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Sunday Supper

Sunday-Supper-Title-Photo

On Sunday I look forward to making a family dinner. The farmers’ market is open in the morning, and that gives time to shop for fresh produce, plan a menu and cook. As I’m in the kitchen preparing a meal for my family, I recall the Ang Lee film, Eat Drink Man Woman. The scene opens with a the main character preparing Sunday dinner for his family. It’s a marvelous home cooking scene, most likely the best in film. The man, Master Chef Chu, a chef and widower, insists that his three daughters have a sit down dinner together every Sunday. One of the daughters calls this family dinner routine “Sunday torture” as she feels forced to endure this ritual, but the table is where the family is brought together. My own children may feel this sort of thing, as I attempt to make everyone eat as one family unit, without phones, including myself. (I save everything for #latergram. Promise.) 

Sunday-Dinner-Place

My three children are often involved in separate activities, so getting everyone to the table together is not an easy task, to say the least. I’ve longed to have the sort of family where everyone is at home, ready to dine and talk about their day, but with our modern arrangements being as they are– I have three children each with different dads, to add to that, my fiancé’s two daughters are with us sometimes, but live with their mother– well, it’s quite an idealistic concept to have us all together at the table at once. 

And I know I’m not alone in this.

Many families are as blended like ours, with complex schedules to consider. Teenagers involved in sports activities (like mine), and younger children happily off with their playdates, friends and occasional sleepovers. Then there’s eleven year old tween girls (like my daughter) that want to eat potato chips along with a green smoothie, ever so casually inclined to shrug off a wholesome and delicious plateful. Dinner? Instead, they would rather try their hand at YouTube makeup tutorials to get their eyebrows on fleek. Making this routine Sunday supper idea with everyone around the table isn’t always possible, fleeked or not. There are moments when my youngest daughter or the friend’s little sister comes out of the “YouTube powder room” with lipstick smeared all around her mouth because she wants to look like Miranda Sings. (If you don’t know who this is, you probably don’t have girls in the house.) Though it’s not quite the Cheaper By The Dozen scenario with the pet frog leaping into the platter of scrambled eggs and all. Ah, me with my June Cleaver tendencies to don an apron and set about cooking for everyone, while they edge themselves out of the Sunday dinner plan. It makes me want to grab a bullhorn and order everyone to sit down and stay put. So much for the slow and leisurely elegance of cooking, and the pleasures of the kitchen. Honestly, Tuesday dinners are much more appreciated and less stressful. (Taco Tuesday is an amazing plan.) Sound familiar? 

Sunday is also our chance for family outings to dine over dim sum— if dinner all together at home isn’t planned— or we are just too stuffed full with dumplings to think about a Sunday suppertime. (Tea and a light snack can suffice in the evening on those occasions.) We’ve had friends join us at the dim sum table, and the feeling is just as good as sharing a home cooked meal. Sometimes I think this is a better idea for Sunday suppers. My eleven year old can roll her eyes up toward her fleeked eyebrows at me, but I insist on dining together. It’s important. I won’t give up on this idea. 

So I joined up with Sunday Supper Movement, hopeful for a regular sit down dinner as a family. So far, it’s just a few of us that make it to the table. I consider having everyone home for Sunday supper a work in progress. (Maybe I can fleek out my eyebrows before cooking?) 

Sunday-Table-Chinese-Setting

I’ve created many breakfasts, brunches, lunches and dinners over the years for my family, so I know how to time the dishes coming out hot from the kitchen. Tonight, my youngest daughter (she’s seven) has her best friend and her friend’s little sister over to play (a feisty four year old who rips off Barbie heads), while my teenage son is with his best friend (working out together at the gym) but soon on the way (albeit after dinner has been served) and my eyebrow artist daughter is visiting with her father. Meanwhile, my sweetheart takes a luxuriously long nap, missing out on dinner completely. (We could hear him snoring all the way in the dining room.) He missed out on brown rice and quinoa bowls topped with sautéed garlic tofu and spinach, simmered kabocha squash, rainbow carrots and broccoli in miso sauce, and two bamboo steamer baskets full of dumplings. (His dinner will be served cold for having indulged in much more sleep than I ever get.) 

