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.
Hearty, spicy, chai-spiced steel cut oats & pears to boost your morning
I have happily been a morning person for the past seven years and I've come to cherish those first few, quiet hours of the day. It's a beginning, a renewal, something fresh and ripe for cultivation. In this period of reassessment, my mornings have suffered as I have not pursued much from them. But now, as fall drifts in, a renewed sense of humble empowerment is emerging. It's young, still malleable, waiting to be nourished and grow strong. That is what I'm striving for in my mornings now: nourishment, strength. I've been spending a lot of time in my head and I'm ready to start spending time in my body. I'm ready to focus on fueling my body properly, on exercising it, challenging it, stretching and adequately resting it. A healthy mind- a healthy being- requires a healthy body, and that's exactly where I intend to start. In practical terms, this means waking up, hydrating, filling my body with something hearty and nutritious, and getting in a solid work-out, preferably accompanied by yoga. It also means sustaining these habits throughout the day, but the morning has always seemed to carry my compass.
Lasagna-style zucchini noodles with fire roasted tomato sauce, meaty eggplant, fresh ricotta, and crispy mushrooms
Guaranteed to please meat lovers, Italians, and veggie-heads alike!
If you're a gardener or you know a gardener, you've probably found yourself with an abundance of overgrown zucchinis. I do a little harvest from the garden every couple of days and even though I swear I've picked all the zucchini there are to be picked, somehow there's always a gigantic one hiding out that I missed last time around. These massive zucchinis start to pile up in the fridge as I silently protest baking them into something. Don't get me wrong, I love baked goods, but I don't need to make dozen muffins each week for a household of two. And a dozen muffins doesn't even make a dent in the rapidly mounding pile of zucchini giants. Because, don't forget, I still have plenty of young zucchini, lovely and soft, ripe for the eating! So the giants sit and wait to be loved while I think desperately about ways to love them that don't involve sugar and flour. Such problems I have, huh? Well, fear not dear readers, for I have found a solution. A few weeks ago I made a pasta dish with zucchini noodles (a delicious little work in progress that I intend to post soon), and it got me thinking about the great potential these subtle little veggies have. I like the zucchini noodle concept, but I have a few qualms with the common zucchini noodle, the foremost of which is moisture. Pasta noodles, not watery. Zucchini noodles, way too watery. But not these zucchini noodles. No, no. These zucchini noodle are salted, squeezed, and baked until they retain just the right amount of moisture. And magnificent as they are, there is A LOT more to love of this lasagna. This is one of the best lasagnas I've ever eaten, and I say this as someone who grew up eating lasagna every other week from skilled Italian mamas and aunties and nanas.
A lighter take on custard with homemade pistachio milk, a touch of honey, and cardamom
There have been a lot of soft foods in the house lately. Chris has been getting some dental work done and eating cautiously to avoid a toothache in the meantime. On day one he brought home some preserved fruits, applesauce, bunches of soup, and pudding. Dark chocolate Jello brand pudding- those powder packets that you whisk some milk into. And although at first it seemed like just another strange mutant food product from my childhood, I have to admit that it was pretty delicious. With the weather heating up fast here, I couldn't help but think how wonderful it would be to have a cold pudding or custard around the house more often. I was not, however, sold on the prospect of eating a whole bunch of milk and sugar granules all summer long. I thought perhaps a nut milk would serve as a healthier alternative and soon it became abundantly clear what I had to do. I had to make pistachio milk. I have distinct memories of eating Jello's lime green, ridiculously artificial pistachio pudding. I used to love it, long before I ever loved actual pistachios. So now as a pistachio-lover trying to avoid dairy and artificial flavors, everything has come full circle in this pistachio milk custard, lightly sweetened with honey and accented with a hint of cardamom. This custard came together like some kind of fated romantic encounter, leaving me completely and utterly in love. It's light and creamy, nutty and floral. It feels decadent, but it's high in protein, packed with healthy omegas, and low in sugar. Indulgence doesn't have to be bad for our bodies, my friends. And you can safely indulge away with this one.
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.
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.
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.
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.