navigating life, with cardamom.

This past September has marked eight years of teaching yoga, and fifteen years since I started studying food science formally. Over the years, yoga has been a template to help figure out how to live well, and food has been an equally interesting medium for that too.

In the journey of navigating life (and deciding what to eat), I have always loved reading about all things food: cookbooks, memoirs of chefs, ethics regarding food production and agriculture, the history of cutlery, the science of flavour, and on and on. Recently I’ve been doing some thinking and reading on the evolution of food trends – and the dangers, contradictions, and benefits that can transpire. While I think I’ll always be intellectually intrigued by food trends, I don’t think many of them will end up on my dining table in a serious way. Perhaps I’m a little worn out (trying to live a good life can be tiring, ironically), but arriving at this conclusion is mostly due to seeing firsthand how trends are uplifted and prolonged due to the desire for market share and positive quarterly reports. While it’s depressing to consider the troubles we now have from mass-producing food (and it’s sexy to hate on big multinationals), I’ve been on that side and can understand that everyone has to make a living (even Employee #58260). The unfortunate part is that we seem to all have different ideas about how best to go about that. While people smarter than me work on that problem, what strikes my curiosity is the sanctimonious fervour in which a certain food or way of eating is uplifted as the universal remedy for all ailments (real or imagined), and how that feels somewhat unjustified, especially in the light of graceless commerce.

And, in the light of logic. In fact, there was one particular situation many years ago that really crystallized for me how food trends are so myopically temporal: I was asked at my job to formulate a trans-fat-free mayonnaise…that was going to be served on a piece of fried chicken. With a side of fries. I didn’t know if it could get more painfully absurd than that.

For all my research, I’m still unsure about how food trends start, but anyhow I’m more interested in what happens after. Moreover, science and its data seem to matter less and less. Outside of financial gain and scientific studies, it seems that right now, there is a large sect that subscribe to the notion that eating certain foods has become dirty and sinful, while other foods have become purifying and cleansing. The delineation seems based more on feeling than fact. Gluten-free foods will apparently cure you of everything from anxiety to cancer, while sourdough bread (with gluten, by the way) will put you in touch with Mother Nature, soil, and Getting Back to the Land.

Self-imposed dietary restriction has become an indicator of morality and self-worth via discipline, while at the same time indulgence has become a form of brazen self-care. And mostly among women. Fries before guys! Doughs before bros! With the caveat that you are already thin and fit-looking (and heterosexual, though I guess it is also about the rhyming)…

Can the act of eating really be a form of repentance? Are we truly better people if we don’t eat this, but eat that? While discipline is certainly a useful quality to cultivate, and we need some form in which to do that, I wonder if one takes it too far when deciding to cut out all carbs.

It seems to me that at the root of all this is a feeling that we are not enough. A sense of inadequacy seems to be the all-pervasive malaise of those afforded the luxury of too many food and dietary choices. Dissatisfaction, shame, insecurity, vulnerability – all of these states are so difficult to sit with and we can find a welcome distraction through the safety of food rules. This is allowed, this is not allowed. This will make me feel worthy. This will not make me feel worthy. It simplifies a nuanced, complicated world.

It’s all so sticky. But maybe sticky can end up being good, like local raw honey?! The practice of yoga teaches us that there is a way to navigate through all of this. Learning to sit with what arises, to hold space without pushing away or judging – through this we can have healthier relationships with ourselves, and moreover, the things we consume. Eating clean won’t make you feel like you are enough, because you are already enough. But it takes some work to truly believe that.

Navigating one’s way through life can be difficult at times, and the way each individual chooses to go about it is deeply personal. And it is incredible how we have so many unique ways of feeling about and treating food. So when I start to go cross-eyed about it all, I try to remind myself of the following to put it all in perspective, especially when it comes to eating and health: that everyone’s time runs out, and we can only delay the inevitable, but hopefully we can find some joy and pleasure in that journey.

So while we keep trying to figure it all out, here is a tea concoction that can hopefully contribute to some of that joy. This is a classic combination of spices found in Ayurveda, the healing modality that historically developed alongside yoga. Ayurveda means, “philosophy of living” – so you can see why I like studying it! – and offers an interesting way of viewing the world that emphasizes relationship, cause and effect, and interconnectedness.

