while I’m away…

For the past few months I’ve been working with Paleo Magazine on various reviews and other freelance work. A couple of months ago I was given an exciting new project, and I’m thrilled to finally share it with you today — with the launch of the new and improved Paleo Magazine app, the editors will be releasing free guides and e-books to online subscribers, starting with my e-cookbook!

paleo e-cookbook

I developed and photographed 10 original Paleo recipes over the span of one hectic month, and the finished product is now available for free when you download the Paleo Magazine app. The entrees included appeal to all tastes and every season, and were inspired by some of my favorite flavor combinations: lime and cumin, shiitake mushrooms and shrimp, fresh peaches and roasted cherry tomatoes, sweet potato and chorizo.

paleo e-cookbook III

The whole experience was a learning process. Sure, I’ve been creating my own recipes and photographing the end result for years now, but the pressure was on to create something more sophisticated and streamlined. I used every tool in my arsenal to create inventive flavor pairings and visually appealing photographs, and spent a good chunk of an afternoon scrounging for props at the thrift store. It was hard work, harder than I imagined, and after this experience I have an immense amount of respect for cookbook creators everywhere.

But you’d better believe we ate really well at my house that month.

paleo e-cookbook I

So while I’m away, head over to the Paleo Magazine app and check out my first published cookbook. Try the recipes, put your own spin on them, and get back to me with your stories. While I won’t necessarily be whipping up delicious dishes while on the road and sharing them with you here, you can take a little piece of my Paleo perspective with you on your smart phone or tablet to enjoy this fall. Cheers and happy eating!

cauliflower soup

SONY DSC

It’s chilly and crisp and autumnal and I love it. I love soup all times of the year, but particularly as the days get shorter and the air gets cooler. There’s a reason why you’re supposed to eat soup when you’re sick, or sad, or grieving. It is comfort food at its finest, literally imparting warmth and nourishment to the body to trickle out into the spirit.

I suppose I’m particularly nostalgic about soup at the moment because just a few days ago I watched a man wrap up my beloved Le Creuset in packing paper and tape and put it in a box to be shipped across the ocean. It was a weird feeling, to watch strangers handle all of my possessions and feel little to no attachment to them. Slowly but surely my house got emptier and emptier until there were only a few things left. The piano. The sofa. My Le Creuset. It was at this point that I started to get a little sad.

SONY DSC

Have I told you the story of the Le Creuset? It’s a good one. I’ve wanted a piece of the classic cookware for years. Years. I can’t even disintangle my thoughts to a time in which I didn’t feel that I would finally be a real cook once I had my own. I read Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, a beautiful memoir by Alexandra Fuller about coming back to her childhood home in Zimbabwe to deal with her aging parents and haunted memory, in which the author’s mother has a full set of Le Creuset cookware that makes its permanent home in their outdoor kitchen, the bright orange enamel glinting in the sun and unmarred by time.

But the price. Oh goodness. The Le Creuset French oven is an investment, a classic piece that will last a lifetime and then some, but STILL. There was no way I was going to get one of my own any time soon, nor would I be callous enough to ask for one as a wedding gift. And yet.

One day my industrious mother called me from a flea market, hardly able to contain her excitement. She had found a vintage Le Creuset oven in classic orange for less than $100 and had managed to talk the dealer down to almost half of that price, and she was bringing it to me that weekend. To give to me. For me to use forever and ever and ever.

And since then it has been my absolute favorite piece of kitchen equipment. It is a versatile workhorse: I’ve used it to make everything from homemade sourdough bread to every kind of soup and braised stew. It adds cheer to my stovetop, the pot’s permanent home, and every time I use it I think about how it came to me. Through patience and love and a whole lot of bargaining power, and it embues everything I cook in it with a little of that magic.

SONY DSC

Savory Cauliflower Soup

1 qt. homemade broth

1 large head of cauliflower

1 medium pattypan squash

1 large onion

2 Tbsp. coconut oil or lard

3-5 cloves garlic

2 tsp. salt

fresh black pepper

1-2 Tbsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. coconut aminos

dash of smoked paprika for garnish

Melt the lard in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Meanwhile, slice the onion and crush the garlic; set aside. Once the fat has melted, add in the sliced onions and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes — this doesn’t caramelize the onions but it does get the process started and, thus, imparts more flavor. To this, add the crushed garlic, salt, pepper, coconut aminos and fish sauce. Cook until fragrant, about a minute.

