vibrant winter dal with roasted cauliflower + toasted seeds

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I took a real slow down in the days after Christmas and into the first part of the new year and in that time I gave this space a little update. With it, I also set the intention to align the content a little more towards what has been calling to me these last few months.

Like the couple years before it, 2017 was a particularly challenging year. Even as I was in it, I knew it was a year of lessons and great strides were being made, even as it was difficult to see through the moment. Out of it, or out of those years I should say, I’ve developed a fairly different relationship with myself, one where the person before writing this blog post is like a long-ago friend I no longer know well. I spent a lot of the past couple years delving into the silence, watching the chaos in my brain, going far back into memories of my childhood, seeking to understand what and where I lost myself. I wouldn’t say I’m done with all that necessarily, (because are we ever?), but I do believe I’ve forgiven, learned about, and let go of the events and traumas that were keeping me stuck between being the person I am and the one I thought others wanted me to be.

I feel a lot more like me these days. And more free.

Because I’m drawn to the concept of food as medicine, slightly shifting my eating habits, not just the food but the way in which I try to eat it, has been a big component of the shift. I’ve taken to noticing how I feel, whether it’s cold, anxious or ungrounded, hot and fiery-tempered, or calm and assured, and then adjusting my meals to accommodate. I learned this method of tuning in and then adjusting from Ayurveda, and though to explain it, the idea sounds trite, I’ve noticed improvements in my digestion and mental health from the subtle change in how I season foods, the mindset I prepare them in, and how much attention I give while eating. Ayurveda, like other ancient medical systems, puts digestion as the foundation of health since what and how we eat, so we become.

The biggest difference? There’s rarely mind chatter in the line of “diet culture” thinking, i.e. too much, guilt about eating this or that, wanting a different body or trying to control the one I have, etc. If food is medicine and food is fuel, it’s also nourishment, and nourishment for more than just the physical self.

So to get me through the cold and dark of winter, I’ve been making routine bowls of creamy dal, sometimes simple with a few random root vegetables and greens thrown in, and sometimes fancied up with a quick puree, roasted cauliflower and toasted seeds. Either way, after trying a couple dozen different versions of dal these past few years, I’ve come to this recipe. I’ve taken many concepts from Divya Alter’s What to Eat for How You Feel in making it, and compared to many dal recipes, this one tones down the spices and keeps them to those that gently warm and ground “airy” mind and digestion in this cold season.

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Part of the process in making this is preparing your own grounding spice blend to season the roasted cauliflower and dal. It’s a quick extra step but definitely worth it–I tend to add the blend as a quick sprinkle to many meals that need a little extra something, or on days I feel particularly all over the place. My spice grinder is a favored and frequently used kitchen implement, but if you’re without one or prefer to skip this step, using your favorite curry powder will work as a substitute–however, I tend to think a lot of the magic here is in using tailored spices.

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The spices in this blend are ones that particularly help with digestion and tend to be warming and pungent without being outright hot (like cayenne or chili). This results in open circulatory channels and the ability to warm up and eliminate toxins and congestion. It is especially helpful in the cold season or for the cold person. Specifically,

Coriander improves digestion, calms the mind, and binds toxins in the blood.
Fennel regulates and improves digestion, and is a cooling spice in smaller amounts. It balances the warming spices in this blend.
Cumin stimulates digestion, eliminates toxins, and helps with the absorption of nutrients.
Cloves improves digestion, reduces toxins, and opens circulatory channels.
Black pepper improves digestion, opens circulatory channels, eliminates toxins, and enhances oxygenation in the brain.
Turmeric cleanses the liver and helps break down fats, improves digestion, and is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

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Vibrant Winter Dal, serves 4
1 cup split mung dal (split mung beans) or red lentils, or a combination of both
1 Tbs. coconut oil
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbs. minced ginger
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. grounding masala (see recipe below) or ground coriander
3-4 cups water
1 cup frozen peas
a couple large handfuls diced greens (spinach, kale, etc.)
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more as needed
cilantro and fresh lime slices, to serve

