in bed after a purringfest. Another pet sign of rebellion? Despite the cat and dog acting out we endured the separation. I walked out of my cabin at 3:00 A.M. packed with a carry on and one piece of luggage. And all of my ducks were in a row. Exhale.

At Reno-Tahoe International Airport
Last time around TSA searched me in the early morning thanks to silver on my combat boots to necklaces. I was half asleep and stunned but it woke me up. Not fun before a cup of coffee. This time, because of printing out my ticket and it being scanned earlier by the higher up ticket people, it was smooth and easy, a pleasant surprise. There was time for caffeine and a bagel. Missing my fluffy Aussie was on my mind as I held onto my necklace (a heart locket with my pics of Zen and Skye)... but boarding the first aircraft, a 320 Airbus en route to Salt Lake City took me to another place literally.

I was on my way to an exciting fantasy. It was the beginning of leaving my life full of must-do lists and flying to Carefree World.  And this time there was no rough air. This small airport is easy to navigate and I seem to always find the salt water taffy (it takes me back to the boardwalk days in Santa Cruz). I passed on them going to Canada (thought of my dental cleaning); the tortilla chips and unforgettable salsa because you never know what you're going to get on a flight to cloudy Seattle. So, I ordered chamomile tea. It sufficed and I certainly give the herbal must-have kudos in The Healing Powers of Tea (reviewed by Publishers Weekly).

3 Hours of Sleep
Craving a Cup of Joe
A few hours later on my way to Seattle--a second home to me. I have a sense of belonging there--grey skies, S.F. type of city. 
Again, on the737-800 plane no rough air. Actually, I don't mind turbulence and actually missed a few bumps in the day. I did munch on sea salted pretzels, watched the film La La Land,  a 2016 musical romance but I was semi- thinking about Canada, a romantic place to me--and dreading the small regional flight--one folks warned me of bumps galore. 

Once at SeaTac, taking the "soul train" like in Atlanta (I love Georgia), and onto the upstairs waiting for the little but scary CRJ700 it was a surreal time. I felt like I had flown to an Asian country. Nobody spoke English. Now this was adventure. I called my sibling to get a lifeline to my world and ask about my fur kids. I left a dramatic message saying that I felt at last out of my comfort zone. In another world. It was fun! Cultural shock like I experienced when I was 21 arriving in Montreal--the first time. The metric system, French speaking people, and intensity was over the top but not the second round decades later.
Enjoyed a lingering conversation about quakes, aging, and health with a bohemian boomer, like me, who left New York for a self-help meditation retreat off the grid in Victoria. We made a connection.It was kind of like me looking for environment in Victoria while leaving beautiful Lake Tahoe. Well, it is healthy to depart your home looking for greener grass even though you may discover it was green enough all along where you were supposed to be.
No rough air on CRJ to Victoria

At last, I met my monster face to face. The CRJ! However, since it was a clear day, the flight attendants were calm, I sensed all my fears were in my imagination. But, the Australian woman next to me put on eye shades, ear phones (with those talky relaxation tapes), and a bib as she whispered to me: "I'm a nervous flyer." I winced and nodded. And into the air we soared...

To Be Continued...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Scoop on Shakes and Smoothies

Summertime is the time for a cold and creamy milkshake. This sweet drink that goes way back in time, is a creation of milk, ice cream, and flavorings such as chocolate syrup. Back in my waitressing days (yes, I was a server) I'd make these drinks that took time using steel containers that you stuck into a machine (my shakes often whirled too fast and spilled onto the floor and ended my short restaurant career)...
The real scoop is, milkshakes were messy to make (on the job), and often included imitation vanilla ice cream and artificial whipped cream. No fresh fruits or assorted nuts. But times have changed or maybe I have morphed into a health nut and continue to think outside of the can and shake things up in the kitchen.

