Beneath the surface, a manifesto.

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Years ago in the thick of my disordered eating days, I regularly frequented a forum on the Runner’s World site in which runners would post their daily meals. I participated a bit, but I mainly monitored what these people ate and compared my own meals to theirs. It was a terrible habit that led to nothing good. There were a few runners in other forum topics that deemed this “Nutrition and Weight Loss” forum a breeding ground for all the eating disorders to proliferate. To an extent, I agreed, as there were many runners recovering from and/or struggling with eating disorders who collected their meals there and I could see it was mostly a terrible place for me to frequent.

 

I’m remembering this now as I reflect on my seemingly lifelong troubled relationship with food, my body, control, and ultimately comparison. When I wrote a few months ago about my eating disorder and the idea of restriction, I shared that I have no food rules, no off-limits items (other than gluten and dairy for allergen reasons), no black and whites. I meant what I wrote.

 

But I need to air out a big elephant looming in the room which I get asked about, weekly. I had a hamburger in May at my niece’s birthday party, a bit of pork loin the weekend before at my in-laws, and a short handful of meals with meat since at the homes of friends and family, and even at our own table as William had been requesting that I cook a roast for weeks and I recently gave in. I didn’t necessarily feel like eating any of those meals but not wanting to be the weird, offensive one, hungry and standing out eating only fruits and vegetables, I partook. Some of those meaty bites were just fine when I stopped thinking about them, but in others I actually had to coach myself through eating.

 

Way before I began my disordered eating, I had issues with meat and beef in particular. Being raised on a ranch, my parents making their livelihood in cattle, beef is what is and has always been for dinner. Being the oddball in my family from the get-go, I never really developed a taste for it. Ground beef in particular has always been a struggle and there were many meals that became ordeals growing up. In my family, it was protocol to sit at the table until the plate and glass were empty. I inevitably always got to the end of the hamburger gravy and the milk in my glass, only when I had drained all the tears, spent all my stubborn rage, and finally plugged my nose and got on with it.

 

Throughout the years since, I’ve gone through phases of eating and barely eating meat. I attempted to be vegetarian during the days when I was avoiding foods with substantial fat and calories. Along with a few other foods, I put all meat into an off-limits category, with the idea that if I cut out an entire food group, I would not eat as much. Later, I left the country a couple times and rarely ate it because it was expensive. In the year that William and I lived apart, I barely ever cooked it. During the periods when I either actively or passively ate less meat, I did not miss it. Most of the times that it was reintroduced, it was because it was just there, our cultural norm, or I thought it was needed for a balanced diet. It was also the first food group that I was commanded to add back in to gain weight and for this reason alone, it will likely always have a lot of stigma attached.

 

For whatever reason in the last 18 months or so, along with the onslought of refiguring myself out that I’ve been dealing with, the idea of meat has become more of an issue again. Like when I was young, I’ve stopped enjoying the flavor and texture. A couple of months ago, I started noticing my reaction to when people ask me if I eat it, as they often do. I was emphatically answering yes, as in oh yes, definitely, of course; just not too often as I really like vegetables. I have been saying this as if I’m pleading with them to accept me as not that weird. Lately, I’ve been taking a back seat mentally in these dialogues, watching my thoughts and cataloging what is going on. After further reflection and digging beneath the surface, these experiences have me realizing a few things:

 

I realize that when people don’t like a food, they usually don’t make a big deal out of it. They just don’t eat it. And when they are allergic or intolerant to something, they don’t treat it as if it’s a nasty disability to be hidden. I tend to do both because I fear being an inconvenience and different. (Ironically, I have a giant individualistic streak and I like being the one doing my own thing.) I’ve spoken to William often about this and he always tells me, Look, there are foods I don’t like. And I don’t eat them. It’s okay if you don’t like meat. Just don’t eat it. His words are incredibly encouraging because I’m the one who decides what we eat most evenings and I’m especially thankful he’s okay with (mostly) foregoing it nightly and can enjoy it at meals we don’t share, or on days when he or we eat out. I am aware more than ever of where my mind goes in desiring to create “rules” to live by, to make me feel like I’m somehow in control of my circumstances. I have needed both to continue testing out meat periodically to see what the deal is mentally, and to hear William’s affirmations. More than the still-lurking-beneath-the-surface-fear of many social situations with food, I fear fixating on foods and unnecessarily labeling them good or bad. Doing so was the primary characteristic of my disordered eating days and I have no desire to retrace that path again.

 

Several months ago, I started reading Gena Hemshaw’s Green Recovery Stories on her blog, Choosing Raw. Gena is vegan and the green recovery stories are shared by women who have healed their relationship with food and recovered from eating disorders by adopting a vegan lifestyle. Mostly, their reasons center around reaching beyond themselves to find compassion for animals. I grew up showing and raising animals for meat and still feel substantially connected with the farming and ranching community. This closeness to the source of my food has me feeling differently than most of the ladies on Gena’s blog.

