I noticed this when the weather dipped to cooler temperatures. With the recent swing back to Houston’s humid summer temperatures, I noticed it again.
My kitchen barometer is the coconut oil.
During the summer it was a liquid and during the cooler days, it becomes solid.
Other things that melt in Houston: massage bars, solid hair conditioner and chocolate. Those warnings about using expedited shipping so that your items don’t spoil? Well, let it be known: chocolate will melt en route to my home. Thank goodness it still tasted great. That massage bar, unfortunately, could not be salvaged.
Wipe away your tears with these fantastic raw peppermint patties. They were delicious and you would never have known they were raw. A buttery mint filling courtesy of ground cashews and coconut flour with a touch of coconut oil is enveloped by a thick chocolate coating.
They may look like lumps of coal, but they certainly did not taste like it.
I don’t know whether it was the temperature or the humidity, but I had a bit of trouble making these homemade peppermint patties. I have made chocolate truffles before - classic lemon bittersweet chocolate truffles, chocolate peanut butter truffles and even raw maca chocolates - but this was the first time my chocolate turned out more like play dough instead of a thinner liquid! This meant I had a much thicker coating for my peppermint patties which I wrapped around with my hands. Double the chocolate, which was great, since they tasted fantastic.
Also a note about coconut flour (again): it is defatted ground coconut so it lends a different texture. It also absorbs a lot of liquid, which is why it is so different than regular dried coconut. I am also convinced that different brands absorb more, so adjust the recipe as you go. I ended up adding more coconut flour since it was too liquidy with the original recipe. If you don’t have coconut flour, try these recipes that use dried coconut instead.
This recipe is courtesy of The Simply Raw Kitchen. The cookbook is from a raw restaurant in Ottawa, Simply Raw Express, and features both cooked and raw recipes (despite what the title may suggest otherwise). All vegan and whole-foods based. All gluten-free. With a bit of Austrian in her background, some of her Eastern European-inspired dishes really called to me: Austrian Blaukraut, Krautfleckerl, Lovage (Chickpea) Dumplings, Mushroom Goulash as well as Lemon Dill Cheeze and Aged Peppercorn Cheeze. However, it was her collection of (mostly raw) desserts that I could not shake from my mind: Better Pecan Pie with Shortbread Crust, Austrian Linzer Squares, Cloud Lime Pie, Orange Chocolate Blossom Tart, Holiday Nut Nog.
I know I say it all the time, but I really want to share this cookbook with you. Thankfully the publisher is letting me give a cookbook to one reader living in the US or Canada. To be entered, please leave a comment here, telling me which recipe you’d like to try the most (or if you have a recipe from Natasha that you recommend). Have a look through the index of The Simply Raw Kitchen on amazon (or my list below) or pick something from her website and tell me what you want to cook the most. I will randomly select a winner on December 7, 2013. Good luck!
Other recipes shared from The Simply Raw Kitchen:
Time flies. I have already passed the 4 month mark. One-third of my time in Houston. I already know what I will remember the most. Mosquitoes and potlucks. The mosquitos are relentless and well, I am discovering the joys of vegan potlucks.
I have been to many a potluck, but usually that means I bring a dish I will be eating. It is usually the only vegan component and I try to make it a complete meal, like a hearty bean or whole grain salad. Even though that is my specialty, it kind of limits my repertoire.
All vegan potlucks are a whole other ballpark. I know I will find plenty of food (and they have been really tasty!) and therefore, I can branch out to try something new. Furthermore, some foods lend better to a buffet set-up than others, so I have been testing out new ideas.
Enter the cucumber sandwich. Not a tea sandwich, this one replaces the bread for cucumber, creating a crunchy bite-sized nimbler. Easy to add to your plate and no fussy sauce that can leach and contaminate the next dish over. (I have adopted the 2 plate strategy for potlucks- 1 plate for savoury and 1 plate for desserts!) Perfect for those who want a gluten-free and nut-free snack… and raw, to boot. For me right now, raw has become more synonymous with easy food prep.
This dish, while easy to prep, is a bit more fussy than my typical one-pot meals. Puree your cucumber and lemon juice into a mayonnaise-like consistency and pulse in the cool and crisp cucumbers and herbs. The lemon juice should prevent the avocado from oxidizing but try not to make them too far in advance. Hopefully they will be devoured and none will remain after they have been served.
What are your go-to potluck dishes?
Other dishes I shared at potlucks this year:
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this week’s Raw Food Thursdays, this month’s Cooking with Herbs, to this month’s Random Recipes, and to this month’s Veg Cookbook Club for Isa Does It.
See below for the giveaway for Isa Does It!
