Every July brings the agonizing decision of what kind of cake to make for my birthday. I make cakes, cupcakes and cookies for friends here, so everyone was asking me if I was making my own cake this year. My answer? “Of course I am!” This is my one chance to make exactly what I want, instead of what everyone else wants. The problem is that there are so many options. One of my favorite things to do is read cake blogs and cookbooks. (What? That’s not normal?) I would love nothing more than to bake and eat every cake I read about, but I’m a dietitian and always have a nutrition tally running through my head. Plus, I don’t even want to know how many miles of running with Archie that would require. It’s way too hot here for that and even he doesn’t have that much energy.
Colin loves to remind me that “the lowest calorie salad is the one you don’t eat.” It’s not that Colin does not like vegetables, or salad for that matter, but he thinks a salad is not worth eating if it does not taste good. To his credit, salad can easily fall into the “not worth it” category. Think back to all of the salad bars you’ve ever been to at buffets or dining halls: tasteless iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, croutons, ranch dressing. It’s really not that appealing. But, being a dietitian and someone who grew up eating lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers grown in my mom and grandpa’s gardens, I love salad. As you can imagine, telling Colin that we are having salad for dinner does not always go over well. Luckily, he knows that pretty much anything I make will be good, so he doesn’t complain too much.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t tell Colin what was in this dressing the first time I made it. He was wary enough about chicken Caesar salads for dinner and I didn’t want to scare him off completely by telling him that the salad dressing was made with cashews. I have to admit, I was even a little hesitant myself. I’ve always looked for healthier options for creamy dressings, I love them, just not the calories, but I wasn’t sure if cashews would significantly change the flavor. Plus, I couldn’t find raw cashews (of course) so my only option was roasted.
As predicted, Colin and I both loved the dressing and the salad for dinner. I had warned him it was not a traditional Caesar dressing, but he didn’t comment on the “apparent” cashew flavor until after I told him what was in it. (I think if I had been able to use raw cashews like the recipe calls for, he would not have noticed.) To me, this dressing tastes exactly like Caesar dressing should: creamy, tart, slightly salty and nutty. It’s excellent on a traditional Caesar salad, but we love it for side salads or any random salads we come up with using leftovers in the fridge. Using cashews in the dressing makes it lower in calories than it’s traditional creamy counter part and it has lots of healthy fats from the cashews, rather than egg yolks or mayonnaise. I’m happy to say I finally have a creamy salad dressing I can feel good about eating.
There are a few short weeks in February when Colin and I debate about how many boxes of Girl Scout cookies is a reasonable amount to buy. Sadly, no matter how many boxes that ends up being, they never seem to last long enough. Hence why I’m writing about Girl Scout cookies in July. But, we don’t just argue about how many boxes to buy. We also disagree on which cookie is the best. My favorite has always been Thin Mints. Colin’s favorite are Samoas (or, where I sold Girl Scout cookies, Caramel Delights). I have not always liked Samoas. Actually, I remember avoiding them when I was younger. Most of that dislike came from my dislike of coconut. Now, coconut is a flavor that I am slowly starting to love. I don’t know if it’s because we live on a tropical island, or if it’s becoming more of a food trend, but it seems like everything comes in coconut flavor here. And, slowly but surely, I find myself ordering the coconut option more and more.
I love seeing the words “bring a dish to share” on an event invite. Some people may dread them, but I think it’s a perfect excuse to try out a new recipe or bake something I’ve been craving without having to eat all of it. I usually just want one serving, (two if I’m being honest) but not 30. Luckily, I seem to get invited to potluck style events all of the time, so I have a lot of opportunities to try new things. This week, thanks to my daily email from Tasting Table, I had been craving key lime pie. And, as luck would have it, I needed to bring something for a party at Colin’s office.
Spaghetti squash has already had its’ moment, or maybe moments, of food star-dom. It first became popular when everyone gave up carbs as a substitute for pasta and made a comeback when those same people swore off gluten a few years later. But I’ve never liked it as an alternative to pasta. To me, spaghetti squash is sweet, like most other squash, and smothering it in tomato sauce doesn’t make it shine. I’d always been on the lookout for alternative ways to utilize spaghetti squash when I came across this recipe a few years ago in my (then) new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Intrigued by the flavor combination, I figured I should give it a try.
