Special Dish for the Week: Quinoa and Chickpea Salad

Posting with a week’s delay, I prepared this Special Dish for the Week as part of the very delicious, nutritious and colourful menu of a birthday weekend getaway in Roberts Creek for a good friend and her 8 girlfriends (including myself), with sufficient left overs to serve me as several lunches for the week:

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad Bowl

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad Bowl

I have discovered that the key to using whole raw almonds in salads is to prepare them ahead of time by letting them soak in the dressing of olive oil and vinegar (ideally over night). The dressing can be varied in the ingredients, and this time I add to the olive oil some apple cider vinegar (where balsamic vinegar works great as well), some dried cranberries (to offset with their sweetness the sourness of the vinegar), and a generous pinch of herbes de Provence.

Typically, I make this salad with white quinoa, but this time I get a little more adventurous and try it with red quinoa for an additional colour dimension.

While the quinoa cooks, I chop some red and orange peppers into bite sizes, along with some green onions. A friend strips off the leaves from cilantro stems, while I do the same with fresh thyme. I peal some garlic for pressing, and rinse the cherry tomatoes. Another friend opens and rinses a can of chickpeas. I slice a lime for squeezing.

The cooked quinoa is set outside, where the chilly air temperature allows it to cool quicker. In another bowl, I begin adding the other ingredients: the chickpeas, the red and orange peppers, the cherry tomatoes, the green onions, the almond-olive oil-apple cider vinegar-herbes de Provence-dried cranberries dressing, as well as additional seasonings, including the fresh thyme, cilantro, turmeric and black pepper, pressed garlic, and a dash of maple syrup, with a pinch of salt and squeezed lime juice to taste. I gently intermingle these flavours and textures.

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad Served

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad Served

When the quinoa is sufficiently cooled and fluffed with a wooden spoon, I gently add the mélange of ingredients and dressing, gently stirring them into the quinoa. Et voilà, the salad is ready for the tasting, along with the riso pasta salad and coleslaw that other friends make for our lunch feast. It is all very delicious—that day, and the next few!

Post-Writing Retreat Time-Out

Pseudo-Parisian Style Baguette and Smoked Mackerel Dinner

Pseudo-Parisian Style Baguette and Smoked Mackerel Dinner

Following the recent Writing Retreat Weekend, I take a little time-out—about a week long—from trying to write my way out my log jam of thoughts. Instead, I take a long, overcast walk on the beach with a friend, and give the back of my mind a chance to possibly make some unconscious progress. Also, in my on-going search for a Parisian-style baguette in Vancouver, I come close to finding one at the market when I try “A Bread Affair” bakery’s “Naked baguette traditionnalle”. I enjoy it for dinner one evening with some organic butter, smoked mackerel from the Granville Island market, and a tomato salad with mixed greens, basil and cilantro from my herb garden, and some cooked spinach.

Likewise, while on the prowl for various duck meats for the French salade Landaise—which I featured in my final story post from Paris and reported in my return to Vancouver story post as being a challenge to assemble here—I decide to give the gizzard-containing chicken giblets a try instead. I may need to try cooking them in water for about an hour next time, instead of frying them up like chicken livers, to see if I get a better, softer result. Though edible, the giblets are rather knuckly in texture, such that the steamed peas and asparagus, with a side of tomato and mixed greens salad, make a welcome completion of that dish.

Chicken Giblets in Faux-Salade-Landaise, Take-One

Chicken Giblets in Faux-Salade-Landaise, Take-One

The following weekend, I organise a 3-hr mini writing retreat with a friend at the Vancouver Public Library. With this dedicated book-writing time, and the week-long time-out I had given my conscious mind, I return to more actively working my way through the challenging point in my story that has been demanding much of my current energy. Having decided to do so during the recent Writing Retreat Weekend, I print about 75 pages of notes and narrative writing, and begin reading and marking it with coloured stickies and brief hand-written notes. Thus, decorating my desk and getting up close and personal with the typed words, as well as consulting my journals from the past decade, I re-commence my attempt to comprehend my present and my past.