Several years ago when I penned the chocolate book I was treated to a former European hotel spa in Reno. Imagine savoring a Chocolate Silk Hydrotherapy Bath treat complete with an oversized bear claw Jacuzzi-style bathtub full of bubbling water and a chocolate scent while savoring house made chocolate truffles. After 30 minutes there was more in chocolate heaven. I was given a chocolate scrub/French manicure  and a tall chocolate milkshake to sip. But the perfectionist in me now says, "The shake could have been dark chocolate infused with fresh fruit chunks for a healthier kick."
So, just for you, dear readers, I’ve concocted an awesome chocolate delight that’ll wow your eyes and taste buds—at any age.

Sweet Double Chocolate Shake/Smoothie
* * * * *
4-5 ice cubes
1/2 cup organic half and half
1/4 cup organic low-fat milk
1 cup premium, all-natural chocolate ice cream
1 teaspoon premium unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup banana slices
1 tablespoon nut butter (your choice)
Strawberries and nuts (for topping and/or garnish)

Put all ingredients in a blender. If it has the smoothie button on it, all the better. Blend until thick but not too thin. Pour into glass mugs or glasses. Garnish with berries and nuts. Serves two small shakes or one large one. Hold the whipped cream unless it’s the real stuff you whip up yourself from scratch. * You can put the chocolate shake/smoothie(s) in the freezer for 15 to 20  minutes to make it colder.

This shake/smoothie was a super cool treat this week as our Tahoe heatwave is in the works. The chocolate is calming and energizing, the healthful ingredients are flavorful and well, summer healthy. A homemade shake/smoothie is simple to create and as I always say, you can control the ingredients to keep it healthy just the way you like it. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

California Gold Potato Salad for NorCal Author

California Gold Potato Salad

By Cal Orey

#1 Book Penned at Lake Tahoe
As a kid during summertime bar-b-ques and potato salad were common. In the backyard we’d be dished up a plate of chicken, corn on the cob, and a scoop of salad. History shows American-style potato salad comes from Europe. My mom would put it together using russet potatoes, plain mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, celery, and spices. I liked it but as time passed, my taste changed and this salad is now updated since I switch it up to my hippie clean food eating style.

During my two decades at Tahoe thanks to my travels to the Pacific Northwest and Canada, my healthful salads are even healthier, especially since I make them myself. During the Great Recession here on the South Shore, I admit it was like going back in time to graduate school days and living on a tight budget. One day at Safeway I grabbed a bag of potatoes. No processed, fancy foods or dining out for me. I became the DIY cook for survival’s sake. At home the potato and I became close friends. Shepherd’s Pie, baked taters stuffed with vegetables, French fries, and even potato salad were part of my regimen to get through the tough times. Translation: Several of the magazines I wrote for folded. I had to get a real job as a copywriter for Realtors around the Lake. But potatoes came to the rescue.
Red Mediterranean Potato Salad 
These days, times are a bit better. I get to travel a bit and share my tales in books on health and nutrition. So, here is a revised recipe inspired by my mom but with a new, improved West Coast twist.

Rich Wo(man)’s Potato Salad

4 russet potatoes, boiled (with skins on)
¾ cup mayonnaise with olive oil dressing (store bought)
½ cup green bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons red onion, chopped
Black pepper and sea salt to taste
1 cup baby spinach, chopped
¼ cup almonds, sliced
½ cup blue cheese, crumbled
Tomato slices (garnish)

In a large mixing bowl, place cubed potatoes. Add mayonnaise and mix. Add bell peppers, onion, pepper, and salt. Chill in refrigerator. Serve a large scoop of potato salad on a bed of spinach leaves. Top with nuts and sprinkle cheese on top. Garnish with tomato. Serves 4-6.

