Punchy tofu larb over cabbage, carrot, and cucumber slaw with fresh edamame and sprouts
It's nice that a new year gives us a sense of beginning. Symbolic as it may be, this year is fresh, new, unblemished. And I, for one, can say that I needed that. Whether I aligned with the year, or the year aligned with me, the timing was really just right. The month of December was like slowly waking up from a long nap - and not with disappointment or resistance, but with awe. I was slowly waking up to my life. All year I felt this kind of deep dissatisfaction, and I kept wondering why the things I usually enjoy and take solace in were not bringing me a sense of fulfillment. I should know this by now, but I'm woe to forget, that this is a backwards approach. These things are not the source of my joy, but and expression of my joy. The problem was internal. The problem was perspective. It's so simple, yet so evasive. But as soon as my focus changed form what I was doing (or trying to do) to my perspective, I started to wake up. I felt gratitude. I could see the beauty around me. I could see the traps I was setting for myself and how easy it is to avoid them with a little bit of consciousness and awareness. I felt contentment. Inspiration. Hope. I felt a lot of things I hadn't felt in a while, and I felt them deeply. Months later, I still feel this way, but I realize that I must play an active role in maintaining it. I have to pay attention to my perspective and to how I react to things. I have to choose to acknowledge the beauty around me and to engage in it. I have to cut off negative thoughts at the source rather then feeding them. Tending the mental and emotional garden. It is an active processes of maintenance and care, and I am grateful for this renewed opportunity to do so.
Crispy, shredded-carrot, potato, and scallion waffles drizzled with curry
This dish, or something like it, has been brewing in my mind for some time. It all started a few years ago, when Chris and I tried out these potato, cheddar, and chive waffles from Joy the Baker. They were gluttonous and delicious. Not exactly something I'd prepare often since they're predominately dairy and potatoes, but the idea of a savory waffle stuck with me. Perhaps a year or so later, I made malai kofta and was struck by a vision of kofta waffles drizzled in creamy malai curry. Chris wasn't sold by the idea, but I knew it could work. I still long to make this dish and I promise to report back when I do, but for whatever reason, I've never quite got around to it. It got stuffed inn the back of the ideas folder in my brain's overfilled filing cabinet and all but forgotten about. Recently, it was pulled back in to the front of my mind by a post on pinterest for hash brown waffles. I just so happened to have some left-over panang curry paste in the fridge so I decided the malai kofta waffles would have to wait just a little longer, but savory curry waffles were absolutely going to happen right away. And they did not disappoint. I think the waffles stand alone well, as crunchy savory treats, but are nicely complimented by a rich curry sauce. There's immense flexibility in the type of curry you use- Indian or Thai- either style would go willingly with the carrot and potato waffle base. They're surprisingly easy to make too, especially if you have curry on hand. And really, could there be a better use for leftovers than savory waffles with curry sauce? I think not.
Korean warn rice salad with bulgolgi-style tofu, raw and pickled vegetables, and a fried egg
I hold this dish near and dear to my heart. It has traveled with me through many years and places and grown and changed in that time. My first encounters with it were at Blue Cactus in Columbia, South Carolina. I was maybe 20 then and had never been exposed to Korean food in my life. In fact, I'm sure at the time I'd never eaten any authentic Asian cuisine of any kind. I was intimidated. I didn't know what to think of this strange bowl of hot rice, cold lettuce, and unidentifiable pickled things with a big old runny egg yolk sitting on top. What the heck is this thing? Who eats like this? It turns out, I do. Of course, you all probably know that by now, but I didn't know it then. This was totally uncharted food territory for me. The only pickled thing I'd ever eaten was pickled cucumber. This dish was one of the many that began opening doors for me- showing me new parts of food, new ingredients, new techniques. And it certainly didn't hurt that it was served at one of the best restaurants in town. A little hole in the wall place. The food takes forever and it's bring your own beer- but that's part of what made it great. We'd go and spend hours there, drinking some wine and waiting anxiously for our mouth-watering dishes to emerge from the kitchen. If you're ever in Columbia and have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend a visit. And I highly recommend the bibimbap.
