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.
Anyone else feeling a little dazed, wondering whatever happened to Thanksgiving? It was lovely, but where did it go? As much as I love the open invitation to officially bring out the holiday season sparkles, this year I’m struggling to keep up with speedy time more than ever, and it feels like I’d better not dare close my eyes unless ready to wake up to 2017, tomorrow.
It’s a little ironic, this year’s dwelling on the fleetingness of Thanksgiving, when actually I stretched it out over weeks and in truth am still stretching. Dave’s mum visited us from England for most of November, and since not only does Thanksgiving not feature in English tradition but it also happened to coincide with Dave’s 40th this year, I chose to focus on Thanksgiving moments and emotions in subtle, grateful-but-also-gratifying ways for pretty much a whole month.
It started the day after Halloween, with this casserole. After that came a festive vegan Sunday dinner with Thanksgiving flair, kicking off Thanksgiving week. Stuffed acorn squash, stuffing, cranberry sauce…that sort of thing. On Thanksgiving Day itself, Little F and I shared a pumpkin pie breakfast smoothie and roasted pecans pressed in a Medjool date to taste like pecan pie. And this week, Thanksgiving over, I’m finishing my personal alternative Thanksgiving dinner-snacks with a welcome reprise of this delicious casserole, left off the Sunday Thanksgiving dinner only because my MIL isn’t the sweet potato’s biggest fan.
It feels somewhat greedy to venture beyond the basics of being thankful for simply, food…but even so these sweet potatoes make my gratitude list. I do love this dish. It’s a scrumptious side, a snack, a bit of breakfast in moderation, or dessert. And so much lighter than the typical creamy, marshmallow-topped version. I originally made if for Ancient Harvest, and it became an instant tradition, easy to tweak and equally delicious with every alteration.
To slow down Thanksgiving, literally savoring it in stages, felt quietly appropriate this year in a number of ways. One, I’m a little loath to even note. After a year of healing a running injury, a couple extra pounds snuck up on me for one thing, so it was handy to step back from an overload of sentimental feasting. I suspected but wouldn’t step on the scale for a good while. Because, old ghosts, numbers being deceptive…there were all sorts of reasons. But mostly the ghosts. And fear. For a long time, the scale has been a healthy thing for me to avoid. When I did dare brave the thing however, confirming my suspicions, I was able to get back pretty quickly. I don’t mean that to sound glib, like weight loss is easy, because it isn’t. It’s only worth noting because it was a good reminder, information propels progress.
To say I was disappointed with the results of this year’s election and the appointments thus far would be an understatement. But in all honestly I have also been oddly inspired. When typically this time of year I’d be logging hours on the treadmill tuned into Christmas movies and rom-coms on Netlix, this year I’m choosing documentaries. (OK, about half the time I am.)
It’s hard work to become informed, and the work never actually ends. Compared to where I’d like to be, I’m still doing a pitiful job of it. Also, there are some things I’d rather not know. If Alzheimer’s is hands-down written in my cards for instance, or if the world is going to end tomorrow (undecided on the latter…would you want to know?). But it is gratifying to take a broader view of things and to consciously work on building and fortifying my beliefs with information as much as my default, emotions. I’m sure my choices are still overtly slanted to my personal biases overall, but just making the efforts has been quietly reinforcing my faith in the potential of personal power.
So what is the connection between two not-well-related tangents and my favorite sweet potato casserole? Probably there is none. Sweetness in knowledge, at a stretch. But I am finally beginning to understand, attempted connections don’t always have to be successful to not be considered failures. What matters is we try.
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes (3- 4 medium)
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
- dash salt
- ½ cup Ancient Harvest™ quinoa flakes (or sub quick or lightly processed oats)
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar (or use coconut sugar)
- ½ cup finely chopped pecans
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil or olive oil
- 1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.
- 2.Scrub sweet potatoes puncture with a fork. Place potatoes on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake for approximately one hour, or until soft. Allow potatoes to cool, 5 minutes.
- 3.Cut open potatoes and discard the skin. Place potatoes in a large bowl and add in maple syrup, milk, vanilla, egg, salt and spices. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer. Pour into prepared baking pan.
- 4.To prepare topping: Mix the quinoa flakes or oats, brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon in a bowl. Use a fork to stir in the melted butter. Sprinkle evenly over the potato mixture. Bake 40-45 minutes. Serve warm.