Sunday-Dumplings-Table

I really don’t mind trying to get everyone to the table on Sundays for dinner, but since the rain was pouring down, I skipped going to the farmers’ market this morning. Yes, I’m a bit obsessed with this Sunday thing. I fall madly in love with purple kale and freshly pulled from the earth carrots. I want as many juicy ripe plums, avocados and Meyer lemons as I can get into my canvas eco bag. Oh, and snacking on those empanadas. Those farm fresh eggs are the best too. 

farmers market produce

Instead of the Sunday farmers’ market shopping ritual, I baked. I had ingredients for coffee cake with pecan maple crumble, maple syrup, and a dollop of coffee crème fraîche. (Coffee crème fraîche is ridiculously decadent and too easy to make.) I stayed in my bathrobe and slippers until noon. My sweetie and I ate apples dipped in almond butter and honey, drank tea, then made coffee to have with coffee cake right out of the oven. (This is magical.) The wind was blowing wildly outside as the rain came down in sheets. I contemplated Sunday Supper (already knowing that rice and quinoa bowls were on the menu, along with those handy frozen dumplings). 

Sunday-Rice-Bowls

January has been a month of brown rice and quinoa bowls served with Asian style vegetables and toppings for dinner, in every variation. Coconut lemongrass curry, stir fry, Thai style, Japanese style, Chinese style. Poached eggs are one of my daily indulgences, and they are perfect with the leftover rice bowl ingredients in the morning. I’ve also discovered how easy frozen dumplings can be. Since this Sunday’s supper was planned without a farmers’ market excursion to inspire me (relying on rice bowls and dumplings once again), the coffee cake, in its pecan crumble glory, made a rainy morning bright. Clean eating can wait for years

Sunday-Coffee-CakeThe coffee cake was warm when I served it with coffee late this morning (my youngest daughter enjoyed it with chocolate soy milk) but it also makes a great dessert after dinner. I’m sure it won’t last more than a day in the kitchen, if that. At least we can call this weekend family gathering our Sunday coffee cake time, if not a proper supper. Amazing how the mention of cake brings everyone to the table. 

Sunday-BlueberriesI found these juicy blueberries at the farmers’ market a few Sundays ago, and they were delicious on top of ice cream for dessert, and coconut yogurt for breakfast. Sometimes Sunday suppers happen at brunch.
Sunday-Purple-CauliflowerWhen I am inspired by fresh vegetables, I create recipes in my mind as I’m shopping at the market. This purple cauliflower was visually appealing, so I just chopped it into florets and tossed them into a bowl with a dousing of olive oil and sea salt, and roasted it in the oven until lightly charred. Afterward, I shredded some white cheddar and Parmesan and sprinkled it all over the cauliflower. I’ve learned to keep things simple rather than get carried away with elaborate culinary experiments. If I want something spicy, like chili flakes, I serve it on the side for us grown ups that like it, because the children won’t generally, and the idea is to please all at the dining table. 

Sunday-Purple-Cauliflower-CheddarMy family and I love roasted cauliflower. Usually I roast the cauliflower with olive oil, curry powder and almonds, but this purple cauliflower was simply delicious with melted cheddar and chili flakes. Another regular family pleasing dish straight out of the oven, served without fuss from the sheet pan to the plate– sweet potatoes with kale and slivered almonds. So easy, right?

Sunday-Sweet-Potatoes-Kale

Sunday-Sweet-Potatoes

Leeks are abundant at this time of year. Leek soup is served up with crusty sourdough baguette, grated Parmesan, a dollop of Greek yogurt or crème fraîche, and ground black pepper. Going to the market gives me inspiration to create something I’ve wanted to try out instead of sticking to the same dishes. In the springtime there’s green garlic and fresh peas, summer brings sweet cherry tomatoes, and fall is when I’m making butternut squash soup or a hearty lentil stew. Some recipes are good standards while adapting your dinners according to the season and available produce. I fall in love with flavors and challenge myself to use different herbs and spices, change ingredients, and make something I’ve never tried before, like tamalesSunday-Leeks-Farmers-MarketSunday-Leek-SoupBecause I can’t leave you wondering, here’s my recipe for leek soup. (The coffee cake recipe will belong in its own post, and I assure you, once you try it, Sunday mornings everyone will want a piece. But back to the leeks.) You can blend this up and serve or prepare ahead and warm it up for your own Sunday Supper. I’ve adapted this recipe from one I liked in a cookbook, so change it as you please. I’m tempted to say my leek soup is on fleek. Maybe then, my eleven year old daughter would be more interested in Sunday dinners. I can remain hopeful. 

