Cherubs and chocolate treats are cute and all, but identifying and seizing opportunities to love yourself are about a thousand times more crucial in the greater scope (ahem, DUH). I used to think that even a mere reflection on self-love was a waste of time because I could be doing work and accomplishing real, tangible things that I would probably love more. As I get older, my line of thought on this has veered to the other side. If you want to go after the things you want, it seems you also have to be mindful enough to give yourself the strength to take it all on first. There are plenty of opportunities to build yourself up and now, I find these moments in all manners of ways.
Food and nourishment are pretty obvious avenues. My current mode of life allows me to choose beautiful whole foods as a regular part of my weeks, and for this I’m very grateful. It’s nice to look into your fridge after a grocery day, see the different colours and textures, and then remember that it’s all for you and the wellbeing of those you keep close. It’s equally nice to look into your fridge, see nothing but various hot sauces and lightly wrinkled scraps of vegetables, turn to your pantry and somehow make a meal out of the whole mess. In the realm of cooking at home, that’s when I love myself the most. It feels like sorcery to serve up a full plate out of nothing.
Other ways of self love? Lately they’ve taken the form of learning how/when to say no, washing my face with manuka honey (one of my favourite parts of the day for real), taking a breather from the renovation happenings (we’re getting closer though!), keeping pineapples on the counter/in my face as a giant eff you to winter, giving into vulgar humour here and there, and marathoning this unbelievably good series in my sweats when I should have been working (oops). I guess the overarching theme here is finding little bits of peace and rest, which is a natural gravitational pull in the depths of winter. If you work in creative endeavours, some decidedly aware moments of pause seem to offer a whole lotta grace later on.
And then there’s these beets with pistachio butter. I bought the bunch at my fave local grocery shop and the cashier asked me if you could eat the tops/greens. I was so pumped that she even asked me that! Of course I gave her an enthusiastic yes! and of course I was overzealous in my explanation as to how one would cook them. Anyway, those greens flopped out the top of my canvas bag and just the sight of that was enough to make my day. I knew I wanted to pair them with citrus and pistachios. Some winter brightness vibes with deep roots.
A couple years ago, Mark and I had a warm and fuzzy spring dinner at Lupa in NY. We started with this big plate that had a little bit of each vegetable-based antipasti they were serving. There was one simple heap of boiled beets with a bit of balsamic vinegar and a dollop of pistachio butter on top, and do I even need to qualify this any further? Crazy good. I had been meaning to do a little remix of that tasty bite for a while, and here we are. I roasted my beets with grapefruit juice and sherry to brighten up that earthy-ness. I lightly sauté the beet greens, finishing them with even more grapefruit juice before chopping them up and adding them to a hearty base of white beans. Then there’s that cozy blanket of pistachio butter and a sprinkle of crushed pink peppercorns to finish–they offer a gentle heat that I always enjoy with citrus and sweeter vegetables.
So yeah, tons of pinks and reds–grooooan. But it’s out of self-lovin’ so shall we embrace it? :) xo
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the beets into 1 inch wedges and place them in a glass baking dish. Add the splash of sherry vinegar, grapefruit juice, a nice slick of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat the beets evenly. Cover the dish with foil and roast for 30 minutes or until the beets give when pierced with a small knife. Uncover the beets, toss them around and roast them for 5-10 more minutes, just to evaporate some of the juices.
While the beets are roasting, make the pistachio butter. Place the raw pistachios in a food processor or high speed blender. Gradually pulse or blend until you have a smooth paste, scraping down the sides here and there with a spatula. I had to add some olive oil at one point to get the motor of my blender moving a bit. Once you have a smooth paste, scrape the butter into a small bowl. Stir in a pinch of salt and a little extra olive oil to get it to a slightly runny consistency. Set aside.
Heat some oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the beet greens and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze in the grapefruit juice. Keep tossing them until all of the greens are lightly wilted. Remove from the pan and chop them up. Toss the chopped greens with the white beans, some extra olive oil, salt, and pepper. Lay the beans + greens on the base of your serving plate. Arrange the roasted beet wedges on top and finish the plate with some spoonfuls of pistachio butter. Garnish with the pink peppercorns and extra chopped pistachios. Serve warm or at room temperature.
But obviously I won’t be doing that because I have these golden delicious little orbs of crunch to snack on. I’ve been working on this recipe since I developed a version for a magazine a while ago (which wasn’t vegan or gluten free). These are, admittedly, a shameless rip on my favourite onion rings of all time from a Toronto vegetarian restaurant (this one if you’re wondering). Their rings were very obviously fried and for that reason, very obviously delicious. I knew I could make some baked magic happen without any major sacrifice.
To start, I went classic on the battering steps: a toss in flour, a swipe through a wet mixture, and then a final coating in some crumbs and other tasty bits. I used a GF all purpose flour for that first step. Generally eggs are employed as the glue for crumb coatings on nuggets, onion rings etc. But heavy life truth? You can make any coating stick to any food with a little unsweetened almond milk, a fat pinch of salt and some flour. I whisked some dijon into mine for extra flavour, but you could use herbs, chili sauce, lemon zest, whatever you like. The puffed quinoa makes for really light and beautiful bits of airy crunch along the outside. I mix the puffs with heavily ground up GF crackers (Mary’s Gone Crackers are my fave), lots of Old Bay seasoning, some little sesames and lots of pepper. You could use smoked paprika, za’atar, curry powder… lots of options.