 

After reading many of the stories, however, I realize that I did find a similar eating lifestyle which ended up being a direct route to the beginning of healing my struggle with food. In the throes of this messed up relationship, when I feared every kind of fat and sugar and food of caloric significance, I recognized how distant I had become from the producers. Having grown up on a ranch and studying agriculture as a degree, this pained me but I could not seem to get out of it. At some point in my junior year of college, when I set out to expand my horizons by learning as much as I could about the different types of food production and farming methods, I learned of Alice Waters and Slow Food. A transition began. Shortly thereafter, I left the country and while abroad, the process was expedited due to the farm-tour-type classes and experiences I took, and the significance and national pride in eating local food that I witnessed in much of Ireland’s traditional eating patterns. After returning home and finishing school, I took the entirety of the monetary graduation gift I received from my grandparents and I went off to a cooking-farm-school for a week in remote, northeast Washington. I picked up a girl I’d met via email on the way and we carpooled the nine-hour drive, getting to know each other over Indie music and mutual interests in food and farming. That week–a week in which we began the day milking the goats, harvesting the produce for breakfast, making cheese and wood-fired, slow-fermented sourdough bread among other things–stabilized much of the healing process that had begun with learning the philosophy of Alice Waters and experiencing Ireland’s food culture.

 

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Growing food is incredibly difficult work. I admire all farmers. But the more I learned about all types of food production, the more I resonated with biodynamic and sustainable agriculture. It made absolute sense to me that the truly exceptional farmers focus on the soil and let the soil feed their crops. This was a slow and gradual learning process and as such, my diet and lifestyle habits changed quite gradually. The more I learned about and respected the process of food production, the more I have steered towards eating whole, minimally processed, and sustainable, organic, locally-produced foods. Making what the land around me can produce in each season the bulk of what is on my plate has been central to healing this broken relationship and can be summarized into one word: consciousness. The more farms of all types that I got my feet and eyes and hands on and into, the more I read of this book and then slowly over-hauled my diet, the better my relationship with food and my body became. I began to change my paradigm of “never” foods. I could sit down to a meal and eat without a thought for calories or nutrients or where on my body that food was going to end up. I instead focused on the flavor and on the process of what it took to get it to my plate. How many hands helped in getting it to my table? What kind of life did those people live? Would I be proud to produce that kind of food if I were the farmer? If not, why was I then supporting it as an eater? Essentially, this is the ethos of Slow Food–eating food that is good, clean, and fair. Recognizing the finite resources we take for granted and the impact of every one of our consumerist choices, learning more about the connection between the microbes in our soil and in our bodies and their subsequent impact on our health–these learnings have had a powerful impact on my recovery process. There is now much more to my relationship with food than “what’s in it for me.” And so, my diet has ended up being more or less vegan without putting particular intentionality to it since being vegan is not my focus. The more I learn of myself, the more strongly I feel that I should not be eating meat right now. I do eat eggs on rare days when they sound good but I often bake without them because it is difficult–and I enjoy a good challenge. I like honey. I am constantly learning and adapting. I make exceptions.

 

When I shared a big piece of my history a few months ago, one of my best friends reached out to me about being able to process and share a tough experience. She told me I was inspiring to her and to many others. Her comment meant a lot because I don’t feel like my relationship with food is one that anyone I know can relate to or draw inspiration from. Most of the time, I feel like the black sheep at the party and I want to go hide in a corner or politely decline social situations involving food. I don’t think it should have to be this way. It is okay to have different ideas and different preferences. It is okay to be the one person in the room that is eschewing social norms for their own sake. In fact, these types of people are the change makers in our society that I’ve so often looked up to. I’m sharing all of this today because perhaps there is truth in my friend’s statement. Perhaps there is a little part of my experience that can be an inspiration and sharing can make someone else’s uneasy relationship with food and body image a little less messy than my own.

 

When I look at where I was years ago and where I am now, I am so incredibly grateful that I can largely enjoy days and weeks of meals with little guilt, few negative thoughts, and almost non-existent calorie counting, nutrient tallying, and labeling of good, bad, and off-limits items. I feel entirely comfortable going home to visit my parents, knowing they will be supportive in whatever decisions I make and whether or not they agree. I’m also able to take eating day by day, loosening up a little and being less in control, and developing significantly less anxiety when eating meals prepared by others, especially when they are not the meals I would make for myself.

 

At the end of the day, I love food. I love conviviality, I love cooking for and sharing meals with others. I loved them before I ever knew what a calorie or a nutrient or a “superfood” was. I also really dislike hiding. Getting this all down makes me realize I’m incredibly close to being able to eat exclusively on my own terms, to care less about what other people think–and stop comparing–to just eat what makes me feel satisfied, roll with the phases life brings, and live a little.

 

Perhaps sharing my experience is not what was meant by the being-an-inspiration comment from my friend. Regardless, I think we can all be a little better off for caring less about normalcy and fitting in and more for being true to the one person we get to live with constantly–ourselves.

