Spring Green Veggie & Herb Lettuce Cups | On Transitions

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Confession: I have spent a disproportionate amount of time tethered to my bed lately. Zoned out in front of my computer screen, binge watching the show UnREAL (which is this truly miraculous combination of wry feminist commentary on professional power dynamics/female relationships and unabashed soap opera. I highly recommend). 

While I have been giving into my body’s recent pulls towards sloth-ness unapologetically and with as little judgment as possible, I have also been struck by our recent seasonal energetic shifts. Have felt small jolts of energy, flickers of desire to move, to create. I have been reading a little more and writing a little more.

For the longest time though, I didn’t want to write. I wanted to want to write…but I just couldn’t get there. All I could feel was that wanting and my resistance to the doing. So instead of forcing myself to write for others, instead of wrestling with inspiration that wasn’t there, I decided to write for myself. Decided to get curious about why I was struggling so much to engage with my preferred mode of creative expression.

My fingers tapped onto the screen:
Where is this resistance coming from?

One silent beat and then:
Fear.

—Of what? 

Kept asking myself questions that I then kept answering. Reminded myself of this acronym used often by one of my greatest teachers:

False
Evidence
Appearing
Real

Fear. False beliefs that we internalize. That destabilize. Debilitate. Seduce us into self-sabotage, into drowning our voices, inhibiting our own growth.

Fear that I will not meet my own standards. Fear that my work will not be valued, be recognized. Fear that my ideas are repetitive. Better expressed by other people. So I do not write. I listen to myself give counsel to countless people in my life and I witness my own wisdom. I see them soften and bloom before me. I see, hear, feel how far I have come in my own thinking, my own awareness, my own relationship to the world, to what I believe to be possible, to my own soft heart and self. Yet I cannot write it. I feel stuck. Feel uninspired or without flow.  

Deep inhale.

Deep exhale.

And then, something surprising. Calm. A crack, a small opening that offered a soft shard of light and within it, some clarity. Presence. Allowance of the emergence of something deeper than my cognitive mind. A softening in my tender heart. Fear and release and a glimmer of courage and spark all at once.

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The earth tilts and the dark veil of winter is lifted as the sun, its warmth, its radiant light begins to emerge. It is calling to us. Beckoning us out from our homes, our hibernation, our long journey within. We can harness this energy. We feel awakened, catalyzed by it. Magnetized by the sun, the awakening of the earth and its brilliant blooms that surround us.  

Transitions are, most often, not easy. The sun claims its many extended moments hovering in the sky yet our days are still interspersed with rain. Transitions take grace, take flexibility, take presence. They take moving through discomfort, take meandering routes, take time. Seedlings must be nourished by the sun and the rain alike; can only ever emerge in the exact time they take to do so. They do not grow anxious with their development, do not spite the sun for not blazing more steadily, do not question or argue with the journey they are on.

I have felt the warmth of the sun, seen the delayed dusk of these days, felt my drives shift with the reawakening of the earth around me. I have acknowledged Aries season and the inspired, enthusiastic action it offers, it bolsters, it demands. I have spring cleaned, made exercise and eating vows, recommitted to writing, to creating, to keeping this blog alive. And. I am fucking tired. I feel exhausted in my bones. I am not sleeping well and am processing a whole host of other things in my life.

I am in the infancy of a transition and I want to be at the end.

I want to be recalibrated.

But, dear ones, dear self as well—

The only way to be recalibrated is to ever so slowly recalibrate. And the only way to recalibrate is to first and foremost meet yourself where you are. And then to make a series of small, aligned, manageable choices from there. To be real with yourself about all the weight you’re carrying, the fears, the hopes, the judgments, the love, the dreams. To allow it all. To hold it all with tenderness. To give it space to pour forth from you, to express itself, to move through you. When the river runs through, it clears and it creates anew. You cannot rush your healing. You cannot rush your growth. You cannot rush your creative process, your meeting of milestones, your getting to where you are going. It all takes the time it takes. And. You can support your healing. You can support your growth. You can nurture and bolster and take lovingly the hand of your creative process, your meeting of milestones, your getting to where you are going—to where your divine self and inner light want you to go.

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So, dearest ones, dearest self— 

Let yourself be where you are. Like that liminal space between winter and spring. In the messiness of your transitions. In the darkness and the light. In the exhaustion and the energy; the confidence and self-doubt; the seductive comfort of staying stuck and the deep, fire-y drive to evolve ever forward. Honor that part of your process. Ask yourself what you need to begin to move towards the life you seek to create. Water your soil and douse yourself with sun. Lean into the thoughts, the choices, the practices, the challenges, the connections that nourish you. Be kind to your fear; hear its wounds and its worries. Allow the darkness that is in you and lead it steadfastly towards the light. There is no hurry in this. The transition is the alchemy, the releasing and the creating that will lead you to where you want to go. It is in itself a string of present moments, each divinely perfect in their imperfection, each exactly where you are meant to be.

