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.

who says you can’t go home

SONY DSC

Last week I was home in Arkansas again for a quick visit – too quick, in fact. The time I spend there goes by at warp speed, particularly in comparison to my days spent traveling to and from. My layover in one airport felt excruciatingly lengthy and the distance between my connecting flight and destination seemed to stretch agonizingly, even though I spent less than an hour in the air. There’s something about anticipating something good that makes time behave badly. It’s the same thing that makes it slip through grasping fingers like liquid when you want it to slow down, to savor something good that’s been a long time coming.

SONY DSCSONY DSC

Flying into the regional airport always gives me a thrill, anticipation notwithstanding: the plane descends over patchwork pastures dotted with grazing cattle or tiny golden bales of hay, casting perfect replicas of themselves in their shadows. Corrals and ponds make crop circles in the fields. We come upon clusters of trees so vibrantly green, rises in the elevation so smooth as to seem like silk. I’m sure the other passengers think I’m a novice traveler because I’m like a little kid peering through the plane window, my eyes stretched wide to see it all and my smile barely contained.

SONY DSCSONY DSC

It was good to be home.

SONY DSC

It was good to see the familiar sights of the chickens, the tangle of garden growth, the way the sun slants over the hill and into the horse barn in the evenings. It was good to walk barefoot on the grass and to ride in the old truck without a seatbelt. It was good to navigate through a mess of junebugs, with their whirring wings like lawnmower motors, just to get at the juiciest wild blackberry. All these things come back to me quickly even though they’re no longer a part of my daily life. Then they stay there, lodged in my heart like the stubbornest of brambles.

SONY DSC SONY DSC

My favorite part of the trip was my first night at home. My parents and I grilled outside on their patio and ate on the picnic table to the sound of peepers and the nudges of a begging puppy’s nose from beneath our seats. We had incredible steaks with truffle butter, grilled white asparagus and fresh tomatoes from the garden, seemingly still warm from the sun. We watched the stars come out from behind the trees and worked our way through a bottle of wine, as if to coax them out with toasts and clinking glasses. A few clumsy bats swooped over our heads. The insects of the night began to warm up their orchestra of wings.

SONY DSCSONY DSC

That was what it felt like to be home – those moments of closeness, of jokes, of intimate conversation with two of my favorite people, with our animals around us and the land of my birthright beneath my feet. If only every meal could be that powerful, that delicious.

SONY DSCSavory Tomato Tart (gluten-free, grain-free)

For the crust:

2 Tbsp. melted butter, coconut oil, ghee or lard

½ Tbsp. raw honey

1 egg, beaten

1 ½ c. almond flour

½ c. + 2 Tbsp. arrowroot (or cornstarch, if you don’t have any)

1 Tbsp. coconut flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ c. grated parmesan

¼ tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. dried oregano

Sift together dry ingredients. Beat together wet ingredients in a separate bowl, and then combine, kneading until a moist dough forms. Roll into a ball and wrap in plastic film – chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and make the filling. After the dough has chilled, press it into a tart pan. Prick the bottom with a fork and then brush with a little egg white. Bake for 10 minutes, until the crust begins to brown.

Filling:

½ lb. fresh tomatoes, sliced thin

salt and pepper

fresh basil

Arrange tomatoes in par-baked crust. Sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, plus a good handful of fresh basil leaves. Cover the tart crust with a foil barrier and bake for another 15 minutes. After elapsed time, crank up the oven to 500 degrees for 5-10 minutes, until tomatoes are beginning to broil. Make sure the crust doesn’t burn. The end result should be a crisp crust with tender, jammy tomatoes and an herbal flavor throughout.

summer salad, take two

SONY DSCI made this for lunch last week, with more produce from the farmers market and plenty of inspiration from this salad. Those tiny new potatoes were boiled until just tender, then tossed in a knob of ghee and some of that smoky spiced salt blend. Onto a bed of arugula they went, along with leftover smoky roasted corn, some chopped toasted almonds, half an avocado and lemon zest. It was filling and fresh and immensely satisfying all at once.

SONY DSC

asian chicken meatballs

SONY DSCIn the spirit of March and St. Patrick’s Day, here is a recipe that is neither Irish nor spring-like, but is very, very green. It corresponds with one of my monthly goals to eat/drink more green every day, and just happens to be oh-so-delicious.

This is one of those rare recipes that I make once every week. Meatballs are a staple around my house — they’re easy to make double or triple batches of, they’re great for emergency meals and can go with just about anything, and they make a great snack on the go. Yes, I consider meatballs a snack.

