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Instead we’re relishing something light and bright and fresh that sings spring that I originally made for Ancient Harvest.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.
It’s St. Patty’s Day week, with official spring just a skip away, and I wanted to share something green. No loosely connected, tangent-riddled stories, just green goodness. Also a few musings on green love. Because, how would you know it was really me writing if I didn’t wander a little in whimsy in what is otherwise meant to be a sensible share?
This recipe is all about the dressing. A dressing so easy (being dressing) that goes atop salad so variable (being salad), you don’t need half the list or even need steps. With a sound go-to Green Goddess like this one, you can go wild and just trust your tangy sauce will hold everything together with a satisfying lip smack. (It goes great with quinoa, too. 🙂 )
It’s funny how ingrained in human nature it is to find fault or focus on the negative. Research shows it takes roughly 25 compliments to take the edge off an insult. Personal experience says maybe quite a lot more. Even something as life-giving and peaceful as green is not immune. A color universally associated with nature, health, and feelings of being renewed is also linked with envy, seasickness, and greed.
But it is St. Patrick’s Day week, and it is almost officially spring, so what better time to practice re-wiring our brains to focus on the positive? Fire and wire. Because green is loveliness and nature, and positive energy will do us good.
Green sings. Green grows, and nourishes. Green is Kermit the Frog, at once awkward and lovable, pure and loyal in expressiveness, determined and adventurous calmly reassuring that not only is it OK to feel sad, everything will be alright.
Green is gorgeous, humble, sustaining life. The world is getting hotter in more ways than one, and sadder. This spring, let’s freshen up and green up where we can. At least let’s love our greens.
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 1 large ripe avocado, flesh only
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh tarragon, chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups baby spinach, kale or mixed greens
- 4-5 radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 cup sugar snap peas, sliced on the diagonal
- 1 medium carrot, shredded
- 1 cucumber, sliced and halved
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup sprouts, for topping
- Combine the barley with 3 cups water and a pinch of salt in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the barley is tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and let cool.
- Prepare the dressing: in a high speed blender or food processor, combine avocado plus next 8 ingredients (through parsley) and process until smooth. Thin with additional water as needed for desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Toss barley with vegetables. Drizzle with dressing as desired and stir to combine. Serve topped with sprouts. Store leftover dressing in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
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.