Happy springtime, all. May this season of renewal stoke all of our fires so that we may shine that light into our own hearts and out into the world <3.

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Notes on the recipe: Super simple and fresh, this is essentially a handheld salad that celebrates the early bounties of spring. I opted to stick with lemon and olive oil for the dressing to let the brightness of the vegetables shine through; if you’re keen to douse the lettuce cups in tahini or have a green goddess or other dressing that you like, definitely do! Great as a side dish, these lettuce cups can easily become a full meal by mixing in some flaked salmon, chickpeas or other protein of choice.

Spring Green Veggie & Herb Lettuce Cups
Makes 4 lettuce cups

Ingredients
1/2 bunch asparagus
1/2 lb English peas (in their pod)
1 Meyer lemon
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup mixed herbs (mint, dill, chives, parsley, chervil are some nice options), roughly chopped
1 avocado, sliced
a few handfuls alfalfa sprouts
4 large butter lettuce leaves
salt & pepper

Directions
1. Cut off the bottom woody ends off the asparagus (1”-2” up from the bottom) and discard. Cut each asparagus stalk into 1/4” slivers at an angle and put into a medium sized bowl.
2. Zest the lemon and set zest aside. Squeeze the juice from the entire lemon over the asparagus. Add a couple pinches of salt, toss and set aside.
3. De-pod the English peas, adding the peas to the bowl with the asparagus as you go. Mix the two together.
4. In a small pan, toast the pine nuts over medium-low heat until golden brown, 5-7 minutes, stirring or tossing frequently. Once they’re golden, transfer immediately to a cutting board so they don’t burn. Roughly chop.
5. Add the olive oil, lemon zest, 3 Tbsp. of the chopped herbs and a few grinds of black pepper to the asparagus and peas. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
6. Assemble the lettuce cups: In each butter lettuce leaf, place a layer of alfalfa sprouts, slices from 1/4 the avocado, and a couple spoonfuls of the asparagus and pea mixture (and its lemon-oil-herb dressing). Finish off with a few pinches of chopped pine nuts and the remaining fresh herbs.

Heirloom Tomato, Apricot & Cucumber Salad with Yogurt & Za'atar | On Balancing Energies

Hellooo there! It’s been a minute. Okay, it’s been well over a month since I last posted. I recently said, “It’s been a minute!” to this amazing kid who I used to nanny after not seeing him for awhile, and he responded with, “You say that a lot. Why do you say that so much?” It’s a funny feeling to get called out on pseudo-meaningless (or at least, not literally accurate) colloquialisms by a 12 year-old. Always good to be aware of your speech patterns though, right?

I’ve been struggling to find both energy and inspiration for this blog post for the past handful of weeks, sitting on the recipe and photos and not knowing what words to pair them with. Wanting all the writing in this space to be meaningful and resonant—to myself, yes, but especially to you. I’ve been mulling over the relationship between structure and creativity; thinking about the ways in which we can gently pull ourselves out of ruts, be they physical, energetic or creative in nature.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to TA a class in the Integrative Health Masters program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Called Mindful Health, the course offered an in-depth examination of how and why meditation and mindfulness are essential practices in cultivating overall health and wellbeing. We talked a lot about energy, suffering, self-compassion, ambition, burnout, the nervous system, the brain and, taking these all into account, the ways we can manifest our own vibrant health—and support others in doing so for themselves. One of the teachings that Megan, our instructor, shared with us has felt particularly resonant as I've struggled to show up in this space over the past six weeks. As such, it feels worthwhile to share with you here, now.

Let's take, for a minute, a more expanded notion of suffering than the extreme situations that the word typically brings to mind. Suffering as any state of dis-ease, be it a habitual undercurrent of anxiety; stress related to uncertainties or obligations in one's life; heartbreak or shattering disappointment of any kind; and so on. Early on in the class, Megan re-framed suffering to be defined not by our circumstances but by our relationship to them. I appreciate this framing so much because it gives us agency, which is absolutely essential in the path to self-love, self-worth and mind/body/spirit health.

