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.
Gluten-free banana blueberry coffee cake with granola topping (aka Monk’s practice birthday cake, aka “best cake ever”)
We’ve been feasting in our living room a lot lately, and by ‘feasting’, I mean this:
And the feasting isn’t limited to the cardboard builder’s block tables and chairs of “Chocolate Wally’s”, our 3-year old’s chosen play restaurant name which is sometimes shunted to the side in favor of “No Noggin’s” instead. In the kitchen, we’ve been gnoshing on cake. (Quick aside, isn’t “Chocolate Wally’s” the cutest, most enticing restaurant name? If it isn’t already in existence as a ‘real restaurant’, it needs to be, one day.)
What I mean by cake, specifically, is breakfast cake which is also very important “practice” birthday cake for THE very important Monk, whose birthday is coming up in February (Valentine’s Day). This information alone should be testament enough to the scrumptious, wholesome loveliness of this cake. Anyone who knows anything about Monk knows he deserves the very best.
We all know anything labeled “cake”, from coffee cake to birthday cake to be a sometimes-only treat. I mean, we love them, but not on a regular basis, right? When it comes to this cake, however, there’s so much to glow about. First, its yumminess meets the standard for the BIG birthday celebration cake while the combined ingredients rise to optimistic requirements for healthiness. Chickpea flour has yet to let me down, though I’m sure I’m bound to push the boundaries eventually. Ripe bananas and just two tablespoons of honey (or maple syrup for vegan) are plenty enough sweetener when delivered parceled into the dense, moist texture the garbanzo bean flour brings. And what ties it all together and makes prep a quick cinch in the morning is the sprinkling of delectable granola baked on top.
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a blogger’s event hosted by Sprouts Farmers Market and Fiona’s Natural Foods at the Fiona’s production facility in north Longmont. The building space is shared with several local brands, all of which share like-minded philosophies concerning health, sustainability, and compassion. Our group was treated to a tour of the facility, and throughout it was apparent how much meticulous care and purpose went into every corner.
The owners of Fiona’s Natural Foods, a family with combined interest and experience in agriculture and food service, purchased Fiona’s Natural Foods from the Fiona, a woman from Boulder inspired by a family recipe. Touring and tasting product, the fact that the Fiona’s team today is committed to the original mission of good nutrition and whole health was clearly evident: slow roasting and hand-tossing to bring out the best in flavor and texture; using only quality ingredients; sweetening with organic coconut nectar, the newest in superior sweeteners that I’m just learning about. Coconut nectar comes from a painstaking process of tapping the flowering stems of the coconut blossom to draw sweet sap. The sap is then evaporated at low temperatures, producing a raw, low glycemic syrup that provides perfect, delicate sweetness to perfect, crunchy granola…
which also happens to provide the perfect sweet-crunchy topping for breakfast/birthday cake for the very best of friends. “Best cake ever,” Monk pronounced it. In this moment, in our house, there may be no greater foodie stamp of approval.
- 1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch sea salt
- 2 large eggs or egg replacer equivalent (such as Bob's Red Mill)
- 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
- 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted coconut oil
- ½ cup almond milk
- 3 medium very ripe bananas, mashed
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (defrosted)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup Fiona’s almond millet granola (or vanilla sunflower, or any flavor really!)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch round (or square works, too) baking pan with parchment paper or coat with cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Make a well in center of flour mixture. (If using frozen blueberries, add to dry mixture to coat.)
- In a small bowl, whisk the eggs or egg replacer, honey/maple syrup, almond milk, applesauce, banana, oil, and vanilla until well blended. Add to the flour mixture in large bowl, stirring to blend.
- Pour the batter into prepared pan and sprinkle top with granola.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan. Serve warm.
Inspired by a curried quinoa with raisins and almonds that I swooned over at the new local Whole Foods, this salad came together tweak by fortuitously compatible tweak. The dressing began bland. Then each little ingredient, rather than causing cloudy confusion, added something uniquely complementary…pop, zing, tang, or just a bit of niceness. The end result was lovely, bursting with flavor, packed with greens, and satiating with the hearty protein-rich combination of quinoa and chickpeas. That’s really all I wanted to say about this quinoa-kale combo. It’s all about the little things.
