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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!

 

Kimchi & Dals & the Comfort of Daily Habits

kimchi in jar top

Many Koreans eat kimchi, the fermented cabbage and/or root dish everyday, with-or in most meals. Dals, the split lentils, peas or beans cooked into a savory stew with spices, grace tables over all over Southeast Asia, particularly Indian, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and are often simply enjoyed with rice–a protein rich, inexpensive meal.

I am interested in these cultural/culinary traditions, in part because of their daily consumption (with plenty of variation). There are certainly things I eat regularly and I am more and more interested in simplifying and finding variety in nuance and combinations rather than completely new sets of ingredients each day. Having a CSA or shopping at famers’ markets is a good guide as the vegetables change week to week or month to month but the surrounding staples, like shelf-stable fermented foods and long-lasting dry/staple goods like lentils and beans provide constant comfort, if you will.

Both kimchi and dals have infinite variations, from family to family and region to region. I have been making both for a decade or so and have barely scratched the surface of these iconic dishes, learning slowly from folks who grew up with these foods, central to their culture and identity. Sauerkraut is my cultural equivalent (to the kimchi) and though I like it I am much more drawn to the spice and complexity of its Korean cousin.  Tis the season here in the Pacific Northwest for Napa Cabbage, the most central of kimchi ingredients and I will be starting a batch today.

And I particularly love red lentils; the cook quickly, my son loves them, and they’re just plain delicious and easily imbued with all sorts of spices and herbs.

Simple Red Lentil Dal

red lentil dal simple

This takes 20 minutes (at the most) to make and is richly flavored. It’s delicious just with rice or with Sautéed Chard with Ginger, Jalapeño and Sausages or with stewed meats or other vegetables or grains. It is superb the next day and freezes well so by all means double the recipe. You can also stir leafy greens such as spinach, turnip, beet or mustard greens into the lentils a few minutes before they’re done

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups red lentils
1/2 an onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 jalapeño, thinly sliced (omit seeds if you’re nervous bout the heat level) or a whole one if you like spice
Salt
3 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons oil or ghee (clarified butter)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons brown/black mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

Put the lentils in a large sauce pan with the garlic, onion, Jalepeño and water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer and cover partially. Cook gently for about 12-15 minutes until the lentils are tender and beginning to fall apart.

In a small skillet heat the oil or ghee. When it’s shimmering add the mustard and cumin seeds and stir well. They will begin to pop and spit after 20 seconds or so. Add the turmeric, stir well and cook for another few seconds. Take off the heat and pour all of the spices and oil (scrape out well with a spatula) into the lentils along with 1 teaspoon salt and stir in well and cover. Garnish with chopped cilantro and season to taste with more salt if needed.

CSA Love (!) and Creamy, Indian-spiced Spring Vegetables

Indian spiced creamy peas turnips cabbage

Want to enjoy the freshest produce? Get a CSA.

 

Want to become a better cook? Get a CSA.

 

Want to keep your $$ in your community? Get a CSA.

 

Want to expand your/your children’s/family’s palate? Get a CSA.

 

Want to save money? Get a CSA. (Because when you already have all that produce you will likely not go out to eat because you want/need to eat the food you’ve already paid for and because if you stock your pantry well and get those weekly veggies you will spend less because you’ll run to the store less. Buy a case or two of lovely white or rose and spend summer evenings on your porch with your veggies and your wine! . . . want to find me? That’s where I’ll be!)

 

Want to feel connected to your community? Get a CSA.

 

Want to really be in tune with the seasons? Get a CSA.

 

Worried you’ll miss the farmers’ market? You can still go and buy fruit and whatever else you’re craving! But get a CSA too!

 

CSA is not for everyone. If you travel lots during the summer it’s not your best bet. If you hate to cook, don’t get one either:)!

 

I love my CSA for the above reasons. If you’ve been thinking of giving it a try, now’s the perfect time. I work with many CSA farms including these below. If I haven’t covered your region look here or here.

