Vegetarian Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives with Fluffy Lemon Quinoa


VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-31I love that food can take us back to places we’ve been before, and places we dream of going.  This tagine takes me back to a trip to Morocco I took with the Mister to visit my soul sister Karissa while she was living there for a couple of years.  Morocco was a place I had never imagined I’d visit, but when given the opportunity, I thought, I’ve got to do this! My favorite thing about visiting someplace new is experiencing a different speed and rhythm of life, and observing the way that everything works like clockwork with its own moving parts, in its own way.  

VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-17VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-32VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-15On our first night in Casablanca, our friends took us to a magical restaurant outdoors surrounded by garden, with live local musicians playing traditional Moroccan instruments.  It was the perfect place to make us feel that yes, we are indeed in Morocco!  I felt out of my comfort zone, a sense of nervous excitement the whole time, wanting to see and experience all I could, to be warm and friendly while clumsily and earnestly trying to observe and follow the cultural norms.  I probably had a goofy smile on my face that night, trying to soak in everything I could, experiencing it like a new puppy, seeing even the mundane things of everyday life like dishes, plants and doors as new and exciting.

VegetarianTagine_spoonwithme-12The first dish I ate in Morocco is forever burned into my memory– chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives.  At that point I had never tasted anything like it–A thick vibrant yellow stew filled with braised chicken, onions cooked into almost collapsing tenderness, soaking up all of the cooking liquid seasoned with ginger, saffron, and dotted with little salty exclamation points in the form of olives and and strips of bright preserved lemon rind. It’s a lemony, thick and savory stew, and ours was served with traditional pillowy rounds of traditional Moroccan breads covered with cracked seeds, perfect for soaking up every last bit of the stew.  



Traditionally, this tagine would be made in a conical earthenware cooking vessel called a tagine (ha! Imagine that!).  If you happen to have a tagine lying around, by all means use it!  I don’t have one and like to use my enameled dutch oven–any sturdy pan with a tight fitting lid will work just fine.  I even like to saute the ingredients in my Instant Pot and cook it in a ridiculously short amount of time.  I’ll include IP instructions below if you happen to have one.  


Since I eat a (mostly) plant-based diet now,  I wanted to create a vegetarian tagine to satisfy  the same craving as the original recipe– In my version, I’ve added potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and chickpeas, braised to soak up the same lemony, savory, onion-laden stew of onions, punctuated with olives and preserved lemon rind of the original.  Traditionally, the dish is colored and seasoned with saffron, which does add a roundness and complexity.  Karissa told me that many people in Morocco use safflower (in the US it’s called Mexican Saffron) to add color to dishes because true saffron is so expensive.  I’ve made it optional in this recipe, as it’s delicious without it and you’ll still achieve a lovely golden yellow stew from the turmeric.  


Lately, I’ve been into making “mega-batches” of foods that freeze well, and this is one of them.  I freeze small portions in quart bags so that I can quickly thaw them for lunch or dinner.  It is so nice to have a home cooked meal when you’re too tired or busy to make a home cooked meal.  I’ve saved myself many times this way, and present me always thanks past me for being so thoughtful to prepare such a delicious meal in advance. This tagine is great over couscous or quinoa, and you can make it fresh on the night you’re ready to heat up the tagine.  


As Spring approaches, I’m starting to dream of new destinations and foods.  I hope this tagine either takes you back to your own trip to Morocco, or transports you there and gives you a little taste if you’ve never been.  Enjoy!  

Let’s talk ingredients!

Preserved Lemons:  

•I like buying my preserved lemons from Savory Spice Shop.

•Got some extra time on your hands?  Why not make your own preserved lemons? I love making them myself. You can find my recipe here.  

•I’m curious about using this method for making “speedy” preserved lemons (speedy, as in one week instead of a whole month.)  Will update the post when I try!

