For a few weeks running, I’ve fallen into a habit of going off on personal tangents. One more week won’t hurt, right? Next week I will make a concerted effort to post food with minimal commentary about anything outside of said recipe. Promise. Unless something REALLY compelling comes up that needs to be logged, diary-style.
This week I’m thinking about lentils. For anyone impatient with personal ramblings yet still willing to visit here, time to skip to the recipe is now. I first worked on this recipe for Ancient Harvest and now it’s a regular. It’s easy, satisfying, colorful, variable, vegan, plant-powerful, and delicious.
It’s funny, the little things that trigger memories, even those we didn’t mean to store. Sometimes such a blessing. Sometimes a trigger for a cloud. Always, an opportunity for learning and reflection.
Last Thursday I went to the police station to be fingerprinted. My teaching license is up for renewal this year, and last month I was notified that my background check is no longer on file and fingerprints need be resubmitted. On reflection that’s standard–because, time passing–but in the moment I interpreted the email as, great, CDE LOST my fingerprints, and what a hassle. I was a little prickly, in small part because I had also been “lost” in the system regarding one writing contract and was months behind on getting paid; on top of that, a check from another contract had been lost in the mail. These things combined, and I concluded morosely that I was steadily being deleted from existence.
At the station, a brisk woman ably rolled my fingers and thumbs on the card while I tried to hide my crankiness by appearing absorbed by the boxes printed on the card. My eyes rested on the standard tiny square marked “R”, and for a moment I disappeared. Not quite deja vu, not time travel (though, wow, if only!)…you know the brain space kind of place I mean.
I was six years old. My father and I were parked outside the small local elementary school, the only one in our then small town. We were dropping off books for a sale. As my father hauled the boxes over to donations, I hopped into the back of an open truck to browse through books displayed there. I remember loving the old, worn ones best, thumbing through beguiling, dusty, yellowed pages, breathing in their smells.
“What ARE you?!” A man’s insistent, aggravated voice barked me out of my mini-reverie. I looked up and took in his ruddy face, purple and pulsating at the temples. Even then I could see he was coarse, naive and rude. But I still felt less-than facing him, and he scared me.
“What ARE you?!” the man repeated. I looked around, confirming he was directing all that barbed anger toward me. I wasn’t sure I understood the question. Undeterred, he continued, “What are you? Jap, Chink, Mexican?” “I’m-I’m American,” I finally stammered, as I’d been taught. His uproarious laughter in response…I guess I’ve magnified it in my mind, but it was deeply unsettling. Prejudice wasn’t new to me, but this was the first time I’d felt such electric loathing directed at me like that, and from an adult. Mess that he was, I would given him respect, regarded him as authority.
What happened next was nothing noteworthy. My dad came back, and we went home. The incident lasted no more than two minutes, but decades later I realized it stayed with me, retained some power to rattle me. And found myself staring at a fingerprint card, asking myself, again, the same question that fuming man asked me.
I’ve marked N/A in a designated box, checked many boxes, or left box blank…I’m not Black, Hispanic, White/Caucasian, Asian, or even Other as it’s qualified by Pacific Islander. I get that it’s useful information to include for census. But every time I’m faced with the box, leaving the blank box I avert my eyes and for a moment I feel small and drab.
It’s common and temptingly easy to analogize with food. I mean, I do it ALL THE TIME. But societally, it’s intriguing, right? Positive, well-intended comparisons that are never immune to loathing and dismantlement…like those for our country’s diversity, from melting pot to salad bowl. Negative, vindictive, taunting ones that stick…Oreo, Twinkie, egg. In today’s uneasy climate, hateful stereotypes seem to be finding new force and freedoms, and this makes me so, so sad. What’s immeasurably reassuring is I know I’m so, so not alone.
