Borrani Banjan

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Heavy air, dew drenched leaves, forests filled with cicadas and fireflies. The east coast can be a magical place. Especially, the south. Salty costal air, wise old mountains covered in blankets of poplar, oak, and pine, summers bring the juiciest tomatoes, crisp pods of okra, and the sweetest peaches. I'm enamored with the world, traveling is a love affair with the experience and the new perspectives it brings. I've been to more continents than I have not, seen many of our states on both sides of the country, and called quite a number of places home. My collection of experiences is far from complete but, slowly, I feel the call and yearning for the east coast. The other day I glanced through a magazine and inside was a set of gorgeous pictures from Charlottesville, VA, the place I was living before Denver. The pictures were taken at the gardens where I use to intern and I remember being there that morning when the photo shoot was in motion. I didn't pay too much attention to the shoot and I glanced through that magazine purely by chance. Yet, it awoke something in me. I took for granted the beautiful views of the rolling mountains fading into a soft blue. I knew I loved it, I just didn't realize how much. 

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This dish, Borrani Banjan, is an Afghan dish that we regularly ordered from our favorite restaurant back in Virginia. An Afghan restaurant called Arianna's. My version is a bit thicker and less oily but still uses a generous amount of oil. It's the perfect dish for my current mood. Something to remind me of home, but also a dish that draws near a foreign culture, balancing a love for home and a love of the afar. Borrani Banjan is traditionally a friend eggplant dish severed in an oily tomato pureé, drizzled with a yogurt sauce and eaten with warm, Afghan bread called Nan. I made a few modifications so it wasn't quite as oily, and I baked the eggplant instead of frying. 

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Now a quick word about oils and fats. Oils and fats are good for you, hear me scream it from the rooftops! You need fats, they are essential for your body to process certain nutrient and proteins, good fats do not increase unhealthy cholesterol. Actually, they help lower you unhealthy cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol (HDL). Good cholesterol is needed to build cells and produce hormones. Oils/fats are all different and since most of us use oil in almost everything we cook, even if it is just a little, you need to pay some attention to what oil you are using. So most cooking oils are in the category of good fats which are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats although they aren't all equal. I typically always use organic extra virgin olive oil and I look for oils that have been first-pressed and cold-pressed because this oil will have the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat, the good type of fat. I want it cold-pressed because heat breaks down oils turning them rancid and creating free-radicals, which destroy your body, essentially, by aging you. I don't want my oils to have ever been heated before I use them.

I typically like to use olive oil on no higher than medium heat so I do not break it down. This brings me to coconut oils, which is a saturated fat. Wait? A saturated fat? Yes, saturated fats typically are bad fats, but tropical oils (coconut oil) do not contain or contribute to LDL (unhealthy cholesterol), they are the exception to the rule. Coconut oil is also solid at room temperature, and it takes a higher heat to break coconut oil down. It is why I tend to use coconut oil for all my high-heat needs. Plus, its really tasty. When looking for coconut oil make sure you do not buy a hydrogenated version, and look for a virgin/organic version. I know, oils can be pricey, but really... this one is all about your health, you use it in everything. The very best coconut oil I have ever had is from Mountain Rose Herbs. It is very fragrant, more fragrant than any coconut oil I've had, and tastes fantastic. There is no comparison to the brands found in the store, plus, for the quantity and quality, the price is better than store versions. After I tried their coconut oil (virgin unrefined), I'll never go back, here is the link to their coconut oils.

Enough of me talking about fats... my fat, your fat, all the fat! yay! 

Now lets get down to business with this Afghan food!  You might want to have the bread made before making the eggplant dish and then reheat before serving. Just lower the oven temperature to 400degrees after making the bread to get ready for the next step.

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Bread (Nan)

I slightly modified the recipe from here . Usually this bread is cooked in a tandoori oven so this is an adaption of the traditional version.

Bread flour - 5 cups

Salt - 2tsp

Active dry yeast - 1TB or 1 packet

Water - 2 cups warm water (between 105-115degrees) 

Olive oil - 5TB

Honey - 2tsp

Dissolve the honey and yeast into the warm water in a bowl and set aside 5-10 minutes, it should start to bubble and froth up.  Meanwhile mix together the flour and salt in a large bowl. After the yeast mixture as frothed up add in the oil. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the water/oil mixture gently. Stir the mixture together with a big wooden spoon working from the center out but the mixture is solid enough to work with your hands. Knead for about 10 minutes. Place into a oiled bowl and cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees with a greased baking sheet or stone inside. Punch the dough down, divide dough into six balls, and flour the work surface. Roll each dough into an oil with a rolling pin and stretching with your hands until they are between 1/4inch - 1/2inch thick. If desired you can mist the bread and then sprinkle over some black sesame seeds. Once the oven is hot, remove the pan or stone and place the bread on top and then return the stone to the oven. Cook for about 5 minutes, check, and then cook 5 more minutes. The break should be slightly golden.

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Recipe (Serves 4 as a meal - nice served with a salad) 

Eggplants - 2 small/medium, sliced into very thin rounds

Yellow onion - 1/2, slivered

Tomatoes - 4 medium, chunked

Tomato paste - 6oz can

Garlic - 5 cloves, minced

Coconut oil - 1/4 cup plus extra for brushing

Olive oil - Scant 1/4 cup

Good quality curry powder - 3-4TB I used curry from here if I don't make my own. 

Yogurt - plain, whole fat, about 1/4cup

Mint - fresh, 3-4TB, minced

Salt -  to taste

Chop up all your veggies and have them ready and then mix together the yogurt, 1 clove of minced garlic, mint, and a pinch of salt. Set aside for later.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Lay the eggplant slices onto a baking sheet, brushing each side with coconut oil. Bake in the oven for about 8 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil on medium high heat in a large, deep, skillet. Add in the rest of the garlic and the onions. Cook for 3-5 minutes until fragrant and beginning to soften. Add in the tomatoes.  Cook for about 10 minutes and then add in the tomato paste. Stir until combined. Cook for several more minutes. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Dump back into the skillet on medium heat. Add in the curry powder and generous 1/2tsp of salt. Cook for a few minutes and then taste and adjust for the spices. Drizzle in the olive oil and stir. Add in the baked eggplant and stir to coat. 

Pour the eggplant mixture onto a platter and drizzle over the yogurt sauce and then garnish with a bit more mint, if desired.  Serve spooned over the nan.

Oh-My-Oh-So-Good.

 

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Summer tamales with zucchini, radishes, & corn + tomatillo salsa.

Hot tamale!

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My first encounter with tamales had me swooning. Served up piping hot from a pit dug into the earth and covered with palm branches. I waited for those tamales anxiously, watching the heat waves flicker over the pit causing the snow-capped Andes Mountains to dance in the background over the faint linger of corn in the air. Opening up the husks revealed the steaming little package of masa flour and vegetables. I couldn't wait to dig in. Since then I have had tamales in restaurants, food carts, and at farmers market stands. Perhaps because of the memories I have tied to tamales, I always make the same mistake, a painful mistake. My poor tongue probably cowers at the site of masa because I always burn my tongue. I am too impatient and never wait long enough for the centers of the tamales to cool a bit. It's ok tamales, I still love you.