 

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Tomatoes, Basil + Peaches, on Toast. serves 2-3

This is the simplest of summery dishes, which can be thrown together in a flash and enjoyed with some sort of protein to make a full meal. We are getting nearly to the end of the peach season here, but if you can find tree and vine-ripe peaches and tomatoes from a local source, the difference is magical — and worth the wait until next season once they are gone! 

1 peach, thinly sliced

2 large juicy tomatoes, sliced

a small handful of basil leaves, finely diced

a pinch of salt and ground black pepper

1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 Tbs. balsalmic vinegar

whole-grain, gluten-free bread, toasted (or good slices of whatever you prefer)

  • Combine the sliced peach and tomates with the basil in a large bowl.
  • Measure in the balsamic and olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Stir to combine, and then spoon atop, crusty toasted bread.

Roasted Zucchini + Tarragon Soup

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I have a loose policy that for every new purchase of clothing or books that comes in, at least the same number of clothes or books must go out, to be sold or donated. I generally purchase only books that will be used over and over again and I tend to check out those of interest at the library first, renewing them repeatedly until the library decides it is time to give another person a turn. Then– often–I won’t purchase the book, thinking someday instead, and I’ll get back in the hold queue and repeat the process until it is practically my personal copy anyway.

 

Somewhere in between being a teenager with aspirations of growing up to live in a giant house and drive a fancy vehicle, I veered sharply in the other direction and wound up aiming for minimalism instead. Clutter and “things” make me cranky. Whenever relatives call and ask if we would like an item they are getting rid of, I default to no. If the item is used only once a year or so, it is no longer worth the space and headache.

 
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Yet, I fail daily in keeping clutter to a minimum. I leave stacks of books in every room. Despite my library-tendencies, there are three fairly large and overflowing bookshelves in our small apartment and nearly all of them ‘belong’ to me. When I take a giant stack in to sell, I purchase two more with the profit instead of taking the change. There are clothes, too, in the closet which have not been worn in years, and in the kitchen, I aspire to make simple meals, letting the flavor and the freshness of our garden produce shine through. And then I go and make every meal (every meal folks!) overly time-consuming, with something like five or more steps and at least one appliance/gadget for each one. I almost went to culinary school. Twice. Given my affinity for recipes that should require several sous-chefs and an industrial dishwasher to boot, one would think I actually did. And if you can’t tell, I tend to overcomplicate just about every little thing I turn my focus onto.

 

I’ve been attempting (and struggling with) less steps and ingredients in meals lately, and mentally beating myself up about it. After listening to the most recent Pure Green Podcast episode, I realize I resonate so greatly with Jonathan MacKay’s style of cooking and food philosophy. Jonathan, the food editor at Pure Green Magazine, says,

I like food to be simple and complex at the same time. Complex because the textures and flavors are layered, but simple because they are practical to make and easy.

Listening to Jonathan share this and many more valuable tidbits made me realize I need to take a deep breath and stop trying so damn hard–in all aspects of life. It is okay–and often essential–for there to be many steps to make a great meal. It is okay for there to be a tension between leading a simple life and a complex one. It is okay to have more than I need, but infinitely less than I desire. It is just fine to embrace clutter and at the same time, strive to minimalize the accumulation of things.

 

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Roasted Zucchini + Tarragon Soup, serves 4-6
This zucchini soup is a double-remake of an old family favorite. I’ve revamped the original to make a simple gluten-free and vegan version that has a tangy cashew cream stirred into the end to round out the flavors and provide healthy fats. True to me, I added another step by roasting the zucchini rather than simply cooking it on the stovetop until soft. The result adds a nice complexity that is well worth it and makes for a soup which rivals my memories of the original. This soup is a great way to use up larger zucchini that have gotten out of hand, and fits right in with the August Recipe Redux theme of getting ‘back to the dinner table’ after the busy summer season. Growing up, we tended to slurp zucchini soup all summer long, but since this summer has been such a cooker, I’ve had little inclination for soup until now. I know we’ve at least a month left of true summer, but the winding down of longer days and the gear-up for school starting in a couple weeks makes it feel as if the season is basically over. We are nearly into my favorite time of year when all the late-summer harvests are colliding with the onslought of fall flavors, but until then, I’m holding onto these slower summer days and enjoying the bounty they bring. 
 
12 cups chopped zucchini
3 cups vegetable broth
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. fresh tarragon, minced
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
1-3 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
 
  1. In a large baking dish, toss together the chopped zucchini, garlic, and onion. Roast until soft at 400 degrees F, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
  2. In a large pot on the stovetop, bring vegetable broth to a simmer. Slide roasted vegetables into the broth, add salt, tarragon, and pepper, and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld slightly.
  3. Transfer squash mixture to a blender and blend in batches until smooth. Return to the pot and bring back up to a low simmer.
  4. Drain the soaked cashews and puree with lemon juice and water in a food processor until completely smooth. Add enough water so the mixture is slightly thinner than paste consistency.
  5. Stir the cashew cream into the zucchini soup, taste, adjust seasonings as necessary, and enjoy!


