Summer Stone Fruit, Cherry Tomato & Chickpea Tabbouleh

Ten years, one feature film, and thousands of rave reviews later, I finally conceded last week and sat down to read Eat Pray Love. Okay, fine, conceded isn't actually the word. I asked my oldest friend if I could borrow her copy, interested not in seeing what all the fuss was about but in diving with an open heart and mind into the wisdom that Elizabeth Gilbert might actually have to offer. My friend—whom I had rolled my eyes at the first time she gushed about the book all those years ago (you see, I was a terribly pragmatic-bordering-on-cynical creature in my youth)—squealed with delight at my request, hearing words that she (and I) never would have dreamed I would utter.

My interest was piqued sometime last year when a dear and inspiring friend recommended Gilbert's latest publication, Big Magic. Many months later, I happened to catch a snippet of Gilbert's conversation with Krista Tippett on On Being and was surprised by the thoughtful and intelligent ideas she offered. (Apologies if my surprise about this fact offends any of you.) Not quite ready to commit to actually reading her books, I watched her first TED talk on the idea of creative genius, in which I found her to be not only sharp and insightful, but also charismatic and damn funny. 

So here I am, a mere few weeks later, sitting in bed with a copy of Eat Pray Love by my side. If you hate this book or don't care about this book or are absolutely exhausted by the ten years of hearing about this book, please stay with me for a moment; this post is not actually about Eat Pray Love

...Barring this note: In one segment, Gilbert recounts an experience she had in a busy office building in New York. Upon rushing into an elevator, she caught a glimpse of herself in the security mirror and registered her reflection as a friend of hers, reacting for a fleeting moment with surprise and joy. Gilbert quickly realized her mistake and laughed it off in embarrassment. She shares this story with us readers in the midst of a night in Rome, where she has been living most vivaciously, when she finds herself suddenly overcome with depression and loneliness. Turning to her own self for support, Gilbert thinks back to this incident in the elevator. She scrawls in her journal: "Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend."

That is what I am interested in. This idea—no, this necessity—that we treat ourselves as our best, most unconditional, most unwavering friend.

But what does that even look like? There are countless ways in which we can be better friends to ourselves. I've already written about some of them. The way things are going around here, I could conceivably re-title this blog "Meredith's Writings on How to Be More Self-Compassionate and Eat Delicious Food While Doing So (A.K.A. the Story of Her Life)." In all seriousness though, this is a real thing. It's a Big Deal. It is arguably one of the most important things we can do in our entire lives: learn to love, value and care for our own selves.

So where does that process begin? I could easily write about combating negative self-talk or expressing gratitude or giving ourselves credit for our achievements or operating from a place of trust and truth rather than fear, which are all super important practices. But that's not what we're going to talk about today. Today, we're going to talk about the practice that sparked the journey of self-care, in truth, for me. We're going to talk about food. 

Or, rather, the way we eat our food.

Mindful Eating, or The Gateway Art of Attentiveness

I first encountered the concept of mindful eating in Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food (which I highly recommend if you have not read it). He espouses this simple yet somehow radical—in today's overly connected and multitasking world—belief that when you eat you should just eat. Don't eat and scroll through any media or communications on your phone. Don't eat and watch TV. Don't eat and read the newspaper or Bon Appetit magazine. Don't eat while driving. Don't eat straight out of the fridge while making your ritual boredom lap through the kitchen. Don't eat standing up, rushing out the door. Don't eat at your desk, working through your lunch break. Eat and give your full attention to your meal (and your present company, if you are sharing the meal with others). Eat and relish the colors, textures, scents and tastes of your food. Take your time. Put your utensil down between bites. Chew thoroughly. Savor the flavors. Take deep breaths and feel the reactions of your body to your meal. Appreciate the care that you put into preparing your meal, or that someone else put into preparing it. Acknowledge and appreciate the hands that nurtured and harvested the raw ingredients and the wonders of our earth that enabled them to grow. And, while we're at it, also be sure to eat off of proper dish ware, treating yourself like the deserving human that you are. You wouldn't serve your guest breakfast straight out of a blender, a wrapper or a tupperware, would you?

I can hear you thinking, "That seems like a lot of effort." Or, "I don't have time for that." Or, "I won't get to read the paper if I don't do it over breakfast!" Or, "I would feel super awkward eating at a table by myself with no distractions." 

These are all valid concerns, but hear me out. Mindful eating has incredible physiological, psychological and emotional effects. For starters, when we take the time to slow our eating and chew more fully, our bodies actually have greater access to the nutritional benefits of our food. Believe it or not, chewing is the first step in the digestive process. When we chew completely, our teeth essentially liquidize our food, which enables our bodies to digest it more easily and frees up internal resources to focus on absorption. Our saliva also contains digestive enzymes that are necessary to break down the food for optimum conversion into energy. Slowing down and chewing fully means we physically gain more benefit from the food we eat!

When we savor the process of eating, we are also able to tune in to our levels of hunger and satiety, more easily avoiding overeating and feelings of post-meal discomfort (as well as unwanted weight gain and chronic stress on our digestive system). Additionally, as our minds and bodies are constantly in relationship, eating with attentiveness helps us remember the experience of having eaten, which actually keeps us feeling fuller longer. 

And then there's the joy bit. The benefit of pure pleasure that comes from truly noticing and appreciating how delicious your food is, how curious of a sound it makes, how many hands it took to get from the field onto your plate, or how wonderful that even amongst your hectic/frustrating/disappointing/exhausting day, you took time to create something for yourself. By making an effort to eat away from your desk, or off of real dish ware at the dining room table—even if you're by yourself—you are actively showing yourself that you're worth caring for. That, in itself, is something to be practiced, savored and celebrated.

Words really cannot express how radically the practice of mindful eating has changed my life. It has so many benefits and an incredible ripple effect. You start paying more attention to your food and your eating and suddenly everything in your life seems deserving of increased attention, care and even reverence. Trust me. You'll see.

While I encourage you to harness your mindfulness the very next time you eat, this salad is a particularly great dish to practice mindful eating with because it is a total party in a bowl of bright, sweet, juicy, and fresh flavors and textures. This is a very unorthodox take on tabbouleh, which is a Middle Eastern salad composed of mostly parsley, speckled with bulgur, tomatoes, onion and a hefty zing of lemon. In less traditional versions, you may see mint and cucumber thrown in too. But here, as a celebration of the waning summer, I got really crazy. I threw peaches into the mix because they're fragrant and delicious, black chickpeas in the mix because, hello, BLACK CHICKPEAS!?! and because I'm a fan of fiber and plant protein, and swapped the bulgur for quinoa because it's gluten free, so more bellies can enjoy it. There is so much winning in this salad, I can't even.

