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Creative Use for Jams & Compotes to Make Room for the New Harvest

Do you have jars of jams or fruit compotes or syrups that you made or were given that are getting dusty on she shelf? Now’s the time to work through those so you can make room for the rhubarb, berries and stone fruits that will be here before we know it.

 

This week I added a jar of quince compote/jam to my batch of granola. It added a bit of sweetness and a subtle tang. You can still make this granola without the jam/compote. It’s delicious and just lightly sweet. 

Seed & Coconut Granola

 

If you’re not using any jam/compote, increase the oil to 1/2 cup and increase the honey to 1/4 cup.

 

5 cups  rolled oats
1 1/4 cups raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 1/4 cups raw sunflower seeds, hulled
1 1/2 cups coconut chips (also called flaked coconut)
1/2 pint of jam or fruit compote/apple sauce (see headnote)
1/2 cup maple syrup or liquid sweetener
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt or kosher salt

 

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Mix honey, maple syrup, olive oil and jam/compote in another bowl or warm in a saucepan if your honey is very stiff, and then stir into dry ingredients. Spread granola mixture in an even layer on two rimmed baking sheets. Transfer to oven and bake, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until granola is toasted, about an hour. It should be nice and golden brown. Remove granola from oven and let cool completely before serving or storing in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

CSA Vegetables, Recovery & a Delicious Slaw

With my gorgeous winter share from 47th Ave Farm. Photo credit Shawn Linehan Photography

Enjoy and love your vegetables! We’re told to eat our vegetables, all the time. We tell our children to eat their vegetables. But I think we sometimes forget the sheer pleasure and goodness of in-season vegetables, year-round. And yes, good health, is a big bonus!

 

It has been a tough winter for bugs of all sorts. Most everyone I know has battled several rounds of colds, flus, and other unpleasantries. Our little family of three has been practically unscathed. It has also been a big winter for vegetables. I’ve had the pleasure (and responsibility:) of two, full Winter CSA Shares (I’m guessing that’s 20lbs/week). I don’t have any proof that it’s all the black Spanish radishes, daikon, celeriac, leeks, turnips, kale, collards, purple sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, winter squashes of all shapes and sizes, and loads of onions, carrots and garlic, but I’d put money on my remarkable health and vitality these days having something to do with this pleasure and plethora of vegetables.

 

I’m just over a year out from a double mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy that laid waste to my immune system. However, when these gorgeous, nutrient dense, vegetables show up every week and the sheer volume allows you to eat as many vegetables as you possibly can, my immune system seemed to rebuild with gusto. I know I am very fortunate to have access to this bounty and everyone should be so lucky!

 

Most of us will hopefully not experience a health crisis of these proportions but we are all susceptible to stress and illness at every turn and what we choose and have access to eat, will make an impact. CSAs are one way of insuring a regular supply of truly seasonal produce. There’s something about this regularity that slowly builds habits that sustain and nourish not only our bodies but a better understanding of our communities, our soil, the people who cultivate it and share the fruits of their labor with us. I have never been more in love with the CSA model and more convinced that it is an antidote to so much of what ails us.

 

There’s still plenty of time to subscribe to a CSA and you’ll get access to all the recipes I’ve developed cooking my way through CSA shares for more than a decade in the form of the Seasonal Recipe Collection if you subscribe to one of these farms! But no matter what farm, just give it a shot, especially if you don’t travel much. Being home to enjoy all the bounty is one of the keys to CSA success.

 

Happy spring!

 

47th Ave Farm  — Minto Island Growers — Love Farm Organics — Full Cellar Farm — Mud Creek Farm  — Laughing Crow Organics — Hill Family Farm — Farmer Joe’s Gardens — Olsen Communities CSA — Cully Neighborhood Farm — Full Plate Farm — Coyote Family Farm — Abundant Field Farm — Sweetland Farm — Backyard Gardens — Legacy Acres Farm — Tanager Farm — In Good Heart Farm — Sweet Digz Farm — Lewis Educational Agricultural Center (L.E.A.F) 

 

Radish & Carrot Slaw w/ Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

This is gorgeous, bright, tart and crunchy from the seeds. It’s delicious as a salad as well as on toast with hummus or avocado or cheese or egg, in some form. It will enliven most anything, really.

