Black Sesame Tahini Banana Bread

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Banana bread is an American staple. A big time comfort food. Un-fussy, un-pretentious and utterly delicious. But also, it’s basically cake.

This banana bread is not basically cake. It’s whole grain, higher in protein than usual (thanks almond flour! thanks tahini!), and has an incredible crumb and depth of flavor from the tahini…which I’m beginning to be convinced should be added to every baked good ever.

I feel very passionately about tahini. Don’t love it? It’s probably because you’re buying tahini that is mechanically ground, which most tahini is these days. This results in a bitter taste—which is not tahini’s inevitable fate! I encourage you to seek out stone ground tahini, which is the traditional processing method. This results in a suuuuper delicious, not at all bitter, eat it straight from the jar tahini. You’ll also want to make sure to get whole sesame (dark) tahini rather than hulled (light) tahini. This is also harder to find, but well worth the search, as it contains much higher nutrient values than tahini made from sesame seeds that have had the hull—the outer shell—removed. THIS IS MY FAVORITE BRAND. (Sorry, emphatic.) If you’re curious to learn more about tahini processing and nutritional values, check out my post here.

I made and photographed this tahini banana bread over Labor Day and took it to two potlucks that weekend…where multiple people from each gathering asked me for the recipe. Just saying. In case you needed any more convincing. :D

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Black Sesame Tahini Banana Bread
Makes one 9"x5" loaf or two mini loaves
Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

Ingredients
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or spelt or regular whole wheat if you can't find the white varietal)
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds (or brown), plus more for sprinkling
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup muscovado sugar (unrefined brown sugar)
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. tahini
4 ripe bananas, 3 mashed & 1 sliced lengthwise

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line a loaf pan with parchment. Set aside.
2. Mix flours, sesame seeds, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.
3. In a separate medium bowl, mix coconut oil and sugars together until the sugar begins to dissolve. Whisk in egg and vanilla extract until mixture is smooth and thickened.
4. Add tahini and the mashed bananas to the wet ingredients. Stir until thoroughly incorporated.
5. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet. Gently stir together until just combined (it's okay if the batter is a bit lumpy).
6. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle additional sesame seeds on top, then place the two long slices of banana on top, cut side face up. Push them down into the batter so they settle a bit.
7. Set pan on baking sheet (it's easier to pull out of the oven this way). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about an hour.

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.

Rye Berry, Blood Orange, Pistachio & Herb Salad | On Being Political & Showing Up for Yourself

I think it's fair to say that America is pretty unrecognizable right now. We see the reality of this moment mirrored in history books, familiar to us through stories we’ve learned about America’s less than commendable past. But this is not—surely cannot be—our America. 2017 America. Except each day we wake to find that it is. And that the America that many of us embraced in the past eight years, celebrated even, we now know that we’ve also taken for granted.

As the baffling, fear and hate based edicts continue to pour in, we are being mobilized into action because we must be. This is not a time for complacency.

I often feel conflicted about how much I should or even want to talk about politics here, because this is not a space designated for political analysis or commentary. Rather, it is a space that is dedicated to the vulnerable, courageous discussion and generation of personal wellness, in myself and hopefully those of you reading. But here's the thing: valuing wellness in a culture that predominantly values consumerism and professional success is, in fact, political. 

This blog is implicitly political because it is personal. And yes—the personal is political. As a woman who refuses to be a doormat, I am inherently political (even in 2017). As a person with a uterus, I am inherently political. As people who fundamentally believe in equality, we are inherently political. It is time that we all acknowledge the magnitude of this fact and, like thousands of Americans are doing each day, start to show up. We must begin to show up for our country, for our inhabitants who are being put in positions that resemble those that many of our ancestors were horrifically subjected to, and we must begin to show up for ourselves. Believing in and valuing equality is not enough today. We must put our money, our phone calls, our bodies, our emails, our art and our writings where our mouths are.