In this iteration, suffering is not caused by undesirable events or circumstances that are inflicted upon us. Rather, suffering is caused when we try to control the things that are not in our control and when we don’t give determination to those that are. Unfortunately, all too often, there is a confusion about which is which. We need surrender and volition, both. Compassion and determination, both. And we need the ability to identify which circumstances require which approach—which is a clarity that mindfulness and meditation help us cultivate.

According to the Vedantic tradition (one of the world's oldest spiritual philosophies), everything in existence embodies three basic energetic states at all times: sattva, which is balanced and harmonious; rajas, which is active and impassioned; and tamas, which is resigned or destructive. Called gunas, these energies exist constantly and simultaneously in different degrees. At any given time, they can be in balance—aligned more with sattva—or out of balance. 

Oftentimes, the suffering we can experience on a daily level is reflected in one or more of these energies being out of balance. For example, too much rajas might feel like overstimulation, crazy caffeine jitters, or incessant multitasking. Overly-exerted rajas uses a lot of energy but not necessarily in an effective way. It also leaves little to no space for reflection about the tasks one is doing. This energy is tricky because our culture actually values and promotes an overstimulation of rajas, even though it can easily result in burnout, disconnection from self and dissatisfaction. When rajas is in balance, it looks like circulation, movement and change—which are often, if not always, good things!

On the other end of the spectrum lies tamas, which when overstimulated manifests as resignation or complete depletion. Out of balance tamas is the, "Fuck this" energy, the "What's the point?" energy, the drinking-to-forget or total crashing energy. When in balance, tamas is the energy that allows us to sit, reflect, recharge, process and integrate all the activity of our lives.

Whether or not you believe in these energetic principles, what I have found valuable in learning about them (and hopefully you will too!) is that they have enabled me to label my energetic states when I feel "off," not myself, stressed out or unhappy, and to then identify actions that I can take to help bring myself into balance—or, in other words, change my relationship to and reduce my suffering. Rajas and tamas are in opposition to one another; this means increasing one will help bring the other into balance. If I am feeling crazy stressed and overwhelmed, I can pause and actively choose to tap into tamas energy by taking a handful of deep breaths, doing some restorative yoga poses in my room, sitting in nature or journaling. If I am feeling aimless, unmotivated or physically depleted, I can integrate some active rajas energy to shake me out of my rut by going for a walk, dancing around my bedroom, or—hey!—even cooking something tasty to eat.

We are constantly in relationship with everything that falls into our lives—people, opportunities, failures, our phones, the news, our bodies, our food, our work, our free time, and even our histories. These things all have the potential to be a catalyst for suffering, to varying degrees, at any given point in time. It is essential to remember that it is our relationship to the thing that will dictate if and how much we suffer. By building the muscle that brings our awareness to the qualities of that relationship and beginning to act in ways that generate energetic balance, we can, little by little, begin to cultivate greater internal peace.

*Notes about the recipe: OH HEY, IT'S SUMMER! This basically means you don't have to cook at all if you don't want to, because everything is luscious and ripe and can be sunk into off the vine with your teeth (no silverware necessary). This salad is a celebration of the ease of summer eating and the inherent vibrant flavors that make the produce this time of year shine. It is a cooling salad with some Middle Eastern vibes because they're my favorite (full disclosure of cuisine bias here). The one ingredient with which you may be unfamiliar is za'atar, which is a Middle Eastern spice blend made of thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, sumac and salt. It's delicious! You can make your own or buy a jar at specialty spice shops or Middle Eastern markets. I've also used unusual varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes here, because they're fun and you can only get them during the summer! If you can't find them, don't sweat it; a normal, ripe, preferably relatively local cucumber or tomato will do the trick just as well. Enjoy!

Heirloom Tomato, Apricot & Cucumber Salad with Yogurt & Za'atar
Serves four as a starter or two as a main

Ingredients
3 medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into large wedges
4 apricots, pit removed and cut into quarters
1 avocado, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 lemon cucumbers or 1 painted serpent cucumber (or 2 Persian cucumbers, failing those), cut into 1" chunks
6 Tbsp. plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp. good quality cold-pressed olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 Tbsp. mint, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. dill fronds
1 lemon
1 Tbsp. za'atar
salt + pepper

Directions
1. In a small bowl, mix together the Greek yogurt, 1 Tbsp. olive oil and a pinch of salt.
2. Spread the yogurt mixture on the bottom of your serving platter.
3. Arrange the slices of tomato, avocado, apricot and cucumber together on top of the yogurt. Scatter herbs and za'atar on top.
4. Finish off with a generous drizzle of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper. Adjust to taste.

