It was getting out of control.

For the past few months, I had been voraciously eating granola, that I’d been buying at the grocery store.  Sacrilege.  But wait, it had a cute name! – it was called, “Love Crunch.”  But more importantly, it contained chocolate.  Oops!  Details.

The tipping point was when Longer Legs raised an eyebrow when I was serving myself the third bowl of the day, as an after-dinner snack.  It was time to crunch the love out.  And maybe think about doing ab crunches.

I don’t think that I am alone in periodically eating the same thing over and over – the comfort of having something unchanging to turn to is a strong grounding force in life, whether it be gustatory, or wearing the same pants everyday for a week (come on, you know you’ve done it at least once, like, maybe last week…).  Needless to say, I know I am lucky in many ways, including having the time and energy to wax self-indulgent lyrical about edible delights, but like anyone else, I have challenges too and I’m not always graceful in dealing with them.  Let’s face it: you can’t be happy all the time; it’s statistically impossible.

But, when the return to something familiar and comforting becomes a reflexive habit, it’s time to reassess.  And make your own granola.

After a brief episode of playing Adult and going to Costco, I had a pantry bursting with the necessary ingredients to make my own riff on the Love Crunch, and thus no excuse to buy pre-made granola again.  Creating a new recipe based on the retreat-worthy granola recipe, I wanted to make sure there was coconut and chocolate in this new-love, since those were the things that drew me to the Love Crunch in the first place.  But things feel more balanced when they are in sets of threes, no?  So I decided to layer on the riffing with the 3 C’s.  First, the 3 C’s of life are choices, chances, and changes.  So why couldn’t the 3 C’s of granola be coconut, chocolate, and…coffee?  It just seemed like the right thing to do.  And if this was to be my new grounding force, I felt that it should contain all the things I love – so that I could be better equipped to deal with all the choices, chances, and changes happening in life.

In the end, I decided to exercise some restraint and use cocoa powder instead of full-on chocolate, but read to the bottom of this post and you’ll see a note about that.  What’s nice is that the cocoa powder adds a lush dark brown colour to the granola, and a hint of bitterness that plays well with the maple syrup.  Also, maybe instant coffee seems like a cop-out but it feels like a waste to bake with real coffee, since the heat will drive all the subtle flavour notes away.  Better to have a cup of coffee made with freshly roasted, well-sourced beans served beside the granola, me thinks.

Side note: coconut oil is a real sexy foodstuff right now, as it contains medium-chain triglycerides, which have been shown to increase the fat-burning tendencies of the body.   Eat fat to burn fat?  That’s science for you.

Cocoa, coffee & coconut granola

makes 12 servings, ish

4-½ cups (400 g) rolled oats (certified gluten-free, if that’s a concern)
1-½ cups (165 g) mix of chopped almonds and walnuts
3 cups (378 g) mix of mostly pumpkin seeds and some hemp seeds
½ cup (98 g) coconut oil
½ cup (132 g) brown rice syrup
½ cup (140 g) maple syrup
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp instant coffee powder
1-½ tsp flaky sea salt

Lightly pulse about 1/3 of the rolled oats in a blender to break down slightly. I find that the granola then gets interesting clumps due to the varying size of the oat particles.
Combine the oats, nuts and seeds in a large mixing bowl.
In a small saucepan, gently heat the coconut oil, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, cocoa powder, and instant coffee until the oil melts and the mixture is runny.  Stir to mix.
Pour the oil/syrup mixture over the oats and mix together.  Spread evenly over two large baking sheets. Bake at 325 F, for about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.  Due to the inherently dark colour of this granola, it’s hard to tell when it’s roasted, so I err on the side of caution and turn the oven off at 20 minutes and let the granola continue drying out in the oven.  When it is cool, sprinkle in the sea salt and store in a large jar.

