Roasted ratatouille pasta (or quinoa, or rice, or whatever)

Self, I feel the compulsion to apologize for the radio silence on this little journal of ours. I know it makes me/us uncomfortable. But we have been scrimping and saving in order to travel for an entire month, and that has involved a lot of front-loading of other priorities. And now that we’re away, we have actually been working quite a bit, albeit in a less structured, less orderly, reduced kind of way, squeezing focused time in between oodles of exploring. Amazing how relaxing certain types of busyness can be without actually allowing for time to relax.

There hasn’t been any real time for the likes of posting recipes…and yet at midnight I’m going to, driven by the preoccupying desire to record every moment. Every bite, even. Nothing new there, I guess. 

This week we’re in Switzerland, and the scenery that inspired Tolkien’s Rivendell is so truly, magically breathtaking words can’t begin to compete with images, which are forthcoming. Soon, promise. For the moment, there is this:

Because when you’re keeping to a shoestring budget of sorts, having splurged on travel itself, it’s nice to know you can make something suitably satisfying and also rather lovely to look at with a few reasonably priced vegetables you can find at the tiny local Coop, or even the nearby campsite general store. Roasting elevates the sweet and savory flavors and adds a quality that is both homey and elegant to just about everything, imho. This ratatouille is simple, delicious, versatile, and brightly beckoning. It’s so straightforward it doesn’t actually need a write-up. Except, I want to collect memories with gusto right now.  So here is where we segue transparently and awkwardly into something sweet that transpired before we left for this trip. Because, it was also bright and colorful, of course.

The Friday before our big trip, our little family trio went to Denver because to see a photography exhibition called Inspired by Nature, from Front Range Wildlife Photographers. Dave had two photos on display which had been selected as among the top ten, and Felix was sooo excited and proud to share in it.

We’d been creating all kinds of cool sculpture art together with cardboard boxes, and Flix was inspired to have our own little exhibition in our tiny living room. He wants to save money for a new Paw Patroller and thought, why not sell tickets? One penny each.

An afternoon was set aside for an official “Felix’s Box Art gallery opening”. We had invited two friends to come view Jack the box robot, Dino World, Sky Flier the plane, Ready Jet Go the rocket, the box Choo Choo camper, egg carton caterpillars, a box telescope, and the grand masterpiece we’d completed that morning, “Pidgie Pirate Ship” complete with its own plank. At the grocery store we even picked up a special veggie tray and grapes to serve our special guests.

 

Plans at age four must change on the fly more often than not, and our friends looked like they weren’t going to be able to make it. Flix had carefully set up the “snack bar” on the piano bench and insisted on waiting by the door, staring out. “What’s taking so long?” he exclaimed at one point. “We’re never going to get to show off this art!” He was quietly, shyly excited, and I was sweating, internally panicking and shooting off texts on the sly hoping to enlist some others at the last minute. 

There were a few tense moments, but then, hurrah! Dear, amazing, I-am-forever-in-your-debt Ms. Sarah made it; she drove from across town even though her daughters were playing at grandmother’s house. She saved the day. Felix beamed as he opened the door for her and explained all the art. He piled his plate with celery sticks, carrots, grapes and tomatoes, and we all shared “bubble water” (seltzer).

 

 

 

 

The next morning, two little friends and siblings came to see “the big exhibit”, and we had a lovely play date. It made our day! Flix told “the guys”–stuffed animals– all about it all afternoon. 

 

 

 

Thank you, Ms. Sarah. Thank you, friends. Thank you creativity and the wonder of being four.

 

Thank you, ratatouoille. Thank you, simple things. Thank you goodness, and wholesomeness, and all those little moments that keep fueling faith in the power of little joys. 

More soon. 😉

 

Roasted Ratatouille Pasta
Originally created for Ancient Harvest
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Ingredients
  1. 1 medium eggplant, diced
  2. 1 medium zucchini, diced
  3. 1 red bell pepper, diced
  4. 1 onion, diced
  5. 3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
  6. ¼ cup olive oil, divided
  7. 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  8. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  9. ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  10. 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb seasoning
  11. 1 (8 oz) package Ancient Harvest Supergrain Pasta® Garden Pagodas, or other Supergrain Pasta®, or grains of choice
  12. 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  13. ½ cup fresh basil, chopped
  14. ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  15. salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine diced zucchini, eggplant, and onion.
  2. In a small bowl, toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together remaining olive oil, garlic, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes and a dash salt and pepper. Drizzle over the eggplant mixture and toss to evenly coat.
  4. Arrange vegetables in a single layer on a foil-lined roasting or rimmed baking pan and roast 40-45 minutes, stirring halfway.
  5. Arrange tomatoes on a separate baking pan. Add to oven midway through roasting vegetables and cook 20-25 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft and bursting open.
  6. Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain, and return to pot, stirring in crushed tomatoes to coat. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
  7. Add roasted vegetables and tomatoes, with juice, to pasta pot.
  8. Add basil and parsley, and stir to evenly combine all ingredients.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Creamy vegan carrot ginger soup

