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.
For a few weeks running, I’ve fallen into a habit of going off on personal tangents. One more week won’t hurt, right? Next week I will make a concerted effort to post food with minimal commentary about anything outside of said recipe. Promise. Unless something REALLY compelling comes up that needs to be logged, diary-style.
This week I’m thinking about lentils. For anyone impatient with personal ramblings yet still willing to visit here, time to skip to the recipe is now. I first worked on this recipe for Ancient Harvest and now it’s a regular. It’s easy, satisfying, colorful, variable, vegan, plant-powerful, and delicious.
It’s funny, the little things that trigger memories, even those we didn’t mean to store. Sometimes such a blessing. Sometimes a trigger for a cloud. Always, an opportunity for learning and reflection.
Last Thursday I went to the police station to be fingerprinted. My teaching license is up for renewal this year, and last month I was notified that my background check is no longer on file and fingerprints need be resubmitted. On reflection that’s standard–because, time passing–but in the moment I interpreted the email as, great, CDE LOST my fingerprints, and what a hassle. I was a little prickly, in small part because I had also been “lost” in the system regarding one writing contract and was months behind on getting paid; on top of that, a check from another contract had been lost in the mail. These things combined, and I concluded morosely that I was steadily being deleted from existence.
At the station, a brisk woman ably rolled my fingers and thumbs on the card while I tried to hide my crankiness by appearing absorbed by the boxes printed on the card. My eyes rested on the standard tiny square marked “R”, and for a moment I disappeared. Not quite deja vu, not time travel (though, wow, if only!)…you know the brain space kind of place I mean.
I was six years old. My father and I were parked outside the small local elementary school, the only one in our then small town. We were dropping off books for a sale. As my father hauled the boxes over to donations, I hopped into the back of an open truck to browse through books displayed there. I remember loving the old, worn ones best, thumbing through beguiling, dusty, yellowed pages, breathing in their smells.
“What ARE you?!” A man’s insistent, aggravated voice barked me out of my mini-reverie. I looked up and took in his ruddy face, purple and pulsating at the temples. Even then I could see he was coarse, naive and rude. But I still felt less-than facing him, and he scared me.
“What ARE you?!” the man repeated. I looked around, confirming he was directing all that barbed anger toward me. I wasn’t sure I understood the question. Undeterred, he continued, “What are you? Jap, Chink, Mexican?” “I’m-I’m American,” I finally stammered, as I’d been taught. His uproarious laughter in response…I guess I’ve magnified it in my mind, but it was deeply unsettling. Prejudice wasn’t new to me, but this was the first time I’d felt such electric loathing directed at me like that, and from an adult. Mess that he was, I would given him respect, regarded him as authority.
What happened next was nothing noteworthy. My dad came back, and we went home. The incident lasted no more than two minutes, but decades later I realized it stayed with me, retained some power to rattle me. And found myself staring at a fingerprint card, asking myself, again, the same question that fuming man asked me.
I’ve marked N/A in a designated box, checked many boxes, or left box blank…I’m not Black, Hispanic, White/Caucasian, Asian, or even Other as it’s qualified by Pacific Islander. I get that it’s useful information to include for census. But every time I’m faced with the box, leaving the blank box I avert my eyes and for a moment I feel small and drab.
It’s common and temptingly easy to analogize with food. I mean, I do it ALL THE TIME. But societally, it’s intriguing, right? Positive, well-intended comparisons that are never immune to loathing and dismantlement…like those for our country’s diversity, from melting pot to salad bowl. Negative, vindictive, taunting ones that stick…Oreo, Twinkie, egg. In today’s uneasy climate, hateful stereotypes seem to be finding new force and freedoms, and this makes me so, so sad. What’s immeasurably reassuring is I know I’m so, so not alone.
This past weekend I followed the marches with longing, awed by the masses uniting peacefully around the world as WE. In my kitchen I made lentil bolognese and decided on a whim that I wouldn’t stoop to trying to answer “what are you” as if a one-word box could be a satisfactory response, but that I would play the game. You know, the food analogy one. So this week I am lentils. And why not? Lentils are soft, quiet, but tougher than you might think. Sure they easily go unnoticed. But lentils are hardy and sustaining, enduring and versatile. If you mistake them as drab then perhaps you haven’t paused to appreciate the richness of their colors.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 1/4 cup red lentils
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped plus extra for garnish
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Pasta of choice, to serve
- In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, bell pepper, celery and zucchini and cook slowly until the vegetables soften and onions turn golden, about 10 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium-high. Stir in tomato paste and cook 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and continue cooking, stirring and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, a further 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in the lentils, broth, and wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 30 minutes.
- During last 10 minutes while sauce is simmering, prepare pasta according to package directions.
- Stir parsley and basil to sauce and serve over pasta. Garnish with basil leaves and serve.
This recipe’s description should go further than “baked or steamed” to include the useful tip “or lose the bun and let the filling be an easy, honestly filling meal on its own”. The latter is way easier after all, plus tasty and accommodatingly variable. But then, the buns can be awfully fun to make, if you can squirrel away the time for the fiddliness and want to add a little novelty. Also, they should be called ‘baos’, as in “deck the halls with boughs of holly”. Only it’s “baos”, and they’re buns.
