I was cleaning up one evening in the small kitchen at a community centre in the city. An after-school program held for teenage girls had just wrapped up. In the previous 3 hours, we had talked about the benefits of produce and whole grains for growing bodies, made hummus, wholewheat pita from scratch and a huge tabbouleh salad together. We had also discussed the disappointing aspects of school lunch programs and some simpler things on how their day had gone. I was wiping the counters down, filing away the knives and cutting boards, digging the crud out of the dishwasher strainer as the sun disappeared outside–just trying to finish up so that I could hop on the bus and have a quiet night at home.
As I was wiping the main island countertop, with its stacked pots, bowls and bins of donated wooden spoons + other necessaries stowed away underneath, the two women who ran the program were in discussion. One was holding a can of chickpeas. She led another program at the centre for women who had recently immigrated, where they would cook and discuss the transitions taking place in their lives. Leaning on the counter, she said something to this effect: “The women in my group, they tell me that they don’t know what to do with these. *gestures to can of chickpeas* They get them all the time from the food bank, and because they don’t know them, they throw them away.” This was a strange dilemma (and further proof that food banks are often a bandaid solution to issues of hunger and good health). The wholesome food was made accesible in a very physical and easy way, but the barriers to wellness and prosperity still shot up.
What followed was her strategy of trying to incorporate legumes into more of her sessions, to use encouragement and to approach the many-sided issue, as always, with respect. Something as simple-seeming as teaching individuals to cook and incorporate certain foods into family meals led to the conclusion that more support was needed from the community at large. It’s never enough to simply provide the food, wish the individual good day and move on with your life. That disappointingly frequent support paradigm is an exercise in isolation. The second that dignity is compromised, the road to health and vibrance becomes rougher and frustratingly longer for the individual. There is a disconnect between their life and the community that they are trying to thrive in. By asking questions and thinking on her feet, this woman was paving a way forward, for her program participants and their families.
This moment of realization and moving ahead is on my mind often and remains a motivation when I develop a recipe. It’s the reason why I would never, ever say that refined flour is inherently bad, that sugar/agave/any sweetener should be banned from your cupboard without question, that all of your stone fruit must be organic because the pesticide level deems a conventional version too toxic etc. It is wonderful to work with whole grain flour, natural sweeteners and organic produce, sure, and sometimes those things can be quite affordable (this depends on your priorities too). But you have to know what to do with them first. Food has the power to heal and nurture, but it is first and most importantly necessary for life. It gives you strength for everything else.
As humbly and deliciously as I can offer, I made you a salad primarily composed from chickpeas and stale bread this week. The vegetable component is 3 distinct alliums (just onions y’all). The grassy chives, the pungent red bulb onion and sweet charred leeks. These flavours epitomize early spring for me. We stuck a chive plant into an old pot many years ago, basically neglected it and have since been rewarded with emerald green, fresh blades every year when April rolls around. Low maintenance, supremely cost-effective flavour right outside my door. I am trying to work more towards dishes with this kind of feel–ones that anyone can make in whatever capacity so that they can go into other aspects of their lives with vibrance and capability, whether because of nourishment or a small shred of empowerment.
Hope you’re all seeing beautiful green, spring-y things in your little nooks of the world. Big hugs. xo
chickpea + spring onion panzanella recipe
notes: If you have ramps or green onions popping up where you are, I would definitely slice up the greens of either and add them in. Also, I grilled some of the vegetables, but have included instructions for oven-roasting here, since that seems to be more of an option for people. If you have a grill, just brush the veg with some oil, salt + pepper and place them on a medium-high grill until charred a bit and soft.
2-3 cups roughly cubed stale bread
2 tbsp oil of your choice, divided
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 bunch of leeks, tough greens + roots trimmed away
1 small red onion, peeled + quartered
4-5 stalks of lacinato/tuscan kale
2-3 radishes, thinly slices
chopped chives for garnish
salt + pepper
1/4 cup chopped chives
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
splash of water
2 tsp dijon mustard
salt + pepper
1 tbsp raw honey/agave nectar/brown rice syrup/maple syrup
1/3 cup grapeseed or other neutral tasting oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
On one sheet, toss the cubed bread with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season to your liking. Once all of the bread is coated, slide the sheet into the oven. Bake for about 13-15 minutes or until bread pieces are deep golden brown. Set aside.
