No crematory. It was a very clear sign. Black and white, literally. Oddly placed next to… what is that? A stone urn? This early in the morning, gulping down coffee with feverish abandon. As if there was any other way to consume coffee at that hour of the day. Why are thoughts suddenly turning to Jim Morrison; was he cremated? He was buried; so non-conspiracy theorists say. Synapting to Huxley, which only makes sense, really. Logical jump, he might say. Was it possible he used cocaine in addition? Probably for pain, it was common then. But he died on LSD. Morrison probably died on cocaine. I choose coffee, which is often wrongly ascribed as a bean. It’s a berry. So is cocaine.
This week in a moment of weakness I did the unthinkable: I bought a bottle of salad dressing. Ok, perhaps not unthinkable but I would guess it has easily been a few years since I bought a bottle of salad dressing as I like to make my own. But I was tired and too busy with work to dress my salad as I normally would have done. On my latte run, I grabbed a bottle of orange-y dressing that promised to be full of tahini and tomato goodness. It was; only problem was that it was full of oil, too. I, of course, still finished off the bottle in a few days–it was delicious! And, I wanted more; convinced it would be excellent for my taco salad this coming week.
Lacking inspiration for this week’s recipe while I was planning, I decided a remake was in order. I could make it a little healthier and for less cost on my own; fortunately for us all (except perhaps Annie, from whose company this dressing hails). Now, be forewarned: my recipe makes about 20 ounces of dressing. I’m planning for salads for a week, sometimes twice a day (and if you ever saw the size of the salads I eat you’d understand), but this is easily halved to give you about the same as a regular bottle of dressing.
Nikki’s Take on Annie’s Woodstock Dressing
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 cups vegetable stock (or water)
3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon sea salt
- In a blender or food processor container soak tomatoes in 1 1/2 cups of stock (or water ) for 30-45 minutes.
- Add in the rest of the ingredients except the remaining 1/4 cup of stock.
- Blend until well incorporated, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Use remaining stock to thin during blending as needed.
- Dressing will be thick and creamy.
Use immediately or refrigerate until ready. Will keep for up to a week.
It was an unlikely winter day full of omens, had I chose to observe them–take heed even–for cruising graveyards. The first was the bizarre man who walked up and began talking on random topics in quick, clipped bursts–confused as to how he should order a cup of coffee. An hour later, out of coffee at a red light, the 1985 Seville pulled up along my right side–he could have been a brother-in-arms judging by the wild look and receding hairline. “You’re car is so tiny; did you have to go on a diet?” Worst line ever. I made sure I’d lost him as I pulled into the drive next to a shabby stone church and through the ornate, unusually shiny gate.
Over the years I’ve learned to ignore the peculiar looks; anyone who asked I told I was either a historian or an anthropologist, but only once the mistake of a genealogist. It was far better than admitting I was walking their sacred grounds with my camera and notebook for inspiration. In my estimation, there was little difference in the words. The graveyards are full of bones buried, decaying stories under one last rock of who they may have once been.
You will remember my name.
Sweet potato love continues this week… and how could it not? They are plentiful and inexpensive during the winter months, and frankly, they seem to add warmth to some damn cold days. I haven’t put one in a smoothie–yet, but I’ve been eyeing up that butternut squash I froze this autumn every time I go to the freezer. Another time, another post.
At the onset of my vacation to start the year, I cleaned closets and purged stuff that I didn’t need. The process of minimizing has been ongoing, and each time I make that kind of progress, it makes a difference for me–how I manage and my daily processes. That’s where this weeks recipe comes in… assessing my pantry of grains overfloweth. Aside from a reasonable amount of pantry staples I’ve been working on cleaning out and using up the items that have been hanging out…waiting their turn on the stove.
Farro, a kind of wheat grain, is what I would describe as very toothy. When I first experimented with it, I found I loved it in breakfast dishes. It is hearty, versatile, and filling. It reminds me of steel cut oats, but the grains are larger. Nonetheless, I wanted to use up what I had, and thinking along the lines of oatmeal bakes (a winter favorite of mine), I sort of “winged it” in writing this recipe as farro doesn’t really work the same as oatmeal. But it all turned out… and I hope you enjoy!
Fit for a Farro Sweet Potato Breakfast Bake
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 cup dry farro
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon molasses
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and add sweet potatoes. Cooking until soft when pierced with a fork. About 5-10 minutes depending on the size of your cut. Drain and set aside to let cool while farro cooks.
- Add two cups of water to pot with farro. Bring to a boil and let simmer until water is absorbed; approximately 25-30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly oil a 8×12 baking pan.
- Add to a blender or food processor the milk, flour, molasses, syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and all but 1 cup of the sweet potato*. Puree until smooth.
- To the cooked farro, add the puree, remaining sweet potato, and walnuts, raisins, and coconut, if using. Mix to incorporate all ingredients evenly and transfer to prepared baking pan.
- Bake for 30 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Allow to cool in pan at least 10 minutes before serving.
*If you don’t want any large pieces in the bake, go ahead and puree all the sweet potato.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheating gently or enjoying cold. Serves 6.
As written (with all optional add-ins), per serving:
Without any add-ins, per serving:
There was a man driving a powder blue hearse through the near empty street just past the lunch hour on that cold, windy Monday. His wild look, reminiscent of an anxious cross between Willie Nelson and Neil Young–a combination that might make anyone a little anxious, I suspected. The peculiar car left in its wake a hurried man in a black wool coat swerving to navigate the narrow walk way passage. “Hello. Good day,” he said fastidious. But before I could respond in kind, he nodded, “Salt and pepper.”
Year after year, I try to be a soup person. I am not; in the same way I’m not a salad person… I like it, but eating it often feels tedious. The flavors are monotonous and often there is too little chewing (which is the exact opposite of my issue with salads where they take me an hour to eat). Nonetheless, when it is stupid cold outside there is nothing like a steamy bowl of soup to help warm one up. I was inspired to a sweet potato kale chowder after a very disappointing, flavorless version on the Whole Foods hot bar.
Roasting the potatoes, garlic, and some of the onion is a time consuming initial step, but can be done well in advance (I did it in the morning while I won the coffee drinking championship), and the depth of flavors that it brings to the soup is well worth the time. Plus, it adds the bonus of having the oven on while it’s crazy cold. The fresh ginger adds a little kick and extra warmth to the pot, not to mention the excellent benefits it provides.
The recipe as written is oil-free, but if you must in the process… I recommend coconut oil for the flavor it would add. As written, I did use unsweetened plain almond milk, but soy or coconut would also provide excellent results.
Sweet Potato Kale Chowder
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 4 cups)
1 large sweet onion, divided
3-4 large cloves garlic
1 cup chopped celery
1 – 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 tablespoons miso
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 cups frozen corn
3 cups vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Prepare a large rimmed baking pan by lightly oiling, or lining with parchment. Add chopped sweet potato, half the onion (about 1 cup roughly chopped), and the garlic. Roast for 35-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until golden.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.
- In a high speed blender, add roasted onions and garlic, almond milk, 1 cup of corn, miso, and ginger. Blend until well pureed. If you do not have a high speed blender, a food processor or regular blender will work, you may need to chop up the ginger a bit and add some of the broth to help puree everything smooth.
- In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add the remaining onion and celery. Cook until onion is just translucent, adding a splash of water or broth, if needed, to help prevent sticking.
- Add broth, bay leaf,thyme, pepper, and puree mixture. Bring to a slow boil and reduce heat. Add remaining corn, sweet potato, and kale.
- Simmer for 25-30 minutes.
Store leftovers in the refrigerator and gently reheat for up to three days. Makes 4-6 servings, depending, of course, on how hungry you are when you sit down to eat.
A squirrel stole my glove. There is no other rational explanation as to its immediate disappearance (once I ruled out the suspicious hipster gang that lurks around Whole Foods–customers, I think they call them). They are diabolical–the squirrels, not the hipsters–shifty eyed beasts jittering away with nuts, bagel pieces, gloves. I can’t blame them; the label said “warmer.” It is, after all, why I bought them. With my one cold hand I imagine the squirrel: proud and devious in its lair–cozied in a black fleece lined REI small glove. Fucker.
Welcome to 2015 and week one of a two-part Project 52 for the year. If you are just coming here for the first time, welcome. If you are curious about the “projects” then, check out this post. Otherwise, welcome back!
This week, I focused on the large yucca (aka cassava) I procured just before the new year. Actually, I bought several, but I had one especially large one left and was a little baked yucca fries’d out. As I bemoaned the absence of hashed brown potatoes from my frozen food aisle (apparently that and molasses was in high demand), I thought yucca hash… and so it was.
Yucca Tempeh Hash
3 cups yucca, peeled, cored and cubed
4 cups salted water
1 cup green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 package tempeh
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/2 – 1 cup water or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon coconut oil
- Bring water to a boil and add yucca. Cook for 5-6 minutes until yucca is slightly tender with a fork.
- Drain yucca and set aside.
- Bring a large, heavy bottomed skillet to medium heat and crumble tempeh into the dry pan. Do not worry about sticking, it will and that’s what we want.
- Toss the tempeh around the pan 2-3 minutes until starting to brown. Add a splash of water/broth and scrap the bottom of the pan to remove the piece that have stuck.
- I realize the above sounds like a scary proposition; it’s really okay.
Add a splash or two more water until the bottom of the pan is covered and sizzling.
- Add the garlic, soy sauce, lemon, maple syrup and the rest of the spices. Stir to incorporate everything.
- Stir tempeh mixture until almost all liquid is absorbed. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Add the oil to the pan along with the yucca.
- Cook yucca for 1-2 minutes until starting to brown and then add peppers, onion.
- Toss together and cook another 4-6 minutes until onions become translucent and peppers are al dente.
- At this point, if the pan starts to get too dry/sticky, add splashes of water/broth as needed when stirring.
- Toss in the tempeh and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Serve with steamed greens (as pictured), fruit, toast, or if you have the endurance, waffles!
It would seem I’m back from hiatus, almost a month after finishing what was, unquestionably, the most difficult project I’ve completed to date. At the conclusion of my 39th year, I was pretty sure that I would never even want to write another poem — ever again. I was, of course, wrong.
Part of the deal with myself was that at the end of the project, I would take no less than a two week break from writing. Instead, I focused on my photography, and sneaking in thoughts of what I would do next. I wanted something challenging again, but one of my laments in the Year in Words was that I really didn’t have time to spend on any one piece. With few exceptions, everything was a first draft. That was all the time I had in a day to give it, and sometimes, it was wrestling with the clock and my tired brain for even a verse.
Another huge lesson was, similar to my self-portrait project a few years ago, I learned to let go and just write. It’s a lesson I think I’ve learned a thousand times as a writer… stop thinking about who is reading and just put the damn words down. Poetry is funny; sometimes it is greatly personal, and other times, it is anything but. As a writer, you know the difference, but the audience really doesn’t. The comments and questions I sometimes got were really interesting.
And two more final lessons: the poems I sometimes paired with my photos made me extraordinarily happy and I missed writing recipes. The project took enough of my time on a daily basis that I wrote less recipes, or anything else for that matter, than I have in several years.
These lessons, when I gave them some serious thought–and I did, often sitting in a car or plane–helped me to form the scope of 2015. I call it the Project 52×2. It works thusly:
- Each week, there will be two posts dedicated to the project
- One post will be a new or made over recipe (I will consider requests)
- One post will be a mixed media creative; a photo or other visual and a written piece… short story, flash fiction, poem
- Each post will be done and posted no later than Wednesday night (since the new year began on Thursday)
That’s it. Hope you enjoy!
And there are times she thinks
she’d like to fall in love vast
under a starry sky, but even so
she’s not so wanton with affection
she’d rather let the dice roll–
hard eight to the dealer
pass to the left, familiar story.
A centaur’s arrow was only
once mistaken for Cupid.
Caught between man and beast
primal and civilized; waiting
among the muses, sundered
and languid lovers always
just beyond reach.