 

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Recipe (Makes about 15 tamales) 

Coconut oil - 6TB

Corn husks - 15 corn husks + a few extra in case the amount varies. 

Masa harina - 4 cups

Hot water - 2 cups + soaking water for the corn husks

Mexican oregano - 1TB dried or several TB fresh. 

Cayenne pepper - 1tsp dried

Lime - zest of 1 lime

Garlic - 2 cloves, minced

Zucchini - 2 coarsely chopped

Corn - 1 fresh cob, the kernels cut off

Radishes - 3 small radishes chopped + extra to garnish

Cotija cheese - generous 1/2 cup crumbled + extra to garnish

Salt - 1tsp

Salsa Verde

Tomatillos - 5 tomatillos, coarsely chopped

Jalapeno - 1 small, chopped, remove seeds or not (depending on heat preference).

Garlic - 2 cloves, chopped

Red onion - 1/4 red onion, chopped

Limes - juice of 2 limes

Cilantro - a large handfull, chopped + extra to garnish

Salt - a few pinches, to taste

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Cover the corn husks in a bowl with hot water and leave to soak while preparing the tamales. Mix the masa with oregano, cayenne, salt. and lime zest. Add in 2 cups of hot water and 4TB of coconut oil, mix until combined. Leave the masa mixture to sit while preparing the filling. Chop up all the vegetables. Heat up 2TB of coconut oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add in the garlic and cook for a minute and then toss in the zucchini, radishes, and corn. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until soft and then crumble in the cotija. Stir until combined and then turn off the heat. 

Drain the corn husks and then start heating up your steamer so that it is ready for the tamales. Begin filling up your tamales by pressing in a scant 1/2 cup of masa in the center of your corn husks, leaving a border. Then spoon in the filling, about 1/4 - 1/3 a cup. The filling amounts will vary depending on the size of the corn husks, just do what feels right. Start rolling together the tamales curling the masa over the filing and roll the tamale into a log and then pinch and fold in the bottom and top edges. Kind of mold the tamales together with the palm of your hand to make sure it is compacted. Repeat with the rest of the corn husks and then place them all in the steamer and steam for 30 minutes. 

Place all salsa verde ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until it comes to a salsa consistency.

Unwrap tamales (make sure to let them cool a bit!) and top with salsa verde plus garnishing of cotija, slivered radishes, and cilantro - if desired. 

 

 

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Vermicelli + coriander carrots, edamame, & a lime-tamari sauce.

This and that. 

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I started a new book of short stories while on our last camping trip by Rebecca Lee called bobcat and other stories. There is a certain part of the story where the narrator gets a new perspective of the words 'this' and 'that' while enjoying a cup of coffee. She points across the room and asks if "[she] could have some of this cream." Most people would ask if they could have some of 'that' cream when referring to something across the room. Turns out, it is a philosophy when using the word this or that. It depends on your personal perspective on what you consider close to you or not. This little moment resonated with me quite strongly. One of those moments where you stop and re-read the sentences a few times over.

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Reflecting back I probably only use the word 'this' when I can physically touch an object, obviously, this is my comfort space. I do tend to be somewhat of an introvert, even if it is not immediately evident, but am I really that closed off? I suppose I have been more aloof than usual because I have no idea where my life is headed come August. It is exciting but scary, I am almost paralyzed by the freedom of it. I can dream for hours about what doing 'that' job or moving to 'that' place would be like but nothing has reached the status of 'this.' Nothing feels at home to me. For now my 'this' place has to be the life of a transient voyager and my 'this' place is in food.

I can transcribe this same feeling and personal choice of using the word 'this' or 'that' to choices in food. There are some dished when you see a picture of it or you read the description, this is it. This dish just gets you. I definitely order foods at restaurants this way... and sometimes I miss out because 'that' dish is not close to me. Vermicelli is one of those dishes I typically ignore. Most of the time it is because it is drenched with fish sauce and even if I order it vegetarian I usually end up with a midnight stomach ache and fish poots. Never fear, this fish-free vermicelli is here. 

*You want to prepare the carrots/cucumbers in this recipe several hours beforehand at least, so they can marinate. Preferably overnight.

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Recipe (serves 4) 

Rice noodles - 1 box

Carrots - 3 whole, large carrots, peeled and then cut into thing strips with a peeler.

Cucumber - 1/2 small cucumber, peeled and cut into large matchsticks.

Red cabbage - 1/2 cup, cut into slivers

Mushrooms - 1/2 a small container, cut into slivers (I used baby portabellas) 

Daikon radish - 1/2 small radish, cut into thin half-moons

Edamame - 1/2 frozen bag (just the bean, no pods).

Sunflower sprouts - 1 handful (feel free to use any sprouts) 

Ginger - 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and minced (or finely grated).

Coriander seeds - 1TB

Fennel seeds - 1tsp

Rice vinegar - about 1 1/2 cups

Cilantro - 1TB fresh, minced

Thai Basil - 1-2TB fresh, minced

Honey - 1TB (or agave if vegan)

Tamari - 4TB

Limes - 2, juice only

Sesame oil - 2-3TB

Red chile flakes or sriracha  - to taste

 *Peel and cut the carrots and cucumbers. Place them in a 2 cup mason jar and add in the coriander and fennel seeds. Then cover with rice vinegar mixed with a little water. Let it sit out for several hours at least, overnight it best. The marinating liquid can be kept in the fridge and re-used. 

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Cook the rice noodles according to the package. During the last 3 minutes of the rice noodles cooking add in the frozen edamame so they de-thaw. Once cooked, drain the noodle/edamame mixture in a colander and rinse with cool water until room temperature. 

Slice up all your veggies and have them ready, including the ginger. Add in 1TB of sesame oil into a small skillet on medium low heat. Then add in your ginger and let cook for 1 minute. Add in the mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes until soft and slightly brown. Turn off heat and shake in a scant TB of tamari. Set aside.

Mix together the honey, 3TB tamari, 1TB sesame oil, lime juice, fresh herbs, splash of rice vinegar, and a good squeeze of sriracha or large pinch of chile flakes. Place the dressing in a large bowl with the noodles/edamame and toss together until coated. Distribute the noodle mixture into four bowls and top each bowl with a small handful of each vegetable (the carrot/cucumber mixture, fresh red cabbage, fresh daikon radish, gingered mushrooms, and sprouts. Top with some more fresh cilantro, thai basil, and sriracha if desired.   

Enjoy this meal. 

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Asparagus & arugula salad over mozzarella with mint & basil pesto

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Right, right, I know, I know, its 4th of July... I'm suppose to give you some grilling out masterpieces for you last minuet scrambling of grilling out plans and corn on the cobb marathons! Alas, I am doing the same thing, and decided to give you this recipe I made a little while back when I saw this salad in bon appetite. There is plenty of summer left for more grilling recipes and veggie burgers, in fact, we are just getting started.

