silent meals in the alaskan wilderness

photo by candace faber

i have so many stories, images and recipes i want to share with you all from this past month. every time i sat down to write a blog post though, it felt too overwhelming. i can't possibly retell every story from my time in alaska, or share every image here. so a few memorable moments and one particular recipe will have to suffice. 

to me, meals should be a social experience - opportunities for conversations to flow freely, for friends or family to laugh and share stories. even if the food is incredible, i always judge the success of a diner party based on the conversation. so i was a bit nervous heading off to cook for a kayaking and meditation retreat where the majority of the meals would be in silence. on the first night of the retreat, we couldn't stop chatting. ten strangers, all wanting to know about each other and the reasons we had decided to join this particular retreat for young "change makers." we grilled some incredible local sockeye salmon and shared a few bottles of wine and settled into familiar, social conversations while we enjoyed our first meal together. but after the conversation ended, we settled into a noble silence that carried through to the morning rituals all the way to the end of breakfast. 

that first morning together, i served homemade olive oil & maple granola. a few guests had foraged an incredible amount of wild elderberries and blueberries the night before that i turned into a simple berry compote to serve along with the granola and plain yogurt. it was a simple, yet special breakfast. i was anxious to see how our interactions would be during silent meals. i assumed it would be sort of boring and dull. but that morning, one of the guests caught my eye as she was filling up her breakfast bowl and gave me a heartfelt smile that needed no verbal translation. it was a smile so filled with gratitude, that it flooded me with joy. as time went on and the group grew closer, and comfortable and goofy around each other, there were many more silent smiles and many less-than-silent moans of delight "mmmmm." there were even some non-silent meals in which the food itself simply left the group speechless and fully absorbed by the flavors of the meal. those were my most proud moments. 

olive oil & maple granola ~ makes about 5 cups 
adapted from whole grain mornings

3 cups thick rolled oat or rye flakes (gluten free if sensitive)
1 cup kasha (toasted buckwheat groats)
1/2 cup raw hulled sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups chopped, dry roasted almonds - or other nut/seed
1-2 cups chopped dried fruit like raisins, dates or apricots *optional

preheat oven to 300 degrees. mix oats, kasha, sesame seeds, salt and spices together in a big bowl. add wet ingredients and stir to coat. spread mixture out in a thin layer on one large or two smaller baking sheets lined with parchment paper. bake for 30 minutes or so, stirring every 5-10 minutes, until oats are lightly golden in color. let cool completely and then add any toasted nuts or dried fruits you prefer. store in airtight container for up to 3-4 weeks.

serve with plain yogurt, or homemade almond milk, topped with fresh fruit or a homemade berry compote!

in addition to foraged berries, we also enjoyed some ginormous edible "chicken of the woods" mushrooms, tons of foraged seaweed (my paddle partner happened to be a seaweed foraging expert!), freshly caught sockeye salmon and tons of dungeness crab from the last catch of the season. i was thrilled to have so many foraged ingredients to work with, especially when i failed to put the giant dry bag of fresh produce into a kayak for a two-night camping trip. whoops. we had to discuss as a group whether or not we had enough food to stay the full two nights. i expressed my concern for letting all the produce go to waste sitting in that dry bag on the porch of the retreat house. but kurt, our leader, told us he was more concerned about wasting the opportunity to stay an extra night in such an incredible, wild place... after that brilliant comment, we were in full agreement to stay. our group persevered with our giant bucket of cooked crab, rice, oats, lentils, beans, candied smoked salmon and foraged wild edibles collected from the remote little island where we camped. it's true what they say... you'd have to be an idiot to starve on the pacific coast.

i want to tell you more about the time my chef knife unknowingly took a tumble into the ocean and spent 24 hours before my paddle partner pulled it from the silty sands of low tide like king arthur. about splashing our xtratuf boots in the phosphorescent waters under the milky way and shooting stars. and about the wonderful conversations i had with some of the most brilliant minds of my generation. but the depth of memories is endless. i'll let some of these lingering stories come to the surface in my future posts. i'll simply end this post with an image of sunset, taken from the beach of castle islands in duncan canal, where we spent two nights camped out in the alaskan coastal wilderness. 

photo by candace faber

chilled cucumber & watercress soup

there is rarely a moment in my day when i'm not listening to music. if i'm cooking, there is certainly music. sometimes it's just in the background, while i chat with my partner or dinner guests. if i'm alone cooking for myself or a client, the music is loud - cooking like it's a dance. moving through familiar motions, in a certain rhythm. i pour time into building the perfect playlists for my yoga classes. i play my drums for hours each week with my band. i wake up and wind down with music.

a year ago i began attending mysore practice - a self guided ashtanga yoga practice - where the only sound in the room is breath and the occasional conversation between the instructor and individual students. whether music was a distraction or a comfort in my yoga practice before, i'm not sure, but it felt like something was missing. i remember realizing for the first time that one of my sports bras had a little clasp that squeaked. a tiny sound that had been buried by yoga music before. practicing in silence, i couldn't stand to wear the sports bra ever again. despite the lack of music, i continued exploring the mysore practice and eventually silence just became the norm. i think i'm even appreciative of the silence, as it's still a rare part of my day.

