Christmas Spice Porridge

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William and I ventured out to a tree farm last weekend and cut down our first-ever Christmas tree. We then spent the day readying the house for the holidays, putting up lights, hanging stockings, decorating the tree, and rounding it all out with superfood hot chocolate and Harry Potter. I’m a complete minimalist and sometimes our home with so many empty spaces feels a little cold and less than comforting. Inviting in a tree after so many years without reminded me that the simplest traditions are sometimes the best comforts.

I’ve learned a lot this year about true comforts, what I need to thrive, and about seeking joy. I’ve even been sharing reflections about it over on Instagram. In addition to this porridge, a seasonal favorite which tastes like Christmas morning, I’ve collected a few bits of of inspiration towards taking care of yourself through the holidays and into this cold, dark time of year. Read along or find the recipe at the end.

 

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Self-Care and Introspection:
Renee’s 35 simple self-care practices for the highly sensitive person is absolutely essential in this season.
Dream Freedom Beauty is my new favorite podcast. It’s one for the intuitives/healers/spiritual/plant medicine people. I was led to it by episode 80 with Sophia Rose, which is one of many great ones.
Speaking of which, I love this Interview with Sophia Rose, in which she says:

There is very little in the outer world that is solid, unchanging, or steadfast. In reality, we are constantly flowing in and out of home, whether to go to the grocery store or travel to a foreign country.  Home is a construct.  All my things are there, and I have passionately devoted myself to the garden I’ve created, but it won’t be my home forever and I cannot predict the exact moment when this will shift.  Nothing belongs to us and we can’t take any of it with us when we go. Best to get real comfortable where we are, as well as comfortable in the knowing that it will all inevitably change, in ways both large and small.

and

Spend as much time alone in nature as possible. Spend time with people who delight you and who bring you into the world in ways that are foreign and novel. Make time to wander. And know that you might have to dissolve a bit first to make space for the magic that is trying to find you.  The world is not quite so solid as you might have thought. Be curious about what can shift within you, and the world beyond your own body, heart, and mind will begin to reflect this inner refinement.


A Good Book:

I’m recently loving Give A Girl A Knife
and more of a self-care/DIY inspiration manual, A Wilder Life
and the best I read this year, Paradise in Plain Sight.


To Listen: 

The playlist I’ve got on repeat.


To Make/Gift:

Kick-Ass Cookies. Five ingredients, all of them “more nutritious,” chocolate optional, and feedback of the best peanut butter cookies ever by William and a few of his co-workers. They hold up well too, for holiday gatherings or gifting.
Cashew Butter. (or any other nut butter). It’s suuuper simple and will make the best wholesome, thoughtful gift.
Muesli or Granola. I make one or the other every year to gift and my family loves the endlessly varying combinations I tend to come up with.
Spiced Nuts. Make the gently honeyed and salted hazelnuts, or switch them for pecans for a tasty, decadent treat. Add minced rosemary to turn them just a touch more special.
And if you must have all the holiday cookies, David and Luise’s Sunflower & Jam Thimbles are absolutely the best.


To Eat: 

I’m craving all sorts of warm, comforting, “soul-healing” meals lately and Renee’s spin on a super green miso soup definitely hits that mark, as does kitchari and countless variations on dals.
In fact, we ate dal the night before my marathon a few days back and while eating, I relayed to William, no wonder I like dal so much; it’s basically the exact same consistency as my morning oatmeal. He nodded along emphatically.

Speaking of oatmeal, this Christmas Spice version is the one I’m making daily. It’s loaded with creamy, sweet shredded parsnips, cinnamon, cloves, and orange zest. All together, it’s definitely infused with the flavors of the season, and will be a good start to any winter morning, but perhaps especially on days that are filled with meals rich with holiday feasting.

 

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Christmas Spice Porridge, serves 1-2

1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal (gluten-free if necessary)
1 small parsnip, peeled and grated
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. sea salt
a good pinch of ground cloves and cardamom
1-2 Tbs. raisins, dried cherries or cranberries
1-2 Tbs. ground flax seeds
zest from 1/4-1/2 an unwaxed orange
additional sweetener to taste

  • Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add grated parsnips, spices, oats, and dried fruit. Turn down to low and cook until the porridge is soft and to your desired consistency, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Stir in the ground flax, and zest the orange over the top.
  • Spoon into bowls and adjust sweetness as needed with maple syrup, honey, or stevia drops.
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Blackberry Hazelnut Butter Oatmeal

Blackberry Hazelnut Butter Oatmeal

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I had a realization yesterday over my morning bowl of oats about how I have spent so much of my life worrying and anxious about the future and so little of it enjoying the day, the experience, and the moment. I have nothing positive to show for all the time spent on those worries. For the past few weeks, when anxiety and racing, circling thoughts start to grip me, as they often do, I’ve tried to take more of a noticing approach, and on some days, can consciously catch myself before my mind jumps in to the chaos, take a couple slow deep breaths, and remind myself the only thing I need to do is direct all of my attention into focusing on the task at hand.

