Twice a year, I pack my car full to the ceiling and drive three hours to cook for a yoga retreat deep in the woods of Kentucky. The kitchen - my station for the weekend - overlooks an expansive lake, although its view is mostly blocked by thousands of huge trees. Little streaks of blue peek through the green leaves; more or less, depending on the season. Late fall means more visibility of the water. Although I love the fullness of the oaks, maples and birches in late spring just as much.
I watch hawks circle above the tree line while I chop vegetables and listen to the group of 20 or so women practicing in the great room that’s open to the kitchen.
Cooking is a form of meditation for me, no matter the location or kitchen. But in this scenario, everything I love about it is amplified.
There is a rhythm I fall into that is as restorative for me as the asanas are for the yoginis. The openness of the kitchen to the living-room-turned-studio obliges me to tune into the tempo of their practice. When they are in meditation, I move slower, more deliberate. I am quiet. This is not the time to load the dishwasher or do heavy chopping. I save those tasks for the active part of the practice. I can bang around a little when they’re up doing headstands and backbends.
Being tuned into the pace of their practice becomes my own practice. As I work, I listen to the teachers’ lesson for the day. Whether she’s talking about the history of the goddess or the secret life of trees, I listen along and sometimes stop to take a note.
I am at perfect peace there; and laugh when the women express their guilt that I am working while they relax. They don’t understand: this is how I relax.
The yoginis always want this chocolate pepita bark on retreat. That's fine with me. It's super easy, requiring only two ingredients, not counting the sea salt or any other little exotic garnishes. Pumpkin seeds are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, full of phytonutrients, minerals and fiber. (Research here.)
But no doubt it's the crunch + chocolate + salt factor that makes these non- negotiable for the weekend's menu.
There are countless types of chocolate you can melt to drizzle over the toasted seeds. I suggest a semi sweet chocolate chip of your choice. I love the Enjoy Life brand of chocolate chips: they’re soy, gluten and dairy free. The also have a dark and milk chocolate version.
Buy raw pumpkin seeds and toast them yourself. That gives you total control over the level of crunch. I love to let them go almost to the edge of burnt. They pop as they roast. You could just as well leave them raw, if you like.
Notice the chips on the right side of the bowl. When all the chocolate has turned that lighter shade, then you can stir.
½ pound raw pumpkin seeds
12 ounces vegan or regular semi sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350.
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spray the paper lightly with olive oil pan spray.
Spread half a pound of raw pumpkin seeds out evenly, in a single layer as much as possible.
Toast for 12 to 15 minutes until they start to brown.
Let them cool down but make sure they stay evenly spread over the pan. Gently shake the pan to redistribute them, if need be.
In a sauce pan that comfortably fits a stainless steel or glass bowl, bring an inch or so of water to boil. You could also use a double boiler here, if you possess one.
Spread the chocolate chips out in the bowl in a single layer and set over the water. Leave the chocolate undisturbed until every last morsel has melted, when all of them have faded into a lighter shade.
Whisk until the chocolate is smooth with no lumps at all. Dip the tip of a teaspoon into the chocolate and drizzle the chocolate across the seeds, with staccato flicks of your wrist as if this were an abstract expressionist painting. Do maintain control though or you’ll find strings of chocolate on everything outside the rim of the baking sheet.
Cover as much of the seeds as possible, but know that some will inevitably fall away later, when you break the mass into long chards. Throw those stragglers in a bowl and eat them too.
Once you've covered all the seeds, you can sprinkle some sea salt or candied ginger over the chocolate if you like. The yoginis love them both. There are infinite other possibilities: dried lavender? Pink peppercorns? Chili flakes? This is your work of art - you decide.
Set the pan in the fridge for half an hour or so. Then carefully break up the bark into pieces and serve. Leftovers should be kept cool and dry.
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They shoot up from garlic plants like a crazy stalk and then fall gracefully into quirky curls, this way and that, heavy from their own weight. And when their curvaceous seed pods burst into flowers, you know the garlic bulbs below the soil are nearly, if not completely, ready for harvest.
Garlic scapes taste like garlic. A crunchier, greener version of garlic. They can be sautéed or stir-fried or braised in place of or with regular cloves, heightening the garlic flavor.
Garlic scapes are in season in June. It’s a fleeting season, so a sense of urgency is important. Snatch them up from your local farmers’ market. Though they’re not available for long, they will keep for awhile.
Seek to preserve their sinuous nature when you cook with them. Challenge yourself to slice them lengthwise, creating long thin wisps that twist and turn in the dish. It’s a fun exercise. Alternatively, dice them fine, like a green onion.
GARLIC SCAPE CONFIT:
Cut about 5 stalks in half lengthwise, or dice them.
Peel two or three heads of garlic. Place the wispy scapes and peeled garlic cloves into a very shallow baking dish, about one inch deep. Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme or other herbs. Pour enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the cloves and scapes. Cover the dish with foil and place in an oven set at 200 degrees.
