Sustainability

With popularity often comes dilution, and the concepts of sustainability are certainly not immune. Those of us who pursue sustainability are often mystified to see the concept applied to automobiles and chemical-based agriculture. As we try to sort the simple truth from the complicated myths, we can become overwhelmed. A state of overwhelm can lead to a spell of immobility—something that we simply can’t risk. Every moment, and every resource, matters.

The word “sustainable” relates to methods of harvesting or using resources so that they are not depleted or permanently damaged. Most of us are far removed from the base resources, and therefore wouldn’t know how close we are getting to the bottom of the well. We have to rely on the word of others, yet it can be a challenge to sort through all the facts. We can, however, apply a few simple and effective practices.

It’s this easy: If you buy something in a jar, refill it with something you’ve made. Most things that you buy in jars can be prepared very easily at home: pesto, salad dressing, jam, kraut, pickles, mustard, nut butter, and many more. Reuse of glass is far more economically sound and environmentally-minded than recycling. If you can put up just one jam on your own, you are making a difference.

Also easy: Buying whole foods vs. refined foods. We are all aware that a whole grain is much better for your health, containing many more nutrients and fiber than refined grains. But there’s more to it than this. For when you buy a whole grain—or any whole food—you are eliminating the need for unnecessary processing, which in turn results in reduced resource consumption. You are also reducing the amount of discarded ‘waste’ products, which are otherwise known as ‘valuable food.’

Hand in hand with buying whole foods is the practice of using as much of the food as is possible. For example, when you buy kale to steam or sauté, and strip the leaf off the rib, what do you do with the rib? Hopefully you save it for juicing or making vegetable stock. Many vegetable trimmings have multiple lives: the base end of celery, leek greens, broccoli and mushroom stems, etc., so please make the most of them.

In the category of “a little more challenging, but doable” is this: Consider your diet beyond the usual categories of local/vegan/raw/organic/herbivore/omnivore/et-cetera-vore. Think also about useful vs. wasted calories. Many comfort foods and indulgences—pastries, for example—don’t give your body what it needs. Therefore you must consume more foods in order to maintain your balance. Should you forever give up birthday cake? No way! But the daily cupcake or double latte might be a good place to start.

For you over-achievers, consider this: Examine the production cycle of the foods you consume. Are they produced in a massive, global, market-driven monoculture? Have you read about the production of bananas, coconuts, and palm oil? Does their production—and therefore your food—embody the values that you yourself espouse? Here’s a clue: if its production occurs on another continent, you might want to investigate its affect on the workers, the land, and the wildlife. Think that you can’t give up tea, coffee, bananas, young coconuts, cacao, sugar, avocadoes, and palm oil all at once? Even if you relinquish only one, you’ve made a big difference.

But truly, don’t make this harder than it has to be. Start in a way that fits your life now, then stretch a little more in a few months. If you want the really, really easy starter list, it’s this: Go to the farmers’ market to buy your produce. That will take care of most of it. Learn to cook simple meals, with a grain, a green, and a legume. Plant a garden. Grow herbs on your windowsill. If you’re going to roast a squash, put two in the oven to make the most use of the heat. If you’ve just made a cup of tea, use the rest of the kettle’s hot water to wash your dishes.

And speaking of water, please review your use of imported bottled water. It is a far-cry from sustainable—especially to those poor souls to whom the water actually belongs. Sustainability may begin at home, but it reaches around the globe.

Whichever of these practices you engage, know that the payoffs are big and varied. There will be lower demands on the earth’s resources; fewer chemicals in our shared soil and waterways; improved health through the consumption of less prepared foods; significant reduction in packaging, and therefore trash; decreasing consumerism and maybe a crack in the foundation of our throw-away culture.

Added bonuses include deeper engagement in your daily life, and an increased sense of community, for we truly are all in this together.

Beyond all of these benefits, you will continue to learn new things. A lifetime of learning is the epitome of living sustainably, and the best way to turn negative impacts into positive effects. Is there a better compensation for good stewardship?

Happy Holidays, 2011

I just finished teaching a workshop focused on happy & healthy eating for the holidays. This workshop featured recipes which I developed specifically for this year’s holidays, along with nutritional instruction from Donnalynn Civello. You might enjoy these for your own holiday celebration.

