watermelon gazpacho

it's been wildly hot in seattle for weeks. damn hot. so damn hot i've got robin williams lines running on repeat through my brain. brewing coffee makes me sweat. anything involving the oven is completely unfathomable. i'm happily subsisting off of smoothies, salads and iced tea. nothing too worthy of a blog post... until today. 

despite complaining about the heat, i've actually had some exciting things occur in life recently. i won a baking contest for this recipe - although i still don't consider myself a baker... i finally overcame a fear and figured out a tricky transition into handstands ... but the biggest news of all is really really exciting! i'll be cooking for a kayaking and mindfulness retreat in alaska next month with inside passages. i can't wait to escape this heat, and head north to explore a place by kayak that i've always wanted to visit! there are still two spots available if you are interested in joining as a guest. the retreat is gathering together a rad group of folks in their 20's and 30's who are working to promote environmental or social change. i can't wait to meet them all and share in the experience together! 

ok, now a bit about this recipe. my guy and i recently had a date night out at tallulah's. we shared a number of tasty small plates, but the simple flavors of the watermelon gazpacho were most memorable. sweet, savory, bright and refreshing. flavors worthy of experimenting with. i've always loved the combination of mint and melon, so today i made an elegant watermelon gazpacho topped with a minted cucumber and avocado salsa. it was perfection on a hot day. 

watermelon gazpacho ~ makes about 6 cups
4 large red tomatoes (3-4 cups) roughly chopped
1/2 mini watermelon (3-4 cups) watermelon chunks
juice of 2 limes
large pinch salt
1 (or just a portion) seeded habanero chili
1 small clove garlic
olive oil for garnish

puree together in a blender until smooth. no not overdo it with a high speed blender, as you'll want to be able to strain out any seeds. i might suggest you start with just 1/4 of a habanero, and add more to taste. then sift gazpacho through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl to remove tomato and watermelon seeds. chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

minted cucumber-avocado salsa ~ for topping your gazpacho 
1 ripe avocado
1/2 english cucumber
juice of 1 lime
1-2 tablespoons fresh mint

cut cumber and avocado into long thin strip then dice into tiny cubes, combine in small mixing bowl. finely chop or tear tiny bits of fresh mint into bowl. toss with the juice of a lime.

to serve gazpacho, fill shallow bowls with a portion of gazpacho, top with several tablespoons of cucumber salsa, drizzle with a thin amount of olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. serve chilled.

an occasional sweet treat

at the same time i was asked to come up with an original recipe for a cookie contest hosted by marx foods and the inspiring ashley rodriguez of 'not without salt' i was also asked to take over the @iquitsugar instagram feed for the weekend. you might think this is ironic. i'd agree with you. but it's also a reflection of my personal food philosophy! i believe in nourishing our bodies on a daily basis with a plant-based diet ... without depriving ourselves of simple joys like perfectly baked chocolate chip cookies. 

what i love about the 'not without salt' blog and ashley's cookbook is the balance between nourishing plant-based recipes and recipes for truly special sweet treats. there's a big difference between mindlessly noshing on peanut m&m's everyday while sitting at your desk vs. putting love and effort into creating something truly magical and indulgent to share with a loved one. not only will you appreciate that homemade treat 100x more, you'll also have the awareness of what all went in to that treat, which encourages mindful (not mindless) eating. and what i admire about the work of sarah wilson and her 'i quit sugar' program and wellness brand is their mission to help people who are addicted to sugar break that addiction and experience life without sugar. breaking free from the addictions that pull us away from our health and wellness goals is incredibly empowering and impactful! 

for myself, i crave vegetables. intensely so. my body knows how good it feels when it is porperly nourished with plants. my cravings for sugar are much less then when i was a kid snacking on candy bars after school everyday (read: when i was highly addicted to butterfingers)... that said, i enjoy fruit daily and treat myself to a sweet bite now and then... like the incredible habanero & orange chocolate chip cookies from hello robin, a bakery just a few doors down from my yoga studio. this combination of flavors inspired me to come up with a fun treat utilizing ashley's salted chocolate chip cookie mix, paired with a vegan habenero & orange chocolate ganache. 

you can read my interview with the team at i quit sugar here. the interview inspired a new hashtag for myself: #edgyveggie ... ha! and if you are in seattle check out the cookie mix throw down event happening june 30th at marx foods! i'm excited to attend even if i'm not selected as a finalist! there will be lots of free cookie samples to judge and some of my favorite seattle food bloggers in attendance! oh my! ok, now for the recipe...