Bake for about 30 minutes or so until the garlic cloves have softened. Check them after 15 minutes to make sure they aren’t browning too fast. You want light amber, not dark brown. Remove from the oven.
At this point you have something glorious: Garlic infused olive oil and soft roasted garlic cloves.
Serve the garlic cloves and scapes straight out of the baking dish alongside grilled or toasted bread. Or discard the scapes and thyme and store the garlic cloves and oil in an airtight jar.
The cloves can be tossed in salads or stirred into a rice dish; use the oil for vinaigrette or for drizzling onto fried eggs. You will find ways.
ARTICHOKE y AJO:
Take the garlic scape confit to another level by adding roasted artichoke hearts for a vegan variation on a traditional Mexican Camarones y Ajo.
After you pull the confit from the oven, crank up the heat to 400 degrees. If you are using canned or frozen artichoke hearts, make sure they are well drained and dry. Water is not a friend to the deep caramel results you are seeking when roasting. On a baking sheet with olive oil, roast the hearts for 15 minutes or so until caramelized.
While the artichokes are roasting, zest one lime and set aside to use as a garnish. Cut the lime in half and when the hearts come out of the oven, squeeze the lime over them and sprinkle with sea salt.
Add them to the garlic confit and garnish the dish with lime zest and fresh ground pepper. If you like heat, throw in some crushed red pepper flakes.
Serve with grilled bread, gluten free crackers or wooden skewers for spearing.
CAMARONES y AJO:
The traditional Mexican Camarones y Ajo that inspired the vegan version of this dish can be prepared the same way as the artichokes for a seafood version of this dish. Use a pound of small or medium peeled and deveined shrimp and roast in the same way as the artichoke hearts above. When the shrimp go from deep pink to pale, they’re ready.
Usually when we talk about “doing a shot” it’s with tequila or some other strong spirit that gives us a quick buzz (and takes away our good judgment.) It starts with fun intentions and ends with a bad headache.
Fresh juiced ginger can give you a buzz without the headache or the regrets. It’s an all over body buzz, generated by ginger’s intense heat. On the other side of the sharp swallow, warmth spreads throughout the body quickly, a burst of energy follows. The mind is cleared. Juice bars everywhere serve little shots of ginger + lemon + honey, a triple threat against inflammation.
The day we first introduced our own version to our bar menu, I asked a few servers if they wanted to do a ginger shot with me. Their response was immediate and enthusiastic: “Yes!”
I laughed, and then told them there’s no alcohol in a ginger shot. They did the shot anyway, with puckered faces and dramatic groans. Ginger is spicy. But I watched as they sang the praises of the after-effect to customers. Sales grew.
Drinking ginger juice becomes a daily addiction. This is the kind of buzz we should crave. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory food and is also said to be good for digestion. (research here.) A cousin to turmeric, ginger is a bona fide member of the super food family.
Most juice bars sell ginger juice by the ounce, and when I am lazy, I will get mine this way. But juicing ginger in big batches and freezing it in ice cube trays is a cheaper way to make sure you always have a supply. I make a batch every few weeks; no daily juicer clean up required.
Here is a place where I really insist on buying organic, as I do for other root vegetables. Growing in the soil means extra exposure to the chemicals of non-organic farming.
Buying organic means I leave the skins on when I juice ginger. A good wash in the sink and then straight into the juicer. Peeling ginger is an exercise in dexterity, navigating little nooks and crannies. If you can’t find organic and want to peel the skin, here’s a little tip: break the roots down into smaller nubs for easier navigation.
Juicing with the skins on also means about a 30 percent greater yield of the juice, I have found. Here a few other tips for successful ginger juicing:
These recipes are, as always, just a guideline. Experiment with the quantities of ginger juice, lemon and honey to arrive at your perfect edge. Adapting to the lovable burn of ginger can happen at your own pace. Feel free to use less than suggested here.
Ten ounces of fresh ginger will yield about 4 ounces of juice.
For an all over body buzz:
Ginger shot or base for the recipes below.
In a glass, stir together:
4 ounces ginger juice
Juice of 1 lemon
3 teaspoons honey or to taste
Each serving will be a little over 1 ounce. Drink quickly or use this as a base for the drinks below.
For a refreshing alternative to soda:
Mix 1 ounce of the Ginger Shot/Base recipe in an 8 to 12 ounce glass. Fill with ice. Top with sparkling mineral water. Stir.
For a winter day or to scare away a cold:
Mix 1 ounce of the Ginger Shot/Base recipe in an 8 ounce coffee mug. Top with hot water and stir.
P.S. Much thanks to my friend's mom who graciously hosted me in her Atlanta home last week and let me have fun in her poolside kitchen. Her name, ironically: Jinger. With a J.
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I would love to forage for ramps one day. I would do it more for the photo opportunity than for the fun of digging around the wet floor of the woods. I imagine the sun coming through the trees and hitting the little patches of graceful ramp leaves and how beautiful that would be.