Why not welcome your guests with a nice Vanilla Bean Holiday Nog? This egg & dairy free rendition is rich with memory and celebration.

When it’s time for the meal, offer your friends and family this fabulous main course: Chorizo Stuffed Kale Leaves, Quinoa Stuffing, and Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole. The Pumpkin & Hemp Seed Pesto is a tasty and concentrated accompaniment to each item on the main plate, so put a generous dab so your guests can have a little in each bite.

Follow the main course with a bit of Spiced Apple Cider, paired with some nice Molasses Spice Cookies. Or perhaps a decadent Pecan Tart?

If your guests are staying overnight, consider a late breakfast of Baked Oatmeal, with Orange Creme Anglaise and Cranberry Compote.

Happy Holidays!

 

Vanilla Bean Holiday Nog
Yields: 4 Servings

1 quart almond milk
1 cup coconut-based vanilla ice cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 banana
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
3 tablespoons dark rum, optional

Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend till completely smooth.

Serve with dusting of nutmeg, cinnamon, or cardamom.

 

Chorizo Stuffed Kale Leaves
Yields: 4 Servings

1/2 pound tempeh
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 kale leaves

Crumble tempeh in large bowl. Add fennel seed, smoked paprika, ground cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and tamari. Mix well.

Warm the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and tempeh, and sauté until tempeh has lightly browned. Remove from heat.

Carefully trim kale leaves so that they can be rolled around filling. Add 1/2 to 1/3 cup of tempeh to a kale leaf, and roll lengthwise.

Place filled leaves in a steaming basket. Steam for 6 to 10 minutes. Serve while still hot.

 

Pumpkin and Hemp Seed Pesto
Yields: 1 cup

3/4 cup pumpkin seed, raw or toasted
1/4 cup hemp seed
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Place pumpkin seeds into a food processor. Process briefly to break down the seeds.

Add remaining ingredients, and process into smooth uniform mixture.

 

Quinoa Stuffing
Yields: 4 Servings

1/2 cup pecans
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1/2 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon sage
5 dried figs, diced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 sprigs fresh thyme

Heat oven to 350°.

Toast pecans in oven for 15 minutes. Chop and set aside.

Bring water or stock to boil, add quinoa, then lower to simmer. Simmer for 12 minutes, or until quinoa is done. Drain excess water and set aside.

Warm olive oil in heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Add mushroom, onion, celery, garlic, rosemary, oregano, and sage. Sauté until onions are beginning to caramelize.

Add figs, pecans, sea salt, and thyme. Mix thoroughly and sauté for 3 minutes more.

Turn off heat and thoroughly mix in quinoa.

 

Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole
Yields: 4 Servings

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Heat the oven to 450°.

Roast sweet potatoes for 40 minutes, or until soft. Remove, let cool, and take off peel. Mash to a uniformly smooth consistency.

Reduce oven to 375°.

Whisk together the cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, vanilla, orange juice, and sea salt. Mix into the sweet potatoes.

Lightly oil a 9×9” baking pan. Fill with the sweet potato mixture.

Mix together the maple syrup and walnuts. Spread over the top of the sweet potatoes.

Place in oven and bake for 25 minutes.

 

Spiced Apple Cider
Yields: 4 Servings

1 quart apple cider
2 sticks cinnamon
2 teaspoons whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole clove
1 inch ginger, sliced thinly

Place all ingredients into heavy-bottomed soup pot, and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes.

Strain and serve warm.

 

Molasses Spice Cookies
Yields: 2 Dozen

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup olive oil
3/8 cup water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix dry ingredients.

Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

Combine wet and dry ingredients. Do not over mix.

Form quarter-sized rounds of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes and allow to cool completely.

 

Pecan Tart
Yields: 1 10″ tart

1 10″ pie crust, pre-baked
2 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup rice syrup
1 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons flax meal
1/4 cup arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
Heat oven to 350°.

Toast pecans in oven for 15 minutes.

In heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine maple syrup, rice syrup, soy milk, vanilla, and sea salt. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 10 more minutes, stirring often.

Vigorously whisk in the ground flax meal and dissolved arrowroot.

In large bowl, combine syrup mixture with pecans, and stir thoroughly.

Pour into pie crust. Bake for 30 minutes at 350°, or until bubbly and browned.

Let cool thoroughly before slicing.

