Congo bars, adapted from Terry Walters’ Eat Clean Live Well

Today, as I cooked and then, while I cleaned the kitchen, wrote this blog post, and still now, when I’m getting ready to walk to a friend’stulips house for dinner, it rained. Steady, relentless rain. For hours. It could so easily be depressing. Many days that’s what would happen. I would permit myself to be ruled in a negative way by something completely out of my control. But today, in addition to supporting the Spring’s new growth, I somehow managed to use the rain as fuel to reinforce all the things in my life that seem right: this morning’s an amazingly deep yoga practice with several people I love a lot; preparing to teach my first public group yoga class on Monday; my sweet cat asleep on the couch, still Benalive and reasonably healthy despite being just a few weeks away from turning 17 years old; the coziness of my apartment; a perfect mix of music that included this song, which has been playing in my head ever since I saw Morgan Geer’s Drunken Prayer open for Freakwater this past March and which I don’t own; and being awake to the luxury of this time alone, being in my home, cooking, and appreciating all that I have instead of focusing on what is not. I’m not sure why the rain was uplifting today instead of being depressing, if this is just grace or if it’s the result of a decision I made yesterday to be happy even if it wasn’t coming naturally. Probably both. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. With so much gratitude for all that I have, including the ability to choose happiness and have it work.

Congo barsI don’t suppose I can compare all of that to these Congo bars. Or maybe I can. They’re quite special. And while I don’t suppose any dessert that tastes this good will ever qualify as being actively healthy, this one comes damn close, especially when compared to other sweets. If you try the recipe, I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do. And, if you have any leftovers, store them in the fridge. It’s best eaten warm but cold is good too.

Congo Bars, adapted from Terry Walters’s Eat Clean Live Well

1/2 t. virgin coconut oil
1 c. teff flour
1 c. almond flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
4 oz. natural applesauce (I use the single-serving containers)
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. cashew or sunflower butter
2 t. high-quality vanilla extract
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c. dark chocolate, cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350; use 1/4 t. coconut oil to grease a square baking dish.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the applesauce, maple syrup, honey, nut butter, and vanilla in a separate bowl, then add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. Mix in the nuts and coconut. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, smooth the top, and draw four long trenches across the batter.

Melt the chocolate and remaining 1/4 t. coconut oil in a small pot, either on the stove or in the oven, being careful not to let it burn. Once the chocolate has melted pour it into each of the four trenches. Use a table knife to create a swirl (or, like mine, swirls and a splotch) across the top. Bake for 35 minutes or until a knife in the center comes out clean.

If you can manage to wait, allow the pan to cool for at least a half hour before you dig in. The bars are delicate and likely won’t hold together if they’re too warm. Serve as is or with a dollop of yogurt.

Enjoy!

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Chickpea and sweet potato tagine

sweet potato tagineI made this last night, inspired by my most recent meal at Lula Cafe. Lula, which has had some variation of this dish on the menu since it opened, has been my favorite restaurant in Chicago since pretty much then.  Yet, despite the many times I’ve considered skipping over the specials and ordering the tagine, this last visit was the first time I managed it. And, as you can probably guess by this post, it was wonderful. Like all of Lula’s food, it made me feel like I was eating in a way that made everything in my life just a little better. My version is not as good as theirs was. But it’s tasty. And good for you– studies have shown that both ginger and turmeric may decrease inflammation. Because avoiding gluten apparently doesn’t do it all. Life is good but it is not fair. But so it goes. Now. The recipe.

1 Tablespoon butter or ghee or coconut oil (I used butter)
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch fresh turmeric, minced (substitute 1 teaspoon or more dried if you can’t find fresh)
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
sea salt to taste
4 cups cooked chickpeas with their broth (you can substitute 2 small cans but rinse and use fresh water or broth)
1/4 – 1/2 cup golden raisins, to taste

Heat fat in a sturdy, medium-sized saucepan that has a lid over medium heat. Add onions. Saute for a few minutes, stirring a couple of times, then add everything but the chickpeas and broth. Stir to combine and cook for another few minutes. Add the chickpeas and raisins with enough liquid to just cover the ingredients. Partially cover and simmer for a half hour or so, until the sweet potato is soft and the flavors have melded into something greater than their individual components, sweet and smoky and with hints of something mysterious and far away that you’ve always known but never quite known how to find. Or something like that. Serve over mashed cauliflower, quinoa, or rice, topped with a handful of arugula or some other bitter greens. The greens aren’t essential but they provide a nice balance for the sweetness.