chocolate chip cookie tarts with habanero & orange chocolate ganache 
*dairy free ~ makes 6 mini tarts

for the crust:
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted (or 1/2 cup butter)
1 egg (or egg replacer if vegan) 
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest

for the vegan ganache filling: 
2/3 cup raw cocoa powder
2/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup real maple syrup 
3 oranges
2 habeneros chili peppers

*a note about the cookie mix: i love that the ingredients are all packaged separately. you know exactly how much sugar and chocolate is being used. i wanted to experiment with using coconut oil, but you could follow ashley's directions to use butter if you prefer! also... you can easily freeze these tarts to be enjoyed at a later date, or scale down the ganache recipe by half and use half the cookie dough to bake salted chocolate chip cookies! i conveniently had a birthday party to attend that was the perfect excuse for gifting away the bulk of these treats!
*ashley discloses her recipe for the salted chocolate chip cookie dough here, in case you want to collect all the ingredients and make the dough from scratch too!

do ahead: use a vegetable peeler to zest two oranges. slice habaneros in half, carefully remove seeds and veins and add to bowl with the orange zest. muddle together the zest and chilies to release some of the essential oils. combine with 1/2 cup maple syrup. let rest while you prepare tart crusts, or ideally do it a day ahead to infuse even more flavor into the syrup! 

for the tart crusts: melt 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and add to large bowl. combine oil with 1 egg and the sugar from the cookie mix. use a whisk or electric hand mixer to whisk ingredients together until lightened in color. add the dry flour mix and a teaspoon of orange zest and whisk until flour is just combined. use hands or a spoon to stir in the chocolate chips. reserve the flake salt for topping the tarts! 

i used 6 x 4-3/4" mini tart pans. you could use other size tarts pans, or even simple muffin tins. oil whatever pans you are using with a bit of coconut oil and then spread equal portions of cookie dough into each pan to form a 1/4"-think crust. if using muffin tins, just work your crust 3/4" part way up the side of the tin. place the crust-filled tins onto on a cookie sheet and bake at 360-f degrees for 17-20 minutes (or less if using small muffin tins). when finished, the crust should be golden brown and slightly puffy. remove from oven and let cool in the tart pans. if the centers puffed up a lot, you can pat them down gently but leave the rim puffy! 

for the ganache: strain peels and chilis from syrup and transfer infused syrup to a blender. melt 2/3 cup coconut oil and add to blender along with 2/3 cup raw cocoa powder. blend on low speed until just combined and then poor or spoon the ganache into the cookie crusts. the ganache will be easier to spread smooth if the crusts are just slightly still warm. do not overfill tarts, if you have excess ganache eat it with a spoon or on a strawberry! set the filled tarts in the fridge for an hour or more until ganache is firm. when ready to serve, gently remove chilled tarts from pan and cut the tarts into quarters, sixths or eighths (whatever size you want!). top each piece with a sprinkling of the reserved flake salt and curls of orange zest from the remaining orange. they are best served slightly softened after sitting at room temp for 30 minutes or so, but they can also be enjoyed chilled! 

picnic sandwiches

i would have a hard time believing it was already almost june if it wasn't for the weather we've been having in seattle! this past month has flown by, faster than any other month for me this year. work & life got busy and the steady sunshine has drawn me outdoors at every free opportunity. so the blog has been fairly quite the past few weeks. over the holiday weekend we travelled back up to squamish, that magical forest i wrote about it my last blog post. we stayed in an awesome big house with 6 other climber friends, bouldered each day and gathered together for big family style dinners each night. on the way home, we stopped in vancouver and filled our bellies with an incredible korean feast unlike anything i've ever experienced. it was a much needed mini-vacation. 

after another busy week, i needed something else to look forward to. lots of friends had gone away for the 3 day weekend last week, so i thought maybe folks would be sticking around in town this weekend. the forecast showed warm sunny weather, so i planned a last-minute picnic party. i gathered my picnic blanket, made some fancy cucumber sandwiches and discrete beverages to share and plopped myself under a giant watermelon balloon at gasworks park so that my friends could spot me amongst the swarm of sun bathers, picnic-ers, ball player, acrobats and partiers at the park. it was a fabulous day of relaxing in the sun, people watching and enjoy the view of lake union with some of my favorite people.