Summer Stone Fruit, Cherry Tomato & Chickpea Tabbouleh
Serves 4

Ingredients
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup dried chickpeas, black or white (or a can of chickpeas if you don't want to cook your own)
2 ripe peaches or nectaries
2 Persian cucumbers
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup minced mint
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/2 bunch chives, minced
1 lemon
high quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

Directions
If you are cooking the chickpeas from dried:
1. The night before, put dried chickpeas in a very large jar and fill it with water and a splash of apple cider vinegar.
2. Once the chickpeas have soaked for 12 hours, drain and rinse them.
3. Place chickpeas in a large pot and cover 2" above with fresh water. You're welcome to throw in some smashed garlic, half an onion, a carrot or celery, a bay leaf, a cinnamon stick, or a sachet with any spices you like to enhance the flavor.
4. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let chickpeas cook until tender, 40-60 minutes. If the water level sinks to the surface of the chickpeas, add more water. If white foam collects on the surface of the water, skim it off with a spoon.
5. When the chickpeas are tender, strain and rinse them and remove any aromatics you added to the pot.
6. Congratulate yourself for cooking chickpeas from dried and marvel in how much better they taste than the canned ones! 

To assemble the salad:
1. Rinse quinoa and place in a small pot with 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp water. Bring water to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. When the time is up, turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
2. While the quinoa is cooking, prep your produce. Chop your peaches or nectarines and cucumbers into 1/4" cubes. Quarter your cherry tomatoes, making an X with your knife from the top down. Mince your herbs, if you haven't already.
3.  When your quinoa and chickpeas are ready, add a generous drizzle of olive oil, squeeze of lemon and hefty pinch of salt to each. Toss to coat.
4. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Taste and add more olive oil, lemon and salt as needed.

White Peach, Fresh Corn & Shredded Kale Salad

I went back home to Los Angeles last week. The home of my past selves. The home of my elementary and middle school self, who was joyous and carefree and destined for greatness. The home of my high school self, whose mind was ever expanding and whose heart felt perpetually bruised. The home of my post-college self, who had a burgeoning career she loved and a boyfriend she loved and friends she loved in a city she loved. So many selves contained in photos and diaries, coursework and notes passed in class. Selves written into the bedsheets, into the rough and fading dusty rose carpet that has forever cradled that floor, into the piles upon piles of mementos that I can't seem to throw away. So many selves that are intimately familiar, yet so far gone.

It's hard to go back to that house in Los Angeles. To enjoy the things I still love deeply about the city without free falling down the rabbit hole of my past. At 24, I left all that history behind and made a new home for myself in London. The city magnetized me, drew me to it and activated me in ways I could never have dreamed. At times, those two years in London were devastating and inconceivably challenging, yet I somehow managed to show up for myself like I never had before. I built the most incredible home, fell in love with a city, fell in love with food, fell in love with amazing friends and communities and conversations. And then, because of a situation well beyond my control, I had to leave. 

In the two years following my move back to the States, I would often tell people that I left my heart in London. But if home is where the heart is and my heart was 5,500 miles away, where did that leave me? 

There are so many things that can make a place feel like home. Comfort, familiarity, community, ease. Home can smell like pine trees or eucalyptus or mothballs or ocean air. Home can feel like a lover's embrace or the squeeze of a mother's hand. It can be the taste of empanadas or matzo ball soup. It can be the sinking into a well worn armchair or sitting atop a vista overlooking the city where you grew into you. It's strange now to say I'm going home when I take a trip down to LA and then to again say I'm going home when I get into the car to drive back up to the Bay. But that's another thing about home: it is multiplicity, evolving, physical and emotional, transient and eternal all at the same time.

The making and leaving and re-making of homes is one aspect of adulthood that I was definitively unprepared for. No one tells you how challenging and joyous and heartbreaking and perpetual it is. 

Through all of this, I'm coming to learn one essential and not often discussed thing: at the end of the day, the most important home I can make and return to is—surprisingly—within myself. When everything else is in chaos or falls away, if you can sit with yourself, be with your breath, and hold yourself tenderly, you'll ultimately be okay. There are so many reasons to become best friends with yourself and to love yourself unconditionally, as hard as that may be. But listen: if home truly is where the heart is—which I believe it to be—and your heart resides firmly inside your chest, then the best and most important home you can make is with yourself. It's infallible logic, no? And the best part about it is that it's a home you can count on, a home that grows with you, and a home you never have to leave.

All Aboard the Kale Train! (there's a terrible Caltrain joke in there somewhere...)

Kale salads have become a bit ubiquitous these days, which is actually a great thing. Everyone knows that this dark leafy green is mega good for you, but do you actually know how good it is? A member of the cruciferous vegetable family (along with broccoli and cabbage), kale is bursting with vitamin K (promoting bone health, preventing blood clotting, and crucially regulating our bodies' inflammation), vitamin A (supporting healthy vision and skin) and vitamin C (maintaining our immune system, hydration and metabolism).  Kale also contains high amounts of manganesefiber, and calcium (more calcium than milk, calorie-for-calorie!). Of all the leafy greens, kale boasts the highest level of carotenoids, which lowers our bodies' risk of developing certain types of cancers (in the case of kale, this includes breast, colon, prostrate, ovary and bladder cancer).  On top of all this goodness, kale is also super detoxifying, as its high amounts of fiber and sulfur help maintain healthy liver function.* Pretty amazing.

A quick note/advance warning that this recipe also asks you to massage your kale. Yes, you heard that right. Massage. Many of you may be familiar with this technique by now, but in case you aren't: vigorously rubbing raw kale leaves for 2-3 minutes with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon and/or vinaigrette is a wonderful method to use when serving it raw because breaks down the leaves' tough and fibrous cellulose structure, making it much easier to chew and digest. It also mellows out the bitter taste, which I think merits extra bonus points. So wash those hands and get ready to get intimate with your salad! 

I've been on a crazy raw corn kick this summer because raw corn is so sweet and delicious. Succulent, ripe white peaches work alongside the corn in this salad to bring an aromatic sweet note to offset the bitter undertones of the kale, while basil provides the punch of fresh herbs and feta rounds out the plate with its salty creaminess. This salad screams of summer. Maybe not as much as a caprese, but pretty damn close. And it's a lot more creative. So what are you waiting for? Summer won't be around for much longer, better celebrate it while you can!

