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Making Time with Mrs. Fisher

“What hath been done may be done again. Old Arts when they have been long lost, are sometimes recovered again and pass for new inventions.” Jared Eliot, Second Essay on Field Husbandry, 1748

I recently discovered an enlightening artifact of American culinary history, What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking, published in San Francisco in 1881. The first cookbook published by an African-American woman, it is a bonanza of southern treasures, wonderfully old school in its approach.

What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, 1881
What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, 1881

Mrs. Fisher, a freed slave who emigrated from Alabama, became an in-demand caterer and successful entrepreneur in San Francisco. Unable to read or write, she dictated her recipes for this book. Her personality vividly shines throughout the text, and her casual style reveals that she was a true master. It’s also obvious that her food must have been unbelievably delicious. Lucky for us, she wanted us all to learn her methods; she wrote the book “so that [even] a child can understand it and learn the art of cooking.”

Her all-day flavor development techniques are dazzling to read. Her recipe for Compound Tomato Sauce, included below, requires 24 hours of fermentation before the cooking begins. As for the cooking itself, “let it cook all day.” The richness of the aroma can’t be contained by the pages; reading the recipe, you can almost smell the sauce as it marches towards evening. Waiting for that first taste must have required a religious vow.

With Mrs. Fisher’s recipes, time is the chief ingredient. While egg-replacers and sugar substitutes and gluten-free alternatives and other analogs proliferate today, no true substitute for time has been developed. Rather than resist it, we should surrender: sugars and tissues break down with the application of heat, particularly with low heat over a long duration. An onion cooked for 30 minutes will taste richer—and have a more luxurious mouthfeel—than one cooked for 5 minutes. You can rush the onion if you want to, but you’ll have denied yourself a significant amount of pleasure at the table.

Studies[i] conducted in the UK and the US show drastic reductions in the time we spend cooking our meals, measured over the past 30 to 40 years. Not surprisingly, the time we spend enjoying meals has also plummeted. It makes sense: fast food leads to fast consumption. Rushed cooking leaves little to be savored.

Compound Tomato Sauce - Mrs Fisher, 1881
Compound Tomato Sauce recipe from Mrs. Fisher. I provide it not because I think we will all take the necessary two days to make the sauce. I do hope, however, that her spirit will inspire us all to spend more time crafting our meals, and that her joy will carry over to our tables.

It is complicated territory, once you consider factors such as income level, single-parenthood, number of jobs held simultaneously, and age. But there are also very simple scenarios.

I recently spent a weekend helping a friend at an animal sanctuary. While we were making dinner one evening, an intern passed through the kitchen. Her question was very to-the-point: “How do you cook mushrooms?” Her pace slowed, but she never actually stopped walking as I began my answer. She continued into the living room and opened her laptop.

Her age—early 20s—could be used against her, and we could indict the current generation for their inability to function in a physical, non-digital world. But the problem extends further back.

In Asheville, North Carolina—a foodie town if ever there were one—my next-door neighbor was a true gentle lady of the south. She absolutely loved food, especially the breads that I would share now and then. Upon learning more about my culinary background, she asked if I’d be willing to teach her one thing: how to make gravy. She was in her 70s.

Both of these examples point to something bigger: that the generation before them was missing something, too. And in fact, tracing the history of the American food from 1881—when Mrs. Fisher published her book—until now, it is easy to see us steadily relinquishing traditional foodways as convenience foods pervaded the grocery and markets. We traded our food heritage, rich with so many multicultural influences and an astonishing array of native foods, for extra time to do nothing. We have of course filled that nothing time with a lot of things, with watching television still being the number one time-taker.

The tradeoffs are many, and are well documented: declining health, loss of life skills, disconnection from food traditions and even family heritage. But it’s not the end of the world yet. For while our society was gorging on convenience, plant tissue was still behaving the same way it always had. And it still behaves in the same manner today.

We can reconnect. The cooking principles from 130 years ago are just as functional today, and Mrs. Fisher’s oeuvre stands as a cairn on a trail we can reclaim. The biggest investment asked of us is time, which coincidentally is as plentiful as it was 130 years ago if we unplug a bit.

The payoffs will be substantial, with the reversal of the symptoms mentioned above. But the most immediate return will be deeper enjoyment at the dinner table. This enjoyment is magnified by the experience of discovery, as we learn ancient secrets all over again and savor our burgeoning skills.

Onion Soup
There are luxuriously complex flavors locked away in onions. Coaxing them out requires courtship, something deeper than a fast-food fling.

I’ll leave you with a recipe that is ancient in origin: Onion Soup. From its humble beginnings—poor people’s food in ancient Rome—to its 20th-century vogue, its goodness increases with the amount of time you take to prepare it. There are luxuriously complex flavors locked away in these roots. Coaxing them out requires courtship, something deeper than a fast-food fling. Perhaps this recipe can help you restore your relationship with food.

Onion Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium yellow onions, peeled, halved, and sliced thinly
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 splash balsamic vinegar or red wine
3 cups vegetable stock, unsalted
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage, or 4 leaves fresh sage
1 bay leaf

1. Warm a heavy-bottomed 2 quart soup pot over low heat.
2. Add the olive oil and the onions. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper.
3. Stir to distribute onions evenly across the bottom of the pot.
4. Leave the onions in the pot on low heat for 2 hours, uncovered. Stir every half hour or so and redistribute.
5. After 2 hours, add the splash of balsamic and stir.
6. Add the vegetable stock, rosemary, sage, and bay leaf.
7. Bring pot to a simmer. Simmer slowly, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
8. Add a little more salt if desired.
9. Ladle into soup cups and serve with a slice of crusty baguette or multigrain bread, toasted.

