Recipe Box: Patriot Oats (Mixed Berry Oatmeal)

Patriot Oats

I have a soft spot in my heart and at the breakfast table for oatmeal. Something about starting the day with a bowl of warm and comforting oats just seems right. Instant oats are not my favorite way to enjoy them, but in a pinch, they can do just fine- the secret as with most things is seasoning.

This recipe is simple and probably easy to assemble from your cupboard and fridge at this time of year. “Patriot oats” celebrates through color the hopefulness of independence day – in this case the Independence of America from the Brits so long ago. The blueberries, strawberries and coconut milk lend themselves to be patriotic in scope of the celebration of July 4th. In that vein, I did some digging to better understand why red, white and blue became our country’s colors and learned:

Congress of the Confederation chose these same colors for the Great Seal of the United States and listed their meaning as follows: white to mean purity and innocence, red for valor and hardiness, and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.”

Betsy Ross, the woman who sewed our first flag is a name for history books and yet she has something still to teach us about change and character. While her life was marked by hardship, she exhibited the tenacity and verve of spirit necessary in sussing out what living out independence looks like.

If you look at your life today, do you find need of winning the battle for independence? Perhaps you’re mired in a job that is joyless, succumbing to addiction or even beleaguered by a pesky habit. There is no time like the present to make a change. And as I mentioned here, change is sometimes an arduous feat, the bit of a bridle in the horse’s mouth and waiting as the entire animal turns. It takes courage to admit the need to change course. Then comes adherence to the recognition. I’m told lasting change comes a bit at a time.

So let’s start with breakfast.

 

dairy free oatmeal recipe

Patriot Oats (Mixed Berry Oatmeal)

  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2/3 cups thick & rough oatmeal like the Silver Palate
  • 2 T coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup organic blueberries, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup organic strawberries, rinsed, hulled and chopped
  • drizzle of local honey

1. Set pot of water on stovetop and cover over high heat until boiling.
2. Then remove the lid and lower the temperature, adding in the oats gradually. 3. Cook for 8-10 minutes and stir occasionally.
4. Let oats sit for 1-2 minutes and then ladle them out into two separate bowls. 5. Add a dollop of 1 T per bowl of the coconut milk.
5. Then equally divide the berries into both bowls.
6. Lastly drizzle local honey over the top- just a drizzle to augment the berries natural sweetness.

Enjoy!

 

~Serves 2

 

Recipe Box: Bok Choy Bell Scramble

bok choy bell scramble

Breakfast is important in these here parts. Did you know it’s the most important meal of the day? One of the best things you can do for your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, boss, deskmate, and most definitely for yourself is not skip this meal of champions. You “break” the “fast” of eight hours sleep with a kickstart of food fuel to get your body and mind primed for the day.

Julia Child still has a thing or two to teach me about making the perfect omelette and perfecting the flip, so until that time, I am crazy about scrambles. Notably, I’m cuckoo about scrambles at posh and oh-so-delicious brunch locale extraordinaire Ella’s. They put the most creative combinations together of seasonal ingredients with flair. One of the ways they dress up a plate of eggs is with flavored creams (lime creme with salmon scramble anyone?) Yum.

I played a riff off of what Ella’s might make in looking through our cleaned up fridge. This includes new favorites virgin coconut oil and goat’s milk yogurt. We are switching to coconut oil in these parts because it can withstand high heat well, is packed with nutrients and good fat and it also kind of gives everything a bit of island flair. Goat’s milk yogurt and cheeses are new additions replacing our cow’s milk products as easier to digest alternatives. They’ve gotten me thinking I want goats in the future to join the chickens in the imaginary sprawl of lawn one day. If I had a goat, she’d be named Bessie and he’d be named Hal. But that is neither here nor there, and somewhere it’s time for breakfast…

Bok Choy Bell Scramble

1. In a large sauce pan, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat. Add the peppers and bok choy to saute for about five minutes or until slightly charred on edges.

2. Then add in the caramelized onions, za’atar and sea salt. Stir and let meld for about a minute. With a fork, whisk the eggs.

3. Pour eggs over the sauteed veggies and let sit for 2 minutes, taking care to tip the pan as needed to spread the fluid egg out to the outer corners. Begin to chop and scramble the eggs and sauteed veggies and then let it cook until the eggs are cooked to your preference.