The Writer's Printouts-Covered Workspace

The Writer’s Printouts-Covered Workspace

On Saturday morning, I head down to the downtown farmers market in search of carrots and chicken livers. I get lots of carrots, but they are out of chicken livers, so I decide to try the turkey livers. These remain to be explored, perhaps in a future Special Dish for the Week. At the market, I also learn what kind of day it is going to be for me that day. From the reactions of people around me, I can often tell how wiggly is my body and how unintentionally expressive is my face. I seem to be upsetting many people on this day, so I must be more wiggly and grimacey. I reach out for my new tools to deal with these unwelcome reactions and my instinctive but unproductive feelings. I am relatively successful, but I still look forward to getting back home, away from the prying and confused eyes.

That evening, I resist the temptation to keep hiding in the solitary safety of my apartment, and I brave the bus and the night club atmosphere, to go dancing. I haven’t been in several months, not since before my Book Writing Tour 2013. I try to relax, but instinctively, I am on the lookout for unsolicited commentary, knowing from the morning’s market outing, what kind of day my body is having. I have a mixed experience. I am not successful at giving my name to someone who introduces themselves to me. However, it gives me an opportunity to successfully practice reminding myself not to care too much about what someone may think of me when they react badly to me for not being able to get my voice to work, especially under very challenging (loud) conditions. I actually feel ok about it within minutes of the incident. The rest of my evening is similarly mixed: one unpleasant moment is, in turn, offset by another enjoyable one, till I return to my place of refuge and my bed. I survive another day in the urban jungle, and even feel content at the end of it.

The next day, on Sunday afternoon, with the Fall season upon us and sunny but chilly weather abound, I make some warm and comforting Carrot Ginger Cashew Lentil Soup as my Special Dish for the Week.

Special Dish for the Week: Carrot Ginger Cashew Lentil Soup

Feeling in need of some comforting Fall warmth, in temperature, colour and spice, InspireHealth inspires this week’s Special Dish for the Week:

Carrot Ginger Cashew Lentil Soup

Carrot Ginger Cashew Lentil Soup—Pre-Blender

Carrot Ginger Cashew Lentil Soup—Pre-Blender

To this bright and cheerful-looking soup recipe, I add red lentils as a base flavour and protein source. And doubling, or so, the recipe, I use about 12 large organic carrots. I use organic carrots to hopefully avoid taking in toxins, like pesticides and heavy metals. I use carrots for their antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, to help protect my cells from damaging free-radicals and to help my liver eliminate toxins. Eating carrots also gives my skin a healthy glow that in the winter months is often mistake for a tan.

While the rinsed lentils and chopped carrots simmer for about 30 minutes, I chop an onion, peel and press a few cloves of garlic, and grate lots of organic ginger. These I sautée in some sesame oil before adding about 2 cups of cashews for some light roasting. I spice these with turmeric and black pepper, some paprika, ground cumin, and some sea salt. Adding a little water to the mix, I transfer these to the softened lentils and carrots.

Carrot Ginger Cashew Lentil Soup—Post-Blender

Carrot Ginger Cashew Lentil Soup—Post-Blender

Working again from the recipe, I add some coconut milk, honey and the juice of a lime, stirring and simmering for a few more minutes. Then I toss in a bunch of chopped cilantro. Before I blender the soup, I take a ladleful on a plate and snap a photo revealing the chunky ingredients. The unblendered soup tastes very flavourful, with a contrasting variability in the textures. After blending, I garnish a ladleful with fresh cilantro and a drop of coconut milk, snapping another photo while the soup cools. The blendered version tastes delicious, with a mélange of spices, and has a very interesting dense texture from the blendered cashews.

The soup definitely meets the comforting Fall warmth expectation!

Meal ideas & recipes from http://www.inspirehealth.ca/recipes/2012/11/carrot-cashew-with-cilantro-soup

Vancouver Writing Retreat Weekend 2013-09

The Writer at the Top of the World on Lynn Peak

The Writer at the Top of the World on Lynn Peak

After the quite intense return to my paid day-job, while attempting to also work at my writing craft, I settle into a slightly calmer week-day routine. On the Labour Day weekend, I reward my mind and body with a venture out to the top of the world. On a sunny Saturday morning, after a quick visit to the downtown farmers market, my friend, her doggie and I hike up the local Lynn Peak (elevation gain 750m) for a picnic lunch and spectacular view of Vancouver. Being seriously out of hiking practice, and having popped a muscle relaxant to help me breathe, I am amazed at the relatively painless 2-hour hike up—the hike down of the same duration tells of the steepness and the ruggedness of the trail. We are all pooped in the evening, and when our bodies snap out of the shock we have imposed on them, they scream at us in protest for a couple of days. The change in perspective is so worth it! That weekend I make another Thai-themed Special Dish for the Week: Thai Ginger Tofu with Oyster Mushrooms and Swiss Chard.