One of the most important aspects of Ayurveda is digestion – not just of food but also thoughts, emotions and experiences. And if that seems to fall on the side of feel-goodery woo-woo, recent studies have shown how sleep is important for our brains to have the opportunity to “scrub” clean of toxins built up from thinking our thoughts over the course of the day – which is the same thing that happens when you meditate! – aka, mental digestion. Hooray!

According to Ayurveda, this particular blend of three spices are good for all body types, and is supposed to help with digestion by preventing bloating (and farts!) and promoting urine flow (pee pee!)

To be honest though, I love it because I love cardamom.

Cardamom is one of those enigmatic flavours that I can’t quite put my finger on. It is subtle, yet distinctive. It is a spice that embodies the question without worrying about finding the answer, and perhaps that is a good suggestion for how living well feels like – living that is grounded in a sense of wonder and playfulness.

And, maybe, a little logic.

Cardamom, coriander, fennel tea

2 tsp cardamom seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds

Lightly crush seeds with mortar and pestle. Use 3/4 tsp of the mixture to 2 cups of hot water. Steep for 5 minutes. Feel free to sweeten, but it’s pretty lovely as it is. Store the rest of the mixture in a jar for next time.

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peanut butter cookies, loneliness, and lady afternoons.

“…when you’re really lonely, the peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth.” – Charlie Brown.

In grade 6, our class put on – or, more accurately, was told – to put on a production of, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I think I was a made-up character named “Adam” and had maybe one 10-word line in the entire play. If I had really committed to my character and channelled being lonely (if I communicated so little, I probably was) then peanut butter would have definitely stuck to the roof of my mouth, via my method acting techniques.

In real life though, I haven’t paid too much attention to whether peanut butter sticks to the roof of my mouth – I don’t think it ever has, but honestly, I’d rather not dwell on it.

Fast forward some years after my short-lived acting career, and peanut butter sandwiches had indeed become a mainstay in my life. For a solid two years, I had peanut butter and banana sandwiches everyday for breakfast. Looking back on it now it makes me gag a little, not because the type of sandwich is disgusting to me, but because I can’t help but feel that relationship between art and life, and that indeed, I was deeply lonely.

Before this becomes a typical confessional blog post-turned-first draft for a Ted talk-turned-phoenix rising out of the ashes-scenario, I have to emphasize that even in periods of life when I’ve been deeply lonely, I have had beautiful, kind, and giving souls around me, whom I was grateful to call friends. For instance, during the PB-banana sandwich era, I had a wonderful housemate whose capability at doing life was astounding. She had an incredible talent for living fully which I deeply admired, and with a seemingly endless supply of energy, most of the words that came out of her were zesty proclamations that stirred me out of my sleepy fog. One of my strongest memories of our conversations together is how she once stated, and to which I fervently agreed, that if we ever dated people who were allergic to peanut butter, it would be a “deal breaker.” (For better or worse, my short lived dating life resembled that of my Adam character, and I never got to have that “So because you’re allergic…” conversation.)

During that same period of life, I met Mary. She was an eighty-something lady that lived in our neighbourhood. To make extra cash, my housemate and I had posted flyers around saying we were available to clean houses, help with yard work, and give flute (her) and piano (me) lessons (we were really laying it all out). Mary called us. Living alone in a large house (her husband had passed away years ago, and it didn’t seem like she had any children to call upon), she wanted help raking leaves and washing her walls with a vinegar-water concoction. Sometimes both my housemate and I would go help Mary, or sometimes we would go alone. This happened regularly for about two years, and even when I moved back to my hometown about an hour away, whenever I happened to be in the neighbourhood I would stop by for a visit.

Helping Mary with housework usually consisted of 1-2 hours of actual work, and then 1-2 hours of sitting with her and having tea and cookies. We would drink Red Rose out of her delicate bone china tea cups, and talk about the neighbours, her friends (who were up to no good, spending all their time at Tim Hortons), the status of the garden, how she used to save money from every pay cheque to buy another piece of crystalware from the set she had chosen (a goblet used to cost ten cents). How some lady stranger walking by had stopped to chat with her about how beautiful her white bell flowers were in the front yard, and the next day they were stolen right out of the soil, and that it must have been that woman. How last week when there was a thunderstorm she got so scared that she went into the basement and cried and desperately missed her husband.