Dice the pattypan squash and the cauliflower and add to the pot. Turn the heat up to medium-high and pour in homemade broth. Stir everything together and bring to a boil before covering and simmering until the vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Remove the still-chunky soup from the stove to cool a bit before processing in a blender. The soup should be smooth and creamy, free of lumps, and still plenty hot. Return pot to heat if necessary. Serve with a pinch of smoked paprika and a garnish of fresh tarragon, parsley or whatever other herbs are handy.

a book review + watercress pluot salad with lime-nutmeg vinaigrette

SONY DSC

In one of my recent weekly visits to the blog Gluten Free Girl and the Chef I stumbled across an excellent review of a new book, Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. Shauna writes about Robinson’s dedication, research and passion for both wild plants and modern cultivars, and discusses the connection between plants of the past and our diets of the present. That was enough to pique my interest, and as soon as I could get to the library I picked up my own copy.

Early into the first chapter I knew this was going to be a great read. I started keeping a pen and a notebook with me while I read it to jot down interesting tidbits about vegetable varieties and how to make them more nutritious. With recipes, historical anecdotes (with one involving the nuclear bomb tests on Bikini Atoll, no less!), gardening advice and shopping tips, Robinson combines all of her knowledge, in a pleasant way, her gentle voice shining through the academic citations.

SONY DSC

Robinson breaks the book down into two parts – fruits and vegetables – and from there divides the categories into chapters for individual varieties. There is a chapter devoted to lettuces, to berries, to apples, to corn. She describes to history of each plant, tracing the modern lineage back to its ancient ancestor, and details how the varieties have developed through science or by accident.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is how Robinson ensures the reader comes away with an appreciation for a plant’s nutrition – it’s not all about color and flavor, although these usually play a key role in tapping into the nutrients. From this she offers ingenious ideas on ensuring we as consumers can choose the most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, and then learn how to enhance those nutrients through cooking and storage techniques.

The tip I’ve been remembering the most has to do with garlic. Studies crop up like weeds about the anti-cancer properties of garlic nowadays, and traditional remedies recommend choking down pungent concoctions with the stuff to stave off colds and the flu. Robinson reveals, however, that the disease-fighting properties of garlic are not so easily accessed as to swallow a clove whole. There are two enzymes contained in a clove of garlic, and it is only after the whole garlic has been processed somehow – by chopping, pressing, smashing – that the two enzymes can combine to create the cancer-fighting enzyme that is so often lauded in scientific studies. It is important, as Robinson reveals, to process the garlic and let it rest for 10 minutes to activate the production of the helpful and healthful enzyme before cooking. Through this, and only through this, will you extract the most nutrition and the most disease-fighting properties from your common garlic clove.

SONY DSC

This is just one of many amazing kitchen-nutrition tips that Robinson offers, like the fact that cooking beets with the skins on retains more of the nutrients, or cooking and then chilling potatoes overnight before serving reduces the glycemic load of the starchy tuber. Fascinating!

I kept a running list of interesting varieties of fruits and vegetables to plant in my someday garden, thanks to Robinson’s recommendations at the end of each chapter. From Carolina Ruby Sweet Potatoes to Brigadier broccoli, to Tuscan Kale and Hawaiian Currant Tomatoes, to French Gray Shallots and Merlot lettuce, to Spanish Roja Garlic and Detroit Dark Red Beets, I am inspired to reap the benefits of nutrition and flavor in my own plot of land someday.

Eating on the Wild Side also inspired me to try some new produce at the grocery store. Instead of my typical kale and spinach, I purchased two bundles of delicate watercress. Instead of apples or berries, I chose a handful of translucent-skinned pluots. With a homemade vinaigrette and some gently toasted pistachios, all I needed was that new and vibrant produce to create a new salad. I made this twice I liked it so much – something about the bitter greens, the sweet fruit, the crunch of the nuts and the acidic spice of the vinaigrette combined perfectly.

Truly, as Robinson writes, when the fruits and vegetables are fresh and nutritious, they need but a little dressing up to turn them into a good meal.