Yesterday morning F and I went for a lovely, quiet hike with friends and all throughout we were kissed by notes of fall. Actually, it was light rain that left those soft caresses on our faces, but it was kind of the same thing. The cool drizzle was so welcome after weeks of dry heat, and it only enhanced the colors, fragrances and general changes signifying the turning of the seasons. It offered a chance to pause within and explore without. It inspired feeling that was both contentedly free and pleasantly melancholy.

Time and again, no matter how well we are conditioned to expect it, it’s amazing and startling and mystifying how we can awaken as if magically into a new season. Like watching kids grow. One day back-to-school banners highlight a sort of sullen near outrage because in truth summer is still actually in full swing. Then blink, we may as well be preparing for the departure of pumpkin spice lattes in order to make way for the pleasures of peppermint. Those rare chances to pause, wherever we find them, mean everything.

I’ve got nothing to complain about, but have been feeling a little buried under must-dos lately. That’s why despite plenty of kitchen play I haven’t been recording much, and why this post will be so short. It’s also part of what makes this soup so perfect for sharing right now. The busyness, and ushering in of autumn. This is simple, easily adaptable, robust and flavorful soup that is resonant with the season. Bright and ablaze with one of fall’s signature colors, yet comforting and soothing in a way that grants a moment of stillness in a sip. It’s scrape the pot and savor each spoonful soup. That’s all you need to know. Try it (and tell me how you change it to be a just-right-fit for you). You’ll see. 🙂

Creamy vegan carrot ginger soup
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Ingredients
  1. 1 yellow onion, diced
  2. 7 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  3. 3 medium gold potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
  4. 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
  5. 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  6. ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  7. ½ teaspoon ground paprika
  8. 1 teaspoon sea salt
  9. Dash red pepper flakes (quick light shake)
  10. ¾ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 1 hour and drained
  11. 1 cup coconut milk
Instructions
  1. Coat a stockpot or large saucepan with cooking spray or heat water to cover bottom of pan. Saute onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add carrots, potatoes, ginger, and spices (garlic powder through red pepper flakes) and cook a further 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add cashews, coconut milk, and 5 cups water to pan and bring to a near boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and let simmer for 20-30 minutes, until carrots and potatoes are tender.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree, or puree in batches in a blender. Adjust seasonings and add liquid to taste as needed.
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

Felix’s 4th Birthday Vegan Ice Cream Cake

This recipe has it all. It’s divine. It’s simple. It’s quick. It can be tailored to taste in seconds according to whim. What it doesn’t have–in this post, I mean–is a selection of pictures to accompany it and do it justice.

I didn’t expect to feel compelled to post this dreamy concoction…little F’s turning four-years-old dream birthday cake. There are so many things I didn’t expect to be mulling over lately. Most of all, despite being perpetually nostalgic and overly conscious of time, I didn’t expect quite how much it would floor me that my baby is now FOUR. I didn’t expect to find myself still freelancing, out of the classroom, at this point. Somehow over the years opportunities have kept emerging that have allowed me to keep juggling and prioritizing a flexible schedule I’ve loved. Somehow years of being steadily conditioned to flux hasn’t kept me from being any less surprised when things appear, nor any less disappointed when they end. But somehow the flow keeps going, and it’s all OK.

More than OK. Four is FABULOUS. Four is imaginative, bold, cuddly but increasingly self-assured. Four is taking initiative and sharing the play, wonder and discovery. Four is forming opinions with innocence and genuine reflection. Four deserves this birthday cake…and so does any age after. There is no doubt this cake method is the base of new evolving traditions in our house.

This recipe is owing hugely to this amazingly scrumptious recipe and post from the brilliant Minimalist Baker. And a very liberal take/modified version of this incredible chocolate banana bread turned cake from Chocolate Covered Katie bliss. I short-cutted the simple method even further by laying down three slim layers of the cake/bread mixture in three identical loaf pans lined with parchment paper and baked all at once. All you do after the layers cool is lay down a slightly softened layer of vegan ice cream of choice, top with the second cake layer, then another ice cream layer, then final cake layer; cover with foil or container lid and freeze. When it’s time to serve, let soften enough to invert out of the pan on a plate. I topped with rich, gooey melted dark chocolate with a little bit of coconut milk. Add a candle on top…absolute birthday decadence guaranteed to bring on lasting satisfaction from the wide-eyed appreciative reaction alone. (By the way, our choice of ice cream was a layer of So Delicious almond milk cookies and cream ice cream and another layer of So Delicious coconut milk oregon berry ice cream…swoon!)