Sweet or Savory Ancient Grain Porridge (with Dates, Pear & Pomegranate) | On the Deterministic Power of Language

In 2016, I learned and thought a lot about language. Which is funny, because I figured that after 17 years of formal education plus grad school, I knew pretty much everything I would need to know about language in this life. Like many of us who were privileged to learn from excellent educators in the humanities or the arts, I was taught how to write properly and how to write persuasively. I was taught how to write poetically too, but that one didn't go as well. After I was taught how to write, I was taught how to think. Not in the brainwashed sort of way; rather, how to think critically and creatively. I was taught these skills, which are essential for success in many of our current professional realms and imperative for verbal self-expression, dissention, innovation and the creation and preservation of certain forms of culture.

But in 2016, I learned something different about language: The direct role that it plays in personal wellness, health and growth, both mentally and physiologically. It's fascinating and is a theme I intend to talk about in varying capacities in this space as it grows. Now over halfway through January, many of us having formed and some still carrying resolutions or intentions for the year ahead, the time feels ripe to begin the conversation.

I am proposing a small yet mighty task for you. You, who seeks to do something differently this year, to support yourself in a new way, to build a new habit or mode of being that is more aligned with your true self. Whether that's drinking more water or emphasizing balance in your life, increasing the amount of time you exercise, speaking up for yourself more often or shifting your relationship with money; I have an invitation for you.

The invitation is this: choose determination over discipline.

Here's the low down. The thoughts we have and the ways we speak to ourselves directly impact the things of which we believe ourselves to be capable, the decisions we make and actions we take, and our bodies' physiological responses to those ideas and actions. Our thoughts feel so ingrained and automatic that we fail to notice the authority—the choice—we have over them. In failing to notice our agency over our thoughts, we are unable to recognize how framing their language or content differently might change our lives. It is this recognition that I yearn for you to crack open.

In the pursuit of achievement, "discipline" is a word that comes up a lot. This year, I am going to be more disciplined and get to the gym five times a week. If only I had more discipline, a.k.a. self-control, I wouldn't eat that second piece of cake. I know I possess the discipline to sit through this 30 minute meditation without flinching. I need to have the discipline to practice my musical instrument every single day if I am going to nail that audition. None of these are invalid or unimportant ambitions or pursuits. But is discipline the kind of motivation that will make you feel excited, empowered and capable of getting there?

Think, for a moment, of a goal you've set for yourself this year. It can be large or small. Close your eyes, take a deep breath in followed by a slow exhale, and say to yourself, "I have the discipline to ________." Good. Now, using that same goal, close your eyes, take a deep breath in followed by a slow exhale, and say to yourself, "I have the determination to ________." Did that feel different in your body? In your heart?

Discipline, as a word, has a connotation of rigidity, sacrifice, something achieved through contracted and imposed efforts rather than ease. Determination, on the other hand, rings of purpose, positive energy motivated by a belief in the value of that which you are pursuing and an earnest drive to succeed. 

And so, I invite you to show up to that which you desire for yourself with determination rather than discipline. Set goals that hover in the sweet spot of realistic, achievable growth, so when you do fulfill them, you will feel motivated to continue recommitting to that practice. And when you slip or miss an opportunity to enact your goal, approach yourself with compassionate understanding, then gently reset your determination. There is no space for shame or guilt here; that mindset is not warranted, productive, nor kind.

I was recently discussing this linguistic distinction with a dear friend of mine, Briana, who also practices healing work. In her infinite wisdom, she extended the linguistic and energetic re-framing even further: to devotion. It's a place I'm still working towards, and I admire the heart in it. If you can show up to yourself, your intentions, and your new year's resolutions with devotion, with deep reverence for the ways in which they will enrich your life, then the energy to make them a reality is sure to materialize in ways you've never experienced before.

Language has power. Why not wield it to support ourselves in being the selves we wish to be?

Notes about the Recipe: This porridge is inspired by a divine, 5 grain porridge at a local cafe called Bartavelle. I love its robust texture and heartiness and have been attempting to sufficiently replicate it at home for the past two years. In addition to being super satiating because it is made of whole grains and seeds, which are packed with protein, fiber and healthy fats, it is also GLUTEN-FREE! Horray.