SONY DSC
Watercress Salad with Pluots, Toasted Pistachios and Lime-Nutmeg Vinaigrette

1 bunch fresh watercress, washed and trimmed

2 pluots

1 c. raw pistachios

1 lime, juiced

1/4 c. olive oil

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. sea salt

Arrange the washed and trimmed watercress in a large salad bowl, Slice and pit the pluots and arrange on the greens. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and toast pistachios with a pinch of sea salt and a splash of olive oil until fragrant, about 5 minutes, before sprinkling over salad.

Meanwhile, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a bowl or in a food processor. Combine the lime juice with the olive oil, salt and nutmeg, and briskly stir in the egg yolk until the dressing emulsifies. Drizzle over salad and serve immediately.

The salad does not keep well dressed — if you are making this ahead of time or in a large batch, dress only what you’ll be eating immediately, and store the greens, fruit, nuts and vinaigrette in separate containers in the refrigerator to keep everything crisp.

tip for moving #5

SONY DSC

If you’re a closet food hoarder like I am, you should probably start paying attention to what’s in your pantry right about now. If you’re moving in less that three weeks, you should probably start cleaning out your pantry. Starting yesterday.

I grew up in the country, several miles outside of the town in which I went to school and at least half an hour any direction from the nearest large grocery store. We had to drive 30 minutes one way to get to Walmart, 40 minutes another way to reach Hart’s or Price Cutter or Harter Haus, and if we needed bulk or specialty items — well, that was an hour and a half, at least.

Understandably, I learned to hoard pantry items. When it’s a Saturday afternoon and you need homemade chocolate chip cookies but have no butter or chocolate chips, there is no change-out-of-sweatpants-and-drive-to-the-store spontaneity because that would take at least an hour, and then where are those cookies? So, we stockpiled. (Interestingly enough, this is also how I learned to experiment and substitute so freely in the kitchen. My creative mother was judicious in her cooking experiments — I learned from the best.)

Fast-forward ten years and I’m within walking distance of the farmers market and just a short drive from the commissary or my favorite grocery store. I don’t have to stockpile because I can easily pick up some canned tomatoes or a rasher of bacon any afternoon I might need it, no long-term planning required. And yet.

I hoard canned tomatoes in my pantry and rashers of bacon in my freezer. I have little tins of hatch peppers and bulk jars of jasmine rice and gluten-free oats and a couple bags of seaweed and canned tuna and olives and coconut milk and all sorts of things stored away, like a little chipmunk saving up for winter hibernation. Which is all well and good was I living with said stocked pantry for another couple of months, which I am not. Take it from me, friends — it is better to start cleaning out early and buy what you need later in the proper amount than to be saddled with too many jars and cans.

To begin, make a list of all of the dry goods and frozen items you have. Take stock of the perishables in the refrigerator and, with list in hand, start brainstorming meal-planning ideas. You’ll save money, get creative in the kitchen, and prevent wastefulness.

Got a half a bag of frozen peas just hanging out? Throw those bad boys into a pot of soup. What do two boxes of crushed tomatoes, a can of pumpkin puree and a jar of broth have in common? They are an excellent base for chili. Coconut milk added to ground meat and veggies and a dash of curry powder makes for an easy ethnic meal. Green tomato relish add pizzaz to daily scrambled eggs, and don’t forget those olives! You should probably just eat those as a snack, plucked from the jar with your fingers.

My pantry/freezer inventory includes:

bulk gluten-free oats, steel-cut oats, buckwheat groats

jasmine rice

sugar

tapioca starch

dried shiitake mushrooms

onion jam

balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar

green tomato salsa

dried seaweed

carob powder, cacao powder

flaxseeds

frozen Ezekiel bread, coconut granola

tahini, Siracha, homemade mayo and all the condiments ever

aged parmesan

frozen vegetables + fruit

canned crushed tomatoes

coconut milk

2 tins hatch peppers

Castelvetrano olives

salmon filets, ground lamb, ground turkey

1 rasher of bacon

frozen homemade waffles

And I know this sounds like an absolute mess of items — one of these things is not like the other — but it is actually quite easy to meal-plan from my kitchen. Some ideas include:

turkey chili with canned tomatoes, hatch peppers, frozen green peppers

lamb coconut curry with frozen bell peppers, peas, broccoli

seared salmon with garlicky aioli (homemade mayo)

fruit smoothies with frozen mango, blueberries, coconut milk

chicken thighs with shiitake mushrooms + fish sauce

brinner: eggs, bacon, waffles

Thankfully, we have neighbors on either side who will gladly profit from any incomplete meal-planning. Those random jars of oatmeal and the half-open jars of hot sauce and the uneaten chocolate ice cream and the orphan frozen pizza will all get new homes. They won’t be wasted, and at least I can say I tried.

