So I spent the last weekend at my first ever blogger conference-type thingy in Pennsylvania with some funny, passionate, smart, and encouraging people. Lots of hugs, smiles, introductions, inspirational messages, and totally delicious things to eat. I think it’s possible (and totally normal) to be an introverted extrovert, and being in that environment of brand new, but also strikingly familiar instances brought out that personal conundrum all the more for me. I like to be loud and make crude jokes with lots of swears. But I also like to step into my fortress of solitude and parse out some of the bigger messages when I’m in the thick of it. Or just wander off into nature a bit. I think we all have a little bit of that duality.
After the conference, my road trip partner and I took a drive to Philadelphia to meet and stay with a friend of ours. We had less than 24 hours, but that didn’t stop us from having three sit-down meals (most notably here), two drink outings, and one bangin’ almond milk latte before we left. It was the perfect, quietly familiar ending to a high-energy, ecstatically social weekend. Some blog-related topics like sponsorship came up with the three of us, and before I even realized it, I was saying things like “Why not me?” + “I wish I could be doing stuff like that.” The comparison thing finds its way in sometimes, even when you’re hopelessly aloof on most days. And then my racing mind couldn’t sleep that night. I was a bit distracted on the long drive home, thinking about what I’ve been doing wrong.
The upshot of this inner back-and-forth is that I’m not doing anything wrong. The whole weekend was glaring proof of how mistaken I was, however briefly. The heart of the blogging adventure for me has always been connection and a slow refinement of my own skill set. I get to connect with so many interesting people every week here, and we talk about natural foods, new techniques, flavour combinations that excite us, intuitions and feelings we’ve all had, and some of the more trying bits in life.
When I got home and noticed that the hood of my ever-problematic car was smoking after a drive around the block, and that the only fresh food we had in the fridge was a sad-sack head of cauliflower, I stopped caring about the “Why not me?” question. I had dinner to make and real-life problems to solve. I know that all of you can relate to that on some level, which is a potent reminder of some of my business here. We get to connect over the abundantly good and the endlessly frustrating spaces of life. Sometimes it’s just a legitimate recipe and sometimes it’s a real-life revelation disguised as a list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions. Either way, that connection is at the heart.
And this one-pot number? This is what I made for dinner that night with the smoking car and the limp-y cauliflower. Deep-nourishing and relatively quick comfort. It’s a pantry-raid effort that I recreate in some form almost weekly. There’s lots of vegetables, spice, stew-y tomato richness, tender greens, and the heft of chickpeas to fill it out. I know I’ve featured a couple stews/soups similar to this in the past, but with the frequency that I make this on my mind, it just felt right to share. Stay cozy out there, all. xo
cauliflower, kale + chickpea curry pot recipe
notes: The amount of vegetable stock depends on how thick/thinned out you want this. I went for something in between :)
1-2 tbsp unscented coconut oil
1 cooking onion, small dice
1 tbsp curry powder
2 fresh bay laves (or 1 dried)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp minced fresh ginger (optional!)
small jalapeno or cayenne pepper, seeded + minced
1 cup 1/2 inch diced waxy potatoes
2-3 cups small cauliflower florets
28 oz can crushed tomatoes (fire roasted is my fave)
1-2 cups vegetable stock, depending
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 bunch lacinato/Tuscan kale, stems removed and chopped
salt + pepper
chopped leafy herbs to finish (parsley, cilantro etc)
Heat the coconut oil in a heavy + large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, lowering heat if necessary. Cook until very soft, translucent and almost breaking down, about 6-7 minutes. Add the curry powder and bay leaves, and cook, stirring often, for 3 more minutes. Add the garlic, ginger (if using), and jalapeno to the pot. Stir and cook until fragrant, constantly stirring to avoid burning the garlic.
Add the potatoes and cauliflower to the pot and stir. Season with lots of salt and pepper. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pot and stir once more. At this point, add 1 cup of vegetable stock (you may want to add more later). Stir the pot, place a lid on top, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat on the stove to a simmer and remove the lid. Cook until the potatoes are just-tender, about 40 minutes. Add the chickpeas and diced kale,, and simmer for 5 more minutes or until greens have wilted.
Check the curry pot for seasoning, adjust, and serve hot with bread, naan, cooked brown rice, quinoa, millet etc. Garnish with chopped leafy herbs.