*Nutritional information from WHFoodsMindBodyGreen, & My New Roots

White Peach, Fresh Corn & Shredded Kale Salad
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 bunch lacinato kale
2 ears of corn, shucked and kernels sliced off cob
2 ripe white peaches, sliced into 1/4"-1/2" wedges
12-15 basil leaves
3 oz. (generous 1/4 cup) feta cheese
1 lemon
2 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil
salt + pepper

Directions
1. Remove the stems from each kale leaf. Stack about 8 of the leaves on top of each other into a horizontal pile and roll them together into a long log. Using your fingers to keep the leaves rolled together, slice the log perpendicular to the roll into strips as thinly as you can (this technique is called chiffonade). Repeat this with the remaining kale.
2. In a large bowl, drizzle 1 Tbsp. olive oil onto the kale and massage with your hands by rubbing the strips vigorously between your fingers until the kale has softened and vastly diminished in volume, 1-2 minutes.
3. Add corn kernels to the kale. Squeeze in juice of half a lemon, season with a generous pinch of salt and a crack or two of black pepper and mix gently.
4. Stack the basil leaves as you did with the kale, roll into a log and cut into thin strips.
5. Add basil, peach wedges and crumbled feta to the salad. Toss gently.
6. Taste and adjust dressing and seasoning. If your palette is anything like mine, it may need more oil and will definitely need more lemon. Enjoy!

Blueberry Ginger & Rye Hand Pies

About a year ago, while searching for things to listen to on my impending drive from the Bay down to LA, I happened upon a podcast called On Being. You guys...this podcast. It is the stuff of life. The bafflingly well read and ever thoughtful host, Krista Tippett, speaks with a variety of thinkers, including philosophers, artists, activists, religious figures, poets, scientists and social researchers, about the things that make us human, that shape our world. I've been slowly working my way through her new book, Becoming Wise, and was struck by a parable she shared that was originally from her recorded conversation with physician Rachel Naomi Remen. It has nothing to do with hand pies, but bear with me.

Remen, who recognized and integrated the power of personal story into her approach of cancer treatment with patients, recounted for Tippett a tale of one of the fundamental ethics of Judaism—to "repair the world". Her Orthodox rabbi grandfather told her this story as her fourth birthday present. She shared:

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. In the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The wholeness of the world, the light of the world, was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light. And they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.
Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It's a very important story for our times. This task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It's the restoration of the world.
And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. That story opens a sense of possibility. It's not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It's about healing the world that touches you, that's around you.

In my years and years of Jewish education, I had never heard this story before. It baffled me and it touched me deeply. The idea that we all of us are healers. And when everyone does small things to make the world as they experience it better, more just, more connected, more curious, more generous, more thoughtful and more human, the entire world is transformed.

So what does all this have to do with hand pies? Aside from the fact that they make the world a more delicious and thusly a better place? 

As much as we inhabitants of this Earth have a responsibility to one another and to the Earth itself, we also have a responsibility to our own selves. To acknowledge and tend to the light within each of us. We must treat ourselves—mind, body and spirit—with curiosity, tenderness, generosity, and care. This was not something I remember being taught as a child, but is something I now believe to be of utmost importance. No matter how badly we want to change other people, we are ultimately only capable of changing ourselves. But the beautiful silver lining in this is that there is so much power in being our best selves. By living in ways that are aligned with our personal truths—treating ourselves with compassion; communicating thoughtfully; listening courageously; being vulnerable; taking risks; holding ourselves tenderly when we fail; standing up for ourselves; playing vivaciously; whatever our personal truths may be—we create an energetic frequency and model of behavior that imprints itself onto the world. And in our wake, the world changes. Even if only the small circles that revolve around us. But in all of this, I wholeheartedly believe that change begins from within.

For over a year and a half of my life, I was afraid of butter. And sugar. And white flour. If I ordered a veggie burger at a restaurant and it didn't come with a whole wheat bun, my body would enter a state of panic. I ate heaps of plants and whole grains and dates after almost every meal to satisfy my sweet tooth. I lost so much weight that my friends and family started to worry. 

Almost a year into this passionate and incredibly inflexible love affair with healthy food, I began to apprentice in the kitchen of my favorite restaurant. Guess what? They loved butter. And sugar. And loads of vegetables and healthy things too. As a learning chef, I was required to taste everything. Which, of course, reminded me that I loved butter. And sugar. And then I couldn't stop eating it. In the years that followed, which were rife with personal, professional and financial disappointment and struggle, food (read: flour, butter and sugar...and chocolate) became my outlet, my method of comforting myself and showing myself how inept at life I was all at the same time. I gained back all the weight I had lost and more. I felt completely unworthy and completely out of control.

It's scary to write that here. But as both a lover of food and someone who is committed to helping people heal and love themselves (my version of tikkun olam), I feel that it is important to share my story. Because as I have looked within to establish my truths and learn how to embody them (which is an ongoing process), I have seen both my personal world and the world around me change. I eat kale salads and I spend a disproportionate amount of my meager income on baking supplies. I spent an afternoon making these divine hand pies and I allowed myself to savor every bite I ate of them. And that, dear friends, is about self-love and balance and communion with friends and creating beauty and being human. 

Blueberry Ginger & Rye Handpies
makes 14 4" pies
Adapted from recipes by Yossy Arefi, Apt 2B Baking Co.

Ingredients
Crust
1 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups rye flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (preferably organic, pastured/grass fed, European style), chilled
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
8 Tbsp. ice water

Filling + Assembly
2 1/2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar
2 Tbsp. cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp. ginger root, freshly grated
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1/2 lemon (unwaxed), zest only
pinch of salt
extra flour for rolling out dough
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp. turbinado sugar

Method
Crust
1. Combine apple cider vinegar and ice water. Set aside.
2. Mix the flours and salt into a bowl. Cut the chilled butter into 1/2" cubes and then add it to the flour. Using your fingers and the palm of your hand, crumble and smash the butter into flat discs, scooping up the flour from the bottom of the bowl and incorporating it as you go. Stop when most of the butter is about pea sized. It's okay if not all of the butter is incorporated. 
3. Sprinkle six tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the dough and work it through gently with your hands. Pick up a bit of dough and see if it sticks together when pressed. If it is still too dry, add more water a little at a time until the dough has reached this state. 
4. Gather all the dough together into a large ball and then gently press it into a rectangle about 1" thick. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight.

Filling
1. Combine sugar, flour, ginger, vanilla and lemon zest in a large bowl. Using your fingers, incorporate the small and grated bits into the sugar.
2. Add blueberries and gently toss to coat.