picnic sandwiches ~ 8-10 snack-size sandwiches
1 large french baguette
2 avocados
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small english cucumber, thinly sliced
8 oz sheep milk feta cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 head of lettuce, cleaned and dried
1/2 cup pesto (store bought or for homemade see recipe below)

peel, pit and smash avocado with lemon juice, so that it does not brown while en route to your picnic. slice baguette in half and spread 1/4 cup of pesto on each side. layer bottom half of baguette with smashed avocado, cucumber, cheese and a couple layers of lettuce leaves. close up your giant sandwich and slice into mini 2-inch sandwiches. wrap with parchment paper and tie closed with kitchen twine and keep chilled until ready to serve. alternatively, you could wrap the whole sandwich in foil and bring along a bread knife and cutting board to your picnic to serve sandwiches.

arugula & pepita seed pesto
2 cups arugula (or another herb)
1/2 cup toasted pepita seeds (or hemp seeds, or another nut)
1/2 cup shaved parmesan
2 small cloves garlic
salt & pepper
1/2 cup or so olive oil

pulse all ingredients together in food processor, adding olive oil slowly as your process pesto until smooth.

big batch whiskey gingers ~ makes 1 quart, or 8 small cocktails
1 cup whiskey, rye or bourbon
3 cups ginger beer
juice of 4 limes

notes: my go-to whiskey is bulleit rye. and the best ginger beer in seattle is made by rachel's - which you can get quart and growler refills for cheap at their storefront or at a number of farmers markets. their bottles make for perfect serving pitchers as well! 

mix whiskey, lime juice and ginger beer in a quart jar. bring along ice and cups to share on your picnic.

spring flowers

it's been many many years since my life revolved around an academic school year schedule, but now that david is teaching high school math it means spring break is a thing in our lives again. we've been looking forward to a weeklong spring break vacation together for quite sometime, but unfortunately our plans for a climbing trip were delayed several days by a climbing injury to david's shoulder. but after a week of rest, we were both antsy to get out of town. 

we were headed north to squamish in british columbia, but made a detour to visit a fabulous chef friend of mine in edison, wa. i met chef ryan ross through a kitchen surfing gig, and instantly fell in love with her personality and flare for cooking nourishing, beautiful food. we grabbed drinks together with some other chefs after the kitchen surfing event and she told me about the incredible network of farmers, bakers and chefs growing together in bow-edison, where she recently moved to straight from brooklyn to be with her (now) fiancĂ©. once she set her roots here in the northwest, she started working in partnership with various skagit valley farms and producers to build the bow-edison food trail. when i heard about the food trail, i knew it would be worth the detour to spend some time in ryan's neck of the woods. 

we spent the day bopping around to various creameries and shops on the food trail, got a tour of the organic farm where we stayed in an adorable airbnb cottage, and then wandered over to ryan's home for an incredible meal and spectacular view of puget sound! ryan and her guy insisted that we check out tweet's and the breadfarm before leaving town, so the next morning we sat down at tweet's - the cutest small town cafe i've ever seen - for one hell of a meal and then snagged a smattering of indulgent baked goods from the breadfarm to sustain us on our climbing trip. from there, we took the scenic route along chuckanut drive through to bellingham, across the canadian border and winding up highway 99 gazing out at the islands until we reached squamish. this was the first time i had tagged along with david to climb in squamish, and already i can't wait to go back! the forest is magical, the scenery inspiring, and the climbing was fantastic! we met up with some seattle folk, climbed for two beautiful days in glorious sunny spring weather, and then packed up our campsite and begrudgingly drove home. 

it feels wonderful to have spring break back in my life again! such a wonderful opportunity to take time to appreciate the season and explore the pacific northwest in one of its best seasons! as we go further into the spring season, more of the seasonal farmers markets are opening up around seattle with growing quantities of spring produce each week. i've been enjoying spicy fresh radishes on a regular basis - tossed into salads or topped on my avocado toast. but today i wanted to share a simple yet elegant little bite inspired by the appetizer chef ryan was serving up when i first met her. her bites featured beautiful edible flowers grown near her home in edison (of course). although i don't have a garden in which to grow edible flowers, i did get my hands on some fresh origins edible flowers from the folks at marx foods. think of this little bite as a twist on the classic combo of radishes with butter and salt. delightfully springy! 