This past weekend I followed the marches with longing, awed by the masses uniting peacefully around the world as WE. In my kitchen I made lentil bolognese and decided on a whim that I wouldn’t stoop to trying to answer “what are you” as if a one-word box could be a satisfactory response, but that I would play the game. You know, the food analogy one. So this week I am lentils. And why not? Lentils are soft, quiet, but tougher than you might think. Sure they easily go unnoticed. But lentils are hardy and sustaining, enduring and versatile. If you mistake them as drab then perhaps you haven’t paused to appreciate the richness of their colors.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 1/4 cup red lentils
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped plus extra for garnish
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Pasta of choice, to serve
- In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, bell pepper, celery and zucchini and cook slowly until the vegetables soften and onions turn golden, about 10 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium-high. Stir in tomato paste and cook 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and continue cooking, stirring and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, a further 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in the lentils, broth, and wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 30 minutes.
- During last 10 minutes while sauce is simmering, prepare pasta according to package directions.
- Stir parsley and basil to sauce and serve over pasta. Garnish with basil leaves and serve.
Inspired by a curried quinoa with raisins and almonds that I swooned over at the new local Whole Foods, this salad came together tweak by fortuitously compatible tweak. The dressing began bland. Then each little ingredient, rather than causing cloudy confusion, added something uniquely complementary…pop, zing, tang, or just a bit of niceness. The end result was lovely, bursting with flavor, packed with greens, and satiating with the hearty protein-rich combination of quinoa and chickpeas. That’s really all I wanted to say about this quinoa-kale combo. It’s all about the little things.
That has been something of a motto for me, at least on this blog, this season. The impact and importance of little things. Being a relatively small and prematurely, overly apologetic person, I guess I’ve always had an affinity for small ponds; a fierce faith in the significance of small but steady, well-intentioned steps. But recently, an online professional development class on mindfulness has encouraged pause for reflection that allowed me to call myself out for how indolent–or maybe fearful– I’ve been lately, dismissive of small efforts when it comes to myself. In other words, kind of a hypocrite.
I used to write poetry. A lot. Depending on the situation not everyone wants to admit to this, but in fact I went to graduate school for it. Now, as mama to a very busy, somewhat clingy (but wonderfully so) 3-year old who squeezes work as a freelancer into narrow, awkward hours, any poetic channels I still possess are clogged. My writing gets plenty of enjoyable outlets, and sometimes it even closes in on eloquent; but if I were to attempt poetry it would be obvious and pathetic in its stumbling. I know this, but it isn’t a reason not to try, if only infrequently, sometimes.
I used to play piano a lot, too. Despite being a sing-song, nursery-rhyme style ‘singer’, I will always be so thankful for the salvation music, particularly the piano, has provided during key crossroads, and painful, lost, and lonely periods of my life. The mentors I’ve had have been more impactful than they may ever realize. They’ve nurtured my soul and saved me from drowning in more ways than I’ve ever told them. Now, I’m lucky to pull out old familiar pieces I love or struggle with sight reading roughly ten minutes every other week or so. It’s a temporary state of things, and the music will be there when I return to it. But that’s no reason not to take those ten minutes where they appear and relish them.
The truth is, there are good reasons not to attempt to do these things I love. Mainly, time, or lack of. Sometimes money, too, though not really relevant to those examples. There are always trade-offs, and how privileged to have the luxury of choosing mine. Self-care is not absent in my life, it just looks different than a younger, freer self’s routines, and that’s OK.
But where I’ve been really falling down is the holding back when it comes to reaching out to people because I’m afraid I’m not enough. Because I’m embarrassed…that in my state of too little time or too stretched a budget that what I can offer is not worthwhile. A string of meaningful events has been lighting up our community lately, with babies arriving, life changes to celebrate, and changes to mourn. I have caught myself too many times holding back from reaching out for the weakest of reasons…that the time I can offer would be too short or too inconsistent to be meaningful; the meal I’d offer would be too simple to be sustenance, the gift too small to be appreciated.
Last week we couldn’t fit the “big shop” on a single weekday, and had to arrange the weekend so I could take on the grocery store late Saturday morning. Inside, it was packed with people; outside, the parking lot was packed with slushy, heavy, gritty snow. I was indulging in post-holiday, somewhat fatigued, hormonal, lonely bluesiness, struggling to push my heavy cart over the mini parking lot moguls of gripping, slippery snow-dirt, when a woman rushed over as if out of a dream, grabbed the end of the cart and commanded, “You pull, I’ll push” in such a sunny, efficiently managerial kind of manner, my spirits instantly lifted. After my bags were unloaded and I started to push–with much more ease–my lightened cart over to the dock, an elderly man appeared at my side and insisted in this soft, gentlemanly, kindly voice, “please, let me help you.”