I’m interested in this act of Showing Up on a deep level, far beyond its relation to politics. I'm interested in what it means and looks like for each of us to show up for ourselves in the smallest and most profound ways, every day.

Showing Up is an act that becomes a mode of being. In America, we are often taught to show up for other people: to be generous, kind, caring, reliable, and honest in our relationships, whether they are personal or professional. But rarely, if ever, are we taught to show up for ourselves. When was the last time you got home, sat on your bed, took a deep breath and said yourself, “Hey self, whom I love so deeply, how was your day?” How frequently do you take a deliberate moment to tune into the communication from your muscles and organs to see how they’re doing and what they need; to notice the state of your mind and see if it's yearning for some some meditation, poetry or journaling to help it relax and reset; to check in with your heart and receive the information it has ready for you as soon as you’re willing to listen?

This, my friends, is self-care. This is Showing Up. Placing deliberate attention onto your mind, body and emotional states to ask, with curiosity and tenderness and without judgment, how you are doing and what you need. Showing Up means slowing down enough to make choices that align with your best interests and your truest expression of self rather than choices that align with the ways you have historically operated. It means asking yourself if you're doing something out of habit or conscious awareness; out of fear or trust. 

I will be the first to admit that pausing to take a deliberate breath and directly addressing yourself can feel anywhere from mildly awkward to downright ridiculous, especially if you've never done it before. But you know what? Its impact is huge. Saying a wholehearted "Good morning!" to yourself upon waking makes you feel acknowledged as a being and sets a distinct tone for your day. Taking a deep breath and a moment to tune into your levels of hunger before you nose dive into a bag of chips or cookies at the end of a stressful day at work, only to realize what you really need is a warm bath or some serious sleep, is a giant expression of self-love and care. Placing a hand over your heart and gently saying, "I love you, it's okay" after a perceived failure or argument can make all the difference in the world. We are conditioned to seek care and support from others, but this is the most incredible, most resourceful thing: What we need is ultimately ours to give ourselves.

There's a poet named nayyirah waheed whose writings routinely stop me in my tracks. She has an unbelievable way of expressing the deepest truths of life in the most raw yet gentile ways. In one of my favorite poems, she writes:

there is you and you.
this is a relationship.
this is the most important relationship.

— home

If America is ever going to change—which I believe it will—it is imperative that we start with ourselves. We cannot authentically teach trust, love, kindness and acceptance if we are not actively trusting, loving, kind and accepting of ourselves. Our energies vibrate, our opinions of self are palpable, we teach by example. The road ahead is long. It is going to be trying and surely disheartening. But we are resourceful and we are many. If we begin to truly value and tend to ourselves, we will be so much better equipped to show up in this world as beings to be reckoned with.

Notes about the Recipe: As I became an increasingly adept cook and found myself eating a disproportionate amount of meals out of bowls, I began to develop an expanded definition of the word 'salad'. To me growing up, and to many still, a salad was a plate of greens that maybe had some other vegetables thrown in. To me now, a salad can be made of greens, grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, herbs, nuts and seeds. Basically, as long as whatever you're eating is mixed together, it's a salad. This is one such dish—reliant more on grains than greens and completely satisfying as a meal in and of itself.

The kernels of whole grains, for some reason, are called 'berries'. Wheat berries, rye berries, spelt berries...these are not bizarre gain-fruit hybrids, but the complete edible kernel of the unprocessed grain. You cook whole grains just as you would rice, but they won't absorb the water as much. Soaking your grains overnight in water with a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon will help unlock their nutritional benefits and make them easier for you to digest after they are cooked. Whole grains are a fantastic source of fiber, often have significant amounts of protein and are quite chewy and satisfying to eat. Rye is particularly high in magnesium, a mineral that helps regulate the body's use of glucose (blood sugar) and insulin production. In helping control blood sugar, rye has been shown to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. I chose rye berries for this recipe because that is what I had on hand, but feel free to sub them for wheat berries, spelt berries, or whatever whole grain you're curious to try out!

