Vegan Turmeric Eggnog | On Navigating the Holidays

turmericeggnog.jpg
spices.jpg

The first blog I wrote, back in 2012, was entirely about food. About the nutritional properties of certain foods and how eating (primarily plant-based) real food facilitates vibrant health. Three years later, I birthed Pollinate with every intention of following the same through lines here. Yet as I grew older and began to weather the personal, professional, physical and emotional storms that adulthood can and often does bring, I learned one of the most important lessons that I’ve yet gleaned in my life:

It doesn’t matter how much healthy food you eat; in order to be truly healthy, you must first and foremost have a healthy relationship with yourself.

And so, my focus shifted.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot these days, as I navigate all the sweets and parties and stressors that have come to typify this season for most of us. The “temptations” that abound and the internal dialogues we have about them—about our allowances of or denials of or relationships to them. How many of us succumb to indulgences, feel badly about it for one reason or another, and then feel compelled to cleanse or deny ourselves certain foods in January to compensate; how the initiation of the new year is always marketed to us as an opportunity—or mandate, really—to develop the “new you”, as if the versions of ourselves who existed previously were faulty, lazy or somehow not enough.

In her weekly newsletter a couple weeks back, Molly Goodson, the co-founder and CEO of the SF women’s club The Assembly, shared what she dubbed an “Anti-guilt guide” for the holidays. The simplicity and lucidity with which she articulated her thoughts struck a chord with me:

Wellness is a tough word because it conjures up one set of behaviors, when in fact it is the intersection of the pieces. Some days the wellness I choose is prioritizing socializing over fitness. Some days it's knowing what I need and going to class instead of the party. This time of year, many days it's eating the damn cookies and going to the event and missing the morning run.

Instead of feeling guilt, feel ownership. The things you choose to do with your time are your wellness. If you continue to check in with your own energy and make the small adjustments to keep that in a good place, you are doing enough. Truly. You know you, so listen to that.

What if we each found space to embrace our choices and accept the non-linear way that wellness looks on a day to day basis. It's a big picture and you're always moving forward. 

Whatever you choose for December to look like — with workouts, with eating, with resting — let's try to take the guilt out of it. The world is heavy enough, so be easy on yourself. 

nutmeg.jpg
eggnog_ingredients.jpg
pour.jpg

I loved not only the gentle urging in Goodson’s words for us all to be easier on ourselves, but also the implicit presence in the whole thing. That in order to make choices, without guilt, of what we are to do, we must be actively present with ourselves. Attentive. Mindful. Showing up to the ebb and flow and particular asks of each moment.

I am reminded too, in these times of heightened obligations and opportunities for self-judgement, of one of my favorite descriptions of self-compassion. As described by writer and healer Daphne Rose Kingma:

Self-compassion is a series of choices, a moment by moment conscious turning away from that which will harm your spirit toward that which will nourish and sustain you.

It is choosing, in any particular situation, and over and over again, whether you’ll treat yourself well or beat yourself up; whether you’ll deny yourself or treat yourself as lovingly as you’d treat your child or your most precious friend.

Self-compassion means looking at yourself with kindness, with a conscious awareness of your sufferings, and in time, with a deep appreciation for the way you have transformed them.

And so, in addition to a delicious and stealthily healthy recipe for a favorite seasonal treat, I offer you here a reminder to be gentle with yourself, now and always. To relish the season and the joys—edible or otherwise—that come with it. To cut yourself slack and not feel obligated to say yes to everything. To cultivate wellness in the myriad and unique ways that it looks for you.

Wishing everyone a joyful, delicious and relatively stress-free holiday season!

eggnog_areal.jpg

Notes on the recipe: I had the pleasure of co-developing this recipe for a project at work and got to make and share it with our entire team (definitely snag Navitas Organics Turmeric Powder and Cashews for this if you can; they’re amazing quality—and I’m not just saying that because I work there!). Eggnog has loooong been a favorite of mine, but since becoming health-aware and vigilant about checking the ingredients in processed foods, I steer pretty clear of the stuff sold in grocery stores (which is, most often, full of junky ingredients). The added bonus about this recipe is that it is vegan—so everyone can enjoy it—and is refined sugar-free without compromising any of the thick, luscious texture or sweet, nutmeg-y flavor! The taste of the turmeric is subtle but adds a bright golden color and anti-inflammatory benefits, which certainly never hurt this time of year.