 

Serves 4

 

2 medium carrots, grated on large holes of a box grater
1 1/2 – 2 cups grated radish, of most any kind: Watermelon, Black Spanish, Ostergruss or common little red ones
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley or a combination
2 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts
1/2 serrano chile (optional), minced or a few pinches red pepper flakes
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (toast in a 350 degree oven for 8-12 minutes until turning golden and a bit puffed or in a dry skillet over medium-low heat)
1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning with more vinegar, salt, pepper to suit your taste. Enjoy fairly soon if you want to enjoy the full crunch!

Possibility

Some family and friends spent the morning of New Years Eve making these delicate, shape-shifting, ephemeral bubbles in the brisk, breezy, sunny air. We exclaimed and laughed and shouted, bubble after bubble, as they drifted or popped immediately or divided and continued on their short path to the pavement or a tree branch. There’s something about the joy and unpredictability of these spheres that seems worth pondering as we head into another year.

 

A few conversations, articles and books are also shaping my thoughts for this new year. A friend shared her thoughts about simplifying her pantry staples, I mean really simplifying, beyond what I can yet properly imagine, and challenged me to ponder the same and create food, delicious, nourishing food, everyday, with less.

 

I just read this piece about Tanya Berry, Wendell Berry’s wife, editor, soulmate which gave me much to ponder including this quote of hers: “You have to quit being so picky, and so fault-finding, and so snotty about it. You take people and their gifts, and you enjoy them and honor them.” 

 

And finally this, hope-giving story about a man who plants trees.

 

Happy New Year all you wonderful people!

 

P.S. Heres’s one of my favorite things to eat at the moment:

 

Carrot and Seed Salad with Herbs
–inspired by Breakfast Lunch Tea by Rose Carrarini

 

3/4 cup sunflower seeds (or pumpkin seeds)

2 teaspoons oil & few pinches salt (to toast the seeds)

6-7 medium carrots, grated

1/2 cup (or more) chopped fresh herbs like chives, parsley, mint, cilantro etc.

Dressing:

3 tablespoons lemon juice, more to taste

scant 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350.

 

Toss the sunflower seeds with the a little oil and several pinches of salt and toast on a baking sheet for about 12 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are crisp and golden. Set aside to cool.

 

Place the grated carrots in a serving bowl with the herbs and the dressing ingredients. Toss well and add toasted seeds and taste adjust seasoning with more lemon and/or salt, if needed.

Chocolate Pie

Years ago my friend Margo had a piece of my mother’s chocolate pie I had hauled home from Thanksgiving. It was at least three days post Thanksgiving and custard pies do make the crust soggy eventually, but no matter. She was an instant convert and inquires about any leftovers annually. It’s still a winner and I actually kind of relish the slightly soggy, day-after (or day two or three-after) pie. My version is a bit more chocolatey than my mother’s but it’s still has that nice, pudding-y lightness to it. Oh I just can’t wait for next week!

 

Wishing you all a very happy, delicious and peaceful Thanksgiving!

 

Chocolate Pie

 

My mother has been making a version of this pie for decades, as did my grandmother. It’s not very sweet (only 1/3 cup sugar in the whole thing) and nice and chocolaty. It really does come together quickly and it’s always a favorite at the Thanksgiving table, and the day after!

 

1 single crust pie, serves 8 +

 

½ a recipe of the below pie dough or your preferred dough

 

Filling:

1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (about 60% cacao), finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy cream

 

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 11-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang under and crimp edge decoratively. Prick bottom and side of shell all over with a fork, then chill shell 15 minutes in freezer. While shell chills, preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a piece of foil and press it butter-side down into the unbaked shell and cover the bottom with pie weights or dry beans.

 

Bake on baking sheet until pastry is set and edge is pale golden, about 20 – 25 minutes. Carefully remove weights and foil, then bake shell on baking sheet until pale golden all over, 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool shell.

 

For pudding filling, whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, for about two minutes (mixture will thicken). Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

 

Pour filling into cooled shell and chill until cold, at least two hours. Just before serving, beat cream with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon onto pie and garnish with bittersweet chocolate shavings, if you’re feeling fancy.

 

Pie, without whipped cream, can be chilled up to one day before serving. Whipped cream is best added at the last minute, however, it holds up pretty well even with the cream.