Leek Soup

6 medium leeks, about 3 pounds

4 tablespoons of good French butter (or substitute with vegan butter and/or olive oil)

5 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup rice

8 cups vegetable broth

10 ounces baby spinach, washed

1/2 cup crème fraîche (or substitute with any type of sour cream)

sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

grated nutmeg, to taste

2 tablespoons minced chives, garnish

grated Parmesan, garnish (optional)

 

  1. Wash and trim the leeks of the outer layer, green stems, and root bulb. Chop whites and light green parts in 1/2 inch slivers. Wash well as leeks tend to hold the muddy soil within their layers. 
  2. Melt butter (olive oil or equivalent) in heavy bottom pot on medium heat. Add leeks and a pinch of sea salt. Sauté under tender, stirring gently, for about 10 minutes. 
  3. Add the minced garlic and rice and cook for a few minutes. Add the broth and bring to simmer. Reduce once you’ve reached the simmer and keep on a low flame, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the spinach to the pot when the mixture is hot, allowing the spinach to wilt. 
  4. If you have a high speed blender that won’t melt with heat (such as a Vitamix) then you can blend the soup. Otherwise, allow the soup mixture to cool before blending. Blend in batches and transfer to a clean soup pot. 
  5. Season with sea salt, pepper, nutmeg, and garnish as you’d like. 
  6. If you’d like a creamier taste, crème fraîche is perfect with this soup. Cashew cream for a vegan substitute works quite fine as well. 
  7. Ladle into bowls, garnish and serve. 

 

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Homemade Veggie Tamales

Tamales-VeggieThe holiday season in Los Angeles means tamales are made by grandmas, mothers, daughters, and sometimes the entire family. Living near a Mexican mercado, the masa and corn husks are displayed in abundance, as the time to bring family together means putting tamales on the table. 

I had never made a tamale, but I have certainly eaten plenty of them. So I filled my shopping cart with everything to make them at home: masa, corn husks, banana leaves, chiles, jalapeños, spices, and veggies like butternut squash, zucchini, mushrooms, garlic. Mexican cheese such as queso fresco is similar to mozzarella, and queso requesón is close to ricotta. Black beans, tortillas, cilantro. I went into the kitchen and prepped all the ingredients, including some tortillas to make soft tacos to eat, because tamale making is a long process. 

Tamales-Corn-Husk-Wrappers

Zucchini and butternut squash cut into small pieces, roasted in olive oil, salted, spiced, the aroma filling the house. Sautéed mushrooms, roasted chiles, all of the fillings prepared, the corn husks soaked, the masa filling ready in bowls. I set up my own assembly line with all of the ingredients at hand with a row of softened corn husks ready for filling. I made five at a time on my wooden board, spreading the tamale masa on each husk, a spoonful, then two spoonfuls. Each tamale was filled with a spoonful of veggie filling, then wrapped up in the corn husk. It took me some time to figure out how to wrap the tamales, but once I did a few, it became easier. 

Since this was my first time making tamales, I wasn’t sure how they would come out. 

Tamale-Green-Chile

The roasted green chile, black bean and cheese tamales were perfectly moist in texture and quite flavorful. A squeeze of lime, some extra queso fresco and cilantro.

Tamales-Table

Green chile salsa, jalapeño, lime, scallions on top of butternut squash and black bean tamales. 

Tamale-Kale-Veggie

Dark green Tuscan kale, roasted green chiles, queso fresco, cilantro, red chile salsa, crema. 

Tamale-Crema

I found a vegetarian tamale recipe to make masa from scratch via Vegetarian Times. If not vegetarian, prepared tamale masa can be found at Mexican supermarkets. My tamales were enjoyed by everyone on Christmas eve, and the few left in the steamer basket were our lunch the next day. Cooked tamales can be wrapped up and kept for a week in the fridge or sealed up in plastic bags and frozen until you are in the mood for some deliciously satisfying tamales. 

 

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Chocolate Truffles

Raw-Vegan-Chocolate-Truffles-BoxThese chocolate truffles are one of the simplest raw vegan treats to make. They’re lovely to look at, full of delicious ingredients, with a rich, decadent taste. I think this recipe may cause me to introduce the catch phrase “naughty and nice eating” (and I’m sure Santa isn’t into ‘clean eating’ anyway). Maybe leave some of these truffles with those cookies and milk by the Christmas tree? 

As I was making a few batches of my favorite pumpkin spice granola this morning to give to friends as gifts, I thought I’d try to make some of these chocolate truffles as well. Granola baking in the oven makes the house smell so wonderful, with an aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg, so I was inspired to make more holiday gift treats. 