Cut the trimmed leeks in half down the middle, lengthwise. Rinse them thoroughly to remove any grit between the layers. Place them on the other lined baking sheet. Place the quarters of red onion on the sheet as well. Toss the vegetables on the sheet with the remaining tablespoon of oil and some more salt + pepper. Slide the sheet into the oven and roast for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are browning and getting tender. Toss the kale leaves onto the sheet in the last 5 minutes if you like, or leave them raw. Allow vegetables to cool slightly.
While vegetables are roasting/cooling, make the dressing: Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor. Mix or pulse everything until a pale green and creamy mix is achieved. Taste it for seasoning, adjust if necessary and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas and toasted bread. Chop up the leeks, red onions and kale into bite size pieces and toss them into the bowl as well. Season the whole mix with salt + pepper if you like. Pour the dressing on top (you might have a bit extra). Toss everything together to combine. garnish the salad with chopped chives and sliced radishes. Serve immediately.
A few temporary deficiencies in the home-base kitchen means some more fresh, raw and vibrant salad goods are in store for us here (and lots of smoothies and bowls of granola seem to keep reappearing for myself especially). The stove is kind of a nonentity at the moment, so in the spirit of rolling with it I threw this together super quick like it was no thang (and photographed it before the electrical/plumbing dudes got here and thought I was a weirdo). Also, it secretly/not so secretly was a thang. The threat of frequent stove meals/snacks being taken away threw me into a bit of a cooking rager of sorts (very mature, right?). Let’s call it an adventure.
So now there’s a tupperware of quite lovely salad on the top shelf of the fridge. I’m feeling well and good about that being within reach. We’re getting pummelled with unseasonable cold and winds in my little ‘hood at the moment, but I still crave crunchy veg as much as ever so this is all fine by me as long as a full tea cup is nearby. Also, the sun is still bright and making itself known through the bitter winds. It’s a nice reminder of the good graces in store for us.
Whatever the season, whatever the weather, carrots are always lurking in our crisper–waiting for a simple steam, a little slice + hummus dip or a plunge into some stock. This humble and dependable root is cut into elegant and thin matchsticks here. I thawed some shelled edamames and tossed them into the mix for some protein tasty times. The dressing is completely bright with fresh orange and lime juice, a healthy dose of ginger and a couple drops of sesame oil. The salad tangles all up in that and a heavy hand of black sesame seeds. I love how they coat and fleck every little matchstick piece of carrot, veering away from garnish towards key textural component territory. The cilantro comes in all perfumed and light while creamy avocado bits offer a touch more heft and body.
I think you can buy carrots pre-cut all fancy like this in stores? No matter though because it’s super easy to do all by your fine self. After I peel the carrots, I take one and cut it into 3 even lengths. From here, I cut off one of the sides. Roll the carrot piece so that that flat side is facing down. Then I cut off another rounded side. I repeat this until I have a rectangular prism of carrot so to speak (it’s all geometry, guys). From here, I cut the carrot into slices so that I can cut those slices into matchsticks altogether in one move. After that, I slice up those previous round parts of the carrot too. Cutting the carrots into thin coins is an option if you’re more into that. You could even ribbon the carrots with your peeler–just make sure that the salad doesn’t sit too long in the dressing if you’re going that route.
ginger, citrus + black sesame carrots w/ edamame and avocado recipe
serves: 6-8 as a side
notes: If you want to make this more of a main event sort of thing, you could serve it with some grilled tempeh/tofu and toss a couple handfuls of greens and cooked grains into the mix. Also, you bet this mix would be tasty rolled up into a rice paper wrap or a sheet of nori.
5-6 carrots (this was a bunch for me), peeled + cut into matchsticks
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
big handful of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (mint or thai basil would also be delicious)
salt + pepper
1/2 ripe avocado, peeled + chopped
ginger citrus dressing:
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
juice of 1 lime
salt + pepper
1.5 tbsp agave nectar/raw honey
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated finely on a rasp/microplane
couple drops of toasted sesame oil
1/4-1/3 cup grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil (I tend to like vinaigrettes on the more acidic side so I go with less)
Combine the carrot matchsticks, thawed edamame, sesame seeds and chopped cilantro in a large bowl. Season the whole mixture with salt + pepper and toss lightly with your hands. Set aside.
In a small-medium bowl, combine the orange juice, lime juice, salt + pepper, agave nectar, ginger and sesame oil. Whisk it all together until incorporated. While whisking with one hand, slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil until you have a homogenous and unified dressing.