If I had to pick a vegan rockstar, it would be Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Long ago, we was rocking it out on television, but now mostly vegan chef, author and blogger. She has penned 7 vegan cookbooks and her eighth book has been eagerly anticipated. As she explains in her newest cookbook, Isa Does It, her title makes more sense once you know her first name is pronounced Ee-sa. Thus, her title is a play on Easy Does It.
As such, Isa Does It highlights mostly simple, quicker recipes (under 30 minutes!) that are foremost tasty. This is a cookbook for the beginner chef as well as those who want to reinvigorate their kitchens with new scents and textures, without breaking the bank or spending hours on top of the stove. Isa explains how she stocks her pantry, her kitchen cabinets and then details specific beginner techniques (with step-by-step photos), such as how to butcher tofu and tempeh.
With 11 recipe chapters that span the gamut from quick soups, salads, handheld, bowls, curries and stir fries, there is a lot of variety. Furthermore, not much is left untouched as Isa also includes fancier “Sunday night suppers” and breakfast/brunch ideas, too. Rest assured, complete meals are encouraged as desserts are included, too.
I admire Isa for a fabulously tantalizing blog, sharing her delicious creations. I guess it should be no surprise that some of my favourite recipes from her blog appear in the cookbook (see below). In addition, of the 150 recipes in the cookbook, the majority are brand-spanking new.
Beefy asparagus stir-fry with fresh herbs. Okra gumbo with chickpeas and kidney beans. Quinoa Caesar salad. Cucumber Ranch bowl with breaded tofu. Edamame hummus and tofu wraps. Belgian beer and seitan stew. Baked garlic-curry fries. Chickpea-Rice soup with cabbage. Coconut chana saag. Chandra Malai kofta. Goddess noodles with tempeh and broccoli. My Thai overnight scramble, breakfast scrambled chickpeas, oh please.
If you have tried Isa’s recipe before, you know the name of each dish never gives you the full picture. They are very descriptive of the ingredients, but something so simple may be more than the sum of its parts. I am eagerly waiting to pounce through this cookbook, page-by-page. Chocolate gingerbread cookies, anyone? I can already vouch for the ancho lentil tacos, tempeh orzilla, Jerk Sloppy Joes, lemon-garlic fava beans and mushrooms, chana masala (not my favourite but Rob liked it well enough), cucumber avocado tea sandwiches, chai spiced snickerdoodles, and now her delicious Moroccan harira with eggplant and chickpeas.
Harira is a Moroccan soup/stew that I have been meaning to recreate since I travelled to Morocco. Let’s just say it has been on my to-make list for many years. It wasn’t until I saw Isa’s recipe that I jumped at the chance to try it out. Harira is a very forgiving recipe. As I travelled through Morocco, nearly every restaurant had a different version of harira. Some with chickpeas, some with lentils, sometimes both beans, some with tomatoes, others with ginger, some with herbs, others not. I cannot say that I saw any with eggplant, but that is Isa’s slant.
First, I made a few tweaks to Isa’s recipe… mainly because I had no vegetable broth, so I used my impromptu nooch plus random spice blend. This time, I threw in dried parsley, lemon pepper and the 21-spice seasoning from Trader Joe’s. I also substituted spiralized zucchini for the noodles. Ingenious, if I may say so myself. Anyways, less about me, more about Isa. This soup was great. Bulky and satisfying with chickpeas and lentils in a flavourful tomato broth spiced with ginger, cinnamon, smoked paprika and saffron. Fresh mint and cilantro add a lightness, along with the finishing lemon juice. I use saffron so sparingly I am glad I finally found a great use for it! The textural foil of the noodles with the beans was perfect.
For someone new to veganism, the ingredient lists in her recipes may still seem a tad overwhelming (vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, chickpea flour, cashews, wine and fresh herbs) but these are rather commonplace in a vegan’s kitchen. Except the saffron, because well, that’s not a regular ingredient. Once you have access to fresh herbs, it is hard to return to the dried ones, so I understand the recent push for quality ingredients.
I really want to share this cookbook with you. Thankfully the publisher is letting me give a cookbook to one reader living in the US or Canada. To be entered, please leave a comment here, telling me about your favourite Isa recipe. If you haven’t made anything by Isa yet, have a look through the table of contents of Isa Does It on amazon (or my list below) and tell me what you want to cook the most. I will randomly select a winner on October 31, 2013. Good luck!
PPS. If you pre-ordered your cookbook already, don’t forget to get your free Isa Does It tote bag.