4. Sprinkle some Purple Haze Chevre on each portion of the scramble. Serve with sliced avocados and a dollop of goat’s milk yogurt, which gives it a lovely tang.

 

~ Serves 3

Recipe Box: Spiced Moroccan Chicken with Onions and Prunes

The air was thick and moist. As Raju, our rickshaw driver pedaled onward, the slight breeze felt recompense to the Indian summer.

On this day, my translator Vinay was unavailable and my study partner Todd, back at the hotel with digestive distress. Today, my pregnant friend Laura and I arrived by my usual escort the smiling rickshaw driver Raju. Children pooled around the periphery of the slum, their home, eager and excited to see us. We meandered the narrow corridors, passing one slipshod home after another. My blue dupatta covered my head out of respect and I covered my mouth with another swath of it.

The cobbled path ended up outside the home of newfound friend Dolly, finding her hanging laundry. She invited us to sit on the cot outside her one room house and asked if we wanted sodas. We declined and yet she pressed on, soon dispatching a small child with the coins needed for Limca sodas for Laura and I. On this particular day, the sun beat down on us from the heavy-lidded monsoon sky. The sticky sweetness of that lime ginger soda washed away my thirst as sweat pooled along my temples. We sat together, as Dolly talked about her village and getting married at the age of six. Her neighbors stood nearby as children lounged, all intent on these Western women raptly listening to their friend. With the men at work, the women conducted the affairs of their homes and found pockets of time to congregate, enjoying each other’s company.

Dolly sang for us in her village language, a spirited song that trilled up and down. I noticed an old man stumbling down the lane. He looked like he would continue on his way until he saw Laura and I, and changed direction. He began meandering our way. The stench of alcohol was pronounced as was the pitch of his voice. He asked animated questions of us in hindi. He continued approaching and Dolly quickly ushered both Laura and I into her one room house. She locked the door. Outside we could hear her yelling at the old man. Laura translated that the man refused to leave until we came back out. His harassment continued unabated. I surveyed the room, trying to take my mind off of the crazy man now banging on the door separating us from him.

 

Several years ago in graduate school, we headed to India to conduct ethnographic research. Our small cohort of students set off to learn about the people and culture through the people themselves. We collected information, learning the semantics of the people in our community, learning about industry, relationship and belief.

If you want to understand a lot about a people group, find out whom they will eat with and whom they will marry. This detail reflects the fluidity or brittle nature of people far more than whom they will do business with. The community we learned about that summer consisted of a slum in East Delhi that at the time held around 44,000 people. As American students, we set off in pairs, accompanied by a translator. My partner that summer, Todd, had a rather weak constitution. Often, he would remain in the hotel and I would set off dressed in my salwar kameez and dupatta with my translator Vinay.

Often, people would speak to me in hindi and while flattered they thought I looked the part, humbly shook my head, “no.”

On this specific occasion, Laura and I had gone looking for songs and stories, not expecting a crazy man to interrupt our time with our new female friends. Eventually, he took off. Eventually the door was unlocked, but the camaraderie had changed. The spirit had lifted and moved on.

Hospitality takes many forms. Sacrifice: Limca sodas for two guests. Protection: Locking a door and keeping two guests safe. Out of the abundance of our friend Dolly’s heart, she showed us true hospitality and gave above and beyond her means. The following summer I returned to India and visited Dolly. She pulled the letter I’d written to her, along with a photo of the two of us from a tin box like a treasure.

I look back on that summer that almost wasn’t and consider how easily my steps could have led to Morocco but instead, I found myself in India learning hospitality in its varied forms.

Beck and I have made a priority to practice hospitality. We believe there is power in the hospitable gesture and try to make a point of being good stewards with what we’ve been given. We have had the pleasure of cooking this Spiced Moroccan Chicken with Onions and Prunes recipe to rave reviews from a visiting filmmaker friend and parents. The sauce will make you want to lick every utensil that’s crossed its path. If you’re looking for leftovers- this is not your recipe. If you’re looking for a meal that will bring hospitality to your guests in the guise of tantalizing aroma and flavors to entice your tongue’s different taste zones- you’ve found it.

