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.
Yesterday morning F and I went for a lovely, quiet hike with friends and all throughout we were kissed by notes of fall. Actually, it was light rain that left those soft caresses on our faces, but it was kind of the same thing. The cool drizzle was so welcome after weeks of dry heat, and it only enhanced the colors, fragrances and general changes signifying the turning of the seasons. It offered a chance to pause within and explore without. It inspired feeling that was both contentedly free and pleasantly melancholy.
Time and again, no matter how well we are conditioned to expect it, it’s amazing and startling and mystifying how we can awaken as if magically into a new season. Like watching kids grow. One day back-to-school banners highlight a sort of sullen near outrage because in truth summer is still actually in full swing. Then blink, we may as well be preparing for the departure of pumpkin spice lattes in order to make way for the pleasures of peppermint. Those rare chances to pause, wherever we find them, mean everything.
I’ve got nothing to complain about, but have been feeling a little buried under must-dos lately. That’s why despite plenty of kitchen play I haven’t been recording much, and why this post will be so short. It’s also part of what makes this soup so perfect for sharing right now. The busyness, and ushering in of autumn. This is simple, easily adaptable, robust and flavorful soup that is resonant with the season. Bright and ablaze with one of fall’s signature colors, yet comforting and soothing in a way that grants a moment of stillness in a sip. It’s scrape the pot and savor each spoonful soup. That’s all you need to know. Try it (and tell me how you change it to be a just-right-fit for you). You’ll see. 🙂
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 7 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 medium gold potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground paprika
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Dash red pepper flakes (quick light shake)
- ¾ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 1 hour and drained
- 1 cup coconut milk
- Coat a stockpot or large saucepan with cooking spray or heat water to cover bottom of pan. Saute onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 4 minutes.
- Add carrots, potatoes, ginger, and spices (garlic powder through red pepper flakes) and cook a further 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add cashews, coconut milk, and 5 cups water to pan and bring to a near boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and let simmer for 20-30 minutes, until carrots and potatoes are tender.
- Use an immersion blender to puree, or puree in batches in a blender. Adjust seasonings and add liquid to taste as needed.
This recipe has it all. It’s divine. It’s simple. It’s quick. It can be tailored to taste in seconds according to whim. What it doesn’t have–in this post, I mean–is a selection of pictures to accompany it and do it justice.
I didn’t expect to feel compelled to post this dreamy concoction…little F’s turning four-years-old dream birthday cake. There are so many things I didn’t expect to be mulling over lately. Most of all, despite being perpetually nostalgic and overly conscious of time, I didn’t expect quite how much it would floor me that my baby is now FOUR. I didn’t expect to find myself still freelancing, out of the classroom, at this point. Somehow over the years opportunities have kept emerging that have allowed me to keep juggling and prioritizing a flexible schedule I’ve loved. Somehow years of being steadily conditioned to flux hasn’t kept me from being any less surprised when things appear, nor any less disappointed when they end. But somehow the flow keeps going, and it’s all OK.
More than OK. Four is FABULOUS. Four is imaginative, bold, cuddly but increasingly self-assured. Four is taking initiative and sharing the play, wonder and discovery. Four is forming opinions with innocence and genuine reflection. Four deserves this birthday cake…and so does any age after. There is no doubt this cake method is the base of new evolving traditions in our house.
This recipe is owing hugely to this amazingly scrumptious recipe and post from the brilliant Minimalist Baker. And a very liberal take/modified version of this incredible chocolate banana bread turned cake from Chocolate Covered Katie bliss. I short-cutted the simple method even further by laying down three slim layers of the cake/bread mixture in three identical loaf pans lined with parchment paper and baked all at once. All you do after the layers cool is lay down a slightly softened layer of vegan ice cream of choice, top with the second cake layer, then another ice cream layer, then final cake layer; cover with foil or container lid and freeze. When it’s time to serve, let soften enough to invert out of the pan on a plate. I topped with rich, gooey melted dark chocolate with a little bit of coconut milk. Add a candle on top…absolute birthday decadence guaranteed to bring on lasting satisfaction from the wide-eyed appreciative reaction alone. (By the way, our choice of ice cream was a layer of So Delicious almond milk cookies and cream ice cream and another layer of So Delicious coconut milk oregon berry ice cream…swoon!)
This cake was the perfect way to round out a perfect birthday week for one very excited four year old. From waking up to a spangly decorated house on birthday morning to windblown first-time Go Kart excitement as a family in the afternoon to a special 2nd annual birthday hiking party with lovely little friends on the weekend following…everything about turning four has been pretty much magical. This cake complements all that–layers and layers of joy you just want to sink your teeth into and linger over.
Of course, my heart is overflowing and sometimes achy. Because, four came–and will go– so darn fast. Some days I want to sob my heart out with the kind of ice cream diving dose worthy of any respectable rom-com. This cake is good for that, too.
