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.
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.
I’ve been sitting on this simple, comforting dish for weeks. Problem is, the only time I’ve had lately to log it has been when experiencing end-of-day brain burnout. So now I’m trying early morning power posting–quick, efficient, and just the basics. Which is actually really appropriate for this hearty, easy meal.
There’s lots to love about this ‘pilaf’. For one thing, it’s delightfully versatile, in that it can be tailored to taste; it can just as easily make for a filling meal or an accompaniment. I added baked cubed tofu to bulk into a main meal, but other proteins would complement just as well if you’re not into soy. Switching things up as a side is easy, too–almonds for cashews, cranberries for raisins, addition of apples…there’s an awful lot of leeway for play considering how little active time it actually takes to make.
I’m veering off the promise of bare bones only–just quickly–but when
I first made this I almost made myself laugh out loud. Because on first bite, a warm swell inside was accompanied by my brain randomly reacting with this thought: mmmmm…yummy like Rice-a-Roni. And you know I can’t have had Rice-a-Roni more than a handful of times in my life. Not that I have a particular problem with the product. But–you know, right? What I mean?
The more I read, observe, listen, learn, reflect, the more reasons I discover to deplore corporatization of our food system. The ugliness is endless, from the strategic profit at the expense of human health to the intent marketing directed at children. I’m rather obsessed. And yet I’ve still somehow attached sentimentality to boxed foods I hardly have any actual experience with. Whether testament to marketing genius or fickle-minded weakness I have no idea and don’t expect to solve in a hurried post about curried quinoa. But on the upside, the simple, soothing spice blend of this quick and easy makes for really good grounding when those convenience box cravings set in. Satisfying them is about saving time on little effort, and yielding something flavourful. Bonus, we can ditch the boxes and make said yields healthy too. Maybe you need to budget up to 30 minutes to make it, but the actual effort you put in hardly exceeds opening a box of spices within a box of grains to simmer in a pot. 🙂
- 1 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
- 3 cups water or vegetable broth (or 1.5 cups each)
- 1 tablespoon curry powder, divided
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 14-ounce pack organic firm tofu, cut into cubes
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 2 cups cauliflower florets
- 1/2 c. raisins
- 1/3 c. roasted cashews
- Cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 400 F. Place tofu (if using), broccoli and cauliflower florets on a baking sheet in one layer. Lightly coat with cooking spray and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and browning at edges.
- Meanwhile, bring water or broth to a boil. Add quinoa, ginger, turmeric, 2 teaspoons curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, covered, until quinoa is soft and fluffy (approx. 12-15 minutes). Stir in raisins and set aside, covered, until vegetables are cooked.
- In a large salad bowl, combine all ingredients. Enjoy!
Doesn’t the “forbidden” elevate the idea of rice? Not that simply saying black rice would be any less appealing. But “forbidden” adds a haunting mysticism that’s kind of irresistible.
It seems forbidden rice owes its name to ancient Chinese dynasties when, thought to promote longevity and good health, it was exclusively reserved for emperors. Personally, I think it could as easily come down to the way the sticky black grains tend to create a comically unsavory toothless look when they lodge in your teeth. But it’s so good. Just be sure to have a toothbrush handy when you eat it, or at the very least plan on a vigorous but discreet swish with water immediately after eating and before talking if with company.
Call it a dragon bowl, buddha bowl, hippie bowl, just a bowl; forbidden rice or black rice, whatever the names, this may be my new most favorite dish ever (for now). Power packed with good nutrition, easy to make, easier to vary, and awfully beautiful to boot. Best of all, it’s sooo satisfyingly yummy. I made it originally solely for an excuse to write down and share the dressing, adapted somewhat from a coleslaw recipe my sister made when we were visiting CT earlier this summer. It came from an issue of Milk Street Magazine, and I was so taken with that coleslaw I wanted to record it here to come back to but felt uncomfortable doing so. It just seemed like tweaking and creating something new would be more fair somehow.
Given that this meal was built expressly around a sauce, I guess the “all about the dressing” streak continues. On the other hand, this particular combination of subtly spicy chickpeas, roast sweet potatoes, caramelized red onion and greens is an absolute perfect fit. As for the dressing, it’s awfully adaptable too. I thought about including a little sesame oil, only because I doubted there was none in the original. I’m so glad I trusted memory and left it out. It would have been a foolishly gratuitous inclusion. I did make some changes (more coconut milk, soy sauce for fish sauce, chili garlic sauce for serrano chiles), and the result was so tasty I couldn’t help licking the lid of the jar I made it in.
Speaking of mysticism (back to the whole forbidden thing), lately little F has been getting into The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. I LOVE these chapter books. Reading them to students to conclude the day is among my very dearest memories of teaching Kindergarten and something that keeps me thinking I’ll come back to it. We’d dim the lights and I’d play soft background tracks from an Enya CD to match the mood of the story. (Her album, Without Rain is the perfect pairing.) I loved that time so much that one summer, pre-parenting, I tried reading them to the same music all by myself. It wasn’t the same.
Anyway, it took me by surprise how drawn to them little F became at not quite four, but I love this shared time together so much. Recently, we’ve been reading a set of “Merlin Missions” wherein the characters Jack and Annie are tasked with finding secrets of happiness to help a sorrowful Merlin. And here I’m going to start stretching for connections in such a way that borders on unbearable, depending who you are. As I do.