Vegan Turmeric Eggnog
slightly adapted from Will Frolic for Food
serves 2-3

Ingredients
I Cup raw cashews, preferably soaked 4 hours 
4 Medjool dates, pitted
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg 
¼ tsp. cinnamon 
¼ tsp. cardamom 
¼ tsp. turmeric powder
¼ tsp. vanilla extract or paste 
pinch of sea salt 
grind of black pepper 
3 Cups water, hot but not boiling 

Directions
1. Add all ingredients to a high speed blender.
2 Blend on low and then increase to high until smooth and creamy. Garnish with extra cinnamon or nutmeg. Enjoy!

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.

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.

Kabocha Squash & Miso Hummus | On Overhauling Thanksgiving

Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't bat an eyelash at seeing some roasted squash hummus on a Thanksgiving table (yes, even if it had miso in it). Growing up, my family always made pretty traditional items for Thanksgiving: smashed sweet potato rounds hidden beneath a thick blanket of singed marshmallows; overly soft green beans tossed with store bought, oven refreshed bread crumbs. It was as All-American as All-American gets. The first Thanksgiving I shared with my family after living abroad for two years and falling in love with food, I made this amazing, bold, and very Middle Eastern dish of roasted butternut squash and red onions with tahini, parsley and za'atar for the Thanksgiving table. Some members of our party were skeptics, but the undeniable deliciousness of the dish won them over. (I also, after quite a contentious argument, persuaded my parents to make the stuffing with whole wheat instead of traditional white bread. They may remember differently, but I'm pretty sure no one noticed.)

It's a hard time to be an American, for many people, right now. It's a hard time to celebrate what this country stands for. A hard time to even know what this country stands for anymore. (Though truthfully, we've always been a divided nation, although not always one so blatantly shameful.) It's also, for many, a hard time to feel grateful. The weight of a Trump administration is a frightening and heavy weight to bear.

When I first brought distinctively un-American flavors to the Thanksgiving table it was because, quite frankly, I thought they tasted better. But now that choice is striking me as a subtle political act, too. Not that it needs to be, by any means. I'm just curious about the metaphor that could rest within such a gesture of cultural diversity and inclusivity at a gathering in which we express thanks for our nation, our abundance and independence.

Instagram, food blogs and official food publications have been awash with Thanksgiving related recipes for days, if not weeks. I'm a little late to the game—but hopefully not too late for you to consider including this Kabocha Squash & Miso Hummus as part of your feast (or as a starter before the main event). I made this hummus for the Rosh Hashanah dinner I hosted at the beginning of September—the Jewish new year, another celebratory gathering of family and friends—and literally at least three of the ten people who attended asked me for the recipe. If it doesn't end up making the final cut for this Thanksgiving, that's totally chill. It's hummus, so you are literally justified in making it whenever you want (or whenever winter squash is available).

The cool thing about making things from scratch that you often buy at the store—like beans, salad dressings, or hummus—is that once you know the formula and process, you can get really wild with your flavors and mix-ins. Winter squash, chickpeas and tahini are a no-brainer together; the secret, wow-factor ingredient here is definitely the miso.

Miso: Your New (Probiotic) Secret Weapon Flavor Bomb

Miso, probably most familiar to Westerners in the form of miso soup, is a traditional Japanese paste made when soybeans, barley and/or rice are fermented with a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae. After hanging out with the fungus in a very dark spot for some months or years, miso is born and we get to reap its many benefits. If you hate kimchi (like I do), miso is a great fermented ingredient to incorporate into your diet. (I also encourage you to incorporate it into your diet even if you like kimchi, because it is far more delicious [subjective opinion] and far more versatile [objective fact]). As a probiotic, it helps support digestion and maintain (or enhance) the health of the bacterial flora in your gut—which is super important in our overall health! Additionally, miso has a unique blend of salty, sweet and umami (savory) flavors, which makes it an awesome staple ingredient to add depth of flavor to vegetarian cooking.

Because miso is a probiotic food, it should be stored in the refrigerator and never boiled or heated in the oven—else the live, active cultures, enzymes and nutrients will be decimated. For this same reason, be sure to buy organic, unpasturized miso paste when you shop for it. Miso comes in a variety of flavors or colors depending on its ingredients and the length of its fermentation process. Varieties range from "white" to "dark brown," with the lighter colors leaning towards a more mild, sweet flavor and the darker colors being more salty and pungent (you can get a complete guide here). Because of its lighter flavor, I find the sweet white or yellow miso to be best in recipes where no heat is involved, like dressings and dips.