To simplify things, I've scaled the porridge down to four "grains": Quinoa, amaranth, flax and brown rice. Most of these are actually seeds, but "Sweet or Savory Seed Porridge" sounded kind of like a thing for birds...so we'll go with the common misconceptions. Quinoa is one such seed that is generally acknowledged as a grain. It is also one of the few plants that contains all 9 essential amino acids that make a complete protein. Similarly, Amaranth is a tiny seed that behaves like a grain and was a staple food of the Aztecs. It has a toasty flavor, is also a complete protein, and is rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C. Flax seeds are revered for their high omega-3 content, which is a type of essential fatty acid that is necessary for healthy functioning and can only be obtained through the foods we eat. Flax is also a great source of fiber, antioxidants and minerals including manganese and magnesium. Brown rice is delicious. And, unlike white rice, contains a hefty amount of fiber to help keep our guts and hearts healthy!

Eaten straight with no salt, this porridge is incredibly savory. When you add salt it's still savory, but tastes a lot better. I love adding a generous teaspoonful or two of melted ghee to the porridge regardless of my toppings, as its rich toasty flavor balances out the earthiness of the "grains" super well. If you don't have ghee, you can use browned or melted butter. From there, the toppings are up to you!

Sweet or Savory Ancient Grain Porridge (with Dates, Pear & Pomegranate) 
Serves two

Ingredients
Porridge
2 1/2 Tbsp. short grain brown rice
2 1/2 Tbsp. quinoa, any color
2 Tbsp. amaranth
1 Tbsp. flax seeds
generous pinch or two sea salt

Sweet
Ghee
Chopped dates
Pure maple syrup
+ Seasonal fruit toppings
Pear slices
Pomegranate seeds

Savory
Ghee or cold-pressed oilve oil
Soft boiled egg
Flaky or herbed salt
Gomasio
+ Seasonal veg toppings, if desired
Sauteéd mushrooms
Caramelized onions
Sauteéd kale

Directions
1. If you can have the foresight, soak the quinoa, brown rice and amaranth overnight (but not the flax) in filtered water with a splash of lemon or apple cider vinegar. In the morning, strain and rinse well.
2. If you weren't able to soak the grains overnight, the porridge will still work! It just won't be activated. Place the grains in a fine mesh strainer and rinse, rubbing them together with your hands to clean thoroughly. 
3. Place the rinsed grains in a small pot, add the flax and 1 cup of water. With the pot covered, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook undisturbed for 25 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat and let the porridge sit, still covered, for 10 minutes.
5. Add salt to taste. Finish off with sweet or savory toppings and enjoy!

"The Sprouty Pod": Mung bean sprouts, crunchy buckwheat, and roasted delicata squash with pomegranate, labneh, and cilantro pistou | On The Sqirl Cookbook: 'Everything I Want to Eat'

I have a habit (perhaps personality trait?) of becoming vehemently promotional of the things I love. If I find out that you have never seen My So-Called LIfe, I will likely exclaim, "WHAT?!?", take a deep breath, detail all of the reasons why it is the best television show ever created and then generously force the DVD box set upon you. I can talk for hours about the depths of my love for Sufjan Stevens, complete with commentary about why The Age of Adz is his most underrated album. If you live in or travel to Los Angeles, I will implore you to eat at Sqirl; if you aren't in its vicinity, I will direct you to their menu online—attempting to connect you with a sliver of the experience of being there.

Sqirl fills up an unreasonably large portion of my heart. Chances are, if you're appraised to current food/restaurant trends, live in LA, or know me personally, you've heard of it. If you haven't, here's a snapshot: Sqirl is a tiny, bright and booming breakfast and lunch joint on the east side of Los Angeles, which serves up some of the most playful, innovative, fresh and flavorful food I've ever had the pleasure of eating—and possibly being made in America today.

I first heard about Jessica Koslow in 2012, a year after she had started an unusual little jam company called Sqirl (as in, "squirrel away"). As a burgeoning foodie and lifetime creative who was spending my free time making things like rosemary cashew butter from scratch, I was instantaneously compelled by Jessica's seasonal and atypical jams, like blueberry tarragon and strawberry rose geranium. Not long after Sqirl got its legs, Jessica expanded it into a simple breakfast spot for people to gather and enjoy her beguiling jam in the best way possible: on toast. But not just any toast. A cartoonish-ly thick slice of locally made brioche, with the jam sometimes nestled amongst heaps of house made ricotta or hazelnut almond butter to boot. Something magical was happening here. People were starting to talk.