Yield: 2 servings

Note the absence of sugar or other flavor additives. Sugar is sometimes added to aid in the caramelization process-but as you will see, no help is necessary. And you certainly won’t miss the sweetness–the onions get so sweet on their own that you’ll be tempted to make this a dessert soup.

Also, I have omitted the modern sacrament of cheese au gratin. Apart from all the issues associated with the consumption of animal products, I find that the cheese simply gets in the way of a great soup.

———-
[i]
http://www.forbes.com/sites/tombarlow/2011/04/15/americans-cook-the-least-eat-the-fastest/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3639863/

http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib86.aspx#.U6iQB7FiqTI

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2590578/Cant-cook-wont-cook-Britain-Amount-time-spent-cooking-UK-HALVED-1980s-people-survive-diet-sandwiches.html

Sofrito Cornbread Strata

What do you do when you’ve made more cornbread than you can eat? Okay, that’s not quite the situation. I can eat a lot of cornbread, thanks to my heritage. But I did have some that was getting a bit stale, and I needed to reaffirm its importance. Hence, this Sofrito Cornbread Strata.

Seriously full of flavor, it’s like creamy polenta encased in crunchy crusty cornbread. It is absolutely center-of-the-plate material, so build the rest of the meal around it. For my meal, I added some black beans, charred broccoli, and a roasted red pepper cream sauce. Pico de gallo or another Mexican-style salsa would also be great companions.

Here’s the recipe. Some helpful notes follow. Enjoy!

Sofrito Cornbread Strata

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 cup sofrito (see recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 cups cornbread, broken into crouton-sized bits
3 cups sweet potato, roasted, peeled, and diced
2 Poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, and diced

1. Heat oven to 350°.

2. Warm the olive oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms. Sauté until they release their liquid.

3. Add sofrito and salt. Mix well. Remove from heat.

4. Place the cornbread into a large mixing bowl. Add the mushroom and sofrito mixture.

5. Add the sweet potato and the poblano. Mix well.

6. Press the mixture into several lightly-oiled cake rings (mine are 3.5 dia x 2.25 deep), and place them on a lined baking sheet. Alternatively, you can put the entire mixture into a single lightly-oiled casserole dish. (If you’re using cake rings, you can place some of the vegetables around the edges so that they are visible when you remove the rings. This adds to the visual appeal of the dish.)

7. Bake uncovered at 350° for 30 minutes. If using rings, remove them at this point and broil for 5 more minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

Helpful Notes By design, strata and their sweeter kin, bread puddings, make use of leftover bread that’s become stale. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to make a fresh batch of cornbread for this dish. There are a few other advance prep items in this recipe in addition to cornbread. They can all be made a day or two ahead of time, so that putting together the strata is a cinch. So, before beginning the recipe itself:

  • Make cornbread (use your favorite recipe)
  • Roast sweet potato
  • Make sofrito (see recipe below)
  • Roast Poblano chile (see process below)
  • Make vegetable stock (follow link for great tips—this is so easy!)

You can easily pop the sweet potato in the oven while your cornbread is baking.

The sofrito recipe yields 2 cups, only 1 of which you’ll need for the strata. Use the other cup to flavor rice (add to ½ cup rice while cooking) or beans (add to 2 cups beans after they have been cooked.)

Sofrito

2 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
4 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground annatto seed
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground chile (cayenne, chipotle, or ancho), optional
1/4 cup cilantro, or parsley, minced

1. Gently warm oil in sauté pan.

2. Add onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno. Sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes.

3. Add garlic, annatto, oregano, cumin, and optional chile powder. Sauté for an additional 5 or 10 minutes.

4. Add cilantro and turn off the heat.

Yield: 2 cups

Roasting Poblano Chiles: Turn your oven’s broiler on high. Place the chile in a pan under the broiler. Turn the chile every few minutes until it is entirely blackened and blistered. Place it in a plastic bag or a bowl with a cover. As the chile sweats, the peel will loosen. After about 20 minutes, you can easily remove all the peel. Resist the urge to rinse it, as doing so will wash away much of the flavorful oils. If you hit a stubborn spot where the peel won’t come off, don’t stress over it. It will be fine. Roasting can also be done on the stovetop if you have a gas stove. (This is actually closer to ‘authentic.’) Simply place the chile directly on the burner and turn on the fire. Rotate frequently as above, until the chile is fully blackened and blistered. Follow the same steps for sweating and peeling.

Post-traditionalist Pecan Tart

Pecan Pie
Pecan Pie

I am included in this article (Mountain Xpress, Asheville, NC) about cooking for the holidays. My ideas have a strong connection to my upbringing, but as with all things, I’ve applied my own arbitrary updates.

With the article is my recipe for a pecan tart. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Pecan Tart

Yields one 10-inch tart
1 10-inch pie crust, pre-baked
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup rice syrup
1 cup soy milk
1 tbsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. sea salt
3 tbsp. flax meal
1/4 cup arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast pecans in oven for 15 minutes.

In heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine maple syrup, rice syrup, soy milk, vanilla, and sea salt. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring often.

Vigorously whisk in the ground flax meal and dissolved arrowroot.

In large bowl, combine syrup mixture with pecans, and stir thoroughly. Pour into pie crust.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until bubbly and browned. Let cool thoroughly before slicing.

