to go on

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I can’t go on. I’ll go on. – Samuel Beckett

We were headed back from the coast last weekend and I had been admiring the views and the changing season when I looked out and realized it is September(!) and I suddenly saw not the slow slide of summer into fall but the trajectory of my life these last few months. I realized that I have been so busy feeling my way through this year that I haven’t been able to truly see the world around me, much like that summer I was in Ireland for the second round and one of my co-interns spent so much of her time capturing the experience on her camera that she never stopped to appreciate the views beyond her lens. When I look up and out, it is so easy to feel and see the change in season right now, and as we drove back into town last weekend, there was a bittersweet sadness hanging in the air. This and the last few posts have reflected that bittersweet vibe, as I’ve been sharing bigger matters that have sat heavy with me this year.

 

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One of these is whether I’m even writing a food blog anymore. I have always had more of an interest in talking about life in this space than in hyper-focusing on the food. Over the course of the last few months, I’d like to think I’ve been doing more of that and through the process become more honest in sharing the bigger things that matter. As I’ve done so, I have contemplated moving away from sharing food at all because it often doesn’t seem to go with the message I’m conveying. I think about my readers too. What do you want from this space? Why do you come here? How much is too much information? And I think about why I began the site, to share life and food.

Food is important to me. I love learning about it. I love talking about it. I really like helping others with it. And if you are newer here, if you read back to this post, you’ll see the making and partaking in food is so much more to me than finding peace through this year’s challenges or in fueling life on the run. All my interests, joys, and even problems circulate and intersect in and around food. And though I’ll chatter your ear off in actual conversation until you politely ask me to shut up about it, I don’t particularly enjoy writing about food in this space anymore.

 

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In a recent conversation with a friend, the topic of my eating disorder and food came up and I shared, It’s not about the food. Just like every person has his or her tools or mediums with which to create a life (or destroy it), my strengths–and also weaknesses–are both food and words. Like my eating disorder, this space seems to be about food but is also not about food.

Inevitably, I have opted to continue with the recipe sharing because when I talk about the highs and lows of life here, I share the meals that feed my soul through the process, recipes that hold meaning not because they have this or that ingredient in or out, not because of any label or food trend but because they are simply feeding me through this life. I’ve considered deleting posts which I think are silly now or old recipes that I no longer partake in, but those too are all part of my experience. Those meals, like the more recent ones, fed me through those ventures into becoming the better person I am today. For that alone, I want to have them recorded.

 

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In this transition of seasons, I too feel as if I’m wading through a big life transition. As I take a deeper and bigger-picture look at my trajectory, as I sort through my life and organize my thoughts around the point of this space, I want to share with both the readers who have held on for the long haul and those that are just jumping in, the basic reason for this blog hasn’t particularly changed. It is a space where I can use my creative tools to share real life more honestly; to go on, when a part of me is actually afraid to share what I really feel, is afraid to move into life’s changing seasons, is often frustrated and saying simply, I cannot go on.

 

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When I am standing fearfully on one of life’s cliffs, not ready to jump yet somehow poised for whatever the next adventure brings, when I am at the point where I begin to question everything, when my mind wants to give up and fight like hell simultaneously, that is when I know I am right where I need to be. I will get through this changing season and I’ll be better for the challenge with which it came. I will be glad too that I was willing to share the experience here, rather than waffling on about some random ingredient.

After all, isn’t this life little more than the accumulation of these daily lessons and joys, of conversations and meals good and bad, of being vulnerable, of putting plans into action and seeing hard work pay off, or spinning wheels in useless worrying which we can’t seem to move on from, until, for whatever reason, we do?

 

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Two-Tone Fennel + Pistachio Zucchini Bread 

This zucchini bread has been a work in progress for many years and I’ve held off on publishing because every recipe, like the most vulnerable blog posts, is not quite ready to share. Originally adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, it has taken on a life of its own with the switch to quinoa, brown rice, and almond flours, two types of summer squash, fennel seeds, and pistachios. It is the type of recipe that feels right in this (nearly there) return to cooler days and comforting foods season, and it’s likely my last bout with zucchini this summer. My plants have been producing steadily since mid-June and they’re telling me their time has nearly come. Onwards!

1 lb. zucchini and yellow summer squash, (about 2 medium or 3 small)
2 Tbs. ground flax seeds
6 Tbs. hot water
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup quinoa flour
3/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 cup plain non-dairy yogurt (I used unsweetened coconut)
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs. coconut oil
1/4 cup toasted pistachios, chopped

  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil and flour the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
  • Shred the mixture of zucchini and yellow squash on the large holes of a box grater and then transfer to a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Allow to drain for 20-30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, mix the ground flax seeds with the hot water in a small dish and set aside to form a thick slurry.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the flours, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, fennel seeds, half the pistachios, and 1/2 cup sugar together. Set aside.
  • After the zucchini has drained, squeeze it dry between several layers of paper towels. Mix the dried zucchini with the yogurt and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Beat the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and coconut oil with a whisk in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the flax slurry and incorporate well. Add half the flour mixture and half the zucchini mixture and mix until just incorporated. Add the remaining flour and zucchini and mix once more until the mixture just comes together.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle the top with the remaining pistachios. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 55 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then tranfer the loaf to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, or once cool, slide into the fridge for a day or two, as the flavors really develop overnight.