To make these chocolate truffles, you’ll need a few special ingredients, but nothing too difficult to find. Of course, it’s easy to improvise and make your own flavor combinations, just add what you already have in your pantry— such as pecans, pistachios, and cocoa, for instance. I make mattcha tea lattes at home, so I have a lot of green tea powder in my cabinet readily available.

You can find mattcha (powdered green tea) at Japanese grocery stores. If you don’t have access to a Japanese supermarket like I do, it can be ordered online. I recommend Maeda-en mattcha for your chocolate truffles. I enjoy all kinds of mattcha and particularly enjoy their “Matcha Booster” in Genmai (roasted rice) flavor.

The deep red chocolate truffle is coated with the natural color and flavor of raspberries. All I did was pulverize freeze dried raspberries in the coffee grinder to make it into a ruby red powder. So beautiful, yes? Trader Joe’s carries a selection of freeze dried fruits: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, mandarin oranges, etcetera. Pulse your choice of freeze dried fruit in a high speed blender or use a coffee grinder to make it into powder for your chocolate truffle coating flavor. 

You can find the freshest dates in most Mediterranean supermarkets. I have one market near my house that has the juiciest dates and they sell them at their pastry counter along with the baklava and cookies. If you don’t find these kind of dates, you can soak packaged dates in warm water for a few minutes and then dry them to soften the dates for blending. Dates are the base ingredient for these chocolates, lending a chewy caramel texture and natural sweetness. The dates are blended with cacao powder for a rich chocolate taste. I used Navitas Naturals brand. 

Chocolate Truffles

makes 1 dozen or two gift boxes of 6 truffles

2 cups medjool dates, pitted

1/2 cup unsweetened cacao powder, plus more for dusting

2 tablespoon coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

 

Truffle Coatings

mattcha green tea powder

freeze dried raspberry powder

toasted coconut flakes

ground nuts (I used pistachios and pecans)

cacao nibs

cacao powder, unsweetened (Navitas Naturals)

açai berry powder

  1. Make the chocolate truffle paste in a food processor and blend all ingredients together until smooth. (If you want to prepare each flavor with a separate flavored chocolate truffle paste batch— like adding raspberry powder to your date/cacao powder paste— you can do so, but keep in mind it will change the overall flavor.) 
  2. Prepare all of your chocolate truffle coatings (mattcha green tea, cacao nibs, raspberry powder, ground nuts, coconut flakes, cacao powder) and have them ready to roll in dipping bowls.
  3. Scoop the chocolate truffle paste out of the food processor with a spoon and roll them into a bite-sized ball. It helps to oil your hands with some coconut oil first because the paste can be very sticky. Don’t worry— once you refrigerate the chocolate truffles, the coconut oil helps solidify them to a chocolate texture. 
  4. Dip each rolled ball into its selected coating. I recommend that you choose the same coating for two or four each (depending on how many batches you are making of course) and wash your hands for each kind so you don’t have to wash your hands too many times in between. Handle the covered truffle carefully. You can also decorate the top of each one with the dust of another to make them prettier and go together visually.
  5. Set on parchment paper and refrigerate until set.
  6. Package your truffles in a pretty box as a gift or save them for a sweet treat.  

Give a box of chocolate truffles as a gift for the holidays, or treat your special Santa with some of these decadently nice and deliciously naughty chocolate truffles on Christmas Eve. Makes a great gift box for friends, yoga teachers, tea lovers, and anyone that loves sweets (including yourself). 

Happy Holidays! 

 

Raw-Chocolate-Truffles-Bowls

Raw-Chocolate-Truffle-Cocoa-Raspberry

 Raw-Vegan-Chocolate-Truffles

 

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Hot Chocolate

Hot-Almond-Chocolate

“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.”
(Joanne Harris, Chocolat)

Chocolate. Its temptation, dark, rich, like a forbidden kiss, lingers on the tongue and exists in our memory, where it lives forever. We remember our first taste. A piece stolen from the fridge in the middle of the night. A chocolate bar given to us as a child. A box of truffles for Valentine’s Day. 

Hot chocolate has always comforted me when I’m melancholy, and as December comes I am seeking solace in a warm cup. My youngest daughter and I make chocolate chip cookies, and as we take them hot from the oven, the chocolate melts. We eat them as hot as we can handle, we cannot resist them.