I always think about Mary when I see white bell flowers, and when I make peanut butter cookies.

Most days, she had peanut butter cookies in the freezer. When we would sit down for tea, she would bring them out and even if they weren’t completely thawed, we would eat them anyway because they were so delicious, so delightful, so generous. They were always made with the classic fork tine imprint, and in a delicate lady-appropriate size, which also meant that you could have two, or maybe three, if you were discreet.

I haven’t seen Mary in ages, and we never had a proper good bye, and thus I haven’t really had the will to make peanut butter cookies, until recently, mostly due to stumbling upon a wonderful recipe. While these cookies aren’t quite like hers, they are delectable in their own right. I’ve opted for a double fork tine imprint to make a criss-cross pattern, and the cookies are a bit larger to serve this younger generation that doesn’t seem overly concerned with being dainty. I’ve added a hint of ginger, since my digestive system isn’t as efficient as it used to be. Hopefully Mary would approve.

Peanut butter cookies, with a hint of ginger
(adapted from a recipe in Tara O’Brady’s cookbook, Seven Spoons)

3/4 cup (200 g) smooth natural peanut butter
1/2 cup (115 g) butter, room temperature
2/3 cup (140 g) brown sugar
1/3 cup (70 g) white sugar
2 tbsp (44 g) molasses
1 egg
1 cup plus 2 tbsp (140 g) bread flour
1/2 tsp dried ginger powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Beat the peanut butter, butter, sugars, and molasses together until smooth and fluffy. Stir in the egg, and then sprinkle over all the dried ingredients. Beat until homogenous.

Roll into 2 tbsp balls, or alternatively, use an ice cream scooper to make perfectly consistent portions. Place on a lined baking sheet and freeze for 10-15 minutes, spaced 2″ apart. Use fork tines to make a criss cross pattern and to press the dough balls down. Dipping the fork into warm water occasionally can help it from getting too sticky. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven, for about 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheet before removing.

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the three c’s of granola.

It was getting out of control.

For the past few months, I had been voraciously eating granola, that I’d been buying at the grocery store.  Sacrilege.  But wait, it had a cute name! – it was called, “Love Crunch.”  But more importantly, it contained chocolate.  Oops!  Details.

The tipping point was when Longer Legs raised an eyebrow when I was serving myself the third bowl of the day, as an after-dinner snack.  It was time to crunch the love out.  And maybe think about doing ab crunches.

I don’t think that I am alone in periodically eating the same thing over and over – the comfort of having something unchanging to turn to is a strong grounding force in life, whether it be gustatory, or wearing the same pants everyday for a week (come on, you know you’ve done it at least once, like, maybe last week…).  Needless to say, I know I am lucky in many ways, including having the time and energy to wax self-indulgent lyrical about edible delights, but like anyone else, I have challenges too and I’m not always graceful in dealing with them.  Let’s face it: you can’t be happy all the time; it’s statistically impossible.

But, when the return to something familiar and comforting becomes a reflexive habit, it’s time to reassess.  And make your own granola.

After a brief episode of playing Adult and going to Costco, I had a pantry bursting with the necessary ingredients to make my own riff on the Love Crunch, and thus no excuse to buy pre-made granola again.  Creating a new recipe based on the retreat-worthy granola recipe, I wanted to make sure there was coconut and chocolate in this new-love, since those were the things that drew me to the Love Crunch in the first place.  But things feel more balanced when they are in sets of threes, no?  So I decided to layer on the riffing with the 3 C’s.  First, the 3 C’s of life are choices, chances, and changes.  So why couldn’t the 3 C’s of granola be coconut, chocolate, and…coffee?  It just seemed like the right thing to do.  And if this was to be my new grounding force, I felt that it should contain all the things I love – so that I could be better equipped to deal with all the choices, chances, and changes happening in life.

In the end, I decided to exercise some restraint and use cocoa powder instead of full-on chocolate, but read to the bottom of this post and you’ll see a note about that.  What’s nice is that the cocoa powder adds a lush dark brown colour to the granola, and a hint of bitterness that plays well with the maple syrup.  Also, maybe instant coffee seems like a cop-out but it feels like a waste to bake with real coffee, since the heat will drive all the subtle flavour notes away.  Better to have a cup of coffee made with freshly roasted, well-sourced beans served beside the granola, me thinks.