The Pittsburgh Salad

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The summer before my senior year of college, I took a leadership class required for my degree. Our main text was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and from it we created a personal mission statement as one of our first assignments. I created a poster-size version of my mission statement at the time and I’ve since carted it around from home to home, always finding a special place to make it visible. This morning, the poster fell off the wall and I picked it up, re-read those words and realized, despite the distance of years, I would not change a single thing about the mission I crafted for myself that summer.

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I was gently reminded in re-reading that no matter my fears and unknowns, if I’m living my mission, I’m on the right track.

  • Listen to God. Live His plan.
  • Be active. Think healthy.
  • Cherish family. Do small acts to support positive, loving relationships.
  • Be a role model. Help others to achieve personal success.
  • Be a supportive and giving friend.
  • Appreciate nature. Do small tasks to ensure long-term ecological health.
  • Live in the moment. Right now. Enjoy it!

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Have you created a personal mission statement? If so, what is on it?

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The Pittsburgh Salad, serves 2 as a main dish

Last week, I was in Pittsburgh for a nutrition educators’ conference. It was the first time I had traveled long distance in years, spending several days with neither car nor kitchen, and I wondered how I would find the food options given my dietary constraints and vegetable-heavy tendencies. Within a few blocks of the conference, I discovered not one but two AMAZING salad bars. Normally, when I envision a salad bar, I think of Subway without bread–iceburg or romaine lettuce concoctions with pale tomatoes, dry shredded carrots, processed meats, and sketchy dressings. This was not the case. There were a gajillion freshly prepped and creative toppings to fit all sorts of eating preferences and lonnng lines out the door around lunch time. I found myself returning three days in a row because I only wanted to eat these salads. Without further going on about my hippy-dippy affinity for kale, quinoa, and beets, I’ve reconjured a variation of my favorite Pittsburgh Salad. Enjoy!

2 cups chopped kale

2 cups mixed greens

1/2 cup cooked and cooled quinoa

1/2 cup finely diced raw beets

1 medium yellow zucchini, chopped small

1 medium carrot, shredded

Grilled Tofu (below)

1/4 cup Honeyed + Spiced Pecans (below)

2-3 Tbs. Honey-Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette (below)

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the greens, quinoa, beets, shredded carrots, grilled tofu, and pecans.
  • While the grill is still warm from the tofu, toss the chopped yellow squash in the container that the tofu marinated in, gently moisten with the remaining marinade, and slide onto the grill. Cook until just beginning to soften, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from the grill and toss in the salad bowl with the remaining ingredients.
  • Toss the salad ingredients with the desired amount of vinaigrette and serve.

Grilled Tofu

6-7 oz. extra firm tofu

1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

3/4 tsp. honey

1 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika oil (or  use a mild-flavored oil and a dash of smoked paprika)

  • Wrap the tofu block in several sheets of paper towels and set on a cutting board near a sink. Stack several heavy objects on top to press the extra water out, and let sit for 30-45 minutes.
  • Unwrap the tofu and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  • In a glass container with a lid or tupperware, gently mix the vinegar, honey and oil. Toss the tofu cubes into the marinade, close the lid, and shake to coat. Marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  • Heat a stovetop grill, slide tofu cubes on, and close the lid. Grill until char marks begin to form, about 4-5 minutes. Quickly turn the cubes to grill the other side and cook for 3-4 minutes more.

Honeyed + Spiced Pecans

1 1/2 cups raw pecans

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

pinch of cayenne powder

pinch of dried thyme

1 1/2 tsp. olive oil

1 tsp. honey

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread pecans on a large baking pan and roast until fragrant, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven to cool slightly.
  • In a small bowl, combine salt, thyme, pepper and cayenne.
  • In the baking pan, drizzle the pecans with oil and honey and toss well to coat completely. Sprinkle with the spice mixture and toss again.

Honey-Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 Tbs. honey

2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs. whole-grain mustard

1 Tbs. finely diced fresh basil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small container and shake to mix thoroughly.

Roasted Vegetable Pizza with Golden Tomato Sauce

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There are few people I respect more than those who live each day in truth with their whole selves. I’m in awe of these folks and admire how they stubbornly live in their brassy, blunt, comfortably imperfect beings.

I am not of those personalities. I tend to be quiet, small, and gauge how much I share with how well it will be accepted. If feathers will be ruffled or judgement passed, I opt to keep my mouth shut. I’m one that avoids controversy and negative attention. I like to be perceived as put together.

 

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These last few months I’ve been working on letting go a little: Being me without so much filter. Wearing less camoflouge. Going out in public in whatever I happen to have on. Saying things I mean. Sharing parts of me that I previously shoved away into dark little corners.

 

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In my food-world, I liken this process to embracing the ugly vegetables.