PPPS. Versions of Isa’s dishes made previously, not all from Isa Does It (more recommended dishes can be found listed here):
Ancho Lentil Salad Wraps
Black Bean and Kabocha Squash Rancheros
Roasted Beet Salad with Warm Maple Mustard Dressing and Tempeh Croutons
White Bean, Quinoa and Kale Stew with Fennel
Asparagus, Nectarine and Baby Lima Bean Lettuce Wrap
Naked Oats with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Crumbled Tempeh
Tomato-Basil Zucchini Noodle Salad
Brown Sugar Cardamom Snickerdoodles
PPPPS. Isa’s recipes in Isa Does It that she has already shared on her blog, Post Punk Kitchen:
Everyday Pad Thai
Seitan & Broccoli with Pantry BBQ Sauce
Cucumber Avocado Tea Sandwiches with Dill & Mint
Roasted Potato & Fennel Soup
Chickpea-Rice Soup with Cabbage
New England Glam Chowder
Quarter Pounder Beet Burger
Olive Lentil Burgers
Jerk Sloppy Joes with Coconut Creamed Spinach
Sunflower Mac (and Cheese)
Roasted Butternut Alfredo
Ancho Lentil Tacos
Pesto Risotto with Roasted Zucchini
Chili Pumpkin Cranberry Risotto with Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Red Lentil Thai Chili
Dilly Stew with Rosemary Dumplings
Meaty Beany Chili with Corn Muffins
Okra Gumbo with Chickpeas & Kidney Beans
Lemon Garlic Fava Beans & Mushrooms
Summer Seitan Saute with Cilantro and Lime
Tamale Shepherd’s Pie
Nirvana Enchilada Casserole
Garlicky Thyme Tempeh
Puffy Pillow Pancakes
Carrot Cake Pancakes
Marbled Banana Bread
Chai Spice Snickerdoodles
Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies
Note: I was given a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own. You know I would have loved this book and would have bought my own copy.
Apparently, the worst is behind me.
While my homies in Canada relish in local winter squashes, apples and other fall delights, Houston is experiencing its autumn as well. Last weekend as Rob and I went out for our weekly cronut ride, wherein we no longer buy cronuts, almost overnight, after the torrential rains had abated, there was a bit of a nip in the morning air. Of course, this is still Houston. It is all relative. Translation: It was only 20C (68F) that morning but I was cold in my sleeveless shirt and shorts. My parents are battling frost warnings at night, and their highs are still our lows. A few days later and a few degrees more, we are back in summer mode. As I write this, at 6am on the last Saturday in September, it is 25C, feels like 36C (77F and 97F respectively). Five degrees short of the day’s high. Woe is me. I am really looking forward to this “winter”. Perhaps this could entice more people to come visit me??
While I have not yet been craving kabocha squashes, I spotted a stalk of Brussels sprouts at the grocer. With a cute tag that exclaimed “We’re back!”. In Ontario, I’ve associated Brussels sprouts as fall/winter vegetables and ate my weight in them last year. I broke down and carried the huge stalk home with me, almost cradling like a baby since I did not want to damage them.
I ended up combining a ton of Asian goodies (thank you Viet Hoa) with the Brussels sprouts to create this very nice rendition of Vietnamese pho. The ingredient list is daunting, but it is a fairly simple soup to whip up. The abundance of vegetables creates a flavourful soup without too much of a soup base. The broth is nicely flavoured with ginger, star anise, tart lime juice, salty tamari and aromatic toasted sesame oil. Fresh mint adds a beautiful brightness. For the vegetables, seared Brussels sprouts, baby bok choy and meaty mushrooms make up the bulk of the soup. In addition, I added sliced water chestnuts, julienned bamboo shoots and baby corn (the latter all canned). I haven’t cooked with them before, but the bamboo shoots were akin to short noodles and the water chestnuts added a neat crunch. Definitely recommended. I used a mix of Asian mushrooms (shiitake, Portobello and enoki) but feel free to use just one.
The soup made a ton and filled me up all week long. Leftovers were just as good, if not better. While this may not seem like a fall-inspired recipe, this seems like a Texan fall-inspired meal. A light veggie-filled soup perfect during the hot weather. Hannah told me she may stop to read my blog during the winter, as she lives in Toronto, missing her warm Aussie winters. Please don’t hate me for the abundant heat!
Have you fallen for fall veggies yet?
Brussels sprouts done before:
Good things come to those who wait.
That ice cream craving? Well, Rob had pity on me and picked up a pint (2 actually) for us to share. After building it up in my head, it was a bit lackluster. Not that I am complaining. Vegan ice cream just isn’t Haagen Dazs. Which is probably a good thing.
