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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Smoked Paprika Vegetable Chowder with Orange Zest

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At the end of last summer, I purchased a tiny parcel of smoked paprika from the pepper man at our farmers market. I didn’t have a use for it in mind, but I’m all for buying my spices right from the source. I’ve had that paprika squirreled away until this last month, when I finally got my hands on the Ard Bia Cookbook. Ard Bia is a soul-food recharging station, institution, refuge, and dear spot for runners to drop their keys before going for their nightly jaunt, in Galway, Ireland.

 

I’ve been to Galway, once for a weekend. William and I ate pizza at a pub’s bar one Friday night, a music session going, families, babies, all the locals stacked around the “stage.” We didn’t know about Ard Bia then, though I know for a fact we walked right past it.

 

The Ard Bia Cookbook is gorgeous coffee table art for good food folks. The menu is a homey infusion of local and global flavors, and the cookies come standard gluten-free even though an assortment of diets are catered to. Fish is a highlight, being as Galway is situated; local meat, cheese, and vegetables are showcased galore.

 

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I’ve needed to be taken to another place these last few weeks, if only figuratively, and this book has been a welcome reprieve. This winter seems to have hit hard, you see. For so many I know, this season has been awash in illnesses of all sorts, sick kids and sick families, joblessness and wondering where this life will lead next, injuries and aches. This too is a season for new babies, tired parents, soon-to-be moms, and tough little steps each day leading to big life changes {resolutions!} I fall right in there with the masses in feeling less than optimal, as if no matter how hard I try, life is a series of two steps forward, three steps back. The Recipe Redux January challenge was to make something smoky, and so I turned to the Ard Bia Cookbook pantry section, found an interesting Smoked Paprika and Orange-Infused Oil, and incorporated it into a comforting vegetable chowder to combat the winter chill.

 

When I sit down and reflect back on the day and all it brought, a bowl of warmth brings a little more cheer, a little more sunshine into my heart. Wherever you’re at on this winter day, I hope that if you too have broken pieces, they can be mended back together through the uplifting words of a friend, a bowl of warm soup, or perhaps in finding a sliver of light reminding you of one more thing you can try to make it through.

 

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Smoked Paprika Vegetable Chowder with Orange Zest

Serves 4, inspired by Laura and Ard Bia.

Plan to infuse your oil a few days prior to making the soup. It will make a big batch that will keep for quite a while and can be used for all number of things. Alternatively, use another oil like coconut or canola as the base and add an extra 1/2 teaspoon or so of smoked paprika. There are also infinite combinations of winter vegetables that can be used here, so play around with something interesting, or use what you have on hand. 

For the chowder:

1 Tbs. Smoked Paprika + Orange-infused Oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 leek, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 thyme sprigs
1/2 Tbs. garlic salt
1/8 tsp. smoked paprika
1/16 tsp. black pepper
1/16 tsp. cayenne
1 pinch each: nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cloves and ginger
1-2 parsnips, chopped
1/2 a celeriac, peeled and chopped
1/2 a head of cauliflower, chopped small
2 cups cooked white beans
1/4 cup orange juice
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
orange zest, for serving
additional infused oil, for serving

 For the Infused Oil:
8 oz. good quality canola oil
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. orange zest

Heat the infused-oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the leeks and celery and continue to sauté until they are soft, about 5 minutes more. Add the garlic, thyme, and spices to the pot and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the parsnips, celery root, and cauliflower and stir to coat in the oil. Next, add the orange juice, the vegetable broth and the beans, stir again, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove the lid and lower the heat to simmer. Let the chowder cook and bubble until the parsnips and celery root pieces are tender, about 25-30 minutes.

Remove the thyme stems and ladle half of the chowder into an upright blender. Purée until smooth. Pour the puréed portion of chowder back into the soup pot and bring it back to a nice simmer. Check the chowder for seasoning, adjust if necessary, and ladle into soup bowls. Top with a bit of fresh orange zest and a drizzle or two of the infused oil.

To make the oil, stir together the paprika, orange zest, and oil and pour into a glass container to store it in. On the stovetop, bring a small pot about half full of water to a simmer. Gently emerge the container of oil into the pot, and allow to warm up for about 15 minutes. Then, remove the oil container from the hot liquid bath, shake to nicely mix the spices, and set aside to infuse for at least three days prior to use. This concoction will keep for a few months in a cool, dark place.

 

Winter Roast Roots, Black Rice + Figs

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That evening I lay down, propped

across his chest,

tears.

A comforting thing

his cool expanse of breath. With each

release

hope transferred, at-home

my soul.

Solid centering root,

sea uncertainty,

life dance.

 

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Winter Roast Roots, Black Rice + Figs, serves 6 or so, as a side

Some weeks feel inextricably more difficult than they need to. This dish is the sort of winter tonic to show the negative energies I’ve a bit of sassafras yet. Moody, dramatic, a touch sweet, earthy. Roast up any combination of winter vegetables. Parsnips and celeriac are January favorites. Kohlrabi are clever, if elusive. They’re best found in a winter garden round these parts. Ask a farmer. Or your eccentric neighbor with a fondness for funky purple vegetables. Mushrooms make a lovely addition. Don’t forget the figs. They add just the right touch. 

 

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2-3 parsnips, roughly chopped

2-3 carrots, roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 celeriac, peeled and roughly chopped

3 kohlrabi, stems removed, peeled and roughly chopped

4-5 stems thyme, or 1/4 tsp. dried

1 tsp. salt, plus additional salt and pepper, to taste

olive oil

1 cup black rice, rinsed

2 1/4 cups water

1 small bunch kale, destemmed and chopped

1/2 cup dried figs, diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prep the roots and toss them with the salt, a dash of black pepper, and olive oil. Roast until tender, 45 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, combine the black rice and water and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Turn down to low, cover and cook for 40 minutes.

While rice and roots are cooking, dice figs, and prepare the kale. A couple minutes before the vegetables come from the oven, toss in the kale and allow to wilt. Then, remove the vegetables from the oven, toss with the rice, figs, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.