My interests have shifted over time. For example, when I was very young I remember telling some judgy adult I wanted to be a doctor. That velleity only lasted a few minutes, but I also wanted to be a ballerina and an actress (thank goodness that didn’t last!) and later, a documentary filmmaker under the deep blue sea, a poet, a novelist, a singer-songwriter, a nail artist, a real artist, and others.
Mixed up in all this, as well as the confusion of going to college and thinking I was cured of all body-image and food-related thought traps, it makes sense that I often forget I like to make recipes. I only did this one yesterday because I was suffering an extreme terror over having to meet a friend today and having to make sure I got enough exercise… After doing some yoga, I made up this random recipe for a no-bake brownie cheesecake that just happened to turn out post-able, if not magazine-photogenic. Of course, my interests nowadays lean farther away from baking and more towards marine conservation…
Above: “Pserudobiceros gloriosus (flatworm) on Polycarpa aurata (Seasquirt)” by Nick Hobgood (see bottom of page for full credits)
I was thinking of titling this post “Berry Turbellarian Brownie Cheesecake,” or “Chilled Flatworm Brownie Delight,” in reference to how utterly flat this layered dessert turned out (food often reminds me of marine animals.) But despite the delightful colors of some turbellarians (free-swimming as opposed to parasitic flatworms) I didn’t think that would be a great title for a recipe (after all, I don’t want to encourage people to take flatworms out of their natural habitat in order to enjoy them in dessert recipes!) So here is the flatworm-free Summer Berry Brownie Cheesecake, which I made in the shape of a square field but which might work out better in a smaller container so as to make the layers thicker and easier to cut and eat (and photograph.) Enjoy!
No-Bake Summer Berry Brownie Cheesecake
*Note: I recommend doubling the whole recipe so it makes a thicker layer of brownie, or you could put it in a smaller pan/container)
- 1/2 cup pure cocoa powder
- 1 tbs white sugar (or use your favorite type of granulated sweetener; this is just all I had in the house at the moment)
- 5 tbs milk
- 2 squares of a solid, dark chocolate bar (I used the store brand “Signature Select” 72% cacao dark chocolate with almonds and blueberry)
- 1 container Chobani Pure Raspberry “Flip” whole milk Greek yogurt (or your favorite thick Greek yogurt, preferably the type where the yogurt and fruit sauce are given separately)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar (of your choice)
- 1 Laughing Cow light creamy swiss cheese triangle
- 1 cup fresh, washed blueberries
Line a brownie pan, bread pan, or a gaggle of muffin cups with aluminum foil.
In a medium bowl, combine cocoa powder, 1 tbs sugar and milk.
Melt one square of chocolate and mix the melted chocolate into the brownie batter.
In another medium bowl, combine just the yogurt (not the fruit-syrupy stuff) with 1/4 cup sugar and 1 Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss cheese triangle. Mix gently with a spoon; try to blend the cheese into the yogurt instead of chopping it into isolated cheesy morsels.
Knead the brownie dough/batter/stuff until it is thick and mostly contingent (it will never stick together). As best you can, press it onto the foil in your pan like a holey crust.
Break the remaining square of chocolate into little chunks and sprinkle them to fill the holes between brownie batter splotches.
Pour the yogurt cheesecake mixture over the brownie crust. Use a spoon to gently spread it evenly.
Drizzle the fruit syrup over the yogurt and gently mix it in with a spoon.
Distribute the blueberries evenly on top.
Refrigerate overnight and enjoy cool.
Full image credit for flatworm image:
“Pserudobiceros gloriosus (flatworm) on Polycarpa aurata (Seasquirt).” By Nhobgood Nick Hobgood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_Free_Documentation_License
It has been a bountiful summer as usual! Plums glisten in the produce aisle and strawberries tempt and tease from their little plastic baskets. I decided to combine these two flavors – plus a few more – in an unusual summer smoothie celebrating the harvest with frozen and dried fruits.