Summer Socca, Grains of Sand

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Saturday night I stood in the ocean, letting the frigid Pacific rush at my toes and then tug with an invisible powerful force back into the sea. I watched that tide pull a million grains of sand from their resting place, scattering them back into the depths and I thought, My life is sand. And then a silent whisper, Let it go.

I stood there until time seemed to stop, and then gently, finally, I let the tide pull and scatter and let land my intentions to become what they will.

 

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Afterwards, William and I shared bento bowls at a little hole-in-the-wall with ‘world beat cuisine,’ live music, and skulls and wisdom inked in crayon across the walls. We sat at the bar which was really a table with the waitress sifting through orders a half-arms-length from me, and I shared–with tears welling to the corners of my eyes and fingers desperately hugging a cup of ginger tea: I wish I had a timeline. That’s the hardest thing. If I just knew that I’d feel better in three weeks or three months or three years, it would be easier. The unknowing, what even tomorrow will bring, is challenging. My entire life, I’ve had a plan; I’ve had a timeline. It is terrifying to have intentions without all the usual signs that I’m moving toward them.

 

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Recently, I fell apart in my doctor’s office. She asked how I was doing and as I tearily told her about my anxiety and the fear, indecision, unknowing, and how I’m used to having my life figured out and put together, she calmly responded in her sincerest voice, Oh, Rebecca, you have it sooo together. 

At the time, I couldn’t see what she meant. I couldn’t see that even being able to recognize the internal and external chaos and responding to it –healthfully– is having it together, is being on the right track.

 

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Eleven months ago, I had a message come very firmly in prayer: The lesson is in the unknowing. I thought about that message for weeks and months afterwards, trying to wrap my head around what it meant for me, as if it were a foreign code to be deciphered. I’ve lived that message daily in all the months since, and as I stood in the ocean Saturday night, I was reminded that letting go has to happen repeatedly, daily, until doing so becomes inherent as the grains of sand letting the water scatter them back into the ocean.

 

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When you begin to pay attention — I mean center your attention, turn off the chattering mind, get present and really tune in to your environment — you begin to realize that even the tiniest observations, events and exchanges can carry meaning…To put things in perspective, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I have found myself in a metaphorical canoe without a paddle – unsure where I was being directed and just surrendering to the current, present and open to what might come downriver and proceeding only on intuition, instinct and faith…It’s always and without fail exactly where I am meant to be. I know this to be true because every time I peer into my rear view, it always adds up. Good or bad, the math is inevitably perfect.      – Rich Roll

 

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Summer Socca with Grilled Eggplant, Smashed Tomatoes, Olives + Basil, makes 2/serves 4

When I’m feeling all out of sorts, one of the ways I get grounded is by spending time in either the garden or at the Saturday market, ‘talking shop’ with my favorite farmers, and then subsequently cooking up a delicious meal with the results of the bounty. The speckled eggplant above is the Listada de Gandia, a French heirloom. Socca too, is a French ‘pancake,’ made of chickpea flour. It is infinitely simple and serves as a perfect base for grilled summer vegetables. Toss together a little salad of greens, a light dressing, and perhaps a fistful of cooked grains to round out the meal. 

Socca:

1 cup chickpea flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

a dash or two of black pepper

1 cup water

olive oil, to coat the pan

 

Garlic-Basil Oil:

1/4 cup olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbs. minced fresh basil

 

Toppings:

2 small eggplants, sliced into thick rounds

4-6 large tomatoes

14-16 Kalamata olives, diced

2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil

Sea salt

  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper, and then water. Whisk until you have a smooth batter. Set aside while you make the basil oil.
  • In a small dish, combine the olive oil, garlic, and basil.
  • Heat an indoor grill (or outdoor grill, if you have one and a grill basket for the vegetables.)
  • Rub the whole tomatoes with a light coating of the olive-basil oil, and set them on the grill whole. Cook until they are soft and slightly charred. Remove and set aside to cool for a few minutes. With fingers or a pastry brush, lightly brush the oil mixture on each side of the eggplant rounds. Grill for about 4 minutes and then flip and grill the other side, until slightly soft. Remove and once slightly cool, cut each round into quarters.
  • Tear or lightly chop the tomatoes into smaller chunks and set them in a fine-mesh strainer in the sink to drain lightly, if they are quite watery.
  • Heat a large skillet on the stove over medium heat and lightly brush the bottom with oil. Pour in half of the socca batter and tilt the pan to distribute it evenly. Cook for about five minutes, until the bottom is browned and comes away easily from the pan, and then flip to do the same on the other side. Repeat with the remaining socca batter.
  • Remove the socca to a serving platter, brush the bottom with the remaining garlic-basil oil mixture, making sure the basil and garlic are distributed evenly, and then top with the eggplant, tomatoes, olives, and remaining basil. Sprinkle lightly with coarse sea salt and serve.

