It’s Earth Day week, and I had this idea of concocting some kind of richly earthy sort of stew I hadn’t made before. Just thinking of it, I couldn’t quell the word umami from resonating in my head with deep, ringing tones. Something about umami; if Yoda was a taste, umami would he be.
Featured in this stew, there would have to be brown lentils, mushrooms, burdock root…that last one mainly because I only just discovered its existence last fall when I tested out a recipe that included it for Yoga Journal, and it seems to epitomize earthiness with a sort of mysticism attached. So, there was an ingredients list. Then, not even halfway through the week I decided to chuck it, for now.
Actually, so fat I don’t like burdock root. This may well change, easily, depending on what I learn about amazing benefits like blood purification and lymphatic system strengthening that I can’t possibly get anywhere else. But for now, I’m just not a huge fan of the sinewy woodiness, or the fact that the earthiness is really actual earth. And the brown, knobby lumpiness of my ingredients seemed more suitable for a witch’s bubbling cauldron than my envisioned rustic family dinner honoring Earth Day.
Instead we’re relishing something light and bright and fresh that sings spring that I originally made for Ancient Harvest. You can vary the vegetables, the amounts, the herbs. You can load up the veggies and still savor a light yet satisfying meal. I love the way the pesto makes the flavors pop.
I may have mentioned before, lately I’ve been driving myself a little more batty than usual in my personal quest to expand knowledge. Instead of really challenging myself and poring over, say, financial journals or exploring other areas outside of my comfort zone, I’ve been diving headlong into more of what am already interested in, was already reading/watching/listening to. Foremost, that’s food and nutrition. Lately, lagging just a hair behind, toxins in our environment. It’s not the healthiest thing, going further and further into the abyss that is all the ugly, greedy, and despicable in the world and repeatedly reinforcing how little we can do about it.
But at least there is always a little we can do. And if there is anything worth taking little, or any size, steps for, it’s our planet. We only have one.
Different people need different diets, and few things are as off-putting as people assuming they’re due some kind of applause for theirs. But no one argues with the power of produce, and the significant impact such a delicious choice can make on personal health and the health of the whole planet. This week, of all weeks, it feels especially good to love seasonal vegetables. Happy Earth Day!
- 1 cup quinoa, any variety
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 leeks halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (white and light green portions)
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 3 cups water
- 8 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut diagonally in approximately 1-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 cups kale leaves, ribs removed and chopped
- 1 cup cooked navy or white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
- 1 cup torn basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 3 cloves garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook quinoa according to package directions and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add leek and carrots sweat 3-4 minutes.
- Add vegetable broth and water and bring to a low boil. Add asparagus, peas, kale, beans and corn. Cook 5-7 minutes, until asparagus is tender.
- Prepare the pesto: place basil, lemon juice, pine nuts, garlic, and remaining olive oil in a food processor and pulse until smooth.
- Stir in quinoa and half of the pesto. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Thin to desired consistency with extra water as needed. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Ladle into bowls and serve with remaining pesto spooned on top.
I’m proud of this recipe especially because I didn’t create it. It may not be the most original concept, and I can’t even honestly say that the list of ingredients is accurately detailed as we combined them…twice now with a third visibly on the horizon. In fact, those two separate batches were both eyeballed so certainly created with similar but different quantities, for everything. That’s what made the making of it so without any detriment to taste whatsoever, and this is all coming out wrong. What I really mean to say is, this isn’t my recipe but I love it sooo much more for that, because it’s Felix’s. There are countless versions out there that differ in subtle or no ways at all, but little sous chef is 3 ½, and he doesn’t know that.
“Mommy, can we please, please, please make hot chocolate rice pudding?” Little F asked one unusually chill, wet day. That’s how this began. “We can try,” I told him. “What steps do you think we’ll need?” Little F cocked his head to the side thoughtfully and responded confidently, “Make hot chocolate and put rice in it!” And that is pretty much what we did. Cooked brown rice, almond and coconut milk, vanilla, a scoop of dark chocolate, bit of cocoa powder, a splash of pure maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon. It was a playful and exquisite process with a product to match.
There is a part of me, a very large part, that cannot believe that when I tell you little F is 3 ½ I’m talking years not months. Daily, we’re navigating tumbling seas that are speckled with tormented tantrums pulsing with unimaginable fury so encompassing they can bowl us over and force us to swallow a bit of guilty laughter at the same time. Interspersed are these magical, enchanting rainbows of wonder and discovery that lend lightness to the soul even as wrinkles and gray hairs are etched by the trying back and forth. And underlying everything, for this very fleeting moment, we’ve had a clingy, uncertain phase that means lots of cherished, fiercely loving cuddles alongside stacks of jobs undone until exhaustingly late.
Tantrums, clinging, and even the wondrous energy of exploration–all tough at times. Sometimes really hair-pulling hard. And always painfully bittersweet in how short-lived we know them to be. So it’s easy to say with 100% certitude, even in the most intense heat of the most tempestuous fit, on some level I am always grappling with some grief over the necessary drift that is happening right now. The one where my little sidekick steadily becomes his own leading action hero and we fade, cheering, into the background.
Luckily, there is never enough time in this season we’re in to dwell too much on what’s next, what’s going wrong, who might be judging, etc. Even better, that drift so far is brimming with steady gems that sparkle as if to say, savor this and trust in the journey.
They are little things, mostly. Reassurances that parceled in with all the budding independence comes blooming, shared pride offered with the greatest of love. They are in the cheeky, sparkly-eyed, shyly winsome way a little person tells you one day, sitting naked on the toilet, “Maaaaybeee I gonna just use the potty now, no more pull-ups.” Or when that same little person guides you on a nature hike of his own devising, one that winds around according to “my plan” and incorporates a variety of mystery animal poop shapes, sizes and colors that he had taken note of and remembered. And when an idea pops into his head for creating something so simple, wholesome, and actually scrumptious you just want to make it week after week both for the pleasure of it (because it’s indeed yummy!) and for the memory of how much you want to take a giggling bite out of him.
(By the way, I am sorry and a little embarrassed to mention poop not just once but actually twice in the same post, and one that is meant to be about a snack that happens to be brown at that. At the same time, it just feels appropriate. It’s all as it should be, the push-pulls what they need to be, and it’s good.)
- 1 cup short-grain brown rice
- 3 cups unsweetened almond coconut milk (or equivalent combination of almond and/or coconut milks)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅓ to 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips according to taste
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Bring 1 1/2 cup water and rice to a boil over high heat. RCover, and reduce to a slow, steady simmer for approximately 40 minutes.
- Add almond coconut milk(s), stirring well, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and allow to cook until pudding has thickened, 20-25 minutes, stirring at regular intervals.
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.