Speaking Southwestern

Last week, I taught a full-day workshop covering “Southwestern” cuisine. Talk about a big topic. For that term, limited though it sounds, refers to not only foods prominent in the southwestern US states, but also those in the northwestern states of Mexico. They are part of the same gumbo, to mix culinary metaphors. Federal borders aren’t real: imaginary lines on paper do nothing to stop the migration and sharing of foods, flavors, attitudes, and techniques.

When you think of the food plants that are native to the Americas, and which form the foundation of this cuisine, it continues to be dazzling: chiles (hundreds of varieties tucked into that little word!), sweet peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, squashes, beans, tomatillos, nopales, wild herbs like epazote…it’s like I was signing up to talk about every known food in the western world.

As for techniques, I was able to keep it simple, yet not less universal. With roasting, smoking, grilling, using open flames, comales, and hot ovens, it reaches across the planet during a simpler times, when we knew that cooking was a very basic matter: apply fire.

All of these things have existed for millennia, long before Mexico, the US, or the coming nations glimmered in a politician’s eye. But geography and ancient heritage were not the only challenging aspects of teaching this class.

The real challenge was in expressing something that I have been immersed in my whole life. Culturally, it seemed like teaching a Martian about Hank Williams. There’s a significant gulf between a Princeton, NJ, kitchen—the site of the class—and the soul food of the Southwest.

Thankfully, I took in a solid posse of chiles and masa. With amigos like these, one can only succeed.

Here’s the first section of my handout. It was a respectable beginning, I believe.

_____

What is Southwestern Cuisine?

Peppers on Open Flames
Signs of good beginnings in the Southwest.

The cuisine of the Southwest is a bold, multi-lingual synthesis of methods, foods, and attitudes from native North America, old Spain, and the westward push of the US. The US-Mexico border is not its boundary; rather, the border is its central, invisible highway. It’s a scenic and aromatic route through indigenous ingenuity, the Spanish adventure, and the wild Texan fantasy of world domination. It might be tied to a region, but it contains many cultures.

Its ancient traditions bring us chiles, frijoles, corn, calabacitas, wild herbs, and fire. Though timeless, these traditions defy canonization, for they are malleable and sensual, demanding that the cook feel what is being done, rather than read what is being done. It encourages us to improvise around the elements, not to obsess over the sacraments. The individual cook must draw from her or his own experience and expertise. This food is about the richness and depth of life; through the cook’s life come new applications.

It is a hearty and earthy cuisine. It is to the southwest what soul food is to the southeast: richly flavored, hearty, earthy, spirited, accessible. It is family-informed, but open to interpretation.

It is equal parts El Paso, Santa Fe, and San Antonio; cowboy, friar, and medicine man; pueblo grandmother and ranch cook.

To me, it is the essence of cooking: knowing your materials, working within a framework of ideas, far from French rigidity. It favors easy mastery of key ingredients and techniques, and the ability to create from scratch.

_____

Here is a small selection of recipes, so that you may have a bit of fun yourself.

 

Black Beans with Roasted Sofrito

Yields: 4 Servings

Ingredients

1 onion
1 poblano chile
1 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground annatto
1 tablespoon oregano, dried
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chile powder, optional
2 cups cooked black beans
1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, minced

Instructions
Roast onion, poblano, and red bell over open flame, in broiler, or on a comal. Remove each when skin is evenly charred.

Sweat the poblano and red bell, then remove skins.

Remove skin from onion. Dice onion, poblano, and red bell.

Warm the olive oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Add garlic, annatto, oregano, cumin, and optional chile powder. Sauté for 3 minutes.

Add onion, poblano chiles, and red bell. Stir well to incorporate.

Add cooked black beans, with as much of their cooking liquid as desired. Heat to simmer.

Add cilantro and turn off the heat.

Additions:
Tomato, roasted and diced, is an excellent addition. Likewise epazote or smoked paprika.

 

Adobo

Yields: 1 cup

Use as a marinade, or as an additive to cooked rice or beans.

Ingredients

3 guajillo chiles, dried
3 ancho chiles, dried
1 de arbol chile, dried
1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 stick cinnamon (Mexican canella is preferred)
1 1/2 teaspoon oregano, dried
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions
Heat a comal over a medium flame.

Slit each chile down one side, and remove the stems and seeds. Toast chiles on the comal for about 3 or 4 minutes, flipping over at least once.

Place chiles in a shallow bowl and cover with hot water. Add a weight to press them down into the water. Let them soak for 20 minutes or until they are soft. Discard the soaking water.

While the chiles are soaking, place onion and garlic on the comal and toast until charred. Peel garlic.

Place chiles, onion, and garlic in a food processor fitted with the ‘S’ blade.

Toast the cumin seeds and cinnamon stick for only a few seconds. Once their aroma is released, remove from the comal and place in processor.

Add remaining ingredients to the processor. Process until adobo reaches the desired consistency.

At this point, adobo can be used as a marinade or a simmering sauce.

A single batch is enough to marinate 1/2 pound of seitan or tempeh.

 

Tempeh and Two-Bean Chili
Tempeh and Two-Bean Chili

Tempeh and Two-Bean Chili

Yields: 8 Servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound tempeh, crumbled
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 cups cooked pinto beans
2 cups cooked kidney beans
1 cup corn kernels
2 teaspoons sea salt
4 cups vegetable stock or liquid from cooking beans
1/2 cup parsley, minced

Instructions
Warm the oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté till translucent.

Add carrot, garlic, cumin, chile powder, oregano, paprika, and black pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes.

Add tempeh and cook for 5 minutes.

Add tomato paste and mix thoroughly.

Add beans, corn, salt and stock. Bring to a boil then lower to simmer. Simmer till heated throughout.

Mix in parsley just before serving.