It seems like everyone was bitten by the ice cream bug now that the sun is out. I am seeing recipes everywhere. However, without full-fat coconut milk and an ice cream machine, I thought I was out of luck. Until now. (I feel like I am Dr Greger from NutritionFacts.org, hehe)
This time, I wasn’t planning on making ice cream. I was making a version of my Almost Guiltless Chocolate Mousse Pie: an almost guiltless chocolate mint mousse, sans crust. Which I did, and it is very, very good. But then I put one tumbler in the freezer. Just in case.
I think our freezer has some funky freezing cycle thing because even the ice cream from the store was rock solid after a night in our house. It was torture trying to scoop it out. Rob had the brilliant idea to let it thaw. I know, novel idea. But he suggested thawing it in the fridge. So, I came back in an hour and the ice cream was deliciously smooth and creamy.
I decided to try that with my frozen mousse. It was a bona fide rock solid when I initially took it from the freezer. Then I popped it in the fridge. Waited 1-2 hours for it to thaw and then I scooped in.
Glorious! Creamy chocolate mint. Melting in your mouth. Oh yes. I just have to plan for my ice cream cravings.
Before you look at the recipe, I’ll have you know it was a pantry purge success. I know some people have had difficulties with the mousse setting with the original recipe but I have never had any problems. I have made it with soft, firm and extra-firm tofu (although always the silken aseptic tofu). I figured it was pretty flexible so I experimented.
No chocolate chips here, I finally used up my unsweetened chocolate. The 100% chocolate that Rob bought for chocolate fondu once upon a time… and let me tell you, it is very bitter. I also had some cacao butter which I supplemented with cocoa powder, which I figured was equivalent to chocolate. I ended up adding the sweetener to taste as I went along as well as the peppermint extract (Katie suggested 1/8 tsp, which barely registered on my tongue’s radar). This is minty but not that sweet. The cacao butter gave this a really nice mouth feel, both as a mousse and as an ice cream.
Thank goodness, I think my ice cream quest has been settled. At least for now.
What are you craving these days?
When I photographed this, I was worried it may look eerily similar to the Red Lentil and Spinach Curry (Vegan Tikka Masala). Red lentils + tomato + spinach… This one has carrots, isn’t as red and is more soup-like than the curry, though. I think they look reasonably different, so trust me I am not recycling photos! No lost photos for this dish…
In truth, it was the success of the tikka masala that had me throwing bountiful fists of spinach into yet another red lentil dish.
I have made the traditional Turkish red lentil and bulgur soup before, having learned it while travelling in Turkey. A humble, yet decidedly filling and nutritious soup, it was one of our favourite meals on our trip, especially when we learned how to cook it ourselves. This version, courtesy of Turquoise, is billed as a humble peasant soup. The lentils must make it peasant-like because there is nothing bland about this. I love the addition of two different kinds of smoked paprika and cumin (I did not stifle the full amount of smoked paprika and it was ok!). I added in the spinach, because, well, I had tons of it and it is easy to incorporate into thick soups. However, the best part of this soup, is the finishing spiced oil. I am used to this in Indian dishes, which is called a tarka, when spices like cumin, coriander, garlic and ginger can infuse oil that is added at the end of the cooking. This isn’t an Indian dish, so dried mint and smoked sweet paprika are fried at the end to permeate the oil. It was actually very pretty when drizzled over the soup. Sorry, you guys got photos of leftovers! Have no fear, the leftovers tasted as good with the tarka already stirred into the soup.
Do you use the tarka method for your cooking? Outside Indian foods?
What better way to sneak back into sweetened life than by eating through Doug McNish’s cooking class. I’ve done a few cooking classes before, but this one was definitely one of my favourites. While I am still no master of the knives, I felt that this class was awesome despite not being hands on. Instead, we chatted and watched as Doug created this fabulous menu in under 3 hours.
- Painted Fruit
- Raw Berry Jam
- Fermented Lemon Vanilla Cashew Yogurt
- Avocado Fries with Sundried Tomato Ketchup
- Carrot and Kelp Noodle Pad Thai, Sweet and Spicy Almond Crumble
- Kelp Noodle “Stir Fry” Pear Ginger Miso Sauce, Wilted Spinach and Hemp
- Sweet Potato and Carrot Mac N Cheese
- Mushroom Walnut Stroganoff, Moroccan Spiced Dandelion Greens
- Thick Cut Zucchini Bread, Avocado, Eggplant Bacon, Hemp Mayo
- Chocolate Avocado Torte, Almond Flax Crust
- Banana Crepes, Chocolate Sauce, Walnut Crumble, Raspberry Coulis, Caramelized Peach
Yes, that is over 20 recipes. We munched on a few of the dishes as they were made, but for the most part, the eight of us split the food to take home and eat as leftovers. Batch cooking for the win!