Vegetarian Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives with Lemony Quinoa

Adapted to be vegan from two of Paula Wolfert’s chicken tagine recipes from her book The Food of Morocco.  If you happen to have an Instant Pot, I’ve included instructions below!  Although couscous is a more traditional accompaniment, I like eating this tagine with quinoa because it’s more nutrient-dense.  If you prefer, feel free to serve with couscous!

Tagine Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Nigella seeds (also known as kalonji or charnushka), optional*
  • 1 large tomato, chopped (about 10 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 pound (12 ounces) cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 3/4 pound yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3/4 pound carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices
  • 3/4 cup pitted brined mixed olives, rinsed to remove excess salt
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or equivalent cooked chickpeas from dry)
  • 1 pinch saffron threads, about 1/4 teaspoon, optional*
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (I like vegetarian no-chicken broth for its more neutral flavor)
  • juice of one lemon, or to taste
  • fresh parsley leaves, to garnish
  • salt to taste
  • lemony quinoa, for serving (recipe follows)

Rub the saffron between your fingers to crush the threads a bit, and put them in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons warm water and allow to soak for 15 minutes to infuse the water and release the flavor.

Quarter the preserved lemon and remove and discard the flesh.  Rinse the rind and chop into 1/4 inch strips.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or large heavy pot with a tight fitting lid.  Add the onion, and sprinkle with salt.  Sauté for 3-4 minutes, until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Add the chopped tomato, turmeric, ginger, black pepper and ground cumin.  Sauté for 2 minutes longer.

Add the cauliflower, potato, carrot, olives, chickpeas, 2 1/2 cups broth and the saffron water (including any saffron threads left in the water).  Add some salt to taste.

Quarter the preserved lemon and remove and discard the flesh.  Rinse the rind and chop into 1/4 inch strips.  Add rind strips to the pot.

Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 55 minutes to and hour and ten minutes, or until potatoes and carrots are tender.  Season to taste with salt, and lemon juice to bring out the flavors.  Serve over lemony quinoa.

While tagine is simmering, make the quinoa (see recipe below).

Instant Pot Adaptation:  

Push the sauté button and allow the Instant Pot to heat up.  Sauté and add the ingredients in the same order as in the recipe above through the vegetable broth.  The   Hit the cancel button on the Instant Pot, then secure the lid and cook on high pressure (or push the meat/stew button if yours doesn’t have a manual pressure button) for 9 minutes*.  Make sure the valve is set to “seal” not venting.  Release manually (be very careful, the hot steam will shoot out.  I like to put an oven mitt on and use tongs to turn the valve.  Make sure you are standing far away from the pot).

*Note:  I have tested this recipe at many different cooking times, each resulting in very tender vegetables.  9 minutes cooking time still left the cauliflower very soft.  When I test again, I’ll start with 7 minutes.  If you test a different cooking time, please leave a comment below!

Fluffy Lemony Quinoa 

  • 2 cups quinoa, rinsed well
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (again, I like vegetarian no-chicken broth)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from a lemon, to taste
  • additional salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put quinoa, broth, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and garlic cloves in a medium pot.  Bring to a boil, then immediately turn down to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 12 minutes, or until quinoa is fluffy and the little white tails are visible around the outside of the grains.  Fluff with a fork, and add olive oil,  lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.


*I like using Nigella/ Kalonji for the specks of color, and the slightly nutty, toasted onion flavor they impart.  I like to get mine from Savory Spice Shop.

*This tagine is wonderful without the saffron–if you have some around and would like to use it, by all means do!  It adds a rounded depth of flavor.  If you don’t want to invest in this expensive little spice, your tagine will still taste great!



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Cinnamon Golden Milk


Staying healthy is a dance, and it’s messy business sometimes, just like making this drink—believe me, you’ll discover this when your fingers are spotted yellow, your “stainless” steel pot has temporarily taken on a golden hue and you find your favorite grey sweater has brand new splashes of color on it!  So, is it messy?  Yes.  Worth it?  Definitely (although I suggest you consider wearing your favorite orange sweater when you make this).