chickpea fig bars with sesame seeds and coconut

Five days from now, at least the now in which I am writing, I will be one day into yoga teacher training with Ana Forrest. !!! I’ve been planning this for more than a year, saving vacation and practicing yoga and trying to learn how to be as comfortable with myself as I can be. Yet now that it’s here I somehow feel surprised. Sort’ve. Another part of me knows that I’m ready. I am ready. Especially now that I finished making these.chickpea fig bars with sesame seeds and coconut Which taste much, much better than they look. And are here, in my freezer, ready to go without any need to plan or prepare or purchase. Healthy, homemade vegetarian food (we aren’t allowed to bring non-vegetarian food into the studio. Oh, and we aren’t allowed to eat garlic or onions. Or drink coffee. Lots of rules.) that will be fine spending a few hours in my bag and will be nourishing and strengthening without being heavy. Or so I hope. Because there’s no way to know now about what life will be like then. Sigh. Hopefully the training will help me get a bit more comfortable with this truth. Which applies to everything, always. Sometimes I like to pretend otherwise. But I know.

Perhaps that is why I so love to cook. Because it is a way to have control in this wold of constant change. Hmmm. Or maybe it’s just that I love food? Probably a combination. I used to love cooking more for other people to eat, as a way to express love. Lately, as I’ve spent most of my time alone, I’m learning that I like cooking for myself too. It feels good to take care of myself. But, again, perhaps it comes down to control. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it later. For now, here is the recipe for these homemade protein bars, which I first learned of from a friend at yoga, then finally made by adapting a recipe I found here.

Chickpea fig bars with sesame seeds and coconut
–3 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and with as much skin removed as possible
–2 cups dried figs, soaked in water for one hour then drained
–1/2 cup nut butter (I used a mix of almond and sunflower seed, both to finish off a jar and to up the calcium)
–1 snack-sized container of applesauce–about 1/3 cup? (I know. This is not very environmentally responsible. But the full jars kept molding.)
–1 tablespoon high-quality vanilla extract
–pinch of sea salt
–1/4 cup coconut flour
–1/4 cup almond flour
–1/4 cup sesame seeds
–1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the first six ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Mix until thoroughly combined. Add the flours. Mix again, scraping down the sides as necessary. The batter will become very thick–you will probably have to scrape a lot. Add the sesame seeds and coconut. Mix again. You may have to finish by hand with a wooden spoon.

Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish (smaller is also okay) with coconut or olive oil. Press the dough into the pan. Bake for about 20 minutes. Let cool then cut into squares. I  laid the squares out in a rectangular container and stacked, separating the layers with wax paper, then put the container in the freezer. Allegedly they’ll keep in the freezer for two months. I don’t think I’ll have them that long. I will let you know. One day. Because I know that I seem to stay away from my blog longer and longer. But I always come back. Thank you for reading.

Also, here are a few photos from a walk I took this morning along the Chicago River. Note the bee. And doesn’t this tree resemble a person doing a standing split? Sort’ve? Except way more beautiful than the most beautiful person could ever be. Or maybe just different. Still. Quiet. Exactly as it is without needing to be anything else.

Maybe in yoga teacher training I will learn how to be more like a tree. Probably not. But maybe.

bee on flowerfavorite tree

mushrooms on treeyellow flowers

buckwheat zucchini muffins

This recipe is adapted from Erin Scott’s Yummy Supper, a gluten-free cookbook I checked out of the library last week. I haven’t tried any of her other recipes, but this one is great–the muffins are what you want in the morning, sweet but not too sweet, dense and filling but unobtrusively so, leaving you satiated but not full. And, oddly, buckwheat zucchini muffinsthese benefited greatly from being made ahead and frozen. I made them the other day and thought they were just okay. Yet, as I told a friend, while I didn’t think the muffin was the best tasting thing I’d ever eaten, I couldn’t stop eating it. And afterward I felt terrific, happy and full of energy. Nourished with zero crash. But the thawed version I ate yesterday morning, after yoga and before a visit to the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin (!!), Kettle Moraine, Nordic Trailwas delicious. The flavors somehow deepened and softened, becoming one. I highly recommend. And you will note that this recipe contains no beans. I’ve been thinking about rewriting the “about” section of this blog. Because, really, I might post a lot more often if it wasn’t mostly about beans. Stay tuned for more on that. For now, though, here’s this recipe.