 

Basic Pie Crust
–adapted from ChezPim.com

 

I swear by this crust technique and ingredients—flour, salt, butter, water. It has an extra step but the results are worth it and after a time or two it becomes routine.

 

For flaky pastry dough; enough for two 9″ rounds, for top and bottom pie crust, or two tarts:

 

250 g (2 1/4 cup) all purpose flour or 100 grams whole wheat pastry flour and 150 grams apf
Scant ½ teaspoon fine sea salt (or use salted butter and skip the extra salt)
225 g (1 cup/2 sticks) cold butter (salted if you’d like and then omit the salt above)
60 ml (1/4 cup) cold water

 

Measure the flour and salt and dump it onto your clean countertop.  Cut the sticks of butter into slices ¼-inch thick and spread them out on top of your pile of flour. Toss the chunks so they are coated with flour.

 

Now, press the butter into the flour with the heal of your hand: the left one if you’re right handed, and vice versa. With your right hand holding the pastry scraper, scrape up some of the flour and butter and flip it over the pile.  Keep pressing and scraping until the butter becomes thin flakes pressed into the flour.  Keep working until you see more butter flakes than loose flour.  If your butter flakes are really big, break them up a little bit, you should end up with a combination of big flakes and some crumbs.

 

Make a well in the middle of the pile and pour the 1/4 cup of water into it.  Now, working quickly, use your finger tips or the bench scraper to gently blend and distribute the water evenly into the dough. Then, scrape up the dough again with the pastry scraper and press it into a somewhat cohesive lump of dough.  Gather it into a ball of sorts–it’s fine if it’s quite crumbly–and wrap tightly with plastic and let rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

 

After 30 minutes, remove the dough from the fridge and unwrap it.  Flour the counter.  Place the dough on the board and lightly flour the top of the dough as well.  With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to an elongated rectangle. It will be crumbly and may only stick together in patches, which is just fine. Pick up one end of the rectangle, fold it 2/3 of the way in, as best as possible, again lots of crumbs are fine. Then pick up the other end and fold it over that section. Now you have a dough that is folded more or less into thirds.  The dough will crack and might even break, don’t worry about it.

 

Turn the folded dough 90 degree so that the seams are now on the sides, roll the dough out again into a rectangle, and repeat the folding again. You will see that the dough will become smoother and more pliable.  You can repeat this process once or twice more – I usually do it three times altogether.

 

What you’re doing here with the rolling and folding is working the dough a little bit to build the strength so that it is not so fragile when you roll it out later.  (Especially if you’re going to make lattice top, you’ll find this dough easy to work with.)  You’re also creating very thin layers or butter and flour, much like in puff pastry, so the dough becomes extremely flaky once baked.

 

Once you’ve done your three folds, or however many you want to do, roll the dough into a smaller rectangle. Cut it in half and shape the two resulting pieces roughly into rounds. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze, wrapped in a freezer bag, for 3-4 months.

 

The Thrill of a Good Template

An unwitting smile creeps in as I stand at my counter chopping something or rummaging through my fridge or pantry as an idea for a dish takes shape. It’s the thrill of a new idea–an idea built on a tried and true method to feed whomever will be at the table. Often it’s one ingredient that triggers the plan. In the case of this bowl of pasta risotto with leeks, cherry tomatoes, etc. , it was a pint of the very last of the cherry tomatoes a friend shared. And it was a recent facebook post by a friend asking what to do with little bits of different kinds of pasta that had accumulated in his pantry. If you cook (especially small shapes) pasta, like risotto (minus most of the stirring) you get a deliciously creamy result and precise cooking times don’t matter since you’re not after al dente!

 

This Pasta “Risotto” Template is going to get a lot of play this fall. I can’t wait to see what other combinations surface. And please share your ideas or variations if you make it. I can imagine a Thai-inspired version with coconut milk as some of the fat and/or liquid and cilantro and hot peppers and maybe rice noodles instead of regular pasta though they might get too gummy. . . Oh the fun of experimentation!

 

Pasta “Risotto” Template

 

Since this a template it should go without saying that you can vary it to suit your needs and taste; different shapes of pasta, stock or broth rather than water, cheese/no cheese, cream/no cream, herbs, spices . . . What you need is some small pasta, vegetables, hot liquid and a bit of fat in one form or another.

 

Serves 4

 

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or butter or a combo

1 small onion, finely diced

1 leek, cleaned, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into thin strips

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or a little rosemary or sage or lots of parsley, etc.