Assembly
1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. After the dough has set in the fridge for at least two hours, lightly flour a large surface to roll out the dough, keeping the flour nearby. 
3. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle until the dough is about 1/8" thick (aiming for a 12"x16" rectangle), flipping it over as you go and adding more flour if necessary to ensure it doesn't stick to the counter. If it rips, don't fret; just patch it back together. If the dough gets too large and unwieldy, you can cut it in half and place half of it back in the fridge to roll out separately after.
4. Trim the edges of the dough into straight lines so you have a perfect rectangle. Pat the trimmings into a disc, re-wrap and put back in the fridge. Cut the rectangular dough into 4" squares by cutting vertical lines 4" apart from each other starting from one side and then the same horizontally. If you kept the dough in one piece, you should have 12 squares.
5. Brush around the perimeter of each square with your egg wash. Place a small spoonful of the blueberries into the center of each square. 
6. Pick up one corner of each square and fold it to meet its diagonal opposite, creating a triangle. With a fork, press around the folded edges of the triangle. Place on baking sheet.
7. When a baking sheet is full, put it back in the fridge to allow the hand pies to firm up again, at least 15 minutes.
8. Repeat process with the scrap dough that you placed back in the fridge.
9. Preheat oven to 400F.
9. Once the hand pies are all assembled and re-chilled, brush their tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown.

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ONE MORE THING, friends! An ANNOUNCEMENT!

I am super excited to invite you to attend my first ever wellness workshop in Berkeley, CA on Saturday, August 13!

Join me and my dear friend/fellow wellness practitioner Leyna Brabant in exploring your relationship to food and developing tools for balance, attentiveness and vibrancy in your life. We will also be making healthy raw chocolate truffles, so there's that. 

Register here: http://calmmindhappyheart.wix.com/foodasfreedom
Have a friend or loved one who might benefit from diving in with us? You can share it with them on Facebook too.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Marinated Asparagus, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Salad

"To create one's own world takes courage"
                                         -Georgia O'Keeffe

I've been thinking a lot about balance lately. Not so much the typical idea of work/life balance, but balance of a more internal and personal kind. That sweet spot between constantly striving for better and knowing that what you do, make or share—even in its imperfections—is worthy. That space between brash confidence and utter lack of faith in your capabilities or qualifications. That tenderness, compassion and flexibility that yearns to be breathed into your choices when you tell yourself you're "slacking off" on whatever aspirations or regulations you have set for yourself, be it exercise goals or eating goals or personal project goals. That delicate and somehow elusive courage to keep doing, making and sharing even though you know there is still so much space for you to perfect and to learn.

It is both incredible and entirely unsurprising how many beautiful food blogs exist today. And now, with the ubiquity of Instagram as a tool for people to compulsively and publicly share their lives, we can stare at gorgeously prepared and styled photographs of food literally ALL DAY LONG. In ways, this is massively exciting. It is also terribly overwhelming and can spark a dark vortex of self-doubt. The "I'm not ______ enough"s are endless, if you let them be. I speak from experience. Even if you aren't a food blogger or aspiring Instagram superstar, the avenues through which people are now able to carefully curate and share a particular image of their lives are many; with innumerable opportunities for comparison today, it is often hard to trust that what we have to offer is enough. Maybe you can relate.

I am so appreciative of the bloggers who keep their entire history of posts up to view even after achieving massive success, book deals, etc. It's easy to forget (or not realize in the first place) that many of them have been producing work online for YEARS, as far back as 2008 or 2009. If you look at those first posts, they never look like they do now. The lighting, the props, the composition, the image quality—all of these things are skills and resources that take time to acquire. And these bloggers acquired them through their passion, their tenacity, their belief that what they had to share was exciting and worthy even when they had five readers and their posts included sentences like, "Hi, Mom!". They had the courage to create their own worlds, to pursue the activities that made them feel alive, and to share their offerings with the world not because they wanted fame or notoriety but because it was something they felt deeply compelled to do. Everyone, at any given time, is at a different point in the process, the journey, of their life. In this world of excessive sharing and digital connectivity, we should take inspiration from those further along in their journeys than we are and, even amidst comparison and kernels of frustration or doubt, find the courage to keep walking our own.

I've been sitting on this post for awhile. I was excited to have a free morning to shoot it and thought that the early afternoon light would be perfect. As it turned out, the light was harsh, blew out the colors in most of the images and cast drastic shadows from the windowpanes onto every shot I composed. I didn't have the "right" plate ware for the dish (wherever I get my ideas about plate ware from), and the salad took up way too little space on the plate. Some of the images were salvageable, but needless to say, I was bummed. Weeks passed and the images sat idly on my computer. And as I continued to flutter between engagement and disengagement with the other projects and things in my life, I began to think about balance. And worthiness. And the courage to do, make and share things with this world even when I don't think it's my best. To trust that in being gentile with myself, in being authentic, and in continuing to actively show up in this process that is life—in all of its messy imperfections—everything will, in time, fall into place.

______________________________


If you read my first-of-the-season asparagus recipe post, you'll already know that this oft-coveted springtime vegetable was a reeeeeally hard sell for me. Like, 27 years of life hard sell. But eventually, as my taste buds and my psychological aversion to vegetables both evolved, I began to willingly eat these green stalks of goodness. The recipe that was the asparagus turning point for me is actually the one I'm sharing with you here. It was created by one of the chefs at my former place of employment (hey, Mike!), who made this for staff lunch one day. It blew me away, not only because it was delicious, but because it was RAW. Raw asparagus?! Who would ever think to eat such a thing?! As it turned out, I actually like the taste of raw asparagus better than cooked because I find its flavor to be more mild. It also retains more of its vitamins and minerals when consumed raw. Letting it marinate in some acid, like we do here, also helps break down its starches which makes it softer and easier to digest. Win-win!

Asparagus: All the Best Anti-'s

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that asparagus is crazy good for you. While it is not in the cruciferous vegetable family (think cauliflower and cabbage), it contains comparable levels of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients as these powerhouse vegetables. Its antioxidant profile includes beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, manganese and selenium. Eating a diet rich with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant foods is essential to ward off some of today's most prominent diseases—type 2 diabetes and heart disease—which develop out of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress in our bodies. Vegetables like asparagus help keep our bodies in balance and these diseases at bay. Food is medicine, y'all! 

Another health-supportive property of asparagus is its incredible B-vitamin content. One of the main responsibilities of B-vitamins is to convert the food we eat (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) into into fuel (glucose), which then gives us energy. Because they play a key role in this metabolization process, they are essential in maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar. Asparagus contains high levels of vitamins B1 B2 and B6, folic acid (B9), niacin (B3), choline and pantothenic acid.*

*Nutritional information from WHFoods and University of Maryland Medical Center.

Marinated Asparagus, Red Onion & Goat Cheese Salad
Serves two
Recipe adapted from Mike de la Torre

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus
1/2 medium red onion
1 large Meyer lemon (regular is okay too if you can't find a Meyer), zest and juice
3 Tbsp. good quality cold-pressed olive oil
generous pinch of salt
1/4 cup raw almonds
goat cheese, to finish
soft boiled egg (optional)

Directions
1. Slice the onion into very thin half-moons. 
2. In a medium bowl, zest the lemon and then squeeze 1/4 cup's worth of juice into the bowl.
3. Add the onion slices, toss with the lemon juice, add a generous pinch of salt and set aside.
4. Cut off the woody bottom third of the asparagus stalks. Slice the remaining tender part of the stalks on a diagonal into 1/4" thick coins.
5. Add the asparagus to onions and toss to coat.
6. Heat toaster oven to 325°F. Toast the almonds until fragrant, about 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through. Roughly chop.
7. Add the olive oil to the marinated asparagus and onions, gently mix, and transfer to your serving bowl. Add chopped almonds and your desired amount of goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Finish with a soft boiled egg, if desired.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

This is a guest post written by Jill Hammond.

