Franconia, NH

IMG_2502A few days before I left Boston, my friend and I decided to spend our Sunday doing intense things (and no, I’m not talking about intensely lazy Sunday brunch). I woke up quite early (read: 5am), excited for my first big hiking adventure in years, then waited an hour until it was an ‘acceptable’ time to text my friend. I still managed to wake her up…oops.

We headed out to Franconia Notch State Park, otherwise known as the home of the “Old Man of the Mountain”; that is, before he lost his nose to a rockslide. We started at about 10:30am and began our ascent. 

At first, the trail was gentle and cool, passing along a playfully babbling brook that cascaded down a number of beautiful waterfalls. However, as the trail separated from the water, it became progressively more insane, until we were scrambling up rocks and basically everything touching our bodies was soaked in sweat. We dragged our soft city slicker bodies onward, swearing we would not stop until we reached the top. Then at some point, we passed above tree line and found ourselves on a sun-swept, boulder-studded mountain peak. Everything was suddenly open and bright, calming yet awe-inspiring, and of course, breathtakingly beautiful.

IMG_2486

The Ridge, Franconia Notch State Park, NH

There is something kind of magical about hiking and really just being outdoors – there’s the constant thrum that almost sounds like the hum of a refrigerator but yet is charged with life. There’s the hard heartbeats from the climb and the exhilaration (and maybe the high that comes from a little oxygen deprivation) from being 4,000 feet high. We stood up there and we felt like we had actually accomplished something (and all before lunchtime!).

I have to confess, my antidepressant of choice is food. But there is something to be said for the heady rush of wind and a view so clear we felt as if we could see to the shore, a hundred miles away.

So as much as I love scones and biscuits and all other baked goods, I’m resolving to eat a little healthier (woohoo salad recipe!). It’s one thing to enjoy making and eating food, it’s another to use it as an escape. And sugar highs may feel similar to a rush of endorphins, but neither actually really equate to happiness. Here’s to being healthier – in all senses of the word.

Southwest Salad with Blackened Chicken and Salmon (adapted from Cooking for Keeps) – makes 4-6 entrée servings

For the chicken:

1 lb chicken breasts

1 tsp chili powder (cut down to 1/2 tsp or even 1/4 tsp for less spicy chicken)

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp salt

Mix together dry ingredients. Rub on chicken. 

In a hot cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, cook chicken until slightly blackened on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Flip chicken again, remove from heat, and allow to sit another 5-10 minutes, until breasts are cooked through. Slice into strips.

For the salmon (adapted from Jacques-Imos’)

1 6-oz salmon filet

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp salt

1 tsp powdered garlic

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (cut out totally for less spicy fish)

1/4 tsp dried thyme

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Mix together dry ingredients. Rub onto fish.

In a hot cast-iron skillet over medium heat, melt butter until slightly browned. Sear fish on both sides until flesh is opaque, about 3 minutes on each side. Finish off in oven for 3-5 minutes, until fish is cooked through.

For the dressing:

2 Hass avocados

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)

1/4 tsp dried dill

1/4 tsp dried basil

Pinch of black pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Add more buttermilk if dressing is too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the salad greens:

2 romaine hearts, chopped (5-6 oz) (or whatever greens you want)

1 jalapeño, sliced thinly

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 tomato, diced (or cherry tomatoes, halved)

3 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped

1 can corn-unsalted (drained)

1 can black beans (drained)

Pile salad greens into serving platter/bowl. Sprinkle jalapeño, cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, corn, and black beans on top. Top with sliced chicken breasts and with a piece of salmon, then drizzle with dressing.

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