I had the honor of being interviewed for our local paper this past week. Reporter Pam Mellskogg, a lovely freelance writer who, like me, has young children, focuses largely on food writing, and feels lucky to be able to work part-time and prioritize flexible scheduling, was investigating low-sugar alternatives to traditional cranberry sauce. I shared my go-to method for cranberry relish–bright, beautiful, tasty and playfully variable. It’s a little different every year, but never disappointing. It was such a pleasure, but so humbling to talk with her. I was quick to emphasize the usual…I’m not a chef, nor an RD, and I can’t bolster my poor girl’s kitchen play with scientifically impressive credentials. She was just as quickly reassuring, however, and in the course of the conversation I realized a few things:
One, it dawned on me how somehow I’d started to take for granted how much I enjoy creating, re-writing, and experimenting with healthy recipes. I love it. I’m passionate about it, even. Sometimes we allow thin, protective veils prevent us from wholeheartedly embracing and announcing our passions; because, someone is always more talented, more passionate, more successful; or because acknowledging them make the fear of, let alone actually, losing them more painful. Even when it comes to simple pleasures, like finding out what happens when replacing sugar with orange juice, for example.
Another thing, I may be deceiving myself a little here, but I realized that I have a lot to say about cranberry sauce, and it’s not all embarrassingly dull. Just as I love learning about others’ food journeys and creations, there are people who enjoy sharing in mine, and I’m so grateful I can’t even explain it. You have no idea how much I like you just because you asked me my opinion on baking healthy cookies. I hope that doesn’t come across as freaky. 😉 And finally, it hit me I was hungry. For cranberry relish.
Thanksgiving is coming, and I’ve had hazy beginnings of sentimental messages to post in mind. But we’re all in busy-mode, aren’t we? And sometimes nothing suits happy industry so well as something delightfully, deliciously utilitarian. Since we’ve gone meatless, Thanksgiving sides and accompaniments have developed and evolved to become the main show, and this relish is a star. It’s as harmonious and yummy alongside squash, roasted vegetables, and stuffing as bird. It’s beautifully balanced in sweet and tangy notes, textured and full of singing flavors not masked with granulated sugar. Walnuts add a pleasant little bit of chew, too. Best of all, it’s so easy to adapt to taste I’d almost say it’s fail-safe. Swap in pecans for walnuts or coconut sugar for honey. Reduce amounts to taste. Add in different fruits, or dried fruits. Try with barely any sweetener at all–it’s still scrumptious, a little something to snack on as well as accompaniment.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
- 1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
- 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped
- ½ cup chopped pineapple (optional)
- ½ cup orange or pineapple juice
- ½ cup honey or maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until thick (about 15 minutes), stirring occasionally. Cool completely.
You don’t need this recipe for pasta salad. That is, one of many brilliant aspects of salad is the versatile, no-brainer assembly. You can put just about anything you like in them, your pasta can be gluten-free or not, and in fact you don’t even actually need pasta. But I need to share this peanut sauce with you.
It can be almond sauce, if you’d prefer. Probably even sun-butter. One day, I swear I’m going to play around with a variation using tahini, only I’m afraid said “variation” will really be a tahini dressing that, while yummy, isn’t so much riff as departure.
This peanut sauce, though. I first made it when I was creating this salad for Ancient Harvest two years ago, and since I use it all the time. It works in wraps, in spring rolls, as dressing, with stir-fries and noodle bowls. It’s the glue that brings it all, whatever “it” is, together.
My brain has been throwing that phrase back at me a lot lately (about the glue). Recently I’ve been expanding my writing work in a fulfilling, productive way that still allows the greatest flexibility I could hope for, maximizing time with the not-so-Little Monkey. Just enough to remind me in those woebegone moments flung from who knows where, I’m still me and I can grow and be resilient as simply me. Because so much of what’s best in life right now is dependent on one very important center outside of myself.
Lately, beyond the narrow, scheduled borders of work, workouts, and the tornado fillers of rushing around the house in a mad dash of chores, most of my hours are spent in a playful in-between place of play that can be idle and exhausting, vibrant and trying. Often this play includes a special crew:
Monk/Lil’ Monk/Monkey, Charlie, Fuzzy Charlie, Rackanooey (not sure how to spell), and the Croc…these stuffed toys are a bundle of fun. They were “The Buddies”, then “The Boys”, sometimes “The Girls”, and this week they’re “The Guys”. I love the way “The Guys” are fun-loving, and wonderfully engaged in exploring problem-solving with role play. We navigate countless topics and fears with them. They also love to sing and dance. Sometimes in the process my head starts to pound with the achy knowledge of the to-do list in the background. But I’m sooo going to miss these days.