 

Baked Oatmeal
Yields: 8 Servings

3 tablespoons flax meal
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cup almond milk
1/4 cup goji berries
1/2 cup tart cherries

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly oil a 9×9″ cake pan or individual ramekins.

Mix together the flax meal and water. Set aside for 15 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and sea salt.

In another small mixing bowl, whisk together the maple syrup and almond milk until combined. Add the soaking flax meal and stir to incorporate.

Add the liquids to the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Fold in the fruit.

Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Allow the oatmeal to cool in the pan for a few minutes before serving.

Can also add orange or lemon zest, dried apricots, figs, or fresh berries.

 

Orange Crème Anglaise
Yields: 1 cup

1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons orange zest
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 pinch turmeric
1 tablespoon agave nectar, optional
2 tablespoons arrowroot

Combine first six ingredients in heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Whisk arrowroot into an equal amount of water. Whisk this mixture into simmering milk. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Refrigerate and let cool completely prior to use.

 

Cranberry Compote
Yields: 6 Servings

2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup raisins
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 pinch sea salt
1 cup fresh cranberries

Place orange juice, raisins, cinnamon stick, maple syrup, and sea salt in a saucepan over low heat.

Simmer slowly till reduced by half.

Add cranberries and simmer for another 15 minutes, or until liquid is thick and syrupy.

Cool before serving.

Winter Sustenance

The freshness of the summer market lingers on my palate as we slowly transition into winter. As I reluctantly let go of sun-ripened tomatoes and delicate salad greens, I reach for winter sustenance.

Summer is a time for letting it all hang out, like a garden filled with wispily waving fennel, nasturtiums sluicing through open channels in rapids of color, and trellised vines of sugar snap peas. Winter, however, is about finding one’s grounding again, seeking the concentrated energy to be found inward.

“Grounding” and “concentrated” are words that easily apply to the abundance of root vegetables available during winter. But root vegetables aren’t the only things available: hearty greens and squash are eager to provide us with the diverse nutrients needed to maintain our health and good cheer during the winter months.

A quick look at my availability chart shows me the wonderful array of vegetables that are waiting here at winter’s doorstep: Sweet potatoes, onions, cabbage, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, shallots, butternut and other squashes, potatoes, garlic, broccoli, leeks, kale, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin—winter is far from drab and gray!

Also, when I consider the easy access I have to dried beans and grains, as well as cultured foods like tempeh, I realize just how abundant and vibrant my winter will be.

In some ways, cooking in the winter is much simpler than in the summer. Baking a sweet potato is about the easiest thing one can do. As the sweet potato finishes, I simmer a bit of quinoa. Above the simmering quinoa, I place my bamboo steamer, into which I’ve tossed a handful of chopped kale. When I plate this tasty trio, I supercharge their highly nutritious state by drizzling on a little flax oil and some nutritional yeast. A meal could hardly be more simple, satisfying, or whole.

The following recipes were developed around produce that is available fresh during the winter, as well as dried beans and grains. They are quite simple to prepare, and being simple, they are also flexible. If the recipe calls for carrots, feel free to use parsnips. Don’t want mashed potatoes on the Shepherd’s Pie? No problem, use sweet potatoes.

Sometimes we rely too much on heavy foods during the winter, simply because they feel so good and warming. Don’t forget, however, to include hearty helpings of leafy greens. The Winter Greens Salad is a perfect way to balance a meal.

 

Mushroom and Barley Soup

8 Servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
2 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Herbs d’Provence
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups vegetable stock
1 cup barley
1/2 cup lentils
1 teaspoon sea salt
Warm the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms until they give up their liquid, about 10 minutes. Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes.

Add carrots, garlic, herbs, and black pepper, and sauté until carrots are soft.

Add vegetable stock, and barley. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower flame and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add lentils and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until lentils are done.

Add sea salt and remove from heat.

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Fennel

6 Servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 fennel bulb
4 shallots, quartered
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Heat oven to 425°.

Trim ends of Brussels sprouts and remove outer layer of leaves. Slice in half through the base and place in mixing bowl.

Trim end of fennel bulb, and remove outer layers if blemished. Cut ¼” thick slices, perpendicular to the root, up to the green stalks. Place in bowl with Brussels sprouts.

Add shallots, garlic, olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Toss well.

