I always loathe the return to normal programming that follows each holiday season. The holiday carols, the traditional family foods, twinkling lights and the celebratory gatherings of friends and family vanish, only to be replaced by…trips to the gym and drastic reductions in wine and cheese intake.
I’ve also never quite been one to follow through with my attempts at New Year’s resolutions- to save more money, to lose more weight, to do the myriad things I berate myself all year long for not doing sufficiently or satisfactorily. I find that resolutions often come in the form of deprivation or overly-regimented counting, of pennies, of calories, of miles, followed by self-loathing, guilt, and general negativity when we inevitable fail...and all at a time when we should feel flush with renewed vigor and enthusiasm for the bright new year ahead of us.
So this year, I have made a new kind of resolution: to step off the revolving resolution hamster wheel altogether. To step away from fad diets, to refuse to limit myself to only liquids or commit to extremely restricted eating impossible to sustain beyond thirty days, and instead to cherry pick the most healthful options from all meal plans to form the most realistic culinary lifestyle possible and built sustainable habits for the entire year, for the next five years, ten years. To stop trotting away mindlessly on the treadmill at the gym for set periods of time on specific days, and to instead spend more time outdoors, inhaling Montana’s crisp clean air; to remember to take walk breaks during the workday and to take Moose up into the hills on the weekend to stretch all of our legs. To make meals that nourish my body, without thought for “good” or “bad” foods. To celebrate the small victories. To focus on the positive. To take time for myself. This includes taking the time to look away from the emails and the bombarding phone calls each day, to allow myself ten minutes to re-energize and relish my midday meal, before diving back into work for the remainder of the day.
To celebrate this “resolution,” of sorts, I began the first full workday of the year with this lovely baby kale salad. This salad is topped with silky avocado, sparkling red grapes, crunchy cucumbers, and earthy ‘shrooms, it is light and practically fruity in flavor. A tangy miso and lime vinaigrette blasts the entire bowl with that umami flavor we all love, and Mediterranean-marinated chicken kabobs add some juicy protein to the mix.
Assembling office lunches. I am incredibly fortunate to work in an office that boasts a kitchen fully stocked with utensils, knives, cutting boards, and the like, and invites employees to prepare their snacks or lunches at the office rather than encouraging them to simply run out for a fastfood meal. So, at the beginning of each week, I typically bring in a bag of greens and a small tupperware of firmer vegetables (cucumbers, yellow or red peppers, carrots) to slice and include in salads throughout the week. Items like avocado or fruits that perish quickly I will bring in on a given morning. I also try to roast or grill 8-10 pieces of some sort of protein to use for salads (me) or sandwiches (Adam) for the week. Boneless chicken thighs marinated in some garlic, herbs and vinegar are a favorite. I keep a handful of spices and condiments in a wicker box under my desk: sea salt, turmeric, cinnamon, powdered ginger, honey, olive oil, champagne vinegar. I also keep jars of maple almond butter (perfect for eating with crackers or apple slices), dijon mustard, tobasco, and white miso in the office fridge.
Miso. Miso paste is a Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans (and sometimes barley, rice, buckwheat, millet, hemp, or other starch) with salt and the fungus kōji. It has a sweet, rich, salty, umami flavor similar to soy sauce- but better. Due to the fermentation process, miso contains a variety of beneficial cultures that can be cooked out at high temperatures. For this reason, miso should always be added last, once a dish a cooled slightly, and should also be refrigerated to preserve the microorganisms and avoid foodborn illness. I love miso, and use it generously in my cooking: marinades for fish or poultry, for braising vegetables, in misoyaki and in dressings, like this one. Miso serves as a wonderful base for dressings: simply citrus (lemon or lime are delicious), add a bit of honey (to even out the saltiness), and some olive oil or water (to counteract both), stir to combine.
For this salad, I had not prepped any lunch items, as we had recently return from a quick trip to Banff the night before. I picked up these Mediterranean-grilled chicken skewers at the natural grocer down the street from my office. I imagine this recipe is similar, though I have not tried it. I chopped and assembled the salad in the office kitchen, and ate while reviewing some documents for an upcoming project. Multitasking with miso!
Miso Lime Kale Salad
three cups baby kale
one half avocado, sliced
1 crimini mushroom, thinly sliced
small bunch seedless purple grapes (fifteen or so), halved
1-2 scallions, sliced
2 chicken skewers*
1 teaspoon white miso
1 teaspoon olive oil
juice from one half fresh lime
one small clove fresh garlic, finely diced (optional)
drizzle of honey
Assemble the salad ingredients (minus chicken) into a large plate or bowl. Set aside.
Stir together miso, olive oil, lime juice, garlic and honey in a cup. Season to taste; may need to add a bit more of any of the ingredients, depending on the strength of your miso and the size of your lime.
Pour over salad and toss. Top with chicken skewers.
*Chicken breast or thighs can easily be substituted for skewers, as could grilled tofu, flank steak, or even roasted vegetables – any other topping with vaguely garlicky flavors.