Those two strangers will never know how much those quick, unselfish moments of their time mattered to me. I hope the pay-it-forward effect brings them some solid karma. Because it’s been going on a week, and the lift their combined efforts gave me may have ebbed but hasn’t gone away. Better, it’s opened up a few resolves…’new year resolutions’ I hadn’t made but have already acted on, so that’s something. The little voice that has been holding back good intentions has taken a more optimistic and centered approach, experimenting with new advice: offer the soup; write the poem, or if not, read one; play the music, or if not, listen; visit with the friend, or if not, call…or if not, message; compliment the stranger; thank the friend; say ‘I love you’; wish the Facebook “friend” who’s not really a friend happy birthday (or delete the “friend” if that’s better for the whole, meaningful picture). Because, it’s the little things in the end. You may never know the difference you inspired, but it’s there.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey (or maple syrup for vegan)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
- pinch ground tumeric
- 1 tablespoon finely minced red onion
- Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 4 cups shredded kale, ribs and stems removed
- 1 apple, thinly sliced
- ¾ cup raisins
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- Bring the quinoa, vegetable broth, and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender, and the water has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the dressing by whisking together the orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, mustard, honey, cider vinegar, spices and onion in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the kale, apples, raisins and almonds to the cooked quinoa, and stir to combine. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Prior to serving, add dressing and toss to coat.
You could that at our house, Christmas 2016 started on November 1st. That’s just how things fell this year with family visits. Nanny (Dave’s Mum) came from England on the 3rd, and a week after she returned home, we took a quick trip to Connecticut for an early holiday with my family. In any case, by the time new year hits, we’ll have been “Christmas-ing” in our way for two full months. So you’d think we’d have had our holiday-fill by now. Only this year, the merriment and twinkle-strings of dazzle in the form of beloved holiday traditions is proving harder to relinquish than ever, and here’s why:
There is a present-shaped piece of craft foam, bespeckled in glitter and labeled “Felix’s room” in sloppy red Crayola marker, hanging on the doorknob of my sleeping three-year old’s bedroom. This is the tip of the why. Inside that room, said three-year old is curled up peacefully beside his white, personal mini Christmas tree adorned with favorite decorations and topped with his handmade Santa, a celebration of shapes: cones, triangles, and circles. And that lightly snoring, blissful boy LOVES Christmas. He has been singing carols since July. Here is the iceberg.
I’m not really sure what kind of time frame is required to constitute a true family tradition, or how much evolution can be transpire for one to still qualify as traditional. But I am full of gratitude for the warmth and cosiness of some of the simplest, quietest may-be-traditions we’ve been sharing together these last few years. Things like transforming the kitchen table to a glitter, glue and paint station for homemade cards; stockings first in little F’s bedroom Christmas morning; lights and decorations teamwork.
And of course the food. Especially the sort that in all honesty we can have anytime, only it sounds, tastes and presents differently during the holiday season. Christmas Eve porridge (doesn’t just using the word ‘porridge’ elevate things up a notch from plain old hearty oatmeal?), which is just creamy steel cut oats in almond milk, dates, cranberries and raisins, and topped in this granola:
I know, we don’t really need recipes for granola. I mean, the whole point with granola is to freely play and create, right? On the other hand, it’s always worth having a solid template, and since creating this one for Ancient Harvest a few years ago, this has been my go-to bare bones starter. It has never let me down and doesn’t even really require any measurements…just toss together, swap and add at will. It’s even hard to overbake/burn. It’s a splendid way to emphatically declare a bowl of porridge Christmas Eve-worthy, and much more delightful than oatmeal.