On the surface, this glow-y orange business is a trashier outing than we’re all used to here, but a craving’s a craving and OOOOH. Em. Gee. This one turned out pretty great. The “queso” itself is bonafide wholesome–the application of it determines the trash factor for real. The first thing you have to do when you fix up a vegan nacho cheese-y situation, is let go of any pre-conceived notions/misguided hopes that your creation will taste like a vat of dairy thickened with that good old butter (more dairy) + white flour roux. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but taking vegetables and health food staples, but then also hoping for cheese is very bad math.
I’ve had entirely cashew-based versions of vegan nacho cheese before and loved it every time, but I do find it rich. A cashew-based anything is really tasty, but the fattiness sometimes makes for a flat-seeming overall flavour. Then I thought of butternut squash pasta sauce and how naturally creamy it is (and also how undeniably orange it is). And then I went into the backyard to check on my gnarly and twisted up butternut vines. The little squashes still aren’t ready, but they are steadily making a fine mess in a hidden corner of my vegetable garden. I wound up buying one at the store solely for this purpose. So!
My point with hippie nacho cheese-making: it can’t just be all the fatty and rich plant-based things blended together. People obsess over cheese because of umami characteristics (among other reasons)–the fifth taste that hints at a crucial presence of sneaky-satisfying glutamates in foods. It’s pleasantly savoury in a way that may not be immediately apparent. Also, addicting. Before you even begin to replicate a food like queso with vegan considerations, you’ve got to strategize on how to make it really work. It’s key to remember that all-out replication might not be an appropriate end goal. I was just aiming for a squash-y, lightly cheese-y and spicy sauce to eat with nachos (a woman can dream, right?).
I roast the butternut squash to get some caramelization, but not too much. You need the moisture for a lush consistency. I sauté shallots and jalapeño down to almost paste-like consistency, just to fully develop the sugars in the shallots and to tame the bite of the jalapeño. Then I went in with some of my pantry stock, more specifically items that had natural umami qualities: tamari, miso, and dijon mustard. These add-ins help to strike out the predominantly sweet flavour of the squash. The broth I used to thin the mixture was rich with shiiitake mushrooms–another savoury pal of ours. The nutritional yeast is the more obviously cheese-y flavoured (+ Vitamin B12-rich) component. If you’re hesitant to buy it only for this, I urge you to try it sprinkled and mashed into avocado toast. A final addition of finely minced pickled jalapeños really balanced everything out for me.
From here, you can go all trashy nacho with the salty toppings and beer like me (salt yaaaay) (but also, I used cilantro flowers so maybe this is more delicately refined than I had previously thought?!), or you could sensibly pour it over some roasted vegetables and brown rice, or something. I’m trying leftovers on roasted cauliflower tomorrow. Anyway, I’m on my way to a food blogger event and a much-needed break in Pennsylvania this week. Catch ya on the Instagrams + big, cheese-y love to you all :)
OMG-vegan butternut queso recipe
serves: makes about 3-ish cups
notes: All the little add-ins like dijon, garlic, cumin, and hot pepper can easily be adjusted for quantities that suit your taste–I did a lot of adjusting and re-blending before I got mine the way I wanted it. Just make sure you salt the mix adequately and deeefinitely use the nutritional yeast, babes ;) Also, a hot tip if you forget to soak the nuts/seeds: simmer them in a small pot of water for 10 minutes to speed up the softening.
1 small butternut squash
salt + pepper
1 large shallot, fine dice
1 jalapeño, fine dice (use seeds if you like it hot)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup of raw cashews/pine nuts/ sunflower seeds, soaked for at least 2 hours
2 cloves of garlic, peeled + rough chopped
1 1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp tamari soy sauce
1/2 tsp light miso
vegetable stock (to get the blender going)
squeeze of lime juice OR splash of pickled jalapeño brine
1/4 cup minced pickled jalapeños
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Cut the squash down the middle, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Rub the flesh of the squash with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place squash halves, cut side down, onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Slide the tray into the oven and roast until squash is tender when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes. Let squash cool slightly.
While squash roasts, heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Pour a good bit of oil into the pan and add the diced shallots. Stir them about and cook until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the diced jalapeno and cumin to the pan and stir. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are very soft and have taken on a sort of dry-paste consistency, about 7-10 minutes, lowering heat if necessary. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Scoop the cooked squash flesh into a blender pitcher. Discard squash peels. To the blender, add the soaked nuts/seeds, garlic, nutritional yeast, dijon, tamari, miso, a tablespoon or so of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add enough vegetable stock to the blender to get everything moving. Gradually bring the blender speed to high and blend the mixture until you have a smooth purée. If you need to add more stock at this point, also make sure to add another little splash of olive oil as well (this helps with the lush texture). Add the sauteed mixture of shallots and jalapeno to the blender and blend mixture until smooth again. Taste the queso at this point and re-season, add lime juice/jalapeno brine etc. to your liking. You can also add vegetable stock/more olive oil to achieve your desired viscosity.