Bright & tangy, cabbage wraps loaded with carrots, zucchini, tofu, and sprouts
I've made cabbage wraps probably a half a dozen times, and up until recently I have found myself more or less bored by them. I always want to love them- wrapping vegetables in other vegetables is such an ingenious way to construct a healthy meal- but my early attempts to make them fell short. The cabbage was too rough and bitter and the fillings were mostly indistinguishable. Lack-luster to say the least. But a month or two ago, I made a good one. It was mostly on a whim. We had left over cabbage and odds and ends hanging around and Chris and I decided to give it another go. The first thing I did was to soak the cabbage in water and vinegar while we prepped the other veggies, and this, my friends, was key. It softened both the texture and flavor of the cabbage, making it much more palatable and less pungent, which allows the flavors of the fillings to really come through. I also removed the ribs from the cabbage leaves since they're quite tough and essentially flavorless. Following this success, I decided to make a more concerted effort at a stellar cabbage wrap recipe. And, not to toot my own horn here, by I banged this one out of the park. Chris and I DEVOURED these. Only guttural exclamations of "yum" escaped between crunchy mouthfuls. I only wish that I had made more. The honey ginger vegetables have just the right balance of punch and sweetness and the soy-lime tofu brings a perfect compliment of saltiness and brightness to the table. Alas, I've gushed enough. Try them out and see for yourselves. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Crispy sweet potato chips smothered with peppers, carrots, and spicy peanut dressing
Lately things have been feeling weird. Up until the past few days I haven't really felt like myself. And although I have a list of reasons about a mile long why, all those reasons are just bits and pieces of the same driving force. Change. All summer long I worked carefully to achieve a delicate balance. I enlisted new routines, I tried many different approaches to working, I reflected and assessed the strengths and weakness of my days... But now things are just different. The morning routine I proudly settled on by the end of summer is no longer applicable to most of my week. My delicate balancing act of priorities has toppled into a giant mess as a slew of new responsibilities and obligations have been tossed into the mix. My initiative to maintain progress on all of the things most important to me has devolved into a simple system of "what do I have to do immediately, what do I have to do really soon, and what have I been putting off for so long that I can actually justify bumping it up on the to do list?". I won't say my summer of seeking balance was all for naught- it was an important exercise. But life isn't like some project were you work really hard, execute your plan, buffer out the imperfections, and presto: Balance! Contentment! Keep that on the shelf for later! Life is fluid and dynamic. It's always changing and you can try to hold on to your plans and schedules and ideals when the tides shift, or you can go with the flow. And this fall, the current is strong, the waves are massive, and after a few frustrated months of stubbornly trying to swim up stream, I just threw my hands up into the air and let the flow of the water do the navigating.
Vietnamese cold noodle salad with barbecue-pork-style tofu
I've recently awakened to my own passive attitude as of late. Slowly it's been working its way up to the surface and in the past few days I've come to see it with unmistakable clarity. It's not as if I've been a bump on a log, but I've been letting a number of things slide lately- in my own habits and, most notably, with work. Becoming passive about the state of things, my attitude about them, or just about keeping up with the routines, practices, and ideals that are important to me, is really not an area I care to wade into. I'm not one of those full of energy, always down for anything types (although one of my dearest friends is, and when I get to see her in a few weeks I'm going to try to catch some of her contagious vibrance!) but I am an active and productive person. And it suits me best. A little leisure here in there is fine- but if I stagnate for too long (in most any aspect of my life) it makes me very uncomfortable. And if I don't break out of that passive, stagnant state, it will inevitably start weighing me down, making movement seem impossible. There's really nothing farther from impossible, but it seems that way. Moments like this remind me of how tightly we tend to build cages around ourselves. Convincing ourselves a very many things about who we are and what we're capable of. Sometimes it makes us feel better- if I just can't change anything about my work situation right now and I simply can't bring myself to do anything productive anymore, then does it matter if I spend half the day watching 30 Rock and blogging? Cages can be cozy.
Savory tofu crumble, pickled carrots and radishes, cucumbers, and cabbage
The other morning Chaco and I went for a hike with a couple of my co-workers. It was only the second hike I've gone on in months due to the unbearable summer heat. It was great to get my body moving in that way again. I've been practicing yoga fairly regularly this summer, but I haven't biked, hiked, or done any other cardio-related activity in far too long, and I miss it! Sometimes you don't realize how much your body needs something until you get it, and my body wants it to cool down so I can start hiking once a week and biking around town again. I've also been doing a little hard labor in the yard the past few mornings. I'm digging out a new sunken bed garden that will be ultra-gopher-fortified and Chaco-proofed. Between Chaco and the gophers, I've yet to have a successful winter garden. A year or two ago I started laying down chicken wire baskets in the ground before planting to protect the roots from gopher munching. It's been a fairly successful approach, but I've learned two important lessons. First, big cages are more effective then small cages. If the gopher can tunnel close to the roots, he can still cause serious damage. Second, even though gophers are mostly root eaters, they will come above grown and mow down the vegetative part of a plant if they really like said plant. And having attempted winter gardens for the past two years, I can tell you that gophers really dig Brassicas. Unfortunately, so does Chaco. So any brassicas the gophers missed, he readily gobbled up. I guess I can't blame them because we love them too, but I'm particularly fired up to have a lush, thriving winter garden after this less-than-excellent summer and I will not let these gophers (or my sweet, offey, vegetable-loving dog) take that away from me!