This cake was the perfect way to round out a perfect birthday week for one very excited four year old. From waking up to a spangly decorated house on birthday morning to windblown first-time Go Kart excitement as a family in the afternoon to a special 2nd annual birthday hiking party with lovely little friends on the weekend following…everything about turning four has been pretty much magical. This cake complements all that–layers and layers of joy you just want to sink your teeth into and linger over.

Of course, my heart is overflowing and sometimes achy. Because, four came–and will go– so darn fast. Some days I want to sob my heart out with the kind of ice cream diving dose worthy of any respectable rom-com. This cake is good for that, too. 

Vegan ice cream cake
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Ingredients
  1. 3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
  2. 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  3. 1 tbsp vinegar
  4. 1/4 cup almond milk
  5. ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
  6. ½ cup dark chocolate chips, melted
  7. 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  8. 1 tsp baking soda
  9. 1 tsp baking powder
  10. 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  11. 2 pints non-dairy ice cream of choice (We loved mixing So Delicious Coconut Milk Oregon Berry with So Delicious Almond Milk Cookies and Cream)
  12. 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  13. ⅓ cup almond milk
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line three 9×5 loaf pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine first six ingredients, mashed bananas through melted chocolate. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda baking powder, and cocoa powder. Pour dry into wet, and stir until just evenly combined. Transfer to the loaf pans and spread out evenly.
  3. Bake approximately 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into loaf layers comes out clean.
  4. Top one of the cake layers with ice cream (keeping in the pan). Carefully remove second layer from parchment and place on top of ice cream layer. Top with another layer of ice cream and place the final cake layer on top.
  5. Cover and freeze at least one hour. Let soften 20 minutes before serving.
  6. Melt dark chocolate with coconut milk in a saucepan over medium low heat, stirring until smooth. To serve, invert onto a serving plate and top chocolate sauce.
Adapted from Minimalist Baker
Adapted from Minimalist Baker
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

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.

quinoa pilaf3 (1 of 1)
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.

quinoa pilaf (1 of 1)
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?

quinoa pilaf2 (1 of 1)

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 potato and chickpea forbidden rice bowls with oil-free coconut lime dressing

Doesn’t the “forbidden” elevate the idea of rice? Not that simply saying black rice would be any less appealing. But “forbidden” adds a haunting mysticism that’s kind of irresistible.

Chick Peak & Black Rice (1 of 5)

It seems forbidden rice owes its name to ancient Chinese dynasties when, thought to promote longevity and good health, it was exclusively reserved for emperors. Personally, I think it could as easily come down to the way the sticky black grains tend to create a comically unsavory toothless look when they lodge in your teeth. But it’s so good. Just be sure to have a toothbrush handy when you eat it, or at the very least plan on a vigorous but discreet swish with water immediately after eating and before talking if with company.

Chick Peak & Black Rice (2 of 5)

Call it a dragon bowl, buddha bowl, hippie bowl, just a bowl; forbidden rice or black rice, whatever the names, this may be my new most favorite dish ever (for now). Power packed with good nutrition, easy to make, easier to vary, and awfully beautiful to boot. Best of all, it’s sooo satisfyingly yummy. I made it originally solely for an excuse to write down and share the dressing, adapted somewhat from a coleslaw recipe my sister made when we were visiting CT earlier this summer. It came from an issue of Milk Street Magazine, and I was so taken with that coleslaw I wanted to record it here to come back to but felt uncomfortable doing so. It just seemed like tweaking and creating something new would be more fair somehow.

Given that this meal was built expressly around a sauce, I guess the “all about the dressing” streak continues. On the other hand, this particular combination of subtly spicy chickpeas, roast sweet potatoes, caramelized red onion and greens is an absolute perfect fit. As for the dressing, it’s awfully adaptable too. I thought about including a little sesame oil, only because I doubted  there was none in the original. I’m so glad I trusted memory and left it out. It would have been a foolishly gratuitous inclusion. I did make some changes (more coconut milk, soy sauce for fish sauce, chili garlic sauce for serrano chiles), and the result was so tasty I couldn’t help licking the lid of the jar I made it in.

