Simple Winter Kitchari

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Following in the footsteps of my last post, I’m creating lots of quick and comforting meals lately. Late-winter is when I typically become the least inspired by seasonal ingredients, but this year I’ve relegated to always having some batch-cooking or roll-over ingredients on hand for ready meals. And I actually haven’t lost inspiration per se, but the hours in the day for cooking creatively and sharing those meals has been taken up elsewhere.

Instead, I’ve really been putting my focus into creating space for in between moments and pauses, and it’s kind of funny to realize when life is really full and can feel rushed that pausing and watching the mind slows everything down. All that rush tends to fall away and around, instead of inside me, and I realize it’ll all get done. There are little checkoffs this season. Taking my ServSafe test and receiving certification, sitting for and passing a lengthy comprehensive exam before graduation this spring. Working on and completing my last group project for my Life Cycle Nutrition class. Successfully completing my last clinical course. Continuing to grow in my experience and working with new and continuing nutrition clients. And turning down my entrepreneur ‘what’s next’ business brain for when I have the ability to put my focus there.

And then setting it all down and going to work, where I focus on teaching kids to cook and learn about the basics of healthy eating.

And then dropping my energy into marathon training and keeping my body healthy.

Layers. Like peeling an onion, my doctor said the other day, only she was talking about layers of healing. We all have these layers of aspirations, or obligations, or activities that we’re simultaneously putting our energy into and even though it might be nice to compartmentalize and separate them, they tend to bleed over and into each other. Or at least mine do.

Over the last few years, I’ve tended to go in and out of stress reactions that will last a few weeks or more. I’m told they are really autoimmune-like flares, even though I’ve also been told I’m a touch too healthy to be diagnosed by conventional medicine, even with lots of ‘little signs’. Every time a flare happens I try to scramble and make sense of it, trying to identify the cause or the trigger, but ultimately when my physical body is a little too out of balance, my mental body becomes equally so, worrying and putting energy into the hurts and aches physically. And vice versa. And the two go round and round together, making the episode worse until I ultimately decide to set them both down, “give up,” and invest my energy elsewhere. That’s all to say that with two big end goals on the table right now, one being finishing my graduate program and the other the marathon that occurs just a few days after, I’m in a space right now of enjoying the process, enjoying the little things about the everyday today,  and not getting so caught up in the what if’s or shoulds, or what’s next. It will come regardless.

And for now, I’m eating lots of kitchari, even accused of making lentils and rice way too many meals in a row lately. But it’s what I’m craving and need after running in the rain or cold, or before rushing off to work.

 

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If you’re feeling like you’re holding lots of ‘layers,’ and could use a little space and pause for calming and grounding, I encourage you to turn off the noises around you that you can, tune into the ones that are still there (like family, the wind or rain, the heater), and immerse your senses in the process of cooking kitchari. Soaking the lentils and rice. Chopping the vegetables, measuring the spice. And then eat in the same fashion, for once without distraction, slowly, slowly. Tasting each bite.

Simple Winter Kitchari, serves 2
This works great as a quick lunch or dinner, and can use whatever vegetables you have on hand, or very few if you’re needing super simple. Double or triple the batch if you’d like, or just make this one for a couple lunch days when your partner doesn’t care to share in your need for more lentils and rice.

3 1/2 – 4 cups water
1/2 cup brown rice, ideally soaked overnight or at least a few hours
1/2 cup red lentils, ideally soaked overnight or at least a few hours
1/2 Tbs. Grounding Masala spice mix (below)
1 cup greens or seasonal vegetables, chopped (mine featured peas, greens, fennel stalks, or turnips depending lately)
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 Tbs. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
cilantro or parsley, as desired

  • Drain the rice and lentils if you soaked them. Then in a medium pot, bring them to a boil with about 3 cups of water and the spice mixture. If you’re tossing in hardier root vegetables, add them at this time too. Turn down, cover partially, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Check after about 20 minutes and add additional water as necessary and again at the 30 minute mark. After 30 minutes, add the greens or more tender vegetables and stir in, and then continue to cook 10 minutes more until everything is nice and porridge-like.
  • Meanwhile, in a small fry pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat and add the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds. Cook just until they begin to turn golden and smell fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour them into the kitchari.
  • Stir, add salt and black pepper to taste, and serve with some cilantro or parsley on top as desired.


Grounding Masala Spice Blend
, adapted from What to Eat for How you Feel
2 Tbs. coriander seeds
2 Tbs. fennel seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. whole cloves
3/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. ground turmeric

  • Add all the spices to a coffee or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Put into a labeled container and store away from light.
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buttercup squash soup with coconut, sage + quince

buttercup squash soup with coconut, sage + quince

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a few weeks ago, i discovered there’s a seemingly abandoned quince tree a couple streets over from us. instead of inquiring about picking the fruit to the nearby house or walking my ladder down the neighborhood and being for real about the situation, i instead ended my marathon-season track workouts for weeks by practicing my plyometric jumps into the lower branches, snagging one golden floral fruit each time, and smuggling it’s precious but ugly self back home to add to my for-soup collection.

i had an idea in my head about updating this soup and instead of sending the floral quince notes throughout, piling a few thin sauteed slices on top with fresh sage. the result is absolutely holiday (or just really nice self-care) worthy.

 

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speaking of holidays, here is what i’m making for the Thanksgiving weekend:

i. a brussels-heavy variation of this salad.

ii. apple pie. i’m planning to recreate the best gluten + dairy free pie crust i’ve made so far, adapted from Alanna’s recipe and fill it with apples + spice inspiration from Renee.

iii. if the weekend calls for more cozy time in the kitchen, i’ll be making cornbread stuffing (per William’s request), and/or pumpkin, sage + rosemary baked risotto, or perhaps just end the weekend with that cornbread alongside my favorite deep/rich vegetable-heavy chili with chocolate and walnuts.

iv. and more of this soup! the Recipe Redux challenge this month is to add some naturally colored holiday treats and trimmings to the table and this soup is definitely colorful! and, importantly, it’s also tasty. i gobbled up the first and then second batch before i took time for photos, so the third round, whipped up in the final days before we head to eastern oregon for family time, is going home to share.