In a similar way, I’ve also been working on eating with mindfulness more often, especially in the morning over porridge. I tend to be a floor person and spend the majority of my “down” time at home on the floor instead of in a chair or the couch. I really enjoy eating my porridge on the floor, sitting cross-legged in front of the big window in our main room, as I watch the morning grow brighter or with the sun warming my face. When I sit and eat slowly without distractions, looking out at the trees and watching the neighbor cats, I begin to experience the connection again, to taste the subtle sweetness and richness of the berries, the texture of the oats, and the hint of hazelnuts. I miss the subtle flavors when I eat it mindlessly while multi-tasking or when in an anxious “what’s next/what if” state of mind.

We enjoyed a wine tasting/sampling at a friend’s party over the weekend and we savored and made notes on six different rosé wines, trying to guess the country, price range, and style. I rarely drink and when I do it’s often in small amounts at social occasions like these, but I really appreciate the act of tasting wine or cider in this way, slowly, with a focus on the whole process:  tasting the beginning, middle, and ending notes and picking out the subtle hints of flowers, of cherries, of chocolate, etc.

Good food has complexity and deep flavors much like good wine or cider does–especially this time of year. Why don’t we appreciate it in the same way more often?

With my intention (again) this week being to focus on the task at hand, I’m going to put more emphasis on extending mindfulness to eating the meals I get to enjoy–and try to return to just eating each time my mind darts off in another in the future direction again.

 

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Blackberry Hazelnut Butter Oatmeal, makes 1 bowl

1 cup water

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats, gluten free if necessary

1 cup blackberries or boysenberries

1/2-1 Tbs. hazelnut butter, to taste

dash of salt

dash of cinnamon, if desired

sweetener of choice, if needed

  • In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Pour in the oats, give the pan a gentle shake to distribute them in the water, and then turn to medium low.
  • Cook until almost done, about five minutes, and then stir in the berries.
  • Allow the berries to either meld completely in and cook down a bit, which will take a few minutes longer and have more of a jammy texture, or simply let them heat just a bit without breaking down.
  • Stir in the hazelnut butter, salt and cinnamon and heat just a minute or so longer.
  • Remove from the heat, allow to sit a moment to develop more flavor and pour into a serving bowl. Depending on the berries, top with your sweetener of choice as needed.

 

 

 

 

more than cookies

more than cookies

 

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The Track + Field Trials have been going on in town these last couple weeks and I originally intended to meet a bunch of Oiselle ladies, go on a group run or two, and generally engage (a little) in the festivities. This is part of my 2016 doing-the-hard-things mission of showing up, getting involved, and not hiding with the areas I’d like to do more but feel unworthy of–like being part of a more supportive community.

Instead, I have been tapering and then recovering from a race, feeling a little run-down like I’m fending off a summer cold, in deep with my two summer classes, and commuting to and fro work. I haven’t felt like being social and using up excess energy to meet new people and navigate crowds. So I’ve been hunkering down in my little corner of the city, not venturing beyond it.

It has felt a little like hiding but also necessary to preserve my energy, do some reflecting, practice breathing,  journaling, and listening to what I need.

 

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I was asked a couple weeks ago to be the leader of the local food action team I’m a part of in Corvallis and after considering it for quite some time, I agreed. It was a decision made with a lot of mixed feelings because the group is a part of a city I no longer reside in, likely won’t be working in much longer, and generally miss a lot. Eugene and I have had some growing pains, i.e. I’ve checked out most of the super-local trails, the too-crowded farmers market, and the little grocery store we prefer to shop in for local goods. I’ve ignored more than a few unnecessary comments while running, felt a little unsafe some days on the bike path, and  almost stopped using my GPS to go new places. At this point, it feels like the next step for me in this new place is to simply show up for opportunities to create and be a part of the community. Instead, I find myself avoiding the Eugene farmers markets, run meet-ups, and yoga invitations, shopping in Corvallis or on the farm there directly instead, and putting my energy and ideas into how to promote local food in Corvallis, in what still is my community, no matter my current address.