I’m not saying these are exactly like deep fried rings, but they are crunchy and golden and salty, which basically covers all of my pleasure points. They don’t really have that moist slick-of-oil-upon-biting thing, so a tasty sauce to smooth things over is somewhat necessary. And also, I love sauce in most applications of most food. Since I was already in deep with mustard and celery salt flavours, horseradish stirred into a creamy mayonnaise kinda scene seemed natural. I point out a few methods of achieving this in the notes–veering from simple to only slightly complex.
vegan + GF quinoa onion rings with horseradish dip
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
Combine the cut onion rings, 1/2 cup of flour, salt and pepper in a large Ziploc bag (or bowl). Toss the rings to evenly coat them in flour and seasoning. Set aside.
In a pie plate, combine the almond milk, mustard, flour, salt and pepper. Whisk this together with a fork until combined. Set aside.
In another pie plate or large dish, combine the GF bread/cracker crumbs, puffed quinoa, sesame seeds, Old Bay, salt and pepper. Toss lightly to combine.
Set up an assembly line like this: flour coated rings, almond milk mixture, quinoa + crumb coating and then the lined baking sheets. Take a few rings out of the Ziploc bag and toss them into the almond milk mixture, coating them evenly and completely. Transfer the almond milk-soaked rings to the quinoa crumb mixture. Toss the rings in the quinoa crumb mixture, really pressing the coating onto the rings. Once the rings are adequately covered, place them on the parchment lined baking sheet, ensuring that there’s a bit of space around each one. Repeat with remaining onion rings.
Place the onion rings in the fridge to firm up for at least an hour (I once left a tray of these in the fridge for a full 24 hours by accident and they were totally fine).
While the onion rings are chilling, whisk the horseradish, lemon juice/zest and pepper into your dip base of choice. Keep covered in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
When you’re ready to bake them, spray the coated rings lightly with oil and then slide them into the oven for 20-25 minutes or until firm and golden brown, flipping them halfway. Serve hot with the horseradish dip.
So a bit of a meditation on paring it all down, food and otherwise, is an ongoing thing right now. I’ve been really inspired by 5-7ish ingredient preparations and just trying to find the best way to coax flavour out of various foodstuffs. I’ve been making notes with all of the ideas and successes and I can’t wait to share more of this kind of thing with you here. I find it’s really easy to make food/meal time/life in general rather complex. So finding a wellspring of inspiration in the pursuit of simpler (but still very full) living has been really welcome. So yeah. More of that kinda stuff ’round here for sure. Hope you’re all game.
So the soup! I find soup/stew is a nice go-to when you’re cleaning things up, so to speak. It’s nice to calmly hover around the pot, it’s an economical meal strategy, and soup is also really easy to make healthy and totally delicious. With this one, it’s hard to believe that so few ingredients could be luxurious and satisfying in that deep-warming kinda way, but seriously. So silky and rich. I slowly cook the onions, garlic and aromatics in a hefty slick of oil to bring out the sweetness and to remove any speck of raw spice. I always employ this strategy with soup–kind of stewing the onions + flavour-y bits in oil before I add the larger components. When you see that slick of oil mingled with herbs, spice etc. on the top of the pot, you know you’re doing it right.
And a note on that slick of oil: I was a grapeseed kinda gal through and through until I read Winnie Abramson‘s book One Simple Change, which is a completely excellent, no-nonsense companion to living a brighter + healthier life. I reserved my olive oils for salads and general drizzlin’ because everyone was saying that it wasn’t fit for heated contact. So grapeseed oil became my thing because of its neutral taste and ability to handle high heat, but in her segment on fats and oils, Winnie mentions its tendency to originate from genetically modified crops, so I’m slowly moving away from it/seeking out a more trusted source (holler if you got one). In the meantime, I’m using standard, organic olive oil (not extra virgin), which can be had for a reasonable price at almost any establishment that sells food. Winnie notes that bringing up the temperature slowly is crucial, so I’m taking her advice and loving it big time. It’s been nice to bring olive oil back into the circle a bit more. Anyway, hope all of youse in the midst of polar vortex round II (electric bugaloo!) are snuggled up this week. Make soup! :)
sweet potato soup with coriander + blood orange
2-3 tbsp olive oil
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, coriander, and chili flakes to the pot. Lower the heat until the sizzling sounds a bit lighter. Stir and sauté this mixture until the onions are stew-y and soft, but not browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add more oil if necessary.
Add the blood orange juice to the pot and stir. Add the sweet potatoes and stir again. Season everything with lots of salt and pepper. Add the stock to the pot and increase the heat. Once everything’s boiling, bring it down to a simmer. Cook the soup until the sweet potatoes are really tender, about 12-15 minutes. Purée the soup in batches in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve the soup hot with little sweet potato chips and a sprinkle of sesame seeds if you like.
