Roasted Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Pickled Persimmon Tacos

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I've been pretty quiet since Tuesday. Not quiet with friends or in my physical, "real life" interactions, but in the digital space. I've been doing a lot of listening. Reading. Absorbing. Questioning and contemplating. Empathizing. Picking up the pieces of a heart that feels so, so broken.

Late Tuesday night, my body tense and nauseous as the final four "too close to call" states slowly turned to red, I felt overcome by disbelief, confusion and anger. How could this even be? How is this the reality of 2016 America?

Wednesday morning, the sun came up, just as we all knew it would. The sky shone blue in Northern California. People got out of bed, got dressed, got in their cars, got themselves to work. On the outside, our world looked just the same as it had 24 hours before.

Wednesday morning, I woke up early. Showered before the sun fully showed itself in the sky. Got dressed, ate and headed out earlier than usual for my Mindful Health class at the California Institute of Integral Studies. It wasn't until I was firmly planted on the subway for my 30 minute ride into San Francisco that I checked social media and the news. And the fact of what half of America had done to our entire country began to actually feel real.

My Facebook feed had transformed into a space of vulnerability and power. So many beautiful and brilliant friends expressing their deep sadness, their entirely substantiated fears, their anger at the system, their unwavering love for and commitment to the diversity of all the inhabitants of our country. My brother, who lives in Germany, turned his profile picture to a block of solid black. I struggled to fight back tears. Standing on the crowded BART train, I became keenly aware of the dichotomy between physical and digital space. All around me people sat and stood, glances cast towards phones and books and the vibrating walls, faces blank or calm as any other day. But in the digital world, it was anything but any other day. People were angry. Dumbfounded. Distraught. Fearful. Hopeful. Having trouble feeling hopeful. Vocal. Reaching out. For the first time, maybe ever, I felt grateful for that digital space. Felt like it was a facilitator for vital expression, for support, for coalition and for action. 

I eventually got off the train, emerged with the hurried masses from the depths of the city's underground passageways back into the light of the sun. Traffic lights changed, fathers pushed strollers, crumpled bills were exchanged for cups of caffeine. The world looked just has it had the day before, but inside I felt so sharply like it was crumbling.

The past three days, I have been more attentively tuned into the digital space—both in news articles and on Facebook—than ever before. It has been comforting, humbling and activating to see millions of people from across America voicing their concerns and their strength. Lifting each other up. Beginning to build a movement. And it was equally heartening on Wednesday to witness so many people, friends of mine and complete strangers, articulating the need to allow ourselves to grieve. Not to wallow, not to concede, but to create space to truly feel the shattering disappointment, fear, sadness and anger that pierced our hearts and coursed through our veins, penetrating to the bone. That in the gift of space for these feelings to be and to breathe, they would ultimately be better processed and transformed into energy for action.

I have read many words over the past three days and a handful have struck a deep chord, dug into the philosophies and approaches in which I believe wholeheartedly and do my best to embody every day. Compassion. Mindfulness. Hope. These things can feel small and personal, can feel vague and inconsequential, but they must be pillars for all of us moving forward.

As 15 distraught and powerful women sat in a circle in my Mindful Health class on Wednesday morning, our wise and grounded teacher Megan shared with us an excerpt from congressman Tim Ryan's book A Mindful Nation. It felt like a gift on that dark morning; I now wish to extend that to you. Ryan writes:

In a mindful nation, we will still misplace our keys. We still still forget people's names. We will still say and do things that may hurt others, including those we love. We will say the exact wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. But in each of these instances, with mindfulness we may do it just a bit less. We may see the humor in our mistakes and be able to laugh at ourselves more. We may be just a little less critical of others, and of ourselves. We may deal with our mistakes more quickly and with a more sincere and kind heart. We may more easily forgive the people who have hurt us. We may sit down and have civil political conversations with those who strongly disagree with us. My goal is not that America will become a perfect nation. My goal is that America will be a kinder, more compassionate nation, because I know down deep in my heart that we are a kinder, more compassionate country than is evident today. Reviving our compassionate spirit will allow us to listen carefully to each other, find points of agreement, and recapture the unity of purpose that made America great.
A mindful nation is about recognizing that we are all connected: we are in this together. At present, we feel divided and scared, and have been made to believe that independence means we are totally on our own. But our experiences—as individuals and as a country— tell a different story. We know that when we join together, work together, and care about each other, our freedom actually increases. Real independence emerges when we know how to support each other. The Declaration of Independence was a communal act.
...One of my favorite lines from the Art of War by Sun Tzu, an ancient manual for dealing effectively with conflict in war, business, and throughout life, is "Attain both hard and soft." To me, this means that in any given moment we need the ability to be firm and simultaneously the ability to be gentle. This can be challenging, but Martin Luther King, Jr., offered us an example of holding hard and soft together. He pointed out that love without power is ineffectual, and power without love is destructive.
When human beings combine these qualities, they're drawing on their innate mindfulness, awareness, and kindness. And neuroscience is starting to prove that all of these can be cultivated in grater measure, giving us an increased capability to approach our problems and challenges with nuance and awareness of the whole picture, the perspectives of other people, and the unfolding patterns that allow us to be insightful about dangers and opportunities that lie ahead—what the innovative thinker Thomas Homer-Dixon calls "prospective mind." In this way, we can hep re-establish our collective mindfulness and regain our sense of balance, which is what it means to be resilient. We can't determine exactly what the future will be, what tomorrow will bring, what the next moment will bring, but we can determine how we will be in our body and mind, whatever may come.