In times when more self-care is needed, like this last week, I often use my relationship with food and body image as a barometer for how I’m doing. As I’ve shared before, eating with the source of my food in mind has helped me to have a better relationship with my body, to not focus so much on good/bad, too much/too little, and stress about controlling all the variables. Since moving, I haven’t done such a good job of this. Relocating to a new city is stressful and adjustments are hard–my mind has often resorted back to the things that it (thinks) it can control, food, calories, amounts, and my body. More than ever, I’m conscious of  it these days and trying hard to stay gentle, to be kind with myself, to forgive, and to understand that there will be both good and bad days. I will eat too much. I will eat too little. I will listen to what I need and I’ll ignore it. This is normal eating and that’s okay.

One thing that is good practice is experimenting with baked goods. I’ve been experimenting with a good oatmeal raisin cookie that’s gluten free, dairy free, and enjoyable by all for going on ten months now. I don’t make them too often, once a month or less, and mostly on days I need some baking therapy. Thankfully, William loves my cookies and also shares them at work. The tweaks have been quite small lately and because I’m a perfectionist, I’ve been slow to call time on this experiment. The thing about baking is that I do have a sweet tooth but I eat a lot more fruit than other sweet things and refined sugar often hits my system like a drug. It feels like a trip that I do not necessarily enjoy, even as the first hit goes down real nice and I initially want more-more-more. Then my body says please do not feed me this- you’re making my mind crazy anxious. It is why I don’t eat or share many true desserts anymore.

The practice of baking is good though because it repeatedly allows me to ask myself what do I really want before taking a bite. Do I want a cookie? If not, what am I desiring? Am I being a little too obsessive about health and putting negative labels on treats? Most of the time, I choose something else or have one cookie and an apple. Sometimes, I have three cookies or two giant slices of birthday cake and try not to overthink it. It is okay to indulge once in a while. My body needs more (care/support/kindness/food) than I ever aim to give it. Thankfully I’m learning to feel what it needs, honor that, forgive, and ignore the thoughts that lead to disorder a little more as time goes on.

It’s not always easy to know and trust my own motives. I’m learning. I fail a lot.

 

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Prior to starting this cookie project, I hadn’t had an oatmeal raisin cookie in years, basically because I’m a giant snob and have found only one person who makes gluten-free, dairy-free cookies I consider worthy of eating (ahem, me). William is also a cookie snob and he has no dietary constraints or prejudices about trying all the cookies. A few weeks back I decided to tweak another version and in the process found I’d ran out of the main type of sugar I was planning to use. Thus, this version was born. William decided it is the keeper recipe and after eating half the batch, he gifted me with what I consider to be the best anniversary gift by casually mentioning, You make the best cookies: the flavor, the texture, they’re perfectly baked, everything. And I know cookies. I eat a lot of them. 

Even if I like the idea of eating cookies more these days than actually eating them, I’ll take the compliment. I’ll take the practice of baking and experimenting, I’ll continue asking the tough questions, being open-minded, and being a little more open about the process.

 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, makes ~ 2 1/2 dozen

Recipe Notes: I used Greenwillow Grains organic + raw rolled oats and Willamette Valley honey in this recipe. I encourage you to seek out your local producers and support them as often as you can. I also only experimented with my own flour mix. It is 70% whole-grain by weight and contains 10% buckwheat flour. Though it comes to a small amount, we really love the addition of buckwheat to cookies. Lastly, we found a more favorable result in using both honey and brown rice syrup. If you only have one or the other, go ahead and use just the one. Keep in mind that honey is slightly sweeter than brown rice syrup. 

1 Tbs. chia seed, finely ground
3 Tbs. water
1 cup gluten-free flour mix
2 cups rolled oats, gluten-free as needed
1/4 cup oats, pureed in a food processor
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
1/6 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup raisins

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the ground chia seeds and water to form a slurry. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients and then set aside.
  • In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the oil, honey, brown rice syrup, and vanilla. Then mix in the chia slurry.
  • Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and stir together until combined. Then mix in the raisins.
  • The mixture should be a little looser than standard cookie dough. At this point it can be chilled for about 30 minutes so the cookies don’t spread too much, or baked directly and they’ll be a little larger and thinner.
  • Using a medium cookie scoop or a spoon, drop onto a baking sheet or stone and bake for 12-14 minutes, depending on your oven.