1 pint cherry tomatoes or 1 1/2 cups canned, chopped tomatoes

1 cup orzo pasta (rice shaped pasta) or a combination of any very small pasta shapes. I used 2/3 orzo and 1/3 Israeli couscous in the above version

2 1/4 cups boiling water or stock or broth

2-3 cups finely chopped mustard greens, tender stems and all, or another tender green like spinach, beet greens, mizuna, turnip greens

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or other hard cheese, optional

1-2 tablespoon good olive oil or butter, to finish (to taste and optional)

Splash of heavy cream (optional)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 

Heat oil or butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add onions, leeks and thyme and stir well. Sprinkle with salt and cook for about 5-7 minutes until softened. Meanwhile heat up your broth or water. Add tomatoes to onions and cook for 3-4 minutes until beginning to fall apart. Add pasta and hot water/broth and stir well. Add more salt here, unless you’re using salty broth. Stir well and partially cover and turn down to medium low. Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring once or twice. Then add the greens and stir well and cook for another few minutes until greens are as tender as you’d like them and pasta is cooked. Stir in the oil, butter and/or cheese, if using. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and/or pepper. Serve hot or warm.

Hands

Last night my 10-year-old son fell asleep holding my hand. I don’t know if he did this because he has a bummer of a cold or because my hand was just close by–I was sitting in a bean bag chair next to his bed. Before he fell asleep he asked if I could just bring my laptop in to his room and work next to him while he fell asleep. I started out working but then something made me put down the computer and then he took my hand.

 

One year ago today I wrote this post about how my illness forced some serious introspection and how I looked forward to keeping this newfound perspective once I was healthy again. As I’ve begun working more and socializing more and basically re-entering the world I stepped out of last summer, I’ve sometimes had a hard time living the changes I made over the last year. We live in a busy, busy world and staying mindful in and of each moment takes a lot of practice.

 

Those priceless 10 minutes, just sitting in the dark holding that sweet warm hand was all the reminder I needed, for the moment. . .

Even when you think you can’t . . .

I have a cold, not really a big deal but somehow it really wiped me out and got me down last night. On the heals of a year of cancer treatment it seems like a cold shouldn’t bother me at all and hopefully in the future it won’t, but yesterday, it did. I guess I feel like the universe owes it to me to feel great now!

In my woe-is-me mode I wondered what I would feed my always-hungry family who’s return from work/soccer was imminent. Earlier in the day I had chopped up some broccoli so I had a start. When pondering just getting slices of pizza from the neighborhood pizza shop I realized that if I just boiled a pot of water and cooked pasta and the broccoli in the same pot, tossed in some cheese and a few chili flakes I would have dinner. I did just that. It was happily devoured and we had enough left over for lunches today. No, there was no salad or anything else to go with it but there were satisfied bellies and my weary self was hardly any wearier for it. . .and actually I was rather pleased with myself.  Simple is satisfying, inexpensive and low effort and sometimes all that’s needed.

Simple Broccoli Pasta

Cauliflower, snap peas, asparagus and salad turnips would all be delicious instead of the broccoli.

Serves 4

6 cups broccoli, stems (peeled) and florets and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb stout pasta, like penne, fusilli or rigatoni
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar or cheese of your choice or a combination of cheeses
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch or two red pepper flakes
Splash of good olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the pasta and set a timer for 3-4 minutes less than the cooking time for the pasta. When the timer goes off,  add the broccoli to the pasta and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes or until both pasta and broccoli are tender. Scoop out save 1/2 cup of hot, starchy pasty cooking water and then drain everything well and put in a serving dish with the cheese, the reserved cooking water a good splash of olive oil and black and hot pepper. Mix well and taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and/or oil.

People & Poetry

I’m in a funny stage of this breast cancer journey. I had my final surgery almost a week ago. All the signs indicate I’m doing well and am on a healthy trajectory. I had gotten quite strong leading up to the final surgery and am finding it challenging to manage yet another recovery period with limited mobility and activity. All that patience and mindfulness practice is well and good and yes, really useful, and yet I still get impatient and confused and sad at times about this whole complicated thing! And I’m so very tired of thinking about myself!

