Rustic Parsnip Soup

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Rustic Parsnip Soup

I’m not often indecisive, but the last few weeks I haven’t been able to make up my mind about what to make for Christmas dinner. Have you? Just as soon as I think of a menu, within minutes another idea comes to mind. The challenge is that the possibilities for cooking wonderful holiday foods are endless.

I’ve had a great time the past several weeks going to the market, picking up interesting winter produce (hard shelled squashes, root vegetables, etc.) and trying new dishes. I’ve tried to restrain myself to buy only items I write on my list, but then I end up leaving with all sorts of other things. The result has been lots of opportunity to cook delicious food in my kitchen, but it also has led to an ever growing list of dishes on my Christmas menu. My husband argues it’s okay to have four different starters and as many different desserts, but I beg to differ. Something has got to give, eventually.

Rustic Parsnip Soup

Recently I went to the market with the idea of making a simple, yet very tasty, comforting and healthy cabbage soup, but then I came across parsnips and sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) and immediately knew I wanted to combine them in this creamy soup. So I ended up making both soups (I’ll write about the cabbage soup in my next post) and invited friends over to share and celebrate the lovely holiday season with us. The savory and sweet topping of walnuts and pear is optional, but it takes this soup to a different level. I highly recommend it when you enjoy this rustic, creamy and delicious soup!

Rustic Parsnip Soup

Rustic Parsnip Soup
Adapted from Marcus Samuelsson’s Marcus Off Duty

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound parsnips, peeled and chopped (about 3 cups)
1/2 pound sunchokes, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk or unsweetened coconut cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
freshly ground pepper
farro or brown rice, cooked (optional)

Garnish topping
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon walnut oil
1 small Bosc or d’Anjou pear, diced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
salt
freshly ground pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the parsnips, sunchokes and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until slightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garam masala, cumin, turmeric and salt. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the water, vegetable broth and coconut milk or cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.

Purée the soup in a blender until very smooth. Pour the soup into a clean saucepan and stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

To make the topping, heat olive oil under low heat, add the walnuts and cook and stir until golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the garlic and lemon juice.Transfer mixture to a small bowl and toss with the walnut oil. Cool to room temperature, then stir in the pear, parsley and tarragon. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with the topping.

Notes: Like with many soups I make, I served this one with a grain, cooked farro, and loved the added texture. If using farro or another grain, add to bowl first and then ladle the soup on top, followed with the topping.

Les Boules Coco

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In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay
an invincible summer.
– Albert Camus

Boules Coco

Marking the shortest day and the longest night of the year, the winter solstice occurs for the Northern Hemisphere in December and for the Southern Hemisphere in June. Around the world, it has played an important role in cultures—from ancient times to our present day. Interpretations of the winter solstice varies, but many cultures recognize it by way of festivals, holidays, rituals and other celebrations.

This year’s winter solstice occurs on Sunday, December 21st. To celebrate, my son’s nature preschool had a winter solstice party. I brought these little “snowballs” made of tapioca and coconut. They’re vegan, gluten free, nut free, and a great recipe to make with kids (big and small).

Boules CocoBoules Coco (Coconut Balls)
Adapted from Paperblog

Makes about 24-30 balls

100 grams (about ½ cup + 1 tablespoon) tapioca
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (about 13.5 ounces)
50 grams (about ¼ cup granulated sugar)
pinch of salt
1 cup shredded coconut

In a saucepan under medium heat, combine tapioca, coconut milk, sugar and salt. Stir until well combined and thickened. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate one hour. When cooled, use your hands to form into round balls. Roll in shredded coconut and serve.

Note: I used granulated, quick cooking tapioca, but regular tapioca would also work. Some tapioca require pre-soaking. Check in advance and follow package instructions accordingly. The original recipe suggested rolling them in sugar, as well as the coconut, but I find them sweet enough without the added sugar.