Sweet potatoes are one my favorite foods. Besides being an excellent source of Vitamin A and many other nutrients, I love the sweetness they lend to so many dishes. I learned, while researching for our move to Okinawa, that sweet potatoes are a large part of the Okinawan diet. If this wasn’t exciting enough, I realized that Okinawa doesn’t have the orange variety we are used to in the U.S., but the purple variety, called beni-imo.
For those of you who don’t know me, I should explain. Purple is my favorite color. By favorite color, I mean, my life is purple. My phone, laptop, suitcase, even baking supplies in my kitchen–it’s all purple. So the fact that Okinawa has purple sweet potatoes, well, I knew my life was never going to be the same. Okinawans love, and have created, beni-imo everything. Ice cream, Kit-Kats, pastries–if something can be flavored, it will be beni-imo and it will be purple. It’s delicious and amazing and makes me love Okinawa that much more.
Our food adventures in Seoul, South Korea were too delicious and fun to fit into one post. If you haven’t read about the first part of our trip, you can do so here.
Coffee at Beansbins
Not wanting to miss out on the thousands of coffee shops around Seoul, we started off our morning at a coffee shop next to our train station. It’s a local chain with lots of fancier coffee options as well as a whole menu of waffles. We didn’t try the waffles, but they all sounded good (waffles topped with ice cream? Yes please!) I had gotten an Americano the afternoon prior and ended up with a mocha latte in the morning, thanks to a language barrier. It was good, even though it’s not what I wanted, but I liked Colin’s honey latte a lot more.
Morning snacks in Insadong
I was so excited to go to Insadong to walk around the stores and eat some street food. As I mentioned earlier, Seoul is late to wake up and that was obvious when we arrived at 10am to closed stores. Luckily, we didn’t have to wander for too long before everything started opening up. Our first food stop was for these hilarious pancakes.
Seoul, South Korea has been on my Oki Travel Bucket List since we moved here. Unlike a lot of the other travel destinations in Asia, Seoul is only a 2 hour flight away from Oki. After spending a couple of months apart, Colin and I decided it would make for a perfect weekend getaway. All of our friends had wonderful things to say about Seoul and gave us great tips on where to stay, what to see and which restaurants to try. We fit a lot of fun into our weekend in Seoul, including a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) tour, sightseeing at palaces and a little shopping. Being the food lover that I am, one of the main highlights of the trip for me was the food. The Korean food we had was excellent, but we were also staying in Itaewon, the International district, so we were able to enjoy some of the foods we miss from home too.
From Korean BBQ to Mexican tacos, you’ll find our food itinerary below with a brief description and as much information about to how to find the restaurant as possible. All of these opinions are my own, but I encourage you to try any of these restaurants if you are traveling to Seoul. We loved them all!
Dinner at Maple Tree House
One of the things that has been hardest for me to adjust to while living in Okinawa is the inability to get ingredients when I need them. In America, I could go to a grocery store and expect to find everything on my list. If the store didn’t have what I needed, although an inconvenience, I could stop at a different store to get it. In Okinawa, this is not always the case. The on-base grocery store, called a commissary, carries most American products that you could want, but not many specialty ingredients. Sometimes, I can find the items at off-base grocery stores, but due to cultural differences with food and the fact that we are 5,000 miles away from America, this is not always the case. The commissary, and every on-base store, commonly runs out of things (the running joke is that they will never have something in stock when you actually need it) so it is common to see Facebook posts asking where people have found certain ingredients off-base.
A few months ago, a coworker of mine requested I bring something with Nutella for a small get together we were having. Not wanting to pass up an excuse to bake, I willingly obliged. There was only one problem. I didn’t have many quick recipes in my repertoire that included this delicious hazelnut, chocolate spread.
It didn’t take much brainstorming for me to become fixated on the idea of Nutella cheesecake bars. I love changing anything from its primary form into a bar, like cookies, pies or cakes, because it’s so much faster. Usually, one type of batter gets dumped into a pan, bakes all at once in the oven and, once it’s done, you can cut it into as many individual servings as you need. It’s the perfect option for baking in a pinch, or in my case, after a long day at work.