Summer Harvest Smoothie
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 cup plain almond milk
- 1 container Chobani brand plum flavor Greek yogurt
- 1 packet strawberries and cream flavored instant oatmeal
- 4-8 frozen strawberries
- 1 single-serving box of Sun Maid brand raisins
Place all ingredients in blender except oatmeal and raisins. Blend until smooth. Add oatmeal and raisins and blend for five additional seconds. Pour smoothie into a glass. Enjoy!
A geologist would have quite a time with these layered brownies. After tasting the snowy vanilla surface and taking some samples of the lusciously fruity cherry swirl, shoveling deeper reveals dense, rich brownies without a trace of flour. Colorful fossilized sprinkles abound, making this journey to the center of the dessert a real celebration.
If you’d like to participate in this fascinating excavation, come along and make this brownie frozen yogurt sundae creation! Start with the decadent brownie base…
…And layer the frozen yogurt “snow” on top, with a swirl of cherry jam in lieu of maraschino cherries!
I might recommend adding some edible foliage, such as fresh strawberries or pitted cherries, just before serving. Enjoy!
Click here for the full recipe: Celebration Sundae Brownies
I have never tried a conventional, ice cream shop banana split. However, I was once attracted to a certain recipe in a kids’ recipe book I had years ago, claiming it held the key to discovering “Breakfast Banana Splits.” However, upon reading over the ingredients, I was disgusted to find that this recipe claiming to be a dessert-like breakfast, was full of gross “health food” such as cottage cheese in place of ice cream. Really, who would be satisfied with lumpy regurgitated yogurt instead of a creamy vanilla frozen concoction? So I never made that recipe.
Still, the idea of a banana split that was healthy enough for breakfast was tempting. While this one I made recently strives to include only healthy ingredients that one might eat for breakfast (pudding being the only questionable one here) there is no cottage cheese to be found. In other words, it strikes the proper balance between great taste and texture, and great nutrition packed with protein and calcium. The banana is “fried” in pure, organic honey for a cheater’s “caramelization” method that’s easier and less fat than the traditional butter and sugar.
I found the flavor of this dish to be classically delicious, however to vary things up a little I might suggest adding crunchy cereal as a topping, trying pineapple chunks instead of/as well as strawberries, and maybe trying chocolate yogurt instead of pudding for a possible sugar reduction.
This recipe makes a lot, so I might suggest sharing with some friends!
Breakfast Banana Split with “Caramelized” Banana
- one medium-large banana
- 1 tbs honey
- 1 container Greek vanilla yogurt (I used Dannon Light & Fit Toasted Coconut Vanilla yogurt)
- 1 single serve container chocolate pudding
- 8 fresh strawberries
- 1 tbs chocolate nut butter of choice
- 1 tbs cherry jam
- 1 tbs sweetened flaked coconut
- 1 tbs dried cranberries
Freeze the yogurt and pudding for 30-60 minutes.
Once yogurt and pudding are frozen, but still somewhat soft, prepare all ingredients: wash strawberries and remove stems and leaves, then cut them into small pieces; peel banana and cut in half lengthwise, then cut each piece in half if desired; measure out/prepare all other toppings.
Spray a pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place banana on pan. Heat to medium. Spread some honey on one side of each banana piece. Rotate and spread honey on the other side. Rotate again after cooking a few minutes. When both sides of each banana piece have browned, remove from heat.
Place bananas in bowl/bowls. Scoop frozen yogurt and pudding on top. Add strawberry pieces. Top with a drizzle of honey, a swirl of chocolate nut butter, a spoonful of cherry jam in lieu of maraschino cherries, and a sprinkling each of coconut and cranberries. (Note: imaginative topping or yogurt/pudding flavor variations welcomed!)
Grab your family for a satisfying and balanced dessert/breakfast/hot day refreshment!
Wouldn’t it be nice to spend the holidays on a tropical vacation? I can just feel the white sand under my toes, smell the sea breeze and feel the sun’s sweet kiss on my skin as the song “Mele Kalikimaka” massages my ears, and my friends and I exchange beach treasure and conch shells as presents… but the reality is, not everyone can be in a tropical paradise in mid-winter. For one thing, those plane tickets aren’t cheap. And for another, a tropical island wouldn’t be paradise anymore if every square inch of sand was taken up by rowdy tourists pushing for dear life to win the race to the last hotel with a vacancy.