I wonder how many times I might have walked over a crop playing in the woods as a child. My grandfather, a farmer, never talked about ramps or brought any home from the woods around the farm like he did persimmons and papaws. That leads me to believe ramps didn’t grow in that part of rural Kentucky. I had never heard of the precious wild spring onions until I was already grown.
And truthfully, I didn’t pay much attention when I did hear about them - at first. It’s one of those things in life that might stay on the periphery of your consciousness, then one day come into full focus. That’s when my devotion set in.
Ramps have a cult following. Here’s why: they grow wild (intrigue), they have a short season (rare) and they are in short supply (coveted). It’s as much these reasons as their flavor profile that has made them so hot in recent years. Though they are wild onions, I often forget that and call them wild garlic. The flavor suggests a hybrid of the two. It’s strong.
The leaves are what I really love about ramps. Otherwise, I would stick to my favorite green onion, the leek. Ramp leaves are beautiful. They’re long and triangular and elegant. You could use a small bunch to fan yourself, if temperatures were high in late April, early May. The bulbs are like a regular green onion, small, pungent. But the leaves are hearty in volume, delicate in texture, and can be prepared in countless ways. Their generous length means you can julienne them lengthwise and toss them with string pasta, like the recipe here.
It’s been so rainy here lately that I have skipped the farmers market, knowing that I was dangling on the edge of ramp season. This week, I scored a pound from a friend who had hoarded more than his share in his refrigerator. I took it as a sign that I should go ahead and share this recipe, despite being late in the season. I hope fate is as kind to you this weekend.
1 pound Jovial Gluten Free Tagliatelle or other string pasta of your choice
Butternut squash, about 1 pound
Ramps, 1 pound leaves and bulbs
Simple Mills Grain free Rosemary and sea salt crackers, 1 cup
Or substitute 1 cup any GF breadcrumbs + 1 tablespoon minced
rosemary + 1 teaspoon sea salt + 1 teaspoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, finely minced.
Juice and zest of one lemon
¼ gram or generous pinch saffron, softened in half inch of warm water
1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
Preheat oven to 425 and slice the squash lengthwise in half. Spray a baking sheet with oil and lay the squash cut side down. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes or until soft. This can be done a day or two in advance.
Remove from the oven and scoop out and discard the seeds. Scoop the flesh into a blender and add half cup of the vegetable stock. Process until smooth.
Prep the Ramps
Cut and discard the thin stems, separating the white bulbs from the green leaves. Wash and dry both well. Finely mince the bulbs (this can be done super fast in a small food processor.) Set aside.
Julienne the leaves into long strips. Set aside.
Prep the Breadcrumbs
If you’re using the Simple Mills Rosemary crackers, process them into fine crumbs.
If you’re using gluten free breadcrumbs, toss them with the rosemary, lemon zest and olive oil and toast for a minute in a sauté pan on medium heat. Set aside.
Make the Sauce
Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, heat a skillet to medium high and put in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Saute the ramp greens until they have wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Add the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté 2 tablespoons of the minced ramp bulbs (reserve the others for another use) and 2 garlic cloves until soft, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the lemon juice/zest and the saffron/soaking liquid. Add the pureed squash and 1 cup of vegetable stock. Reserve the remaining half-cup of broth to thin out the sauce to your liking. Add the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
Stir in the sautéed ramp greens. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook 10 minutes or per the package instructions.
Remove the pasta with a slotted spoon to the sauce. Coat well with the sauce.
Garnish with the rosemary breadcrumbs.
Note about the pasta:
I used Jovial’s gluten free brown rice tagliatelle (made with eggs), because I wanted a pasta that would accommodate the long strands of ramp leaves. You can use any string pasta, of course. Jovial’s tagliatelle is as good as the handmade pappardelle I used to buy for this dish.
Note about the sauce:
The butternut squash gives this sauce structure and body. But it will thicken quickly, especially if reheated. You can add in extra vegetable stock to thin it out, if you like. Or even a little water.
Note about the breadcrumbs:
These are here purely for a textural punch and can be left out if you want. I’ve recently started keeping Simple Mills almond flour crackers (the rosemary is my current favorite) in the house at all times and discovered one night they make great breadcrumbs, with an easy whirl in the food processor. You can use any brand of gluten free breadcrumb and toast them with some chopped rosemary, lemon zest, sea salt and olive oil.
Note about Saffron:
Saffron is the arguably the most exotic and beautiful spice in the world. Words defy explanation of its flavor because there is no comparison. Its price point reflects its perceived value. It is beloved.
When cooking with saffron, you want to crush it between your fingertips and then soften it a bit in some liquid before adding it to a dish. A tiny bit of warm water or stock for three or four minutes is sufficient. Add the soaking liquid along with it. And never leave a single speck of it unused.
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prana is the common thread running through everything i love....the sun on my face...the sunlight through my camera.... breathing the ocean air... the sound of my breath...laughing with family + friends.