So we’re a little clingy this year, and laying out the things we’re already missing it’s clear it’s not actually Christmas we’re clinging to. It’s truly the spirit, which is kind of beautiful. Little F loved wrapping presents for others, carefully and creatively constructing elaborate blockades to keep the recipient out of bounds while preparing his/her surprises. We’re still making construction paper, crafty presents just so we can wrap them. He loves the lights, the music, the sharing, the cookie baking and hot cocoa. His joyfulness from those simple holiday traditions coupled with a mama who annually immerses in the Hallmark channel all December (or, actually, the Netflix equivalent) and feels excruciatingly aggrieved each January by the abrupt shift in messaging from giving to me-focused momentum…and we’ve kind of got a perfect storm in our little house for some major post holiday blues.
There are many magical things about traditions. One biggie, there is always room for new ones. And one of many magical things about having a loving and spirited little person in the house is that there is no better time to develop fresh and fun ones, every day even.
Today was a warm and gorgeous winter day that felt like spring. The open, clear blue sky invited a different sort of giddy expectation. It was too perfect not to make a small self-declaration, that maybe this year I could trial a new tradition of greeting the new year with actual welcome more than wistfulness. There is good reason to be in love with today. Our kitchen table art can see a release from wreathes and trees and instead invite in the bold and fanciful ’emergent curriculum’ that is whatever the day will bring. That’s just one thing, but enough to smile about. Happy New Year!
- 2 cups gluten-free oats
- 1 cup quinoa flakes (or another cup oats)
- 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 cup pecan pieces
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/3 cup pepitas
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Dash salt
- ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons liquid coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¾ cup dried cranberries, raisins, or other dried fruit of choice
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a large bowl, toss oats, quinoa flakes, quinoa, pecans, sunflower seeds, cinnamon and salt together until combined.
- In a medium bowl, combine syrup, coconut oil, orange juice, and vanilla. Pour over dry ingredients and stir to thoroughly mix and coat.
- Spread onto prepared baking sheet and bake 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway. Allow to cool on baking sheets. Pour into bowl or storage container and add dried fruit.
Years (and, so fast, years!) ago as a newlywed, I thought I was a pretty good cook. (I was pretty abysmal.) I thought I was on the fairly outstanding end of being passionate about healthy living, but I hadn’t come anywhere close to unleashing the beast of a hyper for health and happiness herbivore (mostly) that lay within. I also didn’t know about the infinite vastness of what I didn’t know; one bonus of becoming more *seasoned*, the gentle humility of enlightenment.
Back then, structure was paramount to productivity, down to meal routines…or more like a meal rota that looked like this: Mondays, when Dave and I coached a Special Olympics Track team in the evenings, Subway; Tuesdays, Mrs. T’s pierogies with tomato sauce with mushrooms and maybe spinach; Wednesdays, omelets; Thursdays, chicken curry or an easy Mulligatawny soup from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook; Fridays, “chips night” to both feed and stave off Dave’s homesickness for the UK. It was oven steak fries, a fried egg, baked beans, and a baked tomato. On the weekends, maybe we were a little more creative, or maybe pizza and salad was the only thing that made sense.
A whopping seventeen (!!) years later, I can look back at those early dinners, laugh fondly, and revel a little bit in our evolution. It does make my heart skip a beat to reflect on the healthy variety and relaxed joy that is family dinner with our toddler, and almost three-year old who loves miso soup with kelp noodles, curried vegetables, and kale. I can’t remember the last time I tasted a packaged pierogie stuffed with TV-dinner mashed potatoes. I have to admit, though, if for some reason I found myself all alone for a week and somehow unearthed a box in the freezer, I’d be tempted. Despite expiration date (and the fact that it wouldn’t matter).
Looking back on seventeen years, there are so many moments and just states of being worthy of nostalgia. You wouldn’t think Monday night Subway would be up there, but you can never really predict what’s going to make the list and when. Nor would I have expected to get at all sentimental over an easy chicken mulligatawny…especially one that didn’t much resemble any of the other “mulligatawny” dishes I’ve since had. Especially not when one no longer eats chicken.
For whatever reason, this past week I felt compelled to make a variation of the old mulligatawny. After the additions of vegetables and coconut milk, and swaps of vegetable versus chicken broth, baked tofu over chicken, plus more rice, the dish wasn’t much like the once favorite, but it was warm, hearty and satisfying with that lightly sweet curry comfort. Easy, too. Full disclosure/TMI, I prepped the whole thing, or at least all the main parts were made ready to go, while little sous chef/monkey was “working on a poo poo” in the potty. Can’t really beat that for efficiency.