 

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William is working on an awesome organic vegetable farm this summer and he brings home bags of crooked carrots, too-ripe peppers, and weedy leaves.
 
If truth be known, I have a fondness for the most interesting produce cast-aways. A perfectly straight carrot? An apple that has more beauty than flavor? A purely symmetrical tomato? Perfection in the botanical world is boring, sterile, and dare-I-say-it, industrial. Blemishes have their own unique beauty and the taste, what’s inside that really matters, is rarely sacrificed.
 

If it’s so exciting to embrace ugly produce, why is it like hurdling mountains to get along with personal imperfection?

Tough experiences leave scars which make the good days shine all the more brightly. They leave a life rich with experience. And wisdom.

Exposure to another viewpoint and belief encourages acceptance and understanding.

Having a different opinion is some sort of individualistic awesome.

Critisism can be a catalyst for growth–Or expelling bad juju.

Casting aside worry of another’s judgement is liberating.

Self-acceptance is the best form of freedom.

 

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Back in the kitchen, I’m working with golden heirloom tomatoes of an unknown variety–they were too ripe to sell. I’ve seedy, scarred eggplants, and yellow summer squash from my garden. My squash plant is dying so these are likely the last ones for the summer. I’ve Jimmy Nardello peppers that didn’t come up to size and missshapen bell peppers, still green, which came off with a broken stem from overenthusiastic weeding. There are gorgeous red onions too. I’ve no idea why but they didn’t pass the farm’s to-market test.

 

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As for me, I’m working on being real,worrying less about measuring up or missing out. I’m working on embracing the ugly vegetables in my personality, the crooked roots and misshapenness. I’m working on letting the unique beauty that is the real me overpower the pursuit of being perceived as polished as a tasteless red apple.

 
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We are all glorious in our imperfection. Let’s celebrate a little more of that today. And eat pizza loaded with a bunch of ugly vegetable cast-aways.
 
 
 
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Roasted Vegetable and Golden Tomato Pizza, makes 2, serves 4-6
Roasted Vegetables:
1 medium eggplant, chopped
1-2 medium yellow summer squash, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1-2 sweet red peppers, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
8-10 kalamata olives, diced
extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh thyme, optional
 
– Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large baking pan lined with parchment paper, layer in the chopped eggplant, squash, onion, and peppers.
– Drizzle the mixture with oil, and toss in the fennel seed, freshly ground black pepper, and salt.
– Give it all a good stir and then roast for about 20-25 minutes.
– When the vegetables are sizzling and soft, remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
 
Golden Tomato Sauce:
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 lbs. yellow or golden tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
 
– Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When the oil sizzles, add the garlic and sauté until just golden.  
– Add the tomatoes and spices and turn to low. Simmer for 45-60 minutes.  
– Let the tomatoes cool for a few minutes and then puree in a blender for a smooth, pizza-sauce consistency. If the sauce is still quite thin, put it back on the stove and simmer a bit longer to thicken up.
 
Crust:
The ingredients below make enough for two 10-12″ crusts. Each pizza usually serves two to three. You can refrigerate the dough for the second crust up to two days. Due to the differences in the flours, I like to weigh them with a kitchen scale to get an accurate ratio of 70 percent whole grains and 30 percent starches. I’ve then put those weights into cups so it will be easier to measure without a scale, but if in doubt, I’d use a “short measurement,” rather than an overflowing cup.
 
1 1/2 Tbs. flax seed, ground
3 Tbs. hot water
40 grams (a short 1/2 cup) garbanzo & fava bean flour
80 grams (3/4 cup) brown rice flour
80 grams (3/4 cup) sorghum flour
80 grams (3/4 cup) millet flour
40 grams (1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. tapioca starch
40 grams (1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. arrowroot starch
40 grams (1/4 cup) potato starch
2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
~2 Tbs. olive oil, separated
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/3 cup warm water, divided
cornmeal
 
– Combine the flax seeds and 3 tablespoons of very hot water in a small bowl until a slurry is formed; set aside.
– Combine the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the yeast, 1 Tbs. olive oil, sugar and 1/2 cup warm water. Allow it to rest for 3 minutes or so until the yeast is activated.
– Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture, and stir it all up. Then add the flax seed slurry to the dough and a portion of the remaining water; mix until the dough comes together in a ball. If it is too dry, add enough water to for a tender, pliable dough.
– Cover the dough in the mixing bowl and set it aside to rest for 1 hour.
 
Putting it all together:
– Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Separate the dough into two equal portions. For each pizza, dust your pizza stone or baking sheet with a light sprinkling of cornmeal. Roll one of the dough portions out to desired thickness directly on a pizza stone or baking sheet. 
– Spoon a hefty couple of ladlefuls of the golden tomato sauce over the dough and smooth it out. Then, layer on the roasted vegetables followed by the kalamata olives. If desired, crumble a sprig of fresh thyme over the top. Fold the crust edges in when done, and with your fingers, lightly dab the edges with the last tablespoon of olive oil. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 16 minutes.