Drawing from winter citrus and aromatic Middle Eastern flavors, this is a bright salad for cold months. If you particularly like tart or biting flavors, feel free to throw in some olives, preserved lemon or thinly sliced red onion, too.

Rye Berry, Blood Orange, Pistachio & Herb Salad
Serves four

Ingredients
Salad
1/2 cup rye berries, preferably soaked overnight
1/2 cup pistachios, de-shelled, lightly roasted if they're raw, and roughly chopped
3 blood oranges
1/2 bunch mint, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch chives, minced
1/4 cup sheep's feta, crumbled

Dressing
1/4 cup cold-pressed olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice, fresh squeezed
1 tsp. coriander, ground
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
zest of 1 blood orange

Directions
1. Rinse the rye berries. If you soaked them, strain and rinse them. Put in a pot with fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, 25-35 minutes.
2. Zest one orange and place zest in a jar with the remainder of the dressing ingredients. Shake vigorously to emulsify and set aside.
3. Peel and segment the oranges. Cut each segment into thirds and set aside.
4. When the rye berries are cooked, strain, pour into a large bowl and then immediately toss with half of the dressing. (Grains and legumes soak up flavors much better when they're warm.)
5. Add the herbs, half of the pistachios and oranges to the rye berries and gently mix. Sprinkle the remaining pistachios and feta on the top of the salad (or on top of the salad on each individual plate). 

Salad can be enjoyed warm or cooled. Keeps for 4-5 days, but I would keep the feta separate if you're able.

Browned Butter & Spelt Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies | On Wisdom, Ritual & Grief

Last night, as I slept, I turned 30.

Beginning in my late teens, whenever anyone asked me my age, I would follow the number with the essential addendum, "...but I feel like I'm 30." It wasn't that I was a particularly old soul or anything, I have just always possessed a certain level of maturity that made me feel ready for all the things I imagined adulthood would be. No drama, stable relationships, a fulfilling career, self-assuredness. You know, the simple things. 

As far back as I can remember, I have been eager for the ways of being that filled my heart to match my reality, to have my life catch up with my desires for myself. 

There are moments now, sometimes a beautiful and robust string of them, when I feel wise. But it is an entirely different wisdom than I had imagined adulthood would bring. I don't feel wise because I have all my shit together or because I embody all the qualities and circumstances that I assumed come neatly packaged with 30 years on this Earth (which I definitely don't). I feel wise because I have begun to understand and accept the uncertainty of life. I lean into what feels right without knowing or having grand expectations of where it will lead. My life looks absolutely nothing like I imagined it would at this stage. Nothing. But instead of the deep distress, depression and resistance I responded to that with in my mid-20s, I have come to a place of trust in and patience with the unfolding. It's a kind of wisdom I couldn't have comprehended when I previously dreamed of 30 because I hadn't yet lived enough to know it would be necessary.

I have been feeling an internal storminess the past few weeks, waves of deep grief crashing against the yearning to acknowledge and celebrate personal milestones. A significant birthday. The 1 year anniversary of this blog. Holding that, while consciously and purposefully sinking into a space of darkness. Honoring the lives of the 36 people who died in the horrific Ghost Ship fire in Oakland on December 2, two of whom were my friends. Grieving, sometimes deeply and sometimes shallowly yet always presently, over the incomprehensible travesty and unfairness of their loss of life and our world's loss of their presence in it. 

I feel my breaths differently since they died. 

Em and Donna were such beacons of light. They were unfailingly warm and vibrant people. Genuine and generous, inquisitive and unassuming. A poet and a healer. It is still so incomprehensible that they are gone. The fire took the lives of college students and elementary school teachers, musicians and publishers, activists and filmmakers. People devoted to our communities, to showing up in our world as their authentic selves. There is no sense to be made of it. My heart breaks every single day. 