Next week, maybe we’ll try this again, only exactly as the Better Homes inspiration was written but with tofu. I’m sure it will be lovely and repeatable. One thing that’s wonderful about seventeen years shared with your best friend, there are countless experiences worth looking back on, revisiting, and savoring again. Neither this particular version or the original mulligatawny soup were quite up to the honor of anniversary day dinner, however, tasty as they both are. That was reserved for “chips night”.
Happy anniversary, sweetheart. Three days late, in keeping with how little time we have for “extra” stuff these days. I love how fully and joyfully our little family is living every second of each minute that we share together. 🙂
Tofu Mulligatawny Stew
- 1 cup long grain brown rice
- 1 package firm tofu, cubed
- 1 apple, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- salt and pepper to taste
- cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- In a large saucepan, prepare rice: bring cup rice and 2 1/2 cups water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 45 minutes.
- While rice is cooking (or once cooked), prepare the tofu: place cubed tofu on a baking sheet and lightly coat with cooking spray, salt and pepper to taste. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes, turning halfway with a spatula.
- Heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray to medium high. Add apples, carrot, zucchini, pepper, onion and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add curry powder, lemon juice, and nutmeg, and continue to heat another 2 minutes. Add broth and coconut milk and bring to a near boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes. Stir in cooked rice and tofu and heat through.
When a friend asked me for thoughts on making over a cottage cheese blender pancake recipe that eliminated the cottage cheese/dairy, she had no idea what she was in for. As in, what kind of geeked-out, rapid, pinball firing momentum she was kicking off. Ten rambling, overly enthusiastic, stream-of-consciousness Facebook messages or so within ten minutes or less later, however, and I think I did a pretty good job of fixing that.
It feels redundant to say these pancakes are easy because, really, what kind of pancakes cooked in our own kitchens aren’t typically pretty easy? But these are really easy. You don’t even need a whisk. What’s more, like most pancake recipes , the batter is nicely forgiving, allowing for simple adjustments as you go. What’s better, they’re also really delicious.
Saturday morning, I was in the last third of my long run for the week, and beginning to tire. Thinking about possibilities for these pancakes–ingredients, quantities, substitutions–gave me a pleasant and undeniable extra spring in my step. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, but truth is, I kind of wish I were more so. Big picture truth, I ultimately enjoyed these pancakes so much I feel like I need to divulge this odd little factoid in the pancakes’ s personal story.
While the bulk of these pancakes is the oats, the chickpea flour adds a lightly sweet, moist heartiness that makes all the difference. These pancakes don’t wilt and wither into dried-out wannabe flatbreads if not eaten in an hour. They hold up well to refrigeration, in fact. I know this because it was past lunchtime and we were all hungry when I made them, and so I stored a few in the fridge to photograph, only getting to them 3 days later (yep, still yummy!).
On Tuesday, when I got around to snapping some pics, and then eating more pancakes, the thought crossed my mind that there was something about the pancakes that tasted so comfortingly familiar. Something I really liked but couldn’t name. Then the word came to me, and it was pancakes. Without oil, wheat, sugar, or dairy, these pancakes pull off everything a pancake should be, really–hearty yet fluffy, versatile and satisfying–yet better. Hope they work for you, too!
- 1 cup oats
- 1/2 cup garbanzo bean/chickpea flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg* (or 2 flax eggs)
- 1 flax egg (1 T flax meal and 2.5 T water)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 scant (just under) cup of almond milk or alternative of choice
- cooking spray
- Combine all ingredients in a blender. Puree, scraping down the sides once or twice if needed, until combined.
- Let the batter stand for a 2-3 minutes while heating the griddle or skillet (nonstick or coated with cooking spray) on medium heat.
- Pour approx. 1/3 cup of batter per pancake into circles onto the pan. Cook for approximately 1 minute until the pancakes look dry around the edges and begin to bubble. Flip and cook on the other side until golden brown and cooked in the middle. Serve with toppings of choice.