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Recipe (served 4 as a side) 

Mozzarella - 1 ball, ripped into pieces

Asparagus - 1 bunch, ends trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

Arugula - Two handfuls, fresh

Lemon - Juice of 1 lemon

Olive oil - 1TB

Salt/pepper - to taste

Pesto

Basil - fresh, 1 packed cup, chopped

Mint - fresh, 3-4TB, chopped

Shallot - 1 chopped

Sunflower seeds - 1/4cup soaked overnight or at least 4 hours, then drained

Garlic - 3TB, chopped

 

Olive oil - A few TB, drizzled in

Salt/pepper - to taste

Place all the pesto ingredients into a food processor or blender, with 2TB olive oil. Blend until smooth, drizzling in more olive oil as needed until it is smooth. 

Rip the mozzarella into pieces and add in 2-3TB of pesto and massage the pesto in until the mozzarella is covered. Place 1TB of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and toss in the asparagus pieces. Cook for about 5-8 minutes until soft and squeeze in the juice of a lemon. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and then toss the asparagus in a bowl with the fresh arugula. Spread the arugula and asparagus over the mozzarella and then sprinkle with a bit more pesto and salt/pepper or lemon if needed. 

Happy 4th!!

 

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Moroccan inspired salad with harissa chickpeas, apricots, & a honey-mint dressing.

Beautiful, happy day.

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Today is a beautiful day. A beautiful day for human rights, a beautiful day outside, and a beautiful day in life events. Plus, I have a lovely friend coming to visit all the way from Athens, GA, so I have a beautiful next couple of days to look forward to. I hope your day is beautiful as well and maybe this salad can help make it so.   

“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won't adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words "make" and "stay" become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”

-Tom Robbins Still Life With Woodpecker  

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Salad (Makes about 3 large salads) 

Chickpeas - About 2.5 cups cooked. 

Apricots - 3, pitted and sliced into 8 pieces

Salad greens - I used about a 5oz container or a platter full

Red onion - 1/4 an onion, slivered

Olives - About 6 kalamala olives, pitted and sliced

Dried currants - 3Tb

Harissa -3TB (recipe below or store-bought - usually found canned or near hummus) 

Mint - 1TB fresh

Honey - 2TB (or agave for vegan)

Olive oil - 3-4TB

Apple cider vinegar - 1tsp

Salt- to taste

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Mince your fresh mint and whisk into 3TB of olive oil in a little bowl. Drizzle in the honey while whisking. Add in the apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of salt, then set aside. Chop up all your veggies/fruit and have your harissa already prepared if making it. Heat up 1Tb of olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add in your chickpeas. Cook for about 3 minutes stirring occasionally. Add in the 3TB of harissa and stir, distributing evenly. Cook for 2-3minutes. Add in two of the sliced apricots. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the last apricot, the red onion, olives, currants, and season with salt. 

 

Toss the honey-mint dressing and your salad greens together in a bowl until the greens are evenly coated. Place on a platter and top with the chickpea mixture. Enjoy, it is a beautiful day. 

Harissa, you can add harissa into a lot of things. Hummus, sandwich spreads, marinades, dressings, etc. This recipe makes about 1 cup of harissa.  

Harissa

Fresno Peppers - 5, deseeded and chopped. (You can sub other peppers) 

Habanero peppers - 2-3, deseeded and chopped

Shallot - 1 large shallot, chopped

Cumin seeds - 1Tb, slightly smashed

Coriander seeds - 2tsp, slightly smashed

Mint - Fresh, 2TB.

Olive oil - 2-4TB, depending on your peppers/juiciness of peppers.  

Salt- about scant 1tsp or to taste

Place all ingredients, starting with only 2TB of olive oil, into a food processor (or blender) and blend. Drizzle in more olive oil as needed. You want the consistency to be a thick paste but spreadable. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and use as needed. Keeps about the same as hummus. 

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Mint grilled zucchini over a radish & couscous salad

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This quote has really resonated with me lately...

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

- Mark Twain

I can't even begin to explain all the thoughts that go through my head on a daily basis, equal parts rational and irrational. Last weekend we went rafting the arkansas river and there was a moment in calm water when the guide asked everyone in the boat what they did. I responded with... "I don't know what I do yet." The whole boat responded with silence. I kind of felt like I had just been flung out of the boat. Since leaving my jobs/obligations behind in Virginia and moving to Colorado I have been applying to full-time jobs, and nothing has quite worked out yet. I do a few other creative things on the side but nothing that provides with me a solid, reliable, income. I feel like I am putting too much hope into that one, perfect, thing and maybe I am wrong in that. There is value in everything and as much as I live by exploring, dreaming, and discovering I am too stationary right now. I need to dive into something, forget any little tid bits of fault I find, and go for it. As Mark Twain advises, the only thing I'll regret is not doing it rather than the latter. 

Speaking of rafting, I did a considerable amount of cooking on the raft... and by that I mean with the two main ingredients consisting of the sun and my legs. My thighs have swelled up like plump little tomatoes. So you can picture me waddling around in my leggings and bathing in lotion despite the fact that is is summer and I want nothing to do with leggings. I only wish I had already had my sunburn remedy prepared... alas, this grilled zucchini over couscous salad will have to do. 

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Recipe (serves a crowd)

Zucchini - as many as you feel like eating (I made about 3 medium ones) cut into thin strips.

Lemon - Juice of 1 lemon

Mint - 3TB fresh, chopped

Salt & pepper - I like to use coarse sea salt here and generous amounts of fresh cracked pepper.

Couscous - 2 cups dried couscous (I used whole wheat)

Radishes - 1 bunch, chopped into half moons

Green onions - 1 bunch, slivered

Parsley - 4TB chopped

Kalamala olives -  1/4 cup pits removed, chopped in half

Extra virgin olive oil - 4TB

Fill a medium saucepan with 3 cups water and a pinch of salt and bring it to a boil. Add in your couscous and turn off the heat, let it sit covered and absorb the water. It will take about 15 minutes or so. Meanwhile, chop up all your other ingredients. Once the couscous is ready, pour it into a mixing bowl and fluff with a fork while adding in 2TB of olive oil. Add in your chopped radishes, green onions, kalamala olives, and parsley. Stir, then season to taste with salt and pepper - I am pretty generous with it. I also think it would be delicious to add in some almonds or walnuts here. Set the come to couscous aside to come to room temperature. 

Place your other 2TB of olive oil, 2Tb of mint (reserving 1TB) and zucchini strips in a bowl and toss. Season with just a little bit of salt and pepper (a pinch or two) but not all of it. Heat up your grill or grill pan and then lay your strips of zucchini over and cook about 3-4 minutes on each side. (If using a grill pan, squeeze over the juice of a lemon and shake for a minute before dumping out onto a platter.) Remove the zucchini onto a platter and squeeze over the lemon juice and top with more course salt, cracked pepper, and the last TB of fresh mint. If there is any oil left in the bowl from tossing the zucchini, then drizzle that over top too. Serve the zucchini over the couscous or on the side.

Explore. Dream. Discover.  

 

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Baby artichoke & new potato breakfast hash

The Sun.