The Pittsburgh Salad

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The summer before my senior year of college, I took a leadership class required for my degree. Our main text was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and from it we created a personal mission statement as one of our first assignments. I created a poster-size version of my mission statement at the time and I’ve since carted it around from home to home, always finding a special place to make it visible. This morning, the poster fell off the wall and I picked it up, re-read those words and realized, despite the distance of years, I would not change a single thing about the mission I crafted for myself that summer.

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I was gently reminded in re-reading that no matter my fears and unknowns, if I’m living my mission, I’m on the right track.

  • Listen to God. Live His plan.
  • Be active. Think healthy.
  • Cherish family. Do small acts to support positive, loving relationships.
  • Be a role model. Help others to achieve personal success.
  • Be a supportive and giving friend.
  • Appreciate nature. Do small tasks to ensure long-term ecological health.
  • Live in the moment. Right now. Enjoy it!

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Have you created a personal mission statement? If so, what is on it?

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The Pittsburgh Salad, serves 2 as a main dish

Last week, I was in Pittsburgh for a nutrition educators’ conference. It was the first time I had traveled long distance in years, spending several days with neither car nor kitchen, and I wondered how I would find the food options given my dietary constraints and vegetable-heavy tendencies. Within a few blocks of the conference, I discovered not one but two AMAZING salad bars. Normally, when I envision a salad bar, I think of Subway without bread–iceburg or romaine lettuce concoctions with pale tomatoes, dry shredded carrots, processed meats, and sketchy dressings. This was not the case. There were a gajillion freshly prepped and creative toppings to fit all sorts of eating preferences and lonnng lines out the door around lunch time. I found myself returning three days in a row because I only wanted to eat these salads. Without further going on about my hippy-dippy affinity for kale, quinoa, and beets, I’ve reconjured a variation of my favorite Pittsburgh Salad. Enjoy!

2 cups chopped kale

2 cups mixed greens

1/2 cup cooked and cooled quinoa

1/2 cup finely diced raw beets

1 medium yellow zucchini, chopped small

1 medium carrot, shredded

Grilled Tofu (below)

1/4 cup Honeyed + Spiced Pecans (below)

2-3 Tbs. Honey-Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette (below)

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the greens, quinoa, beets, shredded carrots, grilled tofu, and pecans.
  • While the grill is still warm from the tofu, toss the chopped yellow squash in the container that the tofu marinated in, gently moisten with the remaining marinade, and slide onto the grill. Cook until just beginning to soften, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from the grill and toss in the salad bowl with the remaining ingredients.
  • Toss the salad ingredients with the desired amount of vinaigrette and serve.

Grilled Tofu

6-7 oz. extra firm tofu

1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

3/4 tsp. honey

1 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika oil (or  use a mild-flavored oil and a dash of smoked paprika)

  • Wrap the tofu block in several sheets of paper towels and set on a cutting board near a sink. Stack several heavy objects on top to press the extra water out, and let sit for 30-45 minutes.
  • Unwrap the tofu and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  • In a glass container with a lid or tupperware, gently mix the vinegar, honey and oil. Toss the tofu cubes into the marinade, close the lid, and shake to coat. Marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  • Heat a stovetop grill, slide tofu cubes on, and close the lid. Grill until char marks begin to form, about 4-5 minutes. Quickly turn the cubes to grill the other side and cook for 3-4 minutes more.

Honeyed + Spiced Pecans

1 1/2 cups raw pecans

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

pinch of cayenne powder

pinch of dried thyme

1 1/2 tsp. olive oil

1 tsp. honey

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread pecans on a large baking pan and roast until fragrant, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool slightly.
  • In a small bowl, combine salt, thyme, pepper and cayenne.
  • In the baking pan, drizzle the pecans with oil and honey and toss well to coat completely. Sprinkle with the spice mixture and toss again.

Honey-Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 Tbs. honey

2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs. whole-grain mustard

1 Tbs. finely diced fresh basil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small container and shake to mix thoroughly.

A Race, A Pep Talk + Mid-Summer Notes

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A couple weeks ago I ran a little 5k race. William was running a half marathon and I decided rather than feeling sorry for myself and being a poor spectator and cheerleader, I would do an easy run as part of the 5k. I knew doing so would be difficult because I love competitions and races are normally a time to test myself. I knew I needed to treat this “race” like a different kind of competition—a competition to test whether I could be in a race situation and do the smart thing for me right now, which is to go slow and easy because of my injury. I also knew that I needed and wanted to look after more than myself, that I needed a greater purpose than simply willpower as a way to achieve this. I set an intention to encourage others throughout the race.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t feel like an adequate cheerleader. I prefer boosting others by offering an insightful encouragement in a private, one-on-one setting. It is discomforting to offer public encouragement and during this particular three mile jaunt, I couldn’t actually bring myself to do it. Instead, I was torn between feeling like everyone was incredibly slow, resulting in me wanting to yell at them all to get their asses in gear like our local high school football coaches, and one of silently urging them to do better, to keep it up, and to not give up. Meanwhile, I kept passing people. Thus, in between the already conflicted mental “encouragement,” I was competing with an internal voice which kept saying, If you were being stupid, you could have gone out at the front and won this 5k without a single speed workout in seven months. This was a truly powerful feeling to know and acknowledge the experience of being competitive was there for the taking if I wanted to, though at the expense of my injury and healing.