Chocolate. The Aztecs drank it luxuriously with chili peppers, vanilla beans, spices and served it in gold goblets. The Spanish of the sixteenth century became addicted to chocolate, and as its popularity spread, it was prepared hot and thick with orange, vanilla and spices. Spanish conquistadors of the time drank the Aztec cacahuatl (cocoa water) or xocoatl (xoco means “bitter” and atl means water) which sometimes contained cornmeal or hallucinogenic mushrooms. In Andalusia, it became chocolate from chocolatl, and a Chocolatadas culture emerged. A piping hot churro dipped in a demitasse of velvety chocolate (churro y chocolate) is how I’ve come to know the sultry side of hot chocolate, the kind of chocolate served at a chocolate café in Barcelona. 

It’s simple to improvise a cup of hot chocolate, as no one recipe is the only way. The base of the recipe is some good quality chocolate (ScharffenBerger 60%-70% dark or stone ground dark chocolate such as Chocovivo) and milk. I’m fond of whole milk, but lately prefer nut milks like almond (which complements chocolate), but if you aren’t up to making your own almond milk like I do— just use a good store bought brand. I personally like the taste of almond milk with chocolate, however, use this recipe as a guide to adapt as you please. I love to steep the almond milk with a split vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. My favorite cinnamon? Cinnamon Hill brand makes a gorgeous wooden cinnamon grater (seen in many of my photos) and they have the best Ceylon and Saigon cinnamon sticks for baking and cooking use. The freshly harvested cinnamon is so fragrant when you grate the sticks, you cannot imagine using pre-ground cinnamon again.

Adding your own blend of flavoring is also what makes your hot chocolate. You can spice it up with ancho chile powder and cinnamon sticks to enjoy it Mexican style, or warm it up with chai spices for that cozy nestle in by the fireplace with a good book feeling. I also like a splash of Amaretto for an Italian hot chocolate, with fresh grated nutmeg on top of whipped cream. 

The chocolate itself makes the hot cocoa. The rustic stone ground type is my favorite, and I suppose that says something about me. Once when I was wandering the farmers’ market here in Los Angeles, I discovered a bar of chocolate that made my chocolate melting dreams complete: Chocovivo. They had samples, and of course I tasted all of them, but by far my favorite was named Shangri La. It has toasted black sesame and pieces of goji berries in it. This chocolate melts so beautifully, it will make you give up the cocoa powders of the past for a hot cup of chocolate. 

Another chocolate experience that came as revelation in a cup like a Proustian fantasy— a thick-as-melted-ganache hot chocolate served in a paper mug with a floating island of real whipped cream on top, cold to the tongue, while underneath this glacier of cream was pure chocolate lava. This hot chocolate was an awakening to my senses. It wasn’t thinned down with milk. The chocolate was bittersweet with a roasted taste that paired in harmony with the plain and cold whipped cream. 

Here are some ideas for your holiday hot chocolate: 

Just Hot Chocolate: semi or bittersweet chocolate bar + milk 

Mexican Hot Chocolate: chocolate + milk + ancho chile powder + cayenne + cinnamon

Chai Chocolate: chocolate + milk + cinnamon + nutmeg + cardamom + ginger powder

Amaretto Chocolate: chocolate + milk + amaretto 

Haute Chocolat: the fanciest stone ground chocolate bar + milk + whip cream + sea salt 

I’ve searched for holiday recipes and ideas to make the best hot chocolate at home as well as for gifts during the season. You could make this chocolate mixture for yourself and also put the extra mix in a jar for a gift to someone who may be as passionate about chocolate as you are. 

Hot Chocolate Mix

1/4 cup raw granulated sugar (or coconut sugar, optional)
4 ounces chocolate of your choice (60% cacao) chopped 
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of kosher sea salt

— Blend all ingredients in a food processor until powdery.

— Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond, whole, or soy) in a  saucepan over low to medium heat.

— Add a few spoonfuls of the hot chocolate mix. Add spices and/or flavorings of your choice.

— Whisk over heat until warm and the mix has melted and incorporate it well.

— Blend and serve topped with whipped cream (there’s some delicious vegan coconut whip out there, or go on and use that homemade whipped cream made with vanilla bean), grated cinnamon, or however you’d like it. 

Hot-Almond-Milk-Chocolate

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Thanksgiving Gratitude

HarvestPumpkinSquashMy grand idea for this year’s Thanksgiving went to the wayside when several family issues occurred. Being a mother, I had to pay more attention to my children rather than anything else. I had been imagining what to make for Thanksgiving since August, staring out upon my barren backyard and dusty patio, visualizing a table full of feast, family and friends. Plans changed, and this year will be a light lunch served with butternut squash soup— which I happen to take pleasure in making every year— and then we’re loading into the car to have a proper Thanksgiving at our friends’ house later in the afternoon. 