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Walking home from the dog park yesterday evening the air was so warm and dense on my skin. The day in Denver had been very hot, hot and dry. There were pillows of dandelion fluff rippling along the sidewalk. I've never seen dandelion gather and blanket the ground so thickly before. Little tuffs of the dandelion were floating around, I like to call them fairies. The sun was so low on the horizon that the fairies were illuminated as they bumped along in a sea of orange sun rays. The warmth felt so good, so peaceful on my mind, I closed my eyes to the bright sun rays ahead and kept walking. I allowed my skin to see for me, my eyes remained closed. My whole body soaked up the sun in sweet, warm kisses and the sun's brightness could still be seen through my closed eyelids. It felt like how it would feel to be walking into the sun. I floated along like one of the dandelion fairies. 

A poached egg, with its sunny yolk spilling out and touching everything in this dish; it is that low-horizon sun. 

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Recipe (serves two generously) 

New potatoes - (about 1/2 lb)  rinsed/slightly scrubbed and then quartered

Baby Artichokes - I used 7 but feel free to use a few less, trimmed and quartered

Lemon - 2 lemons

Parsley - 3-4TB chopped (fresh)

Garlic - 3 cloves, minced

Olive oil - about 4TB

Salt/pepper - to taste

2 eggs + 1 egg yolk

Trim your artichokes (Removing the hard outer petals until you reach the softer, paler inside ones - baby artichokes have less to remove and you don't have to trim out the hairy choke (since there is none on the babies, yay!) . Also trim off the top and bottom of the artichoke. If using larger artichokes there will be more to trim and also trim out the hairy, internal choke) then quarter the hearts. Bring a medium pot of water with a pinch of salt to a boil, add in your potatoes. Let it low boil for about 5 minutes and then strain.

Add in 2TB of olive oil to a large skillet and turn on medium heat. Add in your minced garlic, let it cook for 1 minute and then add in your potatoes. Let it sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are almost cook and start to brown a bit. Add in your artichoke hearts. Keep sautéing for several more minutes until the artichokes begin to soften.  Add in a bit more olive oil if needed. Once the artichokes are cooked, squeeze in the juice of one and a half lemons and then add in the parsley. Cook for another minute and then season with salt/pepper. Divide the mixture between two plates and cover them to keep it warm until the poached eggs are ready (saving any oil left over in the pan and then add in your last 2TB of olive oil into the pan and set aside for later).

While the mixture is sautéing make your poached eggs. (Tip a cracked egg into about 3-4 inches of slightly simmering water (mixed with 1TB apple cider vinegar) and then use a wooden spoon to gently swirl the water towards the egg in order to keep the whites as close together as possible. Let it simmer for about 4 minutes and remove with a large slotted spoon, let the water drain. Top each hash portion with a poached egg. Place your egg yolk into a small mixing bowl and add in your last half of lemon juice, whisk together. Pour out and discard slightly less than half of your egg yolk/lemon mixture. Slowly, very slowly, drizzle in the oil from your pan (its ok if there are little garlic or herb bits in it) while whisking until the aioli slightly thickens up. Add a pinch of salt if needed, but it should been seasoned from the leftovers in the pan. Drizzle the aioli over the two dishes. Top with more parsley and cracked pepper if desired. Eat in the sun. 

 

 

 

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Paloma, I love you

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Covered porch, a well-used swing, soft breeze, early evening warmth, citrus juice on fingers, bare feet, radishes sprouting nearby, sleeping dogs, two palomas.  

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Recipe for 1 large paloma

Tequila - 1/4cup (cold)

Pink grapefruit - 1 large, cut in half and juiced over a strainer

Lime - Juice of 1 lime + a slice of lime to garnish

Agave - 1TB (or other sweetener)

Club soda - 1/8 - 1/4 cup depending on taste (I used closer to 1/4)  (cold)

Sea salt - for the rim (optional) 

A few ice cubes

Apparently, the paloma is the most ordered drink in Mexico and it is made a variety of ways. Sometimes it is made with fresh grapefruit juice and them sometimes with a grapefruit soda - typically jarritos. I chose the fresh juice route. I also sweetened this with agave because I think it compliments any tequila drink but feel free to use honey or a simple syrup. 

Wet the rim of your glass with juice or water (if using salt) and dip the rim into a saucer of sea salt. Juice the grapefruit (strained) and combine it with the tequila, lime juice, agave, and a few ice cubes in a cocktail shaker (just stir this well into your glass with a spoon if you are not using a cocktail shaker). Shaker (or stir) until combine and pour into your glass. Top with club soda. Garnish with a lime wedge. Enjoy! (Best enjoyed over tacos)

 

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Tofu-q with a habanero, apricot bbq sauce + avocado & cabbage slaw.

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I'm sitting here in a coffee shop near my house enjoying a big cookie and a cappuccino, with two dogs at my feet, and acting like I've been a Denver resident my whole life. Ok... maybe thats how I feel but, in reality, I probably don't look that way.  Especially when I get on the light rail and ride 10 minutes before I realize I should have been on the bus, abandon mission, and trek half-way through the city by foot. This coffee shop has some parallels to the shop I worked in during college, so I really like it. It serves up giant cookies like the onces we baked, has comically large milk pitchers, offers you drinks in pint glasses meant for beer, has a large loose leaf tea selection, friendly baristas, bakes in-house, is next door to a bar, has a well-loved and welcomed slightly-crazy, semi-homeless person who leaves his bag behind the counter, is not over-decorated, really needs new tables/chairs, and serves up decent coffee with good foam but without the fancy, high-coffee style that comes with perfect pours. Give me a single shot cappuccino in a small cup spilling over with foam and I'm happy. 

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Anyways, I'm getting use to this place. Denver that is, not just the coffee shop. Although I do miss the trees and my dogs miss the grass. Don't get me wrong. There are lots of trees planted in Denver and it is a beautiful, green, cheery place but I'm use to being able to drive 5 or 10 minutes down the road and let myself and my dogs free and go trail running through a deciduous forest. I miss that... those plants and trees are friends I have left behind. Even though my dogs miss grass (it is too dry of a place to grow grass in dog parks and waste precious water resources by watering a lawn solely meant for dogs to pee on... which is a responsible thing for the city to do) they have so much to do, see, smell here. Everyone loves dogs and almost everyone has dogs. Seriously, our first morning here was an insane welcome with the manager of the restaurant we brunched at buying us "welcome to Denver, we love dogs cocktails" and providing us a list of dog-friendly Denver activities. 

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Last weekend we took advantage of the holiday weekend since Ty had Monday off work and we headed out towards The Great Sand Dunes National Park for some camping.  On Saturday we camped at a place called The Orient Land Trust where they have natural hot springs. This true, off-grid community can be found several miles off the highway on a dirt road. You know those types of roads that make you feel like you are in a secret, secluded place as the dirt kicks up around your car in a cloud that streams down the road as the largest feature in a broad, flat landscape. It is a special place. We were hoping to get a walk-in camping spot even though no one answered our morning call. Being Memorial Day weekend we arrived to find all the camping spaces filled up, they have a strict daily entry limit, and I was still hoping we could sweet-talk in a place for our tent. Fortunately they let us pitch our tent at some of the trail heads but we were not allowed to go to the hot springs. It was a little disappointing but more than understandable, we did take some beautiful hikes and watched the low-horizon sun play rumpelstiltskin on all the desert plants by turning them to gold before our eyes.  The rockies were dark silhouettes with a sunset cloak patterned in never-ending colors. Gawking over the sunset our dogs pricked up their ears and turned in the direction of the howling coyotes nearby and watched eagerly at the deer and elk grazing. We had the whole place to ourselves and in that moment we were the only ones. 