For summer I pair potato salad with homemade lemonade. To stay on the healthy track, mix it up yourself. Purchase lemons (a bit pricey), use bottled water (a bit pricey), ice cubes (a bit pricey), and pure sugar (on the cheap) or honey (a bit pricey). Slice 2-3 large lemons and squeeze juice into two 8-ounce glasses. Add water, sugar or honey to taste (less is more for good health), and ice. Stir, add a sprig of fresh mint (a bit pricey) and a straw. In the long run, it’s less costly than lemonade in a carton and all-natural. And it tastes sublime.
I keep it real but adding nature’s finest foods in salads, like potato salad, to add flavor and good for you nutrients.  And yes, this new recipe is better than my mother’s yellow stuff without the super greens, blue cheese punch, and crunch of nuts. So as times and cash flow can change--so can your eating style. P.S. Go meatless and enjoy this salad as an entrée or pair it with fish.
Motto: While money comes and goes, Mother Nature’s potatoes can get you through the best and worst of times like making lemonade out of lemons.

--Cal Orey, M.A., Is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee and Tea) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Super Vegetables and Tea 21st Century-Style

Summer is on its way and lighter eating is part of seasonal change.  Going back in time a decade ago, at Safeway when I used to gaze at frozen packaged Stuffed Peppers, an American dish, filled with ground beef, white rice, and tomato sauce.  It took me back to when I was a kid and enjoyed my mom’s Porcupine Meatballs (the Stuffed Bell peppers were for the grown-ups).  Nowadays, going meatless and eating more vegetables is gaining momentum for me—and perhaps you, too.

Years ago, my mode of exercise on the South Shore would be to walk to foodie hot spots.  I’d treat myself to cold lemonade and hot French fries.  One afternoon while I sipped the beverage, I waited for a to-go order of fries. The server didn’t give me a strange look. She took my light order despite people were eating meals.  I happily left with my box of taters which I nibbled on during my trek with a get lean mission. Now, I eat first and my go dog walks me after.

Porcupine-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers
* * *
1 1/2 cups brown or yellow rice, cooked (try wild rice but it is high in sodium)
2 bell peppers, red or yellow
2 tablespoons European style butter or olive oil
2 tablespoons yellow or red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
3-4 tablespoons green bell pepper, chopped
¼ cup Roma tomatoes, chopped
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Black Tea is Healthy
In a pan, cook rice according to instructions. Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt butter or oil, sauté onion. garlic, and peppers. Add into cooked rice. Set aside. In a microwave dish with a half inch of water put two sliced, seeded peppers. Microwave about 1 minute. Remove and stuff rice mixture. Top with tomatoes. (You can use large tomatoes instead of peppers if you preferred.) Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese. Makes 2. Serve with a fresh baguette slices dipped in olive oil. A cupful of green and purple grapes is a nice sweet dessert to add.
These stuffed peppers can be savored for lunch or dinner. For me, I ate one hot out of the oven for a light dinner, and the next day, cold leftovers one for lunch.  These days, I prefer eating grains and vegetables during the warmer weather.  Pairing it with black tea, fresh lemons, and less than more sugar is an acquired taste but a healthier choice. Home-style stuffed peppers and chilled brew will provide you with refreshment.  It’s worth the effort to put it together in the comfort of your home and you’ll enjoy the energy boost to go do it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Breakfast Muffins for National Iced Tea Month

Welcome to the muffin. New York is known for an apple muffin whereas California, thanks to our orange groves, should be touted for its orange muffin.  Muffins are similar to cupcakes in the way you bake them.  However, muffins are often less sweet and can do well on their own without fancy frosting.  You can find muffins are at our local bakeries, grocery stories, or make hit the kitchen at night when it’s cool and make them yourself...

Four and a half years ago, I recall awakening early in the morning. My mission was to go to Sacramento to pick up a new addition to my family.  Not a big breakfast person, en route, I stopped at a convenient store and purchased a packaged muffin. While it stopped my stomach from growling, a home baked muffin would have been, well, special to savor on this special trip. Upon arrival I met an elderly woman. She handed me a wake-up gift. “How adorable,” I exclaimed. My arms were full of a 12 pound fur ball—an Australian Shepherd 10 week old puppy complete with puppy breath.  And we traveled back home to the Sierra.