I didn't grow up eating ricotta, so I have been in the dark for most of my life. Once I discovered that it basically tastes like cream cheese but better, I've been completely obsessed with it. I put it on everything—savory or sweet—and I regret nothing.

I'd love to tell you ricotta is full of wonderful health benefits, but the truth is, it's still cheese. If you are on a low calorie or vegan diet, read no further. If you're in, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy and rewarding this quick recipe is. So much so, in fact, that you'll also be embarrassed you've been buying ricotta from the store your whole life. But don't sweat it too much; you're here now and once you've made this, you'll see the light.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
yields two cups
Recipe from The Kitchn


What You'll Need:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4-quart stock pot
  • Instant read thermometer
  • Cheese cloth
  • Strainer
  • Mixing bowl
  • Slotted spoon

Instructions:
1. Pour the milk into a 4-quart pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 200°F, monitoring the temperature with an instant read thermometer. The milk will get foamy and start to steam; remove it from heat if it starts to boil.
2. When it reaches 200°F, remove the milk from heat and add in lemon juice and salt.
3. Let the pot sit for 10 minutes. The milk will separate into curds and whey. If you still see a lot of un-separated milk, add another tablespoon of lemon juice and wait a few more minutes.
4. Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheese cloth. Scoop the big curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour the remaining curds and the whey through the strainer.
5. Let the mixture drain for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. If the ricotta becomes too dry, you can also stir some of the whey back in before using or storing it.

Use or store the ricotta:
Fresh ricotta can be used right away or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week. This recipe yields two cups of rich, delicious ricotta. I enjoy it on toast as a cream cheese replacement with literally any other ingredient (jam, olive oil, chili oil, smoked salmon, etc.)—the options are endless.

Notes:

  • Don't ditch the whey! Whey is considered a complete protein with amino acids and low lactose content. If you want to use it, which you totally should, you can add it to smoothies or use in any baking recipes in place of water.
  • Avoid using ultra high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk, since this may impact how the milk separates. 

Tahini Honey (Halva) Macaroons

It's a little crazy, how many years I had been eating hummus before I knew what tahini was. It was never a part of my childhood pantry and, as I only ever encountered it blended into a delectably creamy mess of chickpeas, lemon and garlic, I suppose it makes sense that I hadn't heard of it until I started getting into food in my mid-20's. 

I remember discussing tahini with a friendly employee at my local independent market when I was living in London and how enthusiastically this young, bearded, flannel-wearing Canadian man extolled its virtues. My brain struggled to wrap itself around the fact that A) there was an equivalent of peanut butter made out of sesame seeds and, B) that it was the second main ingredient in a culturally relevant dip that I had been enjoying my entire life. I hastily bought a jar, trotted home, opened it, dunked in a spoon, put the creamy paste to my mouth and—BLEH!!—almost spit it out. It was SO BITTER! I could not comprehend who would voluntarily eat this stuff, let alone recommend it to other people.

Needless to say, I eventually wholeheartedly boarded the tahini train. The turning point came almost a year later when a new friend (incidentally, also Canadian) asked me if I wanted some halva—a Middle Eastern treat which I had also never heard of. Shaped into a bar with the consistency of snappy nougat, this mysterious dessert is traditionally made with two ingredients: tahini and honey. Little did I know it, but this was a watershed moment. Halva changed my life.

Let's just take a moment to appreciate the divine relationship of these two ingredients. Have YOU ever mixed tahini with honey (and a pinch of salt) and spread it on toast…or eaten it with a spoon? Game changer. For real. (On a side note, don't ever buy the commercially packaged halva you typically see in grocery stores or Middle Eastern markets, as it's loaded with corn syrup and other junk. If you're curious to try it—which you totally should—make sure the only ingredients on the package are sesame and honey. Or get it from an outdoor market in Israel, where it is a whooooole other level of cloud-like, melt in your mouth deliciousness.)

A Tale of Two Tahinis

As I began to fully integrate tahini into my life, I quickly learned that there are two different types of tahini: hulled and unhulled. But what does this even mean? What is the difference in flavor, consistency and nutritional value?

The easiest way to understand it is to liken the sesame seed to a grain of wheat, as they both have an outer shell that contains a hefty portion of their nutrients. When this outer bran is removed from a grain of wheat, we get white (or "all purpose") flour; when the outer shell of the sesame seed (called the "hull") is removed (as shown in the middle sesame seed photo above), we get a lighter, more refined version of tahini. This is hulled tahini. Unhulled tahini is like whole wheat bread: thicker, darker, maybe not as sweet and tasty, but packed with way more nutrients.

For such a tiny thing, sesame seeds are actually an incredible source of copper, calcium, magnesium and iron. While the hulled seed still contains some of this nutritional value, it is no longer a whole food and much of it is lost. Take the calcium, for example. According to WHFoods, one tablespoon of unhulled sesame seeds contains about 88 milligrams of calcium (for perspective, one tablespoon of whole milk only contains 17 mg of calcium; maybe we should start feeding our youths sesame milk instead?). Once the hull of the sesame seed has been removed, the calcium content plummets to about 37 milligrams, which is 60% less! 

Unfortunately for us, most commercial brands of tahini are made out of hulled sesame seeds because they blend more smoothly and are less bitter in taste. Unless your jar of tahini says "unhulled" or "whole" in front of the word "sesame" on the front or in the ingredients list, it's safe to assume that you've got the refined version. I picked up a jar of Al-Arz Whole Sesame Tahini in Israel which was the sweetest tahini I've ever tasted. When I returned home, I was able to track it down at a Jewish market in LA (yes, okay, I emailed the manufacturer to find out if they had US distribution, shhhh). Sadly, I haven't found a single brand of unhulled tahini in the Bay. But the good news is that if you can't find it in your area and don't want to buy it online, you can always make your own. Just make sure you buy raw, unhulled (brown) sesame seeds when you do!

Halva is the New Healthy [Macaroon]

I knew I wanted to create something to share with you all in time for Passover (in case that's your jam) that would also be non-denominationally delicious. Running through the list of traditional dishes in my head, it wasn't too long before lightning struck: halva macaroons! Most of the macaroon recipes I've seen and tested use condensed milk as the primary sweetener and binder, which yes, is delicious, and is also pretty terrible for you. Halva spread (tahini + raw honey, not turned into candy-nougat-treat) is delicious, super nutritious, AND basically the consistency of condensed milk! I felt like I was onto something big, and guess what? It totally worked! 