Side note: coconut oil is a real sexy foodstuff right now, as it contains medium-chain triglycerides, which have been shown to increase the fat-burning tendencies of the body.   Eat fat to burn fat?  That’s science for you.

Cocoa, coffee & coconut granola

makes 12 servings, ish

4-½ cups (400 g) rolled oats (certified gluten-free, if that’s a concern)
1-½ cups (165 g) mix of chopped almonds and walnuts
3 cups (378 g) mix of mostly pumpkin seeds and some hemp seeds
½ cup (98 g) coconut oil
½ cup (132 g) brown rice syrup
½ cup (140 g) maple syrup
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp instant coffee powder
1-½ tsp flaky sea salt

Lightly pulse about 1/3 of the rolled oats in a blender to break down slightly. I find that the granola then gets interesting clumps due to the varying size of the oat particles.
Combine the oats, nuts and seeds in a large mixing bowl.
In a small saucepan, gently heat the coconut oil, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, cocoa powder, and instant coffee until the oil melts and the mixture is runny.  Stir to mix.
Pour the oil/syrup mixture over the oats and mix together.  Spread evenly over two large baking sheets. Bake at 325 F, for about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.  Due to the inherently dark colour of this granola, it’s hard to tell when it’s roasted, so I err on the side of caution and turn the oven off at 20 minutes and let the granola continue drying out in the oven.  When it is cool, sprinkle in the sea salt and store in a large jar.

If you really want to get crazy (and by “crazy” I mean, “be amazing”), you could stir in some large coconut flakes and chocolate chips after the granola has cooled. Now you’ve just made a granola that’s perfect for dessert!  You could serve it over ice cream, or mascarpone cheese folded into whipped cream – oh my!  Or just eat it for breakfast with thick yoghurt.  Dessert for breakfast?  Yes please; that sounds like a great way to guarantee a good day.

cocoa coffee coconut granola - 1
cocoa coffee coconut granola - 2
cocoa coffee coconut granola - 3

summer in winter in January.

It has been an exceedingly warm winter this year.  Well, it has been warm for the past week.  Before that it was -40 degrees Celsius.  I have the memory bank of a meerkat, apparently.  More importantly, I have reason to participate in the futile art of complaining about the weather: I had really been enjoying the deep freeze, which I know can be hard to imagine by some, but there is something rather magical about it – at those temperatures, the air gets really clear and crisp; it’s blindingly sunny, and I get to walk on the frozen river that winds through our city and enjoy the pristine cleanliness of the crunchy snow underfoot.  Now that it has warmed up to a balmy 0 degrees Celsius, things have turned a sloppy brown-grey, and my winterized body finds this turn of events rather difficult to reconcile.  However do you mean, Old Man Winter, to be raining in January?  To wear a coat or not wear a coat?  Why am I only wearing one pair of pants?  Oh, such deep life questions.  With my blood thickened to withstand the temperatures preferred by polar bears, this warm muck feels completely oppressive.  Moreover, since there are still plenty of winter months left in the calendar, and it is bound to grow cold again, I feel caught between two worlds: one arm in my parka’s sleeve and the other bare, pale, exposed to the damp winter air, and somehow, not goosebumped.

So, with our apartment windows thrown open, it’s only natural that I start to cook like I live in Los Angeles.

Last spring I was lucky enough to visit LA for a few days.  It was a pilgrimage of sorts, as I spent most of my time taking yoga classes and meandering through Whole Foods.  I washed my innards in cold-pressed juices, paid homage to my intestinal microbiome with sautéed kale and brown rice that had been blessed with gratitude, and otherwise revelled in a kingdom of fresh, bright fruits and vegetables that promised everlasting happiness through puritanical gut euphoria.  Exceeding though my efforts were, alas, the crux: my soul had been stained with the darkness of skepticism for too long to really be washed clean.  Still, I like to pretend it’s possible sometimes.

So with this unseasonably warm winter weather, I decided to try making a quinoa pizza crust.  Being the ultimate triptych of gluten-free, vegan (well, at least it was supposed to be), and made with LOCAL quinoa (oh my), it was to be the ultimate remembrance of the previous’ spring journey.

