toasted oat porridge with chamomile, walnuts + spiced apples

toasted oat porridge with chamomile, walnuts + spiced apples

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Everything is connected here…the soil feeds the plants that feed us. We are merely the walking, talking result of that connection.
– Lora Lea Misterly

 

I tend to share the same old stories here, I’m sure, but one of the big turning points in my relationship with food was marked by my visit to Quillasascut Farm School back in 2009. The week of cooking, harvesting, and gathering with like-minded young folk was put on as part of a Slow Food Youth workshop. I was the only “experienced” farm girl among the participants, and I was chosen in part because I come from a conventional agriculture background while the teachings and discussions were in line with Slow Food’s philosophy of food that is good, clean, and fair. At the time, I had just wrapped up spending 18 days straight working wheat harvest which entailed driving a combine for 12 hours a day across soil that was essentially devoid of life–save that wheat. The experience was a good one and I worked for a great family but I was beginning to put the pieces of our food and health systems together.

 

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I don’t think the week at Quillasascut changed any of my viewpoints on food necessarily, but through it I was able to move away from hyper-focusing on what any one food was doing to me individually and instead look at it from a broader lens, taking into consideration the communal and ecological connections to what I was eating. I was able to move away from thinking of myself as just an eater and realized I play a vital part in this connection within our vast food system. When I began to take into consideration and participate in more of the story behind my food, where did it grow, in what conditions, by who, were the people that grew it compensated fairly?, what role do I play?, I stopped worrying so much about the things that do not matter, i.e. exactly how many calories are in my meals, how I can control my body, etc., and just eat with joy, mindfully. To be sure, I’ve had a volatile last few years in terms of my relationship to food and body image, but each time I begin to overthink and hyper analyze, I’m usually brought back into better relationship by refocusing on the communal and broader connection aspects of eating.

 

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This month, The Recipe Redux challenged us to pull out one of our cookbooks and share a reduxed recipe. In similar, past challenges, I have shared recipes from my favorite blogger family. This year, I instead pulled down Quillasascut’s cookbook, Chefs on the Farm. 

The book is beautiful, and though many of the recipes bring back warm memories since they are ones myself and the workshop participants made there with chef Karen Jurgensen, the book contains much more than recipes. Each season is marked with a reflection by farmer Lora Lea or her husband Rick about life on the farm as well as knowledge of sustainability practices that can be incorporated, no matter the location, or lack of farm.

 

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Today’s recipe is adapted from a chamomile porridge in the Winter section of Chefs on the Farm. Both chamomile and oats have relaxing properties that soothe the nerves and set us up for a more grounded day. Chamomile is also useful for soothing an anxious, hyped-up, or perhaps overworked stomach and digestive system, which may be needed this time of year. Along with omega-3 rich toasted walnuts, the oats and chamomile combine to make a truly delightful and nourishing breakfast option during this holiday season. Enjoy the combination on its own, or if you’ve the mind, make a quick spiced apple compote to serve alongside. If unable to track down bulk chamomile, break open a packet of tea. Enjoy!

 

Toasted Oat Porridge with Chamomile, Walnuts + Spiced Apples, serves 1
1/2 cup old-fashioned or thick rolled oats, gluten free if necessary
1 cup water
1 Tbs. dried chamomile flowers
dash of sea salt
1 small apple, diced
dash of cinnamon and ginger
1-2 Tbs. walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

  • Toast the oats in a skillet over medium-high heat, just until they become fragrant. This step is optional but it will lead to a richer, toasty oat flavor.
  • Then, in a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil and add in the toasted oats, chamomile, and a dash of sea salt. Cook for 5-10 minutes, depending on the cut of your oats and desired consistency.
  • While the oats are cooking, combine the diced apple, spices, and a splash of water in a small saucepan. Bring them to a good simmer and cook just long enough for the apple to soften and the liquid to form a slight syrup.
  • Remove the oats to a bowl, pour over the spiced apples, and top with toasted and chopped walnuts.

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Hungry Gap?

Hungry Gap?

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In temperate climates like ours in western Oregon, and also traditionally in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the weeks between March and April are known as the Hungry Gap for gardeners and local producers because we have nearly run out of winter storage crops and the new season’s growth does not provide a substantial amount of nourishment.

 

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Most of us don’t think about this anymore, since we have access to almost any type of food we’d like from all across the globe. Easter is next weekend however, and for me, Easter marks the beginning of true spring. Likewise, I associate Easter with strawberries and rhubarb at home with my parents and extended family. Because I manage a garden, I’ve become aware that this pairing won’t come together locally until early May, and though I’m okay with purchasing a few berries from afar to enjoy sooner, I’m nearly always disappointed with the flavor. When I spent a summer on the strawberry farm as their trials intern, I was surprised at the diversity of varieties. Some were super-packed with flavor and others were big and beautiful, but tasteless. Interestingly, all the varieties went into the same punnets and at the grocery store, I could just as easily pick up tasteless strawberries as flavor-packed ones. In any case, it is not common for commercial fruit and vegetable varieties to be bred for outstanding flavor. It is early yet in this new season and this year we won’t be traveling home for Easter. So I think I will wait on strawberries.