This week when I brewed a cup of coffee and teamed it with an orange muffin I made the night before, I took the two treats back to bed (a ritual I love). Turning on the TV for CBS This Morning, I looked to the right of me. A full grown Aussie with amber eyes met my eyes. It was a perfect breakfast with my soulmate with paws.
Welcome to my breakfast muffin recipe. I love self-rising flour (no need for baking powder or baking soda). Using fresh fruit, organic milk, and simple ingredients without artificial preservatives is the way to do it when you live in the mountains.

Orange Breakfast  Muffins

1 large orange, (cut in half and use ½ cup juice)
1/2 cup organic 2% low-fat milk
1/2 cup European style butter (melted)
½ cup sugar (you can use ¼ cup if preferred)
1 large brown egg
1 capful pure vanilla extract
1 ¾ cup self-rising flour
2-3 teaspoons orange rind
Raw or confectioners’ sugar
Mint leaves (for garnish)

In a large bowl, stir together juice and milk. Add butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, stir well. Stir in flour and orange rind until smooth without lump. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 20 minutes or until tops are light golden brown and firm to touch. Remove from pan.  Sprinkle muffin tops with sugar. Garnish with mint leaves. Serve warm or cool. Makes 10. *You can remove muffin wrappers for nice look. Breakfast muffins store well in an airtight container.

A bonus: This recipe is quick and easy to make. The fresh muffin flavor is subtle but the citrus taste is detectable. Texture-wise they are light not dense. You can dress them up with a vanilla  glaze or cut the muffins in half and spread with honey or cream cheese. These orange muffins pair well with eggs and bacon. Make this recipe the night before to enjoy the morning for a sweet wake-up treat for you and yours indoors and outdoors. And don't forget to love these orange gems with iced tea! It's National Iced Tea Month!
*To order Healing Powers Series, check out this site.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

No-Cook Energy Bites for Holiday Get-Up-and-Go!

When did this popular candy-rich, no-bake bite appear? It may have started during the health-oriented ‘70s tofu and granola craze. But it also is a spin-off of no-bake cookies infused with alcohol that go back to the mid-20th century.

Tea Lovers Pre-Ordering for
guaranteed lower price
When I first moved here I became good friends with a neighbor, an older woman whom locals thought was my mom. But she was my best friend, pet sitter, and confidant. During the summer, one afternoon while I sipped homemade iced tea, she made Bourbon Balls (a treat my mother used to make for holidays). Vanilla wafer crumbs, powdered sugar, corn syrup, and bourbon are some of the ingredients. “Why don’t you make something healthy?” I asked. She darted, “Like what?” I offered my hippie-ish recipe for energy balls. She shook her head no while shaping her traditional 1-inch balls and putting each one on a cookie sheet.
That night her recipe inspired me to recreate energy balls. I put together good for you foods--peanut butter, honey, dried fruit, and nuts. The next day, my pal didn’t want to try my superfood, and I passed on her booze balls. But we remained friends despite our different tastes from the beatnik era to post-hippie days.

So here is a version of my get-up-and-go energy balls. As the temperature rises, both locals and tourists are going to love these bites. What’s better than bite-sized balls with wholesome goodness that are easy to make and from nature’s finest. And they contain healthful protein, carbs, fat, fiber, and iron.

Peanut Butter Coconut Balls

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup honey (I used a local brand from Carson City)
1/3 cup premium unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
½ cup walnuts, chopped
¼ cup raisins, golden
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes, premium (I used Baker’s)
2 teaspoons sea salt
Cinnamon and ginger to taste (optional)

In a large bowl, combine peanut butter, honey, and cocoa powder. Stir well. Fold in walnuts and raisins. Put into refrigerator for about 30 minutes (it makes it easier to make the balls). Shape into 2-inch balls, then roll in coconut. Sprinkle with salt. Store balls in airtight container. (Peanut Butter Coconut Balls freeze well.)  Makes about 1 dozen.  (You can also switch it up and use different dried fruit, like blueberries and cranberries to celebrate Memorial Day weekend and Fourth of July.) Serve with iced tea or coffee for the feel-good caffeine buzz.

