Virginia Woolf famously said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well” – so I felt it was very important to make some delicious granola bars for the students that came to my yoga/Ayurveda workshop this wintry weekend.  We started with a gentle yoga class, took a break for snacks and tea, and I led a talk on how Ayurveda can help bring balance to our bodies and minds.  Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga, and is a healing therapy that focuses on the interrelatedness of the body, mind and spirit.  Food is a wonderful healer and a beautiful way to connect to the people and things around us; if our tummies can be satisfied, our hearts and our minds aren’t far behind.

While there are endless variations and replacements to be made in a granola bar recipe, the following choices were settled upon due to Ayurvedic principles that suggest we eat according to the seasons.  This particular recipe uses sunflower seeds and sunflower butter, which were obvious choices due to their very punny attributes (sun!).  Moreover, sunflower seeds are very nourishing and good for all the Doshas (body types according to Ayurveda).  Black sesame seeds were included as they contain high amounts of solar energy (which we could all use more of during short winter days), and like sunflower seeds, are very rejuvenating.  Millet and amaranth are gluten-free ancient grains that are high in protein and fibre, and along with oats, they are calming and strengthening foods that can soothe the winter blues away.  Both raisins and cinnamon improve digestion, and cinnamon helps to warm the body – a very welcome attribute in winter. Brown rice syrup and maple syrup have relatively low glycemic indexes (meaning they do not cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels compared to other sweeteners), and more importantly, having a little sweetness in your diet will make you a little sweeter (wink!).

Winter sun granola bars

makes 12 bars

1-1/2 cups rolled oats (certified gluten-free if necessary)
1-1/4 cups millet puffs
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, unroasted, unsalted
1/8 cup black sesame seeds
1 tbsp amaranth seeds
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Meanwhile, in a small pot, gently heat the syrups and seed butter, stirring with a spatula. When it has warmed and loosened up, pour it over the dry ingredients and mix well to combine. The mixture will be very sticky. Scrape it all into a 9×12″ baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Spread it out evenly and with slightly wet fingers or a rolling pin, smoosh the mixture down so it is well packed (this will help it stick together). Bake in a preheated 300 F oven for 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Let it cool completely before cutting. There is also the option to not bake the bars and stick the mixture into the freezer to firm up! A short visit of 10 minutes in the freezer should do, and then the bars can be cut. I prefer the toasty flavour of the baked version, and cooked foods are more appropriate for this time of year – plus, turning the oven on in the winter makes the house warm and cozy, which is an added bonus.

winter sun granola bars

The winter is a time for heartier fare, but I also like to make these sorts of cooked salads – they are satisfying and nourishing, but digest easily.  This is a good example of something that I like to make – it’s also what I served to the students at a silent meditation a few weeks ago.  I like to make it with lots and lots of cilantro, as if the herbs were salad lettuce – it’s a nice way to add greenery and bright flavour to the winter dining table.  I also think it’s really worth using dried chickpeas over canned: they have a subtler, nuttier flavour than the canned stuff, and have a cheery yellow look instead of the grey slimy sad face that the canned chickpeas have.  Make this for a weekday office lunch, or as a side dish for a weekend smorgasbord.

Chickpea potato salad

makes 4-6 servings

1 cup dried chickpeas
2 small red potatoes
a few tbsp olive oil
a large handful fresh cilantro
1-2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 lemon’s zest and juice
salt and pepper to taste
a drizzle of maple syrup (optional)

Soak the dried chickpeas in lots of water overnight.  Drain the soaking water, and cook the chickpeas in a pot of new water.  It’ll take about 30 minutes until they are cooked through.  Drain the chickpeas of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, cut the red potatoes into small chunks and toss in a tablespoon of olive oil.  Roast in a 425 F oven until brown and roasty.  Toss into a big bowl with the chickpeas.  Roughly chop the cilantro, and toss with everything else.  A little drizzle of maple syrup can help balance out the flavours if the salad is too tangy from the lemon juice.

chickpea potato salad

The key to successfully cooking for other people while they are on a meditation retreat is to think thoughts of love and compassion, so as to channel those same qualities into the food you make, hence providing nourishment that dares to delve into a world beyond physical.  With this intention in mind, I like to think of unicorns and bunnies to facilitate this work.  If I find myself getting caught up thinking whether my imagined unicorn should have a pink mane or a purple one, I resort to softly humming, “Kumbaya” or “My Favourite Things” from the Sound of Music (bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens are da bomb).

Ultimately, retreat-worthy food is nourishing, but easy to digest; tasty, but leaves the palate clean so to avoid distractedly licking one’s chops while trying to meditate.  Here is a vegan salad made of pickled beets and black rice that I served this past weekend at a day of silent meditation – I think it would be an enjoyable lunch, eaten in silence or not.