Vanilla extract is a nice addition to these balls if you have clear vanilla extract. Please note regular vanilla will color your balls slightly and they’ll no longer be snow-white. If you don’t mind, add a ½ teaspoon of vanilla.

Boules coco

The Most Beautiful Sounds

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Mediterranean Lentil Soup

In a recent issue of Reader’s Digest, there was a column called “Finish this Sentence.” The sentence to finish was “The Most Beautiful Sound in the World is…” I found it interesting to read people’s responses that ranged from the sound of children giggling to frogs croaking in a marsh to silence in a war zone to a well-tuned symphony to a husband snoring to a cat’s sneeze.

I love the sound of laughter—from the squeals of delight that come out of my crinkled-nose toddler to the unrestrained belly laughs of adults, but the question gave me pause to think. I thought about all the other beautiful things around me that I likely take for granted most days—the beautiful colors in a sunset, the shape of the moon, pretty reflections in a puddle, the sound of rain on a window, words in a song, the scent of chai, my husband’s accent, or perhaps kind words from a friend or stranger.

Mediterranean Lentil Soup

About a year ago I was out running errands with my son who was almost a year old at the time. I knew I wasn’t going to make it back home in time to feed him lunch so I needed to find something quick to avoid a toddler breakdown. The only healthy option nearby (within minutes) was a fast food place where I found a banana and a bowl of black beans. Although he happily ate his unusual meal of a banana with smashed beans, I felt a bit like a bad mom for giving him such a bizarre and limited combination of foods for lunch. As we were leaving the fast food place, I walked out carrying my son and saw our shadow on the ground and stopped for a moment. I turned to him waving an arm in the air and pointing down at our dark silhouettes on the ground, saying something like, “shadow, do you see? That’s our shadow”. Behind me was a woman exiting a Starbucks, as she walked past us, she turned around to say, “you’re a good mom, taking time to appreciate the small details that make life beautiful.” That afternoon, after feeling like a bad mom, her kind words, to me, were the most beautiful sound.

What is the most beautiful sound to you?

Mediterranean Lentil Soup

Mediterranean Lentil Soup
Adapted from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables

Serves 6-8

1 onion, diced small
1 carrot, diced small
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup brown lentils
½ cup red lentils
½ small fresh chili pepper
a few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
2 quarts vegetable broth
½ teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
lemon juice or red wine vinegar
extra-virgin olive oil
fresh parsley, chopped
cooked farro, or other grain of choice (optional)

In a large soup pot, sauté onions, carrots and garlic in olive oil over medium heat and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender. Meanwhile, carefully pick through the lentils, removing any small stones or debris. Rinse the lentils thoroughly in cold water.

Add lentils, chili, thyme, bay leaf and broth to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until the red lentils have broken up and the brown lentils are very soft, 45-60 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, toast the cumin and fennel seeds in a skillet over high heat for a minute or two, until their aroma is released. Pound them in a mortar or grind in a spice grinder.

When the soup is done, add the ground spices and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper, if necessary, and a dash of lemon juice or red wine vinegar. Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Serve with farro (or brown rice, barley, or other grain of choice) and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped parsley.

Mediterranean Lentil Soup

Three Little Birds

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Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. ~ Murphy’s Law

Edward Murphy probably never imagined that his statement would someday become law. The old adage now symbolizes the error-prone nature of people and processes.

If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.

If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.

If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which a procedure can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend suggested I join a local baking contest. I hesitated at first because I couldn’t think of a recipe to submit and also because I’m just not one who typically likes to enter contests. However, after I thought about it a couple of days, I decided joining might be fun and could provide motivation for me to test and adapt a couple of recipes I’ve been wanting share with you. I registered for the event last week, committing myself to two desserts, a cake and a gluten free tart. Before I go on, I should first say that it’s never a good idea to commit oneself to something you’ve never tried before, especially when entering a contest! I ended up having to make several (I eventually stopped counting after the fourth batch!) versions of my cake. Everything that could have been a problem with a cake, was a problem. So I continued testing until I thought it was right. I had planned to make my cake the night before the contest, but that didn’t work out. Murphy’s Law. I won’t go into the long story, but suffice it to say, it involved a hot mess. So, I opted to rise early and make my cake and tart the morning of the contest. Deadline was a 12:30pm.

