Maple Donuts, Radio Cherry Bombe and Balance 

I took a short run around the neighborhood park last Saturday afternoon, listening to a podcast called Radio Cherry Bombe led by Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu, co-founders of Cherry Bombe Magazine, a publication celebrating women and food. The podcast highlights important woman in the culinary world through weekly interviews. My first time listening, I selected an old interview with Ruth Reichl, perhaps one of the most well-known and respected women in the food industry.

In the interview, Ruth and Kerry described the food industry as a “career of consumption” which couldn’t be more fitting. Those in the industry literally make a living through the consumption of food themselves, growing and making it for others, or writing about and styling it for the purpose of other people consuming and/or desiring to consume it. Later in the podcast, Ruth and Kerry discuss how many women in the food industry struggle with body image and eating habits.Specifically, how difficult it is to be in the world of food and stay thin because most people in the food industry are literally surrounded by food, be it a food reviewer whose job relies on the next dish they consume or restaurant they visit or a food blogger who tastes several phases of a dish before finally posting it online. They need to consume, in excess at times, in order to complete the work they do. This brief interview sent my mind into a whirlwind of thoughts. Particularly, the juxtaposition this creates of being part of a career of consumption, yet simultaneously obsessing over health, weight and body image. I myself am guilty of being obsessed with food, almost as an idol at times, while concurrently worrying about my health, body image and the impending doom my next baking experiment will inflict on my waist.I feel like this is a small glimpse into the lifelong battle I’ve been fighting with food. The balance between indulging in good food, whether it be at a new restaurant in town (which is often in Seattle) or baking up something in the kitchen, while trying to stay healthy and lean. I recall reading the book How French Women Stay Thin at an early age, hoping to extract any bit of advice to “stay thin”. I also remember the first time I started thinking about food as something bad, and engaging in self-deprivation. At one time I relied on an orange creme Yoplait non-fat yogurt for breakfast daily, followed by another one at lunch with a little granola on top, and then something small for dinner. No snacks. I ate the same thing twice a day because my brother’s girlfriend at the time told me that was the key to losing weight.Sitting here now, just after finishing a run and about to whip up a batch of baked donuts I’ve been dreaming about all week, this seems ridiculous. I cannot even imagine depriving myself of food since it is such an integral part of my life. But I think it is my early obsession with food that led me to my love of the culinary world. I still struggle today in various ways and will certainly do so for the rest of my life in some capacity. It is funny how the things you are most passionate about in life can also cause the most grief and pain. I’ve tried to overcome this through the words of Geneen Roth or other such novels on food and balance, with no such avail. But each day, I strive for balance. I fail often but I am beginning to accept how things are. And that’s why I can go for a run, do a few sit-ups and eat some cookies (or donuts, in this case).

While not your typical fried donuts, these baked ones are delicious. Crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle. They have a hint of nutmeg, thick maple frosting and a sprinkle of large smoked sea salt granules on top.  Additionally, they are gluten-free and vegan and make a nice addition to any brunch or breakfast potluck.Gluten-Free, Vegan Maple Donuts with Smoked Sea Salt

Modified from Peas and Thank You
Makes 10-12 donuts

Ingredients
Donuts
1 1/2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (i.e. Namaste) (or substitute 1/2 cup sorghum flour, though the result is a bit chewier)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup melted vegan butter (i.e. Earth Balance)
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk, or other non-dairy milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar

Frosting
1/2 cup vegan butter (i.e. Earth Balance), softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons maple extract
splash of almond milk (about 1 Tablespoon)
smoked sea salt (i.e. Trader Joe’s)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease or butter donut pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter, milk, vanilla and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add liquid mixture to the flour and stir until just combined. With a small spoon, fill donut cups with batter. Use a knife to smooth out batter, if necessary. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of donuts until firm to touch. Allow donuts to cool in pan for about 5 minutes and then transfer to cooling rack.

While the donuts are cooling, make the frosting. Beat together butter until light and fluffy. Add the maple and mix until combined. Add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until it is thick and creamy. Add a splash of milk to thin, however, you want the frosting to be thick so it holds up on the donuts.

Once cooled, frost cupcakes and top with smoked sea salt. Store leftovers in a sealed container at room temperature or refrigerated.

Where It All Began

I spent Saturday morning walking around one of my favorite Seattle neighborhoods where we resided a few years back. There was a cookbook sale taking place at Book Larder, a community cookbook store in Fremont, which only happens once a year. After spending a half hour or so browsing cookbooks and settling on a new one, I headed over to Lighthouse Roasters, a small unpretentious neighborhood coffee roaster which I’d argue serves the best coffee in town. When living in the area, we frequented this place regularly, always ordering the same thing: 2-16 oz Americanos with room for a touch of cold soy. Sadly, I didn’t recognize any of the baristas who were there day after day serving our coffee for two years. My favorite being the friendly, tall young man, often in an 80’s animal motif t-shirt (usually a large white wolf, sometimes a dog). I grabbed my coffee to go and ventured the long route back to my car in order to take in the sights of our old neighborhood and catch up on the new construction in the area.