If you really want to get crazy (and by “crazy” I mean, “be amazing”), you could stir in some large coconut flakes and chocolate chips after the granola has cooled. Now you’ve just made a granola that’s perfect for dessert!  You could serve it over ice cream, or mascarpone cheese folded into whipped cream – oh my!  Or just eat it for breakfast with thick yoghurt.  Dessert for breakfast?  Yes please; that sounds like a great way to guarantee a good day.

cocoa coffee coconut granola - 1
cocoa coffee coconut granola - 2
cocoa coffee coconut granola - 3

It has been an exceedingly warm winter this year.  Well, it has been warm for the past week.  Before that it was -40 degrees Celsius.  I have the memory bank of a meerkat, apparently.  More importantly, I have reason to participate in the futile art of complaining about the weather: I had really been enjoying the deep freeze, which I know can be hard to imagine by some, but there is something rather magical about it – at those temperatures, the air gets really clear and crisp; it’s blindingly sunny, and I get to walk on the frozen river that winds through our city and enjoy the pristine cleanliness of the crunchy snow underfoot.  Now that it has warmed up to a balmy 0 degrees Celsius, things have turned a sloppy brown-grey, and my winterized body finds this turn of events rather difficult to reconcile.  However do you mean, Old Man Winter, to be raining in January?  To wear a coat or not wear a coat?  Why am I only wearing one pair of pants?  Oh, such deep life questions.  With my blood thickened to withstand the temperatures preferred by polar bears, this warm muck feels completely oppressive.  Moreover, since there are still plenty of winter months left in the calendar, and it is bound to grow cold again, I feel caught between two worlds: one arm in my parka’s sleeve and the other bare, pale, exposed to the damp winter air, and somehow, not goosebumped.

So, with our apartment windows thrown open, it’s only natural that I start to cook like I live in Los Angeles.

Last spring I was lucky enough to visit LA for a few days.  It was a pilgrimage of sorts, as I spent most of my time taking yoga classes and meandering through Whole Foods.  I washed my innards in cold-pressed juices, paid homage to my intestinal microbiome with sautéed kale and brown rice that had been blessed with gratitude, and otherwise revelled in a kingdom of fresh, bright fruits and vegetables that promised everlasting happiness through puritanical gut euphoria.  Exceeding though my efforts were, alas, the crux: my soul had been stained with the darkness of skepticism for too long to really be washed clean.  Still, I like to pretend it’s possible sometimes.

So with this unseasonably warm winter weather, I decided to try making a quinoa pizza crust.  Being the ultimate triptych of gluten-free, vegan (well, at least it was supposed to be), and made with LOCAL quinoa (oh my), it was to be the ultimate remembrance of the previous’ spring journey.

Sweet joy!

Also, I happened to have all the ingredients (or most of them) at home.

Also, it turned out decently well, luckily – because I used the recipe from Raw: Recipes for a modern vegetarian lifestyle, by Solla Eiríksdóttir, who also lives in a mostly wintry place (Iceland) and somehow manages the positively miraculous achievement of eating a plant-based diet in a country known for its fermented shark.

The original recipe was vegan, and asked for vegan cheese and cream cheese.  As I am not vegan, and prefer to use things I have on hand instead of buying more, I used dairy cheese and goat cheese mixed with a little sour cream to replace the vegan options, respectively.  

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Zucchini goat cheese pizza with a quinoa crust
(adapted from Raw: Recipes for a modern vegetarian lifestyle, by Solla Eiríksdóttir)

makes 1 pizza

For the crust:
¾ cup (115 g) quinoa, uncooked
½ tsp sea salt flakes
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp black pepper
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
¼ cup (20 g) grated cheddar cheese
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping:
½ cup goat cheese
¼ cup sour cream
½ zucchini, very thinly sliced
Hemp seeds (for sprinkling)
Olive oil (for drizzling)

Soak the quinoa overnight in water, covered.  The next day, drain the quinoa and blend it with ¼ cup water, salt, garlic, pepper, and oregano, until it is smooth.  Pour the batter into a bowl and stir in the cheese and oil.

Put a 9” tart ring on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and pour the batter into the ring.  Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for about 20 minutes, and then remove.  Wearing oven mitts, cover the crust with another baking sheet, and flip the baking sheets over with the crust between them.  It is a daring maneuver; I recommend that one be even-tempered and emotionally stable for this.  Bake on the second sheet for another 5-10 minutes.