But really, anything bite-sized can be a snack, regardless of whether it’s made of meat or cheese or vegetables or fruit or nuts. Can you manage it with your fingers? Is it portable? If the answer is yes, it’s a snack. Introducing my favorite:

SONY DSC

I started playing around with this flavor combination when I needed something unusual to jazz up standard bland ground chicken. I’d been using the standard Italian seasoning with my beef meatballs, and I’d tried a variation on a Tex-Mex theme with ground chicken before, a sort of unsatisfying blend of fresh cilantro and not enough salt. I don’t know what it was that led me to try Asian spices exactly — it could have been that I know Andrew loves them, but additionally we don’t get much of those flavors where we are. There are no Thai or Indian restaurants in our town, and only a few places that could be said to remotely pass for “Chinese.” So I took matters into my own hands. A blend of savory alliums, whimsical five spice and a decadent chew factor from roasted sweet potatoes made these into something indeed very unusual, but pretty addictive too. My best move yet was to include fresh shredded spinach into the mix — this lends the meatballs a definite green tinge but is an excellent way to squeeze in more veggies if you have picky eaters or an already-full plate.

Additionally, these meatballs can take a hit from any leftover vegetables you have forgotten in your fridge. Steamed broccoli, roasted golden beets, any squashes or greens or little bits here and there can go straight into the meatball batter and into the frying pan to emerge golden, savory, and tasting much more exotic than before.

Asian Chicken Meatballs

2 lbs. ground chicken

1 egg

2 c. fresh baby spinach

1 small sweet potato, diced and roasted

1 small onion, diced and caramelized

5 cloves garlic, diced

1 Tbsp. dried basil

2 Tbsp. fish sauce

1 Tbsp. coconut aminos

2 tsp. Chinese Five Spice powder

salt + pepper

coconut oil, ghee or bacon grease

Gather roasted vegetables. Dice and caramelize onion in a saucepan with plenty of fat. In a food processor, pulse fresh spinach until shredded. Add egg, ground chicken, spice, fish sauce, coconut aminos, garlic, caramelized onion, vegetables, and plenty of salt and pepper. Pulse until combined. Dont’ be afraid to heavily season these meatballs — they need plenty of salt and spice to draw out the savory flavors in the meat.

If the meatball batter is too wet, add 2-3 tsp. coconut flour and mix to combine.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet, heat coconut oil/ghee/bacon grease. Form meatball batter into small balls and brown on all sides in the pan. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes in hot oven, until cooked through.

Serve with spaghetti squash, roasted vegetables, or braised bok choy for a satisfying meal (and a snack later).

(P.S. It’s pretty difficult to photograph meatballs and make them look appealing. Sorry about that.)

Whole30 recap :: week 2

This week was a little trickier. I must’ve been detoxing or something, because I was very tired and crabby and additionally felt a little icky. My digestion and my sleep were off, and I comforted myself by eating too much delicious jalepeno-sausage which, although is paleo, is not necessarily the wisest nutritional choice as many times as I had it this week. My sleeping schedule was a bit thrown off too, as Andrew started class this week. This is a huge blessing for us but it also means that we get up at 5 a.m. Ugh. So with the sleep being a bit “off” so was my appetite. And thus my energy levels. But I think I’m on the upswing, thanks very much to all of the exercise I’ve been doing lately. This week I got in two circuit workouts, five yoga sessions, and some easy cardio via walks and jogs.  I have a week’s worth of incredible meals planned ahead to keep things fresh in the upcoming week, and I hope to continue on this pattern of extra exercise.

day 8 day 8 II

Day 8: The very day after I vowed to eat less fruit I chowed down on a fruit salad first thing in the morning. I cut up a small banana, half a red pear, and added a squeeze of lemon and some shredded coconut. Later I had a hardboiled egg with some smoked salmon and, as always, black coffee. After an hour of yoga and I had the last of my Roasted Chicken Chili over half a roasted sweet potato, plus half an avocado sprinkled with dulse and nutritional yeast. Weird things, yes, but I’m trying to squeeze in lots of vitamins and nutrients! Dinner was Slow-Cooked Kalua pork roast eaten Korean style, with lettuce “tacos” and toppings like cilantro, avocado, kimchi, raw cabbage and coconut oil-fried plantain chips.

day 9 day 9 II day 9 III

Day 9: Started out the day with black coffee and a 1-egg scramble with kale, sweet potato and sausage, plus half a pear. After another hour of yoga I had leftover pork with lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, red bell pepper, cilantro, half an avocado and lime juice. Rooibos Vanilla Chai tea from my friend Hannah rounded out the afternoon. I made a raw coconut oil “chocolate” that is nothing like the real thing but helps me to pretend I’m eating the good stuff (melt coconut oil, add in cinnamon, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, let solidify in the fridge), and had a couple of bites before I went to a circuit workout at the gym on base. A snack was a hardboiled egg with a smear of almond butter, recommended by an Instagram friend (it was good!). Dinner was a mushroom “cream” soup inspired by this recipe, topped with leftover pork and a crumble of bacon, with a side salad and a few little Onion Herb Biscuits. Hot tea and a little more chocolate was my dessert, and we watched the film “Butter.” All I want is butter.

