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. 😉
- 1 medium eggplant, diced
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb seasoning
- 1 (8 oz) package Ancient Harvest Supergrain Pasta® Garden Pagodas, or other Supergrain Pasta®, or grains of choice
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup fresh basil, chopped
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine diced zucchini, eggplant, and onion.
- In a small bowl, toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Set aside.
- 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.
- Arrange vegetables in a single layer on a foil-lined roasting or rimmed baking pan and roast 40-45 minutes, stirring halfway.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add roasted vegetables and tomatoes, with juice, to pasta pot.
- Add basil and parsley, and stir to evenly combine all ingredients.
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. 🙂
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 7 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 medium gold potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, minced
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground paprika
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Dash red pepper flakes (quick light shake)
- ¾ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 1 hour and drained
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 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.
- 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.
- Use an immersion blender to puree, or puree in batches in a blender. Adjust seasonings and add liquid to taste as needed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 2 cups black rice
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 1 small red onion, peeled and cut in wedges
- cooking spray
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
- 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 4 cups baby kale or mixed greens
- 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.
- Coat chickpeas with chili powder and set aside.
- 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.
- Prepare the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients through coconut milk to combine.
- 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!
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.
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.
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!”
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.
- ¾ cup dates, pitted and soaked in hot water to soften ten minutes
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- ½ cup pineapple
- ⅓ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- Vegetable broth or stock
- 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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
- 1 ½ pounds small new potatoes
- 1 large carrot cut into chunks
- 1/4 cup pickled ginger
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 cucumber, seeded and cut into chunks
- 1 cup snap peas, sliced thinly on the diagonal
- 3 spring onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 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).
- In a food processor, pulse carrot, pickled ginger, oil, and ¼ cup water to create a chunky dressing.
- Combine potatoes, dressing, and vegetables in a large salad bowl. Serve room temperature or cold.