Apparently I’ve been enjoying my summer so much I’ve forgotten to update the blog recently. Maybe saying I’m “enjoying” summer is an understatement. I have actually been LOVING everything about this summer. Since I come from the land of hot and humid summer weather, I feel odd saying that, but bearable summer weather is one of many great things California has to offer (especially if you cheat like me and go to the mountains). I spent most of July in Mammoth doing field work, and even though I’m always reluctant to want to go, once I’m there I am reminded of just how lucky I am to get to work there. The weather is perfect, there’s climbing nearby, and I get to stare at the amazing Sierras every day.

I also spent the last week of July at a lake cabin in Minnesota, celebrating my mom’s 60th birthday with my parents and all my mom’s siblings. Since my sister couldn’t make it, I was the only one there under age 58, but I had a blast. We did crosswords, swam, and ate delicious evening meals, which were always followed by hours of talking at the dinner table when we were done eating. I think the dinner table lingering would have killed me even 5 years ago, but I guess I’m a real grown up now because it was actually enjoyable to sit and chat.

Aside from the traveling to pretty places and visiting family, I’ve been especially happy while I’m at home in Davis and I think it’s due in large part to the garden. There’s just something about harvesting fruits from plants that I nurtured from seedlings that makes me giddy. I have a permanent grin on my face while I’m there and proudly display every harvest to Vicken when I come home, in the same way I imagine I showed my parents my report card as a kid. It’s pretty ridiculous how proud I am of the food I’ve grown.

Since returning from Minnesota, I’ve been harvesting a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden. I planted 6 or 7 cucumbers, hoping I would get enough to make pickles, but production has been pretty sporadic (2-3 cukes at a time) so we’ve just been eating them instead. The Armenian cucumbers that I planted haven’t done much, but I did get one really nice one that I used in this cucumber salad. I’ve also made the salad with a peeled slicing cucumber and that works just as well. If you’ve never had an Armenian cucumber though, it’s worth a try. You don’t have to peel them, which is a major plus, and they are light and crisp. Plus, if you care about looks, the ridges that run the length of the cucumber give the slices a pretty ruffled edge.

This salad has been my favorite meal this summer. It is light and satisfying, and I it eat for lunch most days when I’m at home. The key ingredient is the Aleppo pepper (the red stuff in the jar above) you add to the lemon dressing. Vicken’s mom brought a bunch from Syria with her when she visited in June so we always have a full jar on hand. You can also buy it from any specialty spice store.

I harvested close to 10 pounds of tomatoes yesterday, so I’m sure I’ll be making lots of tomato dishes in the near future. I’ll try to write about them soon. In the meantime, this roasted tomato soup is a great thing to make with fresh tomatoes. I recently found this blog and am in love with the photography and recipes. The quality of the site is a little intimidating, but it’s inspiring me to step it up here, so that’s probably a really good thing.

Cucumber quinoa salad
Makes one large salad or two smaller side salads

1/2 large armenian cucumber, cut in half length-wise and sliced (about 2 cups chopped)
large handful cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked quinoa (quinoa cooking instructions)
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped parsley

juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil*
1/2 tsp aleppo red pepper
small pinch salt
small garlic clove, minced

Stir together cucumbers, tomatoes, and quinoa. Combine dressing ingredients together in a small jar or bowl and shake or stir to combine. Pour dressing over the salad and mix until it is evenly coated. Sprinkle with feta and parsley just before serving.

*If you don’t like the idea of so much olive oil, just use part of the dressing on the salad. I found I needed this much oil to balance out the lemon, so I wouldn’t skimp too much while mixing the dressing.


I’m always disappointed when I try to stir fry tofu. I can never get it to absorb the flavors of a marinade and it’s never as crisp as I would like. Frustrated by this, I started asking my vegetarian friends for advice and got two useful tips: 1) buy a dense tofu (if you live in Davis, the Sacramento Tofu Company tofu that comes in a vacuum-sealed package works well) and 2) bake–rather than saute–it! This fall/winter Vicken and I took both pieces of advice to heart and found our new favorite way to prepare tofu.