When I moved back to LA from London in the summer of 2013, Sqirl was on my shortlist of new restaurants to check out and possibly approach about kitchen work. Scoping it out and grabbing a bite as soon as I was able, I became instantaneously smitten. From the painstakingly handwritten chalkboard menu to my bright and flavorful spiced carrot socca pancake topped with zippy fresh greens to the barista who gave me a complimentary house made almond milk latte after I had inquired about their almond milk ingredients and process, everything about Sqirl glimmered with vibrancy, intention, generosity and love. Sqirl is generous in its portions. It is generous in its commitment to local and ethical sourcing and the farmers with whom it works. It is generous to the earth through its seasonally changing menu. It is generous in its exuberance for its community. When I met Jessica that summer and found out they weren't hiring, she generously offered to connect me to some friends who own a locally revered bakery instead. She is becoming food world famous and she still stops to say hi when we cross paths, still remembers me every time.

While I have a lot of love for the heart of Sqirl, I have just as much love for the food that Jessica and her amazing team create. Almost every element of every dish is made in house. They pander to the indulgent and the health conscious in equal measure, with equal exuberance. They draw from culinary palates and traditions spanning from Asia to California to the Middle East. They make vegetarian dishes hearty and vegetables taste amazing (not to mention their baked goods). I could not have been more excited when I heard they were releasing a cookbook. When I found out that it would be titled Everything I Want To Eat, I thought, "Yes! Duh." That statement literally epitomizes how I—and from the looks of it, many other people—feel about Sqirl. Good move, Jessica.

Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking is a strange and beautiful book. It includes recipes for every type of diet and level of culinary experience, from the complete novice to the person who literally cannot wait to beet cure her own salmon. Its images are more closely related to pop art than on-trend food photos; as the review in the New York Times notes, "The book itself looks less like a cookbook than an exhibition catalogue". 

The dish I'm sharing with you here is disarmingly delicious. You figure it'll be tasty because it's composed of a lot of individual tasty things thrown together on one plate, but then you take a bite and your brain is like, WHAT IS THIS?!? Because the way the flavors play together in your mouth, the zippy punch of the cilantro pistou clashing against the caramelized sweetness of the squash and the earthy toastiness of the buckwheat and the thick, creamy tang of the labneh is something your mouth has never experienced before. The other thing that I love about this recipe is that it can be either quick and easy or moderately involved, depending on what you feel up to. Jessica explains how to turn yogurt into labneh and dried mung beans into sprouts, but if you don't have the time, energy or curiosity for those processes yet, then just go ahead and buy some thick greek yogurt and mung bean sprouts. It comes together much more quickly than its long title would have it seem.

If you live in or are ever visiting Los Angeles, I implore you: eat at Sqirl. And wherever you are, get yourself a copy of Everything I Want to Eat from your library, local bookstore or the Internet. Take it into your kitchen and let its strange wonders into your life. And if you're pressed for time, you can always start with this recipe, right here.

The Sprouty Pod —
Mung bean sprouts, crunchy buckwheat, and roasted delicata squash with pomegranate, labneh, and cilantro pistou

from Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow
Serves 6 as a light lunch or a first course

Ingredients
Crunchy Buckwheat
1/2 cup hulled buckwheat groats

Roasted Delicata Squash
2 large or 3 small delicata squash (3 lbs total)
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cilantro Pistou
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

To Serve
1 clamshell mung bean sprouts (see the book for how to sprout your own)
1 cup labneh or plain whole milk Greek yogurt (I love and used Straus) (see the book for how to make your own)
1 cup pomegranate arils
1/2 bunch cilantro
Really good olive oil
2 limes, halved
Fleur de sel

Directions
Crunchy Buckwheat
1. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
2. Spread the buckwheat out on a dry, rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven until golden brown and crunchy, about 10 minutes.

Roasted Delicata Squash
1. Adjust the oven temperature to 425F/220C.
2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds, but do not peel the skin—it's tender and delicious.
3. Cut the squash into 2- to 3- inch chunks (I botched this direction; don't follow my photos) and set on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss with just enough oil to barely coat, about 3 Tbsp. Sprinkle the coriander evenly over the squash pieces. Season lightly with salt and a few grinds of pepper.
4. Bake until tender all the way through and a little caramelized on the bottom, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool.

Cilantro Pistou
1. In a blender, combine the garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Blend on low speed until the garlic is finely chopped and mostly incorporated into the lemon juice.
2. Cut the sprigs of cilantro right at the point where the leaves start branching from the stems. Take the leafy top part and drop it into the blender. Blend on the lowest speed until the cilantro is coarsely chopped and there are still big pieces of leaves, about 10 seconds.
3. Gradually increase the speed while you slowly pour in the oil. Once you've added all the oil, blend on high speed for 20 seconds. The pistou will be emulsified and flecked with green cilantro leaves.
*(You can also make it by hand, first chopping the garlic and herbs, then whisking the lemon juice and oil together.)