 

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I’ve noticed a little of this hungry gap in shopping for local vegetables lately too, as there is a plethora of greens and some winter storage roots like rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, and beets, but the variety that other seasons provide is missing. Still, in our age of abundance, there is a bounty during this season.

I’ve been doing a better job too, of planning meals since moving, taking on grad school, and commuting. I thought I would be letting go of cooking creatively during this new phase, but the opposite has actually been true. Using seasonal produce as the foundation for meals and then planning for busy weeks, being flexible, and doing a little more batch cooking on slower days has been quite instrumental. William’s one day of managing dinner has also allowed for simpler things like pizza, tacos, and pasta primavera to show up in our rotation.

 

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Even during this hungry gap and busy season, we are enjoying lots of variety. This is what I picked up in the last week, and how we enjoyed them:

Turnips + Rutabagas: Rustic Indian Samosa Pie

Beets: We had beets, lentils, tahini + flatbread last weekend and leftovers into the early part of the week.

Leeks,  Nettles + Potatoes: We enjoyed a nice Irish Nettle Soup with leeks and potatoes for St. Patrick’s Day.

Sprouting Purple Broccoli + Collard Raab: I lightly roasted these with tempeh and za’atar, and served them alongside harissa and millet. Yum!

Eggs : William powers through tax season by eating eggs and green juice most mornings for breakfast.

Green Salad mix with lots of winter greens like kale, arugula, frisée, bok choy, and chard: To round out meals.

Carrots + Parsnips: For snacking and carrot + parsnip oatmeal.

Parsnips + Sage: I am experimenting with a parsnip + sage risotto for dinner tonight and serving it alongside white bean fagioli from Heidi’s new book.

 

 

What local abundance is available lately in your corner of the world?

 

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Rustic Indian Samosa Pie with Mint + Cilantro Chutney, serves 4

I first got the idea for this pie from Kelsey, when I attempted to make her Sweet Potato Samosas and failed miserably with tiny pastries and gluten-free crust. Since then, I decided to turn it into a seasonal veg pie and finally perfected a savory crust. I’ve made this a few times and change up the vegetables depending on what I have. It is a good one for using up random vegetables that might be hanging about. This version has rutabagas, turnips, and peas and only a top crust. If you want more of a true pie, double the pastry recipe and make a double crust. It will take a little longer to bake. A word to the wise, I tend to air on the side of spicy with seasonings, and then serve a cooling mint and cilantro chutney alongside to tame it down. Use a little less cayenne if you prefer less heat. 

Savory Pastry

1/2 cup brown rice flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 cup quinoa or amaranth flour

3/4 cup chickpea flour

1 tsp. salt

1/4 cup olive oil

 

Filling:

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 medium onion, medium-diced

5 cups chopped vegetables (mix of turnips, rutabagas or any others)

1 cup frozen peas

2 cups vegetable broth

1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

3/4 tsp. ground coriander

1 1/2 tsp. garam masala

3/4 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

3/16 tsp. cayenne

1-inch piece ginger, minced

1 Tbs. arrowroot or tapioca starch

 

Cilantro-Mint Chutney:

1 large bunch cilantro

1 cup tightly packed mint

3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup plain coconut yogurt

1/4 tsp. salt

  • Make the crust: Combine the flours and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to aerate and mix. Add the olive oil and 1/4 cup cold water. Pulse until the dough just comes together, adding a little more water as needed.
  • Transfer the dough to a plastic wrap, wrap it loosely and press it into a flat disk. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes while preparing the other ingredients.
  • To make the filling: Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and then add the onion, and cook until lightly browned. Add the chopped vegetables and 1 cup broth and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add vinegar, coriander, garam masala, cumin, cayenne, salt, minced ginger, and remaining cup of broth. Simmer for another 10 minutes until the vegetables have softened. Stir in the peas and arrowroot starch mixed with a small amount of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer and let cook a couple minutes more. Remove from heat and transfer to a 9-inch pie dish.
  • Dust a large flat surface with rice flour, and roll the pastry out until it is about 1/8-inch in thickness. It should be just larger than the pie pan. Roll the dough carefully around the rolling pin and transfer it to cover the filled dish. Trim the edges and fold under. Crimp them around the edge of the pan, then cut a couple slits in the top to let steam escape. Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F for 20-30 minutes, or until starting to bubble and the crust has become golden.
  • To make the chutney: Put mint, cilantro, lemon juice, yogurt, and salt in a food processor, and purée until smooth. Serve alongside the pie.

Polenta with Lemon-Garlic Raab + Chickpeas

Polenta with Lemon-Garlic Raab + Chickpeas

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In our marriage counseling, William and I learned about family of origin and the long-held beliefs, values, and challenges we bring into our relationship. Like many relationships, the arguments we often have are about money. I have a vivid memory of a late-night ‘discussion’ my parents had when I was quite young, which I wasn’t supposed to overhear. It was about money, of there not being enough to make it to the end of the month, and I laid in bed that night unable to sleep, as if the panic and fear in their voices transitioned directly into my pysche and lodged there permanently.