It’s quite surreal how quickly the past few years have gone by; it’s been three years this past December since we vacated our little one bedroom 60’s era apartment (massive floor to ceiling mirrored closet doors, flashy chandelier, carport, popcorn ceilings, bedroom mold and all) in North Fremont and moved into our current home; three years being the longest we’ve lived in one place since our childhood homes. At the time, we didn’t realize how lucky we were living in such a trendy, convenient and urban neighborhood. When we originally came across the listing for the apartment, we weren’t familiar with this particular stretch of Fremont though we lived only a mile or so away on top of nearby Queen Anne.

Our apartment was on a residential street, two blocks from the main arterial which was home to noteworthy establishments such as Paseo, Dots Delicatessen (now closed but reopened in Pike Place), Via Tribunali, Pecado Bueno, Vif, Uneeda Burger, Rockcreek, Roux and Marketime Foods. It was near Book Larder and two blocks from Lighthouse Roasters. Quite the line-up.

While our apartment itself was quite bland, we had a large balcony overlooking Dayton Avenue on the second floor of the building. On the 4th of July you could just barely make out a glimmer of fireworks on Lake Union. We kept a small table and chairs out there which we used almost daily in the summer for our morning coffee or dinner while taking in the neighborhood sights.

We lived in that apartment for two years, the last apartment before purchasing our first home across town. Having migrated from a small 500 square foot apartment beforehand it was in that Fremont apartment that we finally had space to host our friends and families. It was also in that apartment that I discovered this quite delicious side salad and integrated it into our repertoire of reliable recipes. The recipe is adapted from Sarah Matheny who closed down her blog, Peas and Thank You, in 2013 and is no longer accessible on the web.

This salad is not only a favorite in our home, but widely appreciated by friends and family. It consists of hearty kale, apples, pistachios and a sweet but tangy sesame vinaigrette. The magic happens when you massage the dressing into the kale leaves (and we aren’t talking a light massage, really get in there good) for several minutes and then let it sit in the refrigerator to absorb and break down the tough fibers in the kale. It’s actually quite therapeutic and if I’m being honest, I sometimes purposefully include this salad in our dinner plans for a few peaceful minutes to clear my mind after a long day.

Sesame Kale Salad with Apples and Pistachios 
Serves 3-4, as a side dish

Ingredients
1 large bunch of curly kale, stems removed
1 red apple (i.e., Gala or Braeburn), chopped
1/2-3/4 cup shelled pistachios, roasted

Dressing
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1.5 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
pinch of salt

Directions
Wash and dry kale, and tear into bite size pieces. Whisk ingredients for dressing until combined well. In a large bowl, pour dressing onto kale and massage into the kale leaves for 2-3 minutes. Add the apple and pistachios, and toss to combine. Set salad aside or refrigerate for at least 15 minutes (as time allows) to enhance flavors. Serve along side main course.

Eating our way through Europe

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetAfter a few years of aspiring to the idea, my husband and I finally pulled the trigger and planned a trip to Europe this past Spring. Wait, Spring? Isn’t it January? Yes, this post has been a long time coming. But I knew I wanted to see it through since we had some pretty memorable eats along the way I wanted to document for others or in hopes of getting the chance to return again.

After debating a number of possible travel options, we settled on Iceland, England, and Denmark. We also made a brief day trip to Malmo, Sweden via train. Due to a number of food sensitivities (particularly gluten and dairy), I researched restaurant and food destinations ahead of time and we ended up visiting a good majority of them. While most were friendly to dietary restrictions, they could be equally enjoyed by anyone and are highly recommended if you pass through this region of the world.

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetCafe Loki – Cafe Loki was our first food stop upon arriving in Iceland. Jet-lagged and starving after a couple hours in the Blue Lagoon on our way into Reykjavik from the airport, we headed to Cafe Loki for a late lunch. Cafe Loki is a quaint Icelandic cafe recommended by a friend of mine, and also suggested across travel sites on the internet. The restaurant is located across the street from Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral (pictured below). The second floor of the cafe was open for lunch and we were fortunate to claim the last open table which was situated in the corner of the restaurant next to the window with a view of the cathedral. The cafe itself was cozy and relaxed, and I wish we had more time to sit and enjoy our meal but needed to check-in at our AirBnb a short while later. For our meal, we ordered the Icelandic meat soup and homemade flat bread with smoked lamb. Both dishes were unique and satisfied our taste for a more traditional Icelandic meal. While we were in a bit of a fog from our long travels and lack of sleep, I feel confident stating that Cafe Loki is definitely an iconic Icelandic experience for anyone visiting Reykjavik.

europe 19.jpgReykjavik Coffee Roasters – Local coffee house and roaster in Reykjavik. We ordered a black Americano (no cream) to go. The coffee reminded me of Stumptown in the States with it’s smooth but slightly bitter taste. The coffee house was off the main shopping street a few blocks and instantly reminiscent of Lighthouse Roasters in Seattle, both in location and ambiance. They offer a few pastries as well (i.e., croissants, buns, etc.) but we didn’t try them during our visit and there weren’t any gluten-free options available.