Pour the dressing over the carrot + edamame mixture. Toss to combine. Top with the chopped avocado pieces. Garnish the dish with more sesame seeds and cilantro if you like.
Put your winter woes aside, friends. Spring is arriving in slow trickles, whispers, pops and things that go whooooosh. The sun is borderline blinding me as it streams down onto my desk and I cannot be bothered to draw that shade. We’ve waited too long. The grass is shifting from yellow-green-brown muck to actual fresh, emerald-hued blades (that rustle in the wind! So great.). There’s a mighty anticipation of what is surely wonderful–it’s just around the corner, the most minuscule shred of time longer.
Still, there’s nothing definitively “spring” available at the markets currently. It will be a while before the ground fully thaws and turns those seeds and roots into something nourishing and delicious (looking at you asparagus, breakfast radishes, wild leeks and peas). Until then, some more cool-weather items and sprouted goods will appease my craving for fresh, totally crisp, high-vibe things. Are you all kind of feeling this now too? The need for crunchy, fresh, higher-water-content kind of foods? I’ve been wanting giant salads and green drinks all the time. I think my body is ready for a seasonal warm up, so I’ve been giving myself what I need to move on to the next seasonal moment. Plenty of vegetables, fresh juices, herbal tea and So. Much. Water.
One of the local grocers always has a wonderful selection of fresh sprouts. There’s daikon radish, various herbs, pea shoots, wheatgrass and my favourite: sunflower sprouts. I picked up a pot of them for a radicchio salad with some cider-pickled beets I had made and a bit of sprouted wild rice. I decided at the last second to make these into more of a portable salad thing with a sweet, chive-flecked vinaigrette to take the bitter edge off of the radicchio wrap. They ended up being exactly what I wanted. The sprouted rice is chewy, the beets are still crisp and nicely acidic, sprouts for freshness and hemp seeds for nuttiness. If you enjoy cheese, a happy sprinkling of sheep’s milk feta would be quite pleasant I think.
I offer instructions for pickling the beets in the refrigerator style here. I love doing this with winter vegetables and it couldn’t be easier to rig up. Equal parts water and vinegar of your choice, spices, herbs, little salt and sweetening, all heated up. Pour it on top of vegetables packed in a jar, put the lid on and leave it in the fridge for 5-7 days. Super low maintenance and plenty of crunchy, tangy things for salads and snacks throughout the week. Sprouting the wild rice is similarly low key. Just place the rice in a jar, cover it with plenty of water and put a lid on it. Change the water twice a day for 2-3 days until you start seeing the white of the rice coming out and some curling up in the grains. Delightfully chewy complex carbohydrates are now at your disposal (back in the high life again, guys). If you can’t wait a couple days to sprout it, you could always stir in some cooked wild rice on the more al denté side. The chew-factor is so important.
I would love to know how you all ease into the warmer weather as it slowly seeps in. Do you cook up and eat anything special? Start going to yoga more? Do you obsessively seek out green things? Are you contemplating a juice fast/feast? (I feel like everyone around me is) Do you listen to awesome throwback 80s-style jams? I’m so curious about all of yous :)
Oh and! A lovely gal I know has started a thoroughly rad book blog called Algonquin Side Table. It’s wonderful for decidedly casual readers like myself because Rebecca’s voice is so approachable. This week, she asked me to take part in a bit of a bookshelf interview, all pertaining to cookbooks and works on food! If you’d like to sneak a look at my bookshelves and take in some of my favourites you can check it out here.
sprout + crunch radicchio cups w/ honey chive vinaigrette and avocado recipe
serves: makes 8-12 cups
notes: If you don’t love the bitter quality of radicchio, you could sub a head of boston/butter lettuce in.
cider-pickled beets ingredients:
1 medium golden beet, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 white from a green onion (I only used this because I had a few)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp raw honey or agave nectar
honey chive vinaigrette ingredients:
2 tbsp white balsamic or wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp raw honey or agave nectar
salt + pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped chives + extra for garnish
radicchio cups ingredients:
1 large head of radicchio, core removed
1 heaped cup of sprouted or cooked wild rice
3/4 cup chopped cider-pickled beets
big handful sunflower sprouts
1/4 cup hulled hemp seeds
1 batch honey chive vinaigrette
1/2 ripe avocado, peeled + pitted
salt + pepper
Make the cider-pickled beets: cut the beet in half lengthwise and then cut each half into thin slices. Pack them into a clean 2-cup+ capacity jar, leaving about a 1/2 inch of space at the top. Tuck the bay leaf, black peppercorns and green onion bulb into the jar too. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the apple cider vinegar, water, salt + agave/honey. Bring it to a boil and pour the mixture into the jar with the beets until all of the slices are covered. Put a lid on the jar, place it in the fridge and let it do its thing for 5-7 days.