So some of us must resign ourselves to several months of gray gloom to preserve the peace for the few each year who may escape.
I live in California, so winter isn’t that big of a deal for me – no snow to shovel, and temperatures rarely drop below 58 or 60. But it is depressing when the fresh fruit section in the grocery store narrows down to the few varieties that can stand the winter: great homogenous mountains of pears, every make and model of apple in existence, big bins of oranges – and that’s about it, at least as far as local stuff goes. Even the exotic fruits imported from distant lands of year-long sunshine look a little sadder and droopier than they do in the summer – or is that just me?
These delicious, fruity muffins are bursting with the flavors of summertime, a tropical escape in particular. But they contain no fresh fruit. The whole wheat muffin base and luscious melty chocolate is complemented by pineapple chunks from the frozen aisle and dried strawberries, blueberries, and cherries.
But don’t you lose so much nutritional value, subbing out fresh fruit for frozen or dried? you ask. I used to think the same thing, and tried to use fresh fruit in my baking as much as possible. But many nutritional experts agree that you get the same or comparable nutrition when you have your fruit dried or frozen.
With dried fruit, there are some trade-offs: since a basic piece of dried fruit is just a piece of fresh fruit with the water drained out of it, what you’ve got is a more densely concentrated nutrient powerhouse. You can get the same fiber, antioxidants, and calories from a smaller volume of dried fruit versus fresh fruit.
But we don’t always want every bite to be laden with several times as many calories, and furthermore there is some speculation that certain nutrients are reduced from the process of drying the fruit. So it’s best to maintain a varied diet with some dried fruit and some fresh. (By the way: when choosing dried fruit, look for a brand that doesn’t add any sugar.)
As for frozen fruits and vegetables, there’s really no significant difference from the fresh – in fact, if anything the frozen stuff can be healthier for you. Ripe produce is richest in nutrients. But a lot of times, the fresh produce at the grocery store isn’t fully ripe because it was picked before it fully matured to prevent it going bad before reaching the merchandise shelves. This is especially likely when the fruit must travel long distances, for instance out-of-season products from exotic shores.
Frozen fruit companies don’t have this issue, since the fruit is frozen, iced and slapped in a truck or plane to make its journey to the grocery store. Therefore, farmers can allow the fruit to become fully ripe and delicious before picking and packaging it without losing a profit.
Needless to say, sometimes there’s just nothing better than to sink your teeth into a plump, juicy, uncompromised fresh peach, or plum, or get the satisfaction of carving a real pineapple and watching the sweet juice run down your fingers as you take that first, wild and wonderful bite. But don’t count on it for the next few months!
Chocolate Pineapple Cherry Berry Muffins
based on recipe from Allrecipes
makes 12 standard size muffins
- 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 3 tbs Truvia Baking Blend
- 2-1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1 cup plain almond milk (or other milk of choice)
- 1 container Yoplait Greek 100 Calories Tropical Fruit flavor yogurt
- 1 cup frozen pineapple chunks
- 2/3 cup dried berries/cherries mixture (I used Safeway Kitchens brand Dried Berries and Cherries)
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used Nestle’s Toll House original Semi-Sweet Morsels)
- 2 tbs sweetened flaked coconut
- 2 tbs chocolate hazelnut butter
Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Line a standard-sized muffin tin with 12 muffin liners.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, Truvia Baking Blend, baking powder, and salt. Mix.
Beat in the egg. Add the almond milk and yogurt. Mix just until combined.
Stir in pineapple chunks, dried fruit, and chocolate chips.
Spoon batter into 12 muffin liners, distributing evenly. Bake at 375 Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle flaked coconut on each muffin, and drizzle with chocolate hazelnut butter. Bake for another 13 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean (mine baked for a total of 23 minutes.)
Nutritional Information Sources: (very informative articles on dried vs. frozen vs. fresh fruit):
Image credits (for non-muffin images; all muffin images are my own) (in order of appearance):
On my Israel trip this past summer, one of the most ambitious items on the itinerary was the Masada climb. We rose at 3 AM – not hard to do when you’re sleeping in a tent full of bugs and bodies – piled onto the bus in a drowsy haze of yawns, sleepy greetings, and too-loud Israeli pop music, and pulled up at the foot of a mountain that seemed insurmountable, a menacing peak towering towards the dusky heavens. I was sure the task of hiking it was impossible.