I made these macaroons on the larger side because I was feeling excited about them and was feeding them to grown adults, not small children (mostly; hi Sadie and Theo!). I invite you to make them whatever size feels right for your crowd, just be mindful to adjust the baking time accordingly. I also drizzled the chocolate because I thought it would look pretty, but I encourage you to dip the tops of the macaroons in it if you want a richer party in your mouth. 

Tahini Honey (Halva) Macaroons
Adapted from Danny Cohen's 'Danny Macaroons' recipe
makes 26 1" cookies

Ingredients
2/3 cup tahini (preferably unhulled) 
1/3 cup raw honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
14 oz. (4 1/4 cups) unsweetened, shredded coconut
2 large eggs, whites only
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tsp. coconut oil
Flaky sea salt (like Maldon), to finish

Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, melt honey over low heat until entirely liqueified.
3. Add tahini and whisk together until the mixture becomes like the consistency of condensed milk, thick but still runny.
4. Whisk in vanilla.
5. In a large bowl, mix together the shredded coconut and salt.
6. Pour the tahini honey mix into the coconut and, using your hands, blend together until the coconut is entirely covered. The consistency will be sticky and crumbly, almost like a crumb cake topping.
6. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or with an electric beater/whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
7. Gently fold egg whites into the coconut mixture.
8. Using your hands, form 1"-2" balls with flat bottoms out of the coconut mixture and set on parchment. They can be set close together, as they will not expand when baked.
9. Bake macaroons for 13-18 minutes, depending on size, until the tops and bottoms are golden.
10. Once the macaroons are done baking, remove from oven and set aside. Cool completely on tray.
11. Melt chocolate chips and coconut oil in a double boiler. Drizzle chocolate over macaroons with a fork or, once the macaroons have cooled, dip the tops or bottoms of them into the chocolate. Finish with a pinch of flaky sea salt.
12. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to allow the chocolate to set. 

Macaroons will keep refrigerated for up to a week.

Simple Herb Planter Box

This is a guest post written by Jill Hammond.

One of my favorite weekend activities is going to the nursery and loading up my arms with new plants and pots and unnecessary tools while I dream up ambitious backyard plans and projects. 

I’m a dreadful gardener, but I've recently discovered the joy of faking it. As with every craft, there are endless rules and techniques to plant care. Since I'm generally intimidated by new things and I have a serious aversion to rules, I generally attempt to rein in my outlandish ideas and stick to simple projects. I'm in it purely for the therapeutic side effects and elements of surprise. If I fail and everything withers away, there's no harm in scrapping it and learning from my own amateur mistakes.

This planter box is a great start for other terrible gardeners out there. The beauty is that it will get you outside, you'll get your hands dirty and you'll walk away feeling like you’ve made something that will continue to pay off (which it will!). It’s easy as ever to maintain and you can swap out your herbs at any time. If the maintenance is overwhelming and your herbs bite the dust, don't stress about it; just plop in a few succulents in their place! (Although having fresh herbs at your disposal is a great way to enhance your culinary efforts and is way more cost effective than buying herbs at the market, to boot.)

IMG_0135.jpg

Materials
A crate or box (I found this old, divided crate at a flea market for less than ten dollars)
Herb seedlings (the ones I bought were about two dollars a pop)
Drill
Potting Soil (a small bag costs about $5)
Small shovel (or just use your hands)

How To
1. Drill some holes in the bottom of the crate—two holes per plant should be plenty. This is necessary to prevent water from sitting and rotting out the bottom of the crate. 
2. Add at least an inch of potting soil to the bottom of the crate/container. Take the plants out of their plastic containers and nestle them on top of the soil. Use some more potting soil around them until firmly packed with at least an inch of soil in every direction around the transferred seedling. You want to make sure each plant has enough space to spread its roots without getting too cramped.
3. When you're ready to harvest your herbs, trim them with a sharp knife or clippers near their base and enjoy!

Springtime Asparagus Tartine

A native of Los Angeles, I grew up with a rather skewed experience of the seasons. Winter to me was orange, yellow and red tinted leaves that clung to their branches well into December, suburban streets lined with hues that I thought were vibrant until the East Coast taught me otherwise. To my thin California skin, the marked chill of a day that peaked in the low 50s drew my puffy purple jacket out of the closet, which I then layered over a sweatshirt and long sleeved tee. Aside from the eventual trickle of the foliage and its indistinct renewal, seasons in Los Angeles were subtle. The sky grew grey and sometimes poured rain, but the landscape always looked pretty much the same.

My first year in New York was a shock to the system, to say the least. I will never forget how impossibly long that first winter felt—truly, like, It's April, how the hell is it STILL snowing?! It got to a point when I almost couldn't remember the particular sensation of sunshine on skin. But slowly the thaw did come. And slowly, then seemingly all at once, new life began to emerge. In the early stages of spring, the tulips struck me most. Vibrant and elegant, they covered my school's campus, a proclamation of what was just around the bend: a world overcome with rich renewal. For the first time in my life, springtime was more than just a concept, a nondescript string of months between the chill and the heat. Not only could I see spring, I could feel spring in my bones.  

While I no longer reside in a climate with such dramatic shifts, living back East taught me not only to notice the particular markers of springtime but to relish this wondrous time when the world jolts back to life. Even during distinct environmental transition, it is so easy for us not to notice. We live such busy, plugged-in lives that we become disconnected from our surroundings and focus our attention solely on our personal dramas, obligations and narratives. Yet these cycles are not separate from us. They dictate what we eat, what we wear, how we move, when we sleep, how we feel. They provide opportunities for us to turn inwards, to hibernate and reflect and then to turn outwards and grow anew with the world.

While it may be doing so more rapidly in California than in other places at present, the thaw is approaching and new life is beginning to emerge. As beings who not only inhabit this Earth but are connected to it, it serves us to tap into this natural regeneration and use it as momentum within ourselves. The days are getting noticeably longer and new, less hearty and heavy crops are popping up, both of which offer us opportunities for more buoyant and sustained energy. Spring is the perfect time to sow seeds, set intentions and bring new projects and goals into fruition. So, here is my invitation to you: set a springtime intention. Something that will bring you joy, that will help you grow. And then do it. Notice the beauty that is emerging in the natural world around you, harness the energy of that new life, and set something enlivening for yourself in motion.