It feels a little ridiculous to post photos of food on Instagram right now, to share recipes, to have conversations that are about anything other than the political, social, economic and emotional state of America. But we need to eat. And we need to create. As people mobilize and artists of all kinds use their uniquely magical expressions to make sense of and shape our world, I am continuing to do what I do. Because the world keeps spinning and every act of generosity, thoughtfulness and nourishment counts. So here are some seasonal, mildly wacky, California style tacos. Beans from scratch that are infused with flavor by boiling them with spices and plant based aromatics. Sweet winter persimmons turned into tart pickled bursts of flavor. Food transformed through ingenuity, patience, care, attention, time. We will get there, America. There are too many of us with abundant love, compassion and power for it not to be so.

Roasted Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Pickled Persimmon Tacos
Serves 4
*Note: The black beans need to be soaked in water the night before and the pickled persimmon, while a quick pickle, takes 2 hours of soaking time in the brine before it's ready. Plan accordingly! :)

Ingredients
Pickled Persimmon
1 large or 2 small persimmons, diced into 1/4" cubes
1 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup or honey
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1 tsp. mustard seeds
a few peppercorns
1" knob ginger root, peeled and sliced thin

Black Beans
1 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight
1 large carrot, chopped in a few big chunks
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1/2 yellow onion, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. whole coriander
1/2 tsp. whole cumin

Roasted Sweet Potato
1 large sweet potato, diced into 1/4" cubes
1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee
salt & pepper

To Serve
8 corn tortillas (make sure the only ingredients are corn, water and lime, if possible)
avocado (I made an avocado creme by blending guacamole ingredients in a blender)
cilantro
lime

Directions
For the Pickled Persimmon
1. Combine all ingredients except the persimmon in a small saucepan and set over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
2. Once it's boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. While the brine is cooking, put the diced persimmon in a clean glass jar with a lid.
4. After 10 minutes, pour the brine into the jar with the persimmon. Let cool.
5. Once cool, put on the lid and refrigerate. It will be ready in 2 hours.

For the Black Beans
1. Rinse the beans (which you have soaked overnight) and discard any split or broken ones.
2. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin and coriander, swishing in the pan frequently, for 3-5 minutes (you'll know they're ready when they darken a bit in color and become quite fragrant).
3. Put the spices in a loose tea holder or make a sachet for them out of a small bit of cheesecloth. You can also put them directly in the water, you just may have to fish them out later (or get a big bite of spice in your taco).
4. Combine all of the bean ingredients in a large pot and submerge in water, about 2" above the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about 45 minutes. If foam collects on the surface of the water, skim it off.
5. When the beans taste almost soft, add a very generous few pinches of salt to the water.
6. Once the beans are cooked to the consistency you like, turn off the heat and let them cool in the water. 
7. When ready to eat, drain the water and discard the aromatics. Taste and add salt if needed.

For the Sweet Potato
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Line a baking tray or roasting dish with parchment or aluminum foil. 
3. Toss sweet potato cubes in oil (melt it first if it is solid) and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Spread them on the baking sheet in an even layer, so every cube has a surface touching the metal.
4. Roast for 15 minutes. Carefully toss. Roast for 10 minutes more and check for doneness. Sweet potato should be soft with some browning on its outer edges.

Assembly
1. I like charring my tortillas over an open flame on the stove. Do this carefully if you choose to try it, please! 
2. Pile beans, sweet potato and persimmon onto tortillas. Avocado/guacamole, cilantro and a generous squeeze of lime are all nice finishing touches.