Spiced Moroccan Chicken with Onions and Prunes

from the Bon Appetit Cookbook

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 ¾ cups chopped onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 T AP flour*
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup pitted prunes
  • 3 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T honey
  • Chopped fresh cilantro

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté until brown and just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer chicken to plate. Add onions and garlic to same skillet. Saute until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Mix in flour, ginger, cinnamon, and cumin; stir 1 minute.

Gradually whisk in broth. Add prunes, lemon juice, and honey. Boil until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking occasionally, about 8 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Return chicken to skillet.

Simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer chicken and sauce to platter. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

~ 4 servings

Gluten-Free variation: Substitute Gluten Free AP flour. Instead of serving this over cous cous, serve over rice.

Recipe Box: Open-Faced Stuffed Poblano Peppers & See You Laters

stuffed poblano pepper recipe

Goodbye. See you later.

The difference is infintesimile but huge. One infers a finality, a wish that in Spanish conveys the person to God, adios. The other is more casual, connotes opportunity and potential for future meetings.

If 2010 seemed to be the year of big changes, then 2011 is merely riding out the coat tails. After almost eight years living in the Bay Area, my best friend Olga is moving home to be closer to her family.

Her mom suffered a heart attack two days after she stood next to me as maid-of-honor last year. I read the texts on my phone as Beck and I drove down to Southern California on our honeymoon. The pneumonia that came later didn’t help erase the thought that these symptoms, this story had been written before and too recently in the demise of my dad.

When we returned from honeymooning, Olga and I met up. Large gaps of silence doing the talking ensued; all the kid fears dreaded and for me, realized, found sympathetic voice in the absence of sound. We walked as the words found their way: “she’s in the ICU still.” “I’m scared.”

It felt too soon to be reckoning with this foe again. I wanted a break from sickness, from death, wanting there to be a neutral time and space for Beck and I to get our bearings.

But this is not the way life was supposed to work. This is the way it works now. Overlap of bitter and sweet. I’m learning to love the sweet even if the bitter is what’s leaving the taste in my mouth.

Her mom is in dire straights, it’s not a huge stretch. She didn’t have to tell me she was moving home. I knew it intuitively.

We didn’t talk about life with the dry socket void of each other that is to come. Instead, we discussed the final days for her at work, the going-away shindigs. I offered to throw a send-off soiree at our house and began contriving gluten free eats she would feel good enjoying as well as how to make it a fond bon voyage rather than one that’s bleak or sad.

And then I found myself buying a plane ticket home the weekend intended for the going-away party. My own family emergency surfacing, the call-to-action was clear and sure: “Go home. Be with the ones you love. Cherish the sweet even in the wake of the bitter.”

And this is a story for another time, as it’s a bit too fresh right now for the re-telling.

Two weeks ago, I didn’t know it would be her last time at my house. What you know at the end of things is to suck the marrow that remains until it’s dry. What you know is there are goodbyes and there are see you laters. What I knew is that I wanted to cook for this person who is more sister than friend, who had been my plus one for the pre-Beck years.

The call was simple: gin rummy and dinner.

Gin rummy is the game we played for several hours sailing the Mediterranean en route to Greece several years ago and what we played wiling away the hours in the Frankfurt airport. It has a history with us and still conjures up this dream of mine of us old and happy, living next to each other in a fishing village in the South of France. In it, she would bring the deck of cards from her neighboring flat; I would make the food. And Beck, well, he’s a part of that picture now and forever- he would bring the music.

This particular evening, she kept interjecting, wanting to help. And the thing is I wanted her to sit and be the guest of honor. I wanted to serve her. We made a simple dinner of roasted honeyed turnips, salad with mixed greens, apple and a simple mustard vinaigrette and open-faced stuffed Poblano peppers. I found the Poblanos a bit on the firy side- their flames licking the outer orifice of my nostrils as I chopped them. While cooking, I asked her, “Do you trust me?” with a glint of that characteristic mischief she knows so well and she said, “Yes.”

Dinner. Conversation. Gin rummy. Friendship. If you pick one up, you might find the others follow. And the best part is that even what’s new gets grafted into the old.

Into the see you laters.

Open-Faced Stuffed Poblano Peppers

These are the equivalent of open-faced sandwich stuffed peppers. More of the good stuff! I’ve made this for different audiences and it works really well as a vegetarian entree paired with a salad.  Go gluten free and use brown rice or barley works well too if gluten isn’t a problem.