It's a little crazy that I spent four paragraphs talking about the changing of the seasons with only a fleeting mention of the food that comes with the turn of spring. Living in California, the seasonal transitions are almost marked more by the rotations of produce that adorn farmers' market stalls than by drastic shifts in weather. Each season has its show stoppers, the fruits or vegetables that define a particular time of year. For springtime, it's asparagus. (Okay, and green garlic and probably a few other things, but asparagus is definitely high up on that list.) Some people probably wait all winter long to see those lean, green stalks appear at the market. No offense, but these people seem absolutely nuts to me.

Let's be real: asparagus is a challenging vegetable. It is potent (some may argue pungent) in flavor and scent. I hated it until, um, last year. I still don't love it. But! I have been introduced to methods of preparing asparagus that compliment or mellow its taste in ways that make it palatable if not even, dare I say it, delicious. The most recent method—which was so good that it is now the subject of this post—came by way of my boyfriend, who (conveniently for me) is a pretty spectacular cook. I was decidedly disinterested the evening he excitedly proclaimed he had bought a bunch of asparagus and I remained so when he later departed to the kitchen to turn it into a "snack". Twenty minutes later, drawn to the kitchen by the sweet smell of toasty almonds and browning butter, I found my anti-asparagus resolve melting away. I leaned towards his plate to examine its contents, was offered a bite, and succumbed. I was immediately dumbfounded. Staring at T in disbelief, I demanded to know what he put in that thing to make the asparagus taste so delicious. And then I ate half the food on his plate.

I knew immediately that I needed to share his divine and startlingly simple concoction with you. At the start of spring, so you can make it for yourself and then for your friends and then for your family and then for yourself again, all before the season ends. So, what are we waiting for?

Springtime Asparagus Tartine
Makes four generous tartines

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus (preferably skinny stalks)
1 Tbsp. ghee or butter (sub cold-pressed olive oil if you're vegan)
1/2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or juice from half a lemon)
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 Tbsp. capers (preferably salt preserved), rinsed
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 large slices of fresh, crusty Boule (whole grain blend & sourdough are great), cut in half
salt & pepper, to taste

Method
1. Heat oven or toaster oven to 325°F. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through.
2. While the almonds are roasting, prep asparagus. Cut the woody bottom third off all the stalks and discard. Cut the remaining stalks into 1 1/2" segments.
3. When the almonds are toasted, remove from the oven and roughly chop. Set aside.
4. Heat the butter or ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, toss in asparagus, reduce heat to medium low, and sauté, gently stirring, until the spears start to become tender and acquire a bit of color, about 5 minutes.
5. While the asparagus is cooking, brush your bread slices with a bit of olive oil and toast them (or char them on a grill if that's accessible!).
5. Add a generous pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper to the asparagus and stir.
6. Add your glug of white wine or squeeze of lemon juice to deglaze the pan. When stirred, it should emulsify with the oil and create a sauce-like glaze over the asparagus. Taste for doneness; you want the asparagus to be cooked but still have a bit of crunch to it.
7. Remove the pan from the heat. Toss in the capers, minced parsley and chopped almonds. Toss to combine.
8. Pile the asparagus mixture high onto each slice of toast. Enjoy immediately.

Roasted Cauliflower, Dates & Almonds with Herbed Moroccan Saffron Sauce

It all started with kale: the little leafy green that could. The everyday superfood, the requisite plant that turned your smoothies green, the first (and maybe still only?) vegetable to proudly be printed on t-shirts and tote bags with slogans ("Oh kale yeah!", anyone?). Slowly and then suddenly, it was happening: vegetables were en vogue.

This onslaught of attention towards vegetables has been incredible and inspiring. It seems like one by one, they are each having their moment in the spotlight, being experimented with and touted by restaurants, culinary magazines, and food blogs alike. One of the recent recipients of this star treatment is also one of the least flashy vegetables around and, incidentally, one of my favorites: the humble cauliflower.

Did any of you pick up on the cauliflower 'rice' craze a year or so ago? That was a thing. You finely mince or grate the flowerets until they become suuuuper tiny and then give them a quick sauté for flavor and voilà! It looks and feels like couscous but is actually still cauliflower! Amazing. Seriously. Then there was that moment when everyone seemed to be making cauliflower pizza crust, which I must admit I have not attempted, but can appreciate the ingenuity of. While I love that cauliflower is being transformed and eaten in such creative ways, it first wormed its way into my heart through a much more classic preparation: the simple act of roasting. Tossed with oil and exposed to a shock of high heat, its sugars intensely concentrate and edges crisp. Wholly delectable and wholly itself. 

While roasted cauliflower is indeed delicious on its own, its mild sweet flavor provides an excellent palette for bold spices and sauces. Enter: Herbed Moroccan Saffron Sauce. Oh man. This sauce. Created by my dear friend Briana Ryan, who is a stunning chef and holistic wellness practitioner over at Food By Bri, this sauce literally blew me away the first time I tasted it. Its robust and punchy base, composed of saffron and an insane amount of garlic, is given depth by the addition of warm and smoky spices and tons of fresh herbs. Paired here with toasted almonds for crunch and dates for sweetness, this dish is simple and complex, straightforward enough for a weeknight meal and vibrant enough for a special occasion (truth: it has made an appearance on my Roash Hashanah dinner table for two years and counting). 

Cauliflower: The Little Cruciferous that Could

Cauliflower is a vegetable, so it seems safe to assume that it is at least a little bit good for you. But how good is it, as far as vegetables go?

We often use the color of a food to assess its nutritional value. While white does not typically rank highly on the nutri-o-meter (thanks, potatoes, pasta and cheese!), cauliflower is a stealthily powerful contributor to vibrant health. A member of the cruciferous family (in the good company of broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy and brussels sprouts), cauliflower boasts a shocking amount of Vitamin C—73% of our recommended daily value per cup!—and provides a generous amount of fiber. But what is perhaps most exciting about cauliflower is its simultaneous support of three bodily systems that are essential in maintaining baseline health: our detox system; antioxidant system; and inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system.

When any one of these systems is out of balance (which can result from a variety of factors including insufficient nutrition, lack of sleep, stress, exposure to external toxins, etc.), our bodies become susceptible to illness and disease. The chronic and synchronized imbalance of these three systems creates the perfect storm for cancer development. Lucky for us, we can regularly influence their health through the simple and joyful act of eating good food! As cauliflower contributes to the optimal functioning of all of these systems, current research has identified it as a vegetable that directly supports cancer prevention.