  • Soak the mung dal or red lentils for 30 minutes. Then drain and rinse well.
  • Heat the coconut oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add in the turmeric and toast for about 10 seconds. Then add in the minced ginger and bay leaves. Cook for about 30 seconds more and then add in the masala or coriander and mung dal. Stir and cook until the beans are almost dry.
  • Add 3 cups of water and bring the soup to a boil. Then cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the beans have become tender and begin to disintegrate. Stir in the frozen peas and greens and cook a few minutes more, just until they are warm and wilted. Add the salt and more water as needed.
  • Then, transfer the dal to a blender and puree, working in batches. Add back to the saucepan and gently warm. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Serve bowls of dal topped with roasted cauliflower, toasted seeds, cilantro and freshly squeezed lime, as desired.


Roasted Cauliflower
1 large cauliflower, outer leaves removed and cut into small florets
coconut oil, as needed
1 Tbs. grounding masala
sea salt and black pepper

  • Line a large baking pan with parchment and toss the cauliflower, spices, and oil to coat. Roast in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, or until fork tender.
  • Remove from the oven and spoon atop individual bowls of dal.


Toasted Seeds
1 tsp. olive oil
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

  • Heat the oil in a small pan over medium-low heat and add in the hemp and cumin seeds. Toast them until they begin to turn golden brown and release their aroma.
  • Divide among bowls to top finished soup.


Grounding Masala Spice Blend
, adapted from What to Eat for How you Feel
2 Tbs. coriander seeds
2 Tbs. fennel seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. whole cloves
3/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. ground turmeric

  • Add all the spices to a coffee or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Put into a labeled container and store away from light.

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chocolate energy bars, 2 ways: coconut mocha & chocolate, peanut butter + sea salt

chocolate energy bars, 2 ways: coconut mocha & chocolate, peanut butter + sea salt

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When I first changed my diet fairly drastically by removing gluten and then dairy, I did so with a totalitarian “whole foods only” frame of my mind. It was back in 2012, sort of at the onset of the gluten-free fad, when all sorts of new gluten-free processed foods were really starting to become mainstream. If I were going to be eating almost vegan and free of “normal flours,” I thought, I was going to do it all the way. I did not purchase or try gluten-free baked goods or vegan cheese.  If the ingredient wasn’t in basically the same form I could find it in nature, it wasn’t something I ate.

But there was also a double standard because I was really into baking then and still had a strong taste for sugar, so there were exceptions. Namely, I went through a phase of being obsessed with figuring out how to bake bread, pizza crust, desserts, etc. free of gluten and then dairy as well. Even though I don’t bake a lot anymore, and my flour cupboard generally gets much less use than ever before, I’m thankful for that baking phase because when I want it now, I have some really good staple recipes to draw from and the basic science of whole grain gluten-free and vegan baking down.

 

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These days, I’ve ventured into a way of eating that is a little less rigid than it was then–or perhaps it’s rigid in a different way and I can’t quite see it. In any case, I’m okay with a little more processing making its way into my recipes and meals. I began that because I recognized rigidity and eating perfectly is a hallmark of my disordered eating behavior. So recognizing that and doing something about it is why I started eating tofu and tempeh on an occasional basis. It’s why I nearly always have nutritional yeast in the pantry now, though I don’t use it super often. It’s why I made myself a big batch of Valentine’s cookies that were exactly what I wanted and then proceeded to eat the entire batch over the next two weeks, each day asking myself if I actually wanted a cookie, or perhaps many cookies, and each day eating exactly how many I was desiring. It’s also why I began to warm a little more to the idea of protein powder.

It turns out too that I might actually need more protein in my diet. Despite the general consensus (in the plant-based nutrition community anyway) that almost no one in the US actually needs more protein, I’m one of the few that might actually gain from eating more of it–for a couple of different reasons that have nothing to do with generally avoiding animal products but still add up to: providing our bodies with the right amount and types of foods is personal, and definitely not a constant. Adding more protein to my diet, strategically, is a current experiment I’m running. I’m not entirely sure it is necessary or will have the effects I’m looking for. But the protein powder is an easy way for me to adjust my eating patterns without making a drastic dietary overhaul.

