Sunday, December 29, 2013

Simple, healthy oatmeal cookies (vegan and gluten free)

Carrots harvested from the winter garden

Our Christmas holiday was spent quietly at home pursuing our creative passions during the afternoon and later curling up in front of the fireplace to watch a movie.  My son and I spent a few hours exploring culinary adventures making a simple, healthy meal of comfort foods.  Our menu for the day was a colorful tossed salad including carrots pulled from the winter garden topped with hearty lentils drizzled with a quick balsamic vinaigrette.

Salad with lentils

Our main course was a vegetable pot pie with more of the harvested carrots and for dessert, thick oatmeal cookies that mixed together in just a few minutes.  This is a small batch of a dozen gluten free, vegan cookies so it all bakes on just one cookie sheet and is perfect to throw in the oven when you already have it on to bake something else.  They are thick and moist from bananas and maple syrup with little added fat so you won't feel too guilty if you have more than a couple or decide to have them for breakfast.   These were inspired by a recipe over at The Naked Label.

Oatmeal cookies with dark chocolate chips, golden raisins and walnuts

Healthy oatmeal cookies (vegan/gluten free)

2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup rolled oats 
2/3 cup brown rice flour* 
1/4 teaspoon of aluminum-free baking soda
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch Celtic sea salt (optional)
1/2 - 3/4 cup of (raisins or other dried fruit, chopped nuts, chocolate chips or cocoa nibs)

- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a mixing bowl combine bananas, maple syrup, oil, and vanilla.
- Add in oats, brown rice flour, baking soda, shredded coconut, cinnamon, cardamom and sea  salt (if using) and mix until combined evenly, but do not over-stir.
- Lightly fold in dried fruit, nuts or chocolate. (We used 1/4 cup each, golden raisins, dark chocolate chips and chopped walnuts)
- Place parchment paper or Silpat on a cookie sheet. Drop golf ball size scoops of batter onto the baking sheet and flatten slightly. (These will not rise or spread much during baking.)
- Place the cookies in the oven on the middle rack for about 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Remove from oven and place cookies on a wire rack to cool. 

* If you don't have brown rice flour but you have a grain bowl attachment for your Vitamix you can make your own by processing approximately 1 cup of brown rice until fine.   Measure out what you need and save the rest for later.

Thanks for reading!

Christmas cactus in bloom

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter garden: photos and a podcast interview

Bok choy

This past weekend just after the winter solstice, we experienced amazingly balmy temperatures in the 70 degrees F range breaking records for the high for the day all over the Washington, DC area that were set nearly 100 years ago.  I took advantage of this rare opportunity to spend time outside in shirt sleeves and finish some end of the season maintenance that I never quite go around to earlier including: removing the expired fall peas along with their supports and garden cover, pulling out a few remaining stumps from my first crop of sorghum and tending to the compost heap.   

I also took a peek under the covered tunnels to see how things were making out and snapped a few photos to share below.  Serendipitously, a podcast interview on gardening I did with Kimberly Wilson for Tranquility du Jour earlier in the fall was aired this weekend on her site.  Kimberly is so creatively inspirational and I'm honored that she asked me to talk about one of my favorite pastimes. Give a listen and also check out all her other sparkly musings.  

Rainbow Swiss chard on track for spring harvest

Brussels sprouts also in progress for spring harvest

Carrots ready for harvest

Thanks for reading!
Christmas cactus

Friday, December 20, 2013

Adventures for the week

Some photos of my adventures

Much to my delight, I had a rare opportunity to immerse myself into several creative activities over the past week including:

Zen Gypsies dance performance at the Jingle Bell Raq Showcase and Fashion Show
an afternoon to dabble in mixed media and complete my sketchbook project submission for 2013 (my 2012 digitized sketchbook can be seen online and just came back to the Brooklyn, NY art library after being on tour this summer)
handcrafting a gift for a dear friend's upcoming birthday
Snowflake Tour of Charles Village Homes in Baltimore, MD - lovely old homes decked out in holiday decorations where the gracious homeowners served us freshly baked treats, warm cider and mulled wine (more on that later)
ran out of household cleaner and made this lovely lemongrass scented, eco-friendly, spray cleaner in about 10 minutes with ingredients that I had in my cupboards;  in a 16 ounce spray bottle mix thoroughly: 7 ounces of water, 7 oz of distilled white vinegar, 3 tablespoons of castile soap, 10 drops of tea tree essential oil, 10 drops of lemongrass (or your favorite) essential oil
finished reading "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast - and two other short guides to achieving more at work and at home"  by Laura Vanderkam and am eager to give some of the ideas a try
penned a Zen Gypsies blog post about what's been inspiring us lately
Sipped lots of green juice to counteract the cookies and mulled wine from the house tour

I hope you have been able to sneak in some creativity into this busy holiday season too.

