This back-to-back post is me trying in my way to make up for the long lapses in this recipe log of late. Not that anyone’s been waiting around with baited breath or anything–but when I let gaps widen, I just get this nagging sense of things being…incomplete. I know you know what I mean.
What’s been most aggravating about the cyber silence has been that there have been so many recipes I’ve wanted to share/stop myself from forgetting. There’s also been a big, monstrous, lack of time. Also a little, shadowy voice that begs, ‘what’s the point’, says ‘go to bed’. Until this week.
I had taught an after school cooking class to kids at the school where I used to work. The class over, I was stood at the sink washing dishes calculating for the umpteenth time how much money was essentially paying to take said class once childcare was factored in. And I found myself feeling a little ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong–this particular circumstance is the epitome of resonant, genuine “not in it for the money” intentions. I enjoy it, and I get to see the friendly faces of the wonderful school community and people where I used to work. But in that tired moment I just felt almost embarrassed, like a hanger-on behind whose back everyone must be raising eyebrows for randomly showing up. And then at that moment, a parent of one of the students walked in and handed me a Starbucks card. Her eyes welled with tears as she thanked me for taking the time to offer the class, how her son loved it, and how his prior school experiences had been rocky, with a lack of enrichment opportunities.
And just like that, everything turned around. I felt recharged with a sense that every little effort counts. Showing up matters. Taking a moment to check in means something, even if it’s just a check-in with your future self. Posting a recipe is a worthwhile action, even with minimal description (which, apparently, this is not, but might have been.)
And speaking of. Let’s talk pumpkin. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin chili, pumpkin shakes, pumpkin pumpkin…I love it. I love the cheeriness, the versatility, all it symbolizes. So what did it take me so long to throw it into the ice cream maker with coconut milk, spice, and a little maple syrup? Maybe because every mom’s favorite frozen banana blender trick with some pumpkin puree and spice mixed in works just as well and is healthier. (Really, it’s scrummy.) But the ice cream maker version sans banana is just that bit decadent and special and worthwhile. Try and see. Ice cream isn’t just for summer. ; )
- 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pie filling), or 1 3/4 cups
- 1 15-ounce can coconut milk (light works great!)
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup pure maple syrup depending on taste
- Blend all ingredients until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and chill in fridge for 2+ hours.
- Place in an ice cream freezer and process according to directions.
Scotch broth is a traditionally hearty, filling soup principally comprised of barley, stewing or braising cuts of meat, root vegetables, and dried pulses. I’m not qualified to venture a guess as to how much the meatiness is essential. Take it out, is it still Scotch broth? Or are we left with a chunky vegetable barley soup? I’m not sure it matters. To me, back when I did eat meat and had the occasional bowl of Scotch broth, the part I savored most was the satisfying, flavourful warmth of it. I especially loved the smooth and almost melting textures of the root vegetables. So until someone informs me that it’s some kind of blasphemy to call a vegan dish “Scotch broth”, that’s what I’m going with.
Thanksgiving is just weeks away, and this kind of hands-off, hearty soup is the perfect comfort food to give a moment’s pause to think about the many things, even in our broken tumultuous times, to be thankful for. Barley lends such a creamy richness to any dish without the cream, especially when prepared in the slow cooker. Speaking of which, the cooking method may deservedly be up there among the best blessings of the busy season, at least when it comes to dinnertime.
Call it Scotch broth or not, this simple seasonal soup–or whatever variation works for you–should stand a trial chance at becoming a regular as we come into the winter. Meatless, but packed with meaty, nutrient-rich vegetables and chewy grains. And who can help but admire the way the crockpot opens its arms and welcomes whatever ingredients you hastily toss its way, then simmers away all day and fills your house with inviting aromas to come home to? Best of all, the hands-off cooking time frees you up to attend to other things, even if only for an hour. This week, “other things” meant more time crafting with my fluffy-haired little turkey. A perfect combo I’ll take any day.
- 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
- 1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed
- 1/2 cup split peas, rinsed
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 cups water
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 leek, sliced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 large turnip, diced
- 1 rutabaga, diced
- 2 sticks of celery, sliced
- 1 large potato, diced
- sea salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley, or to taste
- Place all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low 8 hours.
