Oh hey there. I posted this on Instagram last year around this time and you know? I’m not as much of an absolutist on that front anymore. There WERE some big answers, but also some surprisingly mountainous questions put forth this year. All one big whirlwind now that I’m tracking back. I think when you get yourself in deep with that distracting, non-intentional mindset of “uuuugh so busy” you forget that you’re a real human accomplishing cool things and making mistakes along the way. It’s a satisfying way to live and whoa, it’s taken me a while to get there.
We settled more into home life, with some frustrations over the pace at which things seem to get done (that was predominantly on my end). I mostly realized that I need to make a sincere effort to relax and not worry so much. It’s okay if some walls are empty and I’m also not the most negligent person in the world if I buy Dawn dish soap out of last-minute necessity vs. Seventh Generation brand. I’ve just accepted the incompleteness and I repeatedly tell myself that I’m waiting for the right piece of art, effective ecologically-friendly product, piece of furniture, vibe etc. to just grab me/make sense at the time. Houses can be nice but homes are built up and filled over years. They’re also lived-in with rough edges.
My career changed quite a bit with certain opportunities that popped up this year. There are some really exciting things on the horizon for next year and quite frankly, I’m shaking in my boots. But also, I really can’t wait for it all to unfold and to just stretch my patience/abilities a bit. I barely work at the restaurant anymore, but I know in my heart of hearts that I could never totally give it up, no matter how much other stuff I have going on. That interaction and the necessary, frenzied sensation of things happening in real time is too important to me. Also, I got a test-batch sticky toffee pudding for dinner during my shift the other night and I mean, how could anyone pass on that?
So also, my eating patterns and scheduled exercise bouts were admittedly all over the place. In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, I think I’m actually in the worst shape I’ve been in for a while. I feel great in a day-to-day sense, but sometimes a few extra stairs has me feeling a little flushed in the cheeks. My sleep schedule has been especially wonky the last 6 months or so. I’m just going to chalk it up to irresponsible freelance scheduling and call it a day. I’ve read that some of the most productive and really well people build habits/routines around the start of their day as well as their winding down time. So! Some overhauling is necessary, but I’m not waiting until 2015 to get on that. I’m gonna drink some greens (with frozen pineapple, cinnamon, and fresh turmeric yummm) tomorrow morning and hopefully conquer my corner of the world by noon.
Lastly, I have a new guiding mantra for negotiating work and life: If it doesn’t add, it subtracts. Cue the power. Actually though? I stole that line from a chef I used to work for, and he was talking about filling out a scallop-centric appetizer. I do think that it speaks to building yourself up to the fullest potential, while also nodding in the direction of learning to say no. Mostly, I’m just in this thing of life to see, create, love and build something that feels/is bigger than just me alone. Having that basic idea in mind makes it a hundred times easier to cut away the bullshit. It’s seeped into my life with possessions too, so now I really can’t wait to read this book.
And today I made up a little recipe from an excellent book that is adding to my life big time. I think you’re all well-aware of how much I love The Flavor Bible, so when Karen and Andrew sent me their just-released Vegetarian Flavor Bible, it might be a touch predictable to say that I got lost in it for a few hours. A short rundown: this is a thorough examination of which naturally occurring flavours and foods combine best for delicious results. Under each alphabetized ingredient, there’s a list of other vegetables, proteins, spices, herbs, general flavour groupings etc. that just work with that ingredient. There are no definitive recipes, but it’s easily the most useful cookery book I own, and not just in a recipe-development sense. It’s waiting to be used when there’s scraps and dregs left in the crisper or when I have to satisfy a picky eater along with everyone else at the table. Where a traditional cookbook is more of a HOW, this is decidedly an adventure in WHY. It’s required reading for the plant-inclined as far as I’m concerned. You can get it here–perhaps in time for the holidays? ;)
So when I looked under the section for carrots, I read cumin, coriander, citrus etc. and thought about mixing the gentle, sweet creaminess of roasted carrot into a dip with fiery harissa, savoury chickpeas, and fresh lemon. Totally delicious and easy results. The carrots and chickpeas make this so smooth and, combined with the harissa flavours, make it gorgeously bright orange. I love a textural, almost salad-ish mix on top of dips for visual interest and flavour contrast. With this one I did a little tart pomegranate, parsley, buttery pine nuts, and crispy, highly addictive roasted brussels sprout leaves. It’s recommended! (duh, captain obvious). Anyway, going to send this one off by wishing you all happy holidays and peaceful gathering :) Big hugs.