Once you’ve removed the core from the radicchio, carefully pull off whole leaves. Once you have 8-12 or so, wrap them in damp paper towel until you’re ready to fill them.
Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, honey/agave, salt and pepper until combined. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while you whisk the vinaigrette together. Add the chives and whisk once more. Check for seasoning and set aside.
Make the filling: In a medium bowl, combine the sprouted wild rice, chopped pickled beets, sunflower sprouts, hemp seeds, all of the honey-chive vinaigrette, salt and pepper. Toss until everything is evenly mixed.
Place the radicchio leaves on a platter and spoon the wild rice + beet mixture into the cups. Dice the avocado and garnish the cups with it. Sprinkle some extra chopped chives on top and serve.
Saturday or Sunday lunch/brunch has historically been my least favourite shift to work in terms of service. It’s just way busy and if you try to have a shred of a social life on the weekend like a normal human being, you’re paying for it in some way as the day wears on. I’ve been parked behind a giant espresso machine for solid blocks of time hammering out lattes for fancy ladies. The day is a blur of flipping those tables over and over until the clock strikes 3. There are children and there are messes of ketchup. There are total, self-entitled douchebags that need coffee. Clatters, clangs, beeps, change clinks, sizzles + shouts. The fullest hours imaginable.
A couple years ago, I found myself on such a day catching a moment behind a vitrine all filled to the brim with pâté, pickles, cheeses and marinated items; my elbow supporting my chin and heavy gaze. Other hand firmly planted in the pocket of my faded navy blue apron. My boss came up behind me so silently and leaned up on the case as I did, looking out at the scene. After I made some throwaway comment on how crazy it had been all morning, he said something so great. He gestured out to the dining room and remarked “Isn’t it wonderful to look out and see everyone smiling and to get a sense that they’re all laughing together?” And it was actually nice. It made me feel better about my lack of sleep, not being able to have a leisurely read + eat with my man, about those DB’s I mentioned earlier… I felt less like I was swept up in service and more like I was performing a necessary service for my community. I was part of the assembly that facilitated a weekly coming-together over something good to eat. Huge. People look forward to that time all week. Work became privilege.
Side note: I work in a fine establishment that only opens for dinners now, so this has become less of a thing. But! I appreciate languid breakfasts in and out of the home all the more now–for the happy chorus in a crowded dining room or the one, singular laugh of my handsome man. All of it a still new-feeling luxury for me.
So for those happy/lazy times at home, you would probably find me fixing up something like this. The quinoa in these provides crunchy textural contrast. It isn’t thrown in because of random “for your health!” kind of aspirations. They give the cakes heft and much visual interest. I toast it in cinnamon flecked coconut oil for lots of fragrance and use plenty of vanilla to warm up the largely almond meal-based batter. Cacao nibs give a wine-y chocolaty crunch and the bananas get sweet and caramelized on top of the cakes. A dollop of tangy yogurt and plenty of maple syrup finishes them off. Something wonderful to see us through to the end of winter, over some good reads and a pot of tea.
coconut, almond + quinoa breakfast cakes recipe
Inspired by True Food.
notes: I blend everything except the spelt flour, salt, sugar and leavening agents to really smooth out the almond flour. That’s an optional step. Also, making the quinoa up the night before would cut down on prep time considerably if you’re planning on maximal chill times on a Sunday or some such thing. If you eat eggs, you could certainly add a whisked one to the batter for some extra leavening power.
2 1/2 tbsp melted extra virgin coconut oil, divided + extra for the pan
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup milk of your choice (I used light coconut milk)
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup whole spelt flour (or GF all purpose)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp coconut palm sugar (or demerara, evaporated cane etc)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups almond meal
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 bananas, sliced + divided
2 tbsp cacao nibs + extra
yogurt of your choosing (coconut, sheep, cow etc)
Cook the quinoa: in a small saucepan over medium heat, drop a 1/2 tbsp of the coconut oil. Once it’s fragrant add the pinch of cinnamon. Stir that around until it smells way good. Add the rinsed and drained quinoa and a pinch of salt. Stir it around in the oil a bit to toast. Add a scant cup of water to the pan. Bring the quinoa to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. You want the quinoa to be cooked, but kind of crunchy too. Drain off excess liquid and cool quinoa completely.