Sweet joy!

Also, I happened to have all the ingredients (or most of them) at home.

Also, it turned out decently well, luckily – because I used the recipe from Raw: Recipes for a modern vegetarian lifestyle, by Solla Eiríksdóttir, who also lives in a mostly wintry place (Iceland) and somehow manages the positively miraculous achievement of eating a plant-based diet in a country known for its fermented shark.

The original recipe was vegan, and asked for vegan cheese and cream cheese.  As I am not vegan, and prefer to use things I have on hand instead of buying more, I used dairy cheese and goat cheese mixed with a little sour cream to replace the vegan options, respectively.  

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Zucchini goat cheese pizza with a quinoa crust
(adapted from Raw: Recipes for a modern vegetarian lifestyle, by Solla Eiríksdóttir)

makes 1 pizza

For the crust:
¾ cup (115 g) quinoa, uncooked
½ tsp sea salt flakes
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp black pepper
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
¼ cup (20 g) grated cheddar cheese
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping:
½ cup goat cheese
¼ cup sour cream
½ zucchini, very thinly sliced
Hemp seeds (for sprinkling)
Olive oil (for drizzling)

Soak the quinoa overnight in water, covered.  The next day, drain the quinoa and blend it with ¼ cup water, salt, garlic, pepper, and oregano, until it is smooth.  Pour the batter into a bowl and stir in the cheese and oil.

Put a 9” tart ring on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and pour the batter into the ring.  Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for about 20 minutes, and then remove.  Wearing oven mitts, cover the crust with another baking sheet, and flip the baking sheets over with the crust between them.  It is a daring maneuver; I recommend that one be even-tempered and emotionally stable for this.  Bake on the second sheet for another 5-10 minutes.

Remove the crust from the oven and lower the temperature to 350°F.  Mix together the goat cheese and sour cream, and spread it over the crust.  Lay out the zucchini slices, and bake for another 10 minutes.  Right before serving, sprinkle over some hemp seeds and olive oil.  Slice and eat while wearing shorts.

This makes one pizza, but I think if you double the recipe you could forgo the tart ring situation and have enough batter to spread across an entire baking sheet to make a rectangular pizza crust.  

The next time I make this, I think I’d like to make a dessert pizza!  Imagine: remove the oregano and garlic from the crust, bake as usual, and then top it with whipped cream, berries, and chocolate shavings.  With this pizza base, you could have a whole meal of pizzas!  I don’t see how this can be wrong.

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photo taken by David “Longer Legs” Quiring

a poultice of sorts.

When I was little, I was obsessed with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and the romanticized life of a settler: learning how to live off the land, to make do with what you had, and to be self-sufficient.  It was a far cry from the concrete-laden cityscape that I traversed in my red-and-white Keds sneakers, whose only markings of a hard life were grass stains and the squished earwig that had crawled into the right shoe and met its demise under my pediatric phalanges (they had decided to infest our basement one year, a rather vexing period).

As an impressionable 8-year-old, one of Ingalls’ books, The Long Winter, really stuck with me.  In it she described the challenges of surviving one of the longest winters they experienced in Wisconsin, and eating only one potato a day.  I recall her talking about how she became sick of eating potatoes, and while this may be my memory playing tricks on me, I think she also found comfort in getting to eat at least something (because they did run out of food).  Well, I can say that I think I would find it comforting to get to eat something if there was almost nothing left to eat.

Luckily my situation has never been so dire, but the psychology of survival and coping and trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel has remained.  The thermometer might have read warmer temperatures this year, but it felt like a long winter anyhow.  Relationships, deaths, personal struggles…these things play a role in the climate of our lives, and it has been a difficult spell.

So as always, I turn to food.  Cooking and serving food to others has always been a great comfort – and it hasn’t failed me yet.  I particularly like the phrase “serving food” and the idea of serving, as opposed to helping.  In my food-addled brain, “serving” means helping others with no expectation of getting anything in return, whereas “helping” has a more egotistical tinge to it (“Look at me, I’m so great to be helping others” – that sort of thing).  So I like relating this idea of serving to cooking for others and sharing my table with them.

So: here we have some curry coconut dal soup.