I’ve been sitting on this recipe for awhile, and I’m not sure why. Time, mostly, I think. A little of the usual chagrin at my compulsion to record and share something that seems maybe too easy and intuitive, or so versatile that there is barely a skeletal model to vary. Yet that is the beauty of it. All we need is the reminder of all the natural deliciousness that is fall vegetables. A simple medley is both earthy rich and subtly sweet. Roasted, whatever you create is nothing short of sublime.
There’s not much to this dish beyond the idea, though the recipe is an ever toothsome standby. Not into grains? Take them out. Roast vegetables tossed with any sort of greens and a light dressing are a beautiful side. With grains, like chewy farro or nutty quinoa, and maybe some chickpeas or cubed baked tofu–you’ve got an easy, filling meal that takes a little time…but it’s mostly hands-off time.
When we were in Iceland…wait. Is this becoming annoying, how I am infusing little travel notes into every blog post recently? If so, I am sorry. And also, I am bound to keep doing so, just a bit more. Because having scrimped and saved for ages for a month of family travel that is surely a trip of a lifetime, I need to find ways of tucking little notes everywhere I can before I forget them. And also, I am pretty pleased with how we managed to stick to a rather penny-pinching budget during said trip, not least when it came to food. Which brings me back to Iceland. That beautiful, harsh, raw, uplifting country of sharp contrasts, of fire and ice, of Northern Lights fame (that we didn’t get to see)…the one EVERYONE told us was over -the- moon expensive to eat in.
Everyone was right. Iceland is AMAZING. It operates on 100% renewable energy, for one thing. That alone is enough to earn unswerving loyalty in my book. Its vast stretches of varied landscapes, often with an otherworldly feel, has a unique way of stirring a heightened sense of being part of the planet Earth. It’s a feeling that goes beyond even a passionate appreciation for nature. Even in at the sites most heaving with tourists, there is something that speaks to the overwhelming and magnificent connection to the cosmos. And there are also $40 sandwiches.
Having been duly warned, we went to Iceland prepared to eat apples and PB & J all week. We even packed a jar of natural peanut butter, in case we had trouble finding any without addends like sugar and palm oil. We soon found, however, that grocery stores were reasonable. We had hoped, given Icelanders rely on them for groceries, but we’d heard so much about the staggering cost of food we couldn’t be sure. Adding to our relief at the grocery bill, we stayed in a lovely home which the owners kept stocked with a variety of staples for guests to use, including a range of spices, vinegar and olive oil. All we needed was to mix and match the vegetables available for something absolutely satisfying to conclude an adventurous day and fuel the next.
Here is your gentle reminder that dinner can be as simple as roasting and tossing. Fall vegetables are failsafe bliss. Mix and match, and away you go. 🙂
- 1 1/2 cups farro (or other grain, like quinoa)
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into approximately 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 large parsnip, peeled, halved, and cut into approximately 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
- 2 medium golden beets, scrubbed and wrapped in foil
- 4 cups baby kale or other greens
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Prepare the farro: combine with 4 cups lightly salted water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well, and then transfer to a bowl to cool.
- Place the vegetables on a large nonstick rimmed baking sheet. Coat with cooking spray and a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 20 minutes; turn and roast approximately 20 minutes longer, until vegetables are tender and browning on edges (leave beets wrapped in foil longer in oven, as needed, before removing from foil, peeling and cutting into cubes).
- Prepare the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, honey or maple syrup, oil, salt and pepper until blended.
- In a salad bowl, combine the farro, kale, and roasted vegetables. Add the dressing and toss until coated.
This would have been papaya salad, except for one key problem. There was no green papaya. Not in the store on the day that I was suddenly struck with an inexplicable need for easy-to-make, fresh, tangy, leaves-your-taste-buds-tingling green papaya salad. There was mango. And so, a change of plan.