In the past, I greatly struggled with self doubt. I still do to an extent but not in the same way I did then. I felt unworthy to achieve my goals. I’ve had multiple discussions in the past about focusing on the big picture—not screwing up the overall trajectory in a single workout for the fun of it—and I’ve really struggled with this too. I have especially struggled with it these last few months because my feet get sore hours after a run is completed and stay sore for several days, making it especially difficult to gauge whether I’m pushing them too hard until the damage is done. Since that week of the race, they have been especially sore, and I’ve had to drastically cut back on running.

I want to run longer, faster, and harder than I have been able to. I want to pour my all into a run again and feel my lungs burn. I want to test my ability to compete with my mind when it is at the point of giving up. I want to mentally smash through the wall of disbelief in self that I had in the past and put every rough day I’ve had in this down-period behind me by breaking through to the other side in a tough run. In short, I want retribution for these months of inactivity. I want to feel badass a couple times a week by doing a good job at a hard effort. I like difficult. I like fast. I like adrenaline. I like competing with myself.

Last fall, I was doing exceptionally well at the mental side of running. During a training cycle, my favorite runs are track workouts. I look forward to them each week and I see them as an opportunity to train my mind more than I do as a way to get faster. I was able to get into a place during many weeks where I could push through every self doubt that came my way. I had mantras. I had a vision. I had the experience of giving up in past races that mattered, which I channeled, and I envisioned playing it smart and tactical throughout each repeat until I needed to give it my all in the final ones, just like in an important race.

Throughout these past few months, I’ve used this same track workout tactic a couple times to get through rough days or random push-up sessions. Realistically, I should use the tactic more right now when I need to take it easy, to cut short runs or not even begin them and rest instead. Rather than get caught in the downer mood of “not getting to”, I can focus on the big picture. I can channel being smart and tactical. I can use my visioning to push away mental doubts. Like the end of a track workout, it is mentally tough to focus on my overall trajectory and think about why I run as a lifestyle, rather than give up on my future goals and run today just to say I did. Ultimately, I run not to kick ass at a small town 5k without training and not to go as hard as possible consistently until I grind myself into perpetual injury. I no longer run to fearfully manage my weight or body image. I run because it feels as imperative to my health and happiness as brushing my teeth, showering daily, and smiling at strangers. I run to experience the joy of connecting to Jesus, of actively-meditating, and getting away from my anxious, overanalyzing mind.

Because I’m an achiever and a competitor, there will always be much joy in working toward faster, better, and stronger. This isn’t going away. But I recognize that in all pursuits we go through trials and low-points. We get tested in ways we didn’t foresee and we struggle with doubt not only in whether we can achieve our dreams, but whether we can even attempt them. This is okay. It means the dreams matter.

I’m going to end by sharing two statements/mantras that inspire me to keep going and I hope will be of use to others:

There is a quote plastered to my day-planner from a random Rich Roll podcast which says, You have within you the ability to realize anything you desire; otherwise you wouldn’t desire it in the first place. This statement is my go-to reminder every time doubts creep in. Some days, I have to employ it over and over again to cancel out the fear-based self talk.

I’ve been carrying around a water bottle boldly printed with the mantra, Head up. Wings out. It reminds me daily that the fight, the flight, the journey, the attitude employed in each and every step along the way is more important than the outcome. Pursuing happiness daily and overcoming the moments of doubt, worry, and our own selves keeping us “stuck” are actually the big achievements.

In whatever you are working on these days–whatever you are hoping for or doubting you can accomplish–know that we all are far stronger, far more capable that we give ourselves credit for. Keep your head up. Keep your wings out. You get the opportunity to wake up each day and begin again. Focus on your overall trajectory. Experience the journey. I believe in you. And I finally believe in me too!

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And with that, here are a few meals and long and short reads, listens, and watches that I’ve been enjoying lately.

Eating: All the recipes from Sprouted Kitchen Bowl + Spoon, but these are my favorites so far!

The Hippie Bowl

Marrakesh Carrot Salad

Lentil Tapenade

Slivered Vegetable and Soba Salad with Mapled Tofu

Roasted Tamari Portobello Bowl with Tahini-Kale Slaw

– The Last Meal Salad

and other recipes that are divine:

Grilled Zucchini + Radicchio Salad with Arugula, Cherries + Bourbon Vinaigrette

Fava Bean Hash Pan from Vegetarian Everyday

Spiced Millet Pilaf with Beetroot + Mint Pesto

Coconut + Fennel Tart

Toast in other places:

Mushrooms + Garbanzos on Toast with Cider + Thyme, my recipe was a Community Pick months ago on Food52. Recently it was also featured in their round-up of 17 toasts. For the summer months, I’ve especially been enjoying Zucchini Toasts, Cashew Ricotta + Dukkah.