Food blogging while navigating cancer is also quite the adventure.  I’ve got to go with the flow of what I can eat, and be flexible to find what sparks interest and gives my body what it needs in the moment.  I love food!  I love growing it, eating it, thinking about it, and sharing it with you.  At the same time, some days it’s hard to know what to eat, as my food tolerances come and go like a game of whack-a-mole.  Just when one disappears, another one pops up!  At one point, I felt utterly ridiculous to admit that I was carrot intolerant.  I couldn’t even say that one with a straight face.  

Other days, when the stars align and those wacky moles decide to hibernate, my body says, okay, we’re great now!  Feast woman, feast!  Eat carrots to your heart’s desire.  Cancer is my rag-tag companion of sorts, and I’ve decided to engage in this quirky little tango dance and flow with it instead of pushing against it, because life just feels better that way.  


I’ll never tell you that one miracle superfood will change your life, magically bring you to perfect health, or give you unicorn magic (you’ve got to create that yourself!).  What I do know is that life is the sum of the small things and all the little choices matter; whether it’s taking a walk to get some nature time in, choosing to dive into a passion project instead instead of getting buried in social media, having a laugh with a favorite person, or cozying up with a warm healthy “hug” of a beverage while purposely relaxing.  


Enter one little delightful beverage choice to add to your day—golden milk! It’s made by steeping your favorite milk (I like the smooth creaminess of almond-coconut) with turmeric, ginger and black pepper.  In India, golden milk is a home remedy used regularly in many families to soothe a multitude of ailments.  Here’s a fun article on the facts and fictions surrounding golden milk.  I use it for its anti-inflammatory benefits (I’m even okay with calling it a delicious placebo effect).  If that’s not compelling enough, people have been using it to dye fabric for centuries–How’s that for multitasking?  You can make this milk and dye your very own sweater at the same time!


Although I do quite enjoy the basic version of golden milk–turmeric-hued and creamy with just the right amount of spicy ginger and a barely perceptible bit of steeped black peppercorns, I like to give mine a subtle vanilla-like roundness and sweetness by blending it with soaked dates (thanks for the tip Didi!), and sprinkling it with cinnamon. Giving it a spin in the blender at the end creates a latte-like froth on top. These additions make it feel like a treat!


Is one cup of golden milk enough to keep all of life’s whack-a-moles at bay? Of course not, but it’s yet another small healthy choice we can make to show those ragtag dance partners who’s really in the lead!  Is this dance an incredibly messy and unpredictable pursuit?  Absolutely.  Is it worth it?  Most definitely!


Cinnamon Golden Milk 

Inspired by Andrew Weil’s Golden Milk Recipe and a tip about adding soaked dates from my friend Didi          

  • 2 cups unsweetened almond-coconut milk (or other dairy free milk)
  • 3-6 pitted dates
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated turmeric root
  • Cinnamon for garnish

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan and lower to a simmer for 10 minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove all solids.  Pour the milk into a blender and add the soaked dates to taste (4-5 gives a subtle sweetness, use more or less to taste). Blend until completely smooth.  Serve hot in your favorite mug and sprinkle with cinnamon.


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Spiced Baked Apples with Cranberries and Honey-Glazed Pecans

Thanksgiving officially marks the beginning of all things cozy season.  Sure, some of us may have started our coziness quest early with the first hint of cold weather, but tomorrow, it’s official.  We’re taking a ride to cozytown!  Coziness is one of my core values.  If I were to have a personal mission statement, coziness would be one of the main tenets.  Sure, it’s no secret that I love the warmer times of year, when I can get my hands in the dirt and grow things and get out and adventure, but there’s something special about this time of year.  For me it’s a time of coming in for creativity, long days of cooking, and wrapping up on the couch with a book or some knitting.