Place in 2 quart casserole dish. Roast uncovered at 425° for 25 minutes. Toss, cover, and roast for 25 minutes more.

 

Winter Greens Salad

4 Servings

4 collard leaves, chopped
4 lacinato kale leaves, chopped
8 red kale leaves, chopped
4 Napa cabbage leaves, chiffonade
3/4 cup carrot, shredded
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/2 cup raisins
In wok or skillet over high heat, wilt the collard and kale in a small amount of water. Do not cook completely.

Mix cooked greens with Napa cabbage, carrot, pumpkin seeds, and raisins.

Toss with Pomegranate Vinaigrette (recipe below) and serve.

 

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

4 Servings

1 clove garlic, smashed
1 shallot, chopped
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons agave nectar (optional)
1 pinch sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Place garlic, shallot, pomegranate juice, balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, and sea salt in blender. Blend till fully homogenized.

Add olive oil and blend until emulsified.

 

Shepherd’s Pie

4 servings

3/4 pound potato
1 small onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
1/4 pound parsnip or carrot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound tempeh, crumbled
2 cups vegetable stock (divided use)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (can also use any gluten-free flour)
Heat oven to 450°.

Place whole, unpeeled potatoes and onion on a baking sheet. Put in oven and roast till potatoes are soft.

Peel and dice onion, and place in large bowl with the potatoes.

Add olive oil, non-dairy milk, sea salt, and pepper. Mash potatoes thoroughly and set aside. (If smoother, whipped potatoes are desired, use electric mixer.)

Lower oven to 350°.

Warm a large skillet over a medium flame. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then the mushrooms. Sauté till the mushrooms give up their liquid, about 10 minutes.

Add onion, parsnip or carrot, garlic, herbs, and black pepper. Sauté till onions are soft.

Add tempeh and sauté for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of vegetable stock and ¼ teaspoon of sea salt. Simmer over low heat till stock is evaporated.

Add flour and mix well. Pour in remaining stock and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, till gravy forms.

Place vegetable mixture into a 2 quart casserole dish. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the top.

Bake uncovered at 350° for 30 minutes.

 

Making the Most of the Summer Markets

Kohlrabi and Garlic Scapes

Kohlrabi and Garlic Scapes

The Farmers’ Markets here in NYC are riotously abundant now, and I have to contain my enthusiasm as I walk the aisles. I simply want to buy every vegetable and herb I see.

I don’t have a garden this year, not having discovered a way to transport to Brooklyn the Hudson Valley garden I built last year. But I’m a long way from despair: my lack of a garden means that I can benefit from all the other farms in the region.

To help me manage my enthusiasm, I have developed this short guideline for “marketing.” Perhaps it will be of use to you, too.

Take an experienced guide

The Field Guide to Produce is a fantastic little book that can accompany you to the market. Photos and descriptions of over 200 fruits and vegetables are provided, as well as handling and preparation tips and seasoning suggestions. Not sure what to do with kohlrabi? Don’t even know what it looks like? Then this book is for you!

Know the schedule

Near my apartment in Brooklyn, there are markets happening on three days of the week. As a stupendous bonus, I work near Union Square, where one of the best greenmarkets happens on four days each week. In fact, the only day on which I might have trouble getting something is Thursday. In other cities where I’ve lived, markets have been held on multiple days of the week, too. So if you’re in NYC, Dallas, Denver, Santa Fe, Saugerties, Mendocino…anywhere, get to know the schedule and make it a part of your weekly routine. I guarantee you that it’s much more pleasant than ducking into Whole Foods, not to mention enormously “greener.”

Go early, go often

If you can manage it, get to the market just as it opens. The greens and herbs will be fresher, and all the produce will have been handled the least. However, if you’re going to buy potatoes or carrots or other more ‘durable’ vegetables, go just as the market is closing. You can possibly score a better price, as the farmer would rather sell than pack it all back home. Also, if you’re buying delicate items like greens and herbs, purchase only what you’ll need for the next 3 or 4 days. Nothing is more de-motivating than watching things go bad in the fridge. When you’ve reached the end of the salad greens, hit the market again. It will become a very pleasant and peaceful routine, not onerous at all. Plus, you will have a wonderful variety of foods in your diet and on your palate.