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The next day we woke up early and got to the sand dunes around 8 in the morning, before the welcome center even opened. I've been to a similar desert before and I know how hot the sand can turn under the fierce afternoon sun. There was only a handful of people at the dunes so early, lucky for us. (If you plan on going I recommend going early. When we left there was a streaming tail of cars filled with impatient faces waiting to get in.) We trekked the dunes from 8-12 and banjo sniffed the sand, pawed at it playfully and ran around in circles like she does in the snow. We kept climbing up big peaks, pausing to take in the view and then sprinted in a path straight down the dunes as fast as we could, with both hands failing in the air. Eventually we had to turn back even though each new dune peak was taunting us; begging to be climbed. The sand heated up and we had left our shoes behind at the car, while puppy paws had received an exfoliation treatment better than any spa could do. I love the duney desert, the grit in the air, salt in your mouth, and the wind in your hair. Leaving the dunes you resolve to an awe over how diverse and beautiful this country is. I've now seen this country from tippy-top north to low-country south and from east to almost west; it is truly magnificent. The weekend was for the spirit of remembrance, and gratefulness. Despite the bad, we have a whole country filled with beautiful things to be grateful for.

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On memorial day we felt a responsibility to use our roommates grill. After-all, it was Memorial Day, we are American, and neither of us had lived with a real grill before. Still sandy and with skin warm-to-the-touch, these spicy, tofu-q's with a cooling slaw hit the spot. You really want to factor in at least a few hours of marinating time, you can even leave it in the refrigerator overnight. 

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Tofu & sauce recipe (Makes 2 big ones) 

Buns - 2 buns

Extra firm tofu package - Pressed for 30 minuets and then sliced thinly.

Habaneros - 3, chopped (I didn't take the seeds out but you can)

Apricot - 1, peeled/sliced (I think you could use 2 without it being too fruity tasting)

Onion - scant 1/2 a sweet, yellow onion, chopped. 

Tomatoes - 2, chopped

Tomato paste - 6oz can

Garlic - 3-4 cloves, chopped

Honey - 2-3 TB

Apple cider vinegar - 1Tb

Liquid smoke - 1tsp optional (vegetarian version)

Chile powder - 2tsp or 1TB - depending on your desire for spiciness. 

Cinnamon - scant 2tsp

Paprika - 2tsp

Salt- to taste (about 1-2tsp for me) 

Slaw recipe - also makes a good side

Purple cabbage - about 1/6 a small head of cabbage, slivered

Onion - 1/4 an onion, slivered

Avocado - 1, sliced

Limes - 2, juiced

Salt - to taste

 

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Press the tofu for about 30 minutes. Once pressed, sliced into thin "patties" the size of the tofu block. While the tofu is pressing make the sauce. Chop up all your vegetables. Place the olive oil in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add your garlic and onions and let it cook for a few minutes, until slightly soft. Add in your habaneros and apricots and let cook for a few more minutes until soft. Add in the tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir until well combined and let cook for 3-5 minutes until soft, slightly bubbling, and evenly dispersed. Then add in all the rest of the ingredients and let cook for a few more minutes, until just fragrant. Add the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Adding in some water if needed to bring the sauce to the desired consistency. Taste and adjusted spices. Layer the tofu in between a generous amount of bbq sauce, making sure all the tofu is covered. Let it marinate on the counter for several hours (2-3 at least) or overnight in the fridge. The extra bbq can be stored for later use (think veggie kabobs or pizza sauce).

Heat up the grill (or grill pan) and cook the tofu straight on the grill (rubbed down with a little oil since tofu can stick) or cook on top of bamboo skewers on the grill (soaking the skewers in water for a hour first). Cook the tofu for about 5 minutes on each side. Brush over some more bbq sauce after flipping. We even threw our burger buns on the grill for 1 minute to crisp them up.

For the slaw, toss together the onion and cabbage. Add in the avocado and stir, slightly mashing up the avocado among the slivers of onion and cabbage. Squeeze over the lime and season with salt.  

To assemble the burger spread a little of the paprika aioli below (admit for vegan), top with strips of tofu and then pile on a good bit of slaw on top. No shame in adding some more bbq sauce too... bbq is suppose to be messy. Serve with grilled asparagus. 

 

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Grilled asparagus recipe + paprika aioli

Asparagus - 1lb with 1 inch of the ends trimmed off

Olive oil - 2Tb

Salt/pepper- to taste

Egg yolk - 1 large egg yolk

Lemon - Juice of 1 lemon

Olive oil - several TB

Paprika - scant 1 tsp

Salt/pepper - to taste

Pumpkin seeds - a handful, coarsely chopped (optional) .

To make the aioli add in the egg yolk, lemon juice, and salt into a small bowl. Beat with a whisk. Slowly drizzle in the oil in a very small, steady stream while whipping with a whisk. The aioli with start to thicken up and lighten as you whisk. I let my aioli get to about a medium consistency since I didn't need much and didn't want to use too much oil. Add in the paprika and more salt and pepper if necessary. Whip until combined.

Toss the asparagus in a bowl with the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Lay on a pre-heated grill and cook several minutes, rotating the spears with tongs. You want the asparagus to get soft, a little brown in spots, but still retain a slight crunch. Lay the asparagus on a tray, top with some aioli and the sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

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Venture

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I tend to pay too much attention to what is immediately before me. The weekend plans, a ticket I have to a show that night, a deadline, breakfast... I can be a poor long-term planner. I am impulsive even with more lofty goals of "what do I want to do with my life" thinking that I have to rush into the next exciting thing with vigor. I've moved headstrong into a number of pursuits in the past year, the short list being a landscape architect, small business owner, a travel writer, food blogger, restaurant owner, herbalist, a graphic designer, set designer, and going to grad school. While I was in college and a deadline for a project was heating up under me I was focused only on that, giving up everything just to keep ahead of the flames licking at my heels. Even though I feel like I have stopped to smell the roses so many times in my life and really, I have experienced a lot, I can't help but feel sad about all those little things that I have missed out on. Whether it was a little joke between my friends, that Andrew Bird show in Atlanta I gave up a ticket to, the drunken karaoke night, the mountain house trip where everyone got snowed in, or a cozy movie night, I feel like these moments have been stolen from me.

Moving out to Denver has been exciting and many of my thoughts the past month have swarmed around Denver and the drive cross-country. The day we planned to leave my inflating travel thought bubble got popped with the very real popping of my car radiator. The following day revealed my head gaskets had been leaking oil internally into my engine and silently ruining my car. Even though I moved from Athens almost a year ago, nostalgia has slowly crept through my body in the same way. It has kind of popped my outlook on what I want to do with my life. I feel so fortunate for having lived in Athens and discovering my tribe of friends and interests. The things I've learned and experienced the past 6 years has given me such a love for life that I only want to do the things that I really love. It has made pursuing a career very difficult for me, sometimes I wonder why it is so hard on me; I just cannot seem to accept certain realities. Like picking one thing means closing the door on everything else and I hate that feeling of limiting my freedoms. Almost as if there is a wire unplugged somewhere in my brain disconnecting that flashing, bright light saying "here I am, here is the answer!" Of course life is a path and one thing isn't forever but it becomes a part of you, a part of where you have been and where you are going. Sometimes I forget.