Add the lemon juice to the milk and set aside for 5 minutes to curdle/lump up.
In a medium bowl, combine the spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda, coconut sugar and sea salt. Stir to combine. Combine the almond meal, vanilla extract, remaining coconut oil and curdled milk in the blender. Flip it to high and blend until the mixture is very smooth, about a minute. Scrape this mixture into the bowl with the spelt flour etc. Gently fold it all together with a spatula until just combined. Add the cooled quinoa and fold it in until it’s evenly mixed.
Heat a large sauté pan or griddle over medium. Brush with melted coconut oil. Drop 1/4-1/3 cups of batter onto the pan. Spread the batter out a bit with a spatula or the bottom of the measuring cup. Press banana slices onto the top of the cakes and sprinkle with cacao nibs. Once bubbles start to form on top and the bottom is golden, flip them over. Continue to cook until bottom side is golden/dry. Repeat with remaining batter, keeping cooked cakes warm as you go along.
Serve pancakes with extra sliced bananas + cacao nibs, maple syrup and yogurt dolloped on top.
You’ll have to forgive me for paraphrasing on this one. I remember reading this passage when we were away, on the beach in the glorious sun, a few months ago. I can’t for the life of me remember where I first took those words in. I’ve flipped through all of the sand-filled books and print publications that I toted along and simply cannot spot it. Some serious googling or more page flipping wouldn’t be too hard, but my eyes have been watering up and un-focusing involuntarily with some frequency lately. It might be time to step away from any and all screens for the day and spend less time focusing on tiny things. The vibrance of this thrown-together dish (with some outstanding local + hydroponic eggplant), against a grey mid-March backdrop, had me thinking of that lost passage. So here we are.
There is a woman in the back of a cab, somewhere in India. From memory, she is most definitely North American. She is travelling through the country in a way that suggests leisure, waiting for inspiration while cultural immersion takes place and seeming “otherness” surrounds. She notices prayer flags of every hue and condition flying from pointed rooftops, hanging off of farm gates, tangled in the streets, strewn over doorways of run-down homes, whipping in the wind on the tops of mountains and trees. They’re everywhere. She asks her cab driver about the flags, why the everywhere-locales, why the variety in appearance. His response is calm and straightforward, without a trace of glorification or pomp: God loves colour.
crispy eggplant + harissa flatbread recipe
notes: I followed a harissa recipe from Food 52 pretty much to the letter (I left out the all spice + nutmeg) and was rather pleased with the results. I do use it sparingly since this Tunisian spice paste is quite fiery. If you make the whole recipe, there’s lots of other things you can do with it. Add a dab to a simple vinaigrette, use it as a marinade for proteins, mash it into some cooked sweet potatoes with a dollop of yogurt, drizzle it onto your avocado toast–many possibilities.
scant 1 lb whole grain pizza dough (I purchased a really great locally made one, but I have a recipe here too)
1/4 cup of harissa (I used this recipe from Food 52)
1 small eggplant
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tbsp raw honey or agave nectar
4 cups baby arugula
big handful of mint leaves
big handful of flat parsley leaves
squeeze of lemon juice
salt + pepper
1 tbsp dukkah spice (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Rip a piece of parchment big enough to fit the sheet pan you want to use. Lay it on the counter and begin rolling out your dough on top of it. Aim for a 10-11 inch circle, about 1/3 inch thick. Transfer the dough and parchment to your sheet pan. Apply the harissa to the dough evenly.
Trim the ends off of the eggplant and slice it into thin rounds. Arrange the rounds on the dough.
Peel and trim the shallot. Slice it as thin as you can. Scatter slices on top of the eggplant.
Drizzly the top with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Slide the sheet into the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the bottom seems brown and crisp and the eggplant has shrivelled up a bit.
While the flatbread is baking, place the arugula into a medium bowl. Roughly chop the mint and parsley and add to the bowl as well. Drizzle the remaining olive oil onto the greens, add the squeeze of lemon, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.
Once the flatbread is removed, drizzle with the honey or agave nectar. Cut flatbread into slices. Scatter the greens and herbs on top of the slices and sprinkle dukkah spice all over the greens. Serve warm or at room temperature.