I have a habit of taking convoluted routes of reasoning in order to make connections, or perhaps more as a means to justify talking about seemingly unrelated things at the same time. I know this. And I know that today, the connections existing between content in this post are a stretch, even for me. There is an explanation, and a recipe at the end. The common thread, aside from an unshakable internal need to bring things full circle, is a question of names.
All throughout pregnancy, Dave and I spent many hours tossing potential names, letting them roll and ripen over our tongues as we imagined how they might fit baby, teen, and adult. Felix took staunch hold at the top, but we were fixated on the happy, lucky meaning behind it more than we were in love with the name itself. And then, he arrived. Looking into those bright, dark eyes, there was no question. ‘Felix’ was perfect, like him.
As for my own name, I’ve never been a fan. There are things I appreciate, of course. That my parents picked it, for one. Also, its Peter Pan origins and wandering nature. In my Kindergarten classroom, I didn’t mind much when students found out my first name. ‘Wendy’ just seems to fit into Kindergarten. It has a problem growing up, however. A lot like me. I can’t be the only Wendy who has struggled with Wendydom. Once in a book I read at age eight, the main character, Wendy, described her name along the lines of a “fat cat sitting on a pillow.” I don’t remember anything about that book except that there were horses, which I loved, and that.
Aside from feeling a little put out by my first name growing up, it was a matter of severe significance that I wasn’t given a middle name at birth. My parents were purposeful in their choice. They thought, rightly, that one day I would just drop it and take on my maiden name, Schuyler, as a second. For a sensitive child with a hyperactive desire to fit in, however, this would not do. It bothered me so much that in Kindergarten I lied. Or, probably more accurately, I wanted something so badly my brain changed its truth. When it came out through school records that there was no Wendy Elizabeth (everyone in my mind had the middle name Elizabeth, which made it the best), we had to trek down to the town hall to officially re-register. I was even re-baptized. Today, Elizabeth doesn’t figure in any documents. I guess I just outgrew it.
Speaking of outgrowing, here’s what I really wanted to say in this post: I’m bidding a fond and slightly relieved farewell to ‘Fit and Frugal’. ‘Natural Kitchen’, which is really the essence, is still here. Only now I feel more like ‘we’, and ‘we’ are ‘Happy Apple’. When I first started this little journal, it was recipes, garden debacles, a ton of idle rambling, and the worst phone pictures you can imagine. I guess a lot of that still holds. But then, I was intently and passionately focused on triathlon, marathon racing, fueling sport. I’m still ardently devoted to running in particular, but my posts really aren’t about fitness. As for the ‘frugal’ side of things, I try to prioritize economy, but at the same time, we spend a big chunk of our overall budget on food, slashing entertainment funds in favor of groceries. Being frugal is so subjective, too, and the potential for implied smugness or any sort of monetary presumption just bothers me.
Happy Apple, though. It feels a happy fit, for now. Becoming a mom, I’ve reveled in the fascinating journeys and impact of healthy food in a whole new way. Sharing joyful preparation and appreciation alongside my little adventurous eater, I’ve been increasingly aware of the incredible, impact of positive role modeling. Creating and sharing nutritious, plant-based food that nourishes our active family, and even just recounting the process, I picture my little Chef’s rosy apple cheeks and sparkling eyes and I feel nourished. Being his role model, I’ve been gentler and more loving with myself. The little face that inspires that change will change faster than I’m prepared for, but the feelings won’t.
Those of you who read this blog–the kind handful of you–I’m sorry if I’m throwing you off at all. It’s truly just a turnabout in name and not identity. Thank you so much for checking up on us every so often, and for your presence. It sounds facetious I know, but it means a lot. And HUGE thank yous to the moon and back to Dave, patient and supportive and brilliant, for somehow squeezing in the time to re-do this site and complete the transformation.
Now for the gratuitous stretch of a connection just so I can sort of justify inclusion of a recipe I’ve been loving and making a lot of lately: I don’t really know why I call this veggie-full slow cooker sweet potato and chickpea chili ‘Moroccan’. It was once based off a Moroccan Buffalo Chili recipe I saw in Clean Eating years ago, but I don’t really know why that was ‘Moroccan’, either. I’ve never been to Morocco but understand the cuisine is rich in a wide range of spices. Is using some of those key spices enough to qualify a dish as ‘Moroccan’? Maybe. Or maybe I just like the way adding ‘Moroccan’ elevates sweet potatoes, chickpeas and vegetables with a punch of something more exotic.
Whatever the case, there’s a lot to love about this twist on a chili. The ease of throwing everything in the slow cooker, for one thing. The fail-safe invitation to vary with whatever’s in the fridge, another. And obviously the silken, lovely texture and taste of sweet potatoes from the slow cooker with nutty chickpeas, bright veggies and heady aroma of this combination of spices. That’s enough. (The end. ;))
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drainked
- a pinch saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- a pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 2 cups water
- sea salt and pepper to taste
- Place all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on high 4 hours or low 6-8 hours.
Happy National Pumpkin Day! Belated. It was three days ago, and I made this irresistably sunshiny shake in celebration.
A backlog of recipes I’ve been wanting to share has been becoming a mountain. I’ve been surprisingly “swamped” with work recently (quotes because what constitutes “swamped” now was more along the lines of an extra chore or two in the days when work was scheduled in big blocks rather than fit in piece-meal according to toddler sleep schedules and minimal sitter hours). I keep anticipating a future drought, but so far I’ve been able to count myself lucky it hasn’t happened. You’ll know it’s hit if I suddenly start posting daily long rambles.
I’ve been coming to realize the staple irony of the freelance life–the busiest times are compounded by looking ahead to potentially quiet ones. But the flexibility is a gem, and I’m being forced to finally learn (with periods of regression) a valuable lesson I’ve tried to put into practice for what seems like forever…to strike or at least strive for the balance of looking ahead with practical wisdom while bringing your best to the present moment. Breathe, and trust yourself to both be brave and know your limits.
It’s not just juggling a freelance hodge-podge that’s been–at long last–so instructive. I’ve had some absolutely infectiously joyful help. Like working with the kids who sign up for Melissa’s and my Healthy Plates class. I wish I had a clip of them chatting this week over pumpkin chili prep. “Can you pass the nutmeg?” “More green pepper, please!” “I prefer the red pepper.” Brilliance.
And then, it goes without saying, there’s my Little Monkey. Robot-building, strider-blazing Big Boy he may be, but he’s still my Little Monkey. Which, by the way, reminds me…Happy Halloween!
Find my favorite Quinoa Pumpkin Pie Shake recipe and more at the Ancient Harvest recipe pages.
Spendidly Simple Slow Cooker Pumpkin Chili
Slow cooker pumpkin vegetable chili
- 2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained or approximately 3 cups cooked beans
- 1 15-ounce cans kidney beans, drained or 3 cups cooked beans
- 2 14.5-ounce cans plain diced tomatoes
- 1 14.5 -ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 2 cups diced yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)
- Vegetables of choice (about 4-6 cups), such as diced bell peppers, chopped spinach/kale, fresh tomatoes, diced carrots, chopped zucchini
- 1 cup quinoa (optional)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- dash each or more of your choice: cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, garlic powder, salt, pepper
- Assorted toppings of your choice like avocado, cherry tomatoes, chopped scallions or onion, cilantro, shredded cheese or sour cream.
- Add all ingredients plus 1 cup water to a 6-quart or larger slow cooker. Stir.
- Cook on low for 8 – 10 hours.
It’s a most wonderful, wild, stressful and sweet, fantastic and frantic time of the year, and there’s really no time for anything. Certainly not for quick and slapdash posts like this one. But I love and rely on recording recipes, even the not-really-recipes lists, because my crowded brain is in danger of forgetting meals to make in minutes if I don’t write them down. (Is that Mommy brain, still? Fingers crossed it is–I’d much rather that than any alternative explanation I can think of right now!) Most of all, though, I wanted to share my favorite–for now–new cooking technique: it’s called throw and toss crock, and it’s a most productive game.
For months we’ve been working on trying to find that balance of encouraging, informing, and ok, attempting to control and limit Little Monkey’s fascination and growing skill when it comes to throwing. What used to be harmless has increasingly become borderline dangerous…he has AN ARM! He can hurl rather heavy objects with impressive force, gaining startling height and distance. Luckily the aim isn’t completely precise yet, but it’s getting there. We’re a bit in awe…and while proud of our beaming little joyball’s strength, there’s ultimately some management that has to happen. The tough part with the throwing phase is, there are so many rules, and even if the logical mind was developed enough to fully receive, how could they be anything but confusing? Throw this, not that, here not there, with me not at me, at us not at doggie, soft not hard…
This week, oh how it brightened my morning when, running behind already, we were able to channel throwing into creating dinner. The key is: first to employ a learning tower or similar where toddler is safely stationed. Next, quickly chop assorted veggies that can be quickly chopped without trying the patience of the most important sous chef (gather these prior to bringing little one on board). Engage sous chef in systematically (or not) tossing/throwing chopped vegetables into crock pot with formidable sound effects as you complete whatever needs to be done with rapid, flowing movements. Turn crock on, clean up as is feasible, done until dinner.
The recipe that works best for this isn’t really a recipe, but a guide is always helpful and you can be sure I’m using this again. It is basically this: chop and combine a whole bunch of vegetables (I used a turnip, butternut squash, sweet potato, onion, a couple gold potatoes, pre- chopped turnip greens on sale, about a cup worth of chopped mini carrots, a pepper and a zucchini) with a can of crushed and a can of diced tomatoes; add a shake of Italian seasoning, chili powder, cumin powder, garlic powder, and a dash each of salt and pepper. Add 4 cups water or broth. Slow cook on high 4 hours or low about 8 hours or however long until you can get down to dinner. Include beans or lentils if you like (I used chick peas). I know, not too interesting, but tasty and adaptable, and turning out something like this:
Since time is at a premium, however, and the above isn’t exactly unique, I’m making this a twofer, and including a stew I made last week that I hope we will make (Little Monkey and I) together soon. It’s a little more ambitious, but it’s good, and we may get to play a little with shaking and rinsing beans, as long as we can keep them out of the mouth. Bonus, the coconut and other flavors meld together more the next day, so much so that you kind of get two dishes for one, kind of like this post. Happy busy days! 🙂
- 2 cups dried beans, rinsed and sorted (I used black, red kidney and garbanzo)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 medium apples, peeled and diced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook on high heat for 4 to 6 hours (or on low for 8 hours).
Once again, I’m posting a post that isn’t a post…more like a post-it. A little sticky note to slap on the fridge. Because although this isn’t rocket science, and may even seem repetitive (I’ve posted a bunch of very similar brown rice puddings before, but this one is the slightly different version I like best right now), I’ll be making it again soon and will want the handy reference.
Those of you who know me will know, I’m a loyal and loving fan of the slow cooker. This week I’m especially enamored, as it has been FRIGID outside, making us largely housebound. Roads have been sticky (our tires nearly bald…oops). Light to soft and steady quiet snowfall has blanketed the sidewalks. So pretty, but deceptively gentle in appearance, as the air has held the kind of harsh, grabbing cold that makes your lungs feel like glass on the verge of shattering with one breath.
Yesterday was the kind of day that made me want to fill up the slow cooker and curl up with my Little Monkey, watching cartoons all day while enjoying savory aromas wafting from the kitchen. Thing is, Little Monkey doesn’t yet watch cartoons, and we’re curious to see how long we can hold out on screen time. I can load up the slow cooker, however, and do just about every week, but especially this one. Snacks like this, so quick to fix (like five minutes), make room for easy dinner, too. Bubbling squat little crockpot, I love you.
Slow cooker coconut banana brown rice pudding
- 1 heaped cup short-grain brown rice, rinsed
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup (or a good handful) unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 banana (you can mash it first, or just break into chunks and throw in, stirring later to combine)
- generous shake ground cinnamon
- Optional: 1/4 cup maple syrup
Stir all ingredients in a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Cook on low for 4-5 hours.
So here’s a quick and easy, versatile little dish that can handle a whole lot of veggies (like whatever’s in the house), and is loaded with nutrition our bodies seem to love, boasting nutrients like calcium, manganese, copper, and vitamin B12. It packs in complete protein and is fiber-rich. It’s also defiantly controversial, despite it’s ostensibly bland persona. I’m not sure what to think, and I’m hesitant to post. I’m treading water in a sea of tofusion.
Soy has plummeted in stature over the years, from once being perceived as the kind of “health food” worth choking down, even if one wasn’t a fan of the taste. As someone who has always enjoyed tofu however, it’s been disheartening to see it increasingly swamped in a mire of controversy and huddling in Monsanto’s monstrous shadow. As of 2012, a whopping 94% of US soybeans are genetically-modified, according to the Department of Agriculture. Besides that, soy products are so heavily processed in general, it’s no wonder there are question marks, including suspected links to allergies, thyroid issues, and breast cancer.
Given all of the above, you’d think banning soy would be an automatic no-brainer. Yet, edamame still hangs onto a foothold as a healthy snack. And carefully sourced tempeh (organic, non-GMO) is associated with some pretty terrific health benefits, too…including, ironically, cancer prevention. Plus, fermented foods in general seem to be finding themselves increasingly in the spotlight, for their digestibility and the increased availability of nutrients.
What to think?
We’ve been doing a lot of research into nutrition lately…lately meaning what feels like forever. The combined health benefits and ethical aspects of a (mostly) plant-based diet have been especially compelling. Yet there are studies out there to support all kinds of dietary agendas, even the most outlandish, and with a marvelous, speedily growing baby boy, I feel so wary of embracing or eschewing anything absolutely.
Why is it the benefits of a truly moderate, real food diet get so relatively little press? I used to presume balance is too boring for publication, but now sometimes I wonder if, when it comes to nutrition today, maybe balance doesn’t really exist. Today it seems we live in a world with more and more substances of which a little is already too much.
Nutrition is fascinating, and food is essential. I guess it only makes sense that research abounds, conflict, concurs, and changes like crazy. As our world, food, and bodies change, so does the data. We can only do our best. Gathering info, sifting through, listening to our bodies, sourcing our food. Even if the concept of a balanced diet has become bogus, I’m still putting faith in moderation, as long as what’s moderated is real food. For now, that includes a little tempeh.
This dish is robust and filling, satisfying in a meaty sort of way. And it’s so, so easy and accommodating. If soy is out for you, I hear, but have never seen, that soy-free tempeh can be made from other beans, like garbanzo or black. Something worth contempehlating…another day.
Tempeh mushroom bolognese
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 8-ounce package tempeh
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 2 cups mushrooms (button/crimini/assorted)
- liberal shake of Italian seasoning
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbs. reduced-sodium soy sauce or Bragg’s amino acids
- 1 14-oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- ½ cup red wine
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add tempeh and brown approximately 2 minutes on each side. Place in a 6-quart slow cooker. Add all remaining ingredients. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve over brown rice or quinoa.