Yesterday morning was the day of the contest and Murphy’s Law rang true again. I made the batter. It looked great. Then I put it in a spring form pan instead of a regular one. While the cake started to rise beautifully, my oven started to smoke out. The fire alarm cried out, my toddler yelped and in a skinny second I realized I had another hot mess, literally. The oil leaked out from the pan and started to burn on the oven floor.  I had to quickly pull the cake out. Not yet fully cooked, the cake sank and turned into a sludgy mess. Inedible.

IMG_9214

Oh dear. Should I just pull out of the contest? The clock was ticking and I’d be lying if I didn’t say the idea crossed my mind. It was tempting, but then I’d feel horrible if I bailed. I figured submitting my best version of what I could do would be better than quitting. Did I mention I hadn’t even started to make my tart yet! Breathe. I told myself. Focus and find your Zen Martine! Making this is not about winning, it never was, so enjoy the process. So, I grabbed my toddler and together we decided to channel Bob Marley and sing Three Little Birds while dancing in the kitchen. My little one recently learned the words to the song so it was fun to hear his little voice singing such an upbeat song, it put just enough wind beneath my wings to help me finish what I needed to do. If you’re unfamiliar with Bob Marley’s song, it goes like this:

Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’ Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right! 

Rise up this mornin’,
Smile with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Each by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, This is my message to you-ou-ou

Singin’ Don’t worry ’bout a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’ Don’t worry (don’t worry) ’bout a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!

So what if you’ve had to deal with Murphy’s Law the past few days?, I thought. It’s how you deal with it that really matters. I dumped my fallen and sludgy cake in the trash, cleaned the oven and started on another cake yet again. After it was in the oven, I realized I had forgotten to put in my orange zest. Oh well…. I began working on my tart. When the cake was cool enough, I quickly decorated it and snapped a few photos. At 12:10pm, both desserts were done! My husband, toddler and I made a mad dash to the car to drive to the location where I had to drop off my entries. Of course we had the slowest driver on the road driving in front of us, but we still made the deadline with a whole THREE minutes to spare. Phew! I was done and that alone made me feel like a winner. Despite the hiccups along the way, there was never really any need for me to worry. Every little thing [was] gonna be all right. My son knew it all the time. He reminded me while singing his sweet song. The cake I entered in the contest was this Sweet Potato Cake.

Sweet Potato Cake with Coconut Mascarpone Frosting
Serves 8-10

1¼ cups cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup coconut oil
½-¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
¾ cup sweet potato, uncooked and finely shredded
2 tablespoons hot water
½ teaspoon vanilla (or coconut extract)
½ teaspoon orange zest
¼-½ cup pecans, chopped finely (optional)

Grease an 8”or 9” baking pan with coconut oil. You could also use two 6” pans.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat coconut oil and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sweet potatoes, hot water, vanilla and orange zest. Add flour mixture. Fold in pecans.

Spread batter into pan(s). Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan(s) for 5-10 minutes before turning it out to a wire rack.

Frosting
2 cups mascarpone cheese or cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons coconut cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, in the frosting or to sprinkle on top of cake (optional)
chopped pecans, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix until combined, about 1 minute. Please note, DO NOT OVERBEAT. The mascarpone cheese will curdle if you beat it too long. I speak from experience…. Again, mix/beat only until the ingredients are combined.

When the cakes are totally cool, place one layer on a serving dish. Spread a layer of frosting on top and in between layers if making multiple layers. Garnish with chopped pecans and sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar. Serve and enjoy!