Sea Baron – The Sea Baron was one of our best and most rewarding meals of the trip. We stumbled across the Sea Baron somewhere on the internet. This hole-in-the-wall restaurant is nestled in a strip of cafes and shops near the harbor. It is extremely small inside and tightly packed (as is often the case with authentic, well-known restaurants it seems) with glass display cases for the food, walk-up order counter, long wood tables, and marine buoys serving as seats. The rows were packed so tightly that it was difficult for more than two people to sit back to back at one time, but rather required customers to stagger themselves which greatly reduced the capacity of the restaurant. The main attraction at the Sea Baron is the Lobster soup and fresh fish skewers. After waiting in line to order, we found a seat and waited some more. And waited. Meanwhile, we listened to the stories of a friendly Australian couple next to us who excitedly shared about their chase for the Northern Lights the night before. Their company kept us distracted from our hunger as we waited roughly 45 minutes (after 9 pm) for our food to arrive. We didn’t order the Lobster soup and regretted this immensely after finding out it was one of the highlights of the Sea Baron. However, the food we ordered did not disappoint. We had salmon, cod and vegetable skewers served with slices of lemon and grilled to perfection. The fish was freshly caught that day. After finishing the juicy, fresh, and perfect Icelandic fish, we hopped in the car and drove into the pitch black mountains to pursue our own chase of the North Lights, inspired by the couple next to us.

kabobsJoe & The Juice – Jo & The Juice was a pleasant surprise in a number of airports and cities in Europe, including the Reykjavik airport. The chain sells juices, smoothies, and flat-bread sandwiches. They also have gluten- and dairy-free options. While the sandwiches were nothing special, I really enjoyed their fresh juice. My favorite was a grapefruit, apple, and ginger combination which helped revitalize me after our long flight. I’d recommend Jo & The Juice as a healthy and quick airport option.

Eldur and Ís – We stumbled across this small cafe after searching for a quick bite to eat on our way out of Reykjavik for a day trip. While walking down one of the main streets in town, we noticed a sign for gluten-free and vegan crepes. They also sell a number of regular options which my husband tried. The cafe is a funky little place that sells coffee, ice cream, desserts, and crepes. They did not have a lot of options for fillings that were vegan and gluten-free so I ended up with a more dessert-like crepe for breakfast which was filled with dark chocolate and strawberries. It was a little rich for me and overall “ok”. The crepe itself was a little bland and did not have the more decadent, buttery taste per usual in France. We also ordered coffees which were nothing special, especially after Reykjavik Coffee Roasters the day before. While I hesitated whether to include this place, they have decent reviews on Yelp and I appreciated the availability of a clearly marked gluten-free and vegan option in town.

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LONDON, ENGLAND


Honest Burger – We arrived in London from Iceland mid-day and headed out to find lunch. Honest Burger came highly recommended for gluten-free eating. There are several locations across London. We visited the location on Portobello Street near Notting Hill and Regent’s Park/Primrose Hill. Honest Burger did not disappoint. They pride themselves on simple, quality-centered food. The service was friendly and quick, and the food was on spot. The burger and gluten-free bun were excellent. The burgers were served with rosemary -salted chips (fries) and sauce as well. Great place for a bite while walking around the city.

IMG_0822Nopi – This was hands down our favorite meal of our vacation. We scheduled a reservation for noon, which is recommended as the restaurant is in a bustling part of town and filled up quickly at the lunch hour. While the food was exceptional, the interior decor was quite remarkable as well. The restaurant was bright, with lots of white and simple gold features. We started the meal with a carrot, apple and ginger juice, followed by a number of small vegetable plates. The juice was vibrant in color and very smooth, likely the best I’ve had. Once we were ready to order, we were provided a separate menu for gluten- and dairy-free options and given five plus minutes of individual attention while the waiter reviewed each item with us, taking care to meet our needs. We ended up ordering five or six small vegetable plates in lieu of a larger menu item. Our favorites included a charred broccoli dish and cold roast sweet potatoes with goat cheese and honey. My husband, never a vegetarian and rarely filled by vegetable-based dishes, declared this to be his favorite meal of the trip. I highly recommend adding it to your itinerary if in London.

IMG_0839Borough Market – A good friend of mine recommended checking out Borough Market in the Southend of London. Borough Market is one of London’s open food markets with an wealthy array of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, bread, pastries, charcuterie, food stands, and fresh juice. It was extremely busy mid-day and seemed like a prime spot to grab a quick bite to eat. After wandering around for a while, we grabbed some gluten-free bread, salami, and prosciutto carved from the pig’s leg, right in front of us. We ended our meal with a slice of Victoria Sponge cake from Free From Bakehouse, a bakery free from all allergens, which was one of the best desserts we tried during our travels.IMG_0895IMG_0896Mildred’s (Camden) – Mildred’s is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant (including many gluten-free options) with three locations throughout London (Soho, Camden, Kings Cross). The interior is retro/mid-century inspired and the place was bustling with locals. Despite a busy evening and no reservation, we were able to get right in without a wait. We decided on a stir-fry of sorts (based on feedback from the waiter) and the Sri Lankan sweet potato and green bean curry with roasted lime cashews, pea basmati rice and coconut tomato sambal. The curry was by far the favorite and an exceptional one at that. I highly recommend ordering it if you find yourself seated at a table at Mildred’s next time you are in London.