I've moved into this next stage of road-running across the country with a little sadness for being so separated from the many people whom I love on the east coast, and whom I want to always be a large part of my life. Also with the knowledge that I never want to miss those sweet little moments because of something else that is directly in front of me. You just have to live in what you love. Loving too many things isn't a bad problem to have. 

The drive out was beauty. Blissful beauty filled with curious sites and lots of car snacks. After a several day delay spent solving our car troubles, we relaxed a few day in NC visiting family. Then we began our long venture to the west with the first day ending in Nashville, TN. Along the way, we stopped at a curious place called the minister's treehouse - also the largest treehouse in the world. After a few hours drive and a hop over a fence we got to explore this fantasy land. A beautiful structure of mis-matched pieces of disregarded wood assembled into an astonishing treehouse castle that seemed manifested straight from a child's storybook. I was afraid that if I blinked it would disappear. We spent the night in Nashville in a lovely couple's spare bedroom through airbnb. I was extremely happy when they told us Nashville was home to a Jeni's ice cream shop. If you have ever had Jeni's ice cream then, without a doubt, you know why I was ecstatic  If you haven't tasted it and you seen a pint of it in the grocery, please do yourself a favor, suck it up, and buy the (super-expensive) 9 dollar pint of ice cream just once. It definitely is worth it once. It is probably even worth it more than once. It is the best ice cream you will ever have.

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The next day we drove up through Kentucky and Illinois stopping at a unique place tucked away between the forests and wildflowers of Illinois called giant city state park. Some of the most exceptional rock formations that appear to have "streets" cut through huge expanses of rock in such a way that it takes on the illusion of building faces. It feels very much like an alley in a city, well, a city for giants. Our dogs enjoyed sniffing around the crevices and stretching out their paws, tails up, after a spell in the car. We stayed the night in Kansas City, MO that night in a graduate student's beautiful loft in the river district. I didn't know what to expect from Kansas city and it surprised us how much we enjoyed it. The Missouri side of Kansas City is filled with delicious and cozy places and has a gorgeous trail complete with an overlook on the river. A great place to peer across water reflecting back, in little ripples, the cities lights at night.

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The last day was reserved for the long drive through Kansas. I was very excited about our treck through Kansas, I thought it would be interesting to witness a place rather flat and tree-less since I've never been somewhere in the like before. The first half of Kansas was unexpected. It was not very flat at all but soft, gently rolling hills coated in spring green and dotted with clusters of trees. Beautiful and peaceful. By half way through Kansas the landscape has turned into a flat expanse of earth. Imagine peering across an ocean of farmland, the horizon vanishing into a crisp line beneath the sun. We stopped at rock city state park smack dab in the middle of Kansas. We had the state park all to ourselves as a personal wonderland for the afternoon and it looked like ancient giants had played a game of marbles from giant balls of rock and then abandoned them mid-game. We picnicked admits the forgotten game and climbed along the rocks until we had to move on. As we approached the Colorado border some storm clouds had begun to develop and hang like weightless blue anvils over the green ocean. A surreal Dalí painting. Deep, stormy blue, cooper afternoon sun, and misted green; a sight for weary eyes.

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The rockies first emerged like a mirage over the desert having me doubt if it was real until they triumphantly came into view and puffed out their chests proudly at the travelers. They have a very different personality to the east coast Appalachians who welcome you with a sleepy yawn and stretch on peacefully, bumping along a heavy-lidded dream.

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Sautéed ramps & lemon greens over parmesan hominy

Goodbye Charlottesville, hello Denver.

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This past week has been a beginning and an end, of sorts, for us. We were all set to leave Charlottesville, VA on Wednesday and head to Charlotte, NC to visit family before our move out to Denver, CO. I made my rounds of goodbyes in between packing, planning, cleaning, and daydreaming. There are people here in Charlottesville, as there have been people my whole life, who have been either friends, mentors, companions, acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, and some people have been all of these things and more without knowing it. I need to say thank you to so many of you for opening doors to me, welcoming me with knowledge and friendship; especially at Sacred Plant Traditions, The Center for Historic Plants, and at Mudhouse.

There are several small moments which summarize the magic and love of Charlottesville. You know those little moments where a view, or a voice, or a place, a sound will make your head go tinglely and your whole body will flush with a golden warmness? Charlottesville gave me a number of those. There was a certain bend in the road while driving out to the farm we lived on that was sunken into the earth a bit. This road twisted through a thicket of beech and maple trees, their branches arching over the road to hold hands with their fellow trees on the other side. At nighttime you slowed down a great deal just to see the same clever fox bounding behind the trees and turning back to peer at you with his glowing eyes. There was a moment of unmentioned excitement as I would turn left onto the gravel road that bumped through the property I called home. My dogs would jump up and press their noses to the glass and watch, holding their pants, for any bunnies who have been out nibbling in the fields. The bunnies would twitch their ears in our direction and dart off into the thicker grasses at the sound of the slow, groaning, note of gravel on tires.

Another was the open view of the gently rolling mountains all cloaked in green after circling past the tiny, Charlottesville airport on the way to Chris Green Lake park. Or the way the mountains amused me in the winter after they shed their leaves and looked like the rumps of fuzzy sleeping animals on the horizon. Or the sweet, earthy, mixed smell of hay, blooming flowers, and rotting leaves at the Center for Historic Plants where I interned. Pure little moments that flood into gold before your eyes, like some lost form of alchemy. Many of these moments for me, are in my kitchen. Especially in the morning time when the air is still crisp and the world still. This little meal is an elegant thing and one of the last things I made before we left Charlottesville. There definitely is a moment of gold when you bite into it, you'll be scrapping your fork against the plate to get up any golden nuggets left behind.

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Recipe (Serves 2)

Ramps - a small handful

Arugula - a small handfull

Hominy - 1/2 cup (ground hominy) 

Parmesan - generous 1/4cup grated

 

Garlic - 3 cloves, minced.

Lemon - Juice of 1 lemon and a few curls of zest to top

Olive oil - 2TB

Goat Cheese - a few crumbled of soft goat cheese to top

Salt & pepper to taste

Rinse and drain the ramps. Bring 2 cups of water with a pinch of salt in a small pot up to simmer. Once simmering add in your hominy and turn on low. Let it simmer gently for about 15-20 minutes until cooked. After it is cooked add in your parmesan and stir to let it melt. Season with salt and pepper. Scoop out the hominy onto a serving dish.

Meanwhile, trim the root ends off the ramps and clean/trim them up if necessary. Mince up the garlic. In a medium skillet add in the olive oil on medium, medium-low heat. Add in your garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Toss in your ramps and gently sauté for about 2 minutes and then toss in the handful of arugula. Let it cook for another minute and squeeze in the lemon juice. Turn off the heat and season with salt and generously with fresh pepper. Arrange the ramp and greens mixture on to of the hominy and top with a few crumbles of goat cheese and some lemon zest. Serve warm. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dandelion & sorrel pesto for spring.

