Sunday, January 20, 2013

Peas Please!


First off, let me say "thank you" to all of the well-wishes (is that a phrase?) and words of support and encouragement for my new venture/direction (detailed in my last post).  I'm grateful for all those who beleive in me, even when I sometimes doubt myself.  Gratitude is something I'm working on, slowly coming to - it's not my go-to reaction.  For most of my life my go-to reaction, instead of being grateful for what I did have, was wondering why I didn't have more.  That certainly doesn't make for much ease, peace, love or joy, I'll tell you that.  There is some pretty neat research being done in the field of Positive Psychology that shows a direct correlation between gratitude and happiness.  Years, ago, no lie, I would have scoffed at this idea, "knowing" for certain that gratitude came from happiness (and happiness came from things, of course), not the other way around - but, as you know if you've been reading any of this blog, BIG CHANGES ARE AFOOT!!!!  (and it's clearly not just about food - wow!)

Southern Sweet Pea Salad

"Sufferin' Succotash!"  No wait, succotash has, like, lima beans in it, doesn't it?

If you don't know this already, I'm a teacher, and I live in Virginia.  The "real" Virginia, mind you, where health food and wellness are not major priorities for a lot of folks.  While we're by no means the worst state, we're far from the picture of health - 15th most obese in the nation, with an obesity rate of 29.2% (see map below).  That's just the obesity rate and doesn't include include overweight - nationally the two of those combined are about 66% of the U.S. population.  (And let's be honest here, the only reason we're not as bad as say Louisiana or Mississippi (with over 34% obese) is because we have so many "fake" Virginians in our state, i.e., the slimmer, cosmopolitan, exercising and more health-conscious residents of the DC area and Northern Virginia).

This "realness" is often reflected in the food choices presented to the teachers at my school.  We have faculty coffees once a month where teachers from different departments supply brekfast to the rest of the faculty.  While there are often decent choices, usually fruit, there's still a preponderance of the stuff everyone likes, even if it's pretty unhealthful - croissants, doughnuts, cheese-potato-egg-sausage casseroles, bagels, chicken biscuits, etc.  The first day of school this year was a pefect example.  Our administration provided breakfast for us: biscuits, eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes.  This time there wasn't even any fruit.  I walked in, fresh from a summer of eating rather healthily, thinking at least I'd get a plateful of fresh fruit, say that table and thought "Great, "Welcome back to school, guys!  Here, eat all of this food that will KILL you!"  Yeesh."  I think I ate one biscuit, drank some bottled water and cut my losses.

We have a great PTSO (Parent-Teacher-Student Organization) at our school that also feeds us occasionaly: for conferences, Teacher Appreciation Week and the like.  I've actually noticed that the food they've been serving us has taken quite a nice turn toward the healthful.  There's still barbecue and Wayside fried chicken and all the other greasy southern goodies, mind you, but more and more over the past two years, there have been some really great veggie dishes that I've soooo appreciated.  This recipe is one of those.  This actually came from the annual holiday luncheon that our guidance department throws for the staff.  In years past I would GORGE myself at this lunch.  "Free food, heavy, rich, salty and delicious - are you kidding me?  And a table full of chocolate chip cookies for dessert?  Let me shove as much as I possible can into my mouth!"  Ah, food addiction.  But, I digress, back to the veggies...

Here's the recipe as it was given to me by the person who made it for the lunch:

1 can LaSeur small young peas. drained (there are store brands of these, too)
1 can white Shoepeg corn, drained
1 cup chopped onion (sweet, like Vidalia)
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green pepper

1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Mix veggies in a bowl, mix dressing separately.  Combine and let sit for at least a few hours (if not overnight) in the fridge.

I decided to call it Southern Sweet Pea Salad, becuase this dressing combination, an oil/vinegar with sugar seems pretty popular in the south, but I altered it while, I think, still keeping the taste the same.  My dressing is as follows:

1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp (or one 2g (.07 oz.) packet) Stevia (powdered)
salt and pepper to taste (definiltey NOT 1 tsp of salt)

A note on the Stevia - I've just started experimenting with this stuff.  I've used it in liquid form (I bought this one) in a pumpkin cheesecake (recipe coming soon) and I've used the powdered form in this salad recipe.  It seems like a pretty great replacement for sugar in baking recipes (though I've not tested this out), and it seems pretty good from a health standpoint.  They sell it everywhere now, even my Food Lion in Scottsville has it (not the most health-conscious supermarket or town).  I bought a box of packets - each packet is .07 ounces or 2 grams, and is just tiny bit less than 1/2 teaspoon.  So according to this recipe, that sweetens as much as 1/2 cup sugar.  Strong stuff.  If you want to know more about it, see this and this.  It's from the leaves of the Stevia plant, and it appears to be pretty natural.  Mind you, I'm not planning on using tons and tons of it so I can make sugar-free chocolate chip cookies, I've used it only in very small amounts.

That amount of dressing is PLENTY for the salad - the other very typical southern thing is to have some sort of vegetable salad (potentially very healthy) totally SWIMMING in dressing, negating lots of those veggie health benefits.  If anything, I probably use more than a cup of the celery, onion and green pepper, and even with 1/2 the amount of dressing from the original recipe, it still is plenty.

This salad is great, it's one of our new staples, I've made it at least once a week for the past month.  Even my eight year old daughter really likes it - there's no greater approval than that in my book.  It's excellent by itself, or, as we "accidentally" discovered, it's great with some rice or rice and beans.  We made some black rice with white beans and put this on top, fantastic!  I brought it to school for lunch one day and two of the teachers I eat lunch with tried it and loved it.

I also think this would be amazing to make in the spring with some fresh peas and fresh corn, maybe even some tomato - as a matter of fact, I can't wait to try that myself!  My wife thinks it would be good to throw something even crunchier in there, maybe some pine nuts?  Worth a shot.

So there you have it - I hope you enjoy this.

Be well -


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