This is where the class shined: The recipes were great. Doug has worked in and with many restaurants and knows his stuff. His recipes are restaurant quality. He highlighted the importance of plating and presentation. He didn’t hide his secrets.Those banana crepes we made? Sound familiar? He made them this summer when he had a special brunch menu at Raw Aura. Some of the recipes are from his current book, some from his upcoming book and others were modifications of published recipes. He does not measure as he cooks. He tastes as he goes and modifies based on the freshness of the ingredients (something I really should learn how to do more naturally).
Doug has previously shared many of his recipes, especially in his cookbook, including his infamous sour cream and onion kale chips. However, I have yet to try any of his recipes. I have been daunted by his zealous use of oils, nut butters and agave. I know his food tastes good, although a bit heavy for me. After making Peacefood Cafe’s Raw Key Lime Pie earlier this summer, I know that restaurant quality really translates to fat and sugar, namely oil and agave!
Trust me, though, I licked my takeaway containers with the delicious food, though. I hope to reintroduce these foods into my kitchen a little bit more Janet-friendly… but most importantly, my spark has been rekindled for raw foods. It also helps that we still have not hit real winter weather yet. Until then, light salads such as this seems to fit the bill.
Herby, peanutty noodly salad. I couldn’t even make up a name as fun as this (Rob probably could but he didn’t). Pick your favourite herbs and toss them in this lime-spiked dressing. Coat noodles of your choice and add in some green vegetables like snow peas, snap peas or even broccoli. Toss with some (toasted) peanuts for some crunch and fats. Not as decadent as the meals this weekend, but I am ok with that.
PS. For those in the GTA, my newest health food store find is Foods For Life which had kelp noodles (16 oz) for $2.49 earlier this week. A quick sale since they expire in January. However, a great price to try these noodles! They also have kamut!
This is the story of a picnic that didn’t happen, twice.
We had full intentions of getting together with friends, having a picnic together on the island. However, after a weather forecast of 100% rain, the plans were abandoned. Rob and I stayed at home and relished in a relaxing afternoon together.
Together, we still continued with our picnic menu: Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Dried Iranian Limes. I figured a grain salad would travel well but may not be too picnic-friendly (who was going to bring plates?) so I thought it would be neat to stuff it into a wrap. Rice paper rolls for company and kale wraps for me! I figured a tahini dipping sauce would bring this over the edge, so we plunged forward with our ornate plans.
Ottolenghi called this a quinoa salad, but really it is a quinoa-basmati-wild rice salad. The mix of grains tickles the tongue with the contrasting textures. They are paired with roasted sweet potatoes in a savoury dressing with sauteed sage and oregano and fresh mint. Oh, and dried Iranian lime. A hard to find ingredient that I picked up while in NYC at Kalustyan’s (although it is available locally). You can stop right here and have yourself a delicious salad. Perfectly balanced, it was a nice salad. Definitely Thanksgiving friendly, I might add.
However, I took the next step: tofu feta. Tofu marinaded in lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, garlic and miso, coupled with a creamy cashew sauce. I will admit that this does not taste at all like feta. It did, however, have a nice burst of lemony tartness and miso greatness. The cashew sauce added to the silkiness that was wonderful once we wrapped them up. I am definitely no stranger to wrapping up salads, having everything hit your palate at the same time.
So after the wrap, we took it one step further. A sweet tahini dipping sauce with garlic.
We had hit it: Gastronomic bliss.
By this time, though, it had started raining and we couldn’t do our own picnic, either. So we went upstairs and picnicked on the windowsill, watching it rain in all its glory. We do a little cheer every time it rains since it means we don’t have to water the garden.
We also found out that these were very messy rolls… and best to eat with a plate underneath.
Cherry Collard Dolmas (Turkish Collard Leaves Stuffed with Rice, Beans and Fresh Cherries -Visneli Yaprak Sarma)
This has been the summer of cherries.
Local cherries arrived early, so by the beginning of July I had already made Almost Raw Chocolate Banana Crepes with Almond-Coconut Cream and Cherries, then balsamic cherries migrated onto a sandwich with rosemary cashew cheese and arugula, and I pickled a bunch in a five-spice spiked vinegar. I kept on thinking cherry season was over, but they continued to be on sale late into the summer. How can you say no to cherries at 99c/lb?
So, yes, I have yet another cherry recipe.
Earlier this summer, we thought I might have been able to join Rob in New York for a mini-vacation. We researched where we wanted to stay (airBnB!), what we would do (opera!) and what we would eat (Pure Food & Wine!). My favourite raw resto to date, it would have been a nice treat. I even scoured their menu to see what I wanted to order. I found it:
Cauliflower Cous Cous with Sour Cherry Dolmas with pistachio, almond, dried fruits, mint, Moroccan tomato jus
Sounds heavenly, no?