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esto is one of the best condiments to have around the house. I love to toss it into something; scrambled eggs, pastas, salads, sandwiches, smeared onto toasted pita, etc. One of the better things I decided to do with this was add it into my favorite vegan lasagna recipe. This lasagna is so good, I honestly prefer it over regular lasagna. This pesto is definitely best used in recipes with pesto as the focus. It is such a special spring-time pesto that you don't want it to get over-looked. 

 

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 * Also! There is a give-a-way. I was fortunate enough to have been gifted the lovely and inspirational The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook from my sweet Aunt. She sent it to me thinking that I would enjoy it. Of course, she was right, I love the cook book but I had already purchased it for myself! I was swayed after seeing Heidi Swanson's post and was anticipating it's release. My favorite recipe in here is the edamame dumplings. Ridiculously good, they are steamed in a broth scented with lemongrass. I really like to curl up in bed with a good book... a number of those being cookbooks. Seriously, there are almost as many cookbook on my bed side table as in my kitchen. So now this beautiful book can be passed onto you dears. To enter just leave a comment about what your favorite pesto is or what your favorite way to eat pesto is. I'll pick the winner on Monday 5/6 and then ask you for your address so I can mail you this lovely book.

 

Pesto ( Makes about a scant 3 cups)

1 bunch sorrel - coarsely chopped

1 bunch dandelion - coarsely chopped

Red onion - 1/4 a red onion - chopped

emon - juice of 1 lemon

arlic - 4 cloves, chopped

Sunflower seeds - 1/4 cup

Salt/pepper- to taste

Heat up a medium pot of water to boiling. nce it is boiling toss in your dandelion greens and cook for about 2-3 minutes and then strain out. In a blender or food processor add all you ingredients, make sure the dandelion has drained well before adding it. Process until the pesto is smooth. Store in an airtight container the the refrigerator. Good for about 2 weeks.  I highly recommend that you make this vegan lasagna with it. 

Vegan, spring, pesto lasagna. Layers of creamy filling, tomato sauce, arugula, & noodles.

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I made this lasagna once, over a year ago, and haven't made a lasagna since. I like pasta dishes but I really don't make them often. Occasionally, I'll get the urge (if I have time) to make some homemade pasta dough but that is a once-a-year thing if at all. There was the time last year where I took home 90 free eggs from work. Ok... what do you do with 90 free eggs? After half a day of kitchen time I stocked our freezer with loads of homemade ravioli (3 kinds..mushroom, arugula ricotta, and butternut squash) and mini quiches. It was insane but I used up a lot of the eggs that way. Bad part was, we still had some mini quiches in the freezer when we lost power for 4 days in a snow storm. To try and save the quiches, I buried them outside into the snow where they were devoured by wild animals. At least somebody enjoyed them, right?

Anyways, lasagna. I really like this lasagna from a recipe in a cookbook called The Big Vegan. It's funny, this cookbook really isn't my typical style but there are some really great ideas and recipes in here. The following recipe is an adaptation of the recipe in the book. I felt like making lasagna because I had about 3 cups of this homemade dandelion & sorrel pesto to play around with. I didn't want to overwhelm this yummy pesto with a bunch of dairy, so I turned to this tried and true vegan lasagna. This lasagna is so good, really. I'd bet that you could fool people. Give them a piece of this lasagna and they will have no idea that it is vegan unless you tell them.

* Also! There is a give-a-way. I'm not really use to how give-a-ways work, honestly, I'm not up on my blog etiquette. The reason I am doing it, other than I love you of course, is that by fate I have two of the same cookbook, The Sprouted Kitchen. The give-a-way is being held on the sister post to this one, the pesto post, which can be found here

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Recipe (I made it in a oval, 9" casserole dish and it was filled to the brim)

Filling recipe 

Vegan pesto of your choice - 16oz (here is the dandelion/sorrel pesto recipe)

Tofu - 1 packet of soft tofu (14oz) 

Artichoke hearts - 1 can, drained

Nutritional yeast - 2TB

Miso - 2TB

Olive oil - 1Tb

Salt- a pinch

 Tomato sauce recipe

Can of tomatoes (I used whole, peeled) - 14oz, drained half-way

Onion - 1.5 cups, chopped

Garlic - 3 cloves, chopped

Basil - 3Tb, fresh, slivered

Fennel seeds - 1tsp

Oregano - 1.5tsp dried, or 1tsp, fresh

Salt/pepper - to taste

Other layers

Packet of vegan whole wheat lasagna noodles (or spinach) 

Arugula - a few handfuls

(optional) Almond meal or pine nuts - to top

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Preheat you oven to 400 degrees about 15 minutes before you are ready to bake. Place all your filling ingredients together in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Dump out filling into a bowl and clean the blender, you will need it again. Put a medium pot of water with a pinch of salt over high heat and bring it to a boil. Once the water is boiling you will add you lasagna noodles and simmer for about 7 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse with cool water. Meanwhile, chop up your onion and garlic. Heat up a deep skillet with 1Tb olive oil and then add the garlic. Cook for a minute and then add in the onions. Cook for a few minutes until soft. Add in the can of tomatoes and all your spices. Cook for a few minutes until bubbling and soft. Taste and adjust salt/pepper. Transfer into a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. 

Get out your casserole dish. Layer about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom. Then lay down a layer of noodles, top with about 1.5 cups of filling, and then a handful of arugula. Then noodles, tomato sauce, filling, arugula. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up, adjusting as needed, ending with the last of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the top with almond meal or pine nuts if desired. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes, if you can wait, because the filling will be very hot. 

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Spring fava bean, quinoa, radish, avocado, & mint salad.

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I am so excited. I'm going to visit my Athens tribe. We are approaching our Denver move date fast! We leave in about 2 weeks. Sure there is a ton to do... packing things up, cleaning, finishing projects, getting things ready for the sublease... but I'd rather go see my dear friends and family who, right now, are about 9 hours away. Come Denver we'll be 22 hours away. I feel this is an adequate reason to forsake responsibility. I'm getting some time with my family too before dipping out to the Rockies but I'm assuming my Dad will use my Denver location as a great excuse to finally come out and have some river time. 

I have lots of things waiting for me in Athens this weekend. Lets see, it is twilight weekend (an international bike race that has athens busting at the seam), there are drinks in the Georgia warmth awaiting, a dear friend who is just back in from teaching in South Korea, brunch with the best, oodles of dogs at dog park time, art school exit show (featuring one of my favorites), desserts (last time we racked up a bill of somewhere around 50 bucks on dessert between 5 of us... uhh what?), a farmers market that I have missed, my best friends and all those lovely faces that I have so dearly longed for being tucked away up here in the mountains and of course no trip to athens is complete without music.

So this week I've been being extra good. Drinking smoothes, eating raw salads, and taking my herbs. This quinoa, fava bean salad is ridiculously good. It is one of those meals that you think while eating it, "I could have this every-single-day of my life and be happy." It really is one of those meals that I think I could have every single day if I actually thought I could eat the same thing every single day. 