Sometimes I remember that I used to and still love doing plenty of different things, all by myself. Always I realize, I wouldn’t be spending so much of my life this way as just me, by choice: sitting on the floor negotiating what the reaction should be to a line of stuffed animals taking it in turns to do a poo poo on the carpet. Usually, “Dr. Felix” ruthlessly administers powerful shots to each poor creature. Often “Chef Felix” takes over concocting remedies of plastic vegetable soup (unfortunately, sometimes this turns out to be contaminated with throw-up). Whatever the outcome, Felix is the key. He’s the glue that holds it all together. He turns plastic into magic and frustration into fun.
Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand on my own two feet in whatever new life is around the corner as my Little Monkey needs my physical presence less and less. These days, I tear myself up with fear about everything, mostly how I’ll know how to handle the world and how it will receive my aging self. Then the sunlight shines on the still plump apple cheek and everything feels better again. I can tell myself, the dishes may take different forms; there will still be peanut sauce.
- 1 pound pasta (I like Ancient Harvest's gluten- free black bean & quinoa elbows, and regular pasta, any shape)
- 1/4 cup natural creamy peanut or almond butter
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy or tamari sauce
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey (maple syrup for vegan)
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 2 carrots, grated or cut julienne
- 1 English cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced
- 4 cups baby spinach, washed
- Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
- Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
- Using a whisk or fork, combine peanut or almond butter, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice, honey and ginger in a small bowl and mix until smooth.
- In a large bowl, toss pasta, sauce, and vegetables. Garnish with sesame seeds to serve, slightly warm or chilled.
Fritters, patties, or maybe even burgers…I’m not sure what’s the most fitting description for this recipe. One thing I am sure of, whatever term I use, it’s going to be preceded with “Captain America’s”. Little Sous Chef has been giving me secret giggles with the quirkiness of some of his ideas and preferences lately. One, he loves Captain America right now–Captain America being most super hero images, including Captain America but also Ironman, Superman, even the Hulk. He loved Spiderman for a little while, until we bought him Spiderman pajamas and he promptly decided “that guy scary.”
A toddler loving super heros may not be anything surprising, only Captain America being singled out came out of no where, especially considering Little Monkey/Sous Chef hasn’t seen any movies, watched any shows, or read any books as yet with any of the Justice League. I don’t think we’ve even so much as paused to read a blurb on a cereal box featuring any of them. What’s more, the Captain America coming to life in our house is a pretty interesting, lively dude with some unique tastes. For instance, the other evening, while playing pretend dinner before real dinner, Dave asked, “What would Captain America like to eat?” “Cauliflower doughnuts,” Little Sous Chef very promptly replied. This makes me chuckle first because little boy has never had a doughnut (that we know of), and I’m not really sure if he knows what one is. (The cauliflower being flavor of choice was a little amusing, too.)
For some reason, I couldn’t get Little Monkey’s imaginary cauliflower doughnut concoction out of my mind. I had to try to make something that might qualify without being actually a doughnut. Fritters seemed a nice option. Baked fritters, even better, though then we enter gray territory. Fritters, patties…so subjective. In any case, I’m really pleased with how these turned out. Lightly crisp on the outside, simple but tasty, quick to throw together, and they make nice leftovers out of the toaster oven. The only downside is Captain America didn’t like them.
Truth: as easy as these are to prepare, they are still a few steps more work than just chopping cauliflower and roasting; and, since Little Monkey loves and consistently requests the latter and not the former …I’ll probably keep on going with the path of least effort on a regular basis, saving time and making everyone happy. Even Captain America. That said, I do like these fritter-patty-burgers quite a bit, enough to try every so often out of curiosity as to whether my little super hero has changed his mind. (And because I like them.)
Cauliflower and corn baked fritters
Yield: approximately 8 fritters
- 1 medium head cauliflower (or about 4 cups cauliflower florets)
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup tapioca flour
- ¾ cup rice flour
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
- Cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Using a food processor, “rice” the cauliflower by pulsing until finely chopped.
- Transfer to a mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix well to combine, and form into approximately 8 equal patties.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place patties an inch or so apart. Bake for 15 minutes, flip and bake for 15 more until both sides are golden brown and lightly crisp.