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.