In like a lion

Ah, March. Historically I’ve had a bit of hard time with this month, and I know I’m not alone in this. It feels like everyone you know is off somewhere warm and green, eating local citrus fruit, sipping cocktails out of coconuts and diving into impossibly blue water. I know this isn’t true, but it’s where your mind goes when you find yourself staring at your own walls and messy cupboards. I remember one March in college when I housesat for a dear family friend who was taking her annual trip to Mexico. While everyone else in the world was on vacation, I sat on the floor of her glassed-in front porch with her black lab, Puccini, and wrote a poem about a dying fish who belonged to my best friend’s roommate. This fish floated sideways in it’s tank going up and down, up and down, and I wrote some lines about trying to find your equilibrium. I bet I could find this poem if I looked around, it has become the thing that I now think of when it becomes March.

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But March is also a time of renewal and rebirth, and even if we can’t see it through the rain-snow and mud, warm, green days are on the way. And if you can’t get out of dodge, one way that I have started to look at March is as an opportunity to shake things up a little bit and maybe get out of a few ruts. A few years ago, inspired by one of my favorite yoga teachers, I decided to create my own version of a “cleanse” right around the time of the spring equinox. For about 12 days I gave up coffee, dairy, sugar and alcohol and I ran most mornings before work. I started each day by drinking warm water with lemon and I cooked vegan dinners by night. As a vegetarian who cooks most meals using whole and mainly organic ingredients, this wasn’t too much of a stretch and I didn’t feel very different at the end of the 12 days, but I did learn that you can put avocado in smoothies instead of yogurt, that I could live without coffee and beer and that even though getting out of bed 40 minutes earlier- in the dark- is rough, that it feels really good when you get home from your jog and the sun is just coming up. And I also discovered some new favorite recipes and a blog that I still love to this day. So, I’m going for it again. I’m not giving up coffee this time (let’s not get too crazy here), but I did drink it black this morning, instead of with my regular heavy pour of 1/2 and 1/2. I’m going to keep making overnight oats with whole milk for Dan and half-moon, but I’ll have my oatmeal plain with raisins and walnuts. And I’m going to cook dinners from the extensive- and underutilized- collection of vegan cookbooks sitting on my shelf.

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I’m not going to buy dairy alternatives like fake cheese or almond milk- the strange list of unknown ingredients weirds me out- but hell yeah I’ll make walnut + lentil loaf with ketchup on top. Last night I made chili, that just happens to be vegan if you don’t add sour cream or cheese on top.

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It’s still cold and damp outside, so warm, hearty meals are in order- but this is a good time to cook farro for the first time or try a new recipe for new soup. Or go to a different yoga class or buy a new plant or finally get those three empty jars of honey out of your cupboard. Instead of writing the whole month off, do something that helps you look at the world with fresh eyes, even if from your own kitchen. If you get creative, there are seemingly small things you can do to help you look at the world a little differently. March is your oyster.

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Pinto and Black Bean Chili

Ingredients:

1 cup dried pinto beans
1/2 cup dried black beans
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, chopped,
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cans tomatoes (diced or San marzano style- or combination)
2 cups water or veggie broth
Salt
Chili powder
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Toppings:
Fresh squeezed lime juice
Cilantro
Green onions

Directions:
Presoak beans for a couple of hours in a big pot, and then bring to a boil and let simmer for a couple of hours until cooked and water is mostly absorbed. Place the beans in a bowl, and then add olive oil to the pot. When the oil is warm, add the garlic, onion and celery and sauté for a few minutes. Add the chili powder and cayenne, if you like the heat, and salt, and sauté for another minute. Add the beans back to the pan, and add the tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for a few minutes (or longer) before serving. Taste for salt and cayenne. Top chili with lime juice, cilantro and green onions.
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Do you have a way that you like to “celebrate” March? I’d love to hear it. Happy almost spring, my friends.

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I won yoga

Things have been a little crazy here this week- they always seem to get like that around this time of year. But sometimes it’s important to get back to basics. I believe this was at the heart of the issue when my sister asked my mom today if we have any plans for tomorrow and my mom replied, “No… I just know that we will have to eat something.”