The following week, I make plans to write on a few evenings. These plans get promptly derailed by my choosing to do an above-average job at my paid day-job, staying late to do so—and by the knowledge that I have dedicated the following weekend entirely to working on my book. Besides, I am a little stuck in my story, which is demanding of me some deep soul-searching and self-analysis—not exactly conducive to tackling when most of the brain-power for the day has been used up on figuring out how to help keep Canadians safer from natural disasters (which is what I do in my paid day-job at NRCan). So, I turn to my thriving herb garden, instead, for some comfort and sustenance. My first home-grown greens of arugula, basil and cilantro accompany my shrimp-asparagus-spinach quiche creation.

Comforting Herb Garden Greens with Shrimp-Asparagus-Spinach Quiche

Comforting Herb Garden Greens with Shrimp-Asparagus-Spinach Quiche

After a bi-weekly Skype check-in with my Developmental Editor to brainstorm how I might approach the impending weekend Writing Retreat, I prepare in advance my France-inspired Special Dish for the Week for the following week’s lunches: Ratatouille Provençale, as well as food to take to the retreat—and I don’t manage to go either dancing or to bed early. It has been a while for these latter two activities. Life tends to be a little full when you’re trying to live it and write about it.

The Writer at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The Writer at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The 2-day Writing Retreat, organized as part of the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group, is within a 10-minute bike ride over the bridge that joyously has a separated bike lane. As a warm-up to the Writing Retreat, I participate in a Yoga and Writing Workshop—both activities employing the principles of free-flow: in yoga, movement and breath flow freely; in writing, thoughts that are often self-critical flow freely onto paper or the keyboard (akin to the Daily Morning Pages). This Workshop interweaves both elements within its 2-hours.

Throughout the Retreat, I try hard to resolve the block I am stuck on in my story, but am careful not to push too hard, as I already learned that lesson. The images I conjure up for myself are that of me, facing a log jam of thoughts, and spinning a spider web of analysis to try to get myself to move forward in my story. I do a lot of free-writing during the weekend-long Writing Retreat, and resolve to try a different, more physical approach to this predicament—perhaps I need to print out a few dozen pages and go at them with coloured crayons, stickies, and scissors, and see what happens. Trying this approach would really stretch me in a new direction, but after being in this state of stuckedness for over a month, I just may need to get down on my knees and get my hands to help my brain find a way out.

The Writer's Weekend Writing Retreat Office

The Writer’s Weekend Writing Retreat Office

The Writing Retreat proves productive in several other ways too. Having set aside nearly 24 hours to just work on my book, I give myself permission to reorganize some spreadsheet lists, catch up on some reading of a helpful self-publishing blog, and add to my potential storyline ideas list. Much of the weekend I spend feeling nearly defeated by the task of trying to tell my own story in a cohesive, written form, and am gratefully heartened by the feedback I receive from several retreat co-participants. My brief descriptions of “what my book is about” draw my fellow writers in, as they exclaim “I really want to read your book!” Externally validated, my wilting internal motivation is revived. Though it cannot take forever, the memoir process will not be rushed…and I feel more ok with that as I emerge from the Writing Retreat.

I am also finding that writing need not be the solitary occupation that it is sometimes presented as. With about 10-20 of us in the large open space at any given point during the Retreat, though we do not speak with each other while we write, it feels that we are connecting on some level; the energy is almost palpable. Likewise, collaboration between writers can occur in the same room, or across countries and continents. In the past weeks, I have the good fortune to mentor from Vancouver my writer-friend in Ontario on setting up a website similar to mine, which she plans to use to recount her tales from her upcoming EuroTour. Earlier, when putting together my website during my Euro-Canadian Book Writing Tour 2013, I was learning the ropes from another Ontarian writer-friend who had been building her website ahead of me for sharing her literary projects. My good fortune in this writing collaborative of course also includes my US-based Developmental Editor and writer colleague—to name but a few global writer connections I have amassed thus far. Once I open up these website updates of my writing process more publically to the cyber-world, I hope to hyper-link with them.

