Portobello and Kale Pizza Bake (low-carb, vegetarian, low-calorie)

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by Julie Ruble at

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Portobello and Kale Pizza Bake
Portobello and Kale Pizza Bake

Quick & Easy Sides: Roasted Carrots and Asparagus with Garlic-Lemon Aioli

Their faces shriveled up like little raisins, puckered with panic and surprise. Even though the 7th graders kept their angst non-verbal (ah, they’re growing up!), the mere mention of the deadline for their first research paper was obviously producing epic inward groaning.

That’s when we had to have our talk, and I’m about to have the same talk with you. The truth is, I need this advice as much as anyone reading this right now: you don’t have to stop being afraid, but stop letting that fear stop you.

I get why they’re scared. We’ve been building up this essay for months to try and ensure they won’t be That Kid. You know That Kid (maybe you were That Kid?): the one who doesn’t read the project sheet, does all his or her “research” by playing Crystal Gemz Stackathon on Facebook, and “writes” his or her whole paper the night before by copying and pasting it off of Wikipedia. No teacher wants to read That Kid’s research paper. So we instill a healthy dose of respect for the project.

The thing is, my students are already work-conscious. In fact, a few of them are perfectionists. For those kids, that healthy dose of respect quickly turns to anxiety. What if they don’t get the hang of the research paper? What if it’s too hard for them after all? What if they can’t think of what to say?

They lose sight of the truth: in terms of day-to-day work, this project is just like any other that we do. We start it together. We do mini-lessons about each relevant skill. We have workdays in class where I confer with them. They might have a 30- to 45-minute portion to do at home each night based on what we started in class. We adjust our schedule based on our class needs. They email with questions and I answer them. The truth is, this is just another 7th grade assignment. The only thing different is the impression of newness (“we’ve never done a research paper before”). The unknown creates fear.

Fear in itself is not bad. There’s no reason to try to extinguish rational fear. The fear of falling keeps us from getting too close to the edge of a cliff. The fear of hurting someone we love might remind us to watch our words and actions. The fear of failing a test might prompt us to study. Or actually do our homework and work on our research paper. Ahem.

For some of my students, though — those select few — the fear feels like more of a foreboding mountain to climb than the beginning of an inspirational adrenaline rush. They stand at the base with tangled rope and freezing hands, feeling alone and unprepared. The fear obscures all the work we’ve done to bring them to this point and all the footholds set out before them.

Have you been there? I’m there right now in some ways. God brought me to this moment for a reason, but which path do I choose now? How do I begin the big things I want to accomplish?

I’ll tell you (and myself) what I tell my students: don’t forget the big picture — check in with it now and then to make sure you’re on track — but start with baby steps. You can’t see how to get to the top of the mountain, but if you break it down into just what you have to do first, maybe that task will feel more manageable to you and you’ll sit down to untangle your ropes. After that, maybe you’ll focus on tying your knots. After that, maybe you’ll be ready to take one step up the slope.

Each step builds momentum. Each word written on your document is one piece placed in the puzzle of mastery. And in a few days, before you realize it, you’ll be standing on the summit — or, in their case, holding their first finished research paper in their hands.

* * *

One of the many, many baby steps I’m taking in my life right now is to start cooking dinner more often. And I have discovered, like so many of you, that roasted veggies are about the best things ever. Toss ’em in some olive oil with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (and depending on the day, maybe some chili flakes and/or lemon juice and/or other goodies) and bake ’em until their crispy. One of my new favorite ways to eat roasted veggies is dipping them into this easy, tasty Garlic-Lemon Aioli. I love it on everything, and it takes about 20 seconds to whip together while the veggies are in the oven. Enjoy!

What big project are you afraid to tackle? What baby step could you take today?

One year ago: Super Bowl Munchies from Willow Bird Baking
Two years ago: Three Delicious Ways to Celebrate World Nutella Day
Three years ago: Strawberry Walnut Ricotta Muffins

Roasted Asparagus

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking

This side dish can be whipped up in 20 minutes total, and it’s so delicious! Make sure your asparagus are not overlapping or touching too much as they bake, because you want them nice and crispy.

1 bunch asparagus with dead ends trimmed off
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup mayonnaise (pick your favorite brand, but obviously, you should use Hellmann’s)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss trimmed asparagus with olive oil and spread out on two baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, tossing once, or until roasted and crisp. Keep an eye on them, because asparagus with different thickness than the thin ones I used could take more/less time. Serve asparagus hot with garlic-lemon aioli for dipping.

Roasted Carrots

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 2 servings

Roasting carrots brings out their gorgeous natural sweetness. Just like with asparagus and other veggies, make sure your carrots are not overlapping or touching too much as they bake, because you want them nice and crispy.

about a pound carrots with tops trimmed off (I don’t peel mine — just scrub them clean)
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss trimmed carrots with olive oil and spread out on a baking sheets (try not to overlap the carrots or have them touching too much — you want ’em to get crispy!) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for about 30-35 minutes, tossing once, or until roasted and crisp. Keep an eye on them, because carrots with different thickness than the ones I used could take more/less time. Serve carrots hot with garlic-lemon aioli for dipping.

Garlic-Lemon Aioli

Recipe by: Adapted from Giada DiLaurentis
Yield: 3/4 cup aioli

I usually serve this aioli as a dip for sweet potato fries, but I’ve recently discovered it’s delicious with all vegetables. It’s livened up my roasted veggie nights considerably!

