Tempeh, kale and mushroom whole wheat Asian (baked or steamed) buns


This recipe’s description should go further than “baked or steamed” to include the useful tip “or lose the bun and let the filling be an easy, honestly filling meal on its own”. The latter is way easier after all, plus tasty and accommodatingly variable. But then, the buns can be awfully fun to make, if you can squirrel away the time for the fiddliness and want to add a little novelty. Also, they should be called ‘baos’, as in “deck the halls with boughs of holly”. Only it’s “baos”, and they’re buns.


From November to January,  it rang through the house, the car, and sometimes a little awkwardly, the grocery store: Falalalala la la la laaaaa. If ‘las’ can be said to roll, they rolled off little F’s joyful tongue in the most distinct and lovable way. Unmistakable, yet tough to describe. It was like little elves were pulling notes out of the back of his consenting throat with tiny shovels and tossing them out of his mouth where they’d linger for a moment in the air before falling to the earth with a satisfying thump.


Somewhere in December it occurred to me that little F very likely had his own unique merry, tantalizing framework for “boughs of holly”. Boughs would be baos, fluffy, Chinese steamed buns, often sweet, but equally welcome stuffed with savory mushrooms and greens. Little F had grown accustomed to receiving from Ammy (my mom) with increasing expectation and delight since he could chew. In fact, one key consolation that it was time for Nanny (Dave’s mum) to return to England was that soon we would be flying to Ammy’s house, where not only would there be baos, but from where we would be going shopping for baos. (Shopping for MORE baos, Monk! We gonna get a lotta baos!)

Wouldn’t it be fun to treat little F with shared bao-making fun for dinner? I thought.  Idealistic me imagined making dough, rolling it out into pliable rounds, spooning filling in the centers, and pinching up seams at the tops, all side-by-side with my little sous chef. Skeptical-realist me pictured groaning at my intensifying headache while my enthusiastic but appropriately impatient little one crawled under the table, simultaneously soaking up and spreading sticky, floury mess.


What happened was predictably somewhere in the middle but surprisingly, mostly on the rose-colored glasses side. Because, today we had the luxurious option of spreading out the prep, which helped a lot. First, we made the dough using my favorite method for making pizza crust since becoming a mom, the food processor. Little engineer loves a good go a button-pushing, especially when gratified with immediate whizzing and chopping that happens to not be ear-splittingly loud.

Hours later, we threw all the filling ingredients in the pan and let them heat up and sit while we devoted our attention to other important things like painting snow in plastic tubs on the kitchen floor. And yet another hour or so after that, We rolled out the dough into neat circles, spooned on the filling, and pinched up the seams. For at least five of the ten buns, little F was a careful gem. For the remaining five, I got to marvel at my quick fingers and his overall speed in general.

f_baosIf anything felt remotely disastrous about preparing this dish, it really didn’t hit until time to cook, and the big flaw was in materials. Since switching to a convection oven/induction stovetop, I’ve lost the reliable steamer basket that fit with a pot I no longer have. Instead, I planned to steam with a much smaller double boiler insert, and realized too late that we just didn’t have close to the time it would take to steam the buns and avoid a meltdown before dinner. So, we slid a tray in the oven and baked instead. I would have preferred the steaminess of the intended version, but this one is great, too, just different. More like a dairy-free Asian riff on a calzone. Bonus, the filling is great on its own, and super over rice, which is really handy since the recipe does make more filling than bun. Swap the tempeh for some other lean protein if you prefer; skip the onion, play with different mushrooms. Just don’t lose the water chesnuts, in my opinion. Or the lime juice. They’re the crunch and the zing. Choose what flour you’d like, too. I haven’t tried gluten-free bread flour, but I will eventually. We used One Degree Organics sprouted red fife flour, a superb 1-1 swap for whole wheat. 