- 3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 1/4 cup almond milk
- ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
- ½ cup dark chocolate chips, melted
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 pints non-dairy ice cream of choice (We loved mixing So Delicious Coconut Milk Oregon Berry with So Delicious Almond Milk Cookies and Cream)
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- ⅓ cup almond milk
- Preheat oven to 350 F and line three 9×5 loaf pans with parchment paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine first six ingredients, mashed bananas through melted chocolate. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda baking powder, and cocoa powder. Pour dry into wet, and stir until just evenly combined. Transfer to the loaf pans and spread out evenly.
- Bake approximately 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into loaf layers comes out clean.
- Top one of the cake layers with ice cream (keeping in the pan). Carefully remove second layer from parchment and place on top of ice cream layer. Top with another layer of ice cream and place the final cake layer on top.
- Cover and freeze at least one hour. Let soften 20 minutes before serving.
- Melt dark chocolate with coconut milk in a saucepan over medium low heat, stirring until smooth. To serve, invert onto a serving plate and top chocolate sauce.
This recipe is kind of an oldie. I made it over four years ago for Ancient Harvest and can’t believe I never logged it. Like most of my favorite recipes (at least when it comes to both preparing and eating them), it’s super easy to assemble and adapt depending on time and inclination. Maybe you’ve got a rainbow bounty of crisp fresh produce you can’t wait to chop, tear, and julienne– in which case it could be delightfully time-consuming (remember, Mary?). On the other hand, maybe it’s a normal reality kind of day and you would love something zesty, crunchy, colorful, healthy and energizing with whatever happens to be left in the fridge. Provided you’ve got a decent blend of substitutions and the main dressing staples, you can throw your own superb variation together less than 30 minutes.
My favorite form of these wraps is forsaking the wrap part. Just toss in a bunch of greens with the filling for a most satisfying salad. Kale goes better than lettuce anyway. But then, sometimes lettuce wraps have the perfect refreshing crispness. So pretty with a touch of novelty about them.
I’ve been returning to some soul-soothing oldies lately. Renewed appreciation for the competitive aspect of trail running. This quinoa obviously, and a whole bunch of used-to-be standby recipes that have enjoyed a reestablishment of status lately. And a little bit poetry, which I once made time for with a fervent sort of passion that kind of evaporated for several years. (When F was born it was replaced largely by lilting rhymes and songs.) But this year, I’ve found the poetic longing resurfacing. I feel so fortunate to know eclectic and dynamic writers who have inspired me to take a stab at submitting again, and am so thrilled and honored to have had a poem accepted in a beautiful journal of poetry and photography.
The funny thing about good things…how quickly do they put you on edge anticipating bad things? After the initial joy and gratitude, contentment and rush of optimism, I mean. Are we all somewhat conditioned to wait for the proverbial ball to drop? One glaring response would be, of course that’s just life. Ebb and flow, highs and lows, light and shadow. Then again, how much does the sharp reality check offer safeguarding protection that can come close to outweighing the limitations on our willingness to fearlessly enjoy the now?
In any case, for two weeks in a row I felt gifted with experiences that made me feel validated in areas that are important to me. And I felt so supremely grateful. As well as momentarily but mightily apprehensive about what the next impending down might bring. It’s due soon, a persistently whiny voice insists. I even go so far as to determine internally that it’s probably going to take the form of something like [X] happening, which will make me feel really foolish for spending all that time fearing [Y], which would have been bad but not as bad. It is frustrating being stuck hanging out with myself when I think like that.
But as you know, somehow I force cooking to become a daily exercise in cultivating the type of mindfulness and lessons I want to maintain more naturally. And when I made this quinoa, I thought ‘why haven’t I recorded this in the files yet’, which I already explained. Then at dinner, little F munched and crunched appreciatively, declaring how much he loves the eddy-mommy beanies, and I thought, ‘good…same but different…and it’s still good’. Which somehow transitioned easily into quietly contemplating the many ‘still good’ things.
We are living in tumultuous, tense, and deeply unsettling times. I am well aware what a place of privilege it is to have the luxury of worrying about what tomorrow might look like. It is enough know there will be things that will still be good, and I can keep striving to be good, too.
- 1 cup quinoa
- ¼ head red cabbage, slivered
- 2 medium carrots, grated
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- 3 scallions, trimmed and sliced
- 1 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved diagonally
- ¾ cup edamame, shelled and thawed
- ⅓ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
- ¼ cup low-sodium, gluten-free soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger root
- 1 tablespoon lime juice, plus extra lime to serve
- 1 – 2 heads romaine, or other large-leafed lettuce
- Separate the head of lettuce into individual leaves. Rinse and dry, either with a salad spinner or by hand, using clean kitchen towels or paper towels to pat the leaves dry. Refrigerate between layers of clean, dry paper towels until ready to assemble and serve.
- Bring quinoa and liquid to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.Transfer to a large bowl.
- Add cabbage, all other vegetables, and peanuts to quinoa and toss to combine.
- In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, ginger and lime juice with a fork or whisk. Add to quinoa mixture and stir to coat.
- Spoon filling (approximately ⅓ to ½ cup per leaf) into the center of lettuce leaves, taco-style. Serve with lime wedges.
- Transform into a salad instead for a quicker, filling meal! In place of lettuce leaves, mix in chopped kale or mixed greens into quinoa mixture.