Luscious Super Salads with the Writer's Herb Garden Greens

Luscious Super Salads with the Writer’s Herb Garden Greens

Naturally, I round out my weeks with more delicious, nutritious—and otherwise luscious—dishes. I have several super salads with the greens from my herb garden, observing in amazement the abundance of such a small growing area.

Special Dish for the Week: Ratatouille Provençale

With fond memories of one of my favourite places on Earth—Provence in the South of France—I prepare this week’s Special Dish for the Week somewhat early (on Friday) as my weekend is all set aside for a Writing Retreat with the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group:

Ratatouille Provençale

Colourful Ingredients for Ratatouille Provencale

Colourful Ingredients for Ratatouille Provencale

Seizing the moment of the ending summer, while produce is still fresh and vibrant, I roam within my memories of my travels in Provence, and decide on making the colourful, nutritious comforting ratatouille.

Loosely following a recipe, I begin by peeling, grating, slicing and dicing some garlic, ginger, onion and red pepper. These I sautée, till soft, then browned, in generous amounts of cold pressed virgin olive oil. I add some chopped cilantro stems to enrich the base flavour (and to think: I used to throw the stems out!). Plus some slices of red spur chili for a little added spice.

Meanwhile, I coarsely chop vine ripened tomatoes, and let them stew with the base ingredients.

Next is coarse dicing of zucchini—or courgette—and two varieties of eggplant—or aubergine—the deep purple American globe type and the lighter purple Chinese type, which is said to be less bitter.

The diced zucchini and eggplant go into the already-stewing pot with more cilantro, fresh basil from my herb garden, thyme, pepper, and some salt. I began using a bit more sea salt in my cooking in an attempt to increase my magnesium intake to help with my relentless nightly leg cramps. Sadly, it is not working—yet!

Ratatouille Provencale Packed for Lunch

Ratatouille Provencale Packed for Lunch

I let all the veggies cook—covered, to soften, releasing and intermingling their plentiful juices—for about 1/2 hr.

For protein and carbohydrate sources, I separately cook some jasmine brown rice and some red lentils. These I layer when serving, and place the ratatouille on top, with some cilantro garnish.

I serve out the portions into several pyrex-style glass containers for my packed work lunches for the following week. Naturally, I taste-test the dish as it cooks, and it is definitely a good one. It is less spicy and more earthy than the last several dishes I made in this Special Dish for the Week series.

Meal ideas & recipes from http://norecipes.com/blog/ratatouille-recipe/

Special Dish for the Week: Thai Ginger Tofu with Oyster Mushrooms and Swiss Chard

Keeping with last week’s Thai cuisine theme, I go even spicier for this week’s Special Dish for the Week:

Thai Ginger Tofu Stir-Fry with Oyster Mushrooms and Swiss Chard

Thai Ginger Tofu Stir-Fry with Oyster Mushrooms and Swiss Chard

Thai Ginger Tofu Stir-Fry with Oyster Mushrooms and Swiss Chard

In place of chicken, which the original recipe calls for, I use likewise iron-containing tofu, which I thinly slice and marinade over night in the fridge in toasted sesame seed oil and garlic.

I begin the stir-fry by sautéeing sliced onion and chopped shallots in coconut oil. I add chopped cilantro stems to the base as well.

Next, I thinly slice fresh organic ginger, and red and green spicy spur chilies. I add these into the stir-fry, along with chopped stems of Swiss chard (for more iron) and roughly chopped tomato (for some vitamin C). A little water added to the stir-fry begins to make a spicy sauce.

The marinated tofu enters next, now mixing the stir-fry more carefully to maintain the integrity of the thinly sliced tofu. Firm tofu works well for this. Chopped Swiss chard leaves and oyster mushrooms join the party in the wok once the tofu is warmed through.

To balance the flavours, I add a tablespoon of salty fish sauce, one of sweet maple syrup, and several of creamy coconut milk that helps take the edge off (but just barely) the spicy spur chilies.

For added protein, in addition to the tofu, I serve the Thai stir-fry over jasmine brown rice layered with kidney beans, which also add more iron to this dish. Naturally, I garnish with more fresh cilantro. On a still-warm late summer evening, I enjoy this dish with a glass of Chardonnay. And for dessert, the pecan square from the local farmers market awaits.

Meal ideas & recipes from “International Thai Cooking: Authentic Thai Food” book acquired during my 2009 Southeast Asia travels.