Kabocha Squash: Butternut's Cooler Cousin

I had never heard of Kabocha squash until I worked at a farm-to-table online grocer two years ago. Once I first learned how to say "kabocha," my mouth could no longer articulate the word "kombucha". (I've since been cured of that particular affliction.) Once I first baked it, my taste buds refused to let me cook butternut anymore. It is somehow just a bit richer, a bit denser, a bit sweeter, and a bit more flavorful, cumulatively creating the most amazing winter squash experience I've ever had. To be fair, it is a pain in the ass to peel and cube. But if you are puréeing a squash for any reason, kabocha is the way to go. (And if for some reason you are unable to find kabocha at the market, you may sub Butternut in this recipe.)

Of Japanese origin, kabocha squash finds common ground with its winter squash kin as one of the most substantial sources of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene in our entire diet. These carotenoids are primary antioxidants, which help fight free-radicals in our bodies and have anti-inflammatory and immune supporting properties.  

Suffice to say that between the protein packed chickpeas, calcium and omega rich tahini, chock-full-of-probiotic miso and carotenoid crazy squash, this is one health supportive dip. I don't know whether it's a good or bad thing that no one will be thinking about how healthy it is when they taste how delicious it is. But hey, both nutritional health and real food flavor are small yet mighty things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving...even when our world feels like it's falling apart.

 

*Sources: SF Gate, My New Roots & WH Foods.

Kabocha Squash & Miso Hummus
Makes enough for a small crowd

Ingredients
Hummus
1 cups cooked chickpeas (from about 1/2 cup dried chickpeas, cooked following this method) (If you don't have time to cook your own, canned are fine. Just rinse them off first!)
2 cups kabocha squash purée, from one large squash
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup tahini, preferably unhulled
1/4 cup sweet white or mellow yellow miso, organic & unpasturized
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed (from about 1 large lemon)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
6 Tbsp. ice water
oilve oil, to finish

Maple Sesame & Pepita Sprinkle
2 Tbsp. raw, unhulled sesame seeds (brown or black)
1 Tbsp. raw pepitas
1 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. pure maple syrup
pinch salt

Directions
Hummus
1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Carefully cut the kabocha squash in half horizontally. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Smear a dab of coconut oil or ghee along the rim of each side.
3. Place both halves of the squash face down on the baking sheet and bake until tender, about 40-55 minutes. You will know it's ready when the top of the squash has deflated/collapsed in on itself. Once done, remove from the oven and carefully flip upside down to cool.
4. Place cooked chickpeas in a food processor and blitz until they have formed a stiff paste. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times.
5. Once the squash is cool, scoop out the flesh and measure out two cups. (If you have any left over, it's great to add to porridge or waffle mix!) Add the two cups of squash to the food processor and blend with the chickpeas until thoroughly combined.
6. Add garlic, tahini, miso, lemon, and salt. Blend until thoroughly combined.
7. 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.
8. To serve, spread in a bowl or on a plate and garnish with quality olive oil and maple, sesame and pepita sprinkle.

Maple, Sesame & Pepita Sprinkle
1. Pre-heat toaster oven or big oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix together all ingredients.
3. Spread mix in an even layer onto parchment paper. Bake until fragrant and slightly browned, 15-20 minutes.
4. Let cool completely before handling or tasting. It will be very hot straight out of the oven and not completely hardened yet!

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

taco_vert.jpg

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.

Spiced Delicata Squash, Lentil & Pomegranate Salad

 

To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence. It is, in fact, seriousness that closes itself to consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility. To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility.  - James Carse


Three and a half years ago, I started playing with food. I didn't see it as play at the time; I simply needed to feed myself and was growing tired of my daily rotation of eggs, fried rice and frozen fake meat (I know, I know. What can I say?). One day, compelled by a force I cannot identify even now, I found myself scrolling through the recipe index of Smitten Kitchen. Skimming past countless dishes that sounded complicated or completely off-putting to my ridiculously picky palate, I eventually came across one that lit my brain neurons ablaze: a salad of spiced squash with lentils and goat cheese. A vegetarian dish with cheese, plant protein and nary a green vegetable in sight?! This I could get on board with.