Currently Reading:

Skippy Dies. This book reminds me why I love great literature. I’m nearly through it and super excited to discover Paul Murray, who is about to release a new novel.

Vegetable Literacy. This is the cookbook that I sit down and read for hours on slow summer weekends. It then inspires me to go take care of my garden.

Running with Joy. I’m still re-reading Ryan Hall’s training journal day-by-day and finding lots of insightful faith-related takeaways.

Short Bits:

Running and Yoga. Yoga has been my go-to on non run days. I don’t know that it is truly helping my foot, but it is definitely my best mental cross-training in lieu of running.

Listening to:

The Rich Roll Podcast. There were some really great episodes these last few weeks. Or maybe I’m going through a phase.

Light Bits to Watch:

Runners Racing the London Public Transportation. I love these types of videos. If ever there were an opportunity, I’d so like to race public transportation and I practice daily with the stairs vs. elevator at work. ;)

Runners talking About Running. A short video that reminds me why I’m glad there are more runners at my work than aspiring magicians!


Zucchini Toasts, Cashew Ricotta + Dukkah

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Sometimes, I’m surprised to realize how long ago I began this blog. It began as a little project to collect thoughts and share recipes shortly after I graduated with my undergrad degree, an entire six years ago. Much has changed since then, both on the blog and in life, but one thing that has stayed the same is my fervent and on-going affinity for the freshest, most-local, seasonal produce. Though there is a slightly deeper reason for this than simply liking vegetables, I’ll save that topic for another day. Instead, today’s post is for The Recipe Redux and the theme is Fresh From the Garden Produce.

Thanks to my mother who has the greenest of thumb(s), I was privy to garden produce from the very beginning. What came along with the garden were numerous lists of chores, which inevitably were put off until the heat of the day and the fear of not having them done when my parents got home were at their peak. The worst chore was picking green beans and I never have particularly cared for them, possibly as a result of being haunted by memories of spending “hours” picking in the hot sun. Realistically, I’m betting my attention span was less than 30 minutes.

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The best of chores was devouring the hourds of zucchini that came from our garden. We often ate them in two ways; one in a variation of this cream of zucchini soup (which I soon shall be giving a facelift for less dairy and gluten), and two, drenched in flour and egg and fried to crispy golden french-toast-like rounds. Every person in the family loved these meals, and to my recollection we all loved zucchini in general. Since my parents had the joy of raising three hot-headed, disagreeing, and violent-toward-each-other, orange-haired children, it’s a wonder that we all could agree on anything!

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To this day, I absolutely love zucchini. It is the simplest of plants to grow and goes every which way into summer meals. Lately, I’ve been grilling it up on the stovetop grill with a coating of dukkah, spooning it atop toasts spread with a cashew ricotta, and watching it disappear faster than my plants will produce. (Crazily enough, this is possible.)

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Zucchini Toasts, Cashew Ricotta + Dukkah, serves 2

If you go ahead and pick up store-bought staples like bread and dairy-based ricotta, and make or buy the dukkah ahead of time, these toasts make for a very quick and simple meal. If you like to do everything or prefer a vegan ricotta, I’ve included recipes for all the fixings below. Dukkah is one of those super-easy-to-make seedy, nutty, spice mixtures that packs a serious punch in the flavor department and amps up the flavor profile of simple meals. It is Egyptian in origin and a suitable (although certainly different) substitute in this recipe could be za’atar, if you have that on hand instead. This book is my favorite source for truly great gluten-free bread. I made the 100% Whole-Grain Batons for these toasts and their slightly heftier density and crust worked out perfectly.

Cashew Ricotta, see below

2 Tbs. Dukkah, recipe below

1-2 Tbs. whole-grain or dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. salt

2 medium zucchini, chopped into smallish squares

1-2 tsp. olive or coconut oil

4 slices whole-grain bread (a denser, baguette type works particularly great)

additonal dukkah to coat zucchini and serve

  • Mix the 2 Tbs. dukkah, mustard, and salt into the ricotta. Set aside.
  • Toss the chopped zucchini with a spoonful or two of additional dukkah and oil. Grill on a stovetop grill until slightly soft and charred edges begin to form, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from grill.
  • While zucchini is grilling, lightly toast the bread slices and then slather a bit of the ricotta mixture atop each one.
  • Then, pile zucchini atop the toast and ricotta, sprinkle a dash of additional dukkah on top, and serve.

Cashew Ricotta

1 cup cashew milk (or any other non-dairy milk)

1/4-1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

pinch of salt

3/4 tsp. agar powder

  • In a medium saucepan, stir together all ingredients.
  • Very slowly, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  • Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for five minutes or until agar is dissolved, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from heat and cool for about 10 minutes. Then, transfer to a sealed container and place in fridge until set, a few hours.
  • After the mixture is set, transfer it to a food processor and pulse until you get the desired consistency.