I wouldn’t dare imply that this recipe naturally suits a big-little pair-up, or expect the experience together to ever match the relative ease it took on tonight. It’s not hard, but easy to get messy with. But that may be one of the reasons I will definitely make this again, not just for the filling sans buns (which will also happen). You know I can’t resist a good food metaphor, and this one’s too ripe and pluckable to ignore. Our bao-making experience was a clear-cut process-not-the-product kind of worthy experience. Not to say, we don’t deserve to relish beautiful plates when we eat our meals. What I mean is, everywhere there are reminders begging to be accepted, that treasures, even perfect and beautiful ones, emerge from a little chaos. That it’s the imperfect, joyful, take-a-chance-on-me messiness in life that we should really sink our teeth into, together. 


Tempeh, kale and mushroom Asian whole wheat (baked or steamed) buns
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For the buns
  1. 1 cup warm water
  2. 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  3. 2 ¼ teaspoons or 1 package dry yeast
  4. 3 cups whole wheat flour (I love One Degree Organics sprouted wheat)
  5. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  6. ¼ teaspoon salt
  7. 1 teaspoon baking powder
For the filling
  1. 1 8-ounce package tempeh, crumbled
  2. ⅓ cup low sodium vegetable stock
  3. 2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  4. 1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
  5. 1 cup mushrooms (crimimi, button, baby bella) chopped
  6. ½ small red onion, diced
  7. Juice of 1 lime
  8. 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  9. ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  10. 5 cups chopped kale, ribs and stems removed (Or 1 11-ounce package shredded kale or kale, cabbage and carrot mix)
  1. Prepare the dough: Dissolve yeast and honey in warm water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a food processor with chopping blade, combine flour, olive oil, baking powder and salt. With the machine running on low, pour the liquid mixture through the feed tube as fast as the flour absorbs it. Process until the dough forms a ball, and continue 30 seconds further to knead. Dust with extra flour if sticky and remove to a bowl lightly coated with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, approximately one hour.
  2. Prepare the filling: Heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add tempeh, broth, ginger, water chestnuts, mushrooms, and onion to pan. Cook, stirring regularly and turning tempeh, approximately 5 minutes. Add lime juice, soy sauce, cilantro, and kale. Continue to cook, stirring, until kale is cooked through, approximately 5 more minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Divide dough into 10 equal portions, forming into a ball. Working with each ball individually, press into a circle, roughly 5 inches, and place approximately ¼ cup filling in center. Bring up sides to cover filling and meet on top.
  4. Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown colored OR arrange buns on parchment paper squares 1-inch apart in a steamer basket. Cover with lid and bring pan to boil over medium-high heat. Steam in batches according to space, 15 minutes each or until set.
  1. Filling is great served over rice or with noodles if you want to save time and skip the buns!
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/


Asian inspired peanut-y sesame ginger pasta salad


You don’t need this recipe for pasta salad. That is, one of many brilliant aspects of salad is the versatile, no-brainer assembly. You can put just about anything you like in them, your pasta can be gluten-free or not, and in fact you don’t even actually need pasta. But I need to share this peanut sauce with you.


It can be almond sauce, if you’d prefer. Probably even sun-butter. One day, I swear I’m going to play around with a variation using tahini, only I’m afraid said “variation” will really be a tahini dressing that, while yummy, isn’t so much riff as departure.

This peanut sauce, though. I first made it when I was creating this salad for Ancient Harvest two years ago, and since I use it all the time. It works in wraps, in spring rolls, as dressing, with stir-fries and noodle bowls. It’s the glue that brings it all, whatever “it” is, together.


My brain has been throwing that phrase back at me a lot lately (about the glue). Recently I’ve been expanding my writing work in a fulfilling, productive way that still allows the greatest flexibility I could hope for, maximizing time with the not-so-Little Monkey. Just enough to remind me in those woebegone moments flung from who knows where, I’m still me and I can grow and be resilient as simply me. Because so much of what’s best in life right now is dependent on one very important center outside of myself. 

