It’s Earth Day week, and I had this idea of concocting some kind of richly earthy sort of stew I hadn’t made before. Just thinking of it, I couldn’t quell the word umami from resonating in my head with deep, ringing tones. Something about umami; if Yoda was a taste, umami would he be.
Featured in this stew, there would have to be brown lentils, mushrooms, burdock root…that last one mainly because I only just discovered its existence last fall when I tested out a recipe that included it for Yoga Journal, and it seems to epitomize earthiness with a sort of mysticism attached. So, there was an ingredients list. Then, not even halfway through the week I decided to chuck it, for now.
Actually, so fat I don’t like burdock root. This may well change, easily, depending on what I learn about amazing benefits like blood purification and lymphatic system strengthening that I can’t possibly get anywhere else. But for now, I’m just not a huge fan of the sinewy woodiness, or the fact that the earthiness is really actual earth. And the brown, knobby lumpiness of my ingredients seemed more suitable for a witch’s bubbling cauldron than my envisioned rustic family dinner honoring Earth Day.
Instead we’re relishing something light and bright and fresh that sings spring that I originally made for Ancient Harvest. You can vary the vegetables, the amounts, the herbs. You can load up the veggies and still savor a light yet satisfying meal. I love the way the pesto makes the flavors pop.
I may have mentioned before, lately I’ve been driving myself a little more batty than usual in my personal quest to expand knowledge. Instead of really challenging myself and poring over, say, financial journals or exploring other areas outside of my comfort zone, I’ve been diving headlong into more of what am already interested in, was already reading/watching/listening to. Foremost, that’s food and nutrition. Lately, lagging just a hair behind, toxins in our environment. It’s not the healthiest thing, going further and further into the abyss that is all the ugly, greedy, and despicable in the world and repeatedly reinforcing how little we can do about it.
But at least there is always a little we can do. And if there is anything worth taking little, or any size, steps for, it’s our planet. We only have one.
Different people need different diets, and few things are as off-putting as people assuming they’re due some kind of applause for theirs. But no one argues with the power of produce, and the significant impact such a delicious choice can make on personal health and the health of the whole planet. This week, of all weeks, it feels especially good to love seasonal vegetables. Happy Earth Day!
- 1 cup quinoa, any variety
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 leeks halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (white and light green portions)
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 3 cups water
- 8 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut diagonally in approximately 1-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 cups kale leaves, ribs removed and chopped
- 1 cup cooked navy or white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
- 1 cup torn basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 3 cloves garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook quinoa according to package directions and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add leek and carrots sweat 3-4 minutes.
- Add vegetable broth and water and bring to a low boil. Add asparagus, peas, kale, beans and corn. Cook 5-7 minutes, until asparagus is tender.
- Prepare the pesto: place basil, lemon juice, pine nuts, garlic, and remaining olive oil in a food processor and pulse until smooth.
- Stir in quinoa and half of the pesto. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Thin to desired consistency with extra water as needed. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Ladle into bowls and serve with remaining pesto spooned on top.
So I lied, but I didn’t mean to. I’m talking about the other week…weeks ago now, actually. That time when I jinxed myself by reveling in how healthy our immune systems have (had, actually) been since little F took over the (our) world. (Basking a bit but not boasting, or crowing, right? Please reassure me there was no crowing.)
In any case, you don’t have to be superstitious to wisely choose not to tempt fate, and I am both a little superstitious and apt to be unwise, so the deck was set. Shortly after that last post, I woke up at 5:45 am with what felt like the beginnings of a cold. By 5:45 pm I had a low grade fever, a chesty cough, full-on chills and body aches. Maybe I’m whining just a tad when I say so, but it was agony. And one week later, when we finally stopped referring to “this flu-like virus” and started cursing the flu, it was still agony.
The worst part was, little F came down with it, too. The first few days really hammered him, sweet boy, and even included extra features like vomiting at the onset. I couldn’t leave him even half awake for a moment without tears. We all want our mamas when we’re sick.