Buckwheat Zucchini Muffins (makes 12)

2/3 cups buckwheat flour
1/2 cup millet flour
3/4 teaspoon coarse seat salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs, at room temperature (use the best eggs you can find and afford — it makes a difference)
1/3 cup honey (again, use good honey, ideally local. Good ingredients make good food.)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted (sub olive oil if you dislike coconut)
1-2 Tablespoons molasses (optional–I used about a teaspoon because it was all I had)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (again, use high-quality vanilla extract. It’s easy to make your own!)
1-1/4 cups packed grated zucchini, squeezed dry in a towel, paper or kitchen
1/2 cup cacao nibs (original recipe called for walnuts, but I was out)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin tin with coconut or olive oil. You could also use butter. Whisk first six ingredients together. Whisk eggs either in a separate bowl or with the paddle attachment in f a standing mixer. Add honey, maple syrup, oil, molasses if using, and vanilla, until blended. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Add the zucchini and cacao (or walnuts), and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the muffin tin and bake 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack. Enjoy!

Thistlep.s. This is the flower of a thistle. It made me think about Mark Bittman’s recent op-ed about foraging, and wish I’d taken notes. Or brought a guide. Because I bet there were a lot of edibles out there. Next time. This time, though, while we didn’t forage for wild food, we did stumble upon a remarkably great farm to table restaurant. The Black Sheep in Whitewater, Wisconsin. It was so good! Nourishing and delicious and creative. And every ingredient is Black Sheeplocally sourced, even the flour they use for their gravies and sauces, not to mention desserts. My friend and I split the cherry cobbler. It was delicious. But full of gluten. Yet I did not get sick. Food for thought.

chocolate cupcakes with black beans (and no gluten)

I kind’ve can’t believe this recipe worked. But it did. black bean cupcakesThese pretty little things actually taste as good as they look: like rich, chocolatey, totally sinful cupcakes. Except without icing. Because while I seem to have no problem convincing myself that it’s okay to cook cupcakes just for myself, destination-free icing feels like it would be crossing the line into something deserving of diagnosis. Or at least several therapy sessions entirely devoted to my eating disorder.

As is, I’m feeling pretty good about my recent food intake. Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written. But I’ve been cooking–and eating–plenty, including beans. I just haven’t felt inspired to write about anything. Until now.

This recipe is adapted slightly from Nancy Cain’s gluten-free cookbook, Against the Grain.

1/3 cup coconut oil
2 cups cooked black beans, drained
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large eggs
1 cup coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line 12 cups of a standard muffin tin with paper lines or grease with coconut oil. (I did the former this time then found myself a little angry about all the delicious cake that the paper liner stole. Next time I’ll grease.)

black bean cupcake batter2. Combine the beans and coconut oil in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, scrape the sides, and blend again. The batter will be very stiff.

3. Add the eggs and sugar, and blend until the sugar has dissolved, scraping the sides as necessary. Then add the baking soda and continue blending until it’s mixed in.

4. Divide the batter equally between the muffin cups. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a rack. black bean cupcake2Devour with ice cream, if desired. Lately I’ve been into a plain vanilla version of this one. Which is from a paleo website. Obviously I’m not into the whole paleo thing. They prohibit beans. I love beans. We are incompatible. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see the good.

Speaking of beans, note that Cain’s original cupcake recipe calls for a can of black beans. You can definitely do that. But I prefer to use beans that I’ve cooked myself from dried. First, this ensures maximum nutritional value. Second, it’s more economical and, to my mind, has a smaller environmental impact.

For this recipe I cooked a pound of dried beans. Although I usually add kombu, I decided against it for this recipe. So I just rinsed the beans, soaked them overnight, then rinsed, transferred to a pot, and added cold water to cover by about an inch. I then brought the beans to a boil, reduced the heat, and cooked until tender. It took a couple of hours. At the end I added about a teaspoon of salt and let them cool on the stove. In addition to what I needed for this recipe, it made enough to eat for breakfast with eggs and tortillas with about a cup extra, which I put in the freezer for later.

 

 

 

Vegetable “ceviche” salad with fresh cranberry beans

ceviche saladI made this last night, both as dinner for a dear friend who is visiting for the weekend and as a test for the dinner party I’m hosting next weekend. Which I’m both excited and terribly nervous about. Because, as I realized yesterday, this will be my first solo dinner party since I was in my twenties. Which means there’s no one to help clean or entertain people while I’m cooking. For all his flaws, my ex-husband was a perfect dinner party co-host. And while I seemed to have no problem hosting large, elaborate dinner parties on my own before I hooked up with him, I’ve changed since then. I’m now keenly aware of stress and anxiety, working to feel my way through whatever comes up instead of hiding in drugs and alcohol, distracting myself from what’s actually happening in my body. Which is a lot. But I also have yoga now. I try to meditate. I have tools to deal with anxiety. So even though part of me is scared about this first dinner party on my own as this person I’ve become, I know everything is going to be okay. Maybe not perfect, but fun. And when I woke up this morning I felt a million times better knowing that after weeks of uncertainty about what I want to make I’ve started to finalize the menu. Which will most definitely include this salad. Because it’s SO GOOD!!! Also beautiful and summery and easy and can be made in the morning for eating at night. Plus it features one of my favorite parts of summer: fresh cranberry beans.