 

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I want to mention too, I’m sharing these bars purposefully during #NEDAwareness week. If you aren’t familiar with NEDA, it is the National Eating Disorders Association and February 26-March 3rd is a week of increased advocacy about eating disorder recovery and awareness. If you’ve been visiting this space for some time or have read my About section, you’ll know I struggled with the eating side of that equation for several years, sometimes still do, and have since been doing much of the mental side of recovery more recently. Probably similar to many who have struggled with disordered eating behavior, I did not have much in the way of emotional support in the early years following reaching a restored weight. In fact, I often received, and still do to some extent, a lot of push-back about coming to a way of eating that works for me, and there were many individuals who really pushed me into stressful situations around food, for the sheer fact that they were completely unaware of my history or that struggling with food is about much more than a desire/dislike for eating too little or too much. And it is the part that tends to linger on. Often quite invisibly.

NEDA’s theme this year is It’s Time to Talk About It. As NEDA has stated:
It’s time we take eating disorders seriously as public health concerns. It’s time we bust the myths and get the facts. It’s time to celebrate recovery and the heroes who make it possible. It’s time to take action and fight for change. It’s time to shatter the stigma and increase access to care.

I couldn’t agree more. In the interest of keeping it really real for just a moment more, a few of you know I started writing even a little more personally about my continued recovery process in this last year. My general theme has been using that space as an online journal to completely lay out what I’m working with because writing and releasing it beyond me is immensely helpful. It has been the most intensely scary and sometimes challenging writing I’ve done. It has made me feel incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of the beliefs and views I hold on to. But acknowledging those challenging feelings has helped me to release and slowly grow beyond them as well. This is all to say, feel free to catch up with me there. And if you find that you, or someone you care for, is struggling with what might be an eating disorder, please reach out to someone. It ended up making all the difference for me.    

 

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Now, I’m sharing these energy bars because I think of them as my recovery snacks. I tend to eat granola/energy bars in the mid-mornings or mid-afternoons on a fairly regular basis and generally I make my own. I designed these with the idea of eating them after a run to kickstart the recovery process when a larger meal isn’t coming super soon. So they have more of the suggested endurance recovery carbohydrate to protein ratio of 3 or 4:1. But I also find I can handle a portion of a bar 30-45 minutes before a hard effort too with no problems. And because of the slightly higher protein content, I also have been using them whenever I just need a snack in general since they are a slightly better option right now than my old stand-by of mesa sunrise and almond milk.

I recognize these are specialty bars, designed for a specific person and purpose. But if you like the idea of a Coconut Mocha or Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar that is delicious and nutritious, these might be for you too. If you’re not overly concerned about needing more protein, there are options for alternatives as well.

 

Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate + Sea Salt Bars, makes 8
1/2 cup (100 g) peanut butter
6 (100 g) pitted Medjool dates
6 Tbs. (50 g) hemp protein powder*
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. (10 ml) raw honey or maple syrup
1 1/2 cups (50 g) crispy rice cereal, gluten-free if necessary
2 Tbs. +2 tsp. (40 ml) water
1 square (10 g) dark chocolate, broken into chunks
additional sea salt for topping

  • Puree the peanut butter, dates, hemp, salt, vanilla, cinnamon and honey in a food processor until completely combined.
  • Add cereal and 2 Tbs. water and pulse a few times more until it just comes together. Add a little more water as needed. Then stir in the chocolate chunks.
  • Turn out and press into a 8×8-inch baking pan, or something of similar size. Then, sprinkle with a few shakes of additional sea salt, and gently press in. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and then cut into individual bars, store, and eat as needed. They will last in the fridge for at least two weeks with no change in texture/consistency.