Remove the crust from the oven and lower the temperature to 350°F.  Mix together the goat cheese and sour cream, and spread it over the crust.  Lay out the zucchini slices, and bake for another 10 minutes.  Right before serving, sprinkle over some hemp seeds and olive oil.  Slice and eat while wearing shorts.

This makes one pizza, but I think if you double the recipe you could forgo the tart ring situation and have enough batter to spread across an entire baking sheet to make a rectangular pizza crust.  

The next time I make this, I think I’d like to make a dessert pizza!  Imagine: remove the oregano and garlic from the crust, bake as usual, and then top it with whipped cream, berries, and chocolate shavings.  With this pizza base, you could have a whole meal of pizzas!  I don’t see how this can be wrong.

When I was little, I was obsessed with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and the romanticized life of a settler: learning how to live off the land, to make do with what you had, and to be self-sufficient.  It was a far cry from the concrete-laden cityscape that I traversed in my red-and-white Keds sneakers, whose only markings of a hard life were grass stains and the squished earwig that had crawled into the right shoe and met its demise under my pediatric phalanges (they had decided to infest our basement one year, a rather vexing period).

As an impressionable 8-year-old, one of Ingalls’ books, The Long Winter, really stuck with me.  In it she described the challenges of surviving one of the longest winters they experienced in Wisconsin, and eating only one potato a day.  I recall her talking about how she became sick of eating potatoes, and while this may be my memory playing tricks on me, I think she also found comfort in getting to eat at least something (because they did run out of food).  Well, I can say that I think I would find it comforting to get to eat something if there was almost nothing left to eat.

Luckily my situation has never been so dire, but the psychology of survival and coping and trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel has remained.  The thermometer might have read warmer temperatures this year, but it felt like a long winter anyhow.  Relationships, deaths, personal struggles…these things play a role in the climate of our lives, and it has been a difficult spell.

So as always, I turn to food.  Cooking and serving food to others has always been a great comfort – and it hasn’t failed me yet.  I particularly like the phrase “serving food” and the idea of serving, as opposed to helping.  In my food-addled brain, “serving” means helping others with no expectation of getting anything in return, whereas “helping” has a more egotistical tinge to it (“Look at me, I’m so great to be helping others” – that sort of thing).  So I like relating this idea of serving to cooking for others and sharing my table with them.

So: here we have some curry coconut dal soup.

Soup is one of the greatest comfort foods, a warm and nourishing poultice of sorts for the heart.  The way Ingalls described living off the land to feed and heal her family and friends has an earthy and wholesome quality to it, that I find present in every and all soups.  Make a big batch: some for you, and some to give away.

Curry coconut dal soup

makes 6-8 servings, or about 2 x 1 L Mason jars

1 yellow onion, finely diced
a large fistful of carrots, chopped
a slightly smaller fistful of celery stalks, chopped
about 1 cup of split mung beans (dal)
1 small handful of dried lime leaves
1-2″ knob of fresh ginger, sliced
a handful of button mushrooms, sliced
a small fistful of green beans, sliced into 0.5″-long pieces
1-2 tsp each of cumin, coriander, cardamom (all ground), garam masala, turmeric
1 can of coconut milk
salt and pepper
lemon juice

In a large stockpot, heat a good splosh of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until translucent and a little brown on the edges.  Stir in all the spices.  Add the carrots, celery, and split mung beans.  Stir for a minute or two, and then cover it all with water (about 1.5 L).  Stir in the lime leaves and ginger.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and cover.  Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the mung beans are cooked.  Remove the lime leaves and ginger (if you are handy with chopsticks, they are a most excellent tool for this job).  Remove the pot from the heat and use an immersion blender to slightly break down the vegetables to achieve a softer texture.  Return the pot to the heat.  Add the mushrooms and green beans, and continue to let it simmer until the vegetables are cooked (about 5 minutes).  Stir in the coconut milk and adjust the taste with the salt, pepper and lemon juice.

This soup is vegan and gluten-free.  Serve some soup for yourself, and give some away; best not to expect getting the jar back.

curry coconut dal soup

A few years ago during a road trip, a mouse got into our trunk and made a home for a few nights.  He slept in the instant oats, nibbled on the stump of a muffin, picked open a bag of corn chips but didn’t eat the chips themselves – and most interestingly, ate a whole Ziploc bag of popping corn kernels.  On one hand I was annoyed at the unwelcome intrusion, but on the other I had serious respect for the mouse’s choice of probably the healthiest, least processed food in the car.  No M&M’s, buddy?  (It appeared he licked but didn’t eat them).

Sometimes I don’t feel so different from our rodent companion, though I feel more squirrel-y than mouse-y, mostly because I can relate to a squirrel’s penchant for hiding food in places for later (we have a very well-stocked pantry).  And the bushy tail, I like the bushy tail.  But anyway, I feel like these almond millet chocolate bars pay homage to the four legged companions that flit in and out of our lives.  They are gluten-free, vegan, and made with recognizable things.  The chocolate topping is made with unsweetened chocolate so that the sweetness can be adjusted according to taste with the addition of icing sugar, making for a more wholesome, mouse-worthy snack.  Similarly, brown rice syrup has a relatively lower sweetness, so it can be exploited for its magical gooey powers of holding things together without going off the sweet charts – hence, these are the first snack bars I have ever made that didn’t crumble apart when I cut into them.  Less crumbs on the floor mean more crumbs in my tummy, which I feel is a good thing.

Almond millet chocolate bars

makes one 9×12″ pan

4 tbsp coconut oil
11 soft dates (if hard, soak in hot water for 10 minutes to rehydrate and plump)
250 g / 1 cup raw almonds
80 g / 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
50 g / 2 cups puffed millet
2/3 cup brown rice syrup

100 g unsweetened chocolate
2 tbsp icing sugar

In a high-speed blender or food processor, blend the crap out of the coconut oil, softened dates and almonds.  Scrape down occasionally to make sure everything gets obliterated by the blades.  Scrape out this mixture into a large bowl and mix in the pumpkin seeds and puffed millet.  Meanwhile, gently heat the brown rice syrup in a small saucepan until it becomes looser in consistency and the edges just start to bubble.  Pour this over the mixture and fold together to evenly distribute the syrup.  Scrape everything into a 9×12″ baking pan lined with parchment paper, and press down evenly and firmly.  Chill the pan in the freezer while you make the topping: in a double boiler, gently melt the bittersweet chocolate.  When it is completely melted, stir in the icing sugar until it melts as well.  Pour the chocolate over the bar and smooth out with a spatula.  Freeze for at least 30 minutes before attempting to slice.  Only attempt to slice when you are feeling calm and collected, lest the bar crumbles under unabated emotions, in which case, add more brown syrup next time and all will be well.

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Hello.

It’s been a while.

My hollow legs have been busy.  Somewhat.  Mostly going between the fridge-stove-counter.  But also scrambling up mountains, squatting to look at worms committing suicide on sidewalks, crossing in various patterns while sitting on coffee shop chairs.   The brain sitting somewhere above the hollow legs has been busy too, reading cookbooks, imagining dinner parties with various peoples, and somewhat suffering under an inferiority complex that sharing what I ate for lunch is rather banal and who really cares.  But then an image of Miss Piggy declaring, “I am Woman!” springs to mind and then, reassessment.

Anyway, here: an energy bar recipe that’s so easy it’ll make your head feel empty (sometimes desirable).  Also it’s a good thing to pack in your bag when you are out and about.  Helps propel you up a mountain, whether it be a figurative or literal one.

Ginger date cashew lemon bars

150 g / 1 cup raw cashews
12 soft fresh dates, pitted
5-7 round pieces of candied ginger
50 g / 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup lemon juice

Process the cashews in a high-speed blender or food processor until it resembles a coarse flour.  Dump into a bowl.  Then process the dates, ginger, coconut and lemon juice until it gets sticky and homogenous.  Scoop out into the bowl with the cashew meal.  Work it all together with your hands until it becomes a thick, slightly sticky mass.  Press it into a rectangle that’s about 1/2″ thick.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it set in the fridge for at least one hour, preferably longer.  Cut into bars and hubba hubba.

I imagine these bars would be excellent reworked as a gluten-free pie crust, say with a pumpkin or cream cheese filling.  Next level!

ginger date lemon coconut bars

broccoli salad

We are in the shoulder season of spring.  It is not quite warm enough to languidly lay in the sun eating raw salads and taking delicate sips of mint julep, nor does it seem quite right to be hunkering down to a marathon of baked macaroni and cheese and beef brisket, slathering on an extra layer of fat to one’s love handles in an attempt to become immune to winter’s icy grip.  As time tentatively stumbles its way along, some days are warmer, some days are cooler, and the perennial question of what to eat is forever present.

About a year ago we made our first (and hopefully not our last) pilgrimage to New York City – and as I have been recalling the lovely moments spent sipping coffee and wandering its streets, I remembered a particularly delightful raw broccoli salad I had for lunch at a cafe in Jersey City one rainy afternoon.  There was some sort of dried fruit I think, a mayonnaise-based dressing, and of course, crunchy bits of broccoli.  It also reminded me of another favourite salad I used to get at the cafeteria at the university of my youth: raw broccoli, grated cheddar, bacon, mayonnaise.  Decadent and yet somehow a little austere; the unforgiving bitterness of the raw cruciferae cuts through the sweet and creamy comfort of eggs and oil whipped to submission.

It is another rainy afternoon, and I am at home – so instead of hopping on a plane, I am transporting myself via palate, with a broccoli salad of my own: dried cranberries in Jersey’s honour, and with no bacon, chicken breast will have to do this time.  Of course, there is mayonnaise to bring it all together, and to keep my spirit calm and collected while waiting for definitively warmer weather.

Broccoli salad

makes enough for 2 as a main, 4 as a side

1 broccoli crown
1 chicken breast, cooked
1 handful dried cranberries
1 lemon’s zest
juice of half a lemon
a few heaping spoonfuls of mayonnaise

Chop up the broccoli into small, uniform pieces.  I like to go small enough that it is manageable for my mouth to wrap around a floret (nothing is worse than having half a floret hang out your mouth while you attempt to chomp through) but not so small that there is no satisfyingly long period of crunching during its consumption.  Dice the chicken into similar sized pieces.  Throw in a handful of dried cranberries, the finely grated zest of one lemon, and the juice of one of its halves.  Plop a few generous blobs of mayonnaise over, and mix until everything looks well moisturized by the mayonnaise.  Eat on its own, or with a good hearty sandwich of your choice.  A side of iced tea if it’s sunny, or perhaps a dessert of hot chocolate later if it’s rainy.

These were the second type of bars that I made for my yoga/Ayurveda workshop!  Woo!

I think I prefer these bars over the Winter Sun ones – I love their chewy, moist texture, and the deep flavour of the molasses balances well with the heat of the dried ginger.  These are based off of the Pumpkin Gingerbread Snack Bars from Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows blog (and check out her awesome cookbook here).  I didn’t bother adding her cashew butter maple glaze, though I’m sure it would be pretty delicious.  I also included the weight of each ingredient, because when I bake I prefer to weigh everything for nerdy precision.

Pumpkin ginger cranberry snack bars

makes 10-12 bars

1 cup / 216 g pumpkin puree
1/3 c / 112 g fancy molasses
1/2 c / 80 g white sugar
2 tbsp / 42 g coconut oil (melted and then left off the heat to cool slightly)
2 tsp / 8 g vanilla
1-1/2 c / 128 gluten-free rolled oats, pulsed in a processor/blender
3/4 c / 90 g gluten-free all-purpose flour (or I used coconut flour)
1 tsp / 6 g cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/3 c / 52 g dried cranberries

Mix together the pumpkin, molasses, sugar, coconut oil and vanilla.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix until uniform.  Scrape it all into an 8×8″ baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.

pumpkin ginger cranberry snack bars

Now the fun part: smoosh the mixture into the pan evenly!  After smooshing, bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 20-25 minutes until the top looks dry.  Let the bars cool completely before removing them from the pan, otherwise they might crack.  It is handy to line the pan so that there is parchment paper hanging over the sides, so when it is time to gorge you can conveniently lift the paper up with the bars on it.  A pizza cutter is also handy here for speedy cutting, thereby expediting the gorging process.

pumpkin ginger cranberry snack bars

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