Try something you’ve never had

Find a bouquet of epazote? Or some purslane? Go for it. Don’t fear the arugula. Embrace the amaranth. Honor the okra. And of course, love the lovage. Imagine the call you can make to your partner: “Honey, I’m feeling like some shishito tonight. How ‘bout you?”

Ask the experts

Having bought that glorious bundle of purslane, feel free to ask the farmers themselves what to do with it. They wouldn’t be growing it without knowing some great ways to use it. Also, most markets have cooking demonstrations, recipes, and a website full of information about the produce.

Master a few techniques

You’ll need some hardcore skills to prepare all this bounty. Be ready, at a moment’s notice, to: rinse, peel, slice, scoop, crank a salad spinner, shake a jar. Most of all, master the art of low oil sauté. When in doubt, this is the way to go with most summer produce that you’re not eating raw. Put a good pan on medium high heat, add a little oil, toss in the prepped vegetables, and then toss them another time or two. If you want them a little more done, then cook them till they’re a little more done. You are the master!

Have sketches instead of recipes

Cantaloupe & Raspberry Soup!

Since the produce at a market will fluctuate more than that at a traditional supermarket, apply some flexibility to your recipes, too. If you have a great recipe for Melon & Cucumber Soup, remember that with little effort it can be transformed into a Cantaloupe & Raspberry Soup. Pasta Primavera—in Italy it’s called “greengrocer’s pasta”– is about the most flexible idea around: buy the currently available fresh vegetables, pair them with pasta, and add a light sauce. For this, a simple herbed aioli will support all the variations. Even more than Pasta Primavera, summer salads are open doors for just about any herb, flower, fruit, or vegetable: garlic scapes, nasturtiums, squash blossoms, beets, celery root, berries, apples, fresh uncooked peas or corn. You can even try this wonderful antipasto. Recipes are great for generating a shopping list, but the shopping list shouldn’t be bound by the recipe.

 

Buy mindfully

To me, this means “buy organic.” Make your own decision, based on your own principles and in keeping with your budgetary limits, but remember that conventional agricultural methods contribute to depleted soils. As a consequence, nutrient levels in foods have been dropping over the past 50 years. Organic methods, such as those espoused by the Real Food Campaign, produce richer soils, and therefore richer foods. Your body gets more of what it needs. If improving your health isn’t enough, you’re also supporting the health of the farm workers themselves.

Even if you’re not missing last year’s garden, I encourage you to seek out the Farmers’ Market in your area. Many of us talk about eating seasonally and locally, and practicing a more healthy intercourse between our bodies, our foods, and our lands. There’s no better place to enact this than at the Farmers’ Market. We often hear the phrase, “vote with your dollar.” There’s no better way of doing this than handing that dollar to the farmer who grows your tomatoes—thereby enabling her or him to make the most of the summer market as well.

 

Autumn’s Promise, Spring’s Fulfillment

Today I pulled back the mulch in my garlic bed. I was greeted by tender green shoots, holding aloft the fulfillment of a promise.

In October, I planted about 120 garlic cloves and let them sprout. Shortly before the first frost, I gave them a good blanket of straw, and we agreed to meet again after Winter. I also put on a few extra layers, and now here we are, at the threshold of Spring. The garlic, I must say, has a serious case of bed-head. As for me, well, I’m sufficiently groomed for gardening, I suppose.

It’s the same routine every year, this seed-to-plant-to-harvest-to-seed cycle. And it is still miraculous—because try as we might, we still don’t understand what created the spark of life that permeates our world. So I stand amazed as the plants awaken from their nap and demand my interaction.

It’s not just Nature performing this stage show, but also her sister Metaphor. Hand-in-hand, they remind us that Winter’s spells are temporary. Dormancy is only a phase. Darkness is never eternal. Every yin has its yang, and life has its flow. Out of every cold and somber period, I also have sprung forth with renewed vigor and purpose.

I embrace all the seasons, and marvel at the unfair share of complaints filed against Winter. Yes, it is cold. But it also can be a very productive time. In Winter we gather compact energy, and have an opportunity to turn our attention inward. We conserve our resources. We have time to experience great peace in meditation. While these activities can be restful, they are a far cry from dormancy.

If we get a bit down, we have a promise to help us keep going. That promise is simple: The garden bed, once overflowing with Autumn’s bounty, will spring into life again.