 

Red Chile Sauce

Yields: 1 quart

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons chile powder
4 cups stock or water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup masa harina
3/4 cup cold water

Instructions
Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.

Add onion, garlic, and chile powder.

When onions are soft but not caramelized, add stock and sea salt.

Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Whisk masa harina into cold water. When all lumps are gone, whisk this mixture into the simmering chile.

Continue to simmer until sauce thickens, about 10 to 20 minutes.

Notes:
If you want a completely smooth sauce, pass the onions and garlic through a food processor with the ‘S’ blade prior to cooking. Alternatively, blend the final sauce in a blender.

Great additions include Mexican oregano and cumin. Experiment with adding cacao.

As an alternative to chile powder, use 2 or 3 dried whole chiles. Toast them briefly on a comal then remove the stems and seeds.

Happy Holidays, 2011

I just finished teaching a workshop focused on happy & healthy eating for the holidays. This workshop featured recipes which I developed specifically for this year’s holidays, along with nutritional instruction from Donnalynn Civello. You might enjoy these for your own holiday celebration.

Why not welcome your guests with a nice Vanilla Bean Holiday Nog? This egg & dairy free rendition is rich with memory and celebration.

When it’s time for the meal, offer your friends and family this fabulous main course: Chorizo Stuffed Kale Leaves, Quinoa Stuffing, and Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole. The Pumpkin & Hemp Seed Pesto is a tasty and concentrated accompaniment to each item on the main plate, so put a generous dab so your guests can have a little in each bite.

Follow the main course with a bit of Spiced Apple Cider, paired with some nice Molasses Spice Cookies. Or perhaps a decadent Pecan Tart?

If your guests are staying overnight, consider a late breakfast of Baked Oatmeal, with Orange Creme Anglaise and Cranberry Compote.

Happy Holidays!

 

Vanilla Bean Holiday Nog
Yields: 4 Servings

1 quart almond milk
1 cup coconut-based vanilla ice cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 banana
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
3 tablespoons dark rum, optional

Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend till completely smooth.

Serve with dusting of nutmeg, cinnamon, or cardamom.

 

Chorizo Stuffed Kale Leaves
Yields: 4 Servings

1/2 pound tempeh
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 kale leaves

Crumble tempeh in large bowl. Add fennel seed, smoked paprika, ground cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and tamari. Mix well.

Warm the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and tempeh, and sauté until tempeh has lightly browned. Remove from heat.

Carefully trim kale leaves so that they can be rolled around filling. Add 1/2 to 1/3 cup of tempeh to a kale leaf, and roll lengthwise.

Place filled leaves in a steaming basket. Steam for 6 to 10 minutes. Serve while still hot.

 

Pumpkin and Hemp Seed Pesto
Yields: 1 cup

3/4 cup pumpkin seed, raw or toasted
1/4 cup hemp seed
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Place pumpkin seeds into a food processor. Process briefly to break down the seeds.

Add remaining ingredients, and process into smooth uniform mixture.

 

Quinoa Stuffing
Yields: 4 Servings

1/2 cup pecans
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1/2 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon sage
5 dried figs, diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 sprigs fresh thyme

Heat oven to 350°.

Toast pecans in oven for 15 minutes. Chop and set aside.

Bring water or stock to boil, add quinoa, then lower to simmer. Simmer for 12 minutes, or until quinoa is done. Drain excess water and set aside.

Warm olive oil in heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Add mushroom, onion, celery, garlic, rosemary, oregano, and sage. Sauté until onions are beginning to caramelize.

Add figs, pecans, sea salt, and thyme. Mix thoroughly and sauté for 3 minutes more.

Turn off heat and thoroughly mix in quinoa.

 

Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole
Yields: 4 Servings

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Heat the oven to 450°.

Roast sweet potatoes for 40 minutes, or until soft. Remove, let cool, and take off peel. Mash to a uniformly smooth consistency.

Reduce oven to 375°.

Whisk together the cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, vanilla, orange juice, and sea salt. Mix into the sweet potatoes.

Lightly oil a 9×9” baking pan. Fill with the sweet potato mixture.

Mix together the maple syrup and walnuts. Spread over the top of the sweet potatoes.

Place in oven and bake for 25 minutes.

 

Spiced Apple Cider
Yields: 4 Servings

1 quart apple cider
2 sticks cinnamon
2 teaspoons whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole clove
1 inch ginger, sliced thinly

Place all ingredients into heavy-bottomed soup pot, and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes.

Strain and serve warm.

 

Molasses Spice Cookies
Yields: 2 Dozen

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup olive oil
3/8 cup water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix dry ingredients.

Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

Combine wet and dry ingredients. Do not over mix.

Form quarter-sized rounds of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes and allow to cool completely.

 

Pecan Tart
Yields: 1 10″ tart

1 10″ pie crust, pre-baked
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup rice syrup
1 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons flax meal
1/4 cup arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
Heat oven to 350°.

Toast pecans in oven for 15 minutes.

In heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine maple syrup, rice syrup, soy milk, vanilla, and sea salt. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring often.

Vigorously whisk in the ground flax meal and dissolved arrowroot.

In large bowl, combine syrup mixture with pecans, and stir thoroughly.

Pour into pie crust. Bake for 30 minutes at 350°, or until bubbly and browned.

Let cool thoroughly before slicing.

 

Baked Oatmeal
Yields: 8 Servings

3 tablespoons flax meal
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cup almond milk
1/4 cup goji berries
1/2 cup tart cherries

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly oil a 9×9″ cake pan or individual ramekins.