Notes: This cake can easily be doubled to make a layer cake. The recipe doubled, could be made with three 8 or 9-inch cake pans. If you like chunky nuts in your cake, you don’t have to ground the nuts, you can coarsely chop them into small pieces. You can also omit them in the cake all together and instead, add them to your frosting, if you prefer.

I only used a ½ cup of sugar as I don’t like my cakes too sweet, but this cake can easily have an additional ¼ cup (¾ cup of sugar in total) without being too sweet.

I wasn’t able to cut a slice of this cake so you could have a peek inside. I’m sure to make this cake again, when I do, I’ll take photos and update this post.

P.S. I received notice this morning that my Sweet Potato Cake won first prize! My tart, a Chocolate-Hazelnut Buckwheat Tart, won 3rd place! I didn’t have time to take photos of the tart so when I make it again, I’ll take photos and post the recipe.

Saint Lucia Saffron Buns

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Around Christmas time in Sweden, and other Scandinavian countries, one of the biggest celebrations occurs on December 13th, Saint Lucia’s Day. Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light during the dark Swedish winters.

A popular food eaten on Saint Lucia’s Day are mildly sweet saffron-flavored buns, lussekatter (Lucia cats), shaped like curled up cats and with raisin eyes.

Saint Lucia buns

Traditionally, the eldest daughter in the family rose early, wearing a white robe, red sash, and a crown of lighted candles. She was to wake the family by singing Santa Lucia (several versions of the song are now familiar in many languages and countries) while serving them coffee and warm saffron buns to usher in the Christmas season. Nowadays boys and girls don white gowns and a wreath with electric candles to sing and celebrate the mythical Saint Lucia. I first learned about these traditional Swedish Christmas buns from a Swedish friend while I was living on the island of Guam many years ago. One December, she excitedly told me about this beloved tradition and then we celebrated by making warm and wonderful saffron flavored buns for Saint Lucia’s Day. The memory was as warm and sweet as the buns I made today.
Saint Lucia Saffron Buns “Lussekatter”
Slightly adapted from My Little Norway

Makes about 15 buns

1 packet active dry yeast (about 7 grams)
½ teaspoon salt
1 gram saffron (powder or threads)
1½ sticks butter
1½ cups milk
5.5 cups flour
¾-1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon cardamom
1 egg, beaten (for glazing)

In a bowl, combine dry yeast, salt and saffron. If using saffron threads, you can first break the threads a little by crushing in a bowl (or mortar) with a little sugar.

Melt butter in a saucepan, remove from heat then add the milk, stir. Add milk to bowl of yeast, stir. Combine flour, sugar and cardamom in a large bowl. Create a well and pour in the liquid mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon or mixer until the dough forms, adding more milk or flour until the dough no longer sticks to the side or your hands and has formed into a large ball. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place until its double in size, about an hour.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough and roll it into a large log. Cut dough into 15 pieces of equal size. Using your hands, roll each piece into a long and thick string about ½-inch wide. Shape them into double spirals, rolling both ends tightly in opposing directions. It should look like and S-shaped bun. Place buns on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover with a kitchen cloth and set aside in a warm place to rise again, for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.

Using a pastry brush, glaze buns with egg or water and place a raisin in each eye of the circles/swirls. Bake until golden brown on top, about 5-9 minutes, depending on size. Allow to cool on wire rack, serve with tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

The saffron buns taste best fresh out of the oven, of course, but can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

Notes: The next time I make these I might add a little more yeast as that might make them a little lighter in texture.

Sous-chef in training

Sous-chef in training

Azuki Butternut Squash Soup

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To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.
~ from The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho’s remarkable and charming tale, The Alchemist, is about the most magical of all journeys—the quest to fulfill one’s destiny. Evocative and deeply humane, the novel has inspired millions of its readers around the world with its lush, timeless and entertaining plot. I was first introduced to this book many many years ago. As soon as I read it I knew it was a gem, as meaningful and memorable as The Little Prince, by Saint-Exupéry. Inspiring in its simplicity and full of wisdom, its an exotic tale for children as well as adults. It’s a beautiful story with a message for every reader and journey of life.

