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SPICE UP THE HOLIDAYS: CINNAMON, NUTMEG & GINGER

Thanksgiving-Sensual-Foodie-Carrot-Recipe

Thanksgiving time has us all searching for recipes to cook, eat and share. Spice up your holiday with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. These romance enhancing spices please the senses and get you in the mood. Here’s some inspiration for your Thanksgiving recipes.

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Love Soup

carrSensual-Foodie-Fall-Soup-PostAs Thanksgiving is at the end of the month, the kitchen beckons. I’m dreaming up side dishes and figuring out what to make for the gathering at my table. But menu planning requires something good to satisfy your belly and soul, so make a pot of nourishing soup while you plan your holiday feast.

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It’s November

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Here in Los Angeles, it’s still warm and balmy. I wore a sundress to have dim sum at the newly reopened Empress Pavilion in Chinatown with my sweetheart, and while walking down Chung King Road to Hill Street, I bought a parasol to protect my face and bare skin from the sun’s strong rays. You just might think it was summer. On the one day I took off, we shared many pots of tea and lingered over dim sum. Slow eating. This makes me so happy. To add to my dining pleasure, the new owner of Empress Pavilion explained the updated menu of “more vegetarian dishes” and “healthier” dim sum.

(If your curiosity is percolating at the mere mention of dim sum, read my darling’s article on Empress Pavilion: Eight Things You Can Expect at the New Empress Pavilion via Eddie Lin for Los Angeles Magazine.)

Dim sum

I love the change from summer into fall, even though the weather here in perpetually sunny California does not change as other parts of the country do, with leaves turning red and gold, brisk winds blowing, the peaty scent of damp earth and the warming scent of fireplaces burning wood. I’ve missed my usual farmers’ market shopping on Sundays as I have not had enough time to truly cook the slow way I like. This being busy thing has to slow down. It has caused me to take shortcuts in preparing family meals, using frozen waffles for quick breakfasts— though they are pumpkin waffles drizzled with maple syrup and freshly cut banana slices. I can’t help myself even when in a hurry, as I grate fresh cinnamon on top and pour on a little more maple syrup. One day I got creative and made banana waffle sandwiches for my kids using Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles, served with homemade almond hazelnut milk as a tea latte.

I know I’m creatively bursting when frozen waffle sandwiches are all I have time to make.

Kitchen sink full of dishes, cups of tea, scattered utensils. Quick, an egg on toast. Quick, an avocado toast. Quick, almond butter and honey toast. Out the door! But slow weekend mornings involve pumpkin pancakes. Or banana waffle sandwiches again, just because those were amazing.

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Yet what I crave is a long leisurely day with a crisp breeze blowing the fall leaves around outside, a cozy mug of hot tea inside, and more piping hot pumpkin pancakes with cinnamon and real maple syrup. Then comes soup making. Long hours of simmering, roasting veggies, caramelizing onions, making more stock.

The fall season inspires my recipes— I love making soups of all kinds, especially butternut squash, or a tomato-rich Tuscan white bean, kale and carrot soup, which evolve in the pot with other vegetable additions as I rummage through my fridge looking for limp basil leaves, kale, spinach. I toast hazelnuts and what’s left of the pine nuts. French lentils marry well with tomatoes and chiles, Indian spices like cardamom, roasted cumin in olive oil, coriander seeds.

Soup is slow and requires plenty of time. I close the refrigerator door with an avocado toast bundled up in a napkin and rush out to the car. I’ve had soup making on my mind.

The best soups I’ve made took a few days. Building the base with caramelized onions, shallots, leeks, then adding the veggies, layering the flavors until the pot sings with aromas of herbs, spices, roots, greens. It’s better to let the pot settle for a day, deepening the ingredients with mirepoix, sherry, and olive oil, a pinch of turmeric, grated ginger, a squeeze of lemon.

Thai soups like Tom Kha, vegan tortilla soup with big slices of avocado, so many wonderful ways to make soup.

Tom Kha Tortilla soup

I’ve made lentil stews late at night when my body is aching for rest, and hearty pots of vegetable and bean soups with kale for dinner to serve something nourishing to my family. My morning usuals aren’t very inspirational before seven in the morning. Toasted bread with mashed avocado, a sprinkling of olive oil, a pinch of cayenne, a squirt of lemon, served with the grapes that get rinsed each morning until they’ve been eaten. I don’t pretend that I live a leisurely life of recipe conjuring while enjoying a peaceful, uninterrupted day. I’m rushing around, eating in the car, hurrying from dropping off kids at school to work, avoiding traffic with my cab driver skills. Rushing.

Sometimes I am able to plan ahead, putting to-go meals in mason jars, blending fresh almond milk up for smoothies or almond milk lattes, making homemade salad dressing, and other ways to eat well when the day is full and I’m out and about. There have been afternoon trysts with burritos full of gooey cheese, tomatillo salsa, rice and beans. I’m no angel. I wipe my lips of the evidence but I have no regrets.