Mix together the flax meal and water. Set aside for 15 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and sea salt.

In another small mixing bowl, whisk together the maple syrup and almond milk until combined. Add the soaking flax meal and stir to incorporate.

Add the liquids to the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Fold in the fruit.

Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Allow the oatmeal to cool in the pan for a few minutes before serving.

Can also add orange or lemon zest, dried apricots, figs, or fresh berries.

 

Orange Crème Anglaise
Yields: 1 cup

1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons orange zest
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 pinch turmeric
1 tablespoon agave nectar, optional
2 tablespoons arrowroot

Combine first six ingredients in heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Whisk arrowroot into an equal amount of water. Whisk this mixture into simmering milk. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Refrigerate and let cool completely prior to use.

 

Cranberry Compote
Yields: 6 Servings

2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 pinch sea salt
1 cup fresh cranberries

Place orange juice, raisins, cinnamon stick, maple syrup, and sea salt in a saucepan over low heat.

Simmer slowly till reduced by half.

Add cranberries and simmer for another 15 minutes, or until liquid is thick and syrupy.

Cool before serving.

Winter Sustenance

The freshness of the summer market lingers on my palate as we slowly transition into winter. As I reluctantly let go of sun-ripened tomatoes and delicate salad greens, I reach for winter sustenance.

Summer is a time for letting it all hang out, like a garden filled with wispily waving fennel, nasturtiums sluicing through open channels in rapids of color, and trellised vines of sugar snap peas. Winter, however, is about finding one’s grounding again, seeking the concentrated energy to be found inward.

Winter Greens Salad
Winter Greens Salad, with kale, collards, toasted pumpkin seeds, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette.

“Grounding” and “concentrated” are words that easily apply to the abundance of root vegetables available during winter. But root vegetables aren’t the only things available: hearty greens and squash are eager to provide us with the diverse nutrients needed to maintain our health and good cheer during the winter months.

A quick look at my availability chart shows me the wonderful array of vegetables that are waiting here at winter’s doorstep: Sweet potatoes, onions, cabbage, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, shallots, butternut and other squashes, potatoes, garlic, broccoli, leeks, kale, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin—winter is far from drab and gray!

Also, when I consider the easy access I have to dried beans and grains, as well as cultured foods like tempeh, I realize just how abundant and vibrant my winter will be.

In some ways, cooking in the winter is much simpler than in the summer. Baking a sweet potato is about the easiest thing one can do. As the sweet potato finishes, I simmer a bit of quinoa. Above the simmering quinoa, I place my bamboo steamer, into which I’ve tossed a handful of chopped kale. When I plate this tasty trio, I supercharge their highly nutritious state by drizzling on a little flax oil and some nutritional yeast. A meal could hardly be more simple, satisfying, or whole.

The following recipes were developed around produce that is available fresh during the winter, as well as dried beans and grains. They are quite simple to prepare, and being simple, they are also flexible. If the recipe calls for carrots, feel free to use parsnips. Don’t want mashed potatoes on the Shepherd’s Pie? No problem, use sweet potatoes.

Sometimes we rely too much on heavy foods during the winter, simply because they feel so good and warming. Don’t forget, however, to include hearty helpings of leafy greens. The Winter Greens Salad is a perfect way to balance a meal.

 

Mushroom and Barley Soup

8 Servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
2 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Herbs d’Provence
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups vegetable stock
1 cup barley
1/2 cup lentils
1 teaspoon sea salt
Warm the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms until they give up their liquid, about 10 minutes. Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes.

Add carrots, garlic, herbs, and black pepper, and sauté until carrots are soft.

Add vegetable stock, and barley. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower flame and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add lentils and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until lentils are done.

Add sea salt and remove from heat.

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Fennel

6 Servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 fennel bulb
4 shallots, quartered
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Heat oven to 425°.

Trim ends of Brussels sprouts and remove outer layer of leaves. Slice in half through the base and place in mixing bowl.

Trim end of fennel bulb, and remove outer layers if blemished. Cut ¼” thick slices, perpendicular to the root, up to the green stalks. Place in bowl with Brussels sprouts.

Add shallots, garlic, olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Toss well.

Place in 2 quart casserole dish. Roast uncovered at 425° for 25 minutes. Toss, cover, and roast for 25 minutes more.

 

Winter Greens Salad

4 Servings

4 collard leaves, chopped
4 lacinato kale leaves, chopped
8 red kale leaves, chopped
4 Napa cabbage leaves, chiffonade
3/4 cup carrot, shredded
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/2 cup raisins
In wok or skillet over high heat, wilt the collard and kale in a small amount of water. Do not cook completely.

Mix cooked greens with Napa cabbage, carrot, pumpkin seeds, and raisins.

Toss with Pomegranate Vinaigrette (recipe below) and serve.

 

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

4 Servings

1 clove garlic, smashed
1 shallot, chopped
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons agave nectar (optional)
1 pinch sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Place garlic, shallot, pomegranate juice, balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, and sea salt in blender. Blend till fully homogenized.

Add olive oil and blend until emulsified.

 

Shepherd’s Pie

4 servings

3/4 pound potato
1 small onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
1/4 pound parsnip or carrot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound tempeh, crumbled
2 cups vegetable stock (divided use)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (can also use any gluten-free flour)
Heat oven to 450°.

Place whole, unpeeled potatoes and onion on a baking sheet. Put in oven and roast till potatoes are soft.

Peel and dice onion, and place in large bowl with the potatoes.

Add olive oil, non-dairy milk, sea salt, and pepper. Mash potatoes thoroughly and set aside. (If smoother, whipped potatoes are desired, use electric mixer.)