Soup is one of the greatest comfort foods, a warm and nourishing poultice of sorts for the heart.  The way Ingalls described living off the land to feed and heal her family and friends has an earthy and wholesome quality to it, that I find present in every and all soups.  Make a big batch: some for you, and some to give away.

Curry coconut dal soup

makes 6-8 servings, or about 2 x 1 L Mason jars

1 yellow onion, finely diced
a large fistful of carrots, chopped
a slightly smaller fistful of celery stalks, chopped
about 1 cup of split mung beans (dal)
1 small handful of dried lime leaves
1-2″ knob of fresh ginger, sliced
a handful of button mushrooms, sliced
a small fistful of green beans, sliced into 0.5″-long pieces
1-2 tsp each of cumin, coriander, cardamom (all ground), garam masala, turmeric
1 can of coconut milk
salt and pepper
lemon juice

In a large stockpot, heat a good splosh of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until translucent and a little brown on the edges.  Stir in all the spices.  Add the carrots, celery, and split mung beans.  Stir for a minute or two, and then cover it all with water (about 1.5 L).  Stir in the lime leaves and ginger.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and cover.  Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the mung beans are cooked.  Remove the lime leaves and ginger (if you are handy with chopsticks, they are a most excellent tool for this job).  Remove the pot from the heat and use an immersion blender to slightly break down the vegetables to achieve a softer texture.  Return the pot to the heat.  Add the mushrooms and green beans, and continue to let it simmer until the vegetables are cooked (about 5 minutes).  Stir in the coconut milk and adjust the taste with the salt, pepper and lemon juice.

This soup is vegan and gluten-free.  Serve some soup for yourself, and give some away; best not to expect getting the jar back.

curry coconut dal soup

getting my squirrel on.

A few years ago during a road trip, a mouse got into our trunk and made a home for a few nights.  He slept in the instant oats, nibbled on the stump of a muffin, picked open a bag of corn chips but didn’t eat the chips themselves – and most interestingly, ate a whole Ziploc bag of popping corn kernels.  On one hand I was annoyed at the unwelcome intrusion, but on the other I had serious respect for the mouse’s choice of probably the healthiest, least processed food in the car.  No M&M’s, buddy?  (It appeared he licked but didn’t eat them).

Sometimes I don’t feel so different from our rodent companion, though I feel more squirrel-y than mouse-y, mostly because I can relate to a squirrel’s penchant for hiding food in places for later (we have a very well-stocked pantry).  And the bushy tail, I like the bushy tail.  But anyway, I feel like these almond millet chocolate bars pay homage to the four legged companions that flit in and out of our lives.  They are gluten-free, vegan, and made with recognizable things.  The chocolate topping is made with unsweetened chocolate so that the sweetness can be adjusted according to taste with the addition of icing sugar, making for a more wholesome, mouse-worthy snack.  Similarly, brown rice syrup has a relatively lower sweetness, so it can be exploited for its magical gooey powers of holding things together without going off the sweet charts – hence, these are the first snack bars I have ever made that didn’t crumble apart when I cut into them.  Less crumbs on the floor mean more crumbs in my tummy, which I feel is a good thing.

Almond millet chocolate bars

makes one 9×12″ pan

4 tbsp coconut oil
11 soft dates (if hard, soak in hot water for 10 minutes to rehydrate and plump)
250 g / 1 cup raw almonds
80 g / 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
50 g / 2 cups puffed millet
2/3 cup brown rice syrup

100 g unsweetened chocolate
2 tbsp icing sugar

In a high-speed blender or food processor, blend the crap out of the coconut oil, softened dates and almonds.  Scrape down occasionally to make sure everything gets obliterated by the blades.  Scrape out this mixture into a large bowl and mix in the pumpkin seeds and puffed millet.  Meanwhile, gently heat the brown rice syrup in a small saucepan until it becomes looser in consistency and the edges just start to bubble.  Pour this over the mixture and fold together to evenly distribute the syrup.  Scrape everything into a 9×12″ baking pan lined with parchment paper, and press down evenly and firmly.  Chill the pan in the freezer while you make the topping: in a double boiler, gently melt the bittersweet chocolate.  When it is completely melted, stir in the icing sugar until it melts as well.  Pour the chocolate over the bar and smooth out with a spatula.  Freeze for at least 30 minutes before attempting to slice.  Only attempt to slice when you are feeling calm and collected, lest the bar crumbles under unabated emotions, in which case, add more brown syrup next time and all will be well.