SONY DSCBraised “Everything-In-The-Pantry” Turkey Chili

1.5 lbs. ground turkey

two 4 oz. tins of Hatch peppers

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 c. broth

28 oz. can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder

2 tsp. sea salt

fresh black pepper

dash of cayenne

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 tsp. fish sauce

1 c. chopped green bell pepper

2 pints Sungold tomatoes

In a large, oven-proof, heavy bottomed pot with a lid, brown the turkey. While the meat is cooking, smash and peel garlic and set aside. Season the turkey with salt, pepper and spice, and continue to brown until cooked through. Stir in the canned peppers, fish sauce and tomatoes, and bring to a vigorous simmer. Mince the garlic and add to the chili, along with the broth, bell peppers and whole Sungold tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. After the chili has reached a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot and transfer the chili to the oven to braise for an hour and a half. Stir occasionally. After the time has elapsed, increase the heat to 350 degrees and allow the chili to reduce uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes.

baklava ice cream pie

SONY DSC

This is not a typical Monday morning recipe. This is not a typical October recipe (no pumpkin — sorry folks!). This really isn’t a “typical” anything, but I like it and I’m feeling celebratory, so here goes.

Last week was one hell of a week. I’m currently recovering from some hybrid cold thing, brought on by lack of sleep and traveling and a couple gluten bombs that threw my immune system out of whack, but so many wonderful things happened that I have to do what I normally don’t do: a diary-esque, recap post. Welcome to a little peek into my life!

SONY DSC

On Monday we had our first round of movers come. I wasn’t sure when exactly they were going to arrive, so I spent all day on alert, doing last-minute packing and waiting for that big truck to pull into my driveway. Eventually two nice guys started packing up a third of our belongings and I mainly tried to stay out of their way as they assembled boxes, wrapped dishes, and hauled bikes and vacuum cleaners out the front door. We later heard that our shipment weighed 888 lbs. WHOA.

After the movers left, Andrew and I cleaned up and went over to our friends’ house for an extraordinary dinner and a screening of the series finale of Breaking Bad. Grace and Tom have been wonderful friends to host us every week for the last season of our favorite show — together, we’d all hunker down in the living room with snacks and drinks and collectively gasp at Walter White’s latest schemes. This time was a little more special, as it was not only the last episode ever but also our last day to spend with our friends. They were leaving the next day to move to Alaska, and so we combined all sorts of endings and goodbyes into one evening, complete with a 12-boy chicken curry dinner that was out of this world. A bittersweet night.

SONY DSC

On Tuesday morning I packed a little bag and drove my Honda Civic to Dallas, where I met my parents for lunch. They had agreed to bring their truck to the city to haul a few Ikea items I wanted to purchase, plus drive me back home after I left my car at the shipping facility. We are one month out from our Hawaiian move, and we want our car to arrive about the same time that we do. Interestingly enough, they put the vehicles on a semi, drive it to LA, and then scoot the cars across the ocean to a port in Honolulu. Wicked.

Lunch with my parents was wonderful. I hadn’t seen them for a couple of months, and as always it was a blast spending time with them and catching up in person. We navigated Ikea for the perfect bed frame and a new bookshelf, then lugged the boxes back to the suburbs to our cousins’ house for dinner and beer and conversation and a good night’s rest.

SONY DSC

We were up early the next morning. I needed to vacuum out the interior of my car, wipe down the surfaces and give it a good scrub on the outside before I dropped it off at the shipment center. In addition to having miles and miles of paperwork, your car has to be empty, pristine, and with no more than a quarter tank of gas. I was a little stress ball all the way up until they took my keys, nervous that I was missing something or that I had left a crucial piece of the puzzle back at home, four hours away.

Thankfully, everything went off without a hitch and — bonus! — I even saw our friends Grace and Tom as they were dropping off their car to get shipped, mere hours before they flew out to the Great White North! It was so sweet to get to hug them one last time.