Without getting overly technical, let's break this down to develop a little deeper understanding of how this all works. Our detox system is composed of two phases: Phase One, in which the liver uses oxygen and enzymes to burn toxins and render them water soluble; and Phase Two, in which the oxidized toxins are combined with sulfur and amino acids and eliminated from our bodies. Cauliflower contains antioxidants that assist in the Phase One detoxification process as well as sulfur-containing nutrients that boost Phase Two detoxification. Our bodies' antioxidant system, which combats free radicals, is supported by cauliflower's generous amounts of vitamin C and manganese in addition to its wealth of phytonutrients. In the final piece of this triad, cauliflower battles inflammation in the body through its many anti-inflammatory nutrients, including vitamin K, which directly regulates our inflammatory response.* 

I don't know about you, but I was sure surprised to learn that such an unassuming vegetable packs this healthful of a punch. In treating our bodies with loving kindness, it is important to nourish them with these kinds of foods; equally important is preparing these foods in ways that  stimulate our taste buds and generate a joyful eating experience. This dish has brought me all kinds of joy, made and shared over the past couple years with many different people I love. May it do the same for you!

 

*Nutritional information gathered from World's Healthiest Foods; The Leaf Lady; Mercola

Roasted Cauliflower, Dates & Almonds with Herbed Moroccan Saffron Sauce
Serves four as a side

Ingredients

1 cauliflower (large)
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup raw almonds
6 Medjool dates (pits in & relatively firm)

Herbed Moroccan Saffron Sauce* from Food By Bri
6 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 pinches saffron
2 lemons, juice & zest (preferably Meyer, but regular are A-OK too)
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. sweet paprika
2 tsp. coriander
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1/2 cup good quality, cold pressed olive oil

Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 325°F. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through.
2. While the almonds are roasting, break down the cauliflower into medium sized flowerets, leaving the stems intact. Toss with coconut oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. Once the almonds are toasted, remove them from the oven and turn the oven up to 400°F. Roughly chop the almonds and set aside.
4. Spread the cauliflower out on the baking tray, making sure none of the pieces overlap. When the oven has reached 400°F, roast the cauliflower until nicely browned, about 30 minutes, tossing a couple times in between.
5. While the cauliflower is roasting, take the pits out of the dates and chop the dates into 1/4" pieces. Set aside (with almonds is fine).
6. Assemble the sauce: Mince garlic, kosher salt and saffron together until it forms a paste. (Be persistent and patient, this can take awhile.) Combine the paste in a jar with the rest of the prepared sauce ingredients and shake vigorously until emulsified.
7.  Once the cauliflower is ready, gently toss it with the dates and almonds. If you're serving a crowd, pour about 1/3 of the sauce onto the dish and toss it all together, tasting it and adding more if you'd like. If you're plating the dish, drizzle the sauce over the cauliflower on each individual plate (it looks nicer this way).

 

*These quantities make way more sauce than you need for this dish, but I find it's great to have on hand to use throughout the week. I recommend tossing the leftover sauce with grains; spreading it on toast topped with a fried egg; and/or using it as a base for homemade pizza with roasted red pepper, olives and feta. Just some suggestions of things I've tested out that are pretty damn delicious—but get creative!

Roasted Pear & Ginger Skillet Crumble

I have a confession to make: I have a massive sweet tooth. I stare, aghast and confused, at people who say they don't like chocolate; will happily drive from the East Bay to SF just to get a Tartine morning bun; and eat potentially dangerous amounts of cookie dough straight from the bowl. Ironically, I am also a mild health nut. I vigilantly read the ingredients on every packaged item I buy; love seeing a spectrum of radiant hues on my plate; and am well educated on the horrors that refined sugar inflicts on our bodies. As you may imagine, it is oftentimes difficult to reconcile these two things. 

I began slowly. When baking, I swapped out portions white flour for whole wheat or spelt in recipes. Used molasses-rich, unrefined muscovado instead of brown sugar; a bit of apple sauce instead of oil. And then I discovered dates: nature's carmel. The one incredible whole food, chock full of fiber and nutrients, that could conceivably pass as candy, could serve as the binder in raw truffles and sweeten oatmeal so well that sugar or maple syrup became superfluous. My palate and cravings shifted and I began to savor the creativity in experimenting with making decadent treats that would also make my body feel good. Full disclosure: this crumble is one of those treats.

Arguably the best thing about this dessert is that it is free of refined sugar, gluten and dairy, yet no one who eats it would ever know. It is a wonderful dessert for these chilly winter months when you're still craving something sweet, warm and comforting while trying to take a break from the indulgence that the holidays inevitably bring. Plus it's perfect for your vegan and gluten-free friends! Everybody wins.

While traditional crumbles build their topping from butter, white flour and refined sugar, this version uses a variety of nuts, spices, and muscovado sugar to create its crunchy, crumbly crust. The nuts provide our bodies with protein, vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (the "bad") cholesterol levels and increase HDL (the "good") cholesterol in our blood. Muscovado, while certainly still sugar, is an unrefined variety that retains much of the nutritional value of the molasses (which is super high in iron!) that gives it its distinct, rich flavor. I was surprised when I first learned that brown sugar is subjected to the same refinement process and chemical treatment as conventional white sugar—it just has the molasses is added back in after—but c'est vrai

Truth be told, pears were never a fruit that particularly wowed me until I was subjected to the bleak yield of winter produce while living in the UK. In those dark months, they were a most welcome respite from the unending root vegetables and hardy winter greens that filled my local farmers' market stalls. Maybe it was the desperation, but I swear those pears were more succulent than any I had ever tasted. They completely won me over and created the spark for this roasted winter crumble. It's adapted from a recipe by the ever-inspiring Sarah B. of My New Roots, who created hers in the summertime using raw peaches. That's part of what I love about it though: the formula. Swap the peaches for pears in the winter, or figs in the summertime, apples in the fall, apricots in the spring. You really can't go wrong.

Roasted Pear & Ginger Skillet Crumble
Adapted from My New Roots' Peachy Keen Raw Cobbler

Ingredients
Filling
10 pears (I used D'Anjou, but Bartlett, Bosc and Comice would work well too)
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 lemon, juice & zest
2" piece ginger root, grated
5 Medjool dates, pitted
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Topping
1/2 cup raw brazil nuts
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1 cup raw pecans
1/4 cup muscovado sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F/177°C. Cut pears into 1/2" cubes.
2. In a roasting pan, toss pears with coconut oil and cinnamon. Roast until soft, about 30 minutes, mixing halfway though.
3. Meanwhile, pulse all topping ingredients in a food processor until roughly crumbly (not nearly as fine as sand). Pour out and set aside.
4. Once pears have roasted, put 1 cup of of the pears in the food processor along with the lemon juice and zest, grated ginger root, dates and vanilla extract. Blend until it is completely puréed. 
5. Place the remaining roasted pears In a well oiled cast iron skillet (or a pie or cake pan if you don't have one). Pour the filling purée over the pears and gently mix them together. Smooth the filling flat and sprinkle the nut crumble evenly on top.
6. Return to oven and cook until nuts are toasty, 10-12 minutes.
7. Enjoy warm. Top off with ice cream if desired!