Lately, beyond  the narrow, scheduled borders of work, workouts, and the tornado fillers of rushing around the house in a mad dash of chores, most of my hours are spent in a playful in-between place of play that can be idle and exhausting, vibrant and trying. Often this play includes a special crew:


Monk/Lil’ Monk/Monkey,  Charlie, Fuzzy Charlie, Rackanooey (not sure how to spell), and the Croc…these stuffed toys are a bundle of fun. They were “The Buddies”, then “The Boys”, sometimes “The Girls”, and this week they’re “The Guys”. I love the way “The Guys” are fun-loving, and wonderfully engaged in exploring problem-solving with role play. We navigate countless topics and fears with them. They also love to sing and dance. Sometimes in the process my head starts to pound with the achy knowledge of the to-do list in the background. But I’m sooo going to miss these days. 

Sometimes I remember that I used to and still love doing plenty of different things, all by myself. Always I realize, I wouldn’t be spending so much of my life this way as just me, by choice: sitting on the floor negotiating what the reaction should be to a line of stuffed animals taking it in turns to do a poo poo on the carpet. Usually, “Dr. Felix” ruthlessly administers powerful shots to each poor creature. Often “Chef Felix” takes over concocting remedies of plastic vegetable soup (unfortunately, sometimes this turns out to be contaminated with throw-up).  Whatever the outcome, Felix is the key. He’s the glue that holds it all together. He turns plastic into magic and frustration into fun. 

Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand on my own two feet in whatever new life is around the corner as my Little Monkey needs my physical presence less and less. These days, I tear myself up with fear about everything, mostly how I’ll know how to handle the world and how it will receive my aging self. Then the sunlight shines on the still plump apple cheek and everything feels better again. I can tell myself, the dishes may take different forms; there will still be peanut sauce.

Asian sesame ginger pasta salad
Serves 6
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Prep Time
20 min
Prep Time
20 min
  1. 1 pound pasta (I like Ancient Harvest's gluten- free black bean & quinoa elbows, and regular pasta, any shape)
  2. 1/4 cup natural creamy peanut or almond butter
  3. 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  4. 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  5. 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy or tamari sauce
  6. 1 tablespoon lime juice
  7. 1 tablespoon honey (maple syrup for vegan)
  8. 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  9. 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  10. 2 carrots, grated or cut julienne
  11. 1 English cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced
  12. 4 cups baby spinach, washed
  13. Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
  2. Using a whisk or fork, combine peanut or almond butter, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice, honey and ginger in a small bowl and mix until smooth.
  3. In a large bowl, toss pasta, sauce, and vegetables. Garnish with sesame seeds to serve, slightly warm or chilled.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://happyapplekitchen.com/

Vegan chickpea tacos with peach mango salsa and avocado

Who doesn’t love tacos? Apparently no one, in America, at least. Last year, Americans allegedly ate over 4.5 BILLION tacos. So, one can probably pretty safely assume that tacos are pretty awesome. Except, I usually don’t like them, being a weirdo, unless they are actually burritos. Until recently, with this vegan chickpea version that changed everything.

Chick Pea roll up

What’s not to like about tacos, really? Well, for me, it was the meat and the cheese and the problem of enjoying what we traditionally think of as a taco without these. But that’s just semantics. What also comes with a taco is a feeling, one that is festive and carefree and easy. And these hand-held meals offer so much potential for versatility and variety with a zillion and one filling, garnish, salsa, and everything combinations, why bother getting hung up on definitions of what actually constitutes a real taco when you can throw yourself into colorful creative play?

Chick Pea roll up-2

Roasted chickpeas lend satisfying crunch and chew; peach, mango and tomatoes color the plate like a vibrant summer sunset; creamy avocado and lime give that lovely zesty kick and creaminess one expects and loves from avocado and lime. The whole package, which comes together almost ridiculously simply, delivers a cheerful festiveness of summer holidays. Which, by the way, we are enjoying right now. We’re on vacation–or as Dave says/the British say, “on holiday” in beautiful British Columbia, which is why I haven’t been posting a whole lot recently, and why this post is so short. That said, I am stashing some ideas to share for later, along with some pics of simply gorgeous sea-meets-sky kind of scenery; and, I need to tell you about a mouthwatering, savory gem of a vegan homemade quinoa and almond burger in a very unexpected place that reminded me, like these, to always keep an open mind and open eyes for hidden treasures.