You start by slicing the block of tofu in half and pressing it between paper towels to remove excess water. Then you slice it into bite sized pieces and place those in a baking dish. Next you make a marinade on the stove top and pour it over the tofu.

You can let the tofu hang out in the marinade for a few minutes, but i wouldn’t leave it too long. You want the tofu to take up the flavors of the marinade, but if it sits too long before baking the tofu will take up all the soy sauce and be too salty. Halfway through the baking time, I turn each piece of tofu over, rather than haphazardly stirring it. This is a little bit of a pain, but if you’re anal like me and want the tofu to be evenly browned, it’s worth it.

With this newfound cooking method, I began baking tofu for all kinds of things, including salads. I managed to not get totally sick of the quinoa salads I was making this summer and made a winter version to take on a climbing trip recently. I made it with tofu, broccoli and toasted almonds, but you could get creative and add whatever veggies you have on hand.

As the weather has gotten warmer recently, I have been dreaming about tomatoes and cucumbers and all the summer quinoa salads that are just around the corner! Before I can plant the summer garden I’ve still got quite a lot of beets, beet greens, chard, and carrots to eat. I just don’t know if I can take another week of cooked greens! On the off chance that you aren’t sick of them yet, you’ll be hearing about a good recipe involving greens, sweet potatoes, and black beans in an upcoming post! I’ll do my best not to put it off too long…

Baked tofu
recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home by The Moosewood Collective

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/6 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 pound tofu
2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil

1. In a small saucepan, bring the marinade ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute and remove from the heat.

2. Cut the blocks of tofu into 1/2 inch slices, then cut the slices into 1 inch squares. Place the squares in a single layer in a nonreactive heatproof pan. Pour the marinade over the tofu squares, sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of oil, and set aside for about 5 minutes.

3. Preheat the broiler. Broil the tofu for 7 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned; then turn it over with a spatula and brown the other side (another 4-5 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside until ready to add to salad.

Quinoa salad

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch sugar
pinch salt

2-3 cups chopped broccoli
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 pound tofu, cubed and baked (see recipe above)

1. Combine water and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid from quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature. (You can make the quinoa ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the rest of the salad.)

2. Meanwhile, steam or blanch broccoli for 3-4 minutes, until it is tender, but retains its bright green color. Remove from heat immediately and put into a strainer. Run cold water over the broccoli for a few seconds to stop the cooking and then shake off excess water.

2. Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and mix well. Add the broccoli and tofu and stir to combine. Top with the toasted almonds and serve immediately.

My field season is rapidly coming to an end. I officially moved out of the field station and back to Davis 2 weeks ago and I only have one more experiment to do later in August.  Before I’m totally out of field-living mode, I wanted to share a recipe that I made a lot at the field station this summer.

This salad was inspired by Erin, the field assistant I lived and worked with over the summer. The girl pretty much lives on salads made of greens, some kind of grain, and other vegetables. Since I’ve been trying to eat a wider variety of grains anyway, I figured I might as well give her approach a try. I started with quinoa and played around with additions until I came up with a pretty good salad base consisting of quinoa, chickpeas, and feta cheese. I’ve done variations with whatever vegetables I happen to have around or whatever is in season and it has consistently turned out well. For this summer version, I used cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and parsley. I even got to supplement the cherry tomatoes from the co-op with a few from the “garden” at Vicken’s house!!! I guess it’s a little pitiful how excited I got about this, but really! Aren’t they beautiful!?!

I add quite a bit of vegetables to this so that the quinoa isn’t the main component.  I find it’s a great way to eat a big serving of vegetables without having to eat a boring green salad.  You can add less vegetables if that’s your preference, or you could even serve this over salad greens with some extra dressing. The best thing about this salad is that you can make a big batch and then eat it for lunch for a few days. This assumes, of course, that you (like me) can stand to eat the same meal day after day.  I used to think I was boring for doing this, but, in the spirit of positivity, I now prefer to think of it as “adaptive.”  I am a broke grad student after all.