But we did it anyway – all the way up, just in time to see the sun rise: a once-in-a-lifetime view.
The hardest part was actually climbing all the way down without slipping. Everyone in our group got a little ticked off when we reached the bottom – only to discover that the restaurant where we were to have breakfast was a little ways back up the mountain. We would have to fight gravity yet again if we wanted some long-awaited sustenance.
I told the group leader, truthfully, “I’m glad I climbed all the way down the mountain. It was an experience.” It so happens it was also very hot and sweaty. When we reached the restaurant, the last thing I was craving was a hot breakfast of cooked eggs and steaming scalloped potatoes. In fact, I stared perhaps a moment too long at the case of Magnum ice cream bars before getting in line for the buffet.
To tell you the truth, ice cream in the morning is nauseating. However, I think AM frozen yogurt is just peachy. And after conquering a seemingly impossible goal, after testing the limits of one’s own strength and physical and emotional endurance, a little bit of an indulgence is in order.
This treat fits the bill for an active morning reward: a delicious strawberry cheesecake frozen treat composed of ingredients which, each on its own, wouldn’t cause most health nuts a moment’s pause before consuming it for breakfast. Whole grain graham crackers, protein-packed light Greek yogurt, vitamin-rich fresh strawberries, peanut butter as a healthy fat and agave as a low-GI sweetener. A totally unobjectionable breakfast. That happens to look like an ice cream sandwich! A perfect example of why you can never judge a book by its cover.
Just freeze the yogurt for 45 minutes to one hour to achieve a soft frozen yogurt texture, rather than that awful rock-hardness that can result from putting regular yogurt in the freezer for two long. Then throw it all together and you’re set! Enjoy rewarding yourself.
Super Protein Breakfast Fro-Yo Sandwiches
makes 2 sandwich squares
- 2 honey flavored graham crackers
- 8 strawberries
- 1 container Dannon Light & Fit Greek 80 Calorie yogurt, Strawberry Cheesecake flavor
- 1 tbs creamy peanut butter
- 1 tsp agave syrup
Place container of yogurt in freezer for 45-60 minutes.
Cut up your strawberries – I did this with some variety, making some little diced morsels and some round slices.
When yogurt has become soft-frozen, break each graham cracker in half. Place two halves on desired serving bowl/plate. Top with diced strawberries.
Remove yogurt from freezer. Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, spoon frozen yogurt on top of graham crackers and strawberries.
Top with remaining graham cracker halves.
Arrange remaining strawberry slices around sandwiches. Spoon peanut butter on top graham crackers. Drizzle agave over the whole mess.
And now, for the last and tastiest step – grab a spoon and dig in!
I’ve made individual layer cakes several times now, inspired by a recipe I found on The Pancake Princess. One cake fantasy I’ve been mulling over in my head for a while now is a sort of reverse red velvet cake: red velvet flavored frosting and a cake flavor that compliments red velvet, such as vanilla, that would typically be found as the frosting on a red velvet cake.
Elli Quark Red Velvet yogurt cheese makes a perfect, delicious and low-calorie shortcut to obtaining a red velvet icing. To make things more interesting, I incorporated pineapple into the cake, and topped each dainty darling with fresh pineapple and a kiss of coconut flakes! The delicate flavors of this cake really come out when it is served cold. I imagine it would compliment a tropical tea party very well, as it is pink to match the tablecloths and lacy doilies, and the fun tropical flavors would jive well with the native flora on a tropical island!
Pineapple Coconut Red Velvet Layer Cakes
makes 3 individual layer cakes
- 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/4 cup Truvia Baking Blend
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- pinch cinnamon
- 1/4 cup plain almond milk
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1 tbs pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup pineapple chunks (reserve some for topping)
- one container Elli Quark brand Red Velvet cheese (found in the yogurt section of stores such as Whole Foods Market)
- 1 tbs sweetened flaked coconut
- reserved pineapple chunks (see above)
Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
Spray a Wilton Coil Cakes Mini Cakes pan or other jelly roll pan generously with non stick spray.