Lower oven to 350°.

Warm a large skillet over a medium flame. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then the mushrooms. Sauté till the mushrooms give up their liquid, about 10 minutes.

Add onion, parsnip or carrot, garlic, herbs, and black pepper. Sauté till onions are soft.

Add tempeh and sauté for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of vegetable stock and ¼ teaspoon of sea salt. Simmer over low heat till stock is evaporated.

Add flour and mix well. Pour in remaining stock and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, till gravy forms.

Place vegetable mixture into a 2 quart casserole dish. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the top.

Bake uncovered at 350° for 30 minutes.

 

Making the Most of the Summer Markets

The Farmers’ Markets here in NYC are riotously abundant now, and I have to contain my enthusiasm as I walk the aisles. I simply want to buy every vegetable and herb I see.

Kohlrabi and Garlic Scapes
Kohlrabi and Garlic Scapes

I don’t have a garden this year, not having discovered a way to transport to Brooklyn the Hudson Valley garden I built last year. But I’m a long way from despair: my lack of a garden means that I can benefit from all the other farms in the region.

To help me manage my enthusiasm, I have developed this short guideline for “marketing.” Perhaps it will be of use to you, too.

Take an experienced guide

The Field Guide to Produce is a fantastic little book that can accompany you to the market. Photos and descriptions of over 200 fruits and vegetables are provided, as well as handling and preparation tips and seasoning suggestions. Not sure what to do with kohlrabi? Don’t even know what it looks like? Then this book is for you!

Know the schedule

Near my apartment in Brooklyn, there are markets happening on three days of the week. As a stupendous bonus, I work near Union Square, where one of the best greenmarkets happens on four days each week. In fact, the only day on which I might have trouble getting something is Thursday. In other cities where I’ve lived, markets have been held on multiple days of the week, too. So if you’re in NYC, Dallas, Denver, Santa Fe, Saugerties, Mendocino…anywhere, get to know the schedule and make it a part of your weekly routine. I guarantee you that it’s much more pleasant than ducking into Whole Foods, not to mention enormously “greener.”

Go early, go often

If you can manage it, get to the market just as it opens. The greens and herbs will be fresher, and all the produce will have been handled the least. However, if you’re going to buy potatoes or carrots or other more ‘durable’ vegetables, go just as the market is closing. You can possibly score a better price, as the farmer would rather sell than pack it all back home. Also, if you’re buying delicate items like greens and herbs, purchase only what you’ll need for the next 3 or 4 days. Nothing is more de-motivating than watching things go bad in the fridge. When you’ve reached the end of the salad greens, hit the market again. It will become a very pleasant and peaceful routine, not onerous at all. Plus, you will have a wonderful variety of foods in your diet and on your palate.

Eggplant and Okra
Eggplant and Okra

Try something you’ve never had

Find a bouquet of epazote? Or some purslane? Go for it. Don’t fear the arugula. Embrace the amaranth. Honor the okra. And of course, love the lovage. Imagine the call you can make to your partner: “Honey, I’m feeling like some shishito tonight. How ‘bout you?”

Ask the experts

Having bought that glorious bundle of purslane, feel free to ask the farmers themselves what to do with it. They wouldn’t be growing it without knowing some great ways to use it. Also, most markets have cooking demonstrations, recipes, and a website full of information about the produce.

Master a few techniques

You’ll need some hardcore skills to prepare all this bounty. Be ready, at a moment’s notice, to: rinse, peel, slice, scoop, crank a salad spinner, shake a jar. Most of all, master the art of low oil sauté. When in doubt, this is the way to go with most summer produce that you’re not eating raw. Put a good pan on medium high heat, add a little oil, toss in the prepped vegetables, and then toss them another time or two. If you want them a little more done, then cook them till they’re a little more done. You are the master!

Have sketches instead of recipes

Since the produce at a market will fluctuate more than that at a traditional supermarket, apply some flexibility to your recipes, too. If you have a great recipe for Melon & Cucumber Soup, remember that with little effort it can be transformed into a Cantaloupe & Raspberry Soup. Pasta Primavera—in Italy it’s called “greengrocer’s pasta”– is about the most flexible idea around: buy the currently available fresh vegetables, pair them with pasta, and add a light sauce. For this, a simple herbed aioli will support all the variations. Even more than Pasta Primavera, summer salads are open doors for just about any herb, flower, fruit, or vegetable: garlic scapes, nasturtiums, squash blossoms, beets, celery root, berries, apples, fresh uncooked peas or corn. Recipes are great for generating a shopping list, but the shopping list shouldn’t be bound by the recipe.

Market Leeks

Market Leeks

Buy mindfully

To me, this means “buy organic.” Make your own decision, based on your own principles and in keeping with your budgetary limits, but remember that conventional agricultural methods contribute to depleted soils. As a consequence, nutrient levels in foods have been dropping over the past 50 years. Organic methods, such as those espoused by the Real Food Campaign, produce richer soils, and therefore richer foods. Your body gets more of what it needs. If improving your health isn’t enough, you’re also supporting the health of the farm workers themselves.

Even if you’re not missing last year’s garden, I encourage you to seek out the Farmers’ Market in your area. Many of us talk about eating seasonally and locally, and practicing a more healthy intercourse between our bodies, our foods, and our lands. There’s no better place to enact this than at the Farmers’ Market. We often hear the phrase, “vote with your dollar.” There’s no better way of doing this than handing that dollar to the farmer who grows your tomatoes—thereby enabling her or him to make the most of the summer market as well.

 

I might be godless, but I am no sinner.