Turns out that when we went to book my airline tickets, we were not able to get the flights we wanted. So for the long weekend, Rob went to New York for work, and I stayed at home.
With a bit of extra time on my hands, I decided to tackle my own cherry dolmas. In retrospect, a raw version would likely have been quicker, but I opted for a more traditional cooked dolma. As traditional as cherry dolmas can be. When I visited Turkey, I was not wowed by dolmas. They were not on my radar. However, traditional dolma recipes typically include savoury spices like cinnamon and allspice, so I was sold. Instead of pine nuts, I used pistachios. Instead of traditional raisins, I used a touch of currants. The majority of the sweetness comes from the cherries.
Instead of a rice-based dish, I beefed it up by including white beans. Doing so made me have a lot more filling than I had initially bargained for, so I scrapped the grape leaves and plucked collards from my garden instead. With a cooked filling, a cooked collard seemed more appropriate, instead of my typical raw collard wraps. Pre-steaming the collard leaves made them much easier to wrap the filling and keep their shape.
The dolmas are simmered in a cherry-infused broth to complete the cooking of the rice. If you cooked your rice all the way through the first time, I think you could save yourself the final cooking step. It was a pretty labour intensive recipe but at least I didn’t have to wrap 100s of dolmas in tiny grape leaves.
In any case, these were so flavourful, they were definitely worth the effort. The rice filling alone was delicious, so if you just want to make that, I understand.
I made the cranberry-lemon-tahini dip for the dolmas but I didn’t find it needed a dip. In fact, the sweet on sweet clashed. If you want something to serve it with, a plain yogurt would be nice.
With all my cherry fodder this summer, Rob came back with a surprise present for me from New York: a cherry pitter!
Rob and I did a 5-day hike to La Ciudad Perdida while in Colombia. You need a guide and we picked Magic Tours since they responded to our emails and assured me I would have vegan options on the trek. We started off with 4 other hikers, our guide, a cook and a porter (with 2 mules) for our 5-day 44-km hike.
We hiked through the Colombian jungle, with a well-delineated path, up and down many hills and through a river quite a few times! Gorgeous scenery with a great ruined city at the end. An unparalleled experience, to say the least.
I won’t lie. It was hard. We hiked in hot and humid weather, over 30C with at least 80% humidity. Shade from trees was a welcome treat after hiking in open sun. I also found the terrain difficult with many river crossings and steep hills. I wish I had had better ankle support on my hiking boots! By the fourth day, we reached The Lost City. There were 1200 steps to climb to reach the actual Ciudad Perdida with a further 800 steps within the ruined city, itself. Going up those stairs was not so bad; going down was worse! If you don’t like heights, this also won’t work well for you.
Before I left, I made a few energy snacks. This was one of them which was a great source of protein when all I had to eat was fried rice and avocado for dinner (only once).
I was drawn to this recipe immediately after Cara posted it. It reminded me of a souped up Raw Brownie with a heavenly base of walnuts, dates and cocoa. However, to make this a protein power star, there are hemp seeds and protein powder as well. I ended up increasing the mint extract and substituting agave for the brown rice syrup. Absolutely delicious straight from the mixer. I dehydrated them at 110F for 7-8 hours hoping to make them more portable. The sharp flavours diminished slightly but my snacks were now able to come with me to the jungle! Sadly, I didn’t wrap them individually so they kind of smooshed together towards the end of my trip. Still good, though.
I will admit that Rob and I overpacked for our hike, but I would still travel with my snacks again. I still need to share the winner of the energy snacks, so stay tuned. I had some bona fide Larabars as well, which also seemed to ooze some oily stuff under the heat of the jungle. If you are planning for a similar trip, definitely consult your tour operator to see what they recommend you bring. While Magic Tours had an extensive list of stuff to bring (sunscreen, hat, water bottle, clothes, etc), this is what I also found useful:
Foot talc powder- We didn’t bring any but if you are prone to sweaty feet or slipping into rivers, this is for you!
Sanitizer- We didn’t bring any, but considering the lack of soap and toilet paper, this would have been great to have to not get traveler’s diarrhea.
Compact camera- You do not want to bring a big D-SLR with you on this hike. We actually don’t have too many photos because we were more focused on hiking then taking photos.
After bite & antihistamines- We had deet (although only 30%), and were still bitten by bugs. Lots of bugs. This helped.
Ibuprofen- You may be sore. You may get a headache.