Coconut Mocha Bars, makes 8
1/4 cup (50 g) cashew butter
2 Tbs. (10 g) coffee beans, finely ground
1/4 cup (30 g) shredded unsweetened coconut
6 (100 g) pitted Medjool dates
6 Tbs. (50 g) hemp protein powder*
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. (5 ml) coconut oil
1 Tbs. (15 ml) maple syrup
2 cups (65 g) crispy rice cereal, gluten-free if necessary
2 Tbs. + 2 tsp. (40 ml) water
2 squares (20 g) dark chocolate, broken into chunks

  • Puree the cashew butter, ground coffee beans, coconut, dates, hemp, salt, vanilla, coconut oil, and syrup in a food processor until completely combined.
  • Then add the cereal and 2 Tbs. water as needed. It should come together easily when you pinch the ingredients with your fingers. Add a little more water if needed.
  • Then stir in the chocolate chunks.
  • Turn out and press into a 8×8-inch baking pan, or something of similar size. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before cutting, storing or eating.

*Notes: For a hemp protein alternative, try another plain plant protein powder such as pea or rice, or use the same quantity (by weight) of hemp, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds.

beans + rice for busy days, with turmeric special sauce

beans + rice for busy days, with turmeric special sauce
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Buckwheat, quinoa + millet mix, lentils, steamed beets, shaved rainbow carrots, sliced radishes, spring greens + turmeric special sauce.

 

Once a week, my coworkers and I eat lunch together during our staff meeting. We are all healthy-food loving ladies with different diets and food preferences, and we often begin the meeting looking around at each others lunches, thinking and sharing about how good they all look and how we’d like to trade. It is a great environment to work in, one of non-judgement and non-competitive respect and inspiration for eating well.

 

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Brown rice, lentils, sautéed cabbage, kale + matchstick carrots, sauerkraut + hemp seeds.

 

Prior to working with this group, I ate lunch with my fellow science teachers at the high school I taught at. It was the first time I had worked at a place where everyone took 30 minutes every day to sit down, eat together, and catch up. Those 30 minutes kept me sane, but I wasn’t at first keen about sitting around having others see what I ate every day. I didn’t want my coworkers to judge my weird food habits. I have a pet peeve with people telling me, You eat sooo healthy, in that envious/judgmental wayBut that never happened. Instead, I learned that everyone has weird food preferences, and no one cared what I was eating. It was pretty darn liberating.

A month or so ago, I spent a couple full days teaching at the high school. I brought my lunch with me and left it in the car. During the break, one of the students caught me on the way out and asked, You’re not eating? Is that why you’re so skinny? This was coming from a slightly overweight teenage male who was standing in the hallway, noticeably not eating also. I felt absolutely crushed at his response. After assuring him I was on my way to lunch, I asked about his own lack of food. He told me he was waiting for a friend. I don’t know whether he actually ate during that break, but I remember my own eating habits during that age, along with my former and current students’ tendency to skip breakfast and lunch. As I walked away, the interaction got to me. It was a really nice day, and I ended up eating my giant lunch bowl outside in the garden, in lieu of having more inquiring eyes looking on at my food choices.

 

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Brown rice, garbanzos, chopped collards and cabbage, diced beets, and carrot-miso spread

 

When I was teaching full time, many of my students asked about and observed what I ate. I could tell they were searching for a role model and they knew and loved talking about my tendency to eat the entire apple, drink lots of tea, and avoid all dairy and fast food. They thought it was all just plain weird but also cool. When some individuals approached me to talk about food and health, I tried to offer guidance that was actually helpful for where they were at. At the same time, I was conscious of not being too out there, both for their sake and mine. Out of self-preservation, I’ll do just about anything to avoid having a conversation that involves someone vocally comparing their body size to mine.

Inevitably, every time I work with a new group of high school students, I’m asked whether I’m vegetarian. This question always brings up a lot of personal anxiety and I tell them, no, I eat meat, and leave it at that. They don’t need to know it makes its way on my plate a couple times a year lately. My own personal viewpoint is that the adolescent and emerging adulthood years should be ones of exploration, and they don’t need me telling them they should follow a particular diet, cut out entire food groups, or ascribe to my food-belief system. I have entirely too much experience with disordered eating and body shaming to possibly lead someone toward that camp.

 

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Millet, goji berries, oranges, kale, roasted romanesco and delicata squash with a citrus vinaigrette, hazelnuts + baked tofu.