Thanks for reading!

Green juice (kale, cucumber and green apple) for sipping during creative adventures

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Human rights prize ceremony offers inspiration

Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeleine K. Albright at the awards ceremony
(photo courtesy of the Lantos Foundation)

Each year we have the opportunity to attend the Lantos Foundation Human Rights Prize award ceremony which recognizes individuals who are committed to fighting for justice across the globe.  The prize, in its fifth year, has previously been awarded to His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Nobel Peace Prize winner), Professor Elie Wiesel (Nobel Peace Prize winner, holocaust survivor, professor and author of 57 books), Paul Rusesabagina (Rwandan hotel manager whose humanitarian actions are the basis for the movie Hotel Rwanda) and Chen Guangcheng (a blind Chinese civil rights activist known as the "barefoot lawyer" who was jailed for challenging China's one-child policy).  This year the recipient was Hillary Rodham Clinton for her work with women's rights and promoting Internet freedom.

Through one of those convoluted family trees, my husband and I are related by marriage to the former Congressman Tom Lantos who is the namesake of the foundation and the award (which explains our inclusion on the invitation list).  We try to make it anytime the event is held in the Washington, DC area. The event is so inspirational because of the opportunity to not only hear from the prize recipient and presenters, but to meet other attendees who are active in the fight for democracy, decency, dignity, freedom and justice.  

In the introduction of her friend Hillary, before the award of the prize, another former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said that "I have always believed there is a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." which brought a rousing round of applause and cheering from the unusually large number of women in the audience.  You could feel the energy and sense of community as women looked around, nodding and smiling to each other while they clapped.  I think the men might have been a little perplexed by the sudden shift in energy in the room, but by the looks on people's faces, almost everyone felt it.  

I left the event feeling energized and inspired to share that sense of community with others.  This feeling carried me through to the weekend where Aurora and I hosted our first community building event as the Zen Gypsies.  I hope that you find inspiration to find ways to share your unique voice with those around you.  

Thanks for reading!

Mementos and chocolates commemorating the event

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Crunchy cabbage and avocado salad and a documentary

Crunchy cabbage and avocado salad packed for the lunch box

Over the next couple of days you can check out the documentary, Food Matters, online for free.  Food as medicine and eating for optimal health are the main topics.  If this interests you, it's worth checking out the film this weekend.

A couple of days ago on an unexpectedly warm day, I took the opportunity to gather a few vegetables from under the covers of the tunnels in the garden as the light quickly faded.  I gathered a red cabbage and pulled a bunch of carrots to make a fresh salad.   Check out the original recipe that inspired the salad above.

Crunchy cabbage and avocado salad

serves 4 as a main dish salad or six as a side

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Bragg's Amino Acids, tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons maple syrup or agave nectar or local honey
2 tablespoons stoneground or dijon mustard
red pepper flakes or hot sauce, to taste (optional)
2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced fine
1 in piece of ginger, finely minced
1/2  purple cabbage, chopped
1 small red sweet pepper
3-4 large carrots, grated
1 small head of broccoli, chopped
1/4 red onion, minced fine
1 1/2 cups rinsed and drained cooked chickpeas or shelled, steamed edamame
1/2  cup roasted, unsalted cashews
1-2 avocados, peeled, seeded and cubed

To make the dressing,  in small bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, sesame oil, maple syrup, Bragg's amino acids, mustard, garlic, ginger and pepper flakes until well blended.  

In a serving bowl, toss cabbage, carrots, broccoli, pepper, onion, chickpeas and cashews.  Pour the dressing over the salad and stir to coat completely.  Add avocado and stir gently into mixture to incorporate but not break up the cubes too much.  Serve as a side or main dish salad.