To serve, heat the queso in a small saucepan over medium. Once you get some bubbles coming through, serve it up nacho-style, over roasted vegetables, with pasta, or any other way you can dream up.
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I’m a lover of intentional productivity, but I really can’t stand life hacks. I mean some of the little ones are useful, (while some are just crazy talk for real) but I’m talking about the ones with dedicated books and sites to match. Hack your work week, hack your diet, hack your sleep patterns, hack your marriage?! When I think of hacks, I think of quick solutions, dull/inauthentic persons, reckless use of sharp objects, and barely getting by–as in “hacking it.” Alternatively put: not the kind of forces I want in my life.
But that “work smarter, not harder” thing seems to be thrown my way a lot, whether I’m cutting lime wedges at work or filing papers and bills for freelance endeavours. It’s a little tidbit of advice that always seems to be within earshot from outside. I’m largely motivated by curiosity and personal or communal growth. I can’t help but take the long way around because getting lost in the journey is one of the cool things about being interested in something (maybe not so much when you’re cutting limes, but you know what I mean). Devoting your time, your being, taking some necessary space, practicing, and then giving something your full attention doesn’t always get the job done quickly, but bonus: you get to feel like a real person finding their way.
A present and inspired life is one that hits obstacles and doesn’t always have a two minute/3 step solution involving a re-purposed towel rack or simplistic mantra you can tell yourself over and over again to make something bearable/forgettable. In my short (but telling) research on this subject, I read a tip in a 30 Days to A Better Relationship life hack that went something like “Always assume the best about your significant other.” What about just ENGAGING your partner with frequency so that you never have to assume anything? (this same article suggested a particular number of hugs to administer throughout the day as well, soooo there’s that.) UGH to hacks and the internet. Who else could use a frolic in the grass and a waffle right about now?
We’re not going to hack soup today. We’re going to slow roast tomatoes for over an hour and we’re going to purée them with cashews that we mindfully soaked beforehand. And it’s going to be the creamiest, most comforting and nourishing bowl of tomato soup. It’ll take time, but it’s mostly inactive, so you can watch an episode of Breaking Bad or read a book or something while it’s all happening. There’s a lot of recipes like this available online and in cookbooks, but I’ve already made this exact formulation a couple times, and I think that always counts for something as far as sharing goes. We had a rather cool snap over here, which made for some slowly decaying tomato plants and an urgency to get the fruits picked and preserved in some form or another–basically the best possible timing for a cozy, homemade tomato soup. To slower days, all :)
creamy vegan tomato soup recipe
notes: If you don’t have cashews/forgot to soak them, feel free to use some full fat coconut milk instead–about a 1/2 cup. This will change the flavour a bit, but you could totally go with it and roast the tomatoes with some cumin and coriander seeds to balance the flavours out. Also, I puréed this in a high speed blender, which might account for the serious creamy-ness. I think similar results are possible with an immersion blender or food processor–maybe with just a few extra textural bits.
4-ish pounds of tomatoes (I mixed my varieties up for maximum flavour, but also because that’s what I had)
3 shallots, peeled
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped from stems
salt + pepper
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2hours + drained
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup basil leaves, packed
2-3 cups vegetable stock
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut any large tomatoes into quarters. Cut medium Tomatoes into halves and leave any cherry or grape tomatoes whole. Spread them out in a single layer on the baking sheet with any cut sides facing up. Cut peeled shallots into quarters and nestle amongst tomatoes. Stick garlic cloves into juicy spots of tomatoes or nestle them between cut tomatoes like the shallots (just to avoid burnt + bitter garlic).
Scatter thyme leaves on top of tomatoes. Drizzle some olive oil on top of everything, using no more than 1-2 tablespoons. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper and slide the tray into the oven. Roast for about an hour, or until the tomatoes have shrivelled up a bit and the shallots are soft. Let cool slightly.
In batches, blend the roasted tomatoes with the soaked cashews, tomato paste, basil, and vegetable stock until you have a smooth purée. Pour blended soup into a large pot. Once you’ve blended everything, including the accumulated juices in the baking sheet, add the balsamic vinegar to the pot. Bring the soup to a boil, check it for seasoning + adjust, and serve hot with extra basil and olive oil drizzles.
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