And then there’s poetry. And people! You people are something! I continue to be lifted up and comforted and made to laugh and ponder and embrace life in ways I never imagined possible. Your words are often the best poetry. This morning I bumped into a neighbor on my walk. I shared some of my post surgery worries vis a vis a class I am teaching today (with lots of help) and she simply said “You’re doing what you love and that is healing.”

Thank you, you wonderful people!

Any Morning
by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so  much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

(CSA) Vegetables & Cancer

This was my version of this root vegetable slaw from the wonderful book Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi.

Getting a cancer diagnosis was scary. It didn’t leave me with much band width to make major life-style changes. Those are hard enough to make when one is well! After the original shock subsided and a plan for treatment formed I began to realize just how lucky I was. I knew how to cook vegetables and had a steady source in the form of my CSA. I already loved vegetables, particularly cruciferous ones like broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, cabbage and kale, which are noted for their cancer fighting properties. As I proceeded through many months of chemotherapy, followed by major surgery I was able to eat and often prepare for myself great quantities of vegetables. Luckily, all these veggies also tasted good during treatment, especially with plenty of added acidity and spice during the months of altered taste buds.

 

As I near the end of my treatments and regain strength and venture back out into my garden and sign up for my CSA (summer and winter) I am maybe more grateful than ever for farmers and farmworkers near and far. Farmers for whom the hard winters, storms, droughts and increasing climate volatility and fickle consumers and trends are not something managed by weather appropriate clothes or simple tweaks in business plans. The resilience, smarts and commitment farmers demonstrate day after day is staggering really. And the CSA–Community Supported Agriculture–model was designed in part to provide a little bit of stability in this volatile profession, providing $ up front so that farmers can plan for the season’s work and harvests in a way that involves the eater in a bit more depth. CSA is what has made me a better cook over the years and certainly what has inspired the increased quantity of vegetables enjoyed daily.

 

Hopefully most of us will not get cancer and will not think about vegetables primarily as a collection of nutrients with various properties but will enjoy them in all their beauty and deliciousness and cultural relevance and richness. However, it is nice to know that in addition to all that, enjoying them and knowing how to prepare them has many advantages for us and our loved ones, some of whom may need that extra boost today or some day in the future!

 

A special shout out to the CSA farms with whom I work, who subscribe to my Seasonal Recipe Collection so that their members can enjoy their weekly bounty to the fullest, with simple recipes and tips. Now is a great time to sign up and see what the season has in store for you!

 

47th Ave FarmSauvie Island OrganicsMinto Island GrowersLove Farm OrganicsFull Cellar FarmMud Creek FarmJoy Haven FarmLaughing Crow OrganicsHill Family FarmFarmer Joe’s GardensOlsen Communities CSAThe Good Earth Farm Full Plate FarmAmazing Heart Farm

Vegetables & Chocolate

I feel like a child experiencing things for the first time. We had family and friends over for my son’s birthday recently and I realized it was the first time in eight months that we’d had people over for dinner. I didn’t feel sick. I had a bit of hair on my head and yes those eye brows and eye lashes are coming back too! I wasn’t queasy. We didn’t really talk about this pathology or that chemo schedule. We just ate and laughed and it was simply wonderful.

And speaking of eating, vegetables are still my big love but chocolate is a close second. The beautiful bars of dark chocolate, friends kindly dropped by, piled up for months while my taste buds were playing tricks on me. But no more tricks like that! Now my lunch trick is this: eat a lovely bowl of whatever vegetable, herb, bean, grain, sauce concoction I happen to have and then casually sort through said pile of chocolate and pick one and eat some, maybe lots of it! Life is good!

A Poem for Life

You Reading This, Be Ready
by William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. The interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep if for life–

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

 

I’ll check back in here after surgery. Love and light to us all!

On Beauty

roses-in-snow

Cancer has slowed me down. And slowness has opened my eyes and sat me down.  Sometimes there has been little beauty in this forced slowing of both body and mind–the crumbling finger nails, the missing eyebrows–but sometimes, the slowing has made space to see so much. And I want more of it, whether it’s the words on a card from a friend, the intricate embroidery on a pillow case, a play that expands your view, the translucence of citrus peel being candied, or the sunlight in the cemetery on my regular (slow) walks.