3/4 cup mayonnaise (pick your favorite brand, but obviously, you should use Hellmann’s)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix mayonnaise, garlic, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use. Feel free to garnish with any fresh herbs you like — basil or thyme would be nice. Serve with warm roasted asparagus, carrots, or sweet potato fries.

Fresh Open-Faced California Sandwich

This past weekend I attended the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, California, 2,700 miles away from my home. Traveling alone is always a meaningful, reflective experience for me, and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing vignettes that I hope are meaningful to you, as well.

. . .

“Can you tell we’re tourists?” the gossamer-haired man asked the woman at the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) information desk after she guided him through the process of purchasing a ticket. He chuckled toward his smiling wife, and they walked over toward the ticket machine.

I walked up to the information desk, wondering if I was about to annoy the attendant by asking a question she’d already been asked a hundred times this morning. Like everyone else I’d met so far in the Bay City, though, she cheerfully offered detailed advice. With some help from the tourist couple who’d gone before me, I successfully purchased a subway ticket and stepped onto the escalator to descend into the rumbling belly of the city.

After a posing a few more clueless questions to kind San Franciscans, I stepped onto a BART train and settled into my seat with a self-congratulatory sigh. We sped off only to hear a robotic voice a few seconds later announcing the next stop: “Montgomery.”

Oh. Montgomery? I looked at the map on the wall. I was trying to head to the Mission area to visit the gorgeous, iconic Tartine Bakery. Montgomery, however, was in the opposite direction — toward Oakland across the bay. Once again I turned to a stranger. “If I’m trying to get to 16th and Mission–” I began.

“Oh, you’re headed the wrong way,” she said with a smile. “You needed the train on the other side of the tracks.” It suddenly dawned on me that of course the trains, like cars, would go in two different directions. I felt a little sheepish.

“Oh, thanks! I guess it’s a good thing I realized after only one stop,” I said.

“Definitely. You’re fine. You’re not under the water yet!” she replied.

Her reassurance at once comforted me and alerted me to an alarming fact that I hadn’t considered about the trains: they go under the water. Under the San Francisco Bay. Seriously? I could hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, “What if there’s an earthquake while you’re under there?!” I jumped off at the next stop and changed trains, relieved that I didn’t have to go under the water until I visited Oakland later in my trip.

A couple of hours later I stood at a bus stop, blissful after devouring a frangipane croissant, a gruyere and black pepper gougere, and a Mexican Coke at the communal table in Tartine. I hurriedly grabbed $2 out of my pack as the bus pulled up, but I had the good sense to pause on the bus steps and ask, “Do you head toward Lombard?”

I expected the bus driver to wave me onto the bus, impatient with silly tourist questions, but again, I was met with generosity: “Oh, you want the 22 that runs on the other side of the street.” He pointed to the bus stop across the way. A kind man at the bus stop confirmed the bus driver’s words, “Just wait over there and another bus will be along in a moment.” Buses, it seemed — like trains! and cars! and everything else, Julie! — ran in both directions. Since you might be wondering at this point, I promise I’m not dumb.

I walked across the street, once again redirected by the kindness of others.

Are you plowing ahead on your own power lately? Personally, I never grew out of that independent toddler stage of life — the one where you’re constantly insisting, “I’ll do it myself!” There’s nothing quite like being alone in a strange city across the country from your home to break you of that intransigence, though.

I found my way to Tartine and then up to the Golden Gate Bridge on Friday because I was willing to accept the generosity and support of others. (And if I hadn’t found my way to Tartine, what a tragedy that would’ve been!)

Reach out for help when you need to. You don’t have to handle everything alone. And hey, you’re not under the water yet.

. . .

What better way to kick off my California posts than with a gorgeous open-faced California Sandwich? It’s just as healthy as it looks, but don’t worry — it doesn’t lack a thing in the taste department. In fact, it’s one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever made in my kitchen. It’s a fresh, tangy combination of flavors that you just feel good eating. I made it on sourdough bread, which I love — and how appropriate for all this talk of San Francisco.

Was there a time in your life when you’ve had to break down and accept the help and kindness of others?

Fresh Open-faced California Sandwich

Recipe by: Adapted from Ezra Pound Cake
Yield: 2 open-faced sandwiches

This quick sandwich is cool and refreshing. The bright California salad is comprised of tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, and avocado bathed in lime juice. It rests on a tangy chive spread and a thick, toasty slice of sourdough bread. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the finished product was considering how little effort went into assembly. This sandwich would make the perfect lunch or light dinner.

Chive Spread Ingredients:
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper, to taste

California Salad Ingredients*:
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1 tomato, cored and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
Squeeze of lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste
*This makes enough salad for 4 sandwiches, if you wanted to put a smaller amount on each, but I really heaped it on. I wanted more salad and less bread per sandwich. Yum!

Other Things You Need:
2 slices of thick sourdough bread
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts

Make the chive spread by mixing the yogurt, mayonnaise, chives, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside. Toast the 2 slices of bread in toaster or in a buttered skillet over medium heat. Lay these out on a plate.

Make the California salad by tossing avocado, tomato, cucumber, lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Spread each slice of bread with half of your chive spread and pile on half of the alfalfa sprouts. Then top with half of the California salad, piled high. I ate mine with a knife and fork and considerable enthusiasm.

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