Shoryu Ramen (Soho) – Shoryu was an exceptional surprise. After having to abandon our earlier dining plans, we discovered London has quite the ramen scene. In addition, we came across this particular place, also with several locations across London, which offered gluten-free noodles. The place was packed and we ended up waiting nearly 45 minutes outside on a chilly evening for a table. However, in the end, it was definitely worthwhile. The main highlight was the execution of the gluten-free noodles which were similar, if not indistinguishable from my husband’s regular ramen noodles. The wait staff was also very friendly and helpful with the menu. Overall, a worthwhile visit.

Dishoom (Shoreditch) – We traveled across town to the hip Shoreditch neighborhood in hopes of obtaining Indian food. We were disappointed to find a number of cliché Indian restaurants with hosts outside on the sidewalk hassling us to dine in their establishments. This was not the experience we were looking for and we ended up wandering around Shoreditch looking for another place to eat. Eventually, Yelp directed us to Dishoom which had quite impressive reviews. There are multiple locations across town, which we did not know at the time. We excitedly hopped in line and asked the hostess for the wait time only to find it was at two hours and we were starved. We abandoned the line and headed back to Soho for a bowl of ramen (see above). Sadly we didn’t achieve our goal of trying Indian food in London on this trip but we will surely make it here the next time and prepare ahead of time for the long wait.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetTorvehallerne Market – Torvehallerne Market reminded me of a better executed Santa Barbara Public Market. This is a must-visit in Copenhagen for a quick bite to eat, people-watch, or mingle with the locals. It is made-up of two buildings which each house over 60 stands selling everything from fresh produce, fish and meat to gourmet chocolate and spices, as well as small places where you can have a quick bite to eat. It also houses a number of our favorites below such as GRØD, Hija de Sanchez, and The Coffee Collective. Additionally, there is an open air produce market between the two buildings and a covered area with tables for communal seating. Torvehallerne is right off the underground transportation and near the main tourist street as well, so it is a great place to stop by on your way into the heart of Copenhagen.

Copenhagen 12.jpgGRØD – GRØD was our go-to breakfast place during our stay in Copenhagen. There was a location in Nørrebro on Jægersborggade which we ventured to our first day. However, due to a lengthy wait for our food, we grabbed take-away porridge at the location in Torvehallerne Market on the other days. The name, GRØD, translates to porridge and primarily serves coffee, juice and porridge. It includes an array of options from a more traditional oatmeal to spelt porridge with chestnut puree, apple and toasted almonds. During our visit, there was also an Indian dal on the menu as well as risotto. However, the menu changes weekly and focuses on seasonal eats. Additionally, they offer a large selection of toppings to choose from if you go the more traditional porridge route. The menu also includes gluten-free options, my favorite being the oat/quinoa porridge with rice milk and topped with fresh blueberries, Valrhona chocolate and mixed nuts (below).
The Coffee Collective (Jægersborggade) – Similar to Reykjavik Roasters, The Coffee Collective reminded me of a mix between Lighthouse and Stumptown in the States. The Americano was smooth but a little bitter. The atmosphere, in particular, was very much like Lighthouse, feeling as though you were right in the roaster and with limited seating. There are several locations but this one in particular was their first and is quite unique. It is an open coffee bar, with no counter separating customers from the baristas, creating a relaxed communal feel. There is a small back room with additional seating as well as some bench seating out front (pictured below). We loved the coffee so much we brought back two bags for gifts, regretting that we didn’t reserve some for ourselves. There is another convenient location in Toverhallerne Market to snag a coffee on the way into the city center.