Heirloom cabbage and carrots picked fresh from the garden for the salad

Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Today's tiny harvest - late fall carrots


It's getting dark so early these days that it's hard to get good photos before it gets completely dark for the evening.  Today's tiny harvest was a couple of large carrots that were planted late summer for a pot of soup for tonight's dinner and a watering can full of water to water the houseplants from the rain barrel.  The carrots have taken on a rich orange color after a few frosts and are now be nicely sweet. Even though the harvests are down to some root vegetables, cabbage and hearty winter greens like kale and Swiss chard, it's still nice to have a little something fresh from the garden. 

Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Extraordinary...a visit to southern Indiana

On the road from Washington, DC to Washington, IN 
(photo courtesy of Will Parkhurst)

During Thanksgiving week, I traveled to Washington, IN to visit family for the holiday.  It isn't "home" for me as I never lived there during our travels as a military family, but it is where my brother and his family settled and later my parents followed after retirement.  It is a very sleepy town in rural southern Indiana; a place one might conjure up when you think of the term Americana.  

My good friend and business partner, Aurora, asked if I was going to write a post about my adventures on the trip for our blog at Zen Gypsies.  I told her that it was a quiet week and nothing extraordinary happened so I wasn't sure if there was anything exciting to share.  That comment kept creeping into my thoughts from time to time during the day because it obviously didn't sit comfortably in my mind.  As often happens, these things swirl around in my head while I sleep and I woke up with a flood of thoughts about,  "What is extraordinary anyway?"

Life in southern Indiana is at a much slower pace than my normal full tilt Tasmanian devil, breakneck mode of being.  Looking back over the week, I realize that I really had experienced some things that were quite extraordinary from my normal everyday life.

Some adventures I had during the week included:

Basketball excitement (photo courtesy of Will Parkhurst)

- watching my nephew play basketball.  Being in the "Hoosier" state and near the hometown of the famous basketball player, Larry Bird, basketball games have the fervor reserved for football where I went to high school in Texas. I got caught up in the excitement and apparently am a little rowdier than the locals as even my nephew gave me a smile from the court at my wild cheering after he scored a basket.  We live so far away from the area, that it is definitely extraordinary to get to attend an event to see my niece or nephews in action chasing their passions.

- going to a cancer survivors support group meeting with my mother and meeting all the wonderfully warm and incredibly humorous members including a twinkling eyed 90+ year old.  They all shared stories about themselves and the local culture and asked about my life on the East Coast as some had never lived anywhere other than the local area.  The amazing nurse who runs the program even surprised the group with a Thanksgiving meal, which was delivered from a local grocery store deli, fully cooked...however, solidly frozen, which they failed to mention when she ordered it.  A local restaurant saved the day by preparing individual take-out dinners for everyone in the group in short order.  This story will be retold for years to come, I'm sure.  It was extraordinary to spend time with such tenacious spirits. 

- visiting some new and old favorite second hand bookstores, Book Nook in Newburgh and Used Book Warehouse(UBW) in Evansville and giggling like school girls with my mom in the extensive romance novel section in the Book Nook.  Our experience with romance novels is pretty limited although we do have a dear family friend who is a writer who has published a recent novel and is working on a few others to come.  Pretty soon we had the shopkeeper chuckling along with us as we tried to find just the right books for an aunt in her youthful 80s who enjoys the genre and will soon be snowed in for a lot of the winter in western Pennsylvania.  There is nothing like a good stack of books and a cup of tea to chase away the winter chill. Getting to spend girlfriend time with one's mom who lives half way across the country is definitely extraordinary.  

Beautiful tea service at Cafe Arazu in Newburgh, IN

- finding vegetarian fare can be a challenge in rural areas, but we found just the perfect place in a Persian restaurant with a view of the Ohio RiverCafe Arazu in Newburgh, IN was richly decorated with colorful vintage textiles which was a warm welcome from the bitterly cold winds.  The temperatures may have been in the 20's outside, but we enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch with the prettiest tea service for our Moroccan mint tea.

My husband keeping me entertained on the long trip to and from Indiana

So looking back over the trip, I realize that there were lots of extraordinary moments that would have slipped by without my acknowledgment if I hadn't been prompted to take a few moments to reflect on the time I spent this week in person, online and by phone with family and friends near and far. (Thanks, Aurora for keeping me on my toes!)  So this moment of reflection has been a perfect end to my extraordinary Thanksgiving holiday week,

Thanks for reading!