All of a sudden I am also struggling with beauty and how I perceive myself in this world. Losing the hair on my head did not phase me but losing my eyebrows in these last few weeks has rocked me. I feel like I actually look sick just as I’ve finished chemo and started to feel more like myself again. This tension is hard and I think, “what of it?, what does it matter?” but in this very moment it seems to matter. So I turn to other beauty; the poems below, the feeling of sunlight on my face right this minute, to the abundance of love in this world, despite all the despair and darkness and turmoil and I am alright.

Sleeping in the Forest
By Mary Oliver

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Boy and Egg
Every few minutes, he wants
to march the trail of flattened rye grass
back to the house of muttering
hens. He too could make
a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh
it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it
to his ear while the other children
laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him,
so little yet, too forgetful in games,
ready to cry if the ball brushed him,
riveted to the secret of birds
caught up inside his fist,
not ready to give it over
to the refrigerator
or the rest of the day.

Out in the Cold

cold-and-wetThis morning on our way to school we saw a woman huddled in a doorway, trying to pull on a coat. She was struggling with the coat, maybe her hands weren’t cooperating after a night on the street in this miserably cold, wet weather. She was leaning against a wheelchair covered with a blue tarp and smiling at people walking by on their way to work or somewhere warm. My son noticed that she was sitting very close to a sign that read No Soliciting, No Loitering, No Camping. “That’s not right” he said. “Where is she supposed to go?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about physical and emotional discomfort lately and the silver linings and opportunities this discomfort and pain has afforded me as discussed here last week. I have been able to do so, in great part, because I have a warm place to live, good health insurance and a strong, loving support network.

Seeing as I am now a bit more familiar with pain and suffering, I am also more affected by witnessing the hurt and discomfort and pain all around me. Pain that probably doesn’t afford much musing about silver linings  Living on the streets with no where safe and warm to go must be just awful. I hate being cold and wet, hate it!

What can I do? What can we do? We can look, we can see people, acknowledge them and find small and large ways to share what we have and provide comfort in these cold, wet times.

There are wonderful organizations devoted to providing stability and a sense of community in most places I’m sure. Here in Portland I look to Streets Roots and Sisters of the Road for such comfort.

Precious Time

This journey with cancer has been full of contradictions. I’m nearing the end of almost five months of chemotherapy. I can’t wait to be done with this part of the journey, yet this time has been valuable and there is much I want to do while I’m still relatively weak. I’m learning that I’m able to access parts of me, new thoughts and feelings, and see openings for change I never imagined. There is at once a clarity and an ongoing exploration of who I am in this, most vulnerable state, that is precious and not to be missed.

 

For one, this process has emboldened me. I walk around with my bald head and about six remaining eyelashes, looking like what I used to be afraid of . . . .but no more.  We are all so much more than meets the eye and we are all, I’m sure of it, capable of embracing and managing far more than we think.

 

Since chemo will come to an end, thankfully, maybe I can learn how to access this realm even when I’m physically stronger. That is my hope. Change, even when you see the path forward, doesn’t necessarily happen quickly. Surgery and ongoing treatments in the new year will probably afford me plenty of time to continue this introspection and growth and you can all remind me of this post when I’m sick and tired of being sick and not so circumspect!

 

This time of relative isolation and fewer outside demands has also afforded me plenty of time in the kitchen and I’ve felt (surprisingly) creative. I’ve developed dozens of new recipes and because of my chemo-altered tastebuds many of them are bright and spicy and strongly flavored, cutting through the chemo funk!

 

Those new recipes and hundreds more are in the Seasonal Recipe Collection. A subscription to the collection also makes a nice gift to any cooks, or aspiring cooks. . .

 

Spicy Cabbage & Sausage Fried Rice

red-cabbage-sauce-fried-rice

This is a simpler fried rice than my typical ones–no eggs, no soy or fish sauce–just ginger, garlic, pepper, cabbage, pork and rice, basically. It’s extra pretty with red cabbage but delicious with red, green or savoy.

 

Serves 4

 

2 tablespoons oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 scallions, white and green parts, separated, all thinly sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Szechuan pepper corns, ground in a spice grinder or mortar (or scant 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a pinch though the Szechuan pepper is really what makes this so good)
4 ounces pork sausage, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes or 1 Serrano chile, minced
6 cups shredded red cabbage
Salt
3 cups cooked rice, cold (fresh, hot rice is too sticky for fried rice)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
Lime wedges, for serving

 

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet until very hot. Add the onion and scallion white parts and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, Szechuan pepper, hot pepper and cook for another minute. Add the sausage and stir well and cook for about 2 minutes, still over high heat. Add the cabbage and a few generous pinches of salt and stir well. Cook for 3 more minutes. Add the rice and mix in well and cook until heated through and crisping in places. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in cilantro and scallion greens and pass lime wedges and serve immediately.