The different colors and textures of these energy bites are pleasing to the eye and palate. They are gooey, chewy, and crunchy. Plus, the mix of nuts and honey with a bit of sea salt gives you both a sweet and savory treat. And ginger is a brilliant note. Instead of baking cookies in a hot kitchen, these no-bake energy balls allow you time to enjoy the outdoors. Don’t forget to share the goodness with family, friends, and neighbors (all ages) for the fun of it.

*The Healing Powers of Tea and The Healing Powers of Honey are available at online bookstores, including amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, kobo.com.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Toasted Sandwich with a Mediterranean Diet Touch

Say hello to the panini sandwich wonder.  It’s an Italian hot sandwich consisting of two slices of bread—baguette of French bread—stuffed with cheese and meat and fried on a grill, pan, or broiled. This present-day, popular grilled sandwich goes back to the 20th century. And, you don’t have to travel far to find one at restaurants around the Lake. But you can also do it yourself at home.

One late spring, chilly afternoon after viewing the movie “It’s Complicated” I made my first panini inspired by Meryl Streep’s dish, a hot cheesy French sandwich called Croque Monsieur. It wowed and wooed male characters Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin—and me. It’s a simple sandwich with an egg base, ham, tomato, cheese and bread—one or two slices. I chose to go the Italian panini route—no eggs.

Tuna Cheddar Cheese Panini  

2 tablespoons finely chopped cucumber
2 tablespoons chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped red onion (optional)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise with olive oil (store bought)
3-ounce can albacore tuna in water, drained   
Ground black pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons European style butter with sea salt
4 thick slices Artisan European style French bread made with organic flour (or a baguette)
4 slices cheddar cheese
1 Roma tomato, sliced
Fresh basil, chopped (optional)

In a bowl, combine cucumber, celery, onion, mayo, tuna, and pepper. Stir and chill in refrigerator. Place 4 bread slices on a cutting board. On medium heat, use a large skillet to add butter, melt, and add bread. Top 2 slices bread with tuna mixture, cheese, and tomato.  Then top with the other 2 slices of buttered bread. Place another smaller pan (or spatula) on top of sandwiches. Cook about 3-5 minutes on each side or until brown. You can also use the oven broiler. *I put tomato on the sandwich after it was cooked. Slice each sandwich in half. Top with fresh basil. Serves two.
A panini press or grill is nice to achieve grill marks. But two skillets or oven broiler can achieve the toasted grill imprint, sort of. The crunch of the soft but crispy bread, gooey cheese and creamy tuna with bits of goodness are well, good (especially if you use premium ingredients). It’s comfort food with a wholesome twist. Serve with a green salad. A scoop of chocolate gelato spread on top of a whole grain honey graham cracker (open face or a sandwich) paired with iced tea or coffee will complete this scrumptious Mediterranean meal to love.

 — Cal Orey, M.A.  is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee, and Tea) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.)  Her website is www.calorey.com .

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Healing Powers Series Author Loves Plums and Pears

Fresh fruit in May at Lake Tahoe isn’t as fruitful as it is in the summertime. However, finding sweet fruits, including plums and pears, can be done. These two favorites can make a sweet English-style fruit crumble like the Brits favored because the sophisticated dish is uncomplicated to make...

During one May visit to the South Shore, before I became a local, the unpredictable weather like in Hawaii or Alaska, was an introduction to how meals and plans can change in a heartbeat. My sibling and I were en route to having a picnic on a sandy beach. But due to a thunderstorm we had to resort to plan B. “We can eat sandwiches and fruit while watching the rain at the Lake,” I offered, thinking the novelty of winter-like weather in the spring was exciting even while sitting in the car.
The funny thing is, years later I forgot how this month can be cold one day and warm the next. Last weekend I purchased fresh fruit to make cold fruit salad. But it snowed. So, that is how I switched things up and my fruit (not as flavorful and juicy like it is in the summer) morphed into a warm dish.