roasted carrot, chickpea + harissa dip recipe
print the recipe here!
serves: makes roughly 1 1/2 cups of dip
notes: I used about half a chili with the seeds, but please moderate the level of heat to your liking. Also, I kind of just threw harissa components into the food processor for this, but if you have some prepared harissa on hand, you could just spoon a couple hearty dabs of that into the food processor along with the carrots, chickpeas, tahini, lemon, salt and pepper. It’s even faster that way! :)
for the dip:
4-5 medium carrots, scrubbed
1/4 cup + 2 tsp olive oil, divided
salt + pepper
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground caraway
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled + chopped rough
rough diced fresh chili, to taste (I used 1/2 of a standard red chili)
zest and juice of half a lemon
1 tsp tomato paste
2 tbsp tahini
garnishes to top the dip:
toasted pine nuts
crispy brussels sprout leaves (quarter brussels sprouts and try to separate the leaves, toss with oil, salt + pepper, then roast in a 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes or until crsipy and browned)
chopped flat leaf parsley
extra drizzles of olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment. Trim the ends off of the carrots and place them on the baking sheet. Toss the carrots with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste. Slide the carrots into the oven and roast until tender and lightly browned on all sides, flipping them over at least once. This took about 25 minutes for me. Cool the carrots thoroughly.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “S” blade, add the cooked chickpeas, ground cumin, coriander, caraway, garlic, diced chili, lemon zest, lemon juice, tomato paste, tahini, salt, and pepper. Chop the carrots into smaller pieces and add them to the food processor as well. Pulse the mixture a few times until you have a coarse mixture. Scrape the bowl down with a spatula and put the food processor on “high” while you drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil into the bowl via the feed tube.
Once you have a smooth purée, check the dip for seasoning. Adjust the seasoning level to your liking and then scrape the dip into your serving vessel of choice. Top the dip with suggested garnishes and serve with crackers, endive leaves, rough cut veggies etc. (I heart Mary’s Crackers big time)
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I’ve been making this recipe forever. Sometimes I change it up with other spices or different types of lentils/pulses, but the core remains as one of my weeknight dinner go-to’s. I love how it checks off all of those crucial boxes: easy, quick, economical, comforting and so, so good for you. I think there’s just the right amount of things to keep it interesting too. The little cubes of sweet potatoes still have a bit of bite. The leeks are sweet and bring that fragrant hit of coconut oil (I love drizzling a bit of the extra oil from cooking on top as well). Some juicy lime and a couple hits of something hot keep it all in balance. It’s a vibrant and easy thing to keep us in the light this time of year.
I have a hunch that a lot of us are thinking about changes and things we want to take on, either over the holiday break or into the new year. I know there will be some major ones in my house, all of which you’ll probably hear about in good time. I’m not really a juice fast kinda gal anymore, but my man and I have both acknowledged that we need to focus-up some of our tendencies in terms of health and self-care. We do eat well, but sometimes I just worry that we need to be a bit more intentional and selective with our choices. Protein-heavy bowls of food like this one definitely help. I’m going to turn 30 this winter and with that, there’s a lot of considerations coming into the circle nutrition-wise. I’m excited to explore those things and work some of them out here in this space.