There have been about 84,000 trips to various grocery stores this week, however there is a rumor going around the house that there is nothing to eat. I believe that this rumor may have something to do with the fact that it is nearly impossible to find what you are looking for in the black hole that is our college dorm room-sized refrigerator (just keep looking behind the chocolate milk, soy milk, buttermilk, two half-gallons of skim milk and orange juice and you might find the pita bread). When several of us were looking for a snack this afternoon I did manage to find a couple of cans of garbanzo beans on the cupboard shelf and suggested the possibility of making hummus. Garlic? Check. Lemons? Check. Cumin? Check. Olive oil? Check. Tahini? Check. I decided to start with the tahini and immediately noticed that it appeared to have separated. I proceeded to “stir” the rock hard bottom layer into the oily top layer and mentioned the consistency to my mom who was busy making the best molasses cookies on the planet (I will post that recipe tomorrow). I remained vigilant until I “stirred” too ferociously and ended up with a spray of oil all over my down vest. At this point I took a break to soak my vest and my sister, after picking up the jar of tahini to examine it, discovered that it had expired in 2005. I’m impressed that we were apparently buying tahini sometime in 2004… Our snack seemed doomed until NPR and Nigella Lawson saved the day. My mom and sister both instantly remembered hearing on NPR that Nigella Lawson said that she likes to make her hummus with peanut butter. Luckily I can’t live without peanut butter and we were back in business. I have to admit that I was skeptical, but this hummus was, as my dad says about my sea salt that makes his humidifier steam like Old Faithful, “the bomb.”

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Peanut Butter Hummus

Ingredients

2 x 15-ounce cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1 garlic clove, peeled

3-5 tablespoons regular olive oil

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

3 tablespoons lemon juice, or more as needed

2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoons table salt, or to taste

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 – 1/3 cup Greek yogurt*

2 tablespoons peanuts, finely chopped, to serve (optional)*

1 teaspoon smoked paprika, to serve (optional)

breadsticks, mini pitas, crackers, tortilla chips, to serve (optional)

Instructions

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put the garlic clove, chickpeas, 3 tablespoons oil, peanut butter, lemon juice, salt, and cumin into a food processor and blitz to a knobbly puree.**

Add 1/4 cup of the Greek yogurt and process again; if the hummus is still very thick, add another 1–2 tablespoons yogurt and the same of oil. (This will often depend on the chickpeas, as different sorts make the hummus thicker or not.)

Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice and salt if you feel it needs it.

On serving, mix the chopped peanuts with the paprika and sprinkle on top if you wish, and put an array of bits and pieces to eat with or dip in, as you see fit.

Makes enough for a party of 10***

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*I omitted the yogurt and the peanuts

**I just mashed up all of the ingredients with a fork

***Or a party of three….

I served up the hummus with some pita bread (I found it!) that I warmed in the oven, carrot sticks and a few olives. The leftovers were immediately eaten with pita chips.

Holiday hummus with a mystery ingredient

In other news, I went to my first yoga class this morning in several years.  I wish that I could write that I loved it and felt rejuvinated but I had a hard time not focusing on all of the snuffy nasal breathing and coughing that I heard going on in the very cozy room. I also found myself doing a head count at one point and figuring out how much cash that meant for the instructor (and then wondering how much of that cash she gets to keep). My proudest moment came when I stayed standing on one leg longer than a woman who looked like she knew what she was doing. I thought to myself, “I won,” which then reminded me of the time that I was an archery instructor at summer camp (it’s a long story how I ended up in that position) and a young man named LaTroy declared that he had won archery after hitting a straw target. I’m pretty sure that all of this mind wandering and self-imposed balance competitions with unknowing participants is not the point of yoga. I suppose I’ll have to give it another go….

Tonight Dan and I took a walk to my favorite tree that I have been admiring on my evening jogs so that I could take a picture.

It’s a somewhat calm evening for now (I’m actually home alone for a few minutes with a snoring dog) so I am taking it all in. Happy solstice, everyone- the earth is now tilting ever so slightly back toward the sun (at least in Wisconsin).