Today I offer you the coziest of cozy recipes, my spiced baked apples.  I spent the better part of last week hanging out with my family in a condo in the mountains, knitting, playing games, drinking tea, cooking, watching movies and getting crafty.  One night, I put a batch of baked apples glazed with honey and  spices in the oven and retreated to take a bath.  When I rejoined my family to play games, and I took my first bite of warm apple, I nearly melted into a state of elevated goofy-grinned coziness, and not long after, sauntered in a sloth-like stupor to curl up in bed.

I love how quickly baked apples come together, and how flexible they are.  The version I made on my trip last week was very simple–halved honeycrisp apples, baking spices and honey with chopped pecans.  For this version, I decided to add a few special things to make them festive for the coming season of eating–dried cranberries which infuse the apple cider cooking liquid, and some quick honey-glazed spiced pecans to crown the top (they also make for very addictive snacking while the apples are baking).

I wish you much coziness in the coming days, whether you’re cooking, spending time with your special people, or just doing something indulgent and comforting for yourself!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Spiced Baked Apples with Cranberries and Honey glazed Pecans

Serves 4-8

For the apples:

1 1/2 cups apple cider

⅓ cup dried cranberries

4 medium or large baking apples such as Honeycrisp or Jonathan

1 lemon, halved

1 tablespoon vegan butter, melted (optional)

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

⅛ teaspoon allspice

⅛ teaspoon ground clove

Pinch of salt
For the pecan topping:

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons granulated sugar*

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

2 pinches clove

pinch of salt

Additional equipment needed: parchment paper


For the apples:  

Preheat oven to 375˚F.  

Pour the cider and scatter the cranberries in a baking dish.  Halve and core the apples and rub the cut sides with the lemons to prevent browning.  Arrange the apples in the baking dish on top of the cider and cranberries.  Drizzle the melted butter and honey over the apples, and sprinkle the cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves on top.  Cover with foil and bake for about 55 minutes, until the apples are softened and steaming hot.  

For the pecan topping:

Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet and set aside.  

Cook pecans in a medium frying pan over medium heat until fragrant and beginning to turn golden, supervising closely and stirring often.  Add the honey, sugar (if using), cinnamon, ginger and clove.  Stir constantly for about 2 minutes until the sugar dissolves and the liquid thickens, darkens slightly and coats the nuts leaving just a little residue in the bottom of the pan.  

Spread the nut mixture on the parchment paper and allow to cool for about 20 minutes until the coating hardens.  

Serve warm, spooning some of the cranberry-cider liquid over each apple and topping with the honey pecans.   
*The honey-only version tastes great and has a crunchy, slightly sticky texture.  The sugar version gives the nuts a slightly crispier texture.


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Penne with Kale Pesto, Almond Ricotta and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes


Eating out used to be a no-brainer.  Step one: choose restaurant.  Step two: decide what sounds good, debate a bit and order.  Step three: chow down.  Now, it’s a little more complicated.  When planning to eat at a restaurant now, first, I temper my expectations.  Second, I scope out the menu from the comfort of my own home to determine a few possible options.  Third, go to said restaurant and re-create the Spanish Inquisition, where I question my server (kindly of course) about how everything is cooked, looking for clues about hidden dairy.  I proceed with the cross-examination, asking if they know for sure that this piece of fish isn’t cooked in butter, or that masala doesn’t have the slightest swirl of cream stirred in at the end, usually requesting they double-check with  the chef just to be sure.  If only there were a restaurant that I could rely on every time to meet all my expectations of dairy-free deliciousness at any hour of the day, on the whim of this craving or that.  Well, if the restaurant can’t bring you the dairy-free food of your dreams, I say, bring the restaurant to you!




Here’s a pasta recipe for all my dairy-free compadres, because sometimes we just want to eat like the normals.  Back in the day, I used to love the creamy tang of goat cheese.  There’s just something about the way that it adds a contrast to the bright flavors of pesto and tomatoes that I just love.  Alas, those days are gone, and anyways, why cry over spilled milk?  And I’m armed and ready with a lemony almond ricotta that has the tang of the creamy cheese I’ve missed for so long.   The cow has left the station, and here I am, ready to get creative with my end-of-summer garden, bursting with cherry tomatoes and kale.    