Azuki Butternut Squash Soup

The story is about Santiago, an Andalusian boy, who travels from his homeland in Spain in search of treasure in the Pyramids of Egypt. Along the way he meets several interesting characters who point him in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to overcome the obstacles he encounters along the way. What starts out as a journey to find worldly treasure turns into the discovery of the most meaningful of treasures, those found within. The story is about the importance of listening to our hearts and the faith, power, and courage we all have within to pursue our dreams—the intricate path of our Personal Legend (personal calling). Coelho says, “whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend.” My take away from the book is that every day, every moment we have is a gift. Live your moment fully!

Thoughts? Have you already defined your Personal Legend? If so, have you acted on it?

Azuki Butternut Squash SoupAzuki Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1-2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground pepper
2 onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
5-6 cups vegetable broth
2 red bell peppers, diced
4 cups cooked azuki (also called adzuki) beans
cilantro leaves, for garnish
cooked wheat berries or other grain (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add cinnamon, coriander, salt and pepper. Sauté until aromatic, 1-2 minutes. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and butternut squash, stir well, and then add 5 cups of broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squash begins to soften, 5-10 minutes.

Once the squash has softened, use an immersion blender to pulse through the soup a few times, breaking up some of the squash pieces. Add the bell peppers, and continue to cook a few minutes before adding the beans. Taste and adjust seasoning and consistency, adding more salt, pepper and/or broth, if necessary.

To serve
If desired, ladle soup on top of a grain. I served mine with wheat berries, but you can use brown rice, farro, barley or another hearty grain of choice. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves and enjoy!

Azuki Butternut Squash Soup

Buckwheat Polenta Fleurettes with Tapenade Noir

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I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars
and open a jar of it every month. 
~ Harlan Miller

Hors d’oeuvres, starters, amuses-bouche, bites, finger food—no matter what you call them, these savory fleurettes—perfect for holiday parties or any gatheringlend opulence to your holiday table. Buckwheat, with its bold characteristics, adds flavor and texture to soft and moist polenta while aromatic sun-dried tomatoes give these pretty little appetizers a lovely auburn hue.

The original recipe called for only polenta and a topping of goat cheese, but out of curiosity and preference to make these vegan, I decided to add buckwheat to mine and top them with a classic Provençal spread made with black olives, capers, and dried Black Mission figs, which add texture and a subtle sweet flavor. I hope you like them. Happy Holidays!

Buckwheat Polenta Fleurette

Buckwheat Polenta Fleurettes with Tapenade Noir à la Figure
Adapted from 50 Great Appetizers, Bite-Sized Polenta Squares

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup onions, finely chopped
2¼ cup vegetable stock
¾ cup polenta
3 tablespoons buckwheat groats, toasted (or kasha, roasted buckwheat)
¼ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper

Lightly oil a 9-inch square baking dish.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Whisking constantly, gradually add the polenta and buckwheat to the stock in a fine stream. Lower the heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 10-15 minutes, or until the polenta thickens and easily comes away from the sides of the pot.

Stir in the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, and thyme, and season well with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into prepared (oiled) baking dish, smoothing the top evenly with a spatula. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

Use a 1-inch flower-shaped cookie cutter to cut the polenta. Alternatively, you can cut the polenta into 1-inch squares, circles or any shape cutter of choice.

Top each with fleurette with a small dollop of tapenade and garnish with a small piece of black fig, red bell pepper and/or caper.

Buckwheat Polenta Fleurettes Tapenade Noir à la Figue (Olive Spread with Figs)
Adapted from Saveur

Makes 2 Cups

1 cup dried Black Mission figs, finely chopped
¾ cup Kalamata olives, pitted
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup nonpareil capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until evenly chopped and combined. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Notes: You will have plenty left over of the tapenade. Save for future use or halve the recipe.