Beet and black rice salad

serves 4

1 cup uncooked black rice
1-750 ml jar of sliced pickled beets
1 orange
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1/4 cup nigella seeds
1/2 cup zereshk or chopped dried cranberries
1 heaping handful of fresh parsley
1/4 cup sesame oil
salt and pepper

making beet salad

Cook the black rice in a spacious pot so that it can simmer in excess water (start with adding 3 cups).  By cooking the rice in a loose, dance-y way, it will clump less in the salad.  When the rice is cooked (about 30 minutes), drain in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse with cold water.  Tip the rice into a big bowl.  Now drain the jar of beets and rinse the beets with water – just a little bit is fine, you want the beets to still retain some of their vinegaryness.  Add the beets to the rice.  Grate over the zest of the orange, and squeeze over its juice.  Add the remaining ingredients and toss toss toss.  If it still tastes too sour for your liking, add a tablespoon of sugar or maple syrup to balance out the flavour.

vegan beet black rice salad

A note about sourcing ingredients: black rice can be found at an Asian supermarket, or substitute wild rice if that’s easier to find.  Nigella seeds are little, dusty-looking black seeds that have a spicy, onion-y taste – they can be found at a Middle Eastern supermarket.  Zereshk is the dried fruit of beriberis, and look like smaller versions of a raisin, but have a sour taste.  They can be found in a Persian or Middle Eastern supermarket as well.  If you happen to live in Winnipeg, both nigella seeds and zereshk can be found at Dino’s Supermarket on Notre Dame.

Over the weekend I baked a large carrot cake for my friend’s birthday.  It was served at a party with lots of our friends, and our friends are nice people, so they congratulated me on how delicious and beautiful the cake was.  My outward response was, “Thanks!” but inside I thought, “Well I guess they didn’t notice the lumps in the icing.  Or that the cake had cracked apart on the inside.  Or that a corner of the cake had fallen off and had been patched together again with icing and luck.”  They obviously didn’t notice my vacant stare as I had this inner monologue.

I think we don’t give each other enough credit for being kind-hearted souls that want to support and wish each other well.

I also think we don’t give ourselves enough credit.

Many years ago I made a cake of similar size (chocolate sponge, white chocolate icing) for a friend’s grandma’s 80th birthday.  She asked me to make it because she thought I’d have fun doing it.  When she saw I was so upset at how the cake wasn’t holding together and that there were crumbs in the icing, she said quietly, “I thought this was supposed to be fun.”

Her gentle reminder brought it all home for me, and I realized how awfully dramatic I had been about the whole matter.  It is supposed to be fun – or at the very least, not terrible and tragic.  Making food for others is one of the best ways to show you care, and eating is one of life’s greatest joys.  (I secretly believe that those people who just pick at their food and say blankly, “Oh I’m full” go home and decadently dip apple slices right into the peanut butter jar and chase it with vanilla ice cream and chocolate cookies).  However, being human, things don’t always turn out (it gets a little burnt, it’s too soft, too thick, whatever), so what you make doesn’t always look like it belongs on the cover of a magazine.  But I think that’s okay, because the point was to say, “Hey, I like you enough to make you a cake/cookies/stew/falafel.  Let’s continue to like eachother.”  And the person receiving it will say, “I’m hungry, so ditto” or something like that.  They won’t see the imperfections, they will see the effort and love.  And then you should tell yourself, “I made an effort, I’m an all right human being.”  And then divvy out some portions of what you made so you can enjoy it together.

So, as MFK Fisher says, “Serve it forth.”  And heap on the love.

The Internet is rife with hyperbole, but the other day I finally, finally, made a lentil loaf.  Seriously.  I have a page ripped out from a magazine with a recipe for a Curried-Lentil Quinoa Loaf stuck in my food journal (because I’m cool like that), and the footer on the page says, “October 2010.”  Four years.  2014 has been a year of breakthroughs, apparently.  Of course, I did not use that recipe (because following through completely would be just too perfect) and instead I used the Lentil-Walnut Loaf recipe from Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook.  I know I’m late to the party, but her cookbook and blog are so beautiful and inspiring: you can really feel her passion and dedication to good food.  This loaf did not disappoint!

What I made is a slight variation from the original, simply because I was trying to use what I had.  It was so good that I forgot to take a photo of it until it was half gone.  Also I don’t have a full-size loaf pan; I have only mini loaf pans, which probably sounds ridiculous for someone who bakes so much bread, but the loaf turned out wonderfully in a shallow 9×13″ baking pan.

lentil walnut loaf

A slight variation of Angela Liddon’s Lentil Walnut Loaf

serves 4-8

1 cup uncooked green lentils
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, grated
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs (next time I’m going to try all oat flour)
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper

for the balsamic-apple glaze:
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp apple butter
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup

Soak the lentils overnight in plenty of water.  The next day, simmer the lentils in fresh water until they are tender.  Drain most of the cooking water, and pulse the lentils in a food processor or blender until it resembles a coarse paste.

Meanwhile, saute the onions in vegetable oil until they soften and take on some light colour.  Add the celery and carrots, and continue cooking until the veggies soften.  Throw in the raisins and walnuts to heat them through.

Stir everything together, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Line your loaf pan with parchment paper, and press the mixture into the pan evenly and firmly.  Whisk together the ingredients for the glaze and spread over the entire surface of the loaf.  Bake in a preheated 325 F oven for 30-40 minutes, so that the loaf dries out and the edges turn a little brown.  Let it cool before slicing so that it can firm up a little bit.  We ate it with coleslaw and wild rice for dinner.  Little slices of the leftovers are an excellent snack, stolen right out of the fridge, eaten cold.

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