This promise is held in the tiniest of places, packed tightly into the seeds that the garden gives us to save. Not only are the seeds tiny, but they are super-abundant, uncountable, even unmanageable. We gather them and keep them safely through Winter. By using only a fraction of them, we’ll have more results than we can imagine.

Do we doubt it now and then? Do we sometimes wonder if the process will breakdown at some point? Sure we do. But behind it all, those seeds are lying in wait, as if they are secrets hidden by Winter’s dim light. Then comes that mysterious and galvanizing spark…

So now the march towards aphelion awakens us, and we relive the unrestrained renewal of all living things. Energy breaks loose all around us. Spring blossoms peek in the windows as fresh tendrils turn the doorknob.

The newness in the air fills our lungs and reminds us that we can do anything. It’s time to grab a handful of seeds and step outdoors. Life demands our interaction.

Kris Carr and her crazy sexy diet thing

Exuberance leaps off the pages of Kris Carr’s latest book, “Crazy Sexy Diet.” It’s an inspiring diet and lifestyle program that she developed to heal herself of a health imbalance. “Imbalance” is her elegantly understated way of referring to the nearly two dozen tumors that had developed in her liver and lungs. In facing this cancer, she determined that she would not engage in battle. Rather, she would embark upon the greatest adventure of her life. Such unabashed moxie is seldom seen, but in this book she puts it in the palm of your hands.

In the book’s Foreword, Dr. Dean Ornish, (founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California–San Francisco) refers to Kris’ approach as being based not on a fear of dying, but on the joy of living. She abundantly demonstrates that contagious spirit throughout the succeeding chapters.

She begins by giving us a vivid contrast. Prior to her diagnosis, she was a jet-setting starlet, eating to be thin, with a list of medicated and self-medicated symptoms and an atrocious yet mainstream convenience-based diet. Once diagnosed, however, she became a self-healing, reflective, iconoclastic “wellness warrior,” empowered by her own educated choices, realizing the strength that resides in a simple plant-based diet, nestled within a meditative and thankful lifestyle. As she states it, “[I traded] my fast-paced New York City party life for…a simple, nature-filled existence in Woodstock, New York. I exchanged road rage for prayer, fast food for fasting, swapped martinis for organic green drinks and a compassionate vegan diet.”

While not everyone can make a physical move as significant as Manhattan-to-Woodstock, each of us can improve other aspects of our lives, which is exactly what Kris demonstrates for us in “Crazy Sexy Diet.”

It’s more than just diet, she is quick to tell us. It’s about a fully-integrated and health-supporting lifestyle. Sustainable healthcare is comprised of yoga mats and meditation sessions, in addition to good food.

The book contains many testimonials, which reinforce Kris’ approach to life. Each chapter contains a review section, which serves as a checklist to someone adopting her prescription. She has a significant posse of guest contributors, from medical doctors to Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the US, from actress Emily Deschanel to Jivamukti Yoga co-founder Sharon Gannon. Her writing is irreverent and provocative, without sacrificing meaningful information. Not once does she commit the fatal flaw of preachiness.

This last point is important, for the changes she’s suggesting are rather wholesale. It would be easy for a writer, having once healed herself, to become dogmatic or heavy-handed. Quite the contrary, she is candid about her own deviations, and encourages a compassionate application that considers not only our own flaws, but the feelings of others. Compassion is one of the key items in her diet, it seems.

In presenting us with the path she’s taken, she reminds us that life is a creative endeavor. This is a very important lesson for us all, especially as we see the status quo crumbling before our eyes. It’s time to do things differently.

Dr. Ornish states that “joy, pleasure, and freedom are sustainable.” Kris is a vibrant embodiment of these ideals, and thankfully she’s provided a recipe everyone can follow.

Experiencing Local Love

One reason that life is such a groove in Mendocino.

One of the most satisfying relationships I’ve established while here in the Hudson Valley is the one I have with a purveyor, Kingston Natural Foods Market. It’s no stretch to classify it as a ‘love interest.’

Love comes in many forms, it’s true, and unfortunately the word itself is subject to overuse. I am not one to throw it around with indiscretion. I don’t “love my warm socks” or “love my new phone.” I do appreciate them, I do hold them in regard. But love? No, I save that for truly unique things. I can always buy more socks; the ones I’m wearing now will be forgotten, regardless of how much I might love them today. And the minute a critical call doesn’t go through, well, I don’t really love my phone. There’s no reason to invite such fickleness.