Travel pillow- On the hike, you sleep in hammocks and the occasional bunk bed. No pillows. I am VERY picky about my pillow. I often travel with my day-to-day feather pillow because I have a hard time sleeping without it. This pillow, albeit not exactly what I am used to, was a godsend, even outside the trek in other B&Bs.
Hiking poles- I love my collapsible hiking poles.
Non-cotton clothing- Want your clothes to dry? Make sure they are not cotton.
Water purification tablets- You want to make sure you are drinking potable water. These tabs add no taste to the water.
What else do you like to bring with you on long hikes?
If you can’t tell, I am all about the greens. Any kind of vegetable, bring it on [except celery]. I still buy leafy greens even if my garden is growing kale and collards. Especially when they are 2 HUGE bunches for $1. When I mean huge, I decided to do the weight test. Each bunch clocked in at 2 lbs. That’s the equivalent of 4 bunches for $1. Booyah! Surprise sales. That’s when I get in trouble. What the heck to do with all the greens?
I now have the perfect solution. You have to cook them down into creamy silkiness. This way the greens wilt down and you can munch through a bunch in no time. My Green Soup with Ginger with both Swiss chard and spinach almost called me back, but I decided to try a dish with more sustenance. Last time, I added quinoa to the Coconut-Braised Collards and this time, I continued with the Greek theme and added Christmas Lima beans (any large white bean would work) to my stewed greens. The gentle, slow simmer allows the tomatoes to cook down, conferring sweetness and creaminess, while the paprika, mint and dill infuse an extra flavour dimension. This is how you eat your greens, my friends. Lots of them.
(If only I could do the same thing with lettuce!)
Yes, I bought more strawberries!
At one point, I had fresh strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and cherries in my fridge. Oh, and Rob’s bananas, too. I am addicted to the fresh fruit. It was a good thing that Rob didn’t buy the case of fresh figs, too.
My Mom is probably scratching her head.. I just told her that I spend around $10-15/week on groceries. Granted, I have a pantry packed with my staples (beans, grains, nuts, spices) and a garden with herbs and greens (kale and collards) which makes things easier. Each week, I basically buy fruits and veggies. Cilantro, green onions and regular onions, too. Garlic and ginger every few weeks. Tofu or tempeh once a month. Veggies aren’t that expensive, guys! My recent grocery glories were zucchini for 39c/lb, bananas for 29c/lb and red pepper for 79c/lb. Oh, and two HUGE bunches of Swiss chard for $1. Suffice it to say, strawberries were on sale for $1.50/lb, so I got some more.
During my week of the salad, I tried so many different leafy salads. I am not that heavy with salad dressing, so they last a long time. I still have dressings left over. I need more greens! I also like variety, so I tried yet another dressing. This time, though, I made less. This is a simple dressing to put together, so I can easily whip it up again. And I will because it was glorious. Roasted hazelnut oil. Balsamic Vinegar. Chocolate. Need I explain more?
Oh wait, please, let me tell what I paired the decadent chocolate balsamic vinaigrette with: Strawberries. Avocado. Mint. Toasted Almonds. Raw Cacao Nibs…… oh, and lettuce, too.
Pray-tell, was it the lettuce that made you swoon? I thought not!
I know some people don’t like fruits in savoury dishes (not me!) but here I am left scratching my head wondering whether this should be dessert or an appetizer. Does plating something on lettuce automatically relinquish this from being a possible dessert? Anyways, I ate this for dinner. And it was delicious.
This is my submission to this month’s Bookmarked Recipes, to this week’s Wellness Weekend, to this month’s Simple and in Season, to this week’s Summer Salad Sundays and to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays.
I am making babies.
(It is true that Rob and I recently celebrated our “common law” status after a year of living together, but I am not talking about our eventual (not now) cute kids)
I am talking about squash babies!
It looks like my hand pollination of the kabocha squash was successful, with at least 2, maybe 3 baby squashes rapidly ballooning in size. This kabocha squash business is actually very high maintenance. Not only do I water them twice a day, I now inspect the blossoms to scout out the females. I am not leaving anything to chance and work my magic before the bees come a-buzzin. Seems to be working so far!
Just late last week, Melissa Clark at the New York Times had a post (and video) about eating squash blossoms. The best part? They weren’t deep-fried! Her recipe was for a simple cheese and tapenade filling that used the blossoms as a wrap. While Rob and I nibbled on a few male blossoms this weekend, we’ll have to see how I incorporate them into a bona fide meal. Somehow, I feel like it is more about the filling then the wrap, since it just tasted like a sweet veggie wrap!
I seem to be late with all my strawberry loving this year, but the strawberries keep coming! Looks like the second round might be knocking.