Our dog Noah resting at home after our adventures in Indiana

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sweet potato mousse

Pumpkin mousse with maple yogurt, pecans and grated nutmeg

It's the time of year when we turn towards heartier desserts that often feature sweet potatoes or pumpkin. I love those earthy treats, but I find that they quickly add to my waistline. To get that same satisfying taste but keep it on the healthier side, I've taken the recipe for chocolate avocado pudding and tweaked it to become a fall treat that makes a hearty breakfast as well as a company worthy dessert.

Sweet potato mousse

Serves 4 as an entree or 6 as dessert

1 medium sweet potato, cooked and peeled
1 cup raw cashews
1 large ripe avocado, peeled and seeded
1 1/4 cups milk plus additional as needed (I used almond milk)
6 medjool dates, pitted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and nutmeg
1/4 cup maple syrup
juice from 1/2 orange (optional)

In a high speed blender, put all the ingredients and process until smooth.   Use additional milk if necessary to get desired creaminess.  Chill and serve.  Pictured above is my feels like dessert for breakfast version with yogurt, pecans and a grate of fresh nutmeg.  (you could also layering with granola or some cashew or dairy whipped cream).

This turned out so prettily that I felt was prompted to slow down and savor it fully despite my hectic schedule.  This dish isn't just pretty, it was hearty enough to fuel me through the morning and into an afternoon of errand running.   It will definitely find it's way again onto the menu throughout the fall and winter season.

Thanks for reading!

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Green tomatoes and eggplant "meatballs"

Green tomatoes - the last of the 2013 growing season

It was the perfect chilly fall day, full of bright sunshine.  I took advantage of the weather to take out all the rest of the summer plants that were succumbing to the dips to the freezing mark at night.  As I worked, I was reminded why I love gardening so much.  How gardening is more than just about watching plants grow from seed to full flower or fruit.

The work was strenuous enough for a good workout, with all the bending and reaching, shoveling, carting the wheelbarrow loads (I stopped counting around 7 piled high).  As I was working alone, it was truly meditative work with only an occasional bark from our dog, Noah, as he chased a few remaining bumblebees rushing to gather the last of the pollen.

I ended up with a small basket of peppers and an abundance of green, cherry tomatoes.  I'm hoping that a few days in a sunny window will help most of them ripen fully or I'm looking at a lot of tiny fried green tomatoes, green tomato chutney, green salsa...

If they ripen nicely, I'll be able to make sauce to serve over some crispy eggplant "meatballs" inspired by this original recipe in the Washington Post.

Eggplant meatballs served over lightly sautéed kale with garlic

Eggplant "Meatballs"

Makes 4 servings

1 large globe eggplant or 3 Asian variety, cut in half
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small sweet bell pepper, but in half
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (sage, basil, oregano or mix) or 1 tablespoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 cups whole grain bread crumbs
1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour (more as necessary)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or more if desired)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
red pepper flakes or finely diced jalapeño
course cornmeal (polenta) for dusting

Heat the grill or broiler in the oven.
Cut the eggplant into 1 inch thick slices.  Drizzle the eggplant and green pepper with olive oil. Grill or broil, turning as necessary until soft and lightly browned.  Dice the cooked vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly Oil a baking pan.
Put all the ingredients except the cornmeal into a mixing bowl and stir together.  If the mixture is too wet, add more garbanzo bean flour until the mixture is firm enough to hold together when rolling into balls.  Shape scoops of the dough into golf ball shape.  Roll each one in a little cornmeal or polenta and place on an oiled baking pan.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until lightly browned.  Serve topped with your favorite tomato sauce, pasta, grain or tucked in a pita pocket as a sandwich.

After cooking, extra can be frozen on a cookie sheet, and then stored in a freezer bag until ready to use. To reheat, thaw as many as needed,  Then sauté in a lightly oiled skillet until heated through and lightly crispy.

Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fall harvests and new adventure

Tiny end of season harvest

It's been a great year in our garden, and I'm sorry to see the main growing season come to an end.  I'll be missing these bountiful harvests of the day.