Plum and Pear Crumble
Serve crumble with coffee
3 plums, cored, peeled, chopped
3 pears, cored, peeled, chopped
1 apple, cored, peeled, chopped
1/8 cup (each) brown and granulated sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 lemon cut in half, all the juice

Crumble Topping
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 stick European style butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
¼ cup old-fashioned quick oats (not instant)
½ cup walnuts, chopped
Whipped cream or ice cream (choice depends on the weather)
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl put chopped fruit. Add sugar, flour, cinnamon, and juice.  Mix well. Set aside. In another bowl, combine butter, sugar, oats, flour. and nuts. Dish fruit evenly into ramekins. Top each with crumbly topping. Bake approximately one hour. (If you live in high altitude it may take a bit longer.). It's done when crust is golden brown and fruit is tender and bubbly. Best served warm with a dollop of whipped cream. Serves four.

Making a plum tart or apple pie in May seems a bit off, but creating simple fruit crumble dishes works whether it’s chilly or not. The oatmeal makes it crumbly not sugary like a fruit crisp. Served warm with coffee for breakfast or cold with iced tea for dessert definitely works. Come summertime repeat with blackberries or rhubarb. It’s a sweet and comfort food from nature’s finest for life in the mountains and guaranteed to please whatever Mother Nature decides to do.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Chef's Salad with a 21st Century Twist

Enter the popular Chef’s Salad. It’s an all-American favorite like apple pie. The traditional salad  also called Chef Salad includes meat, poultry, cheese (sliced julienne style), hard-cooked eggs, and salad greens. Some food historians believe the mixed green salad derived from our health-conscious Golden State. Others believed it was created at a fancy restaurant in New York City.

As a kid, during warm months my mom made this salad for our family. My first Chef’s Salad included turkey, ham, iceberg lettuce, and dressing. It was paired with a bread basket full of French bread and pats of butter. On weekends, my mom took extra time and care into slicing the cold cuts into fancy thin rectangles and created yummy homemade Thousand Island dressing. But if it was a side dish on the weekdays it was a simple vegetable version tossed together with bottled French dressing.
Years ago when a neighbor invited me—the health nut vegetarian--to a bar-b-que I brought salsa, tortilla chips, and marshmallows for roasting. The guests weren’t thrilled by my goodies or the raw grilled shrimp and warm vegetable pasta salad. I remember I said, “I should have made a Chef’s Salad with lots of meats and vegetables. That way, we’d all be happy.” Due to clash of personalities which started with a cold war of meat eaters versus vegetarian, I snatched my bag of unopened marshmallows, went home early and made S’mores in the microwave.
As a wannabe vegan in the Sierra, half the time I’m a vegetarian. So here is a version of the Chef’s Salad with a South Shore meatless twist.

Health Nut Vegetarian Chef’s Salad

2 cups spring mixed greens (the darker, the better)
1 large Roma tomato, sliced
¼ cup cucumber, sliced
¼ cup celery, diced
¼ cup green or red bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons red onion, sliced (optional)
2 tablespoons black olives, sliced (optional)
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, shelled
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, sharp, sliced
2 teaspoons each chives and scallions, minced
½ cup mayonnaise with olive oil
1 teaspoon ketchup
1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
1 teaspoon onion, chopped (optional)
Ground pepper to taste

In a large bowl, place a bed of greens. Toss in salad ingredients. For dressing, in a small bowl, whisk ingredients and put in fridge until serving. The salad serves two to three. (Carnivores can substitute cheese and seeds with ¼ cup turkey, ¼ cup ham, chopped, and 2 tablespoons bacon, crumbled.)

A Chef’s Salad, like this one, is good for everyone. Offer both salad dressing types to be on the safe side. Serve with local, fresh warm French bread slices (with olive oil to dip), and a bowl of berries for dessert. This dish is versatile and can be a slimming one or not—if piled with too much meat and dressing. However you dish it up I promise that it’ll keep your guests from fleeing. For dessert, offer apple pie and you can’t go wrong. Well, serve a bowl of fresh berries, too, to cover all bases.