So in the arc of self-care and intentional choice-making (and spreading holiday cheer!), I’m partnering up with the generous folks at Wine Country Ontario for a giveaway. I’m a passionate supporter of Ontario wine–I grew up in the birthplace of Canada’s wine industry after all. I’ve worked in farm to table joints and a few winery restaurants over the years. I’ve also been lucky enough to do tastings with wine makers and sommeliers, see production facilities and gain insight in terms of how the land and climate effects what goes into a bottle of VQA certified wine.
So naturally, when they asked me to partner up with their 12 Days of Wine Country Ontario promotion, I was all in. I got to hand pick the $150.00 prize from a variety of Ontario wine country businesses. I eventually settled on the gorgeous 4 diamond Oban Inn, Spa and Restaurant right in the heart of my hometown. It’s so quaint and gorgeous. I remember my first-ever fancy dinner was spent in their restaurant on my mother’s birthday when I was around 5 or 6 years old, and I was just so excited by the sugar cubes that they brought out for her post-meal coffee. Also, my mom’s birthday is this week so the timing of this is just too sweet for me :)
Full disclosure: for hosting this giveaway, I’ll be receiving the same prize from Wine Country Ontario and I’ll tell you right now that I plan on using it in their very chill spa for some optimum self-care. Fancy lady time!
To enter for your chance to win one (1) $150.00 gift card for the lovely Oban Inn, Spa and Restaurant in Niagara On The Lake Ontario, you can leave a comment on this post telling me how you practice self-care in this busy time. For me? It takes many forms: sometimes it’s my favourite turmeric shake as an afternoon snack, or taking an afternoon off to visit my parent’s dog, a bath with my hippie lavender bubbles, and sometimes it’s a glass of wine on the couch when I have a million other things to do. For a bonus entry, snap a photo on Instagram of your self-care in action and tag me (@thefirstmess) + Wine Country Ontario (@WineCountryOnt), using the hashtag #12daysVQA. This contest is open to Canadian residents only and you have until Sunday night (December 14th) at midnight to enter! Giveaway is now closed!
Last little notes: those sweet potatoes in the photo up top are stored in my new favourite thing: washable paper bags by UASHMAMA. I’ve been using them for plants, little trees, bread, storage, produce etc. They’re so handy and blissfully reusable. I really do recommend them. I also did an interview on Get the Gloss this week AND participated in a major cookie party on BAKED with some of my favourite Canadians. Lastly, I collaborated with Pure Green Magazine, Lindsey, and Claire for a holiday Pinterest board that focuses on celebrating in a way that’s kind to the earth and our bodies. Hope you dig! xo
ginger sweet potato dal with coconut leeks recipe
print the recipe here!
notes: Every recipe I’ve read for dal tells you to add the salt at a different time (to avoid toughness or the lentils breaking down too soon etc). I add a solid pinch at the beginning when I pour the water and then adjust it at the end to my liking.
2-3 tsp coconut oil
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
pinch of chili flakes
1 cup red lentils
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced small
1 two inch piece of ginger, peeled + minced
1 one inch piece of fresh turmeric, peeled + minced (or substitute 1 tsp dried turmeric powder)
3 1/2 cups filtered water + extra if necessary
salt to taste
coconut leeks ingredients:
2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
1 leek, white and light green part julienned
squeeze of lime juice
pinch of salt
cooked, warm rice (I used black japonica rice from Lundberg)
chopped parsley, cilantro or mint (or a combination)
black sesame seeds (very optional)
Place a large pot over medium heat. Heat up the coconut oil in the pot and add the ground coriander, mustard seeds and chili flakes. Stir about until the mustard seeds start to pop just a little bit.
Add the lentils, diced sweet potato, ginger, turmeric, and a pinch of salt. Stir the whole mixture to combine/coat in oil. Add the filtered water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the mixture is creamy and soupy, stirring occasionally. The sweet potato pieces should still be intact with a tiny bit of bite. The lentils will be broken down, filling out the mixture. Add more water if you need to. Keep it warm while you sauté the leeks.