From November to January, it rang through the house, the car, and sometimes a little awkwardly, the grocery store: Falalalala la la la laaaaa. If ‘las’ can be said to roll, they rolled off little F’s joyful tongue in the most distinct and lovable way. Unmistakable, yet tough to describe. It was like little elves were pulling notes out of the back of his consenting throat with tiny shovels and tossing them out of his mouth where they’d linger for a moment in the air before falling to the earth with a satisfying thump.
Somewhere in December it occurred to me that little F very likely had his own unique merry, tantalizing framework for “boughs of holly”. Boughs would be baos, fluffy, Chinese steamed buns, often sweet, but equally welcome stuffed with savory mushrooms and greens. Little F had grown accustomed to receiving from Ammy (my mom) with increasing expectation and delight since he could chew. In fact, one key consolation that it was time for Nanny (Dave’s mum) to return to England was that soon we would be flying to Ammy’s house, where not only would there be baos, but from where we would be going shopping for baos. (Shopping for MORE baos, Monk! We gonna get a lotta baos!)
Wouldn’t it be fun to treat little F with shared bao-making fun for dinner? I thought. Idealistic me imagined making dough, rolling it out into pliable rounds, spooning filling in the centers, and pinching up seams at the tops, all side-by-side with my little sous chef. Skeptical-realist me pictured groaning at my intensifying headache while my enthusiastic but appropriately impatient little one crawled under the table, simultaneously soaking up and spreading sticky, floury mess.
What happened was predictably somewhere in the middle but surprisingly, mostly on the rose-colored glasses side. Because, today we had the luxurious option of spreading out the prep, which helped a lot. First, we made the dough using my favorite method for making pizza crust since becoming a mom, the food processor. Little engineer loves a good go a button-pushing, especially when gratified with immediate whizzing and chopping that happens to not be ear-splittingly loud.
Hours later, we threw all the filling ingredients in the pan and let them heat up and sit while we devoted our attention to other important things like painting snow in plastic tubs on the kitchen floor. And yet another hour or so after that, We rolled out the dough into neat circles, spooned on the filling, and pinched up the seams. For at least five of the ten buns, little F was a careful gem. For the remaining five, I got to marvel at my quick fingers and his overall speed in general.
If anything felt remotely disastrous about preparing this dish, it really didn’t hit until time to cook, and the big flaw was in materials. Since switching to a convection oven/induction stovetop, I’ve lost the reliable steamer basket that fit with a pot I no longer have. Instead, I planned to steam with a much smaller double boiler insert, and realized too late that we just didn’t have close to the time it would take to steam the buns and avoid a meltdown before dinner. So, we slid a tray in the oven and baked instead. I would have preferred the steaminess of the intended version, but this one is great, too, just different. More like a dairy-free Asian riff on a calzone. Bonus, the filling is great on its own, and super over rice, which is really handy since the recipe does make more filling than bun. Swap the tempeh for some other lean protein if you prefer; skip the onion, play with different mushrooms. Just don’t lose the water chesnuts, in my opinion. Or the lime juice. They’re the crunch and the zing. Choose what flour you’d like, too. I haven’t tried gluten-free bread flour, but I will eventually. We used One Degree Organics sprouted red fife flour, a superb 1-1 swap for whole wheat.
I wouldn’t dare imply that this recipe naturally suits a big-little pair-up, or expect the experience together to ever match the relative ease it took on tonight. It’s not hard, but easy to get messy with. But that may be one of the reasons I will definitely make this again, not just for the filling sans buns (which will also happen). You know I can’t resist a good food metaphor, and this one’s too ripe and pluckable to ignore. Our bao-making experience was a clear-cut process-not-the-product kind of worthy experience. Not to say, we don’t deserve to relish beautiful plates when we eat our meals. What I mean is, everywhere there are reminders begging to be accepted, that treasures, even perfect and beautiful ones, emerge from a little chaos. That it’s the imperfect, joyful, take-a-chance-on-me messiness in life that we should really sink our teeth into, together.
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
- 2 ¼ teaspoons or 1 package dry yeast
- 3 cups whole wheat flour (I love One Degree Organics sprouted wheat)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 8-ounce package tempeh, crumbled
- ⅓ cup low sodium vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
- 1 cup mushrooms (crimimi, button, baby bella) chopped
- ½ small red onion, diced
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 5 cups chopped kale, ribs and stems removed (Or 1 11-ounce package shredded kale or kale, cabbage and carrot mix)
- Prepare the dough: Dissolve yeast and honey in warm water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a food processor with chopping blade, combine flour, olive oil, baking powder and salt. With the machine running on low, pour the liquid mixture through the feed tube as fast as the flour absorbs it. Process until the dough forms a ball, and continue 30 seconds further to knead. Dust with extra flour if sticky and remove to a bowl lightly coated with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, approximately one hour.
- Prepare the filling: Heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add tempeh, broth, ginger, water chestnuts, mushrooms, and onion to pan. Cook, stirring regularly and turning tempeh, approximately 5 minutes. Add lime juice, soy sauce, cilantro, and kale. Continue to cook, stirring, until kale is cooked through, approximately 5 more minutes. Remove from heat.
- Divide dough into 10 equal portions, forming into a ball. Working with each ball individually, press into a circle, roughly 5 inches, and place approximately ¼ cup filling in center. Bring up sides to cover filling and meet on top.
- Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown colored OR arrange buns on parchment paper squares 1-inch apart in a steamer basket. Cover with lid and bring pan to boil over medium-high heat. Steam in batches according to space, 15 minutes each or until set.
- Filling is great served over rice or with noodles if you want to save time and skip the buns!