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

fudgy-choc-cookies-w-dried-fruit

I marvel at human resilience and kindness. Defying all odds people exhibit joy, gratitude, and generosity wherever I look. I remember last winter buying a Street Roots collection of poetry that, without irony, was titled Gratitude and filled with words and artwork by people without homes.

I also marvel at human capacity for normalization. How did I go from, “Oh god, cancer!” to “This type of chemo is so much easier to take, and I look forward to surgery.”  And I  do not mean to compare being homeless and having cancer, in my case with all the privileges and resources imaginable. . . Being sick has just made me see those around me with challenges, small and large, more vividly.

Thanks to this easier type of chemo I’m also more fully enjoying the beautiful community I have in my medical team. One of my chemo nurses is Austrian American and has been looking for a good spaetzle recipe and technique. So we’re having a good time at chemo every Thursday talking about my spaetzle tests and what technique (cutting board and knife) works best. Recipe to follow here once I can taste more fully again!

I’ve taken to bringing in cookies to my oncologist and nurses who work to heal me every week. Food will always be the center of joy and camaraderie for me. It’s healing for me to be able to talk about and share these treats and ideas with the people whom I happen to spend a lot of time with these days, people I never imagined I would encounter, other cancer patients and medical folks alike. I love people and I am so grateful to the dozens and dozens of you all who are making this journey joyful and humorous much of the time.

Small Actions, Big Questions

zena-view-2015-thanksgiving

These days I don’t always rinse out plastic bags to dry and put away for future use. I compost food we can’t get through or I can’t taste. I drive everywhere. I order endless supplements online and cringe at all the packaging and recycle/garbage.

Before cancer/chemo I had an epic plastic bag collection; truly a bag for every possible need or scenario. Food was not wasted, really ever, and biking everywhere was my greatest joy. Biking also gave me such satisfaction, in knowing I was reducing traffic congestion just a smidgeon and keeping that air just a wee bit cleaner.

I also occasionally wondered to myself why others didn’t find both the same joy and righteous pride in these things that I did.

These days, days of utter exhaustion and limited capacity (and joy too) I no longer wonder about others’ priorities. I wonder mostly about the challenges we all face. I wonder how we can set ourselves up as a communities, culture, society, where we can care for ourselves and tread lightly on the planet at the same time. The questions are so big and so manifold that I don’t know where to begin. Please comment with your thoughts on the matter!

Our lives, everyones lives, are precious and so is this planet. As Kathleen Dean Moore so beautifully articulates in her piece Wonder, Bread in the most recent addition of Oregon Humanities, our planet is sacred too.

 

Nourishing Words

Food, as wonderful and life-giving as it is, sometimes plays tricks on me these days. The sweetest, most perfect beets are bitter and metallic thanks to the effects of chemo; tomatoes and eggplants are too acidic at times. . . but these words, that friends have shared, soothe and nourish everyday.

The Guest House
by Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Go to the Limits of Your Longing
by Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Perspective

Muffin wrapper

Fudge-y bits, crumbly bits, and all the bits the muffin paper surface will release only with a careful scrape of a knife, were gathered. A careful scrape is in order because tearing that paper would compromise the heft of the fudg-y bits, all pushed together into a small bite on the edge of the knife. This bite was my pre-fast (therapeutic fasting around chemo) treat last week. I haven’t eaten any refined sugar for 6 weeks. Cancer cells love sugar and frankly I haven’t craved it much. However, that bite of Grand Central Bakery’s Chocolate Wheat Muffin goodness, eaten after the bulk of the muffin, one of my all time favorite treats, was devoured by two nine-year-olds, was the best thing I’ve eaten in ages. And it felt like a whole piece of cake! And it sent me into my 3.5 day fast with a smile on my face.

Feeding Others

bruschetta w peaches prep

We are surrounded by the loving instinct to nourish those in a time of need. Friends and family are eager to start a meal train for us and meantime they deliver lovely treats at random.