i went to bed last night with my ears still ringing from my band's show at the tractor tavern. a reminder that i need to check "buy ear plugs" off my to-do list. i woke up groggy, but pulled myself out of bed to teach an early morning class at ritual house. another class with music. but tonight, for the first time, i have an opportunity to teach an ashtanga class, where traditionally there is no music. without music, the sound of my voice just feels so exposed. the room feels empty. but i'm excited for the challenge and eager to share my experience and love for the ashtanga series with new students.

scroll down to the end of this post for a playlist i created of songs that i could happily listen to on repeat right now. but first whiz up this simple cucumber & watercress soup, and in the time it takes you to listen through the playlist, your soup will be adequately chilled and ready to serve! it's the perfect light snack or first course to a summery meal!

chilled cucumber & watercress soup ~ serves 4+

2 lbs cucumber, peeled
4 big handfuls of watercress, washed
1-2 small cloves garlic
1 cup greek or icelandic plain unsweetened yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
1 tablespoons fresh dill
2 tablespoons fresh mint
2 large pinches sea salt
olive oil for garnish

notes: watercress is dense in nutrients, bitter and peppery - sort of like arugula, but even more similar to the less familiar flavor of radish sprouts. the cucumber subtly sweetens the soup, and the yogurt makes it smooth and creamy. but if you're looking for a dairy-free version, try substituting a full rice avocado for the yogurt. equally as satisfying! 

peel cucumbers and cut into 2-inch chunks, or smaller if you don't have a high speed blender with a tamper tool. combine all ingredients in blender, reserving several sprigs of watercress for garnish. puree until smooth. adjust lemon juice, salt and garlic to taste. chill for at least an 1 hour, or overnight. to serve, ladle bowls with a cup of chilled soup, top with reserved watercress tendrils and a thin drizzle of olive oil. i had some leftover edible flowers from nash's farm that provided another layer of peppery flavor and vibrant color!

 play here

iced chai & cardamom almond cookies

several weeks ago i taught a really fun pizza making lesson to two lovely indian mothers whose kids adore pizza! both moms were fabulous cooks themselves, one even previously owned a restaurant in india. but making pizza dough and forming pizzas was a new experience for them. we made four different kinds of creative vegetarian pizzas, with fun homemade sauces and piles of veggies. not your typical kid cheese pizzas... and yet their kiddos didn't shy away from the unfamiliar broiled radicchio and balsamic reduction on top of their pizza slices. i was so impressed be their willingness to try just about any combination of veggies! these kids had taste. they ate so much pizza, hardly a slice got saved for the husbands. my favorite moment of the night was when one of them mom's turn's to the other, mouth half full of pizza, and says: "if this is pizza, what in the world have been eating?" ... 

mind blowing pizza. it's what i do... 

anyhow, at the end of the lesson, before we tackled the dishes and the dusting of flour that settles after a pizza making storm, the host made a big pot of chai tea. a little dash of this and that, a large amount of fresh ginger, all warmed with milk and served piping hot. it was such a lovely gesture and a reminder of how much i love chai! years ago, i fell in love with two locally brewed chai tea mixes/concentrates (traveler's and harmony chai). out of convenience, i've enjoyed many chai lattes made from these concentrates, but for something so simple to make, it's funny that i've never made it myself. 

this is now my second batch of homemade chai concentrate, and i'm looking forward to experimenting with adding additional spices like clove, coriander, or fennel. but for now, this simple recipe is satisfying my cravings for iced chai lattes. i've been enjoying it chilled, mixed with equal part date-sweetened almond milk. but it could certainly be enjoyed warm with any type of milk you prefer. paired with these incredible, chewy & soft cardamom almond cookies... afternoon tea is just heavenly. 

chai tea concentrate ~ makes 2 quarts
1/4 cup grated or minced ginger, peeled
40 green cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper, or more to taste
1 ceylon cinnamon stick
1/4 cup assam loose leaf black tea
1/4 cup honey

peel ginger and grate with microplane or chop up finely in a food processor. crush cardamom pods with mortar and pestle, or in a spice grinder or food processor. they don't have to become a powder, but just opened up and slightly crushed. 

bring 2 quarts of water to a simmer in a small sauce pan. add grated/minced ginger and simmer for 2 minutes. add cardamom, black pepper and cinnamon and simmer for 2 additional minutes. remove from heat, add tea leaves and let rest for 5-6 minutes. strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth. dissolve honey into finished tea concentrate and transfer into large jars. let cool and store in fridge. 

mix chilled concentrate with equal parts milk of choice and serve over ice. i love using my date-sweetened almond milk for a little added sweetness. 

cardamom almond cookies ~ makes about 2 dozen
1 cup raw almonds
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cardamom 
pinch sea salt
7 oz almond paste (not marzipan
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

note: this recipe is also wonderful without cardamom. you could add vanilla bean, cinnamon, or a touch of nutmeg instead, if cardamom isn't your "cup of tea"! 

pulse almond in food processor until finely chopped - slightly coarser than almond flour. add sugar, baking powder, cardamom, salt and almond paste and pulse until crumbly. add egg whites and extract and process until just combined. the mixture will be crumbly but sticky. transfer mix to a bowl. 

preheat oven to 325 and line a baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment paper or a silpat baking sheet. use slightly damp hands to form 1 tablespoon at a time into small balls (damp hands helps the dough from sticking to your palms). space the cookies out on your baking sheet and bake for 14-17 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly brown and the sides and tops of the cookies just begin to turn a shade darker. remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes than transfer to a cooling rack. once cooled, store in an airtight container or freeze some cookies to be enjoyed at a later date. 

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!