I do a lot of daydreaming while cooking. A lot of thinking and musing. Getting cheesily philosophical about “recipes for happiness” is a staple theme. It’s funny how contented we can be in our now while yet so anxious and fearful of what tomorrow might be. Since Little F was born I’ve known radiant happiness while continually quietly mourning the necessary drift. Always fervently hoping that as each new level of letting go arrives, I’ll find myself capable of whatever it is I need to be ready for. So far, it’s been alright. The other morning for instance, our keen “marching to four”-year old woke up early, and for the first time ever, he chose not to wake us up. Instead, all by himself he pulled his curtains, made his bed, got dressed (T-shirt adorably backwards), and busily set about “delivering” his stuffed animals to various locations throughout the house. I awoke hearing him bustling about and you could sense the joy in the movement. It was a milestone of independence. While my heart definitely felt a pang, it also bloomed with pride and joy for him, as has been the case so far with all these dreaded yet special steps into his own.
That night while while cooking, my mind was wandering…there was the usual noting of worry regarding said drift, and time passing, and also Jack and Annie, happiness in general, that coleslaw from Milk Street I’d been too hesitant to write down even for myself as is. And suddenly, all these fluttering thoughts collided and I felt somehow closer to an important truth. Not there, but closer. The Buddhist ideal of non-attachment began to make a little more sense. It seemed less cold and distant, more graceful and accepting than I’d interpreted before.
Sometimes the most stirring epiphanies are those representing the things that seem like they should be the most obvious. Maybe an important key to happiness is letting go of ownership. The less we own, the less preoccupied we are with boundaries. I don’t own recipe combinations. Neither does Milk Street, for that matter (well, actually depending on copyright maybe they do, but you know what I mean). My marching-t0-four year old son is my world. I grew him from a tiny seed and his father and I love him to pieces, nourish him, revel in the weightiness of responsibility that is caring for him. Yet he is not ours. Recognizing this does not dull my love for him in the slightest, or lay the foundation for walls around my heart. If anything it makes me love him even more, if that’s possible. But remembering he is his own gives a little more peace. At least in this moment.
The dressing for this dish is to me amazing. I’m not sure what makes it so. So simple, but everything works together (and who can scoff at coconut and lime, really?). There is no secret ingredient. You’ll take it and make it yours, and therefore better. Here’s the big corn, friends. Ultimately, the secret ingredient, always, is you.
- 2 cups black rice
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 1 small red onion, peeled and cut in wedges
- cooking spray
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
- 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 4 cups baby kale or mixed greens
- Prepare the rice: Cook 2 cups in 3 ½ cups water. Rinse under cold water. Bring water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low, cook until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 35 minutes.
- Coat chickpeas with chili powder and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange sweet potatoes and onions on a baking sheet and coat generously with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven to turn with a spatula and add chickpeas. Bake for a further 15 -20 minutes, turning once.
- Prepare the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients through coconut milk to combine.
- Add half the dressing to rice, stirring to coat. Divide rice into serving bowls, then top with equal amounts of kale/greens mix, sweet potatoes, onions and chickpeas. Drizzle remaining dressing evenly on top. Enjoy!
May be a trend…another recipe that is all about the dressing. Sort of. That is to say, the dressing is what I most want to remember and share for its uniqueness, at least to me. Until now I didn’t make the tahini-balsamic combo a regular in meal planning. I am definitely going to be making up for lost time moving forward.
There is another beauty of a bonus, too: built-in is a major shortcut if needed. If it’s one of those days when the mere step of whizzing up a dressing has you feeling limp and listless, you can relax and refuel faster knowing this salad is so very forgiving. Just about any dressing will do. Whatever ready-made vinaigrette you wish (just stay away from the sweet ones), Italian,a splash of plain lemon juice and oil, or my personal favorite, the marinade from artichokes. But if you do feel fresh and awake enough to whisk a few ingredients separately in a bowl, or process them till smooth, tahini-balsamic has a simple way of elevating every quinoa seed and spinach leaf with rich, tangy, nuttiness.
Occasionally I have stretches where tahini has a way of breaking me from peanut butter love in a refreshing way. I would almost say the smooth paste could swap in and satisfy every PB craving with the added benefit that I’d never, ever eat it from the jar or have too much. I would lick away each semblance of a pool of tahini dressing on my plate though, and do. And if I’m feeling twinges of guilt over that, I justify by telling myself “zero waste” and also the reminder that sesame seeds contain more calcium, iron, plus other minerals and phytosterols than peanuts do. But I don’t need this self-talk very often. This dish epitomizes how synonymous healthy and delicious truly are. No justification needed, just readiness to enjoy. 🙂
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 (5 oz) package washed baby spinach, kale, or mixed greens
- 1 1/2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 medium cucumber, chopped
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
- 1 (14 oz) can quartered artichoke hearts in water, drained
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1/3 cup tahini
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Cook quinoa: add 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and summer until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Transfer to a large salad bowl.
- Add greens, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, artichokes and chickpeas to quinoa in bowl.
- Prepare the dressing: place tahini, water, vinegar, soy sauce and garlic powder in a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Toss quinoa mixture with dressing prior to serving.