Sweet and hot peppers

One of the last beautiful heirloom roses of the season

However, I've had little time for digging in the garden lately as I've been working on launching an exciting new venture with my good friend, Aurora.  We are starting a new business to develop a community and spread the lifestyle and philosophy for creativity and mindfulness as I have here.  I've been looking for a way to bring all of this more to life, and we're really looking forward to sharing all of this with you through workshops and other events. I look forward to continuing to share my personal creative explorations here as well as in the new journey that awaits.   Please visit us at Zen Gypsies and join the adventure!

Thanks for reading!

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Other fall adventures - trip to Philadelphia 2012
Fall colors 2012

 Beautiful fall sunset

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween harvest

It's hard to believe that this basket of goodies was harvested on Halloween!  The weather is surprisingly warm for this time of year which has kept the garden producing much longer than usual.  This harvest consists of tomatoes, peppers sweet and hot, Lima beans, peas and raspberries.  It's getting dark so early that I had to take this photo in the light of the street lamp.

A little earlier, I caught this honey bee enjoying some of the last of the nectar of the season.

The blueberry bushes have put on their fall colors.

I hope your Halloween was more treats than tricks.

Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fall garden update and solar panels

Solar panels installed on our 1800s Victorian home
(photo courtesy of Will Parkhurst)

It's been a busy couple of weeks.  At home, we had 16 solar panels installed and they are now up and running.  Happily there are lots of options like leases and lease-to-buy that allow more people than ever to take advantage of harnessing the power of the sun.  The guys at Solar City were so helpful in guiding us through the choices and the installation crew was super friendly and really fascinated to see me harvest dinner from the garden while they worked on the roof.  They asked lots of questions and hopefully at least one of them will be inspired to plant a few tomatoes or peppers in the spring.   As I'm writing this, the sun is shining brightly and we're producing electricity while making a slightly smaller footprint on the earth.  If you've ever thought about adding solar power to your home, I'd definitely recommend Solar City for consideration (tell them Will and Melinda Parkhurst sent you!).  

Crew installing panels on the roof
(photo courtesy of Will Parkhurst)

Four of the eight panels
(photo courtesy of Will Parkhurst)

The temperatures have dropped drastically and we seem to have skipped fall completely and gone straight to winter for the past few days.  Overnight temperatures have hovered around the freezing mark at dawn.  I managed to get the garlic planted during the full moon last week and have covered up the hoop tunnels to protect my fall greens and root vegetables from the frosty temperatures.  I took a few photos on a warm day before I snuggled the crops under their garden fabric blankets.

Heirloom climbing rose and fig tree after their first year

 Colorful crop of Swiss chard

Beds before going under cover

Brussels sprouts

Curly kale

 Thanks for reading!

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Simple roasted vegetables

Harvest after the rain

After about a week of rain, the weather has cleared and the garden has been revived.  The tomatoes were so full from the rains that some of them have split their skins.  I am typing this post with fingers stained red from raspberries that literally burst as they were pulled from the vines.   The moderate temperatures and rainfall gave a boost to the last of the summer plants that last week were looking bedraggled and on their last legs.  Now, the lima bean plants are again full of pods and the basil has perked up enough to provide another batch of pesto for the freezer. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that during the dark of winter there will be a little taste of summer available in a dollop of thawed pesto for a hearty winter soup.

To make use of those juicy burst tomatoes, I put together a simple roasted vegetable dish that is filling the house with a tantalizing rich aroma.  This recipe doesn't use any precise measurements and can be made with whatever you have available or like.

Tomatoes, zucchini, sweet peppers, onion, mushrooms, acorn squash and tofu ready for roasting

Simple roasted vegetables

vegetables cut into large chunks (tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, squash, green beans, etc.)
sea salt or Bragg's Amino Acids
balsamic vinegar
smoked paprika
crushed garlic cloves
fresh or dried herbs or pesto
red pepper flakes, hot sauce or black pepper (optional)
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Prepare a roasting pan by spraying with cooking spray or lining it with foil for easier clean up.

Place all the cut up vegetables in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat.  Add in the  Bragg's amino acids (if using), garlic, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a liberal sprinkle each of smoked paprika and dried herbs or several dollops of pesto and a hot pepper if using.  Toss the vegetables again to coat evenly with the herbs and pour into the prepared baking pan.  Roast for approximately 1 hour or until the vegetables are fork tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thanks for reading!

Raspberries ready for picking

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013