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going for a meander.


It’s been a while.

My hollow legs have been busy.  Somewhat.  Mostly going between the fridge-stove-counter.  But also scrambling up mountains, squatting to look at worms committing suicide on sidewalks, crossing in various patterns while sitting on coffee shop chairs.   The brain sitting somewhere above the hollow legs has been busy too, reading cookbooks, imagining dinner parties with various peoples, and somewhat suffering under an inferiority complex that sharing what I ate for lunch is rather banal and who really cares.  But then an image of Miss Piggy declaring, “I am Woman!” springs to mind and then, reassessment.

Anyway, here: an energy bar recipe that’s so easy it’ll make your head feel empty (sometimes desirable).  Also it’s a good thing to pack in your bag when you are out and about.  Helps propel you up a mountain, whether it be a figurative or literal one.

Ginger date cashew lemon bars

150 g / 1 cup raw cashews
12 soft fresh dates, pitted
5-7 round pieces of candied ginger
50 g / 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup lemon juice

Process the cashews in a high-speed blender or food processor until it resembles a coarse flour.  Dump into a bowl.  Then process the dates, ginger, coconut and lemon juice until it gets sticky and homogenous.  Scoop out into the bowl with the cashew meal.  Work it all together with your hands until it becomes a thick, slightly sticky mass.  Press it into a rectangle that’s about 1/2″ thick.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it set in the fridge for at least one hour, preferably longer.  Cut into bars and hubba hubba.

I imagine these bars would be excellent reworked as a gluten-free pie crust, say with a pumpkin or cream cheese filling.  Next level!

ginger date lemon coconut bars

a way to eat mayonnaise.

broccoli salad

We are in the shoulder season of spring.  It is not quite warm enough to languidly lay in the sun eating raw salads and taking delicate sips of mint julep, nor does it seem quite right to be hunkering down to a marathon of baked macaroni and cheese and beef brisket, slathering on an extra layer of fat to one’s love handles in an attempt to become immune to winter’s icy grip.  As time tentatively stumbles its way along, some days are warmer, some days are cooler, and the perennial question of what to eat is forever present.

About a year ago we made our first (and hopefully not our last) pilgrimage to New York City – and as I have been recalling the lovely moments spent sipping coffee and wandering its streets, I remembered a particularly delightful raw broccoli salad I had for lunch at a cafe in Jersey City one rainy afternoon.  There was some sort of dried fruit I think, a mayonnaise-based dressing, and of course, crunchy bits of broccoli.  It also reminded me of another favourite salad I used to get at the cafeteria at the university of my youth: raw broccoli, grated cheddar, bacon, mayonnaise.  Decadent and yet somehow a little austere; the unforgiving bitterness of the raw cruciferae cuts through the sweet and creamy comfort of eggs and oil whipped to submission.

It is another rainy afternoon, and I am at home – so instead of hopping on a plane, I am transporting myself via palate, with a broccoli salad of my own: dried cranberries in Jersey’s honour, and with no bacon, chicken breast will have to do this time.  Of course, there is mayonnaise to bring it all together, and to keep my spirit calm and collected while waiting for definitively warmer weather.

Broccoli salad

makes enough for 2 as a main, 4 as a side

1 broccoli crown
1 chicken breast, cooked
1 handful dried cranberries
1 lemon’s zest
juice of half a lemon
a few heaping spoonfuls of mayonnaise

Chop up the broccoli into small, uniform pieces.  I like to go small enough that it is manageable for my mouth to wrap around a floret (nothing is worse than having half a floret hang out your mouth while you attempt to chomp through) but not so small that there is no satisfyingly long period of crunching during its consumption.  Dice the chicken into similar sized pieces.  Throw in a handful of dried cranberries, the finely grated zest of one lemon, and the juice of one of its halves.  Plop a few generous blobs of mayonnaise over, and mix until everything looks well moisturized by the mayonnaise.  Eat on its own, or with a good hearty sandwich of your choice.  A side of iced tea if it’s sunny, or perhaps a dessert of hot chocolate later if it’s rainy.

pumpkin ginger cranberry snack bars.