IMG_0920Hija de Sanchez – Hija de Sanchez is a Taqueria, or taco stand, housed at Torvehallerne Market. It is an outside food vendor between the two buildings. The Taqueria was started by the former pastry chef at Noma and often has guest appearances from Noma chefs, as indicated in a magazine review in Bon Appétit in July 2015 . While we weren’t able to obtain a seat at Noma (a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen), we were able to get a taste of the quality of food and service while dining at Hija de Sanchez. At the time, the taco stand served a limited selection of tacos, just three options. They also offered fresh chips and a deliciously addicting green avocado salsa. I didn’t go to Copenhagen expecting to find some of the best Mexican food I’ve tasted, but this place defied my expectations upon first bite. We ordered the lengua and fish tacos. The lengua, or beef tongue, was our favorite. Though, the fish tacos weren’t far behind and were unlike any fish tacos I’ve had before. Additionally, the tortillas and chips are made to order right at the stand, as fresh as can be. IMG_0911Nha Trang – Just as I didn’t go to Copenhagen expecting to find the best Mexican food, I also didn’t anticipate discovering exceptional Vietnamese food but we found that as well, right down the block from our AirBnb in Nørrebro. Despite being 5,000 miles from home, it felt as though we were sitting in Ba Bar, one of my favorite restaurants back home. We loved this place so much that we went back a second time for take-away. The first night, we ate in and managed to snag the last available table. The menu was extensive and in Danish. We ordered a steamed pork pancake to start with fish sauce and crispy fried shallots. I ordered the noodle bowl with grilled chicken skewers, greens, fried shallots, chopped peanuts and fish sauce. My husband’s dish was decent but I can’t actually recall what it was, so it clearly wasn’t the show stopper. However, this grilled chicken vermicelli bowl was likely the best I’ve experienced. The next night, we both ordered the same dish for a second time and enjoyed it in our quaint little AirBnB. Sometimes the best places are those you stumble upon unexpectedly. IMG_0958Sidecar – Sidecar was another unique find in our neighborhood, just a few blocks away from our AirBnb. While they didn’t have a lot of gluten-free options, we made it work. We ordered the Smørrebrød breakfast platter, a riff off the iconic Danish open-faced sandwiches. They brought out the traditional rye bread in addition to pickled red onions, tuna with capers, sliced avocado with roasted almonds (my favorite!), fresh butter, scrambled eggs with chives and Serrano ham with fresh thyme. There was also sausage, oatmeal “granola” with toppings and miniature American pancakes with blueberry sauce. We enjoyed this feast with two Americanos. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was quite chill and comfortable (there were folks reading, studying or chatting with friends). The staff were friendly and on our first visit, sat with us and reviewed the entire menu written in Danish. I loved that this place felt like a neighborhood joint, well-appreciated by those nearby. IMG_0940
Nicecream – Whenever I travel, I need to find a good ice cream place. It just feels necessary to eat ice cream on vacation. After coming across this place on Yelp and another food blog, we decided to give it a try. As I can’t have dairy, Nicecream was a vegan ice cream shop (made with coconut milk) and are known for their ice cream cookie sandwiches and ice cream bars. Again, this place was in our neighborhood and easy to get to. Fittingly, it was run by two Icelandic men, bringing us full circle to where we started on our expedition. We went there for a ice cream cookie sandwich, only to find they weren’t gluten-free. However, we got a chance to try their ice cream bars as a result, definitely a great alternative. The bars were made up of coconut ice cream and a vegan chocolate shell outer layer with toppings such as peanuts and coconut. I ordered the Chai-flavored one which was perfectly sweet and creamy and definitely didn’t taste vegan; my husband chose a peanut butter flavored one. The Chai-flavored one was by far our favorite. The shop itself was small and there was no seating inside. We grabbed our ice cream bars and sat outside on a small bench watching the locals ride by on their bikes during rush hour, enjoying one of our last evenings abroad.

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MALMO, SWEDEN

Atrium Cafe – Last but not least, we took a day trip over to Malmo, Sweden from Copenhagen via train. We wandered around the small but modern city of Malmo for a couple of hours. Per a recommendation I found on another blog, we decided on the Atrium Cafe for a quick snack and drink. The Atrium Cafe was outside of the heart of Malmo in a residential area. It was quite difficult to find at first and doesn’t seem to come up on Yelp, but we eventually found our way there. It was a beautiful little cafe with lots of charm. While it was fairly chilly out, we opted to sit outside on the small sunny patio with other customers, clearly locals. We split a croissant with chocolate filling (not gluten-free) and enjoyed an almond milk cappuccino and latte before walking back to the train along the long waterfront park and through the city center.

Copenhagen 42.jpgI’ll end with a couple non-food related photos from our adventures…

 

The Art of Simplicity & The Best Dark Chocolate Bark

I am sitting here, at my dining room table, at a quarter past midnight wondering where in the world did this day go. It is winter break (one benefit of working in the U.S. public education system) and I am not relaxed. I have a clear ache in my neck, my jaw is clenched, and I feel wired – unable to sleep.

I’ve referenced minimalism in a previous post and find myself constantly going back to this concept. There is a great deal of noise in this world which can be stifling. Half the time I feel as though I am walking around scattered, with a heavy chest, or panic-stricken, as a result of a busy and stressful schedule. While some of this “weight” is legitimate (i.e., legal deadlines at work, ongoing social commitments, etc.), I often impose a great deal of unnecessary burden on myself. I tend to concoct these ridiculous deadlines, lists, and obligations for no clear rhyme or reason. Moreover, I feel suffocated by the number of “things” in my life, sometimes getting the impulse to throw it all away. I overcompensate by running around my house like a chicken with it’s head cut off, grabbing miscellaneous items and tossing them into a paper sack to donate.

I think it is safe to say that many of you likely follow in these same footsteps and can understand where I am coming from. Seeing as it is nearly 2017 and this is the time of year we start to become optimistic about the upcoming 365 days, making resolutions and hoping for a new beginning, I feel it is appropriate to reflect on this past year and it’s many challenges (because 2016 was clearly a terrible year on a personal, national and global level).

So come January 1st, I know I need to make a change. I hate to make New Year’s resolutions because we all know the research – they don’t last, they are temporary. And this can’t be temporary. I am desperately clinging to the hope that I can change, finally. Permanently. I am done imposing arbitrary deadlines on myself, stressing over realities I truly cannot change, and contributing to a world of over-consumption. I want balance, I need balance. And less. Or as Shauna Niequist, author of Present Over Perfect, eloquently writes:

What I ache for these days is space, silence, stillness. Sabbath. I want to clear away space and noise and things to do and things to manage. I want less of everything. Less stuff. Less rushing. Less proving and pushing. Less hustle. Less snapping at my kids so that they’ll get themselves into the car faster so we can go buy more stuff that we’re going to throw away. Less consumption. Less feeling like my mind is fragmented and my stomach is bloated and my life is out of control.

Preach, Shauna. I know how you feel.
Thus, in light of this conversation, I knew I had the perfect recipe to share. It’s been on my list (yes, another list and a long one at that) for months. I came across this recipe for chocolate bark in one of my most adored cookbooks, The Food Lover’s Cleanse, by Sara Dickerman. It is one of my go-to desserts because of its short list of ingredients, healthful qualities, and satisfying nature. It feels grown-up or sophisticated, unlike the milk or white chocolate bark of my early days. And it’s the perfect addition to your New Year’s spread, without taking up a lot of time or ingredients.

I am hoping to incorporate more things like this (simple, healthy, imperfect) into my life as I venture into 2017 and eventually into my 30’s come August. I figure I’d better start now and hopefully get some traction before the new year rings in.

Dark Chocolate Bark with Honey-Toasted Quinoa and Amaranth
Modified from Sara Dickerman’s, The Food Lover’s Cleanse
Serves 8

Ingredients
2 Theo’s 70% chocolate bars (3 oz each)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 heaping tbsp quinoa
2 heaping tbsp amaranth seeds
1 1/2 tsp honey
flaky sea salt

Directions
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a large frying pan, heat the quinoa and amaranth seeds over medium, stirring them every few seconds to avoid burning. After they begin to pop, continue heating for approximately 10-15 more seconds. Remove from heat and stir in the honey until all of the quinoa and amaranth is incorporated into small clumps. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 1-minute. Stir the chocolate and continue heating until melted, stirring with a spatula every 30 seconds. One the chocolate is smooth, stir in the cinnamon. Pour the chocolate onto the parchment paper. Spread the chocolate into a thin, even layer using a knife or icing spatula. Then, sprinkle the clumps of toasted quinoa and amaranth across the chocolate. Finish with a couple pinches of flaky sea salt. Chill in the fridge until hard, approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. Once firm, break into pieces and serve. Store in the fridge or freezer to avoid the chocolate from melting.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Cumin-Spiked Chickpeas

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I have a bit of a love affair with cauliflower. It’s quite a wonderful specimen in so many countless ways: it’s versatile, adds body and depth, and can be consumed raw, roasted, sauteed, or riced in a food processor. It’s perfect in curry (here is one of my favorites), roasted and tossed with pasta (this one is excellent), roasted underneath a bed of bone-in chicken pieces, embedded in Yotam Ottolenghi’s amazing Cauliflower Cake, or pureed as a substitute for mashed potatoes. While I think I’ve had cauliflower at least three times this week, this particular recipe has to be one of my favorites. 

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Cauliflower. Chickpeas. Cumin. This soup is out of this world – creamy, flavorful and filling. The perfect dish to impress guests on a chilly winter day. Pair it with a chunk of good bread, perhaps a slice of rosemary loaf from Macrina. The soup itself is inspired from a post by Not Without Salt on Instagram earlier this month. I originally prepared a tray of gluten-free croutons to top the first batch. The chickpeas were a later addition that pair nicely with the soup and add a whole other level of flavor and crunch.

My husband and I enjoyed this particular soup over the weekend with my parents. It was a spur of the moment get-together. We wanted a meal that was fairly light (my parents were coming from a wedding buffet earlier that afternoon) yet exciting and out-of-the-ordinary as we were celebrating the holidays. It was easily prepared ahead of time and warmed up when ready to feast. My parents contributed a sampling of hors d’oeuvres including smoked salmon, rice crackers, and Trader Joe’s truffle cheese (a must try). I baked a loaf of gluten-free bread and sliced up a purchased baguette for the others. We sat down to a comforting meal with a glass of wine and the glow of the white lights dotting the Christmas tree in the background. The moment my mother took a taste of this soup – I knew it was worthy of sharing. Make it soon. You won’t regret it.

pic3Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Cumin-Spiked Chickpeas
Serves 4

Ingredients
Soup
2 heads of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 yellow onion, chopped into quarters
2-3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
olive oil
salt & pepper
a couple tablespoons of broth (optional)

Roasted Cumin-Spiked Chickpeas
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and dried
1-2 tbsp cumin
olive oil
salt

Directions
Chop vegetables and toss on a sheet pan. Drizzle a couple tablespoons of olive oil over the vegetables and a couple large pinches of salt. Mix to coat and roast at 450º for approximately 45 minutes until vegetables are soft and have a nice dark color in places. Toss a few times to ensure the vegetables cook evenly and add more salt and olive oil, as needed. Reserve the sheet pan for roasting the chickpeas later.

Toss vegetables into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for approximately 20 minutes. Add a few pinches of salt and pepper. Using an immersion blender (I imagine you could use a stand-up blender as well), blend until smooth and creamy. I usually blend the mixture for a few minutes until the soup is silky and smooth. Add a couple tablespoons of broth (vegetable or chicken) until desired consistency (optional). Season with salt and pepper as needed. Keep warm until ready to serve.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the chickpeas. Using the same sheet pan as used for the vegetables, scatter the chickpeas, drizzle with olive oil, salt and cumin and toss to combine. Roast at 450º until crispy and browned, approximately 20 minutes. After the chickpeas are roasted, you can add a bit more cumin for extra flavor, if desired. While the chickpeas can be prepared ahead of time, I wouldn’t advise it as they tend to get soft when stored.

Once ready to eat, ladle the soup into bowls and serve with a big spoonful of chickpeas in the center.

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Creamy Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese with Roasted Vegetables 

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39b7607a-cd46-4a80-a32c-8ad162993d7dI love a good story, especially when it involves food. I want to know where the recipe came from as well as the why and the who. Because food, well, isn’t all that special without the context; it is the story that connects us with food and those around us. So you wouldn’t be surprised that I was disappointed to find out that one of our most beloved and consumed meals had, in fact, a rather boring past. I remember asking my mother when she first started making her macaroni and cheese, fully expecting to hear some remarkable tale of origin. Instead, discovering the recipe was from my cousin (Jeff), someone who doesn’t cook, who had acquired the recipe in his high school Home Ec class (an elective that was only intended to provide a quick and easy introduction to cooking). I also took that course in high school and the only lasting memory I have involves sampling a piece of slimy, unseasoned tofu-a terrible first experience-so I don’t find that class to be all that reputable.

Anyway, while I don’t particularly appreciate the origin of my mother’s macaroni and cheese, it was always a good one. We ate the dish regularly, likely due to its ease in preparation without sacrificing flavor (some credit due to my cousin’s Home Ec class for that). Most of the preparation is done without a stove and in the microwave so I imagine it’s even quite possible to whip up this gourmet mac ‘n cheese in a dorm room, if so desired.

I recall learning how to make this recipe at a fairly young age. First, my mother would boil the pasta (small shells, usually Barilla or some comparable brand) and set it aside. Meanwhile, she would retrieve an oven safe dish and toss in the butter which would be melted in the microwave. Then the flour was added to make a roux, followed by the milk which she whisked vigorously to combine. After the mixture was smooth, she would toss in a couple cups of medium sharp cheddar cheese and place the dish back in the microwave, whisking the mixture periodically until the cheese had melted and was combined with the other ingredients to form a thick, creamy cheese sauce. The cooked pasta was then added to the sauce and placed into the oven for 20 or so minutes until it was bubbly and hot. That was it – quick, simple but extremely satisfying and decadent. I ate this recipe well into my twenties. While there were some who tried to convince us to add sliced up hot dogs in our macaroni or sprinkle bread crumbs on top, we typically ate this dish pure, which I preferred.

Fast forward several years and I decided I needed to find a healthier version of this beloved meal. I experimented with a hummus-based dish (just didn’t cut it for me), butternut squash macaroni and cheese, and a number of versions with roasted veggies (like this excellent one here). I then realized a rather substantial intolerance to dairy. I recall feeling at a loss for a while, uncertain if I’d experience the same nostalgic and satisfying experience of this comfort food dish again without the unfortunate physical effects of consuming dairy. Consequently, I went on a search for a new recipe-sans cheese but still as satisfying.

I finally came across this recipe for a vegan macaroni and cheese based off one of the best I’ve tried at Plum Bistro in Seattle. I spent the last year playing around with the recipe and have settled on a variation I think is best. I’ve added in some touches I think make this a more well-balanced meal (think roasted vegetables) and eliminated some of the spice and bread crumbs to create my favorite macaroni and cheese yet.

This dish is comforting and delicious. It can be customized with paprika, hot pepper flakes, bread crumbs, and using whichever veggies you prefer. I imagine it may even go over well with some bacon tossed in. Additionally, I’ve eliminated the pasta and made a gratin of sorts with just the “cheese” sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts and cauliflower which I brought to Thanksgiving last year and was an absolute hit.Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese with Roasted Vegetables (GF + V)
Modified from Vegan Richa, Plum’s Spicy Mac n Yease
Serves 3-4 as a main course or 5-6 as a side

Ingredients
Roasted Vegetables
1-2 heads of cauliflower, cut into medium-sized florets
1 bunch Brussels sprouts, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
couple pinches of sea salt

Sauce
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (e.g., Namaste)
1 cup unsweetened plain almond milk
1/2 cup water
1-2 pinches sea salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp Tamari
4-5 tbsp nutritional yeast

1-12 oz bag gluten-free pasta (I used Tinkyada Brown Rice pasta, any shape)

Directions
Preheat oven to 450º degrees. Toss Brussels sprouts and cauliflower with olive oil and salt and roast for 40-45 minutes until soft and crispy. Toss halfway through to ensure the vegetables roast evenly. Broil for a few minutes at the end for some extra color on the vegetables, making sure to keep a close eye so they don’t burn.

While the vegetables are roasting, boil a pot of water with a pinch of salt. Cook pasta as directed on package. Drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, heat a medium-sized sauce pan over medium. Add olive oil and flour. Whisk to create a roux, taking care not to burn the mixture. Add milk and water to the pan and whisk until smooth and the sauce begins to thicken. Add salt, garlic powder, oregano, mustard, Tamari, and nutritional yeast. Whisk to combine. If desired, use a little extra milk to thin sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning. This would be a good time to add any red pepper flakes, paprika, and/or cayenne pepper (approximately 1/4-1/2 tsp), if you prefer some heat.

Add pasta directly to the sauce. Mix in roasted vegetables (including crispy bits – the best part). Serve immediately.

If leaving out the pasta and serving as a vegetable side dish, I toss the vegetables into a shallow baking dish and cover with the sauce. This can be served immediately or warmed in the oven with foil on top.

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Classic Ginger Snaps

Every family has their dependable line-up of classic holiday cookies they bake without hesitation each year. My family is no exception to the rule. I’ve eaten the same rotation of Italian Christmas cookies since I was three feet tall and sprouting bangs, pigtails, and floral jumpsuits. The same cookies, year after year, which gets a little old after awhile, especially when those cookies (Biscotti, Almond Roca, Shortbread, Pizzelles) make an appearance at two family Christmas parties, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Each of my Italian relatives brings similar cookies or rifts off the tradition as well. One, for instance, is my great-aunt’s buttery Almond Roca which she packages in colorful cardboard boxes for each family. That calculates to 116 indulgent parties throughout my lifetime, plus take-home. I feel like I need to put on my stretchy pants just thinking about it. I can imagine some of you can relate.

Don’t get me wrong, these are good cookies. In fact, they are exceptional. Especially the Pizzelles, a favorite of mine, which I eat slowly and methodically, square-by-square of the thin waffle-imprinted cookies. I come from a long line of great cooks and bakers. And I take honor in learning and creating these cookies, along side my mother and grandmother.

However, this year was different. I glanced at my discolored note cards with cookies recipes scribbled within the small lines, smudging in places. My grandmother’s handwriting quite difficult to decipher. I considered making the standby’s several times, taking out and putting away the same recipes over and over again before finding myself scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram for other inspiration which is so readily available at our finger tips these days. This year’s list included: Buttery Lace Cookies (with orange zest in lieu of the lemon) via Food 52, Dorie’s World Peace Cookies with flaky Maldon’s Sea Salt (because who isn’t hoping to spread a little world peace this holiday season for a number of reasons I won’t recount right now), and Pecan Shortbread from Food & Wine-each modified to be gluten- and dairy-free, but that’s to be expected as you’ve likely realized at this point.

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While none of my family’s Italian standby’s made an appearance this year, I did bake a batch (or four) of our most beloved holiday cookies-Chewy Ginger Snaps. I entered one batch into a local baking competition at my favorite cookbook store, Book Larder, and stored away the leftover cookies which freeze beautifully. The two other batches I prepared were trial runs for the competition, many of which were consumed by my husband and I and thankfully, a few others.This recipe, while it doesn’t trace back to my Italian roots, is dear to my heart. These gingersnaps are timeless-they’ve accompanied me through camping trips, the perilous teenage years, and often show up in care packages from my mother. They are chewy yet crisp on the bottom. They have a deep molasses flavor with warm bursts of cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. The top is severely cracked and dotted with brilliant little glimmers of sugar. I prefer this recipe molded into large, medallion-sized cookies. However, those pictured are much smaller to cater to the requirements of the baking competition mentioned above. While I could continue to gush about these perfect ginger snaps, I’d rather leave you with the recipe and suggest you whip up a batch this season. They have minimal ingredients, can be made with a basic hand-mixer, and are easily adapted to meet dietary needs (i.e., gluten-free, dairy-free).

Chewy Ginger Snaps
Makes 12-16 large cookies or 2 dozen medium-sized cookies

Ingredients
3/4 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (room temperature)
1 cup organic granulated sugar
4 tbsp molasses (“Grandmas” or preferred brand)
1 large egg, unbeaten
2 cups flour (can sub gluten-free all-purpose, i.e., Namaste brand)
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves

Directions
Preheat oven to 350º and prepare baking sheet with parchment paper. Cream shortening and sugar together in a large bowl using a hand- or stand-mixer, either works. Add molasses and egg, and beat thoroughly. Sift flour, soda, salt, and spices in a separate bowl. Combine with creamed mixture. Roll dough in sizes of large marbles and then roll in sugar. Bake for 11-12 minutes, making sure to keep the cookies separated by enough room as they spread in the oven. I always pull mine out on the early side, about 11 minutes, since I prefer a chewy, doughy center. Let cool for several minutes on a wire rack. While these are delicious on their own, I often prefer to enjoy my cookies with a scoop of vanilla ice cream as an evening treat.