In a medium bowl, combine dry cake ingredients. Mix. Add wet ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined. Add in pineapple chunks (but reserve a small amount for topping!) and stir.
Pour cake batter into prepared pan.
Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for about 8 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes.
After cake has cooled, carefully remove from pan and place on desired serving plate. Cut each individual cake into thirds.
Spread Elli Quark on one third of each cake. Then top with another third, spread Elli Quark on top of this, and top with the remaining piece of cake and some more Elli Quark. Place pineapple chunks on top, and sprinkle with coconut flakes.
Repeat this process for the remaining two cake rectangles.
Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve chilled.
Looking for a tasty summertime treat that fits into your healthy diet? Need to find a gluten-free sweet snack for kids, guests (or yourself) after a sizzling barbecue? How about something easy and simple, with only six ingredients? What if I told you I have unlocked the secret to fulfilling all of those qualifications – and more?
These cute little cubes of frozen deliciousness are easy to make and gluten-free (though to be completely certain you might want to sub out the Dreyer’s ice cream and Snack Pack puddingI used with certified gluten free brands, if you are allergic.) The no-bake dough (the “bread” of the sandwich) is made with just three ingredients: almond flour, Truvia baking blend, and best of all, smooth, creamy peanut butter that packs in the irresistible salty flavor as well as protein. Then, the three-ingredient filling is made in an ice cube tray to make it super simple to just mix the ingredients, freeze, then pop the orderly rectangular prisms of ice cream out of the tray and onto the dough. Freeze again and enjoy!
Biting into one of these sandwiches is like a throwback to those nostalgic childhood days when lunch was all about pb&j. At the same time, it feels delightfully new, since the essence of pb&j has been retrofitted into a fun and unique frozen method of consumption: two squares of salty, nutty dough separated by a rich and refreshing blend of Dreyer’s vanilla Yogurt Blend, decadent butterscotch pudding, and a swirl of strawberry jam. Please note: they may be small, but there’s a lot of filling protein packed into that little package, and I found them quite satisfying – it was hard to believe I felt so full after such a petite treat!
***Note: I found my recipe made more ice cream filling than the amount of dough I’d made to go along with it. So I suggest doubling the dough recipe. (Amounts given here are for my original recipe.)***
Gluten Free PB&J Ice Cream Sandwiches
makes 6 small sandwiches
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup Truvia baking blend
1/4 cup almond meal/flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand)
1 cup Dreyer’s brand Vanilla Yogurt Blend (or other vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream)
1 Snack Pack brand individual butterscotch pudding cup
2 tbs strawberry jelly
Leave ice cream/frozen yogurt out for several minutes to soften it.
In a small bowl, combine the dough ingredients. Mix well.
Spread this mixture out onto a pan or flat surface of some kind (I used a Wilton Coil Cakes pan; you could use a jelly roll pan or square casserole dish, etc.) Place in freezer for several hours.
Meanwhile, combine ice cream/frozen yogurt, pudding and jelly in a small bowl. Gently blend with a spoon. Do not blend completely – let there still be swirls of the different flavors.
Pour/spoon the ice cream mixture into ice cube tray, filling each cube as far as it will go. Freeze for about six hours.
To assemble the sandwiches, remove dough from freezer and cut into 12 equal squarish shapes. Then lift 6 squares off the cutting surface, trying to keep the general shape (it will not be completely firm) and place in desired frozen storage container. (I put little squares of foil on the storage container for each sandwich to make them easier to remove.) Place one ice cream cube on top of each square. Top with another square of dough.
Freeze for another three hours or until firm. Enjoy!
When my mom was a baby, she had a cute, wiggly pink nose like a bunny’s (according to what I’ve been told – I wasn’t there!) As a result, she was nicknamed Bunny. As she got older and developed other interests, she subsequently garnered more and more nicknames, each reflecting her current animal interest at the time. But the name Bunny endured throughout all those time periods, and even today her family members call her Bunny in alternation with her real name.