Spiced, carrot and oat muffins with bourbon cinnamon infused raisins
There's a switch in my brain that got flipped on Monday. As I've mentioned before, I am a planner by nature. More days than not, the plans that I devise for myself are flexible and adaptive. I have a rough timeline in my head of how the day will go, and I execute and adjust as necessary or desired. But when I'm busy, the switch gets flipped. And once the switch is flipped, the plan becomes a very strict, detailed timeline and there is no deviation. The plan is law. So Monday afternoon I got a call that we were moving a research campaign to Tuesday, staying overnight and returning Wednesday evening. I spent the better part of the evening ticking things off a mental list and constructing a strict plan of attack for the morning. There was one important errand that I had to run the following morning, so I wanted to have everything ready ahead of time, just in case it took longer than expected. But when I awoke on Tuesday morning with the plan engraved in my brain, I just couldn't do it. I woke up with a buildup of unpleasant sinus allergies, grumbling hunger in my belly, and a painfully swollen big toe form having the insides of an overstuffed closet fall on me the night before. And even though I wanted to get done what I planned to get done, and I was slightly disappointed and very internally resistant to letting it go- I just had to. I was tired, hungry, and not feeling well, and I had a massively long, demanding couple of days ahead of me- and I thought to myself, "Hey, maybe don't push it this morning. Maybe skim down your plan to just the essentials and spend the rest of your time and energy trying to put yourself into a better mental and physical state to take on the days ahead. Maybe jumping right into a million things is not the best way to feel prepared for the day. Maybe I have to just forcibly flip that switch back in the other direction."
A vegetarian version of a Vietnamese classic
I moved to California shortly after graduating college. I had a bit of money saved up and a place to live, but no job prospects to speak of. But I had a good degree, a spotless academic record, 8 years of solid work experience under my belt, marketable skills... how hard could it possibly be for me to find a job? If you've been unemployed any time since 2008, you're already nodding you're head at me, fully aware of how naive a question like that is. It doesn't matter how qualified you are- these days finding a job is incredibly difficult. So I went through the same monotonous soul-sucking motions as anyone else in that position. For months I spent 6 or 7 hours a day scouring job sites, sending in resume after resume, writing cover letters, taking skills tests. This process is so grinding, so disheartening. I'd send out a hundred resumes in a day sometimes and never hear anything back. So when I did finally get an offer, I jumped on it. So what if it's something I've never done and know very little about? I have loan payments that are going to start coming due next month. I have rent to pay! So I took the job. It was awful. Awful! I was working for peanuts in this lonely office on the other side of town, spending all day long arguing with banks over lost paperwork and unfair denials of loan modifications. If you've ever had to call a bank for any reason whatsoever, you can imagine how truly horrible and infuriating this line of work was. Hold music... talk to a machine for 20 minutes... more hold music... talk to a representative who makes you repeat everything you already told the machine.... get transferred to someone else.... repeat. A month or so later, I started my job hunt again.
Colorful, flavorful, crispy fresh falafel
I woke up today feeling tired, despite falling asleep embarrassingly early last night. It took me until lunch to turn myself around, but I still never felt like I really got going. Some days just seem to pass like that. I tend to feel disappointed by days when I just never really feel that present. I try to force it upon myself. Get over it! Snap out of it! But ultimately these days come about because a part of me is tired- physically, mentally, emotionally, or some combination of the three. And I think that rather than feel disappointed or frustrated by these days, I ought to recognize them as a sign that something in me is tired. Something needs rejuvenating, or maybe even just a break. It's 6 pm and I'm just starting to feel settled in myself today. I've been spending a lot of time up in the old head lately. Overwhelmingly it's been for the better. I'm reconnecting with some long lost things that make me feel whole, I'm clarifying and simplifying -like cleaning an attic. But today I woke up feeling overwhelmed by it. I needed to just clear my head space. Reset.
Part of allowing that process to happen is just taking some of the pressure off of myself. Some days aren't going to be full and productive. Some days are just going to be so-so. And that was today, and now I feel better.
Hi there! I'm Cara- plant ecologist, gardening addict, and whole foods enthusiast. My whole life revolves around plants, including my kitchen. Join me here at LWM each week as I post local, seasonal, plant-based recipes and write about my never ending quest to find balance and tranquility in this crazy little world.