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.
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.
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!
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.