It’s no surprise that my mom was somewhat bunny-like in her youth, since her mom is practically famous for her carrot cake recipe. Besides her chocolate swirl cake, it is one of her most-requested cakes for birthdays and occasions. If I was a bunny, I’d sure be glad to have a mom that was so good at making carrot cake!
This carrot cake smoothie would be the perfect treat for a carrot-chomping bunny who wanted a sweet, refreshing libation during the heat of summer. It’s a bit of a sugar rush – probably not good for hyperactive animals who would be bouncing off the walls anyway! I might suggest replacing the vanilla almond milk with plain almond milk and maybe a touch of vanilla or agave, and letting the fresh/frozen banana, tangy pineapple, and sweet navel orange sweeten the smoothie without the help of too much added sugar.
But aside from that, this smoothie was really splendid: a rich, sweet body made of blended fruit and creamy almond milk that reminds me of cake frosting (only more interesting) is emblazoned with delightful chunks of carrot cake and embellished with a topping of coconut, cranberries, and an orange slice just for style. Slurp it up it as a “guilty” breakfast treat or sip your sinfully scrumptious dessert in the alfalfa garden, watching the bunnies hopping around in the summer evening and pitying them because all they get are boring plain carrots.
Hop to it! Make this recipe now – you deserve a treat.
Fruity Carrot Cake Smoothie
- 1 banana, fresh or frozen
- 1 single-serving carton Silk brand vanilla almond milk
- 1/2 cup pineapple chunks, fresh or frozen
- 1 medium-large navel orange (reserve a segment for topping if desired)
- 2 Weight Watchers brand Carrot Crème Cakes
- ice cubes (use more if you used fresh fruit, and less if you used frozen fruit)
- 1 tbs sweetened flaked coconut
- 1 tbs dried cranberries
- 1 segment of orange, if desired
Place banana, almond milk, pineapple, orange (except segment reserved for topping) and ice cubes in blender. Blend until smooth.
Break one of the Carrot Crème cakes into several pieces and drop them into smoothie. Blend for about ten seconds.
Break the second cake into pieces and blend only for a second or two to distribute the big cake-y chunks throughout the smoothie.
Pour smoothie into desired serving glass. For topping: cut a slit in the center of one orange segment, and use the slit to arrange it at the edge of the glass. Sprinkle coconut and cranberry on surface of smoothie.
Pop a straw in this scrumptious sweet drink, and slurp it all up!
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What do you do to celebrate summer? My family always makes a list at the beginning of the vacation of all the quintessential summer activities our family must do to fully enjoy the summer: swimming, movies, museums, zoos, and aquariums are typically on the list. Yesterday we checked off one of our favorite semi-local aquariums by making the treacherous journey through extreme traffic to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. The trip was definitely worth it as we learned a lot of amazing things. My brother was particularly fascinated by their new exhibit, “Wonders of the Deep,” where a selection of midnight-zone marine monsters lurk. He urged me to do a blog post about it, and I happen to be interested in sea creatures myself, so here we are.
The deep-ocean exhibit contains the first jellyfish touch tank I have ever seen, in which visitors can gently feel the bells of harmless moon jellies (They’re so delicate I was more afraid of hurting the creatures than of their weak stinging cells!) Another highlight is a model whale carcass being scavenged by real abyssal scavengers (which are fed real meat and just hang out on their grotesque playground.) There is also a tank that includes giant deep sea isopods, which basically look like pill bugs or lice except the size of your forearm. Does this exhibit sound enchanting to you yet?
One of the cutest things in the exhibit, and the one my brother insisted upon returning to twice and stared at with a greater attention span than I thought he had in him, is a cylindrical tank full of chambered nautiluses. They gape out with their primitive eyes and pump their siphons to swim in whimsical backwards circles, often bumping into one another on the way but never seeming to be too phased by the collision.