When I’m cooking, the world is a peaceful place, and my kitchen is where I want to be. Thanksgiving is my most favorite holiday.

During the week, I’ve become accustomed to picking up a burrito for myself when my low blood sugar level is sinking, so I pick up more burritos for dinner, because the kids like them, and they’re fairly healthy. I actually find them quite satisfying: black beans, brown rice, veggies and, of course, loads of guacamole. I eat avocados almost daily, and my cousin in rainy England reminds me of how lucky we are for all the avocado bounty we have in California. There’s a Mexican supermarket close to my house in the valley that shames even the grandest Whole Foods Market display of avocados. The first time I discovered it, I heard angels singing and the mountain of avocados for .59 each (that’s two perfectly ripe avocados for a little over a dollar) looked like one of those pot of gold cartoons with the shining visual animation. 

The fantasy of taking a vacation drifts along the landscape of my thoughts while I’m waiting for the left turn signal. I have perspective and realize that my toughest days aren’t the worst, because I don’t like complaining or wallowing in negative thoughts, I still have gratitude. 

thisisfall

I thought that I’d have my garden designed and planted by this time, with pretty tableware and plenty of food for the celebration. In my mind, I had a whole spread on the table, better than last year, though it was quite amazing that I churned out nine vegan-inspired dishes for twelve people, in addition, desserts. I found my kitchen notes stashed away in a drawer while I was cleaning, and remembered all that I made— mashed potatoes with a rich mushroom gravy, cornbread stuffing, wild rice pilaf, grilled sweet potatoes and kabocha, my ritual butternut squash soup, mushroom soup, green beans and a colorful kale salad with hazelnuts and lemon. I also made endive with figs and honey chèvre and grapes. I made a pumpkin pie and an apple galette, served with coconut ice cream, as well as caramel sauce, just because. 

Eddie is a carnivorous eater, as are his two young daughters, my teenage son and my two daughters, so there’s not a chance that a Thanksgiving spread can be completely vegan, however, it is much appreciated and they do eat a lot of vegetables to appease me. It’s Eddie’s job to acquire our ritual Chinese-style turkey, which is made by our friend Chef Liang in Chinatown at his restaurant Hop Woo. These Chinese turkeys are made like they do a roast duck— then stuffed with rice and glazed with sauce. I have nothing to do with the turkey, but I cannot deny them this ritual on Thanksgiving. To make me happy, Eddie takes me out to the Chinese neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley for dinner dates— he intentionally seeks out the tofu abundant vegetarian options to please me. The teapot is refilled; we drink many cups without hurry. He makes the bed every morning, he scrubs the toilets without my asking, washes dishes every once in awhile (a skill acquired from his first job at one of Disneyland’s themed restaurants). He also babysits so I can work later, and adds many honey-filled bears to the tea cabinet at home, encourages my writing goals, tolerates my existentialist angst, and understands me when I’m at my lowest. For all of my positives and negatives, he loves me. I am grateful for that. 

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy— they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” (Marcel Proust)

Gratitude is written in chalk on the framed chalkboard sign above my stove. I look at this everyday. When I’m cooking or when I’m making tea at night, I contemplate gratitude. 

It’s easy to feel complete contentment when things are going right, but something in the depth of my soul seeks to push me beyond this place. Perhaps it’s the way of a creative spirit. We seek to constantly move beyond ourselves, improve, strive to make things even better. This is good when you are cooking, because the creative act is like meditation, and you can think about how to make food with more love in it. I like to keep a positive mind when cooking. I intentionally think about happy moments, such as the birth of my children, laughter, funny things that have happened, and love itself. You cannot think of your troubles when cooking. Just like the story Like Water For Chocolate, your emotions transfer into the food you prepare, at least that is what I believe. I’m superstitious about this and will not cook when angry, sad, depressed, exhausted or incredibly hungry. 