That has been something of a motto for me, at least on this blog, this season. The impact and importance of little things. Being a relatively small and prematurely, overly apologetic person, I guess I’ve always had an affinity for small ponds; a fierce faith in the significance of small but steady, well-intentioned steps. But recently, an online professional development class on mindfulness has encouraged pause for reflection that allowed me to call myself out for how indolent–or maybe fearful– I’ve been lately, dismissive of small efforts when it comes to myself. In other words, kind of a hypocrite.
I used to write poetry. A lot. Depending on the situation not everyone wants to admit to this, but in fact I went to graduate school for it. Now, as mama to a very busy, somewhat clingy (but wonderfully so) 3-year old who squeezes work as a freelancer into narrow, awkward hours, any poetic channels I still possess are clogged. My writing gets plenty of enjoyable outlets, and sometimes it even closes in on eloquent; but if I were to attempt poetry it would be obvious and pathetic in its stumbling. I know this, but it isn’t a reason not to try, if only infrequently, sometimes.
I used to play piano a lot, too. Despite being a sing-song, nursery-rhyme style ‘singer’, I will always be so thankful for the salvation music, particularly the piano, has provided during key crossroads, and painful, lost, and lonely periods of my life. The mentors I’ve had have been more impactful than they may ever realize. They’ve nurtured my soul and saved me from drowning in more ways than I’ve ever told them. Now, I’m lucky to pull out old familiar pieces I love or struggle with sight reading roughly ten minutes every other week or so. It’s a temporary state of things, and the music will be there when I return to it. But that’s no reason not to take those ten minutes where they appear and relish them.
The truth is, there are good reasons not to attempt to do these things I love. Mainly, time, or lack of. Sometimes money, too, though not really relevant to those examples. There are always trade-offs, and how privileged to have the luxury of choosing mine. Self-care is not absent in my life, it just looks different than a younger, freer self’s routines, and that’s OK.
But where I’ve been really falling down is the holding back when it comes to reaching out to people because I’m afraid I’m not enough. Because I’m embarrassed…that in my state of too little time or too stretched a budget that what I can offer is not worthwhile. A string of meaningful events has been lighting up our community lately, with babies arriving, life changes to celebrate, and changes to mourn. I have caught myself too many times holding back from reaching out for the weakest of reasons…that the time I can offer would be too short or too inconsistent to be meaningful; the meal I’d offer would be too simple to be sustenance, the gift too small to be appreciated.
Last week we couldn’t fit the “big shop” on a single weekday, and had to arrange the weekend so I could take on the grocery store late Saturday morning. Inside, it was packed with people; outside, the parking lot was packed with slushy, heavy, gritty snow. I was indulging in post-holiday, somewhat fatigued, hormonal, lonely bluesiness, struggling to push my heavy cart over the mini parking lot moguls of gripping, slippery snow-dirt, when a woman rushed over as if out of a dream, grabbed the end of the cart and commanded, “You pull, I’ll push” in such a sunny, efficiently managerial kind of manner, my spirits instantly lifted. After my bags were unloaded and I started to push–with much more ease–my lightened cart over to the dock, an elderly man appeared at my side and insisted in this soft, gentlemanly, kindly voice, “please, let me help you.”
Those two strangers will never know how much those quick, unselfish moments of their time mattered to me. I hope the pay-it-forward effect brings them some solid karma. Because it’s been going on a week, and the lift their combined efforts gave me may have ebbed but hasn’t gone away. Better, it’s opened up a few resolves…’new year resolutions’ I hadn’t made but have already acted on, so that’s something. The little voice that has been holding back good intentions has taken a more optimistic and centered approach, experimenting with new advice: offer the soup; write the poem, or if not, read one; play the music, or if not, listen; visit with the friend, or if not, call…or if not, message; compliment the stranger; thank the friend; say ‘I love you’; wish the Facebook “friend” who’s not really a friend happy birthday (or delete the “friend” if that’s better for the whole, meaningful picture). Because, it’s the little things in the end. You may never know the difference you inspired, but it’s there.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey (or maple syrup for vegan)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
- pinch ground tumeric
- 1 tablespoon finely minced red onion
- Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- 4 cups shredded kale, ribs and stems removed
- 1 apple, thinly sliced
- ¾ cup raisins
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- Bring the quinoa, vegetable broth, and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender, and the water has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the dressing by whisking together the orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, mustard, honey, cider vinegar, spices and onion in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the kale, apples, raisins and almonds to the cooked quinoa, and stir to combine. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Prior to serving, add dressing and toss to coat.