Chick Peak & Black Rice (3 of 5)

Speaking of mysticism (back to the whole forbidden thing), lately little F has been getting into The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. I LOVE these chapter books. Reading them to students to conclude the day is among my very dearest memories of teaching Kindergarten and something that keeps me thinking I’ll come back to it. We’d dim the lights and I’d play soft background tracks from an Enya CD to match the mood of the story. (Her album, Without Rain is the perfect pairing.) I loved that time so much that one summer, pre-parenting, I tried reading them to the same music all by myself. It wasn’t the same.

Chick Peak & Black Rice (4 of 5)

Anyway, it took me by surprise how drawn to them little F became at not quite four, but I love this shared time together so much. Recently, we’ve been reading a set of “Merlin Missions” wherein the characters Jack and Annie are tasked with finding secrets of happiness to help a sorrowful Merlin. And here I’m going to start stretching for connections in such a way that borders on unbearable, depending who you are. As I do. 

Fun morning (3 of 6)I do a lot of daydreaming while cooking. A lot of thinking and musing. Getting cheesily philosophical about “recipes for happiness” is a staple theme. It’s funny how contented we can be in our now while yet so anxious and fearful of what tomorrow might be. Since Little F was born I’ve known radiant happiness while continually quietly mourning the necessary drift. Always fervently hoping that as each new level of letting go arrives, I’ll find myself capable of whatever it is I need to be ready for. So far, it’s been alright. The other morning for instance, our keen “marching to four”-year old woke up early, and for the first time ever, he chose not to wake us up. Instead, all by himself he pulled his curtains, made his bed, got dressed (T-shirt adorably backwards), and busily set about “delivering” his stuffed animals to various locations throughout the house. I awoke hearing him bustling about and you could sense the joy in the movement. It was a milestone of independence. While my heart definitely felt  a pang, it also bloomed with pride and joy for him, as has been the case so far with all these dreaded yet special steps into his own.

That night while while cooking, my mind was wandering…there was the usual noting of worry regarding said drift, and time passing, and also Jack and Annie, happiness in general, that coleslaw from Milk Street I’d been too hesitant to write down even for myself as is. And suddenly, all these fluttering thoughts collided and I felt somehow closer to an important truth. Not there, but closer.  The Buddhist ideal of non-attachment began to make a little more sense. It seemed less cold and distant, more graceful and accepting than I’d interpreted before. 

Chick Peak & Black Rice (5 of 5)

Sometimes the most stirring epiphanies are those representing the things that seem like they should be the most obvious. Maybe an important key to happiness is letting go of ownership. The less we own, the less preoccupied we are with boundaries. I don’t own recipe combinations. Neither does Milk Street, for that matter (well, actually depending on copyright maybe they do, but you know what I mean). My marching-t0-four year old son is my world. I grew him from a tiny seed and his father and I love him to pieces, nourish him, revel in the weightiness of responsibility that is caring for him. Yet he is not ours. Recognizing this does not dull my love for him in the slightest, or lay the foundation for walls around my heart. If anything it makes me love him even more, if that’s possible. But remembering he is his own gives a little more peace. At least in this moment. 

The dressing for this dish is to me amazing. I’m not sure what makes it so. So simple, but everything works together (and who can scoff at coconut and lime, really?). There is no secret ingredient. You’ll take it and make it yours, and therefore better. Here’s the big corn, friends. Ultimately, the secret ingredient, always, is you.

Sweet potato and chickpea forbidden rice bowls
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups black rice
  2. 1 teaspoon chili powder
  3. 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  4. 2 large sweet potatoes
  5. 1 small red onion, peeled and cut in wedges
  6. cooking spray
  7. salt and pepper to taste
  8. 3 tablespoons lime juice
  9. 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  10. 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
  11. 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
  12. 1/2 cup coconut milk
  13. 4 cups baby kale or mixed greens
Instructions
  1. Prepare the rice: Cook 2 cups in 3 ½ cups water. Rinse under cold water. Bring water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low, cook until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 35 minutes.
  2. Coat chickpeas with chili powder and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange sweet potatoes and onions on a baking sheet and coat generously with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven to turn with a spatula and add chickpeas. Bake for a further 15 -20 minutes, turning once.
  4. Prepare the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients through coconut milk to combine.
  5. Add half the dressing to rice, stirring to coat. Divide rice into serving bowls, then top with equal amounts of kale/greens mix, sweet potatoes, onions and chickpeas. Drizzle remaining dressing evenly on top. Enjoy!
Happy Apple Natural Kitchen http://www.happyapplekitchen.com/

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