 

 

And in someone else’s words:

 

“I just wanted to let you know that I cooked up a batch of your Sweet Hot and Sour Eggplant the other day and it is absolutely fantastic.  I didn’t have any fresh peppers, so I just chopped up a bunch of Ayers Creek dried cayennes and cooked them down with it.  It’s an easy recipe to throw together, requiring no trips to the store (always nice) and very delicious.  I served it alongside some sesame and scallion udon noodles I got the idea for from whatsername on the NYTimes.  Melissa Clark. Anyway, they played well together.  Thanks for yet another recipe that makes me seem like a better cook than I actually am!” Giana, Portland, OR

 

Creamy, Spiced Peas, Turnips and Cabbage
–Inspired by Quick & Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey

 

The complex flavors in this dish belie the speed with which it comes together. It is a good template as many different vegetables can be used and you can add meats or seafood as you like. I use whatever combination of vegetables I have on hand. You could use asparagus, snap peas and spinach or potatoes and green beans  or winter squash and cauliflower. . . You can also just use a single vegetable.

 

I sometimes serve it with barely hard cooked eggs to turn this into a meal, with rice.

 

Serves 4

 

For the sauce:

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, more to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste or 2-3 roasted (frozen) tomatoes, finely chopped
Scant 1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon  lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons oil
Generous 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
Generous 1/2 teaspoon brown or yellow mustard seeds
1 small bunch Salad Turnips or 1 large regular turnip, diced (no need to peel if you’re using salad turnips). By all means use the tender stems and leaves of salad turnips, chopped, if you have them, as well
1/4 small cabbage, cored and chopped fairly finely
2 cups fresh, shelled peas or 1 10-oz bag frozen peas or trimmed and chopped snap peas
Rice for serving

 

I sometimes serve it with barely hard cooked eggs to turn this into a meal, with rice.

 

In a small bowl stir together the cumin, garam masala, salt, red pepper flakes, tomato (paste) and 2 tablespoons water. Whisk in the cream, lemon juice and cilantro and set aside.

 

Heat the oil in  large saucepan or deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and wait until they start popping, 10-20 seconds typically. Add the turnips and cabbage and couple pinches of salt. Stir well and cover and cook for about 5-7 minutes until the vegetables are almost tender. Add the peas and cook for a few more minutes until tender and heated through. Stir the sauce into the vegetables and simmer for 2-3 minutes until thickened a little. Taste and adjust seasoning with more lemon and/or salt and hot pepper to taste.

 

Serve hot over rice. I like to serve it with just barely hard-cooked eggs–eggs covered in cold water, brought to a boil, then removed from heat and left sitting, covered in their hot cooking water for 7 minutes, then drained and peeled.

 

 

Sorrel (Sandwiches) & a Cooking Class

sorrel egg sandwich

Constraints really are the mother of creativity. In this case the constraints were: 1) what’s available, any given morning, in my pantry and puny garden in early spring, and 2) what my 9-year-old might/will eat in his school lunch. He loves mortadella sandwiches and I had indulged by buying this classic Italian lunch meat a few times but a few weeks ago I was out of it.

He’s always been one to prefer herbs (cilantro, parsley, basil) as the green in his sandwich but I didn’t have any of those either. I did have sorrel! It’s a perennial and does well with no care or attention and starts leafing out this time of year. It’s tender, nice and tart and really a perfect sandwich green. With no mortadella, a hard cooked egg stood in, all dressed with plenty of salt, pepper and olive oil. Add a thin layer of sharp cheddar and the new favorite sandwich was born. I always have eggs, they don’t go bad (as mortadella can do rather quickly). Cooking with what I had turned into a winner and I’ve taken to eating these sandwiches too though I add quickly pickled onions to mine (just thinly sliced and marinated in red wine vinegar for at least 10 minutes 0r up to many weeks–I keep a jar of them on hand).

Sorrel in garden
The slugs love the sorrel as do leaf miners but it grows so quickly we all seem to get enough!

And speaking of cooking-with-what-you-have, I’ve just posted a cooking class on said subject: How to Set Yourself up for Success: Tricks, Favorite Dishes & Pantry Stocking for Everyday Cooking. Register here if this sounds useful/fun.