The following day, I gathered the ingredients and laid them out on the kitchen counter. Had the trusty recipe by my side. Grabbed a knife, centered the butternut squash on the cutting board and…totally froze. How the hell was I supposed to open this thing!? After passing through a brief yet incapacitating moment of bewilderment, I did what any resourceful person who grew up in the digital age would do: ran upstairs to my room, grabbed my computer and typed, "How to cut a butternut squash" into YouTube. Needless to say, this turned out to be a successful research tactic.

While certainly clunky at times, the rest of the process was manageable. I didn't chop my finger off, didn't scorch the squash. I assembled the finished elements together and sat down at the table for the moment of truth. Took my first bite and…OH MAN, WHAT?! It was SO DELICIOUS. I was flabbergasted. Not only that the recipe was supremely tasty, but that I had made it. With real, whole foods and spices. With a knife and an oven and boiling water. Completely from scratch. I couldn't recall a time when I had felt simultaneously so accomplished, surprised, and simply satisfied.

Suffice to say that that was the beginning of it all. The obsession, the learning, and ultimately the play. I buried myself in recipes, spent all my free time in the kitchen, became acquainted with seemingly endless ingredients and techniques. I learned an entirely new language and eventually gained the confidence to experiment freely with those tools myself. 

And so, here we are. Food on the counter, fingers on the keyboard, camera in hand. Just a few more ingredients for possibility and for play.

LET'S TALK LENTILS!
Alright, enough with the story telling. Let's get our knowledge on.

In spite of their compact constitution, lentils are a nutritional powerhouse and help keep balanced many of our bodies' essential functions. Their small size makes them a great legume to cook from scratch because they don't require the overnight soak that many more hefty pulses do (although if it crosses your mind in time, soaking any grain/legume/nut/seed overnight is always great to aid in easier digestion and increased absorption of nutrients). 

Like most legumes, lentils are an excellent source of protein, constituting a whopping 26% of their calories! One cooked cup provides our bodies with 18 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of fat and zero cholesterol—a claim I've never heard any protein-rich animal able to make. Choosing protein sources with these drastically lower amounts of fat and cholesterol mean great things for our heart health and help prevent major diseases, including cancer.

Most of us learn at some point in our young lives that fiber is that thing we should include in our diet to help our bodies eliminate waste regularly. But why is that the case? Structurally, fiber is a complex carbohydrate that our bodies cannot digest. It is divided into two distinct types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, which is absorbent, soaks up water and other bodily fluids to create a gel-like substance that grabs bile (which is filled with cholesterol) and shuttles it through our digestive system. Insoluble fiber helps bulk up the waste and keep us regular. The exciting news about lentils is that they contain significant amounts of both! 

While keeping our digestion and elimination flowing smoothly, the soluble fiber in lentils is also significant in that it helps stabilize our blood sugar levels and provides long lasting, slow-burning energy. This energy boost is also aided by lentils' hefty dose of iron, which is a key player in transporting oxygen to all of our bodies' tissues. This consistent flow of oxygen is a huge part of what keeps us alive!*

Suffice to say that while this delicata squash and lentil salad is crazy good for you, you should mostly make it because it's super delicious. Chock full of seasonal produce, fresh herbs and warming spices, it will surely bring a playful twist to your winter table.

 

*Nutritional information culled from The World's Healthiest Foods; SF Gate; and Web MD.

Spiced Delicata Squash, Lentil & Pomegranate Salad
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
Salad
1 cup de puy lentils
1 pomegranate, seeded
1 delicata squash, large
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 cup arugula
1/3 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
sea salt & ground pepper

Dressing
3 Tbsp. cold-pressed olive oil
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Method
1. Preheat oven to 425°F / 218°C. 
2. Cut the ends off the delicata squash, slice in half length-wise, and scoop out and discard the seeds. Slice the two halves width-wise into 1/4" half moons.
3. In a roasting tray or on a baking sheet, toss the squash with coconut oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Spread the squash out so that each piece is laying flat on the tray and none are overlapping.
4. Place squash in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until the bottom sides are nicely browned. Flip each piece over and cook until the other sides are equally golden, 10-15 minutes.
5. While the squash is roasting, rinse lentils and pick out any stones. Place in a pot and fill with water 2" above the lentils. Bring water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until lentils are soft but still toothsome; mushy lentils make for a very sad salad! Taste them after 12 minutes and gauge the remaining cooking time from there.
6.  Once the lentils are cooked, strain out the water and season with salt to taste.
7. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously.
8. In a large bowl, combine arugula, pomegranate seeds, mint, and lentils. Toss with the dressing. Gently fold in squash and serve warm.