SONY DSC

From there the Robertson clan loaded up into the truck and began our trek back to my house, making only one pit stop at World Market for some goodies — chocolate, a couple make-your-own six-packs, and some perfect floor cushions. The drive was long and flat and boring, and my dad was a trooper to drive us the whole way. We made it back in the early evening, got everyone’s stuff unloaded, and commenced dinner plans.

Instead of staying in our small, partially disassembled home, my parents found a little condo to rent for the duration of their stay — it was definitely the MVP of the trip. With a couple extra bedrooms, comfy couches and ESPN2, a kitchen and a grill, we spent most of our time relaxing there. On Wednesday night we grilled steaks and watched a movie, and on their last night there we had our own little tailgate party to watch the Razorbacks play Florida State over a meal of homemade pork ribs.

SONY DSC

On Thursday, my parents and I bopped around town while Andrew was at work, visiting some little shops, the local water lily garden and running a few errands. Eventually my mom and I dropped my dad back off at the house so we could go for mani/pedis — what a treat! When we returned, my sleepy dad was in the same place we had left him, watching Despicable Me on television. That’s when you know you’re on a vacation!

SONY DSC

On Friday I dropped Andrew off at work early in the morning and headed straight to a friend’s apartment to meet their movers. Said friend had to move to his next assignment before he could get his packers schedules, and so I was filling in for him to supervise, sign papers, and generally get in the movers’ way while they did their jobs. It was a long day, to say the least, and at the end I was wiped. But I had some incredible events to look forward to — that evening Andrew and I took my parents out to our favorite (and the nicest, by far) restaurant in town for a four-course meal and a bottle of wine. From the amuse bouche right down the decadent desserts, we enjoyed gourmet food and great conversation, basically like we always do but in a fancy setting. Afterwards we went out to see a late movie, and decided on GRAVITY, shown in 3D. It was intense. This movie is less of an action flick and more of a psychological thriller, with little dialogue but amazing special effects. Sandra Bullock shone in her role as the survivor struggling to hold on to hope, and through it all the audience was privy to staggering views of Earth from space. I recommend it.

SONY DSC

Saturday morning was brunch by me — we had cherry-tarragon sausages, scrambled eggs, chocolate zucchini bread, coffee and OJ — followed by a field trip out to the Eola Schoolhouse Restaurant & Brewery.   This is one of those quirky places that we like to take all of our friends, and my parents in particular were no exception. They loved it. We sampled craft beers and greasy onion rings, listened to a couple of old guys play Merle Haggard songs on the guitar, and took in the vast expanse of farmland plains around us.

We got home in time to put in a batch of pork ribs and settle down for the pre-game show. While we waited for the game to start, my mom and I took a field trip to Ulta for new mascara and to Sam’s Club for a temporary military membership for me. Did you know that Sam’s Club is offering free membership to military members during the government shutdown? It’s a wonderful gift they’re offering while most commissaries are closed to ensure service members and their families have access to quality groceries at good prices. I for one am thankful for it. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks put up a good fight in the first half, but the last half was disappointing. I don’t want to talk about it.

So I had an amazing, exhausting, stressful, relaxing, full and precious week.

What have you been up to lately? If you haven’t already, I suggest you celebrate the big and the little things with some pie or some ice cream or — better yet — an ice cream pie. Yeah, sure, maybe it’s starting to get cool around your parts, and the leaves are turning and the days are getting shorter, and you might say that this isn’t an appropriate time for ice cream. To which I would reply: It is always an appropriate time for ice cream.

SONY DSC

Baklava Ice Cream Pie

Crust:

1 c. medjool dates, chopped

½ c. raw pistachios

3 Tbsp. olive oil

½ c. chopped assorted nuts (I used Nutcase Crunch)

¼ tsp. sea salt

Remove pits from 10-12 dates and pulse into a fine paste in a food processor, adding a little olive oil to keep things moist. Combine with nuts, salt and remaining olive oil in food processor and blend until uniform. Press the mixture into a pie pan greased with olive oil, and reserve in the freezer until ice cream is finished.

Ice cream:

50 oz. (4 cans) coconut milk

3 Tbsp. grass-fed gelatin

6 eggs, divided

1 c. honey

2 tsp. orange blossom water

2 Tbsp. amaretto

1 c. raw cashews

8 oz. water

In a saucepan, whisk together coconut milk, egg yolks, gelatin, honey and bring to a low boil, stirring continuously. Remove from heat to cool. Meanwhile, whip egg whites to stiff peaks, adding orange blossom water. Fold gently into custard mixture and remove to fridge to cool, overnight if possible.