While I’m away from my cutting board, refrigerator, pots, pans and spices, I think of seasonal recipes and leaf through some of my favorite cookbooks. Just as we are all busy, we seek a meditative moment where time slows down. My happy place is in the kitchen and I can’t wait to share my holiday recipes with you. Meanwhile, here are a few seasonal soup recipes I’m eager to try myself. Enjoy. Have a cup of tea with me while we dream of cooking and eating. By the way, that last link for the pureed parsnip and cardamom soup with caramelized shallots? It’s first on my list of soups to make.

SAVEUR: Tom Yum Goong

SAVEUR: Pear, Shallot & Delicata Squash Soup

Bon Appetit: Leek Soup with Shoestring Potatoes and Fried Herbs

Bon Appetit: French Onion Soup with Comté

Bon Appetit: Chickpea Soup

Food52: Kale & Chickpea Soup with Lemon

Food52: Pureed Parsnip & Cardamom Soup with Caramelized Shallots

 

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Pom-Black-Rice-Salad-Recipe

Black rice. It’s exotic and beautiful, earthy with flavor. I make a big bowlful, toss the sticky rice around, drizzle in the mustard vinaigrette, watch the rice loosen into shiny grains. The diced cucumber and pomegranate give it texture, the oranges, juice. I save a few servings in to-go containers to put in the fridge, and one in a glass Mason jar that goes into my bag for a satisfying lunch on the go.

At home, I prepare a bowl and add slices of ripe avocado, its green slivers enhanced by the dark grains and red pomegranate. Cilantro or parsley goes well as garnish, along with other suggestions (within my recipe below). Cucumbers are cooling and quench my palate in a glassful of cucumber-infused water. I use them often, so I thought adding some diced to this would be perfect in this rice salad. Pomegranates are like edible jewels and look so pretty with the black rice. In Chinese natural medicine, pomegranates are ‘slightly warming and nourish the blood,’ which effects the chi or energy. I like the way they pop upon my tongue.

Pomegranates.

Ancient gods and goddesses ate them. Women of Pompeii wore pomegranate garlands to signify their romantic availability. Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt, carried these ruby red globes for nourishment while on her hunting quest for food. Persephone, the vegetation goddess of ancient Greece, ate pomegranate seeds and went underground until she returned in the spring, symbolizing return to the earth and illustrating the cycle of seasons, from spring to winter, and then spring again. Pomegranates are fruits full of myth and legend. Throughout time we have been enchanted by their beauty and taste.

Pomegranates-Pom

BLACK RICE SALAD with pomegranate, cucumber & oranges, dijon vinaigrette

The color of black rice isn’t truly black, but violet and earthy. Cumin and pomegranate seeds make it pop with flavor and color, textured with crunchy cucumber and nourishing avocado oil, bursting with oranges for a vibrant spin on rice.

For the mustard vinaigrette:

½ cup olive oil

2 tbl avocado oil

2 tbl Maille Dijon Originale

2 tbl Maille Honey Dijon

2 tbl balsamic vinegar

2 tbl apple cider vinegar

¼ cup orange juice, freshly squeezed

1 tsp honey

sea salt and pepper, to taste

 

To prepare the mustard vinaigrette:

In a medium bowl or large measuring Pyrex cup, combine the ingredients. Whisk to emulsify and set aside.

 

For the salad:

1 cup (200g, 7oz) black rice

1/2 orange, segmented

1 large hot house cucumber, diced

1 cup pomegranate seeds

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped roughly

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tbl cumin seeds

½ tsp cayenne pepper, to taste

sprigs of thyme

1 orange slice, squeezed

1 avocado (optional)

 

To prepare the salad:

Cook the rice according to instructions on the package. My black rice ratio is 2 cups of water to 1 cup rice, 2:1 ratio for cooking. Check the rice to make sure it is cooked. There may be some excess water even if cooked properly. Drain. Allow the rice to cool.

Segment the orange, peeling the skin and pith off with a sharp paring knife. Cut fruit into bite sized pieces. Leave some orange pieces aside to top your rice salad. Chop and dice the cucumber into small pieces close to the size of a pomegranate seed. Mix in bowl with pomegranate seeds and toss in the cumin seeds. Rinse and chop parsley.

Toss rice gently with a tablespoon of avocado oil to loosen the stickiness, and then dress the rice with the mustard vinaigrette, careful not to add all of the dressing. Keep any extra vinaigrette in a glass jar for another use.

Add the cucumber, pomegranate, and parsley. Do not add the orange segments until last. Season with cumin, cayenne, more cumin seeds and garnish with oranges.