 

Instead, I try to simply emphasize more whole foods and less processed, in baby steps. I avoid making recommendations about foods I don’t personally choose to eat, but I also recognize that what works for me in terms of food choices does not work for everyone. I particularly enjoy the teachings of traditional medical paradigms like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, which emphasize eating to one’s personal constitution and the seasons. It is especially difficult to teach this concept to my high school students, as they are often trying to fit in and do what their friends are doing. As an adult, I’m only just beginning to feel especially comfortable eating and sharing what works for me.

 

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Quinoa, black beans, roasted Brussel sprouts and onions, kale + cumin-lime dressing.

 

I read recently in the book, Nourishing Wisdom, that women tend to engage in a silent competition during meals of who can eat the least, while men tend to openly compete for who can eat the most. I resonate strongly with the female side of that scenario and I am especially thankful that these last few years, my meals with co-workers have been free of that extremely harmful silent competition. Especially since what works for me tends to be beans + rice bowls, and the combinations are usually generously sized.

I’m curious, too, about the best way to approach these conversations about food with teenagers and individuals trying to find their way to healthy eating. How do we positively guide them? So far, I’ve focused on strengthening my self-confidence and relationship to food so I don’t feel the need to compare, and let the result of that show up by role-modeling positive behavior and conversation about eating, when it comes up. If you have another approach or successful experiences, I’d love to hear!

 

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Quinoa, garbanzos, roasted winter squash and bell peppers, mixed greens, cumin-lime dressing, + pumpkin seeds

 

The reason I’ve included so many random meals is that The Recipe Redux theme this month is breaking up the lunch rut. My lunches nearly always tend to be leftovers from the night before and often that means I’m eating what I call bean and rice bowls, even if they have no rice and are rarely eaten in a bowl. Sometimes, however, I pull random ingredients from the fridge and come up with something slightly new. Unlike a lot of people, I rarely enjoy eating out, especially for lunch. It is one thing I wish I were more comfortable with, but knowing exactly what I’m having for lunch is a little comforting ritual that I like to keep amidst busy days.

The only advice for creating a quick lunch combination is to have a few key ingredients prepped ahead of time, be creative, and add color. Eating food that is beautiful is half the experience. I often have leftover cooked grains, some beans, and leftover dressings hanging out, and to that I add whatever vegetables and herbs are on hand and sound good. If, on the off chance I do not have ingredients prepped, I reach for quick grains like millet, quinoa, and buckwheat and cook them, along with a pot of lentils, while getting ready for my day. They all can be ready within 20 minutes.

The photos I’m sharing here are random compilations of beans and rice that I’ve made over the last few months for busy day lunch or dinners. They are only just a start, so go ahead and be adventurous!

 

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Quinoa, white beans, roasted beets and onions, matchstick carrots, greens mix + turmeric special sauce

 

Turmeric Special Sauce, makes 2 cups

This is my current dressing of choice. Adapted from David and Luise by way of Laura, it is packed with a lot of nutritional goodies. In my current quest to eat a few more fats from whole foods rather than oils, I’ve eliminated the oil from the original recipe, added lentils for a little more protein, which I tend to eat on the lower end for my needs, spiced it up with additional chili powder. The turmeric and nutritional yeast add color, umami flavor, and B-vitamins, plus much of the latest research has turmeric as a real powerhouse in terms of health benefits. All in all, this sauce is a good one, has a tiny kick that is completely balanced amongst all the other bowl ingredients, and comes together quickly, if you remember to soak the seeds. I especially like it with beets because in my opinion, vibrant salads taste just a touch better.

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked for 2-4 hours

1 – 1 1/4 cup water

1 1/2 Tbs. nutritional yeast (flakes)

1/4 cup cooked lentils, white or mung beans

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 tsp. turmeric powder

1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp. maple syrup

1/2 tsp. cumin

3/4 tsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper, or to taste

  • Drain and rinse the soaked seeds, and then add them, along with all the other ingredients to a food processor. Purée until smooth, adding a little more water as needed to thin it out. Adjust seasonings to taste.