When we visited the nautilus tank for the second time, an aquarium staff member was poking around in there with a long grasping stick. At first we were afraid she had to remove one of the animals, but it turned out she was feeding them shrimps. When her work was done, we asked her some of the questions that had been sparked in our minds by the sight of the alien creatures. She was more than happy to chat and the conversation kept expanding, elaborating on more of nautilus biology than I’d ever dreamed I’d learn by visiting the aquarium. For instance, it turns out the chambered nautilus is pretty easy to sex: if it has three long, curling tentacles on the left side, it is a male. Otherwise, it is female. The friendly staff member even took us behind the scenes to the mating tank where serious couples were given some space to be lovers. Here I had the opportunity to feed a dead shrimp to a diffident marine cephalopod. Unfortunately, the creatures didn’t seem to be hungry – or maybe they were trying not to spoil their appetites for their dates later that evening, because my crustacean offering was ignored. Even so, it was neat to catch a glimpse both of how the aquarium is run and how life is 2,000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface.
above: abalone, an unrelated, non-deep-sea gastropod
I’ve always been interested in the ocean, but somehow visiting the aquarium feels especially appropriate in the summertime. I guess summer = beaches = ocean = marine biology? Anyway, there’s lots of things I find just aren’t as fun to do when not done in summer. Eating fresh veggies is obviously one of them: there’s just so much variety and so much better quality of everything available right now. So I decided to take advantage of all the fresh produce while it lasts with a lasagna that’s as quintessentially summer as the beach.
This lasagna is truly a celebration of summer: it is bursting with the fresh produce that abounds this season, from vitamin-rich sweet mini peppers to zucchini, high in vitamin C as well as potassium and with some nourishing fiber. To make it more satisfying and less sinful, I used whole wheat lasagna noodles, which taste just as good as the refined carb-laden regular noodles but provide more fiber and a slightly heartier, nuttier taste. If you are a cheese lover, (and don’t mind upping the calories and fat content a bit), I might suggest doubling the amount of feta cheese I used in this recipe as it provided only a slight hint of cheese. Overall, this lasagna turned out wonderfully and made for a great light, yet satisfying midday meal to enjoy in the July sunshine. And I didn’t have to try and feed it to any uncooperative invertebrates either! (Do nautiluses eat vegetables?)
Gotta get your summer veggies and fruits while you can, because before you know it it’ll be all pumpkins and apples! Here’s one way to enjoy them:
Summer Veggie Lasagna
based on recipe from myrecipes.com
makes 4-8 servings (one 8″ square pan)
- 4 uncooked lasagna noodles (I used Eating Right brand Whole Grain Pasta lasagna noodles)
- 2 cups tomato sauce (I used Ragu brand)
- 1 cup fresh baby spinach
- 1/2 cup feta cheese (I used Lucerne brand reduced fat)
- 1 whole large zucchini
- 1/2 orange skin yam or sweet potato
- 5 large sweet mini peppers
- 1 whole shallot onion
- about 1/2 cup hot water
Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.
Prep the veggies: first wash everything. Rip the spinach into little bits. Then microwave the potato until it is warm enough to slice in rounds and cut each round in halves or quarters. Slice the zucchini into halved rounds as well. Cut off stems of mini peppers and dice them. Peel and chop shallot onion.
Layer ingredients in your baking dish. Mine was a bit messy because I don’t really know the proper way to layer lasagna, but here’s what I did in order from bottom of the baking dish to the top: about 1/3 of total tomato sauce spread evenly on bottom, covered by 2 noodles broken to fit in dish, sprinkled with cheese and spinach pieces. Over this I added rows of zucchini and yam slices, broken up by handfuls of peppers and onions. I spooned some more tomato sauce over this. Then I covered that mess with the other two noodles, again broken to fit in the dish, sprinkled with the rest of the cheese and spinach, which in turn was covered by the rest of the veggies and the last of the sauce. Here’s a basic visual of my sloppy attempt at layering lasagna if you wish to give it a go:
2 lasagna noodles
2 lasagna noodles
Anyway, once you’ve figured that out, pour 1/4 cup hot water around inside edge of baking dish. Then cover dish with two layers of aluminum foil.
Bake at 375 Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Then add another 1/4 cup or so of hot water around inside edge of baking dish, just to make sure lasagna noodles soften. Cover and return to oven for another ten minutes. Then, remove aluminum foil cover and bake for another ten minutes, uncovered.
Remove from oven and allow lasagna to cool for ten minutes before serving.
Serve with a sunny smile!