day 10 day 10 II day 10 III

Day 10: I got a ton of sleep on this day because I went back to bed after Andrew went to work (I NEVER DO THIS) and didn’t wake up until I got a phone call. Whoops. I had breakfast when he came home for lunch – an all-veg green smoothie, a fried egg and a “Paleo pancake” made of one banana mashed with one egg and cinnamon, then fried in coconut oil and topped with almond butter, shredded coconut and chia seeds. Another hour of yoga helped to make my day a teensy bit more productive, and when I got home I had some bell pepper, a hardboiled egg with mustard, 2 pickles, 2 small Onion Herb Biscuits, smoked salmon and a dab of Zucchini “Hummus.” Plus Yogi Peach Detox tea. Later I made a smoothie with frozen blueberries and coconut water, and for dinner we had a lazy veggie saute of everything in the fridge plus some sausage and herbs, served with saurkraut.

day 11 day 11 2 day 11 3

Day 11: Today’s breakfast was finally a win, and finally at an appropriate time. I heated up the leftover mushroom “cream” soup and poached two eggs in it, and enjoyed with hot coffee and emails. After a long walk I made a banana “salad” with one small sliced banana, a swipe of almond butter, a pinch of cinnamon and some shredded coconut. Lunch with Andrew was a Greek-inspired tuna salad over lettuce with red bell peppers and kalamata olives. I combined one can of tuna in water with one can of tuna in olive oil, added dried oregano, salt and pepper, diced avocado and zata’ar seasoning. While grocery shopping I devoured an Apple Pie flavored Lara bar — I don’t usually go for these things as they’re very caloric and full of fructose from the dates, but I needed some energy and that was the best option available. Dinner was Unrolled Cabbage Casserole made with ground chicken and local sausage, and Creamy Mashed Cauliflower from my new favorite cookbook, Well Fed. We ate some sauerkraut along with this, which apparently is one natural way to improve your skin.

day 12

Day 12: After an invigorating morning run with some friends down by the river, we cooked up a huge brunch of scrambled eggs, delicious bacon, and huge pot of coffee and a fruit salad made up of sliced banana, a few peeled and segmented cuties, frozen blueberries, and apple, some lemon juice and unsweetened shredded coconut. There were some yummy treats (homemade blueberry muffins!) but I steered clear. My lunch/snack at 2 p.m. was a riff on egg salad, made with 1 hardboiled egg and 1/2 avocado mashed together, plus a little salt, lemon juice, and garlic powder. I ate this with some red bell pepper strips. Dinner was a burger over salad greens, topped with caramelized onions, grilled jalepenos and bacon. (Lots of bacon today…oops.)

day 13 SONY DSCday 13 II

Day 13: Breakfast was a simple and cleansing green smoothie, made with baby kale, cucumber, celery, 1 small banana, ginger, a squeeze of lemon and some coconut water. I ate a hardboiled egg with mustard later, and lunch was a fresh salad with roasted golden beets. (I’ll be posting the recipe later this week.) I baked 4 dozen chocolate chip-butterscotch-oatmeal-coconut cookies for Andrew’s class, and although the kitchen smelled heavenly I wasn’t feeling tempted to eat one. Okay, okay. That’s a lie. But I didn’t eat one and that’s the main victory. Instead I drank some Yogi tea and ate a few spoonfuls of almond butter. I started to go for a walk this afternoon but, although the sun was shining, it was bitterly cold with the wind in my face. Instead I did some stretches and enjoyed the rest of the Sunday quite lazily, snacking on roasted sweet potato and reading with Andrew on the couch. I just got this book in the mail and I’m already digging into it (and looking forward to finding some local raw milk after this Whole30). Dinner was a frittata with ghee-sauteed mushrooms, baby kale, and dried basil and sage. I served Andrew some sausage with is, and roasted up some asparagus with mine. (Again, I’ve overdone it on the proteins lately, so today I tried to eat a lot of veggies to get in extra nutrients and help cleanse my digestive system.)