I also find when I haven’t cooked or even prepared a meal in a long time (not everything requires heating or cooking by flame), I’m out of sorts. My body hurts, my mind is clouded with things that aren’t working, and I can’t relax properly. Being creative, I need to paint, write, make love or cook. It comes down to those things that make me the most happy and peaceful. Even the act of giving love to my children in the form of  hugs and cooking meals is nourishing to the soul.HarvestPumpkinsBasket

Gratitude is the experience of emotion that is rooted in appreciation for what is good. We can show our gratitude, parallel to giving love, by sharing. We all want to feel appreciated. I’ve been and am grateful for two very dear friends of mine who have helped me insurmountably, and without their kindnesses, I would be lost. I am grateful to my son’s best friends’ parents who have helped us over the years and opened their home and hearts to us. I am grateful to my former lover for opening my heart and soul. He was the catalyst for this blog and to this day I keep two of his gift cards on display near my writing desk— each one has a picture of a typewriter— and his handwritten note that says: “you inspire, your great gifts, your heart, inspires” which will always remind me of how he believed in me and my talents. I will always hold gratitude in my heart for the beautiful moments we shared and all of the food he lovingly prepared for me, as well as the many meals he wooed me with, and all that he did to show his love. I am most grateful for my three children, because without them I would not know the depth of love itself, or have the experience of being a mother, which has changed the direction of my life and its purpose. I am grateful for sharing love and being with someone who allows me the space I need to grow, expand my dreams, goals, and talents. He shares a parallel path, which isn’t an easy one, of raising children and pursuing writing as a career. I am grateful for his efforts in being my loving partner, for listening to me expound on life’s many events, my deepest thoughts, hopes, dreams, and the miraculousness of being alive. Also, for listening to me rant about terrible days. 

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The world and its news is filled with tragedies, horrors, sadnesses, and, because of the recent Paris attacks, my heart drowns in sorrow. I cannot fathom the losses due to the deaths of those killed in Paris, France, nor any other country and city. Loss and sorrow fill those hearts of many around the world during these holidays. My heart sinks when I imagine what their days and nights are like without those they loved. Mothers lost their children, husbands lost their wives, wives lost their husbands, children lost their parents, lovers lost their beloveds, friends lost their friends. There have been atrocities, killings, hatred and innocent people forever gone to this world. I try not to imagine, and maybe it’s morbid of me, but in my way, it’s giving love back to the heart of existence on this planet. I try to put myself in the place of the husband who lost his wife, and feel his pain. The depth of his anguish. The empty space by his bed where she slept. The mother who lost her daughter who was in college abroad. There are no words to give these people, and their every day forward is without that person they loved so entirely. In each meditation, as I am driving in the morning, or if I am standing in line at the supermarket, I stay present, observing each person, trying to understand that we are all here together on this earth, figuring out what life is, how we want to spend it, and forgetting how quickly it all ends, sometimes without warning, due to accident, sickness, terrorism, violence. We cannot know. 

When I gave birth to my second child, my daughter, I felt her body coming through me and I began to laugh. It was in that moment something beyond consciousness was deeply experienced— I don’t know— I kept repeating variations of “I don’t know” until it was an amusing revelation. I was completely open, a vessel for life. I knew absolutely nothing. This was it. The spiritual realization of “I don’t know” gave me utter freedom. 

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Gratitude isn’t an easy one. Genetic researchers have discovered that some people are inclined to appreciate more than others. I’ve noticed in my three children such variations in their own abilities to appreciate what they have or bemoan what they don’t. 

I feel gratitude for what I have in this life. I seek love, give love, ask for love and in cooking for those I love, I am giving them my appreciation, compassion, happiness, peaceful thoughts and love as ingredients. 

Since I’ve not had the means to create what I envisioned for this year’s Thanksgiving, I have to change my mindset and believe that it is enough, though maybe not how I wanted it to be. Letting go of the perfect Thanksgiving, it becomes the perfect Thanksgiving, though maybe not in the catalogue-beautiful, sunset-picturesque perfection way, or maybe it is

 Just being present in gratitude of life itself is enough. Making soup comforts, celebrating making something good out of what you have. 

The cinder block wall in the backyard will eventually be covered with bamboo fencing. The grass removed will be replanted with longer fescue grass, another citrus tree, a Meyer lemon, will be planted, some stone paving, an area to grow vegetables— those pesky squirrels better not eat them because I’ll cover the edible garden with netting, though my poor oranges are plundered the moment they are ripe.

I’ll have my youngest daughter set up the table, prepare our Thanksgiving day luncheon, and perhaps next year at this time I’ll have more friends over, share more, give more. This year, I needed the giving to, and that also means, giving to myself the patience and gratitude in just being alive and grateful for that. There are those who are not, and there are those who have much harder lives that worrying about their vegetable gardens being eaten by squirrels.

I consider myself fortunate and with a full heart I wish my readers a Happy Thanksgiving, because we have much to be thankful for here on earth. Let’s celebrate by making something to eat and share with those we love. That act of love and kindness is all that matters, and we can make it better, in small ways, with this chain effect of gratitude and giving. 