This, however, was my birthday cake from my brunch. I was inspired by Lisa’s raw strawberry tart, not only because it was topped by loads of strawberries, but also because the cream of the tart wasn’t based entirely on cashews. Instead, a frozen banana is whipped inside to create a creamy, looser filling, of which strawberries are nestled overtop. Although it seemed like just a simple garnish, the fresh mint and grated coconut added the extra dimension to make this a special cake. Because this tart is made with frozen banana, it is best eaten fresh. I swear the base was a more creamy yellow a few hours before I took the photos but I had problems with oxidation again! Arg!
I needed to be weaned off the Colombian tropical fruit, but instead, I have been catapulted into the berry haven of southern Ontario.
Pick your poison of choice, right?
No stranger to strawberries perking up a summer salad, instead of balsamic, this time I opted for a savoury note with cinnamon. Cinnamon roasted chickpeas as well as a cinnamon vinaigrette. Strawberries confer sweetness, toasted almonds crunch with a hint of mint making this a much more complex salads. Serve overtop your favourite greens for a summer treat.
This is my submission to this month’s Anyone Can Cook Vegetarian for sweet spices, to this month’s My Legume Love Affair, hosted by Simona, to this month’s No Croutons Required featuring summer salads, to this month’s Bookmarked Recipes, to this week’s Weekend Wellness, to this week’s Summer Salad Sundays and to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays.
I used to want a mango tree in my backyard. Scrap that.
Now I want a mamey tree.
I ate a lot while I was in Colombia. A lot of fruit, I mean frutas. Fruit au naturel and lots of fruit as juice. Not bottled juice. Jugos naturales: fruit + water in blender and strained. Pure bliss.
I had a few foodie missions while in Colombia. I definitely succeeded in exploring the different fruits. I even tried familiar fruits in case they tasted different, fresh from the South.
I think I lost track of everything I tried.
From the more obscure, I tried: curuba, feijoa, lulo, guanabana (soursop), anon (sugar apple), pitaya (dragon fruit), zapote, mamey and mamoncillo. Passion fruit: maracuja, as well as the purple gulupa and the smaller sweet granadilla. Oh, and açai, too, in a smoothie. Apparently we missed cherimoya (custard apple) and pomarrosa. We obviously need to go back (although I think I spotted both of them at my nearby grocer for $5/lb).
Then there are ones I already knew… and was won over by the sweetness of fresh fruit. Papaya has never been so lovely. Tons of bananas. Smaller bananas, too, bananitas (or banana bocadillo). Mangoes (mainly Tommy Atkins but they had smaller ones, too). Pineapple (did you know there are red pineapples? They had pits! Yes, pineapples have pits!!). Avocados. Starfruit. Young green coconut opened for us with a machete. Strawberries, blackberries (mora), watermelons, oranges and even apples.
I remember ordering a drink at a restaurant with a new-to-me fruit: sandia. The waiter described it as a fruit with a green skin, a pink inside with black seeds. I was excited to try something new! Only to find out it was in fact… watermelon. But still, it was a tasty watermelon and the watermelon jugos naturales really hit the spot.
My favourite? Well, it is a toss up between guanabana, anon, mamey and zapote. And lulo… and granadilla. OK, I can’t pick only one. Each one different than any fruit I’d had before. I’d love to plant a tree of each one in my backyard. Sadly, I don’t live in Colombia. Who thinks I can find a mamey tree in Texas for next year? I’d rent the place in a heart beat!
In any case, as much as I’d like to think it was back to normal upon my return, I really had to wean myself off the fruits. While I mostly ate them plain and in juice form in Colombia, here I’ve opted for a more filling main course salad courtesy of Ottolenghi.
Thai-inspired, the star of this dish is the creamy coconut-based dressing infused with lemongrass, Keffir lime leaves, ginger and shallots, balanced with a touch of tamarind, fresh lime juice, toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. All of the flavours are enhanced through the reduction of the coconut milk. It is probably one of the more elaborate and lengthy dressings to make, but easy none-the-less, and can be made in advance. The original recipe calls for canned coconut milk, but I opted for the coconut milk beverage (great idea from my spicy coconut-braised collards) instead which still produced a lighter dressing after the reduction.
Here, the dressing is used to bathe a kelp noodle salad with chopped mango, cucumber, lima beans (I used smaller Jackson Wonder lima beans) along with mint, cilantro and cashews. Add the dressing just prior to serving. The flavourful dressing worked well with the contrasting sweet mango, creamy beans and crunchy cucumber. Enjoy!
This is my submission to this month’s No Croutons Required featuring leafless salads, to this week’s Healthy Vegan Friday, to this week’s Potluck Party, to Ricki’s Weekend Wellness, this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Simona, to this week’s Summer Salad Sundays and to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays.