Noodles the Healthy Way

vietnamese noodle bowlThin, clear rice noodles … a bed of mixed greens, lots of fresh raw vegetables, tofu, maybe some sliced meat, peanuts, fresh herbs and a very light oil-free dressing. Ahhh … a meal from Vietnam-heaven made for warm summer nights!

We have nothing like Vietnamese cuisine in Helena — unless we prepare it at home. I wish wish wish we had a place to grab a bowl of pho or one of these scrumptious noodle bowls. The first time I had pho was in Portland when I was visiting our son, Gabe. Subsequent visits to Portland then had to include either a noodle bowl or pho. Recently I visited some friends in Missoula who like preparing Vietnamese meals and they inspired me to try some at home.

I bought a bunch of amazing herbs, veggies and other greens from our friends’ garden and from the River Farmer’s Market Hmong farmers. All I had was a vague idea of what goes into the sauce for a noodle bowl, so I looked around for recipes, found a few that I tweaked and combined to suit what I had on hand, and came up with one of the most delicious dinners I’ve ever had. Totally worth trying. Totally easy. The most time consuming part is cutting up the veggies.

Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with Chicken and Tofu

Here’s the recipe I came up with:

Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with Chicken and Tofu

INGREDIENTS

  • lots and lots of mixed greens (mustard greens, different lettuces, arugula, spinach, beet greens, mizuna)
  • rice noodles, softened with boiling water (as per directions on package)
  • 1 cup extra firm tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 2 T. peanut or canola oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1/2 chicken breast
  • 1 T green curry paste
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 inch ginger root, sliced
  • 1 sprig each: fresh mint, basil and cilantro (for the broth)
  • 1 carrot, sliced thinly or julienned
  • 1/2 cup green beans, very lightly cooked (al denté)
  • 1 cup mung bean sprouts
  • 1/4 cup each red and yellow bell peppers, julienned
  • 1/2 cup crunchy cucumber, sliced
  • roasted unsalted peanuts
  • lots more fresh mint, basil and cilantro (for the top of the noodle bowls)

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup broth from cooking the chicken
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1T. fish sauce
  • 1T soy sauce
  • 2 T sugar
  • juice of 1 or 2 limes (cut two wedges for garnishing the noodle bowls and use the rest for the sauce)
  • 1T rice vinegar
  • sweet chili sauce to taste

PREPARATION

Prepare the meat: simmer chicken breast covered with water and seasonings (fish sauce, soy sauce, green curry paste, ginger root, a sprig each of the fresh mint, basil and cilantro, white or yellow onion, 2 whole green onions.) About 20 minutes. Remove the meat when it is tender and cooked through. Strain the broth and discard all the herbs and onion. Reserve the broth.

Prepare the rice noodles: bring water to boiling, remove from stove and add rice noodles. Cover and let sit until barely tender (do not oversoak or the noodles will be slimy and limp.) Strain and rinse noodles with cold water. Strain again and set aside.

Prepare the tofu: after cutting the tofu into small cubes, sauté in hot peanut oil with garlic until browned and crispy on the outside.

Prepare the sauces: mix all sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender until the sugar is dissolved.

Prepare the veggies: do all veggies in separate small bowls, so you can make the noodle bowls beautiful when you put them together. Marinate the carrots, cucumbers and whole green beans in the light vinegar sauce while the meat is cooking.  Slice the remaining green onions really thin. Get your bowl of mixed greens rinsed, spun out and chopped. Slice the bell peppers. Put those in a bowl. Put your mung sprouts in a bowl.

Assemble the noodle bowls: I used large Asian bowls since the noodle bowl was our entire meal and we like lots of fresh greens for dinner. First put in a very large amount of chopped fresh greens. I seasoned the greens with a little of the sauce. Then put in a big handful of cold rice noodles, pouring a little more sauce over the noodles. Next comes the fun part.

Arrange all the different veggies, tofu and meat over the greens and noodles. (You can let people put their own veggies, etc, on according to their tastes) Pour the remaining sauce over all. Then garnish with roasted peanuts, cilantro, basil, mint, slivered green onions, and a wedge of lime. Serve with chopstick and/or a fork. Enjoy.

Yummo!

NOTES:

  •  Thanks to these three sites for the recipe inspiration: Flourishing Foodie; Omnivorous; and Low Fat Vegan Chef.
  • You can make this with meat or without. If you are vegetarian poached eggs are delicious protein with the noodle bowl. If you are vegan, skip the fish sauce too.
  • I loved using a mixture of lots of different greens, but if you want just spinach or lettuce, that’s delicious too.

Summer Garden Painted Tiles

Painted Tile by Maureen ShaughnessyAhhhh…. summer is truly here in Montana. As usually happens, we’re having a cool rainy June. I’m looking forward to July, when our tomato and basil starts finally take off and put on some real growth! Last night we had a caprese salad with pinchings (prunings) from the baby basil plants. I can hardly wait for the tomatoes! yummo

In the meantime, I’m satisfying my desire for colorful garden beds and borders, by doing some wild and crazy teeny tiny paintings. These glazed tiles are so much fun to paint. Plus it’s been kinda cool to have people come into our little gallery and ask to buy them. Below is what the tile looks like framed:

mini painting on tile

So … I decided to offer these for sale. At incredibly affordable prices ($15 or $25) for these mini-artworks. If you are interested in these, go to the Brown Bird Studio Facebook page (below) and take a look at the gallery. I’m trying to keep the album updated as I paint more tiles, noting the sizes prices and whether they have sold or are still available.

Enjoy the colors! I hope these make you smile.

mini painting on tile
Mini Painting by Maureen Shaughnessy

Art Camp for Two

Last week, my young friend, Grace and I invented our own “art camp.” She stayed with me for four nights and we had 3 full days of creative fun. I sure hope we get to do this a couple more times this summer. Hanging out with young people fills my cup, especially when they are as enthusiastic about life and learning and creativity as Grace is. It was super cool that we got to do so many projects and have some adventures just the two of us. Actually, it was three of us — Charlie came along too.

I promised Grace I would teach her how to make a blog post, so I am going to leave the DIY tutorials until she comes back for our next art camp. In the meantime, here are some photos of some of the things we did and made:

Butterfly Heart Swarm by Grace

Painted Tiles

Girl swinging Grace and Charlie

Documenting our Discovery of Ladyslipper Orchids

painted tiles

  • ThaiSaladRollsWithDippingSauce
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  • ThaiSaladRollsIngredientsWaterEarthWindFire
  • Spring Rolls with Crab
  • ShamanChocolateChunkCookies1-imp
  • Pork Spring Rolls
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Healthy Low-Calorie Spring Rolls

ThaiSaladRollsWithDippingSauce

I love taking spring rolls to potlucks or serving them at gallery receptions. They are as healthy as the ingredients you roll up inside the rice paper wrappers. They require no cooking (unless you opt for vegetarian rolls with steamed spinach — or my favorite — shredded chicken breast marinated in a soy-sesame-ginger dressing.) Anyway, I for this batch, used pre-cooked crab so they were super easy to make.

They’re also unusual at potlucks, so likely to be a big hit. And if there are any leftovers, they’re great for lunch the next day if you wrap them tightly so they don’t dry out.

ThaiSaladRollsIngredientsWaterEarthWindFire

Get all of your ingredients ready before you start rolling these. Once you get the hang of rolling them tightly, assembly goes quickly. There are different ways to roll spring rolls: two open ends, one open end (as in the photo at top) and closed ends (as in a burrito.) See the notes at the bottom of this post for some links that show how to roll spring rolls.

HEALTHY SPRING ROLLS

INGREDIENTS

  • Rice Paper Wrappers
  • Cucumber, peeled and cut into long pieces (I cut the cuke in half crosswise, then seed it, then slice about 1/8 inch thick slices
  • Cooked Crab, Shrimp or Chicken Breast (for chicken breast instructions, see below this recipe)
  • Leaf Lettuce, washed and spun dry in salad spinner
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • Fresh Basil
  • Green Onions (I use just the green part in the rolls, reserving the white ends for my dipping sauce)
  • Thin Rice Noodles, cooked according to directions, then marinated for about 10 minutes in a soy-mirin dressing, and drained til dry. Cut the noodles into small pieces

PREPARATION

  1. Prepare all of your spring roll fillings ahead of time and set on kitchen counter on plates
  2. Fill a large flat container with warm water. This is used to soften your rice paper wrappers, so the container needs to be large enough to accomodate the size wrappers you have. I used 12 inch diameter wrappers, and a 12″ stainless frying pan for my water
  3. Dip each wrapper in the warm water for just a couple of seconds, hold over the water to drain excess water off of the wrapper, then lay it on the counter. (I do two wrappers at a time)
  4. Assemble the fillings in the middle of the top half of the wrapper. I put down the meat and cilantro first because whatever is on the bottom of your pile of filling is what will show on the outside of the wrapper and I think that makes it look pretty.
  5. Put down one piece of crab or a couple of shrimp, a green onion, a couple sprigs of cilantro, some basil leaves, a slice of cucumber, a dab of rice noodles then a large lettuce leaf, torn in smaller pieces.
  6. Fold the bottom half of the wrapper up over the top half, then work from one side and tuck/roll tightly until you have a nice tight roll. The lettuce and green onion can stick out of the top of the roll.
  7. Repeat until you have rolled all your wrappers.
  8. If you have trouble with the wrappers not rolling you may not be waiting long enough for the wrapper to soften before trying to roll it.
  9. If you have trouble with the wrappers tearing when you roll them, you may be putting too much water, or waiting too long and they get too soft, thus tearing. Experiment until it comes easily, because if you do this process enough it’s something you can do in your sleep.
  10. Cover the spring rolls with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. Serve soon after you make them.
  11. Make the dipping sauce. enjoy!

ThaiSaladRollsWaterEarthWindFire

DIPPING SAUCE:

  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 T coarsely chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
  • 1 T sugar (or to taste – some like it sweeter)
  • 1/2 tsp. sesame oil (optional)

Combine all ingredients and let sit for a few minutes. Serve in small bowls or tiny plates.

Pork Spring Rolls

Here’s a variation on spring rolls … I used leftover grilled pork chops sliced very thin. I rolled these “burrito-style,” with both ends closed, and cut each roll in thirds.

NOTES AND LINKS

Chocolate Chunk Cookies with a Toddler Tweak

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My young friend, Meria was about 3 years old when I recorded her instructions for baking cookies. That was a couple of years ago.

She had just finished helping her mom make chocolate chip cookies and I asked her to tell me the recipe so I could record it. She was exuburant in the telling, to say the least. I love listening to her on this recording (translated below.) The other voices on the recording are mine and my friends voices, Brenda’s and Tiffany’s (Meria’s mom.)

If you have trouble getting the recording to play, try clicking the volume button on the right a couple of times. Also wait a second after clicking the start arrow — it takes a sec to load. 

Ready set go! First you roll roll roll. And you smash smash smash. The cookies are circles. And we make little pieces squish apart.

Fat cookies for big kids and fat cookies for big people. You don’t put m&ms, you put chocolate chips on them.

(Meria kept getting distracted by the needle on the recording device …)

After you make the cookies into circles, you make make make make, then put them in the oven. After they are in the oven you eat them!

(Bit of a discussion about sharing …) Let’s just share. Once I cook them, then I’ll share. I don’t share to boys. I share to girls. I’ll share with Mr. T (one of her favorite adult guys) I’m going to share with Mr. T! I’ll share with Gretchen, and you (Brenda) and you (Maureen) and mom and the new baby.

That’s how you make my cookies! — Meria

I made the cookies pictured above last week and offered them to gallery visitors over the weekend. They disappeared pretty quickly. My recipe is a slight variation on the traditional Toll House chocolate chip cookies. I add twice as many nuts (pecans) as called for in the recipe, decrease the sugar by 1/2 cup, triple the vanilla, add organic coconut flavoring and I use chunks of Extra Dark Shaman Organic Chocolate instead of chocolate chips. These are so scrummy.

My New Favorite Season: Spring Near Yellowstone

Hearing robins singing has always been my first sign of Spring.

River with Birch Leaf

We’ve tried to arrange for our shamanic study group to meet in Montana, our home-ground, for almost 20 years. Well, they came this spring! Yay!  And I kinda think everybody pretty much fell in love with Montana’s beauty and wildness. Yellowstone Park, the Yellowstone River and Paradise Valley to be specific.

It’s been a long time since I have visited Paradise Valley and Yellowstone Park in springtime. Starting when my sons were little, we camped in Yellowstone but usually after school was out for the summer, or in the fall. I’d always heard about the incredible spring surge of baby wild mammals and birds there, but I’d never experienced that awesomeness until this retreat. Fall was always my favorite Montana season. I’ve changed my mind, though.

My new favorite season? Spring-near-Yellowstone. Yes. That is a season. Springtime-near-Yellowstone. Not just plain old Spring.

In early May, Mother Earth is waking up in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Waking up in a big way:

  • Her trees sure woke up — fast! In just a couple of days, before our eyes, the aspens and cottonwoods dressed their bare branches in mists of green, then fully clothed themselves in designer-leaf-garments.

Spring Aspen by Matt Lavin

As spring days grow warmer, Earth’s sacred waters awaken. Snow melts. Soft rains come. Rivers swell and fill their banks. The water covers sand bars, willow thickets and ancient boulders. Listen to the sound of a small stream feeding a big river and notice the beauty filling your heart:

Afternoon River Reflections

During the night the land sleeps. Mists cover the bottom of Emigrant Peak in the Absaroka range. With sunrise, the clouds lift to reveal a snowy shawl on the mountain’s shoulders and, as the day warms, her shawl unravels into rivulets that feed the swollen river. Earth’s sacred waters take many forms.

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Mother Earth is waking up with babies. Every kind of wild-fertile-life-explosion-of-exuberance baby: bison calves, wolf cubs, fox kits, fawns, elk calves, gopher kits. Eaglets, goslings, osprey chicks and kildeer chiclets. A hatch of mayflies and a hatch of trout fry, bunnies, ducklings, loonlets and grebelets.

Elk Cow and Calf

Birds mate, nest and raise a brood. Or they just pass through, feeding all around us – energy for the journey.

  • A grebe mother floats by with a brood of grebelets on her back. Two of them are just behind, tucked up against her tail as close as they can be, in the wild, rising waters.
  • Yellow-headed blackbirds sing their water-in-the-throat-joy
  • Dusk brings the chortling call of sandhill cranes, their color that of deer, goose and fallow field
  • Canada geese stand on a snag midstream, high water all around them, calling their distress in not-quite-unison
  • White pelicans glide downriver — a silent line on invisible rolling air-hills
  • Mama eagle brings home a snake, then a rabbit, a duck, a fish — she’s a good provider
  • Nuthatch, woodpecker, chickadee, siskin, finch —  the timbre of bird-song in a meadow swells to a symphony of beats, noise and vibrant texture
  • The cottonwood grove where we met around a fire, is alive with aspen-catkin-fluff dancing in the air to the rhythm of bird-song
  • Above our heads, baby gracklets (made-up-word-warning) strain their wobbly necks from a hole high in an old snag. Their begging calls must fill the parent birds with urgency — bring more bugs! Bring more bugs!
  • A red tailed hawk screams hoarsely from across the flooding river — an osprey answers at dusk

YellowHeaded Blackbird

Our Earth is sacred. There are some places on Earth I can more easily feel and experience that sacredness. The Yellowstone ecosystem is one of those places for me. It is holy ground.

Just for fun, I found some recordings of some of the birds we saw and heard during our retreat. Listen here:

Sandhill Crane

Pine Siskin

Osprey on Nest

Mountain Bluebird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

NOTES:

CREDITS:

  • The River ©Eddie McHugh
  • Recording of American Robin from Slater Museum
  • Aspen Catkins photo ©Matt Lavin
  • River Reflection ©Maureen Shaughnessy (me)
  • Snow Clouds Cloak Emigrant Peak ©Maureen Shaughnessy
  • Elk Cow and Calf ©Maureen Shaughnessy
  • Yellow-Headed Blackbird ©Michelle Lamberson
  • Bird Calls are from Xeno-Canto.org
  • Recording of Pole Creek is by Maureen Shaughnessy

Just Want to Teach Art-love nd Nature-Love

Boys holding their artwork

I just want to teach art-love and nature-love to kids

I don’t want to get
a teaching certificate
I don’t want to go to art school
I don’t want to leave Helena
I just want to teach kids about
art … that they can make beautiful, powerful art
that changes people’s lives
I just want to teach kids about
nature … that they are part of what’s all around them and
help them truly feel that in their hearts
I just want to help them discover
that they have the soul of an artist and
the soul of a tree or a mountain
inside each of them
literally. that everything is inside and they are in everything.

That’s all.
Am I asking too much?

 

Kids are usually just so enthusiastic about whatever it is they are doing. Loud. Silly. Engaged. Adventurous. Brave. Profound. Empathic. Helpful. Wise.

And even when they seem like they are bummed and struggling, as one little girl did this morning … I can usually coax them out of their shell, even if I can’t always do that for my own self.

As with lots of things I commit to doing … sometimes just before it’s time I get the willies — aka known as “cold feet.” I’m just not in the mood. I think. Maybe I’m overthinking it. Because when I make myself go and do it, I usually have a blast. I get energized. I am in my element. I get in the zone, the flow. Of sharing my gifts. Of connecting with young hearts.

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And, if I can help them be happy, rounded, confident, generous lovers of all of life, then I have done something good.

So … that’s what I want to do with the rest of my days.

Oh. And make my own art.

And see it hanging on people’s walls.

Love,

Maureen

Budding Artist

Ema Explains her Mixed-Media Technique

Ema Blue spends Wednesday afternoons with me at my studio. She is my unofficial “gallery assistant” and art student. She dusts Tim’s furniture, sweeps the sidewalk, takes Charlie for a walk, fetches me coffee from across the street, and makes lovely sidewalk chalk signs in front of the gallery. Ema is 11 years old.

Ema is meticulous, creative, precise, funny, cheerful, interested, respectful and persistent. I enjoy her company immensely and I truly look forward to Wednesdays.

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For the last few weeks, Ema has worked steadily on a mixed-media artwork. Inspired by the image transfers some of my women friends and I made during one of our Girls Art Nights, Ema started with some image transfers onto a canvas, then used water-soluble colored pencils and collage to complete her piece. I’m always impressed when a young person can sustain interest in a project over a period of days or weeks, and she did on this piece. She finished this one yesterday.

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I will write another post soon with my thoughts on the image transfer technique we used, and how to enhance the transfers with other media to create something lovely. Hope you enjoyed seeing Ema Blue’s artwork. Please let her know what you think/feel about her painting by leaving a comment below. Thank you!