More soon. 🙂


Chick Pea roll up-3


Spicy chickpea tacos with peach mango salsa and avocado
4 servings

  • 1 cup chopped seeded fresh tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped peaches, pitted
  • ½ cup chopped mango
  • ⅓ cup diced red onion
  • ½ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • ⅓ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 14-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained, or approximately 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoons chili powder
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Approximately 2 cups spinach leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, peaches, mango, bell pepper, and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate salsa until serving.
  3. Spread chickpeas evenly on a baking sheet and spray with a coating of cooking spray. Sprinkle with chili powder and salt and pepper to taste and lightly toss to combine.  Roast 20 minutes, gently stirring halfway.
  4. Peel and remove remove pit from avocado. Place in a blender or food processor with lime juice, salt and pepper to taste, and ¼ cup water. Process until smooth.
  5. Warm tortillas. Divide spinach leaves among each, then top with avocado, chickpeas, and salsa.

Thai-inspired roasted pepper socca “pizza”

Socca “pizza” no. 2. A little overdue.

Little F and I have been traveling, braving our first flight without (and sorely missing) Daddy to visit Ammy, Pop Pop, Aunties, and little baby Clara (finally) over Mother’s Day weekend. Little guy was amazing!  His exuberance and energy; his radiant joy with his grandma, wide-eyed curiosity and proud sharing with his grandpa; playful coyness with the aunties, and loving gentleness and instant friendship with baby cousin and family doggies. Even the way he processed and moved on from twinges of jealousy at not being the baby were impressive. He just kept melting my heart, as is his way.

But about this second socca pie: it’s been on my mind. It’s yummy. And I meant to share last week, even slapping a few pics in a blank draft in case I made time while away.


Socca Version 2-3



Speaking of intentions, I’ve long been looking out for reasons to revive and re-share the date-based sauce spread over this “pizza”.  Funny, some of the things the mind manages to hold onto, given what unintentionally gets squeezed out to accommodate the memories. I don’t remember what the Dalai Lama said when I had the privilege of hearing him speak during junior year abroad at Oxford. I’m ashamed to admit that, but it’s true. For every compliment I forget I mercilessly relive 25 snubs and insults. One day I fear I may forget my name or where I live, but no doubt will still be able to tell you what everyone ate the Saturday morning we went to a small Connecticut farm for brunch Mother’s Day weekend.

It runs in the family, an uncanny memory for all things food. About the clean and simple date-based sauce from Clean Eating magazine that went so nicely with socca, I remember how friends Rick and Valerie thanked me for the awkward, colorless block of a post sharing the recipe years ago, saying they loved it with chicken, and pork. Tasting it, I can taste the ripe, dewy (for Colorado) air  the evening preceding said post. We grilled pizzas with friends (Mary, Charles)–one standard marinara with basil and fresh mozzarella; another with cilantro, pineapple, and brie; and a delicious Thai-inspired one just like this, different crust.

Socca Version 2-2

Returning to the old date sauce post…eek! A little cringe-worthy. But also kind of nice, being a chance to reflect on how I’ve continued to learn and evolve as seen through this blog. You can see where I decided to give a sh** about photos, when we got a new camera, and when I actually started to learn to use it, for instance. Which is really helpful and significant, because there is a point where it’s easy to fall into a morose mindset of only getting older and never again better, and I guess I’ve hit it. Luckily, thanks hugely to Little F/Sous Chef, I’ve been able to keep on sending it away. Because of him, I’m finally learning to be fully present. He’s changing so fast, and  right now, for now, he loves having his parents share in all that wondrous growth.

Socca Version 2-1

Being present in the present–it’s about time. I’m tired of missing out on my life because I’m too busy hanging onto past hurts and perceived judgments to see the now. I do want to make more room for remembering all these little things that are big things. Cooking, laughing, singing, discovering, playing with my little guy. Things that create peace and calm, things that create laughter so good it hurts. So many things…including how date sauce over socca makes me smile thinking of friends we made something similar with once. (And it really tastes great, too.)