There weren’t a lot of spare moments for contemplation or general downtime in the four months leading into the eve of this year. There are lines of reasoning for that harried period of time, a few of them more ridiculous than others now that I have a shred of hindsight. But I caught a bit of a break over the holidays and legitimately spent one of those days shuttling to three different Target stores on the hunt for highly specific Christmas decorations that were now 70% off. You know, for our festive aesthetic enjoyment an entire year from now. I am awesome at self-crazy-making and as much as I recognize this dumbfounding capability, this is going to be the year that it stops.
On new year’s eve, we thought it would be fun to spend the night at the house, our house. We have an operational heating system, running water, a beautiful plant from a lovely friend, and a bed in its right place with cozy sheets (but not much else at this point), so it seemed like the right way to greet a new calendar year. I got some beers from the brewery down the road from my parents’ place, packed my favourite pyjamas into the overnight bag, and we were on our way as the sun began its exit. The mature trees were all stark against the reds, oranges, creamy yellow, and cold, deep-sea blue when my favourite Tom Waits song came on the radio. Whenever the stereo shuffles onto it, the smile of distinctly felt ease creeps up on my face, I lean back a bit, and stare out the window with a new glance, one of truer awareness for what surrounds. Then Mark starts doing his best Tom Waits impression and I laugh so hard/start yelling “Noooooo!” half-disapprovingly because he’s co-opting my moment of car travel serenity.
This time, my eyes started misting up at the end, the relevance and surprising weight of it all. The notion that you can build up your own personal hell with ease, taking the path of no surrender to madness despite knowing better, the startling transience of our lives here, and that you can find refuge and stillness by finally seeing the love and varied semblances of “home” that are all around you. It was a moment of clarity that caught me off guard.
There was no well-planned dinner or restaurant reservation, no champagne, not a stitch of sequins in my wardrobe that night, and no grandiose proclamations or gestures either. We stepped out for some Tsingtao’s and noodles, and then followed that up with more beers in our jams watching Parts Unknown. We barely made it to midnight before passing out, but it was perfect. Amidst the boxes and mess, our work-in-progress home was flooded with warm light and laughter. Those moments of relief were arrived at with surprising ease too.
So I’m working on greater appreciation and overall life improvement on a day-to-day basis now. I don’t poison myself with guilt over enjoying a coffee (or three) in the morning like I used to. I’m mentally pumping myself up on the idea of saying no to anything that diminishes a self-determined value of my work. I’m trying to communicate better with the man I have the privilege of sharing a life with. I’m listening, like really listening, with less pre-conceived notions. I’m valiantly trying to use less paper towels. And I’m making time for breakfast.
Megan Gordon’s book, Whole Grain Mornings, arrived in the post around Christmas time and I loved it as soon as I took a 3 minute glance through its pages. I’ve always appreciated the calm and grounded tone of her blog, A Sweet Spoonful, and she drives home the importance of mornings with her granola guru ways. The book’s arrival at my doorstep in the crush of the holidays was rather timely to say the least. It’s all laid out by season and the varying paces of life–the mornings that flash by on the way to work, the brunches that see us entertaining loved ones into the afternoon, and the days to slow down and savour every drop of that quiet early light. Simply put, it’s my kind of book. It’s personal in a way that’s relatable, all tying back to those deeply felt seasonal shifts. I’ve been eyeing the banana walnut baked oatmeal, the pear hazelnut oat muffins, the nutty millet breakfast cookies, and the whole grain gingerbread. For now, I’ve been playing around with the savoury inspiration. This bowl is a mix of her greens + grains scramble and the California barley bowl with lemon yogurt sauce. Farro is one of my favourite grains because of the delightful chew. I add some “scrambled” chickpeas with scallions + turmeric, and top the whole heap of it off with some pickled jalapeños, ripe avocado, sesames, and a creamy lemony sunflower-based sauce. Along with the myriad of daily devotions going on, it’s my new favourite thing. Maybe make it yours too?
Wishing everyone all the good things for this year. Thanks, as always, for your kindness in this space. xo
1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked for at least an hour
In a blender, combine the sunflower seeds, lemon zest, juice, dijon salt, pepper and a splash of water to get the blade moving. Mix it on high until a smooth sauce-like consistency forms. Add as much water as you like to make the sauce veer towards thick or thin, depending on your preference. Check it for seasoning and scrape the sauce into a jar or small bowl. Stir in a fat pinch of the sliced scallion greens and set aside.
Portion the cooked farro into two bowls.
In a sauté pan, heat the grapeseed oil over medium. Mash the chickpeas up with a fork, leaving some of them whole. Add the sliced white parts of the scallions and the turmeric to the pan. Stir them around until the scallions are slightly soft and the raw edge from the turmeric has faded. Add the mashed chickpeas and season the mix with salt and pepper. “Scramble” the mix in the pan until everything is hot. Stir in some of the scallion greens at the end.
Divide the chickpea scramble between the two bowls of farro. Top bowls with the sunflower lemon sauce. Garnish both with the extra scallions, diced avocado, pickled jalapeños, sesame seeds, and some extra ground black pepper.