  • 2 Poblano chilies, halved and seeded
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice with daikon radish seeds* (or barley)
  • ½ cup cooked lentils, green or brown (as they’re sturdier than red)
  • 1/4 cup Crema Casera (found in Mexican markets or a mixture of crème fraiche & plain yogurt)
  • 2 T plain yogurt or sour cream
  • 2 T chopped pecans
  • 1 T chopped dried cherries
  • ½ tsp. curry powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese & monterey jack cheese

Preheat oven to 450.

In a small bowl, combine the brown rice, lentils, crema, pecans, cherries and curry powder with a pinch of cracked black pepper and salt. Mix with a spoon until combined.

Set your peppers inside-up in a pan lined with foil. (This helps clean-up move right along at the end and the foil can double as container to any leftovers.) With a Tablespoon fill the insides of the peppers with the lentil barley mixture. Once you’ve filled each pepper, sprinkle both cheeses on top of each pepper.

Place in the oven for 15 minutes. You’ll find the pepper to still have a bit of crunch with the cheese melted and oozy atop. Serve with a bowl of soup or salad for a quick and easy meal.

~ Serves 4

*Brown rice mix found at Trader Joe’s. Regular brown rice can be used instead if not readily available.

Recipe Box: Lagarta Lodge Ensalada de Palmito

A former roommate of mine, Lisa, first introduced me to hearts of palm years ago. Picking my way through eating all during childhood, I missed a lot. When I first caught sight of the heart of palm in one of her salads (Lisa has the gift of salad-making), I was skeptical. Perhaps downright dubious. I didn’t know what the white flecks were and bet I wouldn’t like them. But that night, she made me a believer in the beloved palmito. I might even want to name a son after it. Then again, I’m not sure how Beck might feel about a son named “Heart of Palm” (though it sure sounds cute in Spanish). Palmito. Maybe it could be the name of a bird instead…

 

While celebrating the arrival of the new year with family at the Lagarta Lodge in Nosara, Costa Rica, I spotted Ensalada de Palmito on the menu. Beck and I split this salad and wiped the dressing bowl that accompanied it, clean. I have given it my own spin by adding in the avocado, though now I can’t imagine the salad without it. Did I mention that all of us who ate salad at Lagarta Lodge practically licked the bowl of dressing clean. Think cat to the milk bowl. This dressing is so good, you might find it becomes your new secret sauce.

The recipe makes a lot of dressing and I have a hunch it would be a fantastic twist to any of the typical prepared salads: tuna, chicken, potato or egg salad. Heck, go crazy and combine them.

A word on Palmito, compliments of my scavenging at all places, the Fancy Food show. From a piece of collateral picked up at the La Cima booth:

“In Costa Rica, it was consumed by indigenous people before Columbus even reached the continent… The heart of palm is in itself the new leaf of the palm in its formation.”

Already the indigenous people knew what it would take the rest of us so much longer to figure out: palmitos are good for you! The fiber, protein, potassium and calcium are reasons to add palmito to any salad.

One word of caution though, you might find you want to somehow add it to every salad. I would suggest moderation, if not for this reason alone, from La Cima: “The cultivated culture of Hearts of Palm diminished the exploitation of wild Hearts of Palm which year after year has devastated the forests of the tropical lands. This indiscriminate exploitation led to the extinction of some species of palms.”

That is no bueno. So as you’re shopping for palmito,  perhaps check the source. We are in an age of wanting to know, again, where our food comes from.  And maybe this salad below will have you envisioning yourself frolicking in the tropics.

Lagarta Lodge Ensalada de Palmito

DRESSING

  • ½ cup white onion, minced
  • 5 T mayonnaise
  • 6 T white vinegar
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 T fresh parsley, minced

SALAD

  • 1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • 12 grape tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 hearts of palm, halved and then sliced
  • 1 avocado, halved and then sliced

Mix dressing ingredients together. Set aside. Chop the lettuce and put about 1 cup on each salad plate. Add the equivalent of 3 chopped grape tomatoes per plate along with a quarter of avocado per plate. One heart of palm, halved and sliced is sufficient to add onto the salad per plate. Sprinkle about 2 T of dressing on each salad and serve.

~ Serves 4

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