Soak cashews in water for at least 30 minutes before blending in a high-speed blender with the cooled custard mixture. Add the amaretto before pouring into ice cream maker. (I used some of the tips Zenbelly offered in her recent post on making dairy-free gelato. Genius!)

Once ice cream has thickened, spread a layer evenly into the prepared crust and reserve to the freezer to harden. Drizzle with honey and toasted pistachios before serving.

herbed [activated] almonds

SONY DSC

Water, a dash of salt, a pound of raw almonds, twenty-four hours. This simple equation is all is takes to transform something ordinary into something incredibly delicious and nourishing. By harnessing — and in this case, by encouraging — the force of nature upon a little seed, we unlock vast potential, almost as if a door has been opened and a flood of energy unleashed. Sound a little trippy? Embrace your inner hippie and come along on a biochemical nutritional geekery magic carpet ride with me.

SONY DSC

Almonds, on their own, seem like a healthy snack. In their raw form they are free of roasting oils and seasonings that would never be found in nature — BBQ or wasabi almonds, anyone? — and seem to be the best choice, as any wellness magazine would tell you. But in reality, almonds contain a host of warriors that fight against digestion and mineral absorption when consumed raw, and can cause more harm to the body than good.

I first learned about the chemical makeup of almonds (and most other nuts and seeds) from the nutritional tome Nourishing Traditionsif you haven’t picked up a copy for yourself, I suggest that you do. I learned about the anti-nutrient contained in nuts and seeds that exist to protect the reproductive potential of the plant. Phytatic acid is what prevents much of the digestion of almonds and hinders the absorption of minerals in the body, often encouraging digestive upset, mineral deficiencies and a whole host of other problems, potentially leading to leaky gut and autoimmune disorders.

SONY DSC

Take a difference perspective: if you were a plant, you would want to protect your DNA-containing embryo that would help your species propogate. It’s the same reason why fowl protect their eggs and wheat kernels are so difficult to digest without some form of processing. The organism needs those seeds to survive in order for the organism’s lineage to survive.

It doesn’t only happen with wheat and almonds — when birds eat berries they are able to fully digest the fruit, but the seed of the blackberry or blueberry they just consumed passes whole through their digestive system and is spread across the country through their waste. This is one of the ingenious mechanisms of biochemistry that allows plants and animals to work together, synergistically.

So if we take into account the anti-nutrients contained in almonds and why those anti-nutrients exist, should we even eat almonds and other nuts in the first place? Yes, I contend, but in small doses, and with proper preparation.

SONY DSC

There is a process — called soaking, sprouting or “activating” — that helps to neutralize the harmful phytic acid and make the minerals within an almond more bio-available (meaning, our bodies can absorb them better). By soaking nuts overnight in clean water with a pinch of salt, we activate the almond’s growing response and thereby “turn off” the production of harmful phytic acid. Think of it this way: the almond has been on the defensive, trying to protect itself and its genetic material for the future. But now, under the right circumstances, it is being encouraged to grow, to start a sprout, and to eventually produce more almonds. In this “safe place,” it no longer needs phytic acid to protect itself, but now can use all of its resources — resources that are nutritious to the human body — to propagate.

This is certainly more time-intensive than eating raw almonds straight out of a package, but it is worth it in the long run to reap the health benefits and negate the detriments of phytic acid on the body. Plus, by soaking/sprouting/activating the almonds, you open up a whole new flavor profile and an opportunity to customize. With my typical recipe, I soak and dehydrate almonds without the addition of spices, but this time I created an autumn-inspired mix with sea salt, dried rosemary, and a little extra time in the oven to promote a roasted, toasted flavor.

Look at this as one big science experiment and have fun with it — that’s half the reason why we get into the kitchen in the first place, to tinker and to play.

SONY DSC

Salted Rosemary [Activated] Almonds

1 lb. raw almonds

2 quarts water

dash of sea salt (or an acidic medium like apple cider vinegar)

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sea salt

1-2 Tbsp. dried rosemary

Soak the raw almonds overnight in fresh water with a dash of salt or apple cider vinegar. This helps to begin the sprouting (or “activating”) process that removes many of the phytates and other anti-nutrients contained in the nut which prevent digestion and adequate mineral absorption.