Cuddles are precious, not least feverish clingy cuddles, but the sweetness of these tends to be mostly drowned out in worry. Adding to that worry was worry for those we’d unwittingly exposed, including those same lovelies who had been accidentally misled just the week previous by omissions in this brownie recipe (now corrected!). Ouch. Reading book after book, Little F and I kept gravitating to reprises of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day.
This chili vegetable quinoa was on our meal plan for that week. It’s an easy, colorful, fun-to-vary, comforting one pot meal I love. It’s not worth elaborating, but I do think the placement of chili before vegetable quinoa is important, by the way. Because it’s not chili, more like chili-flavored, imho. And on that note, the addition of the raisins near the end heightens the flavors, to me.
While we were sick, having just completed our big shop for the week, ironically my dad sent me this article from the Daily Telegraph on superfood quinoa and its destiny to feed the world. But you know how it can go…when you are feeling the worst and most need a hearty boost of health…that’s when all you want is plain dry toast (me) or cheerios (F) or nothing (both of us, depending on the day). Our quinoa power supper(s) –because you make plenty of leftovers– was destined to wait until we were more markedly on the mend, which is, at last, now. And now it tastes amazing.
This dish is actually a remake that became its own. It started as a chili chicken couscous from Everyday Epicurean, a cookbook my little sister bought me years and years ago and I still love, even though since going meatless and dairy-free so many recipes are off the table now. Maybe especially so, because the dishes are simple, elegant and sumptuous and therefore so much fun to create a plant-based variation of.
I already said I love this rustic, hearty dish, but the truth is until recently I had forgotten how much I loved it…previosly in its original chicken and fewer vegetables version and especially now. Lately I’ve been going back into the archives of “what we used to eat” and having fun converting those dishes. Sort of old-becomes-new.
Speaking of, old-becomes-new may well be one of several key motifs floating through how we approach things this year. Investing in the little things. Little kindnesses, little steps toward big goals. I also find myself being more mindful of practicing mindfulness to get through craziness than I ever have before. And rediscovering old-becomes-new.
For example, I’ve been unearthing pre-pregnancy clothes I had tucked away and forgotten about. Yay! They’re “new”. Also I’ve been resurrecting old clothes I’d similarly forgotten about that perhaps go back as far as high school–my sister’s high school experience most likely, since if they’re worth saving they’re probably her hand-me-downs. Hooray! New.
The reason for this is stinginess is traditionally Dave and I limit splurging to athletic gear and healthy groceries. But amid these rediscoveries I’ve come close to complimenting us as having been pioneers in the minimalist movement. Small house, 30 items of clothing you see again and again, since way back, decades ago…just kidding. I don’t really think we were pioneers. And even if I did believe that, I would be careful how much of a compliment I gave us. I do not want to tempt the jinxing powers of the universe. I will stick to keeping faith in modest, day-to-day home-cooking and quinoa.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil or cooking spray
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 3 cups water
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons cilantro, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- Coat a large stockpot with cooking spray or the 2 teaspoons olive oil and heat. Add onion and cook, stirring regularly, approximately 3 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook a further 2 minutes.
- Add cinnamon paprika, chili powder, and tomato paste. Stir continuously a few minutes over medium-low heat until fragrant.
- Add tomatoes, quinoa, broth, water, and all the vegetables (through pepper). Bring to a light boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the chickpeas, raisins and 1/4 cup cilantro and cook, stirring occasionally, approximately 5 minutes. Serve in bowls garnished with remaining cilantro.
Last week I promised I’d commit to reining in rambling in favor of at least one, once-in-a-blue-moon concise, food over fancy oriented post, and here it is. Maybe butternut soup isn’t typically outstanding for its originality; I mean, how can you really go wrong when it comes to roasting squash…any winter squash? All you have to do is season with a little salt and pepper, puree with water/both, and you’re pretty much good. But even so, this particular combination is a guide I keep returning to. One which begs to be played with every time, so no need to even measure really. It’s especially good with the inclusion of frozen Halloween pumpkin.