Heat the coconut oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the leeks to the pan and sauté until leeks are soft and very fragrant. Season with salt. Add a squeeze of lime if you like. Remove from the heat.
To serve: divide the hot dal over 4 portions of rice. Top the dal with sautéed leeks and a few dribbles of the coconut oil left in the pan. Garnish each serving with the chopped herbs and black sesame seeds.
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If you can believe it, this bowl was inspired by a packet of instant ramen we picked up at Whole Foods a couple weeks ago (along with some non-dairy, non-denominational holiday nog). The flavour pouch from that crinkly package with the crimp-y noodles was really good at providing a top note of salty. There’s a certain appeal to that for sure, but I knew I could do better with some noodles swimming in homemade broth. I have a couple methods for making delicious, hearty vegetable stock/broth, but the one I’m going to share here today is my most utilized for sure. It’s also the most versatile. Then, we’re going to salt that broth, pour it over soba noodles, puréed garlic and thin wisps of lacinato kale. We’ll top it all off with chili-roasted tofu, some sliced scallions, lots of black pepper, and lime juice.
I don’t want to wander into the territory of utter preciousness talking about vegetable stock, but my method is pretty exact and I stand by it. I’ve read a few things on the internet that go along the lines of: “Just save all of your vegetable scraps in a Ziploc, freeze it for now and then dump those trimmings into a pot of boiling water when you’re ready for soup. ” I would not encourage this strategy. Good stock can become the base/backbone of soups, sauces, risottos etc. You can just sip it too! I would never utilize true scraps unless I wanted my food to taste like concentrated, simmered down waste bits. Sometimes I have half an onion in the fridge, a couple rubbery carrots, and I do save leek tops for stock-making as a general rule, but these are selective additions that are only scrap-like.
My point is that there is a certain advantageous vegetable combination to aim for when you’re making stock, and I would definitely recommend sticking to it for maximum diversity in usage. This is the closest I’ll ever get to being absolutist in terms of a food. You wanna make pizza crust with cauliflower? Yes, go for it. I’m fine with calling that pizza. Tiny bits of vegetables fronting as rice? Sure. Let’s even call it pilaf if we mix it with something. Vegan mayonnaise? Without eggs?! YES TOTALLY. Stock though? I refuse to mess around with that. Building blocks, dude.
The base of mine is onions, carrots and celery. Of that base, fifty percent should be onions with the papery skin left on (mostly for colour), followed by equal parts carrots and celery to form the whole. From there, I use leeks (white + green parts), a parsnip if I have one, smashed garlic cloves, black peppercorns, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, parsley stems, and maybe a fresh dill stem or two if I have them (but I mostly do this because Ina does it too). (also this) With the parsley and optional dill, you’re only adding the stems. The leaves of both have too much chlorophyll (normally the best thing ever), which will only contribute a damp, funky taste over time. A few black peppercorns and that’s the end of that. I don’t salt the stock because I know I’m going to be liberal on that front with whatever food I’m adding it to.
The onions get a good 7-8 minute browning for extra depth of flavour before the other vegetables are added. I drop everything else in one by one, sautéing for a good 20 minutes before any filtered water is added. Also, filtered water is important because consuming chlorine is never cool in my books. I simmer the whole works for an hour maximum. I know with meatier broths, the longer you can simmer it the better. But I don’t find vegetable-based broths really benefit from extra time, which is perfect because we want soup, like, yesterday. I make broths with shiitake mushrooms and ginger if I’m feeling kinda meh. Or ones with lots of different mushrooms, shallots, star anise, and a bit of tamari to season if I want something with extra heft. But this one that I’ve outlined above and below is the go-to. I hope it can be yours too.