day 14

Day 14: Back to the early morning rising after the restful weekend! Breakfast was diced sweet potatoes and baby kale pan-fried in coconut oil, served with a fried egg and black coffee. Lunch was Crockpot Beef Plantain Caribbean Stew with a few tweaks, served over steamed beet and radish greens tossed in ghee, and topped with cilantro and a squeeze of lime (it would have been great with cloves of garlic and diced sweet potatoes). Later I had some Yogi Peach Detox tea, a Bubbie’s pickle, and a big chunk of “raw” chocolate. (Just noticing how weird of a combination that is together. #noiamnotpregnant) The raw chocolate was gross to me when I first tried it, when I was still eating sugar a bit around Christmas and my taste buds weren’t as sensitive to natural sweetness as they are now. Now, I can’t get enough of it, although I’m looking forward to adding some stevia after the Whole30 is finished. After errands I went to the gym and spent a little time on the treadmill before a tough circuit workout, then headed home to start dinner and snack on bell peppers and some pecans. Inspired by Mel’s cookbook, I made “The Best Chicken You’ll Ever Eat,” creamy spiced butternut squash bake with Ras el Hanout spices and pecans, and a pan of simple steamed kale, sauteed in ghee with a little salt and garlic. (Unfortunately, there’s no photo of this gorgeous meal because I ate it so fast.) The day ended with peppermint tea, my new favorite book, Deep Nutrition, and an early bedtime.

I’ve still been pretty tired lately, but today marks the halfway point of the Whole30!! I celebrated by baking off a big pan of local bacon. I must admit that I’m enjoying this process of learning about and listening to my body, and I feel like I’ve already made so much progress that I hardly want to stop when the month is over. That being said, I’d really love a big fragrant glass of red wine…

In addition to dialing in my nutrition and trying to increase my sleep and exercise, I’m also looking at how my skin is reacting to the Whole30, and what I can do to encourage smoothness, clarity, evennes of tone, etc. This post about natural skincare by Liz at Cave Girl Eats has really inspired me to take a deeper look at what I put on my body, in addition to what I put in it. In the next few weeks I’ll be working on implementing some of her tips like cleansing/moisturizing with oil, using apple cider vinegar as a tonic and a toner, and upping my intake of certain vitamins to help improve my skin.

One thing I am grateful for is that I know now what sort of good habits to continue to bring with me in my daily, non-Whole30 life. Habits such as avoiding sugar and industrial grains and fats at all cost, limiting alcohol to the weekends, making sure my sleep is sufficient, and keeping things healthy with plenty of veggies and lots of good fats like coconut oil and ghee (my new favorite). I’m keeping notes of what I’m learning and liking, and I’ll share a more holistic roundup at the end of the Whole30.

Is anyone else participating too? If so, how’s it going for you? Do you have any questions about my Whole30 experiences? Let me know, I’m always curious!

*     *     *     *     *

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway to win a copy of Well Fed, a paleo and Whole30-compliant cookbook written by Melissa Joulwan, author and blogger at The Clothes Make the Girl. You have until the weekend to enter and I’ll draw a winner next Monday, Jan. 21. Good luck!

sweet potato salad

Yet another ode to the sweet potato. I’m a little intense about my love for these tubers. I’ve already shared several recipes in which this little guy is the superstar, but I just can’t seem to curb my enthusiasm. Something about orange just gets me…butternut squash, pumpkin, yams, oh my!

This is another pre-Thanksgiving recipe I meant to post in the week leading up to the big day, but we only just got Internet in our apartment and thus it was delayed. Never you mind, though — this recipe is great for lunch or a side dish any time of the year! With the bright tang of a mustard vinaigrette to compliment the mellow sweetness of the potato, it is hearty and refreshing.

My favorite part of this recipe has to be the pecans. Down here in west Texas, we’re known for our pecans. In fact, as we were looking for houses, most were advertised as having mature pecan trees in the yards, ready to be harvested. We don’t have any trees of our own but there are plenty of locals willing to sell theirs to us at a reasonable price. If you’re able, try to find local pecans for this dish. They are sweeter, more tender, and just downright delicious.

Sweet Potato Salad

2 large sweet potatoes

a handful of chopped green onions

goat cheese

2 strips bacon/proscuitto/canadian bacon

1 c. chopped pecans

Scrub and trim the sweet potatoes. Dice into small cubes and toss onto an oiled tray. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until tender and beginning to brown. Set aside to cool.

Chop green onions and break up the goat cheese in separate bowls. (The onions can be a little strong, so wait until the last minute to combine them with the other ingredients.) Chop pecans and set aside. While potatoes are roasting, fry up the bacon until crisp. Or, if you use proscuitto or canadian bacon, you can finely chop and add into the salad “cold.” Regardless, you’ll want to dice your protein into small bites to spread out the salty goodness.

Once the separate ingredients are finished, toss together in a large bowl with a generous coating of mustard vinaigrette. Serve over salad greens or with some soup for a nice lunch.

Mustard Vinaigrette

1 Tbsp. grainy mustard

2 tsp. champagne vinegar (red wine vinegar is also good)

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and black pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and pour over salad. A sweetener is not needed in this recipe — it should be plenty tangy to balance the sweetness of the potatoes and pecans.