When I was born, I had a hole in my diaphragm, and the story goes my parents knew things were serious when they were asked if they’d like to see a priest. My father looked out the hospital window and apparently saw clouds lift to reveal Mt. Rainier, and knew we’d be OK. Needless to say, I was one fortunate incubator kid who got to survive. Even so, growing up I was regularly very sick, especially easily afflicted with respiratory illnesses. It was just an accepted part of life that I missed several weeks of school each year. As I grew, it became just as accepted that I’d be on heavy rounds of antibiotics every year…3 weeks in fall and 3 more in spring. Things ameliorated somewhat thanks to two things I loved: running, and our family dog, whom we adopted when I was about 12. Love is strong and determined, and I wasn’t going to let propensity to allergies get in the way.
Over the past several years, things have changed most dramatically. I haven’t been on any antibiotics since before little F, now 3, was born. It could be little more than coincidence, but that’s also when we gave up dairy, and went meatless. Our reasons weren’t for based on my sinus history, but the unexpected bonus was too good to take lightly, plus we love the way we eat. I’m not saying that meat and dairy can’t have a place in one’s diet…just that it’s been beautifully agreeable to me. These there years I’ve barely had a cold.
Today, when I do feel the immunity starting to flail, sinuses threaten to flare up, or my throat start scratching, I’ve got a whole bunch of go-to kitchen prescriptions, like this one. It’s aromatic, soothing and flavorful with just the right bite. And if that isn’t enough, now I can start adding a little special quality time in with little F, who yesterday practiced yoga with our kids’ yoga cards and “the guys” for FORTY minutes (!). I was so proud I can’t resist tacking that little tidbit on. It was beyond heartwarming, seeing “the guys”, led by the indefatigable Monkey, striking their versions of mountain, down dog, and child’s poses. That’s all. Next post, I have yet another chickpea flour recipe to share…some date-sweetened blondies I’ve had in mind for a long time and finally got to work together. I will probably attach it to a very loosely related, somewhat flighty emotional string of reflections and anecdotes. 🙂
- 1 medium butternut squash
- 1 acorn squash (or other smaller winter squash)
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic, mined
- 1 1-inch piece ginger root, peeled and grated
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 2 cups low sodium vegetable stock
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup coconut milk (or more, according to taste)
- 1/3 cup cilantro leaves
- dash red pepper flakes
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place whole squash on a baking sheet and roast until the skin is papery and a fork inserted into 2 or 3 different spots reveals very tender flesh, about 1 hour. Set aside until cool enough to handle and peel away the skin, discarding the seeds.
- Heat a stockpot with cooking spray. Add onion and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and curry powder and cook one minute further, stirring constantly.
- Add squash and all remaining ingredients except for garbanzo beans, if using. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender or transfer to a blender in batches and blend until smooth. Add garbanzo beans and heat, stirring, until warmed through prior to serving.
No matter how well we love our fresh, homemade, plant-powered meals…and we do love them fiercely well…there is always something that confounds us by seeming better from a box. For me, one of those somethings has been Maya Kaimal kashmiri curry sauce. Which is actually from a jar not a box, but that is beside the point. The point is, I could slurp that jar for breakfast and it would taste heavenly.
I won’t ever profess to know much of anything about Indian cooking except that it isn’t my forte. I just love a good curry. Unfortunately, love of dishes hasn’t translated into ease of creating as well as as with other foods, despite variations on the theme being a regular weekly meal.
Last time I was at Sprouts, I surreptitiously snapped a quick pic of the Maya Kaimal label in order to make a springboard from the list of ingredients. They are a pleasant enough list and a solid start, though leaving the added ambiguity of “spices including tumeric” in addition to the obvious lack of stipulated quantities. Determined to throw my best effort into recreating this tempting treasure of a sauce, I perseverated a few evenings in a row until at last, I was ready to give a wholehearted attemp at a replica a go.