Fleurette with Tapenade Noir

Buckwheat Polenta Fleurettes

Wheat Berries and Roasted Delicata Squash Salad

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A significant amount of clutter in our homes
could be eliminated simply by being more mindful in the present.

~ Erin Dolan, of the blog Unclutterer

I hate clutter. It wears me down and makes me feel like I need fresh air, or a long nap. I’m not meticulously neat, but I love clutter-free spaces—organized drawers, neatly arranged cupboards and closets, clear counters, bookshelves artistically decorated with books and art, and areas where everything has it’s own place. However, there are times my home gets a bit out of control with stacks of books and magazines, piles of paper, and “stuff”. And then I know its time to contain the chaos and I declutter.

I recently came across an interesting article in Spirituality & Health, titled Using Mindfulness to Tackle Clutter. I hadn’t thought of mindfulness in such a way before, but it makes sense. Just as mindfulness helps bring awareness of our own issues and helps to clear our minds, it also helps us become aware of our surroundings and can help us clear spaces throughout our homes. The author of the article advises that when we touch an object in our home, we should ask, “Does it lift me up, or bring me down?” She goes on to say: It’s a lot like the company we keep: You want to surround yourself with people who make you feel good, rather than people who complain or enable bad habits, so surround yourself with belongings that you need and love.

As the year comes to an end, I’m decluttering again. Every few months I reassess the value of things around me to decide what I should keep, what I should throw or give away, considering whether or not certain items are pertinent to my life, if they are useful or if the bring me joy. I find decluttering takes some energy to get started, but eventually there’s flow and I find the experience cathartic. The article went on to say that mindfulness teaches us to be in the present moment—not the past and not the future—so as we clean, we should move steadily from one small area to another, giving each our complete attention.

Any thoughts? How do you tackle clutter?

Wheat Berries and Roasted Delicata Squash Salad with Miso-Sesame Dressing

The other night I decided to try combining two of my son’s favorites—miso and wheat berries. I came up with this really terrific warm-ish salad made of hearty and chewy wheat berries, roasted delicata squash, kale and azuki beans. They all get dressed up in a very flavorful miso-sesame dressing. After we had this for dinner (my son ate this with gusto), I quickly scribbled down my recipe to share it with you. I hope you like it!

Serves 2-4

2 cups water
½ cup wheat berries, soaked overnight and drained
1 delicata squash (about 1 pound)
olive oil
1 small bunch (about 2 ounces) kale, stems removed (I used dinosaur/lacinto kale)
1 cup azuki beans, cooked
¼ cup peanuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
½ cup cilantro leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Miso-Sesame dressing
1 tablespoon red miso
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds (I also used some white sesame seeds for garnish)
1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon mirin

To prepare the wheat berries, bring the water and the wheat berries to a boil in a medium saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the wheat berries are tender but still slightly chewy, 40 to 50 minutes. Drain in a sieve and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Leaving the peel in tact (it is not necessary to remove the peel of a delicata squash), cut the delicata squash in half, length-wise and use a spoon to remove all the seeds. Slice each half into ½-inch wide slices. They should look like half-moons.

In a large bowl, toss the squash with olive oil and salt. Transfer and spread squash on a baking sheet and roast until nicely browned, about 25-30 minutes. Toss/flip slices halfway through roasting. Be sure to keep an eye on it to prevent burning. It can happen quickly.

Meanwhile, whisk together ingredients for miso-sesame dressing. Set aside.

Chop kale in very small pieces. Place in a large bowl, add enough dressing to coat the chopped leaves. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes. Add cooked wheat berries, cooked beans, peanuts (if using), and the remaining dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning.

When squash is done. Allow it to cool enough to handle, about 5-7 minutes. Gently toss roasted squash and cilantro leaves into salad. Give a few grinds of black pepper, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

 

À Table!