Admittedly, the original recipe (from Food & Wine) doesn’t call for cranberry beans. Instead it’s more of a riff on succotash, with fresh lima beans. But the cranberry beans were delicious. So, if you find yourself drawn to huge piles of these beauties at your local market, I definitely fresh cranberry beansrecommend this salad is a great way to use them up. (In case you wind up with more beans than the few needed for this salad, here are some other ideas for fresh cranberry beans.) That said, I think any shelling bean will work equally well. And the same is true for other ingredients. For example, I used plums instead of nectarines, because the plums were ripe and the nectarines weren’t. And instead of a jalapeno pepper, I used a pepper from my garden. Because I had a pepper in my garden. Finally, in my riskiest departure, I used Romanesco cauliflower instead of avocado. That one was because when I was at the Farmer’s Market on Thursday, the tiny head of green cauliflower was so gorgeous that I had to get it. Then, because it was so pretty, I had to add it to the salad. Which, happily, turned out to be a very good idea.

Here’s the recipe, which reputedly serves eight. I would say that depends on what else you’re serving. If this is a true side or starter, it’s probably enough for ten. But you could also add some greens (as my visiting friend suggested, it would be good over chopped kale) and make it the main course, in which case I think four people would be very happy with their servings. Now. Recipe. For real.

1 c. fresh cranberry beans (from about 1-1/2 pounds in their pods)
1 t finely grated lime zest
1/3 c. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 hot pepper, jalapeno or other
Sea salt
1-1/2 c. fresh corn kernels (from two ears)
1 plums or nectarines or other stone fruit, not too ripe, halved and thinly sliced into wedges
1 small head of Romanesco cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved (a mix of types and colors is nice)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped cilantro

Combine the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, shallot, and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk to combine then season with salt. Bring two or three cups of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and the beans. Cook for 17 minutes, then add the cauliflower. Cook for another three minutes then drain and rinse with cold water. Add to the dressing. Fold in all of the remaining ingredients except the cilantro. Cover and chill for at least two and up to eight hours. Just before serving, toss in the cilantro. Taste and add more salt if necessary. I used quite a bit.

Herbed Mediterranean frittata, adapted from “The Medicinal Chef”

It’s Sunday morning. Which is, traditionally, supposed to be the very epitome of leisure. But I’m about to go to work. Because, well, just because. Too many uninteresting reasons to spend time writing about here, now, when what I want to do is tell you about this delicious, easy, beautiful, and nourishing frittata.

fritatta

Today is, I think, the third time I’ve made it. Because, like every other recipe I’ve tried from Dale Pinnock’s The Medicinal Chef, this frittata is terrific. But today differs from the other times because today I added beans. Yup. Cannellini beans. On a whim. Because I had some left after my most recent batch of cassoulet.  And it was so good that I decided to share the recipe, which differs from the original only in the addition of yogurt, beans, and feta cheese, which I also happened to have in the fridge, and a few details about how to cut the onions. Some people buy shoes. I buy groceries.  Then stress about how to cook and eat everything before it goes bad. Sigh. This morning, when I was cooking, it occurred to me that I probably should have had children. Or maybe I should live in a commune. But, well, I really like living alone. So I guess I’ll just keep on as I am. It will work out. Okay. Now. Here’s the recipe.

 

Herbed Mediterranean fritatta (serves 4, or 1 with leftovers)

1 t. olive oil
15-16 cherry tomatoes (fewer if yours are large — mine are tiny!)
1/2 red onion, sliced into 1/2 – 3/4″ wedges
10-12 pitted black Kalamata olives
1/4 c. cooked cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (optional — canned are fine)
6 large, free-range eggs
2 T. full-fat yogurt
2 T. feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
salt and pepper
1/4 c. fresh Italian parsley, minced
1/4 c. fresh basil, minced
1/4 c. fresh spearmint, minced

Preheat the oven to 400. Heat the olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onions for a couple of minutes, reduce the heat to medium, add the tomatoes and garlic, and saute for another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the olives.

Whisk the eggs and yogurt together in a medium-sized bowl, season moderately with salt and pepper (the olives and feta cheese are both pretty salty, so you don’t want to overdo it), then add the herbs. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet.  Move the tomatoes and olives around so you don’t have a clump of one ingredient. Add the beans and cheese, if using, to fill in the blanks.

Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking on the stove for another 5 minutes, then transfer to the oven. Cook for 10-20 minutes, until the top has puffed but before it browns. Remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes. Transfer to a plate or serve directly from the skillet.