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.
It’s Thankful month. Seems somewhat ironic, in the face of an election year that delivered punches left and right, shocked and devastated. On the same token, the traditional reminder for conscious contemplation and gratitude couldn’t be more timely.
Here are a few things I’m thankful for this week, starting with the most prosaic, which may seem shallow yet is also awesomely useful: I’m very thankful for my new Cuisinart food processor. I’m in awe of its fabulous options, offering chopping, medium and fine slicing and grating. I love the smooth, swift way it can swallow the likes of woody broccoli stalks, peppers, carrots, celery…and whatever I throw in it, and transform the bunch into slender, flavorful vegetable ribbons that are a brighter, tastier throwback to finely sliced, old school chow mein. Along those same lines, I’m grateful for the beautiful deliciousness and ease of stir-fries; the colorful, healthy way the cluttered contents of what’s left in the fridge combined with the distracted methods of a muddled mind can form a cohesive, satisfying, variable dish. It’s what we’re eating pretty much all week. And I’m thankful to have had coffee with Santa.
We all know it takes many hands to do good work, to share in spreading joy and cheer the weary and growing wearier world over. There’s a need for many helpers, none of whom make any of the others any less real. For Longmont’s John Chilson, an international marketing consultant, teacher, and speaker, a remarkable journey began in October of 1999, when he spotted a particularly fun $35 Santa suit, complete with covers for boots, a wig, bag for toys and cozy hat, at Walmart. “I’ve had a beard since ’72, and was a natural fit for a Santa” he told me Tuesday morning at a local coffee shop, eyes twinkling over his red flannel shirt while sipping his drink. “The outfit looked like fun. I put a note on neighbors’ doors that Santa would be sitting outside our house at certain dates, and there it began. Before I knew it, I was Santa.”
Mr. Chilson helped to found the Society of Santa, where people can search for available Santas who are reliable, professional, and with completed background checks and performance and liability insurance, for their events. His website, Santa Claus at the North Pole, dazzles with cheerful offerings including videos, Santa-approved gift recommendations, downloadable coloring pages, updated calendar of Santa’s schedule, recipes, favorite music and more. And upon meeting Santa John, it goes without saying, being Santa is far more than a job. It is a year-round lifestyle, one which entails always wearing red and driving a red car with the license plate “North Pole”, among many other fine details. Meeting him Tuesday brightened my day. He was so kind, so compassionate, so authentic.
Wednesday morning I woke up feeling despondent for our country and the hate, fear, and violent simmering of its stark divides. The feeling was at first immobilizing. I found myself returning to pieces of my conversation with Santa the day before. Namely, the magical potential of little kindnesses. Santa John shared stories of hospitals, shelters, family events, each special and stirring in its own way. He talked of teens whose eyes filled with tears when he told them he believed in them, because, “no one had ever said that to them before.” He talked about how blown away he was by an older woman in the hospital when he recognized how much comfort he was able to give her by simply saying, as Santa, ‘you have permission not to get everything done for Christmas’. The red suit delivers. “It’s rather addictive putting on the red suit,” he told me. “There’s power, and not the kind that comes from personal gain, though I do gain so much from it. In fact, I’m happier with myself, more accepting of myself. That is a big part of what I love most.”
I know I’ve taken a huge leap and tangent talking about a talk with Santa in a post about an easy stir-fry you could probably make with your eyes closed. I can’t even say I know whether Santa John himself would enjoy this noodle dish, but I do know he’d sample with appreciation. But somehow this week, Santa and noodles seemed to deserve a shared space, if only in my mind. I am only one person, and without a red suit. But I can choose kindness where possible, and that does mean something. This week Santa reminded me, little things are powerful. They are the way forward to cohesive, colorful hope.
- 1 8-ounce package of extra firm tofu, cubed
- 1 1-inch piece ginger root, peeled and minced
- 2 garlic gloves, minced
- 1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
- 3 bell peppers (red, orange, yellow), julienned
- 1 large broccoli stalk, thinly sliced
- 1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, sliced and drained
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable stock or broth
- ¼ cup hoisin sauce
- ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup (or honey if non vegan)
- 1 T tomato paste
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Prepare a baking sheet with cooking spray or line with silpat. Evenly spread cubed tofu on tray and bake 30 minutes, turning halfway through.
- In a pot of boiling water, cook noodles according to package directions. Drain well and set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together broth, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, syrup or honey and tomato paste. Set aside.
- Heat oil (or cooking spray) in a large nonstick skillet. Add ginger and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until garlic is lightly browned.
- Add all the vegetables and water chestnuts to pan. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes.
- Add sauce. Bring mixture to a near boil, reduce heat and let simmer until slightly reduced and thickened, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in noodles and tofu and serve.
It’s a busy, busy month with another different but equally busy ahead. I’ve been wanting to write up a vegan sweet potato enchilada recipe we’re loving, but it’s going to have to wait another day or two. In the meantime, here are some of the latest recipes posted on the Ancient Harvest website. They have all already been repeated at least once, either for ourselves or gifted. Hope some of the work for you!
Quinoa Salad with Spinach and Roasted Strawberries : You don’t need to roast strawberries to marvel at their sweet deliciousness, but something about the roasting, along with nutty quinoa, adds an elevated uniqueness to a simple, reliable standby.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Ancient Grain Topping: This is SO easy, and so pure it could be breakfast. You can use honey, coconut sugar, or nothing in the fruit. The topping was simply Ancient Harvest Maple grains hot cereal with a little almond meal, OJ and olive oil, but you could sub in traditional and add a pinch of cinnamon and some sweetener if you wanted. Any fruit combo goes, and it’s highly toddler approved. We’ve enjoyed it with 1 packet of the maple grains and 2 of the plain/unsweetened as well.
Spring Vegetable Quinoa Soup with Lemon Basil Pesto: I LOVE the way the pesto makes these spring flavors pop. This soup can be loaded up with vegetables but still feel like, yet satisfying.
Kale, Asparagus and Leek Quiche with Quinoa Crust: Successful gluten free crusts excite me, and not much is more forgiving than quiche, especially one stacked with green.
Red Lentil Rotelle with Lemony Ricotta, Peas and Tomatoes: Quick and easy, versatile and delicious…especially love the vegan variation with cashew cream.
Spring Quinoa and Cauliflower Tabbouleh: In all honesty, I’m not really a huge fan of cauliflower rice. I’d usually rather just eschew the rice and come up with another option. But in this clean, minty dish, the crispness of the cauliflower rice combined with the quinoa really works. It’s not mimicking bulgar…more like standing its own ground as an alternative.
You know the term “anthropomorphism”? Akin to personification, it’s a literary term derived from the Greek anthropos (“human”) and morphe (“form”), and it’s used to refer to the attribution of human physical or mental features to anything other than a human being. I was thinking idly about it the other day, wondering if it’s roots were more culturally sophisticated, or acknowledgement of human habit. Because for as long as I can remember, I’ve tended to project emotions and character traits onto inanimate objects, as well as other species. Don’t we all? Is it a weird form of narcissism, intuition (when it comes to other animals anyway), or a human craving for connection? I don’t know. I’m curious. Anyway, as a child I mostly viewed things around me with empathy, or at least my interpretations were friendly. The toilet however…somehow it was menacing… For longer than I care to admit I had this idea that by the time the toilet flush reached it’s low, resonant boom I had to be as far away as I could get, preferably with my feet off the floor.
Of course there is really no reason to have shared all that, except that lately I’ve noticed a sort of reflexive sympathy for certain grocery store items that seem sad or neglected. Like, those packages of pre-washed, shredded cabbage or iceberg lettuce, almost always on special. More often than not, they’re watery and browning, and homely. I feel sorry for them, but not enough to buy them.
Wilting, pale shreds aren’t the most appealing thing; and I’m not typically into buying pre-cut produce. The cutting and peeling in addition to travel and shelf time can add up to a hefty loss of nutrients. On the other hand, sometimes handily pre-cut/pre-washes/pre-anything vegetables are nothing short of a godsend. And admittedly, those some times are more often times now that there’s a baby in the house.
Which brings me to broccoli slaw. What a powerhouse of crunch, color, and character to add to a salad or stir-fry! What a major pain to make yourself on limited time. This is something I will go for when I spot it on sale, and when I do, I’m going to use at least a part of the package for this super and simple salad, based on a recipe from Giada de laurentis.
It would seem to contradict itself it weren’t so harmonious a dish. Light, yet filling; bursting with flavor, yet subtle. There’s such nice balance between the hearty, chewy soba noodles, the cool, crisp vegetables, the touch of ginger and smooth nut butter. Add to that, it took about 5 minutes to make, plus a fraction more if you add in total time the noodles bubbled in the pot requiring no attention. While they’re cooking, chop cucumber and pepper, whisk sauce. Open a bag. Strain noodles, toss everything together and admire your party in a bowl. Happy salad.
Soba slaw salad
- 8 ounces dried buckwheat soba noodles
- 1/3 cup creamy almond butter
- 1/4 cup soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon water
- liberal dash ground ginger
- 1 10-ounce pack prepared broccoli slaw
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- Cook noodles according to packet directions. Rinse in cold water, drain and place in a serving bowl.
- Prepare the dressing: combine almond butter, soy sauce or Bragg’s, sesame oil, lime juice, honey, water and ginger and blend or mix with a whisk or fork until smooth.
- Pour dressing over noodles. Add slaw and remaining ingredients and toss to coat.
There’s no use pretending otherwise, I have a severe weakness for peanut butter. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this, too. In fact, Dave has this firm (but unfounded) belief that all Americans are crazy about it. Due, I’m guessing, to a few American students studying at St. Andrew’s over a decade and a half ago now, myself included, who had no qualms about eating it straight out of the jar.
Today, with the rise in nut allergies and a shunning of legumes in the Paleo diet, it feels like confessional acknowledging: I really do like peanut butter. But if you can and do choose to eat peanuts, this simple, slightly sweet and tangy sauce is a really fast and versatile way to throw together a meal out of “whatever”.
One day, I will finally follow through on my longtime promise to myself to develop at least a semblance of skills with my camera. Not only does this taste better than the picture looks, it looks better in person. One day too, I’ll try substituting sunbutter, or something similar, in an effort to alleviate the unreasonable guilt that I’m not allergic. I’ll let you know how it goes. (Or, you can try it, and tell me?)
For stir-fry serving 3-4
- 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- dash ground ginger
- up to 1 tablespoon honey (I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
- *optional up to a tablespoon soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos
Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. (Or, you can take a hurried and possibly lazy approach like I have been, and shake everything around wildly in a tightly-lidded jar while entertaining an active baby.) Mix into stir-fry assortment of choice in wok or skillet.
*I’m sure any chef would scoff at this decision, but I slightly steamed–because I like them that way– a mix of chopped veggies (1 crown broccoli, a red pepper, a yellow pepper, a carrot, and some cherry tomatoes) in a small amount of water in a large skillet, then added cooked Asian egg noodles and sauce and stirred to combine. Serve warm or chilled.