But my relationship with this market is another matter. It is love, derived from many a splendid thing (with apologies to Han Suyin).

Before I get to talking about KNF, let me say a few things about similar love affairs of the past. There are some common traits and behaviors, of course.

When I was in Denver, I had a strong affection for a small shop that sold specialty teas, herbs, spices, and kitchen gear. Owned and staffed daily by Michelle Bontrager and her brother Ethan, Lily’s Kitchen and Garden was truly a unique place. I wrote an article about them for a quickly-defunct arts magazine. By ‘article’ I mean ‘open love letter.’

What I admired about the shop was the sense of ‘connection’ that permeated all they did. From selection of products—they tested or used every single item themselves, seeking worldwide for just the right things—to engagement with customers, to personal attention, to remembering (mentally, not electronically) someone’s tea preferences. The proprietors were deeply committed, not just to their retail space, but to everyone that walked in the door.

As I wrote in the article:

It’s a simple chain of goodwill and quality: Lily’s works with distributors that treat them well. They in turn treat their customers well. The cumulative goodwill translates into high quality experiences while using the products at home. It’s a reminder of the reason merchandise is often referred to as “goods.”

A few years after that article, I moved to Mendocino, California. As if living in a coastal village Paradise weren’t enough, I found several small local shops where I could trade love for love.

For example, Corners of the Mouth is a tiny organic grocer, located in an old converted chapel. Quite apropos, the choir loft contained their bulk teas, herbs, and spices. I would cloister myself there frequently, blending some specialty brews or reading up on some unique herbs. They had the same commitment as Lily’s, expressed in their focus on local organic produce, connection with their customers, and concern for quality. It was obvious that they valued relationships.

I drifted southeast from there, landing in Santa Fe, another local, indie Mecca. From the La Montanita Coop to the truly exceptional Farmers’ Market, I was sustainably surrounded. Due to my role at Tree House Pastry Shop and Café, I was constantly in touch with the farmers, valuing the direct line from their field to my kitchen. There is no better experience.

Coming to the Hudson Valley, with its focus on small, locally supported farms, I felt like I was taking another trip to Eden. As I procure things for the program here at CAS, I find that I’m connecting with growers and seed libraries and markets with the same spirit I found in Denver, Mendocino, and Santa Fe.

Of course. It’s the way that the best work is always done. Person to person, face to face. I need something, I know you provide it, and we agree to an exchange. Trust runs through the entire experience, and our values complement each other. It is apparent—obvious—that we care for each other’s well-being. It is important to us that both parties thrive.

So it is when I shop at Kingston Natural Foods. It was clear from the moment I stepped in the door that it was a place where I’d be happy to trade. You know how it is: once you’ve been in love, you learn to recognize all the signs.

It’s in the first hello, the engaging introductory chatter, the subtle but strong affinity. She (the market, as represented by its proprietor, Jennifer) and I (um, represented by me) find this initial exchange to be beneficial. There will be more.

The same characteristics run through all these establishments: attention to products and clients; focus on doing something well; commitment to clearly-defined core values. Demonstrating—by doing—that every choice makes a difference, and that every dollar spent is significant. Every transaction has a strong identity—I know when I hand over a 20 that it will go through the market to the farm that grew the produce. I know the farm’s name, because Jennifer has posted it with the produce. On any given visit, I might meet the baker who brings that wonderful artisan bread, or the person who made the day’s hot soup, or perhaps the guy who drives the delivery truck.

As I meet these people, I build a social circle. I become an integral part of their lives, just as they are part of mine. I can thank the baker, looking her in the eye, for what she does. She can thank me for buying it. We both can turn and thank the proprietor. We are all thankful for the relationship.

So yeah, it’s easy to call this love. At the very least, friendship—and that is another great thing about trading this way. Every time I go to the market, I get to catch up with a friend.

==================================

In writing this piece, I looked to see what Michelle and Ethan are doing these days. It is no surprise that they have transformed their shop into another unique retail experience: Best Tea Time in a Bike Shop

Check out their blog, too.

I might be godless, but I am no sinner.

Now tell me, could I steer you wrong on this? (Thx for the photo, Mom!)

The holidays are about done, and I have yet to perform my one religious obligation. But it’s only a couple of days away.