And these noodles! Once you have the broth, you’re in business. Just an easy, slurp-y bowl of noodle soup with lots of feel-good ingredients. Quick, nourishing comfort for full days. Although these particular noodles aren’t gluten free, they’re easily my favourite ones to use. My favourite cooking method for tofu is roasting because the pieces get kind of crunchy/crisp-like, making a nice foil to the softer parts of this bowl. I slice kale thin, grate fresh garlic and grind tons of pepper into the bowls before pouring the hot, salted broth in and giving it all a stir. Deep immune power! You could make this your own in a number of ways: fine shreds of different vegetables, rice noodles, little dabs of miso dissolved in the broth, some chopped cilantro, cooked beans, or whatever you have on hand honestly. Just make sure your broth game is lined up first :)
garlic pepper soba with chili-roasted tofu + kale recipe (+ my vegetable stock method)
print the recipe (for noodles) here! // print separate vegetable stock instructions here
serves: 2 (with extra broth)
notes: As noted above, this recipe is fairly customizable just so long as you shred any additional vegetables fine enough to “cook” upon contact with the hot broth. Also, check the label of your soba noodles to ensure there is no presence of wheat if gluten is an issue. If you have a tofu press, using it prior to roasting the tofu would make for a nice, chewy texture.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium cooking onions, rough diced (with skin left on)
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and rough diced
2 stalks of celery, scrubbed and rough diced
1 large leek, cut lengthwise down the center
3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed lightly
5-6 sprigs of thyme
3-4 parsley stems
3 bay leaves
6-7 whole black peppercorns
2 litres/8 cups filtered water
soba + chili-roasted tofu ingredients:
1/2 block firm-extra firm tofu, dried off with a paper towel
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp chili flakes
zest of 1/2 a lime
1 tsp lime juice
salt + pepper
2 servings-worth of dry soba noodles (as noted above, I use these ones–seek out a GF brand or use rice noodles for a GF alternative)
3 cups vegetable broth
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 scallions, thinly sliced
4-5 leaves of lacinato kale, thinly sliced
salt + lots of black pepper
lime wedges + extra chili flakes
For the stock: heat the oil in a large stock/soup pot over medium heat. Add the rough diced onions and sauté until you start to see deep brown marks on some of the sides, about 7-8 minutes. Add the carrots and sauté another 4-5 minutes, or until the edges seem a bit softer. Add the rough diced celery and stir.
Run the split leek under water to remove any grit, then chop it roughly and add it to the pot along with the smashed garlic cloves. Stir the vegetables until the leeks are bright, bright green and noticeably softer, about 4 minutes. Add the thyme sprigs, parsley stems, bay leaves and black peppercorns to the pot and stir. Add a good splash of water and loosen up some of the brown bits in the pot with your spoon.
Slowly pour the filtered water over the vegetables. Raise the heat to medium-high and cover the pot. Bring the stock to a boil, remove the lid, and then simmer stock for about an hour.
Allow stock to cool slightly before straining and storing in containers. Stock will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 5-6 days and in the freezer for 6 months.
For the soba with chili-roasted tofu: preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a small baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.
Once you’ve dried off the tofu, cut it into 3/4 inch cubes and place the cubes on the parchment lined sheet. Drizzle tofu with the 2 teaspoons of olive oil and top with the chili flakes, lime zest, salt, pepper and lime juice. Toss to combine and slide the tray into the oven. Roast tofu until brown edges appear and there’s a detectable crispy-ness, about 25 minutes. Flip and toss the tofu cubes about halfway through.
Meanwhile, cook the soba noodles according to package directions. Once cooked, drain noodles and set aside.
Heat the 3 cups of vegetable broth in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add a fat pinch of salt to the broth and bring to a boil. Keep at a medium simmer until ready to serve.
Very finely mince or microplane the garlic cloves into two separate soup bowls. Top the garlic with the chopped white parts of scallion, and ground black pepper to taste
Divide the soba noodles, sliced kale and roasted tofu among the soup bowls. Pour the hot broth over top. Garnish the soup with remaining chopped scallions and more salt and pepper if you like. Serve with lime wedges.
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