Recently, I shared my recipe for kale-pistachio pesto.  I just love bright green kale pesto, blended together with the perfect combination of greens, basil, lemon, garlic and pistachios.  It’s my go-to when I find myself with a hearty crop of kale.  I’ve used this kale pesto on crackers as a snack, on my morning sprouted grain bagel, and just eaten it by the spoonful from a mason jar in the fridge.  Last post, I shared a recipe for a creamy vegan almond ricotta, and now I’m ready to unveil the pièce de résistance, putting all the pieces together.  



This is a dish I could have only dreamed about before.  This is the type of pasta that, at a restaurant, I would ogle on the menu, only to have to interrogate the waitress and regretfully adapt to make edible for me (removing all the things that give it balance and excitement).  Well, welcome to restaurant Chez Spoon.  I’m your chef, Jenny, and surprise–in this magical place, the pesto comes perfectly balanced thanks to the sweet creaminess of the pistachios, and that cheese you’ve been ogling…well, it’s nuts!  Literally and figuratively.  We toss the penne of your choice– whole grain, gluten-free, you name it–in this glorious pesto creation, and dollop it with a lemony ricotta that will take you right back to a place and time where such things didn’t cause so much strife.  Thanks, Chez Spoon!  



Penne with Kale Pesto, Almond Ricotta and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Once the pesto and almond ricotta are made, this pasta comes together very quickly.  Be sure to pre-plan to soak the almonds the night before for the ricotta.  The pesto can be made a day ahead.  Any extra pesto or ricotta make a great addition to sandwiches, wraps, or on a cracker as a snack.  

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt to taste

1 recipe Kale Pistachio Pesto, about 2 1/2 cups

1 recipe vegan almond ricotta

1 pound whole wheat or brown rice penne

crushed red pepper to taste, optional

Preheat oven to 425˚F.  Toss the cherry tomatoes with the olive oil and salt to taste on a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast the tomatoes in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until wrinkled and golden in spots, shaking the pan occasionally during the cooking process to toss them around for even cooking.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions.  Toss the cooked pasta with enough pesto to coat, top with the roasted cherry tomatoes and a dollop of almond ricotta.  Sprinkle with a pinch of crushed red pepper if desired.



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Vegan Almond Ricotta


Hello fellow spoonies!  Today’s post is in preparation for the pièce de résistance of vegan end-of-summer pastas coming up next.  It’s the first day of fall (yay!) and I love the transition of the seasons.  Just a bit of chill in the air, the golden sideways light makes it feel like magic hour all day long!  My garden is at its proudest moment, offering up Parisian gherkins for pickling, heirloom tomatoes, hot chilies, and the biggest sweetest onions I’ve ever grown.   Although this lemony almond ricotta is going to leave your mouth rejoicing in my next recipe, I wanted to post it first, all by itself, because it’s such a good stand in for ricotta or goat cheese in so many dishes.  I love it when layered in lasagna, and have visions about using it in arancini or zucchini cakes.  I also intend to experiment by sweetening it with honey and using it like mascarpone would be used in tiramisu or other creamy desserts.


This version of almond ricotta was created after a conversation with Amelia, the loveliest, warmest person I think there ever was, who owns the most adorable tiny restaurant Little Spoons cafe outside my favorite yoga studio, Karma Yoga in Denver.  Her menu is filled with sandwiches, soups, and savory and sweet baked goods, lovingly made from the best simple and whole organic ingredients.  She’s wonderful about adapting her menu for different dietary needs.  In fact, the most valuable piece of advice I could give you, if you are looking for something vegan, is to ask her to make you a delicious sandwich, with whatever strikes her fancy. Last time I ended up with freshly baked ciabatta spread with a bit of avocado, good olive oil, salt and pepper, topped with sauteed locally grown wild mushrooms tossed in walnut pesto and fresh arugula.   She added a bit of blueberries at the end–I know, blueberries?!  They were the perfect bright contrast to the earthy mushrooms and creamy pesto.  