To Serve
1. Schmear 1 to 2 Tbsp. of the labneh in the bottom of each bowl. Scatter a small handful of sprouts and pomegranate seeds over the labneh, then drizzle with 1 to 2 Tbsp. of the pistou.
2. Top with a few pieces of squash, more sprouts and pomegranate seeds, and a spoonful of crunchy buckwheat.
3. Sprinkle some cilantro leaves over everything. 
4. Finish with a drizzle of oil, a final spoonful of pistou, a strong squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of fleur de sel.

Roasted Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Pickled Persimmon Tacos | On Becoming 'A Mindful Nation'

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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.

Bright Beet Hummus with Bee Pollen, Hemp Seeds and Fleur de Sel | On Cultivating Trust & Intuition

There's this great website that I was introduced to earlier this year called Mystic Mamma. It's a wellspring of wisdom, housing resources for reflection, reverence, healing, and tuning into our interconnectedness with our incomprehensibly expansive world. At the start of each month, the site offers insights about the month's energetic theme. I'm still on the fence about how deeply I believe that the themes presented, which are based on celestial phases and other such scientific/mystical readings, are actually true, but I do find them to be provocative food for thought. 

October's theme of balance does indeed feel appropriate for this time of the year, as we teeter through the seasonal shift that I was bemoaning in my last post. It's interesting to think about the myriad physical/mental/emotional/temporal/behavioral states that pepper our days, which can all be in or out of balance at any given point in time. We can easily assess our personal balance of work and play, activity and rest, social and solo time. Our energy levels and mental states send us clear signals letting us know if and when these need some adjusting. But there was one particular commentary in Lena Stevens' writing about this month's theme that really gave me pause. She shared:

Another area of balance is the relationship you have with trust and intuition vs needing to know. The need to know can cause severe anxiety when the information simply is not available yet.

As a recovering control freak/perfectionist with a highly active brain and a lot of question marks in my life, I suddenly felt like Stevens was talking directly to me. Like, Hey, Meredith, I know what's been going on in that noggin of yours and you really just need to LET IT GO. Sit with the uncertainty. Continue to trust your intuition and deep knowingness that all will be revealed and work out in time. Relax. "You will sleep better," Stevens wrote at the end of the paragraph. So damn pragmatic. After taking a deep breath and letting the all too resonant advice sink in, I couldn't help but smile.

Finding patience in the unfolding of my life and sitting comfortably with uncertainty are two of the biggest psychological shifts that I've been working on strengthening throughout the latter half of my 20s (which are, needless to say, nearing a close). Residing hand in hand with those two mental/emotional states is a strengthened trust in my intuition. The more you learn to tune into, trust and operate from the truth of your intuition, the more you will be both challenged and able to sit comfortably with uncertainty—especially if your intuition is guiding you along a path that is not what is expected (by you, your family, society, or whomever), traditionally respected, or "safe".

So how does one cultivate this trust, this radar for noticing and identifying one's intuition? And then have the courage to operate from within it? It's like a muscle. The more you flex it, the stronger it becomes. 

My personal journey with noticing my intuition started out unconsciously—compulsively, even. I found myself making choices that were potentially risky but that I absolutely had to pursue if I wanted to do more than simply survive. Moving from Los Angeles to the Bay without a job or a home and only a tiny network of friends was one such choice. That choice, that gut feeling of needing to get the hell out of LA to try and create a better situation for myself, I suppose sprung from the deep and difficult work of learning to love and value myself, even in the worst of times. It was a decision that seemed completely nonsensical—irresponsible, even—to some people in my life, but I didn't feel like I even had a choice in the matter. I trusted it. I knew it had to be done. And here I am, over two years later, making it work. Still striving for more but also so much more myself.

Another one of those "this is probably irresponsible but my gut is telling me I have to do it" decisions I made just over a year ago when I chose to leave a job at an incredible non-profit because my role and responsibilities didn't align with what I knew I truly wanted to be doing professionally. I left behind the very real possibility of a full-time job with benefits and a decent salary at an organization whose work I deeply believed in to nanny part-time (while relying on the savings I had built up to cover the balance of my expenses), practice yoga, and regroup. To figure out what it is I am truly passionate about. Reading over that sentence, I am struck by how charmed that situation sounds. Let me assure you, though: it was fucking hard. I felt so lost for the first few months. I set unrealistic goals for myself (practice yoga five times a week! eat healthily all the time! become a self-educated holistic nutrition expert!) and was unreasonably hard on myself when I wasn't able to realize them on a daily basis.