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Take your pleasure seriously. ~ Charles Eames

Pumpkin and White Chocolate Cream Puffs 1

In French, à table literally means “at the table”. Equivalent to “lunch (or dinner) is ready,” the phrase, à table!, is used in many French homes to let people know when the meal is ready to be eaten.

The first time I heard of this phrase, I knew I wanted to use it in my home tout de suite. To me, it signifies much more than the meal is ready. It’s also about deciding to eat well—to slow down, stop what you’re doing and take time to eat (and only eat) at the table. That means no TV, telephones, iPads, toys, books, magazines, eating at the wheel, or on the subway. Eating should be considered a pleasure that commands our full attention as we savor each bite. The French are known for doing this well. They don’t eat while on the run. Although traditions may be changing, generally the French are known to enjoy the culinary pleasures of life by taking time to fully enjoy meals at table. This is something most learn from early childhood.

Pumpkin and White Chocolate Cream Puffs 2

Before I had my son I was guilty of eating meals on the go—a quick breakfast while standing at the kitchen counter, lunch at my desk in my office, a quick snack for dinner or skip it all together, if I wasn’t eating out. I used to think I was efficient. Well, there’s nothing chic, healthy or lovely about that kind of efficiency. I think many of us in North America have forgotten the pleasure of sitting down at a beautifully set table for at least one meal a day to savor and give meaning to the moment. Now, my priorities and habits are changing. Food and the rituals or rhythms associated with meals at the table are now pleasures I strive to take seriously. A well-set table, for example, can be almost as important as the preparation of food itself. The power of presentation is that it can help us be mindful of what lies ahead, whetting the appetite for a fuller, more enjoyable and meaningful culinary experience.

Modern living can make it challenging to establish rituals around eating, but they are key to our well-being. Rituals can compel us to concentrate and be mindful of the moment, slowing the meal down and promoting satisfaction. They help cultivate good table manners, particularly in children. And, they help us do something we should all strive to do—to treat each meal as something special, a pleasure to take seriously.

Pumpkin and White Chocolate Cream Puffs 3

Choux à La Crème de Citrouille & Chocolat Blanc (Pumpkin and White Chocolate Cream Puffs)
Adapted from a recipe in the magazine France-Amérique, October 2014 issue

Little pumpkin and white chocolate cream puffs are somewhat of a culinary union between France and the U.S. for the celebration of Thanksgiving. These decadent little puffs are filled with a seasonably flavored and delicate sweet cream, and can be served with a small dollop of ice cream for dessert or with a warm cup of tea.

Crème Citrouille/Chocolat Blanc (Pumpkin and White Chocolate Cream)
5 ounces white chocolate
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 ounces crème fraîche
3 ounces of pumpkin purée
zest of one small orange (or half of a large one)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup (about 5 ounces) heavy cream

Croustillant aux Graines de Courge (Crispy Pumpkin Seed Topping)
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (1.75 ounces) toasted pumpkin seeds

Pâte à Choux (Puffs)
1 cup water or milk, (or ½ cup each water and milk)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

Pumpkin and White Chocolate Cream
Melt chocolate in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1-inch barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, 2 to 5 minutes. In a mixer, combine melted butter and white chocolate. Add crème fraîche, then pumpkin purée, salt, cinnamon and orange zest and mix until combined. Refrigerate to cool.

Meanwhile, using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip cream on medium-low speed until foamy, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold in whipped cream to the pumpkin and white chocolate mixture until no white streaks remain. Refrigerate to cool.

Croustillant
Place pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add sugar and stir until light brown and liquefied. Pour over pumpkin seeds and allow to cool to room temperature.

Once caramelized, mix in a food processor until it crushed and a bit like powder, but leave a few larger pieces of caramel and pumpkin seeds.