Amelia and I often find ourselves geeking out about the latest freshly grown garden and farmers market food, and describing in detail how to weave together the ingredients to elevate them to the most nom-worthy status.  After a conversation we had about cheese (and how I can’t eat it), and how hard it is to find legitimately good vegan versions made from whole ingredients, I knew I had to bring Amelia my version of almond ricotta.  I was a little nervous–I mean, Amelia is from Italy!  She worked in tourism for a long time and has the inside info about all the best wineries, restaurants and cheese makers in Tuscany.  


One morning on my way into yoga class, I dropped off two little mason jars–one filled with kale-pistachio pesto, and the other with almond ricotta–for Amelia to try.  When I emerged from class all happy and zenned out, she was raving about how creamy and smooth it was, and what a good substitution it was.  She suggested adding a bit of lemon zest and a bit more lemon juice for a bit more of that cheesy tang.  Hence was born this lemon ricotta, creamy enough to make a vegan weep with joy and non-vegans happily devour!  Just perfect for a pesto pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes…More on that next time!


And P.S: If you’re in the Denver area, be sure to visit Amelia at Little Spoons cafe!  In the meantime, you can check out the menu and some pictures of her lovely creations on her website or instagram @theselittlespoons.  

Lemony Almond Ricotta

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 cups blanched slivered almonds, soaked overnight with water to cover by an inch
  • Grated zest from one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
  • ½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1 cup water

Drain the soaked almonds, and place them in a blender with the lemon zest, lemon juice, nutritional yeast , salt and 1 cup water.  Blend, pushing down the mixture as needed–it will take a while to get the mixture to blend smoothly. Blend until the texture is smooth with just a little bit of graininess  left, like dairy ricotta.  Add an additional few tablespoons of water if needed to achieve the desired texture.  Season with salt to taste.  


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Kale Pistachio Pesto


My garden is often a good indicator of where I am in life.  Last year, I allowed the “pretty” weeds to flourish, congratulating myself on my cleverness and ability to tolerate a certain amount of chaos.  This year has been Weed-mageddon 2017, due in no small part to my extra permissive new-agey gardening style of yesteryear.  I’ve had to show tough love on the various flowering weeds, pulling them one after another, clearing the way for the plants I want to flourish. How’s that as a metaphor for life?   There are rich lessons to be learned amongst the germinating seeds and tangled weeds.    


A new friend and I were geeking out over gardening and food, and as I described my garden, she said, You’re not a gardener…you’re a FARMER!  Besides the fact that I like digging in the dirt, and that I LOVE the payoff of a juicy heirloom tomato still warm from the sun, growing things gives me much more than just perfectly crisp cucumbers and fragrant herb clippings.  Gardening gives me time and open space in my day and my mind.  It’s one of the few places where I can process life, uninterrupted.  In our modern day of constantly being plugged in, these “quiet” places are becoming harder to find… Or maybe they’re still there, but we just don’t think of going there, because we’re so distracted by what’s easy and right at our fingertips.  



Our ancestors’ lives depended on working the land. When I think of it, I was always meant to be a “farmer.”   My grandpa Duncan lived in Oklahoma on his family’s farm during the dust bowl.  He shook his head and grew quiet when he described the dust storms that would roll in.  No matter what measures his family took to seal the house against the dirt, it would find its way into the house.  On the day of a particularly bad storm, my grandpa saw a black cloud like a wall approaching from the north, as high as the eye could see.  His father Luther thought it was the end of the world.  The family hid in the root cellar as the storm blew for hours on end.  Upon returning back to daylight, my grandpa and his family surveyed the scene–cabbages, cotton and all manner of other crops completely covered by dust, and all of their sheep dead or close to it.   