But you know what happened? With patience, self-compassion and self-awareness, things began to fall into place. That fall, I started this blog. That winter, I found out about and enrolled in an entrepreneurship course for wellness practitioners. I began to practice meditation on my own for the first time. I slowly developed some clarity around the content that I want to engage with personally and offer to the world. I met the friend with whom I devised and facilitated my first food and wellness workshop this past August. I am woefully strapped for cash but I am discovering how resourceful and resilient I am. Above all, I am becoming ever more grateful for all of the things that make my life full, in spite of its hardships, and trusting of the way the details unfold.

Ultimately, that's one of the most valuable qualities that I have cultivated throughout this journey, and that I wish for all of you: trust. That's not to say that I don't feel disappointment or frustration or anxiety, or that I don't obsess about the outcomes of any variety of efforts I make, whether personal or professional. But that's where the balance comes in. Knowing when to push for something and when to let go. Trusting that, if I've acted in ways that are aligned with my intuition and my true self, the outcomes will be in service of me and my wellbeing, even if I can't immediately see how. And in the meantime, practicing being fully present and accepting of things as they are. Trusting that they will change or reveal themselves when they are ready, when I am ready. When the intentions and efforts that I have put forth and the mysterious flows of the Universe synchronistically collide. 

So, I made some hummus. And I put beets in it because who doesn't want to eat food that is beautifully and naturally bright pink?! Also, some may argue that it makes the hummus extra delicious (and undeniably extra nutritious). I originally assembled this hummus for its glamour shots in a bowl with some minced parsley, swirls of olive oil, and the company of crackers and crudités, while snacking on some leftover brioche that I had in the freezer from an earlier project (because photographing food whilst hungry is dangerous business and I do not recommend it to anyone). The styling and shots were mediocre at best. As I glanced over at the leftover toast, the synapses in my brain fused together its playful shape and pallid palette with the fuchsia hue of the hummus, imagining the eye candy taken even further by the addition of bright yellow pellets of bee pollen and greenish white hemp seeds. Suddenly my party appetizer dip turned into a breakfast toast that was visually suggestive of white cake with pink frosting and sprinkles! 

Sometimes it's good to shake things up a bit. Trust your intuition. Sneak vegetables into your breakfast. Make your food look like a party because it engages your creativity, it's a simple pleasure, it makes life more fun. If you don't have bee pollen or hemp seeds, don't sweat it. Sprinkle some other things that you do have onto this toast and see how they taste. Or stick with the classics and eat the hummus with crackers, cucumber sticks, pita, whatever. Either way, you'll still be eating a food that is delicious, super nutritious and bright frickin' pink, so at the very least you can marvel at that!

Bright Beet Hummus with Bee Pollen, Hemp Seeds & Fleur de Sel
Serves 6-8 as a starter, or enough for many mornings of toast

Ingredients
Hummus
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (from about 3/4 cups dried chickpeas, cooked following this method)
2 medium beets
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tahini, preferably unhulled
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed (from about 1 large lemon)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. ice water

Toppings (get creative!)
Bee pollen
Hemp seeds
Fleur de sel, Maldon or other finishing salt
Parsley
Mint
Toasted walnuts

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Chop stems off beets, scrub thoroughly and wrap beets in tin foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast until they are tender and can easily be pierced with a fork, 45-60 minutes. Carefully flip beet parcel over halfway through the roasting to make sure the bottoms don't burn. Once they're tender, remove from oven, unwrap foil and set aside to cool. (You can do this step a couple days in advance.)
2. Place cooked chickpeas in a food processor (if you're using canned ones, make sure you rinse them off first!) and blitz until they become a stiff paste. You may need to start and stop it a few times to scrape down the sides with a spatula until the desired consistency is reached.
3. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, use your thumbs to push/slide off the skins. Chop them into medium sized cubes.
4. Add beets to food processor and blend until thoroughly combined with the chickpeas.
5. Add tahini, lemon, garlic and salt and blend until combined, stopping to scrape down the sides when necessary.
6. With the motor running, slowly stream in the ice water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, stopping after 4 Tbsp. Let the food processor run for about 5 minutes, until the hummus is super smooth and creamy. Taste and assess the consistency and flavor. If you'd like it thinner, add more ice water. Add more salt, lemon and garlic to your taste preference and blend until smooth.
7. Garnish with whatever fits your fancy and enjoy!

Summer Stone Fruit, Cherry Tomato & Chickpea Tabbouleh | On Mindful Eating

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.

Tahini Honey (Halva) Macaroons | On...Tahini

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.

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!