Thai-inspired roasted pepper socca pizza

  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ¼ cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 orange bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 5-6 Medjool dates, pitted (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced (white and light green portions)
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, optional
  • cilantro, for garnish
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • cooking spray


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, sift chickpea flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk in warm water and olive oil. Let sit, covered, for 30 minutes to 8 hours.
  3. While batter is resting, place sliced peppers on a baking sheet or  roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and coat with cooking spray. Cook until  tender, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
  4. Prepare the sauce: place dates, tomato paste, soy sauce, lemon juice, and garlic in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.
  5. Preheat the broiler with a rack positioned 8 inches from heat. Liberally spray a 10-inch (approximate) ovenproof skillet with cooking spray and place in the oven to preheat.
  6. Using an oven mitt/potholder, pour batter in the skillet and return to the broiler. Cook approximately 8 minutes, until the socca is set and the edges are browning and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Remove from oven, turn off broiler and turn oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Use a spatula to evenly spread date sauce over socca. Top with roasted peppers and onion.
  8. Return the skillet to the oven and bake a further 5 minutes, or until socca is becoming crisp on the edges and toppings are heated through. Garnish with cilantro and peanuts.

Vegan socca “pizza”: roasted asparagus and mushrooms (GF, vegan) and Thai-inspired roasted pepper

Have you tried socca yet? Because I’m about to sound very starry-eyed and naive about it, which might bore the connoisseur. If you haven’t, think about it. It is SO easy and SO awesome. SO much so, I’ve been repeating myself about it all week since first trying (for the first two times–Thai-inspired version coming up next), yet it’s taken me awhile to begin recording the recipes. I wanted time give them the kind of introduction socca deserves.


I’d been wanting to try socca for awhile since I came across this Mark Bittman recipe. A traditional dish from Nice, socca is essentially a chickpea pancake, but also so much more. It’s naturally gluten-free and vegan, and oh so versatile and easy to both prepare and get creative with. One cup of chickpea flour will fill a good-sized skillet…10-inch, 12-inch, 8-inch; the different thicknesses and levels of crispiness all seem to work. And I love how chickpea flour is relatively inexpensive and accessible, as gluten-free flours go.


Socca delights me with a bounty of seeming contradictions that work. While there are infinite ways to vary in presentation and preparation of the overall dish, the basic recipe for the socca itself is pretty constant. Socca provides the comfort of the familiar with a uniqueness that elevates it in all its forms, at least to newbie me. Go crispy and cut up for an appetizer. Bake a little thicker for an oven pancake that is lovably fuss-free, both in the cooking and the flexibility with toppings. Sweet or savory sumptuousness. Fold it or roll it. Put under the broiled for a pizza crust alternative that has just enough crispness for a good hand-held wedge and retains a nice soft chewiness, too. Throw in herbs, chopped olives, onions, spice. It’s a winner any way.


Roasted asparagus and mushroom socca pizza 

  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ¼ cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 bunch asparagus, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • cooking spray
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, sift chickpea flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk in warm water and olive oil. Let sit, covered, for 30 minutes to 8 hours.
  3. While batter is resting, combine asparagus, mushrooms and onion on a baking sheet or  roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and toss with olive oil or coat with cooking spray. Cook until asparagus is tender, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
  4. Preheat the broiler with a rack positioned 8 inches from heat. Liberally spray a 10-inch (approximate) ovenproof skillet with cooking spray and place in the oven to preheat.
  5. Using an oven mitt/potholder, pour batter in the skillet and return to the broiler. Cook approximately 8 minutes, until the socca is set and the edges are browning and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Remove from oven, turn off broiler and turn oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Use a spatula to evenly spread tomato sauce over socca. Top with roasted asparagus mixture.
  7. Return the skillet to the oven and bake a further 5 minutes, or until socca is becoming crisp on the edges and toppings are heated through.


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