They just couldn’t handle the conditions any longer, so the family packed up; all 10 of them piling atop a mattress in the back of their truck, and sold their farm–240 acres of Oklahoma future oil-rich land for $5000.  Like 83,000 others at the time, they migrated to California where they found a job harvesting zucchini.   The “Okies” as they called them at the time faced a lot of prejudice as they scrambled to pick up odd jobs just to survive.  My grandpa went on to join the Navy at age 17 as an aircraft mechanic during World War II.  When he returned from war, he went to school and then got a job working on planes for General Dynamics until he retired.  Throughout his life, his farming roots never left him, and his  garden remained a source of pride. Even into his last years of life, he still had one of the best I had seen.  I think of my grandpa often, when I’m protecting my tomatoes with hail screens like he always did, or pulling the seemingly endless crop of weeds.  




This year, my garden is bursting with Red Russian Kale.  As much as I love my kale, I don’t want to eat quite as much I grow right away.  I love creative uses for my summer crops that are versatile and also able to be frozen and enjoyed later in the year.  Enter kale pesto; vibrantly green, scented with basil and garlic and a hint of lemon, with a touch of rich “cheesiness” from the raw pistachios.  Toss it with pasta, swirl it in hummus, spread it on a slice of baguette, dot it on pizza, or do what I do and sneak cracker-fuls from the mason jar hanging out in the fridge!  Now this is what we call real food!  


Sitting here eating a spoonful of kale pesto, I think with satisfaction about this process, come full-circle.  In gardening and in life:  Plant some seeds, pull some weeds (well, lots of weeds), and make room for what you intend to let grow.  Pretty soon, if the weather is right, that seed and that dream just might come to fruition.


(P.S:  My grandpa Duncan is the twin on the left)

Kale Pistachio Pesto

Adapted from Andrew Weil’s Fast Food, Good Food

Makes about 2 ½ cups

The first time I made this pesto, my garlic scapes were curling whimsically like flamingoes’ beaks out the center of my hard-neck garlic.  Weil’s original recipe calls for using garlic scapes.  As they can be fleeting and hard to find, this version uses regular garlic-cloves.  However, if you can get your hands on some garlic scapes in the spring, they make a wonderful addition!

  • 1 pound (about 16 leaves) kale (lacinato, “dino”, or Russian work best), stems removed
  • 1 cup raw, unsalted pistachios
  • 3 large cloves garlic, chopped (or 6-8 garlic scapes to taste, buds removed, coarsely chopped)
  • ½ cup basil leaves, packed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from one lemon)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the kale and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, or until it is just wilted and bright green.  Remove the kale to a strainer, and rinse with cold water until cooled.  Gently press out the excess water.  

Place the kale, pistachios, garlic, basil, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to taste in the bowl of a food processor or blender.  Blend to a coarse paste, and add extra olive oil to thin out if needed.  Adjust salt to taste.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze for up to 9 months.  


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Spinach and “Ricotta”-Stuffed Pasta with Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

When I have people over for dinner, different types of recipes typically get responses that fall into a specific category.  Some are the Oh, this is so healthy!-category.  Others, the this is sinful, just give me a tiny slice-category.  There’s the I can’t stop eating this-category, usually related to appetizers. There’s the, this is so rich, you might have to roll me out the door-category.  Anytime I use tofu-ricotta in a recipe, my dinner guests usually fall into the I’d better not eat too much of this-category, but are delighted when they realize that this recipe actually falls into my favorite recipe category: the, this is so healthy but it’s satisfying all my cravings right now category.  