After soaking, drain and rinse the raw almonds, shaking as much water off as possible. In a large bowl, toss the almonds with olive oil, salt and dried rosemary to coat. Spread on a lined baking sheet and leave in the oven for at least 12 hours at 170 degrees — the almonds are adequately dehydrated when they are crunchy and have a slightly sweet, toasted flavor.

Try other flavors and combinations:

smoked paprika + cayenne + garlic salt

pumpkin pie spice + maple syrup

cumin + chili powder + lime zest

oregano + tomato paste + olive oil + sea salt

honey + sea salt + sesame seeds

ginger + turmeric + honey

garam masala + sea salt

wake-me-up coffee scrub

SONY DSCI can feel a metaphor in here somewhere. Sloughing off the old to make way for the new, shedding dull skin for fresh growth, rebirth. Somehow the creation of this exfoliant is inextricably linked with where I am currently. Our movers come next week, and shortly after I will ship my car and take one final Ikea trip. By the end of next month, we’ll be out of here and on our way to our new home.

And in this transition phase I am feeling itchy, emotionally. All of the plans, the time crunch, our belongings packed hither and thither are rubbing me the wrong way and I am not reacting as gracefully as I wish I could. I’m starting to rely much to heavily on afternoon screenings of Parks & Rec and homemade waffles — too much of a good thing can be, well, too muchSONY DSC

But looking at all that’s around and all that’s ahead makes me excited for what’s next. It’s multi-faceted, filled with travel and simplicity, living with less.

Through it all it’s good to remember to pause, to take care of myself. I made this scrub out of things I already had around the house, and although it cost very little to make when I first used it I felt a sense of luxury and relaxation I hadn’t experienced in a while. Something about the warm coffee aroma mixed with the cloves spice reminded me of my college coffee shop and the mornings I would spend there after my early Spanish class, working on a big cup of black coffee, an apple and a granola bar. I knew the regulars, imagined their stories, watched the food service workers unload the trucks at the back of the cafeteria and listened to the baristas banter over opening chores. It was my ritual every Monday-Wednesday-Friday to sit near a window or out on the patio if the weather was nice and watch the campus wake up.

SONY DSC

In a way, I am on my way to waking up. Through this hurricane of change and preparation my sense of curiosity has been blunted by the all-too-present “to do list.” The pressing needs of the immediate moment smother the desire for adventure, the task right in front of me — wash and pack the linens, post the piano to Craigslist, take a load of books to the thrift store — takes precedence over what I’ve been dreaming about.

Standing in the shower, scrubbing the rough patches of skin on my elbows and knees, I thought about the me of four years ago, lonely and lost on the patio of a cafe, clinging with my little hands to a buoy of ritual. And now, clinging to some semblance of familiarity, of comfort, to transition into the newest phase, I see so much of what was to be in that person.

I still have some of the same rough patches, some of the same feelings of being lost in a great big ocean of “shoulds.” But in the same way that cicadas shed their skins when the seasons change, slipping out of the old for a fresh perspective, I’m seeing a little of the same transformation.SONY DSC

Wake-Me-Up Coffee Scrub

1 c. dry coffee, finely ground

1 c. coconut oil or your favorite liquid oil: jojoba, hemp, olive…

15-20 drops clove essential oil

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon

To melt the coconut oil, place the sealed jar in a sink of warm water until the oil liquifies. Measure out desired about (one half to one cup) and shake in 15-20 drops of clove essential oil. Cypress or another earthy, spicy scent would be delicious and equally stimulating to the circulatory system.

In a separate bowl, sift together coffee grounds and spices. Stir into oils with a non-metal spatula until smooth. Pour into a jar and keep in your shower — the steam and hot water will liquify the coconut oil if it solidifies in a cold bathroom.

Apply anywhere that needs a good scrubbing or a boost in circulation and massage into skin in wide, circular motions.

*     *     *     *     *

Additionally, I just found out that today is National Coffee Day — fortuitous, as I had no knowledge of said holiday before I drafted this post! This morning I’m drinking a variation of butter coffee, this time with coconut oil, Pure Indian Foods Digestive Ghee, grass-fed gelatin and a little dab of local honey, all blended up until frothy and perfect. This is my version of a pumpkin spice latte, and I definitely prefer it to the over-priced, over-sweetened version from Starbucks. What are you drinking this morning?