As people gathered across the Bay to grieve and honor the lives of Donna, Em, Johnny, Kiyomi, Griffin, Hanna, Vanessa, Benjamin, Edmond, Micah, Nicole, Alex, Michela, Ara, Jennifer, Jason, Draven, Joseph, Peter, Barrett, Jonathan, Billy, Alex, David, Travis, Sara, Brandon, Cash, Nicolas, Riley, Chelsea, Jennifer, Amanda, Wolfgang, Michele, and Nicholas, I began to think about ritual. As I began to think about celebrating the 1 year anniversary of this blog in this space and celebrating my 30th birthday in physical space, I thought about ritual even more. The reasons why we gather and commemorate. Honor and draw particular attention to a thing. To acknowledge. To create meaning. To remember. To cherish. To heal. 

It's important. It makes us feel connected, feel valued. It helps us articulate our humanness, together. 

These are my favorite chocolate chip cookies. Share them with people you love and tell the people you love that you love them. Breathe deeply. Be kind. Create beauty in the world, whatever that looks like to you. It's been a hard year. We all need it.

*Note: These are, in fact, the best ever chocolate chip cookies...and you should trust me on that, because I've baked a lot of chocolate chip cookies in my life. For many years, I was in search of a recipe that would yield a cookie with as much heft as those you get at fancy bakeries, with crispy edges and thick, gooey middles. After conducting some aggressive research, I found out that melted butter results in crispy cookies, whereas creamed butter results in thicker cookies. SO! The secret trick is to melt half the butter and cream half the butter, which gives you the best of both worlds. And as long as you're melting the butter, you might as well brown it, right? I also threw some spelt flour into the mix because I am physically incapable of baking things without at least 50% whole grains. In addition to a nutritional boost, the spelt lends a nice earthiness to the cookie, which balances out its sweetness. I have tested these babies on at least a dozen people, from California to Indiana, from 12 year-olds to 90 year-olds (and the 30 year-olds in between), and they have all given them a resounding endorsement. Not that I should have to convince you to make cookies, right? 

(Best Ever) Browned Butter & Spelt Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Makes 16

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks, 16 Tbsp) butter, softened
1 cup muscovado (unrefined brown sugar)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup superfine raw cane sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup spelt flour
1 + 1/4 cup unbleached All Purpose flour
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup dark chocolate discs, or chopped from a bar
Maldon or other flaked salt, to sprinkle on top

Directions
1. Place 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) in a small pot and set over medium heat, swirling the pot semi-frequently to prevent burning. Continue to heat the butter after it has melted. It will begin to foam, eventually clear and start to turn amber. At this stage, you will see little brown specks form and stick to the bottom of the pot. As soon as there is a collection of these browned specks, remove the butter from the heat and transfer it to a small bowl, browned bits and all. Be attentive with this; it can go from browned to burned very quickly!
2. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed (or with a vigorous arm), whip the remaining 1/2 cup softened butter with the muscovado sugar until fully creamed, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract.
3. Once the browned butter has cooled a bit, add that and the cane sugar to the mix and beat until whipped, about 2 minutes.
4. Beat the egg into the mixture until fully incorporated, and then the egg yolk. At this point the batter should be smooth and much lighter in color.
5. In a separate large bowl, mix together the flours, salt and baking soda.
6. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet batter and mix at a low speed until just incorporated. There can still be a few bits of flour peeking through. 
7. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and gently mix in the chocolate chips with a large spoon.
8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge and forget about it for 1-2 hours.
9. At this point, the dough should be firm enough to make into balls. Scoop out 2 Tbsp. of dough and smoosh together into one hefty dough ball, then place in a large tupperware. Repeat with remainder of the dough.
10. Refrigerate overnight. 

11. When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and lay out 6 dough balls, spaced evenly apart. Sprinkle each ball with a pinch of Maldon or other flaky sea salt.
12. Bake until firm and golden around the edges but still a touch undercooked in the middle, about 12 minutes. It is important to take them out of the oven before they are fully baked because the residual heat from the tray will continue cooking them once they're out! No one likes a dry cookie.
13. Cool completely on baking sheet. Then, finally, enjoy!