These were the second type of bars that I made for my yoga/Ayurveda workshop!  Woo!

I think I prefer these bars over the Winter Sun ones – I love their chewy, moist texture, and the deep flavour of the molasses balances well with the heat of the dried ginger.  These are based off of the Pumpkin Gingerbread Snack Bars from Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows blog (and check out her awesome cookbook here).  I didn’t bother adding her cashew butter maple glaze, though I’m sure it would be pretty delicious.  I also included the weight of each ingredient, because when I bake I prefer to weigh everything for nerdy precision.

Pumpkin ginger cranberry snack bars

makes 10-12 bars

1 cup / 216 g pumpkin puree
1/3 c / 112 g fancy molasses
1/2 c / 80 g white sugar
2 tbsp / 42 g coconut oil (melted and then left off the heat to cool slightly)
2 tsp / 8 g vanilla
1-1/2 c / 128 gluten-free rolled oats, pulsed in a processor/blender
3/4 c / 90 g gluten-free all-purpose flour (or I used coconut flour)
1 tsp / 6 g cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/3 c / 52 g dried cranberries

Mix together the pumpkin, molasses, sugar, coconut oil and vanilla.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix until uniform.  Scrape it all into an 8×8″ baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.

pumpkin ginger cranberry snack bars

Now the fun part: smoosh the mixture into the pan evenly!  After smooshing, bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 20-25 minutes until the top looks dry.  Let the bars cool completely before removing them from the pan, otherwise they might crack.  It is handy to line the pan so that there is parchment paper hanging over the sides, so when it is time to gorge you can conveniently lift the paper up with the bars on it.  A pizza cutter is also handy here for speedy cutting, thereby expediting the gorging process.

pumpkin ginger cranberry snack bars

winter sun granola bars.

Virginia Woolf famously said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well” – so I felt it was very important to make some delicious granola bars for the students that came to my yoga/Ayurveda workshop this wintry weekend.  We started with a gentle yoga class, took a break for snacks and tea, and I led a talk on how Ayurveda can help bring balance to our bodies and minds.  Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga, and is a healing therapy that focuses on the interrelatedness of the body, mind and spirit.  Food is a wonderful healer and a beautiful way to connect to the people and things around us; if our tummies can be satisfied, our hearts and our minds aren’t far behind.

While there are endless variations and replacements to be made in a granola bar recipe, the following choices were settled upon due to Ayurvedic principles that suggest we eat according to the seasons.  This particular recipe uses sunflower seeds and sunflower butter, which were obvious choices due to their very punny attributes (sun!).  Moreover, sunflower seeds are very nourishing and good for all the Doshas (body types according to Ayurveda).  Black sesame seeds were included as they contain high amounts of solar energy (which we could all use more of during short winter days), and like sunflower seeds, are very rejuvenating.  Millet and amaranth are gluten-free ancient grains that are high in protein and fibre, and along with oats, they are calming and strengthening foods that can soothe the winter blues away.  Both raisins and cinnamon improve digestion, and cinnamon helps to warm the body – a very welcome attribute in winter. Brown rice syrup and maple syrup have relatively low glycemic indexes (meaning they do not cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels compared to other sweeteners), and more importantly, having a little sweetness in your diet will make you a little sweeter (wink!).

Winter sun granola bars

makes 12 bars

1-1/2 cups rolled oats (certified gluten-free if necessary)
1-1/4 cups millet puffs
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, unroasted, unsalted
1/8 cup black sesame seeds
1 tbsp amaranth seeds
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Meanwhile, in a small pot, gently heat the syrups and seed butter, stirring with a spatula. When it has warmed and loosened up, pour it over the dry ingredients and mix well to combine. The mixture will be very sticky. Scrape it all into a 9×12″ baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Spread it out evenly and with slightly wet fingers or a rolling pin, smoosh the mixture down so it is well packed (this will help it stick together). Bake in a preheated 300 F oven for 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Let it cool completely before cutting. There is also the option to not bake the bars and stick the mixture into the freezer to firm up! A short visit of 10 minutes in the freezer should do, and then the bars can be cut. I prefer the toasty flavour of the baked version, and cooked foods are more appropriate for this time of year – plus, turning the oven on in the winter makes the house warm and cozy, which is an added bonus.

winter sun granola bars