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.
A fresh, light, spring bowl and full of nutty, green-y flavor!
Yesterday morning before the farmer's market, Chris and I stopped by Augie's coffee for breakfast. The house was pretty barren food-wise so we figured we'd take the opportunity to treat ourselves. I enjoyed a fantastic goat cheese and apple tart and Chris had a little lemon cake. It was delightful. And in the short few blocks between Augie's and the downtown market we passed a sign for the Inland Empire Salsa Festival. Say what?! That's right. Salsa Festival. So naturally after our Saturday morning errands were done, we had to swing back by and check it out. About a dozen salsa samples and a gratuitous basket of pig pen crispy fries later, we found ourselves stuffed to the brim and deprived of all things green (other than tomatillos and jalapenos- thank you salsa verde!). Luckily, between our haul from the farmer's market and what's left in the garden, we had ample delicious spring greens to create this light, refreshing dinner. Which was exactly what we needed.
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!
A savory, hearty breakfast bowl with pickled radishes and sriracha cucumbers
Everything feels very quiet and still today. Chris left for a conference on Saturday and won't be back until Thursday. I always feel suddenly incomplete when we have to spend time apart. We're both fairly independent people who require a certain amount of alone time, but we've grown very content and comfortable in each other's company and it's just strange when we are apart. Joni said it best- "the bed's too big, the frying pan's too wide". I usually spend the first day after he's gone bumbling around, feeling off and a little lonely, and then perk up around the second day and try to pack it full of things. If I can get swept up in my usual string of passions, I can drift off into a world where I forget that he's not here and avoid the onset of boredom. This morning, I woke up early and decided I ought to head off missing his companionship by cooking a really hearty, savory breakfast dish. Chris and I have been entertaining this idea of savory, vegetable-infused breakfast dishes a lot lately, but we haven't done too much actual experimenting. I think mostly it has to do with time. We get up plenty early, but always manage to fill up our mornings with odds and ends and usually just try to throw together something quick for breakfast. But if I planned my mornings a little better, I could be eating dishes like this every day.
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.
Tangy, fresh cucumber and yogurt dip
This morning I woke up feeling refreshed. I let myself sleep in a bit, just until the sun was starting to beam through the slits in the blinds. I woke up smiling. Chris and I made a nice wholesome breakfast of veggie omelets and blueberry-nectarine smoothies. Then he brewed up our morning coffees- for him, a straight shot of espresso followed by an iced coffee and for me, my typical hot americano. It's been a nice morning. No pressure. Just enjoying the day. Soon I'll get started on some work- calculating the environmental impacts of fertilizer production. It isn't the most thrilling bit of research I've been tasked with, but it's one of those things I can get fairly easily caught up in and it will serve the goals of this project well. So I'll power through that- perhaps breaking for some lunch-time yoga- and I'll take Chaco out later this evening when it's cooled down a bit. I feel good about today, the whole of it, already. I think if I had kept on feeling guilty over my blah-kind-of day yesterday, I wouldn't feel this way this morning. It never ceases to amaze me what a difference perspective can make.
A cool refreshing summer salad
I'm a morning person. I like to wake up with the sun, when the neighborhood quiet and the birds are calling out to one another. I like to sit at the table by the kitchen window drinking a hot americano and eating a nice little breakfast while Chaco makes excited howls at me from the other side of the glass, waiting to be taken out for his morning walk. When I've finished eating, we head to the park and run around in a big open valley there, breaking every so often for a snuggle session. And when we get home, I like to spend a half hour or so watering whatever needs watering and checking up on each individual plant- ensuring their happiness and taking notes of anything that looks off. Then it's straight to the shower and the start of getting ready for the day ahead.
I like mornings.
But I do not like rushed mornings.
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.