You wouldn’t think something so basic as swapping ingredients would seem like a big deal for someone who routinely experiments in the kitchen. It’s not. But then again, in this instance changing even spur of the moment, random plans felt oddly like something worth celebrating. Because for someone who revels and takes pride in being spontaneous when it comes to learning and playing with kids, exploring trails, and throwing ingredients into a bowl then baking them, I realize I can sometimes be alarmingly inflexible. Sometimes over very little things, like papaya salad. But life constantly reminds us that flexibility is key to cultivating happiness. Even with tiny examples. Even with juicy, fresh, tangy would-have-been-papaya-but-is-now-mango salad like this one. Isn’t it pretty? Refreshing, too. Plus, so quick and easy to make.
Sometimes it takes a change of location to open up new understanding about what you have always known about yourself. To spark a revitalized commitment to change, or at least try. This week, on a rainy day in Keswick in England’s Lake District, Felix and I curled up one morning reading little square book after little square book of Roger Hargreaves Mr. Men series. Anyone else grow up with those? We finished with Mr. Worry, and I was appalled by the way every single one of round blue Mr. Worry’s worries were real life worries that occupy some portion of my conscious brain pretty much every hour of every day. Every. Single. One. Funny when you’re a cartoon circle, with wavy lines representing a furrowed brow. Not so much as a generally happy, healthy, striving person who would like to ease off on the building of those furrows.
I get a lot of self-reflection opportunity from children’s books and programs these days, that genre being the only non-work related media I have been able to make time for. Sometimes the greatest revelations come from simply noticing what sticks. Like, a Sesame Street clip where Ernie makes a video and sings a song about having to change the plan to a protesting Bert. I should probably be embarrassed to admit how often I call upon the chorus in order to calm my overreactive brain when it needs time to process a turn of events.
So much worry stems from not having a secure plan. I don’t have the kind of bold confidence that overrides that wish for guarantees. But as crucial as the forward thinking and the planning is, the crux of life is mostly the detours, right? Or at least the open eyes and joyful acceptance for what life is offering on your plate, moment to moment.
In Switzerland, we planned to go one morning to Jungfraujoch, “the top of Europe”, known for breathtaking views, icy air, and a connection with James Bond. As it turned out, we couldn’t make the trip work–because of money, time, logistics, practicality for Felix. We went instead to Mannlichen, taking a train through Wengen, a vehicle-free mountain town, followed by cable car, where we had the most splendid day of our trip. Sunshine, stunning scenery, a perfect family hike and, as a huge bonus, a charming and unexpected mountaintop playground that was super fun for all ages.
I’m a little embarrassed to be sharing such a plush change of lucky plans to pad out a point. Part of the truth is, I just want to do all I can to record that special day and save it. And another truth is, for every joyful unexpected outcome there is a curveball that just sucks. I wish there were ways to reach into the unknown ahead and weed out the aches, the grief, the injustices, the outrage, and replace them all with Mannlichen mornings. All I can do is practice finding my own balance of thoughtfully going with the flow. Some days that’s about peanuty-sauced mangos–or papayas–peppers, purple cabbage, and carrots that look like a rainbow and taste like sunshine.
- 1-2 underripe mango (or mango and papaya)
- 1 large carrot, peeled
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 cup shredded purple cabbage
- 2-3 T creamy natural peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or honey (*optional)
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 T soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- Spinach leaves to serve
- 2 T ground dry roasted peanuts to serve
- Whisk peanut butter, lime juice, coconut sugar or honey if using, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce in a large bowl.
- Use a food processor to shred mango, carrot and red pepper.
- Add shredded mango and vegetables to bowl. Add dressing and lightly but thoroughly toss together. Taste for seasoning. Mound in serving bowls lined with with spinach leaves beforehand. Sprinkle with peanuts and serve.
Self, I feel the compulsion to apologize for the radio silence on this little journal of ours. I know it makes me/us uncomfortable. But we have been scrimping and saving in order to travel for an entire month, and that has involved a lot of front-loading of other priorities. And now that we’re away, we have actually been working quite a bit, albeit in a less structured, less orderly, reduced kind of way, squeezing focused time in between oodles of exploring. Amazing how relaxing certain types of busyness can be without actually allowing for time to relax.