radish, chevre balls, edible flowers & sea salt ~ serves 4

adapted from chef ryan ross

1 bunch radishes, any variety

4 oz soft goat cheese, chevre
1/4 cup edible flowers petals, stems removed
zest of 1 lemon
fresh cracked pepper
several pinches maldon, flake or pyramid sea salt
olive oil
baguette (optional)

note: i used the micro flower blend, which included micro marigolds, sun daisies, dianthus, white mums, bachelor buttons, micro orchids and starflowers. whatever edible flowers you use, just be sure that they are organic! do not use flowers from a florist, as they will be laden will rather toxic chemicals and pesticides. 

smash goat cheese with a bit of fresh cracked pepper and the zest of one lemon. form cheese into 4 equally sized balls. cut or break off the petals of the flowers (play a long game of he loves me, he loves me not...) and place in a small dish. roll the cheese through the pedals and then toss around in cupped palms to flatten pedals into the cheese. 

serve with radishes, washed and halved, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt & cracked black pepper. i think the goat cheese is best served at room temperature, so that it can be easily spread onto a bite of radish without crumbling off your radish. 

raw shaved salad with mint & sumac

following one singular career path always seemed like a dull life choice. i always pictured myself pursuing multiple careers... when i got tired of one, i would develop a new one. however, i didn't think i'd be pursuing multiple careers all at once at the age of 26, but that's precisely where i'm at. there are pros and cons to such tactics: being human, there is only so much time i can commit to developing any one particular skill on a daily basis. but at the same time, if one aspect of my career (i suppose i'll use that term to mean my collective career paths) starts to waiver or business declines, i have hope that my other pursuits will pick up the slack. this is one theory. another theory, once told to me by a professional musician, was that if you put effort into "plan b," "plan a" is less likely to be successful. if i follow the musician's theory, should i assume all of my careers will fail? or do i just have multiple "plan a's"? with so many passions in my life, i can't imagine ending all other pursuits in favor of any singular career path!

 oh the woes of a creative professional! 

in addition to working as a personal chef and yoga instructor, i carve away time each week for playing music with my band, climbing with my guy, and of course blogging. photography has always been an inherit part of the food blog, but more and more i wanted guidance! who knows, maybe it will become another "plan a" career path! i've never studied photography and new very little about how cameras work, so when i saw a portland workshop opportunity pop up with two incredible portland-based photographers, i jumped on it! plus, i take any excuse to visit friends and restaurants in portland! the workshop was led by eva of adventures in cooking and christiann of portland fresh... two inspiring women who create beautiful, romantic and often moody images of food! the workshop was a blast, but perhaps the best part of it all was meeting so many wonderful creative professionals that i hope to stay connected with as we all forge our own careers! i left portland full of inspirational ideas, oozing with creative juices and a belly full of indulgent food and drinks! 

 a few of my favorite shots from the workshop

i came home to seattle and set off on building a reclaimed wood tabletop to shoot on (pictured below). i couldn't be more proud of the final product! many thanks to surface theory for the reclaimed oak wood and advice, and to my dad, for having all the power tools and knowledge for overseeing this not-so-little project! and what recipe would be more appropriate for my first blog post from atop my new tabletop than the incredible salad chritiann made us all for the workshop! i added my own twist, subbing in sweet local pears instead of jicima, and incorporated a middle eastern flare with a dusting of sumac!

raw shaved salad with mint & sumac ~ serves 2
adapted from portland fresh

4 or 5 radishes
2-3 small beets
2-3 small carrots
1 anjour pear
1 small bunch fresh mint
juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons walnut or olive oil
1/4 cup raw or roasted cashews, crushed gently 
1/2 teaspoon sumac
aleppo pepper & flakey sea salt 

notes: for an incredibly colorful salad, mix and match with various types of radishes and beets! the salad can be made and chilled in advance, holding the cashews and mint on the side until ready to serve. 

wash and clean veggies. use a vegetable peeler to slice carrots into thin ribbons. use a mandolin to slice radishes and beets into thin rounds - as thin as possible but still able to hold their shape (not too floppy). slice and core pear and cut into thick match-stick shapes. in a bowl, whisk together lime juice, oil and sumac. toss with veggies and pears and top salad with crushed cashews, torn bits of fresh mint and sprinkles of sea salt and aleppo pepper. if you are using red beets but don't want your salad to turn entirely pink, dress the sliced beets in a smaller bowl and then serve salads with beets layered throughout the salad.