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.
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.
A crunchy, yolky, bitter, fresh, crisp spring panzanella that comes together in no time
Something really exciting is happening right now. Spring. Going to the market when the season changes is one of my very favorite things. Just as I'm starting to tire of brussels sprouts and broccoli (that's a ridiculous statement- who gets tired of broccoli?) the asparagus, peas, and young onions appear. To everything- turn, turn, turn - there is a season - turn, turn turn. And that season is turning to spring before my eyes. Everything is waking up, leafing out, and getting down to business. I hacked down most of the winter garden to make way for summer. The weather here is already starting to feel like summer, so I'm fast-tracking all of the garden preparation. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day. After hitting the market this morning though, I wonder what great treasures I mat have unknowingly cast into the compost pile. During our Saturday morning market shop, Chris came across a big bundle of arugula flowers from Sage Mountain Farm. Arugula flowers (which are abundant right about now) are the most unexpectedly delightful thing I have tasted in a while. Only slightly bitter and surprisingly nutty. I grabbed a bunch and some dandelion greens and knew what I'd be making tonight.
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.
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.
Dark savory caramel, mildly sweet figs and tangy yogurt
Today has been immensely lazy. We did our 8:30 market run, but despite leaving early it was miserably hot by the time we got back. I was already feeling sleepy this morning after a post-wine-Friday dinner party that went to 11 pm, and the onslaught of 100-degree heat just totally deflated me. I came back to the house, stuffed the dairy in the fridge, drank down a couple glasses of water, and laid down. It's 3 pm and all I've done since then is get the rest of the groceries put away, load the dishwasher, and eat a number of snacks that are supposed to collectively pass as lunch. Am I slightly disappointed that 1/4 of my weekend is gone and I haven't hardly moved today? No. Not really, actually. The weekend is my time and I like to use my time productively and constructively, but today the most productive thing I could do with my afternoon was to just be a bump on a log - to embrace being lazy. Sometimes going from tired and lazy to active and engaged is just a matter of getting going. Sometimes its a matter of needing to be a waste of space for half of the day and then rebooting yourself. After heaps more water and an afternoon coffee, I'm starting to feel ready to take on whatever little odds and ends peak my interest today. I think the beginning of a nice fresh loaf of bread is on the horizon for today. Maybe a little stretching, a phone call to my dear mother, a nice hearty curry for dinner, a long walk once the sun goes down... I'll make the rest of the day count. I promise.
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.
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.