There hasn’t been any real time for the likes of posting recipes…and yet at midnight I’m going to, driven by the preoccupying desire to record every moment. Every bite, even. Nothing new there, I guess.
This week we’re in Switzerland, and the scenery that inspired Tolkien’s Rivendell is so truly, magically breathtaking words can’t begin to compete with images, which are forthcoming. Soon, promise. For the moment, there is this:
Because when you’re keeping to a shoestring budget of sorts, having splurged on travel itself, it’s nice to know you can make something suitably satisfying and also rather lovely to look at with a few reasonably priced vegetables you can find at the tiny local Coop, or even the nearby campsite general store. Roasting elevates the sweet and savory flavors and adds a quality that is both homey and elegant to just about everything, imho. This ratatouille is simple, delicious, versatile, and brightly beckoning. It’s so straightforward it doesn’t actually need a write-up. Except, I want to collect memories with gusto right now. So here is where we segue transparently and awkwardly into something sweet that transpired before we left for this trip. Because, it was also bright and colorful, of course.
The Friday before our big trip, our little family trio went to Denver because to see a photography exhibition called Inspired by Nature, from Front Range Wildlife Photographers. Dave had two photos on display which had been selected as among the top ten, and Felix was sooo excited and proud to share in it.
We’d been creating all kinds of cool sculpture art together with cardboard boxes, and Flix was inspired to have our own little exhibition in our tiny living room. He wants to save money for a new Paw Patroller and thought, why not sell tickets? One penny each.
An afternoon was set aside for an official “Felix’s Box Art gallery opening”. We had invited two friends to come view Jack the box robot, Dino World, Sky Flier the plane, Ready Jet Go the rocket, the box Choo Choo camper, egg carton caterpillars, a box telescope, and the grand masterpiece we’d completed that morning, “Pidgie Pirate Ship” complete with its own plank. At the grocery store we even picked up a special veggie tray and grapes to serve our special guests.
Plans at age four must change on the fly more often than not, and our friends looked like they weren’t going to be able to make it. Flix had carefully set up the “snack bar” on the piano bench and insisted on waiting by the door, staring out. “What’s taking so long?” he exclaimed at one point. “We’re never going to get to show off this art!” He was quietly, shyly excited, and I was sweating, internally panicking and shooting off texts on the sly hoping to enlist some others at the last minute.
There were a few tense moments, but then, hurrah! Dear, amazing, I-am-forever-in-your-debt Ms. Sarah made it; she drove from across town even though her daughters were playing at grandmother’s house. She saved the day. Felix beamed as he opened the door for her and explained all the art. He piled his plate with celery sticks, carrots, grapes and tomatoes, and we all shared “bubble water” (seltzer).
The next morning, two little friends and siblings came to see “the big exhibit”, and we had a lovely play date. It made our day! Flix told “the guys”–stuffed animals– all about it all afternoon.
Thank you, Ms. Sarah. Thank you, friends. Thank you creativity and the wonder of being four.
Thank you, ratatouoille. Thank you, simple things. Thank you goodness, and wholesomeness, and all those little moments that keep fueling faith in the power of little joys.
More soon. 😉
- 1 medium eggplant, diced
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb seasoning
- 1 (8 oz) package Ancient Harvest Supergrain Pasta® Garden Pagodas, or other Supergrain Pasta®, or grains of choice
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup fresh basil, chopped
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine diced zucchini, eggplant, and onion.
- In a small bowl, toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Set aside.
- Whisk together remaining olive oil, garlic, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes and a dash salt and pepper. Drizzle over the eggplant mixture and toss to evenly coat.
- Arrange vegetables in a single layer on a foil-lined roasting or rimmed baking pan and roast 40-45 minutes, stirring halfway.
- Arrange tomatoes on a separate baking pan. Add to oven midway through roasting vegetables and cook 20-25 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and bursting open.
- Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain, and return to pot, stirring in crushed tomatoes to coat. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
- Add roasted vegetables and tomatoes, with juice, to pasta pot.
- Add basil and parsley, and stir to evenly combine all ingredients.