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.

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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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.