 

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buttercup squash soup with coconut, sage + quince, serves about 4

Curious about quince? They’re a seriously old fruit, similar in many ways to pears, but much more floral in flavor and aroma. They require cooking too, as their heavy tannins and raw texture will dissuade even the hungriest neighborhood scavenger! Since they’re slightly precious and can be difficult to find outside of local shops and markets, a pear or apple can be substituted, or completely left out for a less sweet/interesting ending. For a little more substance, I’ve often been stirring in either cooked garbanzos or sometimes marinated/seasoned tempeh to my soup and rounding it out with some whole grain sourdough bread for a full meal deal. Also, use any squash you like. I used the last of the Buttercup from my garden. It’s a sweet, dense, slightly dry flesh variety, and any of the Kabocha, Hubbard and Butternut varieties are also good alternatives. 

2 lb. buttercup winter squash, exterior rinsed of any remaining soil
1 + tsp. coconut oil, divided
1 large onion, medium-diced
1 tsp. dried thyme
3 cups water or vegetable broth
2/3 cups full-fat coconut milk
1 1/2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
3/4 tsp. sea salt
ground black pepper
1 quince, cored and thinly sliced
1-2 tsp. minced fresh sage

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Slice the squash in half and turn cut-side-down on a baking dish. Add 1/2- to 1-inch water to bottom of pan and roast for about 45-60 minutes, until a fork slides easily through the skin and flesh of the squash. Let cool at least 5 minutes before handling.
  2. Set a large pot on medium heat and add coconut oil. Add the chopped onion and sauté 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it softens and becomes translucent. Then stir in the thyme and water or broth.
  3. Once the squash is done roasting and is cool enough to handle, scoop out the seeds and discard. Then scoop the flesh into the pot. You can either discard the skin or toss it in, as it is definitely edible and will add a little texture towards the end result.
  4. Add the coconut milk and apple cider vinegar.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, and then using either a blender or food processor, puree in batches until you have a smooth consistency. Turn it back into the pot, and add salt and ground black pepper and taste to adjust seasoning.
  5. For the quince, heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a small amount of coconut oil, sliced quince, and minced sage. Try to spread the slices out over the pan so they are not overlapping and cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until they are becoming golden and crispy on the edges.
  6. Serve the soup hot with the sauteed quince scattered on top. Enjoy!

 

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comforting red flannel hash

comforting red flannel hash

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And so it goes. A brand new year. If you have experienced anything like the collective, 2016 was a tough one. The excitement for new goals, resolutions, and the prospect of being better and different is all around us. Honestly though, there were a lot of exceptionally good happenings in the last year too and I’m not so quick to wish it all away.

Even so, I went home for Christmas week to my parents and I admit I ate more than I’d have liked. Not too much, but more than “enough.” More cookies, more servings, more mindless chomping to fill a void I didn’t realize existed until I was there, in it.

 

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And here we are back at it.

We’ve been a whole year now in our new house. I’ll call it new even though it’s the oldest on our street by far and we’ve been here all these months. It still feels new and not quite a home just yet. There’s a blank wall in the living room still, waiting for the right photo, a total lack of rugs on cold tile floors, and the dog fence and house in the back I want torn out. There’s talk though of a kitty–even as there’s the one of us that’s extremely allergic. Let’s just never mind that for now.

Yet we’ve made the place our own in small ways that feel significant. I’ve had food to eat growing since last February and even as I keep kicking myself now for not putting in more of an effort at a winter garden, there are leeks, greens, and roots to be harvested yet, we just finished the last of the Brussels sprouts, and we sat down to a NYE meal that was largely from our own back yard. Small gains that mean a lot.

 

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What do you eat in this new season of reset to get back on track? I tend to forego the cleanses, green juice/smoothies, and cold salads, and just focus on what sounds good. This time of year, that means gently warmed greens that grow through the winter like kale and collards, roasted or steamed roots including beets, parsnips, carrots and the like, warming spices (cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, sage, nutmeg and cloves!), hot drinks, and squash.

Lots of squash. I eat it in my oatmeal often, and spoon little cupfuls of plain roasted puree in between or to round out meals because that’s how I like it best. I know. I know. William curls his nose and tells me so.

 

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Comforting Red Flannel Hash, serves 4-6
1 pound potatoes (2-3 medium), diced into 1-inch pieces
1 pound sweet potatoes (1-2 medium), diced into 1-inch pieces
1 pound red beets (3 medium), diced into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive or coconut oil
1 large onion, medium-diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. each minced parsley and fresh dill or 1 tsp. dried dill
add-ins such as tempeh, diced greens, etc.

  1. Steam the potatoes and sweet potatoes in a steamer basket set in a pot of simmering water, covered, until it is fork tender, which will take about 12-15 minutes. Drain, remove, and repeat the same steaming process with the beets.

  2. Meanwhile, heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high and add in the oil. Cook the onion until it is translucent.

  3. Then stir in the garlic, potatoes, and beets and season them with salt and pepper. Flatten the vegetables with the back of a spatula to compact them a bit. Cook the hash until it is brown and a little crispy on the bottom. Stir occasionally, and once the bottom is nice and crispy, flip it over to crisp up on the other side. Once the whole mixture is browned to your desired consistency, sprinkle over the herbs, and serve or stir in the add-ins, as desired.