Curried quinoa pilaf

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.

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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.

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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?

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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. 🙂

Curried quinoa pilaf
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  2. 3 cups water or vegetable broth (or 1.5 cups each)
  3. 1 tablespoon curry powder, divided
  4. 1 tsp. ground ginger
  5. 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  6. Salt and pepper to taste
  7. 1 14-ounce pack organic firm tofu, cut into cubes
  8. 2 cups broccoli florets
  9. 2 cups cauliflower florets
  10. 1/2 c. raisins
  11. 1/3 c. roasted cashews
  12. Cooking spray
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. In a large salad bowl, combine all ingredients. Enjoy!
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Sweet and sour date sauce

Isn’t it lovely when you’re looking for an elusive something, and a voice or gem from the past pops up unexpectedly and simply hands it to you? It’s especially gratifying when that out-of-the blue bestower of wisdom is you. Whether that thing that you’re offered is significant or trivial, it brings a sense of restored trust, a quiet inner knowledge that even though time keeps stubbornly melting away, you can still count on you.

In general, making the shift to being so completely plant-based has meant more variety, not less. More colors, more textures, more venturing out into new realms. But sometimes a sigh sneaks in for an old staple that found itself subjected to little scorn when we stopped to think. A good go-to sweet and sour sauce was one of those.

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I never really went for the clear, bright neon Asian takeaway style sauce, but I did have two homemade versions that relied heavily on sugar. Ditching them, try as I might I couldn’t find an alternative I really wanted to come back to. Then one day on a long solo run I found myself ticking the miles away by brainstorming possibilities worth trying that would be free from refined sugar and store-bought ketchup. I started thinking about dates and tomato paste, and bam! Fun flashback to grilling homemade pizzas with friends about ten (yikes???) years ago using a sauce that led to this pathetic, sad little blog post I am choosing to see as proof that I have improved as a sometimes blogger over the years (Mary, remember how awesome those Thai grilled pizzas were?). My pace must have picked up then, fueled by eagerness to try that forgotten sauce again, and especially to see if it might fit the bill for a healthy sweet and sour, adding rice vinegar and pineapple juice and adjusting quantities. It did.

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It’s funny how the past lives with us–mostly with tenderness, at times unsettling. This year I’ve received birthday notifications for a handful of Facebook friends who are no longer with us.  I don’t have the heart to delete them, and of course they aren’t here to make their own graceful exit. I suppose that over time that number will continue to grow. I shared this with a friend who came to dinner, unable to shake a vague preoccupation with this strange new world of ghosts kept in limbo via social media. For a split second she looked stunned, then warmly snapped me out of my moroseness by laughingly exclaiming, “Way to be a buzzkill, Wendy!”
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I wasn’t trying to be morbid. I may just be a complete oddball, but at times there is something bordering on uplifting to be gleaned from what seems otherwise depressing. A bit of a reality check, maybe. Gratitude, mostly. The reminder life is short and we’re still here.

Of course, none of this is related to this recipe, really…just a little sweet and sour.

 

Sweet and Sour Date Sauce
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Ingredients
  1. ¾ cup dates, pitted and soaked in hot water to soften ten minutes
  2. ¼ cup tomato paste
  3. ½ cup rice vinegar
  4. ½ cup pineapple
  5. ⅓ cup low-sodium soy sauce
  6. Vegetable broth or stock
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients except for broth in a food processor or high speed blender. Process until smooth. Add broth as needed to reach desired consistency. Add to your favorite stir-fried vegetables.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/
 

Carrot ginger (dressing) potato salad

This sort-of theme of “it’s all about the dressing” is getting a little tired. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so reluctant to put up this short post. Or maybe I’ve just been waiting for a lightning bolt of whimsy to supply me with something inspired to say. 

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The truth is, I just wanted to share this “dressing” that’s not really dressing exactly and which was in itself rather inspiring. I discovered it recently when I had the happy chance to test some recipes for a local magazine, including a heaping bowl of fresh, crunchy deliciousness. Just 3 ingredients (carrot, not too much sesame oil and pickled ginger) plus water. I was awed by the power of its simplicity, delivering a punch of flavor that is at once sharp and cleansing. One bite and the taste bud nerve connection impishly sent my mind into overdrive trying to come up with a variety of ways to incorporate this exciting new “dressing” into meals just so I could post it on this blog to come back to in case I ever suffer mild amnesia and forget how easy it is.

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OK, so “overdrive” was a little exaggerated. The brainstorming lasted about 5 minutes. But, five minutes fairly well spent, because Easy Carrot Ginger “Dressing” works very well with a light, fresh variation on traditional potato salad; it also fares well in veggie wraps, and is a nice tangy palate cleanser scraped from the bottom of the food processor, too. As long as you like pickled ginger–I do, so added more.

For no particular reason I’m hopeful that this dressing  motif will be phasing itself out soon, though probably not for at least another week. There’s a saucy experiment I have in mind that I’m hoping will work out delectably this week. If you don’t see it within another two weeks, you’ll know it crashed in our kitchen (pssst…it’s sweet and sour). More soon. 🙂

 

Carrot ginger dressed potato salad
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Ingredients
  1. 1 ½ pounds small new potatoes
  2. 1 large carrot cut into chunks
  3. 1/4 cup pickled ginger
  4. 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  5. 1 cucumber, seeded and cut into chunks
  6. 1 cup snap peas, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  7. 3 spring onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Instructions
  1. In a steamer set over boiling water steam the potatoes, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are just tender, transfer them to a bowl, and let them cool to room temperature, then halve lengthwise (or quarter depending on size).
  2. In a food processor, pulse carrot, pickled ginger, oil, and ¼ cup water to create a chunky dressing.
  3. Combine potatoes, dressing, and vegetables in a large salad bowl. Serve room temperature or cold.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Curried quinoa and kale salad with apples, raisins and almonds

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Precious little things. :)

Precious little things. 🙂

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.

Curried quinoa and kale salad with apples, raisins and almonds
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup quinoa
  2. 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  3. 1 cup water
  4. 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  5. 1 tablespoon orange zest
  6. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  7. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  8. 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  9. 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  10. 1 tablespoon honey (or maple syrup for vegan)
  11. 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  12. 2 teaspoons curry powder
  13. ⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
  14. pinch ground tumeric
  15. 1 tablespoon finely minced red onion
  16. Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  17. 4 cups shredded kale, ribs and stems removed
  18. 1 apple, thinly sliced
  19. ¾ cup raisins
  20. ½ cup sliced almonds
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Prior to serving, add dressing and toss to coat.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Sweet potato casserole with quinoa (or oat) pecan topping

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

Sweet potato casserole with quinoa-pecan topping
Created for Ancient Harvest
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Ingredients
  1. 2 pounds sweet potatoes (3- 4 medium)
  2. ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  3. ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. 2 large eggs
  6. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  7. ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  8. ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
  9. dash salt
  10. ½ cup Ancient Harvest™ quinoa flakes (or sub quick or lightly processed oats)
  11. 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar (or use coconut sugar)
  12. ½ cup finely chopped pecans
  13. ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  14. 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil or olive oil
Instructions
  1. 1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. 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. 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. 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.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

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