Dukkah, adapted only slightly from Vegetable Literacy

1/2 cup hazelnuts

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup coriander seeds

2 Tbs. cumin seeds

1 tsp. fennel seeds

several pinches each of dried thyme, marjoram, and oregano

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • In a saute pan, toast the hazelnuts and seeds until fragrant and lightly colored, about five to eight minutes. Then pour onto a plate to cool.
  • Once sufficiently cooled, transfer the nuts and seeds to a food processor. Add the herbs, 1/4 tsp. salt to start, and pulse until the mixture is roughly ground but not yet paste-like. The goal is a fine but still crunchy textured mixture. Taste and add additional salt, if necessary, as well as a few pinches of black pepper.


Beet Hummus

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I have a spirit vegetable; one for each season.

 

In the late summer, it is the blackest purple eggplant, with streaks of white for good measure, like the Prosperosa. Into late autumn and winter, I fall for winter squash, and I sway between the dramatic orange Red Kuri in those early months of the season, and the thin-skinned Delicata as the new year and deep winter approaches. As the soil warms in the early spring and makes for dramatic growth day by day, the sweet, tart, crimson rhubarb calls my name.

 

And in the heart of summer, when all the likely candidates wave their yellow-flowered flags before popping fruit upon fruit endlessly, I turn to the other side of the garden and pull the earthy beets from the ground, their soil-covered skins disguising the dramatic color within.

 

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I’ve mentioned this before, but I tend to identify with the harder-to-know vegetables, the ones that sometimes fall victim to knowing only one dish in most kitchens, or worse yet, never appearing. Like me, these vegetables might take a bit more work to understand, as what you see is certainly not what you get; they’re not the kind to be plucked from the vine and gobbled down there in the garden, warm and juicy from the sun.

 

I don’t revel in the hard-to-approach bits of my personality, nor do I love how I can remain so completely reserved to even my nearest and dearest friends. I don’t love how my first response to the teasing I get, for fun, is one of irritation and sharp-eyed fight-backing, before I slide my sassafras tongue back in, let out a smile, and just go with it.

 

I bet my spirit vegetables–with their thorny stems, prickly, then poisonous leaves, and dirty bottoms–feel the same way.

 

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Have you ever pulled a stalk of rhubarb from the ground, knocked that highly oxalated leaf off the stem, and sunk your teeth into the celery-like tartness, pure and raw and unadorned from sugar and strawberries? It is pungent; startling even. Have you ever greedily gobbled plain sweet roasted beets straight from their foil oven-packet before realizing you now don’t have enough for the recipe? Or done the exact same with a winter squash, thinking to yourself, this is the most magical candy on all the earth, as you’ve done so?

 

I don’t often share about my job, but one of my favorite things about it is wandering the garden with my high school students, giddily discovering a new vegetable is ready for harvest, like the spring’s first asparagus, cutting the new shoots from the ground, shoving stalks at them, and saying, try it. And there, with dirt on their hands, mud on their shoes, and weary eyes, they do and they discover a flavor they’ve never experienced before. It is one that you cannot get from a grocery store because it’s only there in that plant a short while before shipping and sitting on a shelf and waiting to be cooked in a fridge drains those flavors away. The students’ initial reluctance for something so green and unlike the usual packaged meals paves way for simple responses like, I’ve never tried asparagus before. I like it! Followed by their sitting in the log circle gnawing down an entire unruly, late-harvested, two-foot stalk.

 

Since it is summer, I spend a good majority of my days outside in one garden or another, whether at work with students, or in my home garden. I tend to eat even more vegetables than usual to keep up with the harvest, and I end most days tired, hot, and ready for a shower the moment I walk in the door. I’ve taken, too, to eating random vegetable-y things at most meals, even rounding out the usual morning porridge with a spontaneous need for beet hummus “spooned” upon whole cucumbers. I harvested six last night and there are at least 10 more coming in the next couple of days–and when cucumbers are as snappy, crisp, and fresh as these ones, they are perfect vegetable dippers for beet hummus.

 

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Though beets can be harvested nearly year-round in these parts, beet hummus is what I love to make in this season to convert the earthy-crimson-root-weary to my summer spirit vegetable. Try it. You’ll like it.

 

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Beet Hummus, adapted from Ard Bia Cook Book

Makes about 1 cup or so. Double the recipe if you’re likely to gobble it up in one sitting.

4-5 beets (about half a pound)

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1 Tbs. pomegranate molasses

1 Tbs. tahini

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp. sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

  • Scrub the beets and remove their tops and bottoms. Pile them into a large sheet of foil and fold until completely covered. Roast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F until soft all the way through, about 40-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. If they’re free from chemicals and grown in healthy soil, I don’t bother removing the peels.
  • In a food processor, puree the beets and remaining ingredients until they become a smooth paste. Add more lemon juice, salt, or pepper to taste.
  • Serve every which way atop the season’s fresh vegetables, or simply eat it straight from the spoon.

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