If you are going to serve this immediately, squeeze an orange slice on each individual plate or bowlful, top with avocado (optional) and a pinch of cayenne pepper if you like. Thyme sprigs and rosemary look very pretty around the dish for presentation.

[Note via Pom Wonderful: To prepare fresh pomegranate seeds or arils, score 1-2 large Pom Wonderful pomegranates and place in a bowl of water.

Break open the pomegranate under water to free the seeds. They will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the membrane will float to the top. Sieve and put the seeds in a separate bowl. Reserve 1 cup of the seeds from fruit and set aside. Refrigerate or freeze remaining seeds for another use.]

 

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Sweeter Than Honey

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“L’shana tovah u’metukah,” or as we now say simply, “l’shana tovah,” the Hebrew wish for a sweet new year. Food shared during Rosh Hashanah is symbolic— such as honey— for a happy and prosperous new year. Typically honey is eaten with apples during this holiday. Honey has been a symbol of sweetness in the Jewish heritage of poetry, as in this passage of Song of Songs: “Your lips, my bride, drip honey. Honey and milk are under your tongue, and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.” In these ancient rhapsodic poems, the beloved bride’s lips ‘drip honey’ symbolizing the sweetness of love.

According to the Jewish calendar, it’s the year 5775, which makes me ponder time and how we perceive and experience it. My grandma calls to wish us “l’shana tovah,” school is closed. My youngest daughter and I bake pumpkin spice madeleines. I’m not religious at all, yet I’m honoring my Jewish roots and celebrating the autumn solstice by baking pumpkin madeleines using freshly ground homemade pumpkin pie spices and sticky honey, which is, to me, the perfect way to relax and enjoy Rosh Hashanah morning. Out in the backyard, we share warm madeleines with tea, and I’m reminded of the writer Marcel Proust, how he fondly remembered the sensual combination of a crumbly madeleine dipped in a flowery tisane.

“…I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.”

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I love the fall not only for the cooler weather it brings, but for the baking and cooking that it inspires. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices like star anise and mace make me want to wrap myself in an apron, turn on the oven and whip up a batch of pumpkin spice muffins. I have madeleine pans, so I fill them with the extra batter. My youngest daughter helps, and we watch the batter spill over from one muffin cup to another.

“Uh-oh,” my daughter giggles.

“Quick!” I say, holding the bowl over the madeleine pan.

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I’ve read and re-read the passage written by Marcel Proust about tea and the madeleine while eating my own crumbly pumpkin madeleine cake, drizzled with honey and dipped in tea:

“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which I, too, cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.”

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I cannot take credit for making these from scratch. I used a boxed mix, adding a few spoonfuls of canned pumpkin into the batter, along with extra vanilla extract, pumpkin seed oil, and freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg. Sometimes, as a working mother, short cuts are allowed. If I could, I would’ve spent all morning creating the homemade recipe.

Trader Joe’s is my friend during the busy work week, and goodness there was a bounty of pumpkin items when I went in for a quick shop. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix is great to add your own touch to when you just want pumpkin bread or muffins without much ado. I added two heaping spoonfuls of their organic canned pumpkin, along with their brand of coconut and pumpkin seed oil rather than the suggested vegetable oil given by instruction on the side of the box. I have Cinnamon Hill cinnamon sticks to grate fresh amounts of cinnamon, and whole nutmeg.

For the mix version: Add two eggs, water, and vanilla into a bowl, all measured as directed on box. Pour the coconut and pumpkin seed oil in (again, measure as directed) then add the two tablespoons of canned pumpkin, and blend by hand. Add the dry mix. Grate cinnamon and nutmeg over batter. Stir. Pour into molds. Bake. It’s that easy.

For a recipe from scratch, here’s a pumpkin spice cake recipe I found (via Martha Stewart). You can substitute the butter with 1/2 cup coconut oil and a touch of pumpkin seed oil — or —  I suggest a 1/2 cup Earth Balance as a butter substitute. If you use Earth Balance, I recommend original (not whipped) or the vegan buttery sticks.

Pumpkin Spice Madeleines

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan (substitute Earth Balance or coconut oil)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons grated cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon whole grated nutmeg)

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar (raw coconut sugar is great instead of white sugar)

1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin puree (organic if you can)

 

DIRECTIONS

1) Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Butter — or use coconut oil spray– two madeleine baking pans. Mine make 12 madeleines per pan, so you’ll make 24 madeleines.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter (or oil), vanilla and pumpkin puree until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, and mix gently until smooth.

3) Pour batter into prepared madeleine molds. If you have extra batter, pour into muffin tins.

4) Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs, 25 to 30 minutes.

5) Cool cakes 10 minutes in pans, then turn out of pans, and cool completely.

6) Drizzle with honey and eat them slowly with tea while reading a book.

 

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