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

I know, I know, some people have an aversion to even the slightest mention of tofu.  Everyone’s had soggy unflavored cubes of tofu at some point.  Those little guys give this versatile protein a bad rap!  In this case, the tofu is blended with a variety of ingredients to give it the taste and feel of real ricotta.  The best part is, it tricks the mouth into thinking it’s cheese, but is full of protein!  Even my little brother, for whom pizza is a food group, approves of my tofu ricotta–here’s my recipe for kale ricotta lasagna that had him fully convinced that the world was not as he had previously imagined–I ate TOFU?  And I thought it was CHEESE?!  Mind blown!!!

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

Most of my recipes are born out of food daydreams, and this one was no exception.  I picked up a box of brown rice manicotti (which I had no idea even existed) and began to dream of my pre-lactose intolerant days and the deliciously creamy stuffed pastas I had enjoyed in the past.  In that instant, I knew what I must do.  I whipped up a batch of tofu ricotta and lightly sauteed some spinach to stuff inside–creamy, garlicky and full of vibrant greens.   For the top, a fire-roasted tomato sauce filled with garlic and fresh oregano, and basil to garnish.

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

I’m of the mind that one shouldn’t eat (or avoid eating) from a place of guilt or shame.  Sure, some foods are very occasional sometimes foods.  I certainly have my share of nope, definitely can’t/won’t eat that foods, mostly of the highly-processed variety.  Sometimes a little sweet treat or crunchy snack is just the thing I want, and I allow myself that every now and again.  I’m highly unlikely to jump on the Paleo, Ketogenic, or any other kind of diet-philosophy band-wagon, but what feels best to me is the way Michael Pollan sums it up:  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.” For me, being healthy always comes back to using real whole ingredients to make real, flavorful and soul-satisfying foods, and to giving yourself the flexibility to give your ever-changing body what it needs when it needs it.

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

To all my vegan, lactose-intolerant compadres, I hope this stuffed pasta takes you back to the pre dairy-avoiding days that only exist in your dreams!  Enjoy!

Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta|

Spinach and “Ricotta”-Stuffed Pasta with Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce

I love the freshness of the oregano in this recipe, but if you don’t have any on hand, dried herbs will work just fine and can be substituted using a ratio of  1:3 dried to fresh.  

For the tofu ricotta:

  • 1 (14-ounce) block extra firm tofu, drained
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons mellow white miso
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the pasta and sauce:

  • 4 tb olive oil, divided
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 5 large cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup dry White wine (optional)
  • 1 24 ounce can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 24 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 ½ tsp dried basil (or about a tablespoon and a half chopped fresh basil)
  • ¼ tsp Crushed red pepper
  • splash of balsamic vinegar to taste
  • 3 tb finely chopped Fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried)
  • 7 ounces brown rice or whole wheat manicotti (I like this kind)
  • 8 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • salt to taste
  • Fresh basil to garnish, optional


Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until translucent.  Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute.  Pour in the white wine if using, and cook for a couple minutes to burn off some of the liquid.  Add both cans of tomatoes, and dried herbs (fresh herbs are added later), crushed red pepper, and salt to taste.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes slightly darken and the flavors meld.  Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to taste (about 2 teaspoons), and stir in the fresh oregano.  Adjust salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add 2 tablespoons salt and par-cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.  If pasta will be sitting for a while, lightly toss it with oil so that it doesn’t stick together.

To make the tofu ricotta, combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, stopping to push down the sides with a rubber spatula if needed.  Adjust seasonings to taste and set aside.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium frying pan.  Add spinach, and generous pinch of salt  and cook for 2 minutes, or until the spinach has just wilted and is still bright green.  Allow to cool slightly.

Combine the spinach and tofu ricotta in a medium bowl and stir until evenly incorporated.  Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag or large freezer bag, and cut off a small corner at the bottom of the bag.

Spread half the sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish.  Pipe the spinach-ricotta mixture from the bag to fill each noodle, and arrange them in a single layer in the baking dish. Spread the remaining sauce over the top of the noodles, cover with foil and bake according to the pasta package directions, about 40 minutes.   Garnish with fresh basil right before serving if desired.






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