The holidays are about done, and I have yet to perform my one religious obligation. But it’s only a couple of days away.

I grew up quite religious, with a good array of traditions. However, I quit carrying my cross almost 20 years ago, realizing that a sinless life is more easily lived in the absence of judgment.

Robert & Kevin Archer, Spring 1966
Now tell me, could I steer you wrong on this? (Thanks for the photo, Mom!)

Content to be a kind person, a good neighbor, and a helpful resource, I find that my life is more fulfilling in the here-and-now than I could have hoped for it to be in the there-and-after.

I’ve babbled on sufficiently in this and other spaces about my eschewing of holiday traditions, too. But it’s time I let you know about a monstrous inconsistency.

As if my very non-existent soul depended upon it, I partake of Black Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day, so that I might have good luck in the coming year. There’s nothing anyone can do to talk me out of it. You can go on endlessly about the irrational superstitions associated with the act. You can map out my entire previous year and ask me just where I think all that luck kicked in. We can argue about self-determination and self-actualization, or philosophize ad nauseam, ad infinitum, about how a small speckled legume can or cannot have influence on the forces of life.

And while you’re busy trying to tear down my temple, I’ll be in the kitchen practicing my faith. Hey, we’ve all got our quirky beliefs, don’t we?

As my dear friend Iliana would say, “Don’t pull the Devil by the tail.” In other words, make your own pot of soul food. Here’s your recipe!

Black Eyed Peas

Yields: 4 Servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 cup black eyed peas
4 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons sea salt
black pepper

Instructions

Warm the oil in a 5 quart soup pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper, celery, allspice, thyme, and garlic. Sauté for another 5 minutes.

Add the bay leaves, peas, and stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 40 minutes.

Add salt and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add black pepper to taste.

Enjoy with Good Fortune!

Holiday Menu with Recipes

(This entry originally appeared at Crazy Sexy Life: http://crazysexylife.com/2010/a-holiday-feast/)

Beneath the riffling of the holiday shuffle, we find a very natural and strong undercurrent. It flows from the spring of Thanksgiving, through the deep pool of reflection, into the rushing current of renewal as the year changes.

Thankfulness, as we have just celebrated, brings a warming effect to our lives. Gratitude truly felt is rich and balancing, helping us to offset any troubles that have come our way. Clearing the debris from the year creates space for us to take that all-important personal inventory. From this assessment, popularly associated with religious observances, we determine our next steps.

Seitan Roast, Baked Mashed Potatoes, Onion Gravy, Pecan Fig Cornbread Stuffing, Cranberry Compote
Seitan Roast, Baked Mashed Potatoes, Onion Gravy, Pecan Fig Cornbread Stuffing, Cranberry Compote

The Advent offers a backward and forward look at presence, a pivot point where one can ascertain one’s own standing.

Hanukkah’s honoring of a rededicated temple engenders hope for a future recurrence, filling the present moment with expectation.

Long before either of these celebrations, there was the universal solstice: that turning point of the winter, when the lengthening night gives way to the lengthening day. It’s all much brighter from this day forward.

From the reflecting points of these holidays, we move into progressive renewal. We make adjustments in our course, applying another iteration of fine-tuning on who we are and what we do. In the absence of leaves, we store energy for new ones, awaiting spring.

Remembrance is not only a device for preserving past years. It is also a foundation for building the new year. With the heritage of our traditional flavors as the cornerstone, I offer these recipes to help us celebrate a more sustainable and healthy future.

CORNBREAD STUFFING WITH PECANS AND FIGS
Servings: 12

Ingredients
1 cup pecans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
10 dried figs, chopped
6 cups cornbread
2 cups vegetable stock
6 sprigs fresh thyme

1. Heat oven to 350 F.
2. Toast pecans for 10 minutes. Chop and set aside.
3. Warm olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sauté onion, mushrooms, and celery with rosemary and sage. When onion is translucent, 4. add sea salt and figs, and sauté for 3 more minutes.
5. Tear cornbread into small pieces and place in large mixing bowl. Add sautéed vegetables, pecans, and stock. Mix thoroughly.
6. Place mixture in a lightly oiled casserole dish. Place thyme sprigs on top.
7. Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake for 10 minutes more to form crusty top.

CRANBERRY COMPOTE
Servings: 6

Ingredients
2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon unrefined sugar
1 pinch sea salt
1 cup fresh cranberries

1. Place orange juice, raisins, cinnamon sticks, sugar and sea salt in a saucepan over low heat.
2. Simmer slowly until reduced by half.
3. Add cranberries and simmer for another 15 minutes, or until liquid is syrupy.
4. Cool before serving.

MASHED POTATOES
Servings: 6

Ingredients
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 onion
6 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 F. Roast whole, unpeeled potatoes and onion until potatoes are soft, about 45 minutes.
2. Peel and dice onion and place in large bowl with the potatoes.
3. Add remaining ingredients and mash potatoes until they reach the desired consistency. Add additional oil or milk as desired.

ONION GRAVY
Servings: 8

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 3/4 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups vegetable stock

1. Warm olive oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic, sage, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. Stir well and sauté for 3 minutes.
2. Add flour, mix thoroughly and sauté for 5 minutes.
3. Whisk in stock. Simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened.