I grew up quite religious, with a good array of traditions. However, I quit carrying my cross almost 20 years ago, realizing that a sinless life is more easily lived in the absence of judgment.

Content to be a kind person, a good neighbor, and a helpful resource, I find that my life is more fulfilling in the here-and-now than I could have hoped for it to be in the there-and-after.

I’ve babbled on sufficiently in this and other spaces about my eschewing of holiday traditions, too. But it’s time I let you know about a monstrous inconsistency.

As if my very non-existent soul depended upon it, I partake of Black Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day, so that I might have good luck in the coming year. There’s nothing anyone can do to talk me out of it. You can go on endlessly about the irrational superstitions associated with the act. You can map out my entire previous year and ask me just where I think all that luck kicked in. We can argue about self-determination and self-actualization, or philosophize ad nauseam, ad infinitum, about how a small speckled legume can or cannot have influence on the forces of life.

And while you’re busy trying to tear down my temple, I’ll be in the kitchen practicing my faith. Hey, we’ve all got our quirky beliefs, don’t we?

As my dear friend Iliana would say, “Don’t pull the Devil by the tail.” In other words, make your own pot of soul food. Here’s your recipe!

Black Eyed Peas

Yields: 4 Servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 cup black eyed peas
4 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons sea salt
black pepper

Instructions

Warm the oil in a 5 quart soup pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper, celery, allspice, thyme, and garlic. Sauté for another 5 minutes.

Add the bay leaves, peas, and stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 40 minutes.

Add salt and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add black pepper to taste.

Enjoy with Good Fortune!

Soup

William Blake prescribed seeing the world in a grain of sand. As I try to take in a fraction of his vision, I must be content with reflections in a bowl of soup.

I love to make soup. It’s one of the truest improvisational arts, fueled by ken and emotion and intuition. Soup is just as much Zen as it is Rococo, flowing like the Tao through a cup of miso and floating among the penne in minestrone. It has a soul of its own, an offspring of the Universal Soul itself.

When I make a good soup, I feel compelled to call a friend to come share it. It’s an intimate thing which requires confidence in the midst of vulnerability.

So, a couple of weeks ago, while I was preparing to teach a soup class at CAS, I felt a tinge of trepidation. How do you put all of that in a recipe?

Well, you don’t. You can print “1 heaping cup of love” in the list of ingredients, but that just sounds kitschy and therefore insincere. “Go with the flow” doesn’t translate finitely, nor does “just groove on it.” Standard directions cover only the technical side of soup-making. To really capture the process, I’d have to say things like, “caramelize the onions with great sensuality,” or “use a vegetable stock that has the spirit of black tea.”

For this class more than others, I realized that I needed to listen to my Writer’s Mind: that is, I needed to “show” more than I needed to “tell.”

We spent the first hour talking about food, about common threads that ran through all of our lives. We talked about the journey we were each on. We spoke of space, openness, honesty, and acceptance. We remembered great soups we’d each had, and what made them special. The Community Table—ubiquitous throughout Europe, but sadly missing in most US restaurants—was a touchstone for us. It provided a segue into a discussion of partaking from the same pot, a simple act which tells us much more about soup than any recipe can.

That is the starting point: the realization that soup, in its very essence, binds everyone who partakes. Instantly but securely intimate, as soulful as the primordial soup from which the universe itself formed.

Having established our context, any recipe was merely an application of the concept. “See how it applies itself to Miso with Udon…look at how it fills a pot of Lentils & Vegetables with Filé…watch as it binds Vichysoisse…”

There were some solid technical tips, of course, like adding the filé only after you’ve taken the soup off the fire. I also told them that if you use good homemade stock, take time with your onions, and go easy on the salt, you will have a great soup. Beyond that, use what you have on hand, express yourself, and share it with others. The recipes are only starting points, as always.

Soup adapts to our lives. It winds through our personal progression and species evolution, keeping us rooted in ancient traditions. It helps us maintain a bond with the first human to ever hang a pot over a fire.

While we can make it as mystical as Blake, it is also as everyday as Sandburg:

Soup

I saw a famous man eating soup.
I say he was lifting a fat broth
Into his mouth with a spoon.
His name was in the newspapers that day
Spelled out in tall black headlines
And thousands of people were talking about him.

When I saw him,
He sat bending his head over a plate
Putting soup in his mouth with a spoon.