So the question is, did I successfully remake the Maya Kaimal kashimiri curry sauce? Nope. There are plenty of resonant notes of course, which is only to be expected given the similarities in ingredients at least. It just isn’t the same. But, I love what resulted, as much or better. Better for sure, if we get to factor in the fact that in my home version I know the whole big batch of sauce only contains 1 teaspoon of coconut sugar and no other added sweetener, plus one tablespoon olive oil, and very little salt. And it’s robust, flavorful, mild and lovely. The key is in sauteeing the onions, ginger, garlic, spices, and lemon juice, finishing with a tomato-laden whizz in the blender.
Minds tend to wander in the middle of a semi-sleepless night, and goodness knows my mind wanders enough in the day to make those midnight ramblings exponentially more rambling. On this curry night, Little F woke up wide awake and playful at 1:30 am, calling, “Mommmyyyy!” at the top of his lungs. After the fourth book, laying beside him in the dreamy, cozy quiet of his room, his eyes started to flutter and close again. I lay there and listened to the soft, strong but gentle rhythm of his breath, instinctively slowing my own down, better to breathe in my little boy. And then…because you know me, a thought popped into my head of that barely related curry sauce. A random flash of a thought, cutting into the moment keenly so as to claim some self-importance. It was just this: that while goals aiming to copy versus create brings a certain inherent lack of satisfaction, to model off something you love in aims of creating your own something feels just a shade enough different to be really, genuinely rewarding.
For some reason, half-coherently analyzing the difference between being inspired by something and simply being a copycat was strangely reassuring in those wee hours of the night. I don’t know if this will make any sense, but straight on the heels of these curry-copy thoughts, it struck me that the day I’d been dreading…the one when I would have to be my own person again rather than comfortably couched as Felix’s mommy with my better, more confident self rising to face the world smiling for the sake of my tot-in-tow…was already come and gone. It had happened quite some time ago, even. I’d fallen back to a rhythm of facing the world as just myself, as writer, teacher, plain old person, friend. And all is OK. What’s more, he has already branched out without me, at three a bold, loving, independent, creative thinker and doer…and all of this is wonderful.
What I’m really trying to say is, in the middle of the night I woke up to awareness that in small ways I’d been mentally trying to replicate who I am and who we are as a family day to day. Despite consciously, constantly striving to be grateful and present, I’ve spent too much brain power on fearing tomorrow’s changes, even the good ones. I know that’s not going to change completely, maybe ever. But so far, variations have brought as much beauty and opportunity as longing and looking back. Not least, my chubby bubbly baby now confidently pulls up his step stool to work alongside me as Chef Fitty. While belting out his versions of Christmas carols we cut, stir, and season a mean curry together. Best of all, he inspires me to no end. No, actually it gets better. The togetherness, I mean, and the inspiration. It’s still growing.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 teaspoons chile powder
- 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
- 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
- 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ½ cup vegetable broth or stock
- ½ cup coconut cream
- Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Approximately 5 cups chopped vegetables of choice: cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, peppers
- 1 cup peas
- ½ cup raisins
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- In a large skillet, bring 1 teaspoon of the oil to heat on medium-high (or coat skillet with cooking spray). Add the sugar and onion and cook until the onions are golden, about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Add the ginger and garlic to the onions and cook, stirring, an additional 2-3 minutes. Add turmeric, garam masala, chili, curry powder, and lemon juice. Heat another 2-3 minutes, stirring continually.
- Transfer onion mixture to a blender or food processor, and add broth, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, remaining olive oil and coconut cream. Process until smooth.
- Transfer sauce to skillet (or, store in an airtight container in refrigerator until ready to use, 3-4 days, or in the freezer). Add chopped vegetables and bring to a near boil; reduce heat,cover, and simmer, 15 minutes.
- Add raisins and chickpeas and continue to cook until heated through, approximately 5 minutes. Serve alone or over rice or quinoa.
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.