SEITAN ROAST
Servings: 10

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
4 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon Italian herb blend
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 3/4 cups vital wheat gluten
3/4 cup cornmeal

1. Heat oven to 350 F.
2. Warm olive oil over medium heat in a small sauté pan. Sauté onion, garlic and ginger until onion is translucent.
3. Blend onion mixture with vegetable stock, nutritional yeast, tamari, herb blend, salt, and pepper.
4. In large bowl, mix wheat gluten and cornmeal. Add 1 to 2 cups of blended stock and stir to form dough. Mix with hands as dough gets stiffer. Add more stock, in small increments, if necessary.
5. Lightly oil a 9x5x3 loaf pan. Shape dough to fit pan and press down.
6. Pour 3/4 cup of blended stock over dough.
7. Bake uncovered at 350 F for 45 minutes. Add the remaining stock.
8. Reduce oven to 325 F, and bake for another 20 to 35 minutes, or until seitan is firm to the touch. Add more liquid if necessary to continue baking.
9. Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

PECAN TART
Servings: 8

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup rice syrup
1 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons flax meal
1/4 cup arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
1 10″ pie crust, pre-baked

1. Heat oven to 350 F. Toast pecans in oven for 15 minutes.
2. In heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine maple syrup, rice syrup, soy milk, vanilla, and sea salt. Bring to simmer over medium heat.
3. Lower heat and simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring often.
4. Vigorously whisk in flax meal and dissolved arrowroot.
5. In large bowl, combine syrup mixture with pecans, and stir thoroughly.
6. Pour into pie crust. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F, or until bubbly and browned.
7. Let cool thoroughly before slicing.

Happy Holidays!

Traditions in Transition

(This post originally appeared at Crazy Sexy Life: http://crazysexylife.com/2010/choosing-your-holiday-traditions/)

Holiday traditions are deep and rich enough to be considered articles of faith. They transcend physical experiences, often creating memories that grow beyond the proportion of the actual occasions being remembered.

I embrace this phenomenon at will, choosing the traditions that I will keep active and the memories I will nurture into legend. This creative myth-making offers a lot of room for new ideas, but there is one thing that I don’t have to invent: my connection to food.

Beets in the CAS Garden
Beets in the CAS Garden

My family’s food heritage runs deep. I have direct experience with four generations of growers and preservers, and I know it goes back further than that. It should be a surprise to no one that I’m working as a chef these days.

As I prepare for the upcoming holidays, I find myself taking inventory of the foods that I’ve enjoyed almost my entire life: pecans, corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, greens, chiles.

These foods were on display, in one form or another, at so many family holiday gatherings. Pecan pies were de rigueur and celebrated, with the nuts often coming from my great-uncle’s trees in Navarro County, Texas. Gardens, usually dormant by November, still offered their bounty through the miracle of food preservation.

Thanksgiving dinner was a monstrous affair: a potluck invasion of my great-grandmother’s home, with no room for even one more dish. The dining table provided no room for our sizable extended family to sit, so the house became a labyrinth of card tables. Dominoes clattered above the chatter, then reluctantly yielded to dinner.

There was no convocation significant enough for me to remember, and only a simple prayer of thanks was offered by one of the several patriarchs. After the “amen” we lined up as if we were boarding a plane: women with small children first, then the elders, on down to the youthful and unruly.

As I mark time and changes this Thanksgiving, I wish to nurture these memories into present and future lore. The joy contained in them is sufficient for sustaining faith in the family bond. The associated traditions are still dear to me, as I love to delight others with my food, and I work to be at home during the holidays.

Faith would be nothing without a bit of iconoclasm, however, so I deviate as I recreate. Now all my food is plant-based, markedly animal-free. No animal is sacrificed as I give thanks. They might not be aware of my actions, but perhaps somewhere one life was spared because of my choice. That’s another reason to give thanks.

Being “home for the holidays” is still important for me. But since I’ve lived so far from home most of my adult life, I frequently spend the holidays in my own dwelling. I use the day for quiet and purposeful reclusion. It has become a very personal tradition that I work hard to preserve, and for which I ask the indulgence of family and friends.

Thankfulness is paramount, however. My giving of thanks runs through my daily existence, but I offer focused appreciation on Thanksgiving for many things: the peaceful presence of my family in my life, a simple and compact existence, the loving and supportive people that have befriended me, and the many other good people that I know. Above it all, there are the ever-appearing lessons of life.

Just as inflexibility can kill one’s faith, traditions will die if they do not progress. In this spirit, I offer up these ideas for your holiday meal. Perhaps we can share them virtually while offering up universal thanks.

SPROUTED QUINOA WITH TAMARIND

4 tablespoons tamarind paste
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon ginger, grated
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups quinoa, sprouted

Mix vigorously the tamarind paste and lime juice, making sure there are no lumps. Add the raisins, ginger, and sea salt, mixing well.
Add the quinoa and mix well.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Note: You can substitute cooked quinoa for the sprouted quinoa.

WINTER SQUASH TART

3 pounds butternut, acorn or other winter squash
olive oil
sage, dried
8 ounces firm tofu
1 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace or nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
One 10-inch tart shell
Maple Currant Glaze (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Coat lightly with oil and dried sage. Roast for 45 minutes or until soft.

Reduce oven to 375° F.

Scoop squash out of peel. Place into food processor with tofu, coconut milk, cinnamon, mace or nutmeg, garlic powder, onion
powder, white pepper, and salt. Process until very smooth.

Fill tart shell with squash and smooth the top.

Spread Maple Currant Glaze evenly over the squash filling.

Bake at 375° F for 30 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

MAPLE CURRANT GLAZE

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup currants
1/2 cup water

Warm the olive oil in a sauté pan over low flame. Add the diced onion and sauté gently until clear. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, place the maple syrup, currants and water. Simmer for 15 minutes. Blend.

Mix the sautéed onion into the blended syrup.