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I’m sharing my butternut squash soup recipe, because it’s my ritual. Also, I’m trying out a few other recipes this year, mainly due to meeting Nigella Lawson most recently, so I’ll choose a few recipes from her latest cookbook for our mid-day Thanksgiving lunch (we’ll see how I did in recreating them, Nigella). From Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food, I’m making Warm Spiced Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad with Pomegranate Seeds as part of our lunch, then baking a Cider 5-Spice Bundt Cake. I think the Smoky Salted Caramel Sauce might go well with the No-Churn Pumpkin Ice Cream and maybe those delectable Nutella Brownies are a good thing to make as an offering to our friends. I did receive a vegan recipe from Matthew Kenney’s chef, so that’s a good one to try for lunch— Forager’s Thanksgiving Pie. It has wild mushrooms and sweet potatoes, so really, you can’t go wrong. This recipe was sent to me via email from Matthew Kenney. Honestly, all of the sweet potatoes just make me smile in gratitude. I’ll try that recipe for another post, because the abundance of mushrooms and sweet potatoes give endless pleasure. 

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There are so many ways to make butternut squash soup. I’ve added other squashes, such as kabocha and pumpkin, however there is something about the way butternut squashes blend that have me in awe of the silky texture. The main ingredient I find essential to this particular soup is cashew. Cashews lend a light yet velvety taste with some creamy heft to the soup without butter and/or cream. However, you may add butter and cream to be indulgent, I won’t blame you. If you want the pleasure of a creamy soup that is low-fat and healthy, just use cashews. 

For those with nut allergies, cashews won’t work. I’m making two pots of this soup this year— one with cashews and one without, as we have one of our children that cannot eat nuts. Think for your guests. If you do choose to make this soup with cashew nuts and suspect someone may be allergic, please mention before they ladle up a bowl. In that case, substitute with coconut cream or whole milk cream, if either of those options fit. Yukon Gold potatoes also add a creaminess without the use of dairy or nuts. 

Additionally, adding coconut cream gives it an Indian and South Asian taste, which is complimentary to the use of cashews and curry spices like coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, cumin, and nutmeg. Fresh grated turmeric root and ginger adds a spicy zing to the soup. You can garnish with cilantro and kaffir lime leaves and a few toasted cardamom seeds which changes up the Thanksgiving usuals. Poblano chilies are a spicy shift from the typical flavors during this holiday, and can be magical when added to this squash soup, but you must serve with warm cornbread for dipping. 

Squash soup with brown butter, fried sage leaves, nutmeg and whole milk cream is another variation that pleases the senses. Use this base recipe and then create the flavor with your choice of spices, cream, nuts, butter and garnish. Here are some suggestions:

cinnamon/nutmeg/honey
toasted hazelnuts/cream/brown butter/fried sage leaves
gruyere/hazelnuts/crème fraîche
coconut cream/garam masala spices
pumpkin oil/fresh grated turmeric root/nutmeg
croutons/caramelized red onions/fried sage leaves

Butternut Squash Soup

INGREDIENTS

6 tbsp. olive oil

3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut 

4-6 cups vegetable stock, to add as needed 

2 tbl lemon juice, plus more to taste

1 cup of milk or cream (substitute coconut cream)

1 cup cashews, soaked in stock (optional if allergy)

2 or 3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

sea salt and spices (to taste)

DIRECTIONS

Heat the oven to 400F. Peel and seed the squash: cut in half then lengthwise, then put cut side down on board and slice off skin carefully. Scoop out seeds. Cut into 2 inch cubes. 

Peel and chop shallots. If using cashews, soak them in the broth awhile. Scrub, peel and chop potatoes. 

Toss the squash, potatoes and shallots with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. A splash of marsala or sherry gives sweetness to the roasting and I tend to do this, but it’s not necessary. Spread the squash mixture on baking sheet pans and roast in the oven for about 30 to 45 minutes. Stir the roasting squash to get an even browning while they are in the oven. 

Place the roasted squash in a large soup pot with 2 cups of vegetable stock and simmer on the stovetop for about 20 minutes. Add the cashew with broth (if you are using cashews). Then turn off flame and purée the soup in a high speed blender or use an immersion blender. Have a separate soup pot to transfer the blended soup into as you puree in batches. Add more broth to temper the texture of your soup. 

Bring the puréed soup back to simmer and season with lemon juice, spices, sea salt, and whatever ingredients you choose from the suggested list of options. Balance the sweet to acid, salty and spice. 

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