Blistered Snap Peas with Miso Butter

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In all honesty, this is kind of a non-recipe—which is often what summer calls for, when produce is bountiful and flavorful even with little to no preparation. It’s a recipe for those times when you’d rather be outside than in your kitchen, or taking your kitchen outside (to the grill).

This recipe is simply charred snap peas slathered in miso butter—which is miso paste mixed with butter. Simple, simple, simple but whooooa is it delicious. I made it in a cast iron pan because I don’t have a grill, but if you do have a grill, go ahead and throw the snap peas in a grill basket and go to town. It’s the perfect appetizer for a low key evening of entertaining or side dish to a weekday meal.

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Blistered Snap Peas with Miso Butter
Serves 4 as a starter or 2-3 as a side

Ingredients
1 lb. snap peas, woody ends cut off
3 Tbsp. room temp butter, organic and pastured if possible
1 Tbsp. sweet white or mellow yellow miso paste
flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions
1. If you have a grill, place the snap peas in a grill basket and grill until blistered. If not, heat a cast iron skillet on medium high. Place a third of the snap peas into the skillet and, using tongs, spread them out so that each snap pea is touching the surface of the pan. Cook until blistered, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other side for 1 minute. Repeat with remaining snap peas.
2. In a small container, cream the miso together with the room temperature butter. You will have leftovers (you're welcome).
3. Take a generous spoonful of the miso butter and slather over the warm snap peas. Finish off with a generous pinch of flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Whole Grain Blueberry Apricot Olive Oil Cake

It’s summer cake time! Light, sweet and brimming with fruit, this cake is perfect for all your snacking and/or summer potluck needs.

In addition to being delicious, this cake has relatively few ingredients, is 100% whole grain and is ridiculously easy to make. It is adapted from this Rhubarb Almond Crumb Cake, which I made for a BBQ last weekend and wasn't totally happy with. I loved the consistency (white whole wheat flour is the WAY TO GO with whole grain baking), but it was overly almond-y and the rhubarb was too sour for my taste. Because I am a perfectionist and because I left that entire cake at the BBQ couldn't handle not having any leftovers for myself/my housemates, I remade it the next day with a few adjustments. Olive oil instead of butter because olive oil cakes feel fancy and are delicious. Apricots and blueberries because SUMMER FRUIT!...that isn't rhubarb. Half the amount of almond extract because balance. I wasn't even planning on sharing it on the blog (hence the lack of process photos/still lives of fruit), but it came out so damn well that I knew I had to.

So here we are!

Whole Grain Blueberry Apricot Olive Oil Cake
Makes one 9" cake

Ingredients
2 eggs
1 cup raw cane sugar
1/2 tsp. pink or sea salt
1/4 tsp. almond extract
6 Tbsp. cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (the flavor will come through in the cake, so quality olive oil is encouraged!)
1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour (this is a variety of wheat that is lighter than traditional wheat. You can find it at Trader Joe's or in bulk sections of some health food stores)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup fresh blueberries
4 apricots, sliced into 1/8" thick wedges
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9" round baking pan and line the bottom with parchment. Set aside.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or with a vigorous arm), whip together the eggs, sugar, salt and almond extract on medium-high speed until light, fluffy and nearly doubled in volume, about 5 minutes.
3. Mix in olive oil.
4. On a low speed, mix in flour and baking powder until just combined.
5. If using a stand mixer, remove the bowl. Gently fold in blueberries by hand. 
6. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. It will be quite thick; use a spatula to even it out on top.
7. Starting in the middle of the cake, create a spiral with the apricot wedges. Sprinkle the sliced almonds around the perimeter of the cake.
8. Bake for 75-80 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.

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.

White Peach, Fresh Corn & Shredded Kale Salad | On Coming Home to Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Nutritional information from WHFoodsMindBodyGreen, & My New Roots

White Peach, Fresh Corn & Shredded Kale Salad
Serves 4

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

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