To this day, I hate thinking about money. I’ve grown to avoid the responsibility of it in our marriage because in doing so, maybe its stresses will go away (logical, I know). I fought hard with William for years about having a credit card because despite his logic that it’s wise to build credit, I couldn’t get over the memories of watching my parents painstakingly climb out of debt from this system, of the shame of growing up eating free hot lunch at school, of wearing shoes that cost $10 from the local budget store when all my friends were wearing the trendy $100 ones.

It is interesting to me now how I never went hungry growing up (quite the opposite with a large garden and ranch) and I never lacked anything I needed. But as soon as I was able to compare myself to others, I decided that I lacked some of the trendy material things my peers had. I feel nothing but deep admiration for my parents for climbing out of a tough place and gratitude for their teachings about wise spending and saving. And I wouldn’t choose to go back and change those early circumstances even if I could. Perhaps because of my parents’ teachings, and probably more out of fear, I operate largely as if I don’t have money and jump to panicky reactions when talking about spending. It tends to create tension and resentment.

I also feel guilty and ashamed of spending on things my parents are frugal about.

 

 

Like food. I prioritize spending on food.

I volunteer for a local food action team whose mission is near and dear to my heart, to promote eating food that is grown or processed locally within a six-county region. The group’s reasons for striving for a more locavore diet are many, and I’m sure every member would answer differently as to why eating local food is important: for the local economy, for the environment, for health, etc. I like all of these reasons and more, but the one that is most important to me is the connection to a place and to a people, to feel as if I am a part of something meaningful, rather than consuming the mass-produced commodity of our time.

 

 

For most people, the largest barrier to purchasing foods grown locally is usually cost. I’ve heard it across the board from individuals I know are well-off to those that surely are not. Like the choice of what we eat, how we spend our money is highly individual and emotional. And though I choose to support people, businesses, and values I believe in, I really strive to eat frugally too. Our action team goal for the past couple years has been to promote eating ‘local on a budget,’ and I have been very interested in this topic.

I often feel like a fraud though, when I even talk about eating frugally or consuming local foods. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not overly rigid about sourcing or labels. We still have olives in our fridge from Greece, tea from China by way of Ireland, and staples in our pantry from all across the globe. A lot of my food choices have more to do with my tendency to explore one or two ingredients in a variety of ways for weeks at a time–and it often leaves less consideration for a budget and a place. William I and have been eating loads of broccoli this last month, for example, and not one of those tasty florets has come from a local farmer. Likewise, my weird current craving for coconut yogurt is not a frugal indulgence. So to help me walk the talk of eating local on a budget, I plan to share a little more of the meals in this space that help me engage in what I believe in. I hope you’ll be inspired to think about the seasonality of ingredients and recall there are persons behind our foods that worked hard to provide that nourishment–and perhaps even explore more of the local offerings in your area.

 

 

This polenta dish features raab, which can also be called rabe and rapini. If you google it, you might read that it is a unique variety related to broccoli; this is not necessarily the case to the farmers and gardeners I know. At this time in the season, all of last year’s brassica crops that have overwintered are finally telling us their time has come, the weather and light are changing, and instead of continuing to produce nice big leaves, they’re putting their energy into flowering and eventually setting seeds. So all the local farmers are selling the last of what these plants are offering as kale, sprouting broccoli, arugula, and mustard raabs. They are tasty, nutritious, and have cute little broccoli-like florets. We are currently in the three-four week window where these plants are available and they’re likely to be found from a farmer or perhaps a grocery store which sources directly from farmers.

Secondly, I used Abenaki corn polenta in this recipe, which comes from a local farmer specializing in grains and legumes. Abenaki is a heritage corn and is quite beautiful when ground, with its speckling of red and gold pieces.

Due to some dedicated farmers, this meal came almost entirely from the two counties I live and work in, and given our food action team parameters of an $8 meal for a family of four, can be counted as ‘local on a budget’ as well. Lastly, it is a meal I’ve made more times than I can count during the late-winter/early-spring months, and it is one I’d gladly make for all my friends.

 

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Polenta with Lemon-Garlic Raab + Chickpeas, serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove of garlic, minced

3 cups vegetable stock or water

1 tsp salt

1 cup polenta

 

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoons olive oil

½ a medium onion, or 2 large leeks, minced/sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 medium bunches of raab (kale, sprouting broccoli, mustard, arugula, etc.)

2 cups cooked garbanzos

juice from ½ a lemon

pinch of salt

 

Directions:

  • Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan with the minced garlic. As the garlic starts to sizzle, add stock or water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently to prevent sticking until the mixture is very thick, about 30 minutes. Add additional salt to taste.
  • Meanwhile, remove the longer stems from the raab and chop into 1-2-inch pieces. Slice the leaves and florets into longer 3-4 inch pieces and set aside.
  • In a medium-sized pan, toast the red pepper flakes for 30 seconds or so over medium heat. Add the olive oil and onions and cook over slightly lower heat until they begin to caramelize. Add the raab stem pieces and garlic and cook for 3-5 minutes more. Then add the raab leaves and florets and let wilt, untouched for a couple minutes before stirring together. Add the garbanzos, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Stir and remove from heat.
  • Serve in a bowl, all together.