In case you’re curious, I’ve made a spring version of this salad with arugula, green beans, and green onions and another summer version with roasted zucchini and tomatoes. The possibilities are endless!  Despite this, I figure it’s in my best interest to come up with a different type of salad or bulk meal to make before I get totally sick of this one…  I’ll let you know when I find it.

Quinoa salad with tomatoes and cucumbers

1 cup quinoa (I used red, but you can use white)
2 cups water

1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 large cucumber, peeled, quartered length-wise, and sliced
4 green onions, green and white parts, sliced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 can chick peas, drained
4 oz. feta crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine water and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid from quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature. (You can make the quinoa ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the rest of the salad.)

2. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and mix well. Add the sliced vegetables, chick peas, and parsley and stir to combine. Top with the crumbled feta and serve immediately.

**I’ve kept leftovers for up to 4 days in the fridge. It is great cold or at room temperature, and it makes a great light lunch.

I’ve been trying to incorporate a greater variety of whole grains into my diet lately.  I’ve found the recipes on to be a good place to start and I recently tried out Heather’s Farro Recipe for a barbecue side dish.  The appeal of this recipe was that I could make many of the salad components (including the farro) ahead of time.  I soon discovered that the Davis Co-op doesn’t carry farro so I decided to go with pearled barley as a substitute.

The only problem was that I didn’t know how much to get.  I knew I needed 6 cups of cooked barley in the salad and maybe because it was almost 10 pm (I can’t think of another good excuse), I poured almost 4 cups of barley into my bag and proceeded to cook it all that night.  Yeah yeah, I knew the grain would bulk up while cooking, but listen up folks!  It turns out that 4 cups of dried barley makes over 12 cups of cooked barley!  And I wasn’t exactly expecting a small army at this barbecue…

That catches us up to this morning (two days post-barbecue) when I  found myself staring at a big tupperware of unused cooked barley and decided to make another barley salad!  This time I made a few tweaks to the original recipe, omitting the split yellow peas, green peas, and chives and adding chopped green onions, pork tenderloin, and avocado.  In case you’re wondering, the unchanged salad components were the roasted green onions (delicious!), goat cheese, barley, salad greens, and the citrus vinaigrette.

Vicken and I had it for lunch and we were quite pleased!  Our only complaint was that the amount of olive oil in the original dressing was a little overpowering, so I cut it back from 1/2 to 1/3 cup in the recipe below.

I should point out that although I have modified recipes before, I feel like I graduated to a new level today.  Since I’ve had to think a lot about Bloom’s Taxonomy for the teaching workshops I’ve led this quarter, I immediately felt the need to categorize the level of cognitive development I’ve achieved in the kitchen.  And you know what?  I’m synthesizing, people!  SYNTHESIS is higher order thinking!  I’m making progress!  You should play around with the ingredients you add to this salad and do some synthesizing yourself!

Citrus Barley Salad
(adapted from Heather’s Farro Recipe,

6 cups cooked pearled barley
1/2 pound roasted pork tenderloin (or roasted chicken breast, etc.), chopped into bit sized pieces–I cheated and got this at the Nugget (local Davis grocery store)
6 green onions, white/light green parts sliced in half length wise and cut into 1.5 inch segments, green parts chopped into thin slices
1/2 cup goat cheese
4 handfuls salad greens
1 avocado, diced
citrus parmesan vinaigrette*

1. Cover 2 cups pearled barley with water by 2 inches.  Salt liberally.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 40-50 minutes or until barley is tender but not mushy.  The grain should retain some firmness.  Drain the barley and set aside to cool.  You can refrigerate this ahead of time until you are ready to assemble the salad.

2. Toss the white/light green onion segments in olive oil and place on a baking sheet.  Roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until light brown, stirring once.

3. Combine barley and dressing in a large bowl and stir well to coat the barley.  Add the pork tenderloin and chopped dark green onion sections, then the goat cheese. Toss in the salad greens and chopped avocado last.  Serve immediately.

*Citrus Parmesan Vinaigrette: combine in a jar the zest and juice of 1 orange, 1 choped shallot, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar, and 1/3 cup good quality olive oil.  Salt to taste.  Shake to mix the dressing.