Pâte à Choux
Combine in a large saucepan milk/water, butter and salt. Bring the mixture to a full boil over medium heat. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. The mixture will look rough at first but it will suddenly become smooth, at which point you should stir faster. In a few minutes the paste will become dry and not cling to the spoon or the sides of the pan. Do not overcook or over-stir at this point, or the dough will fail to puff. Transfer to a bowl and let cool for 5 min.

Add eggs, one at a time. With a wooden spoon or on low speed with an electric mixer, beat rigorously after each adding each egg, making sure the dough/paste is smooth each time before adding the next egg. The dough should end smooth and shiny.

At this point the dough can be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 hours. I prefer to refrigerate at least an hour or even overnight. You do not need to bring the dough to room temperature before shaping and baking.

To Finish
Preheat oven to 400F.

Using a pastry bag or small spoon, form dough into approximately 1-inch dollops (balls) on an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle each ball with the croustillant and bake until golden brown, approximately 25-30 minutes. The puffs should be nicely “puffed” up. Watch carefully as oven temperatures may differ. Allow to cool completely.

When cooled, turn each puff over and using a small knife to make a small incision underneath each puff. Using a pastry bag, slightly fill each puff with the pumpkin and chocolate cream.

Butternut Squash Soup

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What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?
~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Butternut Squash Soup 1

As a result of years of study, psychologist Dr. John Gottman can watch a married couple interacting (like at a party) and within three hours predict with 94 percent certainty whether that couple will stay married or divorce. Sound unbelievable? Well, in an Atlantic article, Gottman revealed the keys to a good marriage—kindness and generosity. Gottman and his wife Julie, also a psychologist, are renowned experts on marital stability and run The Gottman Institute, which is devoted to helping couples build and maintain loving, healthy relationships based on scientific studies.

Gottman separates couples into two major groups: the masters (happy couples) and the disasters (unhappy couples). He says, “[Masters] are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.

It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there….

Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage…. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

When I read this article earlier this week, it reminded me of the vital importance of working on marriage everyday—when things are going well and particularly when things are not so well (like during a fight). Sometimes, it’s so easy to focus on the negative, but how much nicer it is to focus on kindness and generosity of spirit. I hope to be more mindful of this. There’s evidence that shows the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves. I can’t help but think of my little one. You know that I want him to grow up to be a healthy and happy little citizen of the world, but more importantly, I want him to be a kind one. That means I need to exercise my muscle of kindness in marriage, at all times, because healthy relationships require sustained hard work.

What are your thoughts? Do you find it easy or challenging to exercise kindness in relationships?

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from Daniel Rose, chef and owner of Spring in Paris

This is a simple, delicious and rich butternut squash soup made with sweet potato and a little honey. I made slight adaptations to the original recipe to make it vegan.

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, diced into ¼-inch pieces
1 tablespoon honey
1 large (2¼- to 2½-pound) butternut squash
1 medium sweet potato
1 cup plant milk (I used almond milk)
3 cups light vegetable broth
salt and freshly ground pepper

Optional garnish:
parsley, chopped
pumpkin seeds, toasted

Halve butternut squash lengthwise, scoop out seeds and place squash on a cutting board cut side down. Remove peel using a sharp knife or strong vegetable peeler. Cut flesh into 1-inch cubes.

Peel sweet potato and cut into 1-inch cubes.

Heat olive oil in a stockpot set over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.

Add squash and sweet potato and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in honey and cook for another 5 minutes. Add milk and water and bring to a simmer. Lower heat slightly and gently simmer until squash and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, transfer the soup to a blender and purée until completely smooth.

Pour soup back into stockpot and bring it back up to a simmer. If the soup is too thick, loosen it with just enough broth or water so the soup has the consistency of heavy cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning with some salt, a generous amount of black pepper and a bit of honey, if needed.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of oil, chopped parsley, pumpkin seeds and freshly ground pepper. Serve with country bread.

Butternut Squash Soup 2

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