Enter the patient who develops recipes for a living and who is following a therapeutic fasting regime for three and half days around each chemo session.  Thus, picture me walking up and down my street, plates of just tested and photographed food in hand in search of eaters!

On the days leading up to chemo, that is food that has actually not been tasted by me! Oh the irony and the learning . . .when my boys are home I’ve begun to rely on their palates to tweak the dishes but mostly I just trust myself and years of cooking to know how a dish should be. Luckily, the cook-with-what-you-have philosophy of taste as you go, adjust seasoning to suit your taste, substitute what you have on hand, means you can create delicious food without exact measurements and overly detailed instructions.

I tested the above peach bruschetta prior to my first round of chemo as I needed a better photograph of it for a newsletter. I didn’t have goat cheese (as called for in the recipe) on hand but knew that the feta I did have on hand would pass as goat cheese in the photo. My neighbor who graciously answered my random knock on her door at 10am ate them with glee, so please add feta to the options of possible toppings!

Happy cooking with what you have!

Bruschetta with Peaches and Basil

Peaches and basil are a great combination and this dish is simple, gorgeous and delicious.

Serves 5 as a side/starter

5 good crusty slices of bread, toasted or grilled
3-4 ounces fresh goat’s cheese (or fresh ricotta or some other mild, spreadable cheese)
Handful or two of whole basil leaves
1-2 large peaches, washed but not peeled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Good olive oil
A little balsamic sherry or any vinegar you have or lime juice

Set your oven to broil or turn on/light your grill. Slice the unpeeled peaches into 1/4-inch thick slices, working your way around the peach vertically. Spread the peach slices on a cookie sheet and broil for about 5minutes until browning in a few spots. You don’t want them to fall apart or burn so watch closely. Alternatively grill on foil on a grill.

Cut your slices of toasted bread in halves or thirds. Spread generously with goat cheese (or feta:) and cover cheese with slices of grilled peaches. Salt and pepper the bruschetta at this point and drizzle with a little good olive oil. Then top with the basil leaves and a very light drizzle of balsamic vinegar and enjoy right away!

Food & Healing

tehina sauce date balls vinaigrette
Tahini sauce with garlic, lemon and cumin; classic vinaigrette; ginger, date, nut, tahini balls.

This does not look like my typical mid-summer blog post photo. It is not a typical mid-summer.

I have just been diagnosed with breast cancer and have been learning about foods to nourish me during this journey–chemo therapy and eventually surgery. I am eating tons of fresh vegetables but I am also eating more plant based fats and no more sugar or much in the way of animal products. There is a lot of interesting research on diet vis a vis breast cancer, though I have to say my diet to-date has been pretty darn near ideal to have lowered my risk for this situation so the learning curve has luckily not been as steep as it might have been.

I hope to share my culinary explorations throughout this caper here as I intend to make this as delicious and nourishing a time as possible.

I’ve been making batches of the goodies above: a rich tahini sauce (the latter half of the linked recipe) inspired by the Zahav cookbook using the tahini they use which is better than any I’ve ever tasted. I top vegetables with this creamy sauce/spread, I thin it out to dress salads, I spread it on bread, and eat it by the spoonful, mix it with roasted eggplant for baba ganoush etc.

Having a ready made vinaigrette on hand means that I can dress up any vegetable, cooked or raw, at a moments notice.  It is the difference between wanting to eat veggies rather than moping that I’m not eating any cookies these days!

And the Gingery Date & Nut Balls come in where the cookies used to be. I look forward to developing a local (Oregon) version of these with dried prunes and hazelnuts instead of the dates and pecans I’ve been using.

Finally, here’s a shot of the (beginning of the) vegetable broth that will be key to my therapeutic fasting before, during and after chemo each time. I’ll devote a whole post to this part of the regimen soon.

Fasting veg broth

Gingery Nut & Date Balls

These are fragrant thanks to the ginger, cardamom and cinnamon and rich from the nuts, fruit, tahini and cocoa.

2 cups nuts (hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds. . .or any combination of those or others)
6 large pitted, medjool dates
3-4 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
½  teaspoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
Pinch sea salt

Process nuts in food processor until finely ground. Add dates, spices, tahini, salt and process again until it starts to form a ball. Roll the mixture into balls and then roll in shredded coconut. Refrigerate and enjoy!

Happy Summer and Happy Cooking!

 

Cook With What You Have


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