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Recipe (serves 4 but makes great leftovers)

Quinoa - 1 cup dried

Fava beans - fresh pods, several big handfuls. (once shelled I had a scant 2 cups)

Radish - 1 bunch

Avocado - 1, sliced into small chunks

Apple - 1/2 and apple, cut into small chunks

Red onion - 1/2 an onion, finely chopped

Olives - I had 6 kalamata olives left in my fridge, I sliced the meat off the pit into slivers.

Feta - about 1/3 cup

Mint - fresh, 3-4Tb finely chopped

Lemon - juice of 1 lemon

Butter - 1TB

Olive oil - a drizzle

Salt/pepper - to taste

Chop everything up so it is ready to use, except your avocado, save that until the end. Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under water while shaking for a minute. Then add the quinoa into a medium pot and cover by a few inches of water. Bring the quinoa up to a boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Get another small or medium pot out and fill it up half-way with water, this will be to blanch your fava beans. Shell the fava beans and place the beans into a bowl, discard the pods. Once the water is boiling, add in your fava beans and let it get back up to a simmer. Once it gets back up to boiling, don't let it cook longer than 1 minute. Drain the fava beans and rinse with cold water.  Here comes the tedious part. Shell the fava beans and discard the shell, underneath will be this bright, green bean. Once you are done with the quinoa and fava beans, you can put them into a large bowl together.

Heat the oven up to 350 degrees. Chop up the radishes into thin slices. Add 1/2 the radishes into the bowl with the quinoa & favas. Add the other 1/2 the radishes into a small saucepan on the stove with the 1TB butter. Heat over medium heat and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the radishes to the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile add the apples, mint, feta, olives, onion, lemon juice, and drizzle of olive oil to the bowl of quinoa. Stir until well combined. Slice up your avocado and set it aside. Add in your roasted radishes and season with whole thing with salt and pepper, you should not need much salt. Add in your avocado last and stir, gently, until well combined. Enjoy it, I know you will. Why? Because it is just that good.

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Asparagus fritters + a chive sauce

Fritters.

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Fritters have kind of reached that "cult favorite" status in the foodie world, along with things like hand pies. There seems to be at least one fritter recipe in new cook books and a constant stream of new fritter recipes online. And, why not? They are delicious and adaptable, you can pretty much make any vegetables into fritters. What is not to love? But really, I think we just have an obsession with things that are bite sized, it makes it all the more fun. Fritters are not something I frequently make. I really like fritters but they have never been a meal sort of thing for me. They are more finger foods in my mind, really good for bringing to potlucks. So it really surprised me when I found myself making these. These fritters, served on a bed of spring greens and drizzled with a yogurt, chive sauce makes a really delicious fritter meal. Fritter, happier. 

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Recipe (makes about 10 fritters)

Asparagus - 1 bunch, sliced into thin rounds

Young vidalia onions - 3 (replace with shallots or a sweet yellow onion instead), sliced

Lemon zest - from 1/2 a lemon

Lemon juice - 1 lemon

Whole wheat flour - 1 cup, generously heaped

Eggs - 3

Milk - about 2/3 cup depending on the amount of your onions

Chives - 1/2 a bunch, finely chopped

Yogurt - 2/3 cup plain whole milk or greek yogurt

Chervil - heaping 1/2tsp (dried)

Salt/pepper- to taste

Coconut oil - 2TB (ok to use olive oil but I prefer coconut oil at higher temperatures)

Spring greens - a few small handfuls

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Slice and chop up all your vegetables. In a large bowl beat together the milk and eggs. Then beat in the flour. The mixture should be a thin cake batter at this point. Stir in all your chopped up veggies (except the chives) until combined. Then add in the lemon zest and juice of 1/2 the lemon, stir until combine. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. 

Heat up a large skillet on high heat with 1Tb of the coconut oil. Once the oil is hot, scoop in desired amounts of the batter onto the skillet and let cook on each side for about 3-4 minutes. As needed, add more coconut oil to the pan. I could fit about 4 fritters in the skillet at once. While the fritters are cooking in a bowl stir together the yogurt, chives, remaining lemon juice, chervil, and salt/pepper. 

Once the fritters are cooked, serve them on a bed of spring greens drizzled with a generous amount of the chive sauce. Enjoy! Fritter, happier.

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Carrot, mango smoothie

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I am so happy that it is warm. I'ma celebrate with a smoothie.

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Recipe (Makes one finnnnne smoothie)

arrots - 3 big, whole, chunky ones. 

Mango - 1, peeled and then sliced off the pit

Yogurt - 1/4 cup, Greek or whole milke

Honey - 1tsp, generous

Almond milk (or other) - about 2/3 cups

Ice cubes - a few or a small handfull

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un the carrots through a juicer. Add the carrot juice, mango, yogurt, honey, almond milk, and ice cubes to a blender. Blend until smooth. Admire that beautiful color. Drink. Mmm so smooth, so good. 

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Brussels sprouts, crispy tofu, & mustard vinaigrette salad

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After sorrows such as Monday's there are few things I feel like doing, cooking especially, and most likely most of the country is with me. I huddle on the bottom of the tub with my knees hugged to my chest with the warm shower flowing over my head, crying. I ask over and over why; everyone asks why. We keep asking because there is no way to comprehend it, it is so against human nature. Not only this event, but all of them in our country, in other countries. None are more tragic than another. We are so compelled to find reason in the madness. Some way to understand the hate and violence. There is so much violence all around the world fueled by hate, terrorism, sexism, racism, politics, and none of the tragedies from these crimes ever leaves us. Sometimes we forget tragedies that happen to our brothers and sisters around the world until something like this happens so close to home. But really, no matter the reason why, there is no way to understand it. It doesn't make sense. There is no justification for such a horrid acts of hate. The only way to combat it is love. Love for the victims, love for the families, love for our community, love for our country, love for the world. Hearing the stories of love, empathy, and heroism that came out of the chaos is a bit of hope. Witnessing the true human spirit coming out to offer love and support and to hear the reactions and the responses of victims is amazing. I hope that people will spread the love they share with their neighbors and apply it to the rest of the world, we need it. It is the only thing that helps the soul heal and calm down. For all the hate and insanity from people in this world, there is more love. 

“Some people care too much. I think it's called love.” - Pooh

I made this salad last week. It takes me a bit to get back up and feel like cooking after all my emotions are drained. I hope you will enjoy it as much as we did. 

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Recipe (Serves 4) 

1 bunch brussels sprouts (1lb) - Red brussels or regular. Sliced (I cut each into 1/6ths)

Yellow onion - 1/2, chopped. 

1 package tofu - cut into small cubes and pre-pressed if desired.

Tarragon - 1-2 healthy springs, chopped fine

Slivered almonds - scant 1/4 cup

Peptias (Pumpkin seeds) - a handful. 

Lemon - Juice of 1 lemon

Olive oil - 3TB

Coconut oil - 2TB

White wine vinegar - 2tsp

Dijon mustard - about 2tsp

Honey - 1-2tsp

Salt/pepper - to taste

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Trim off the ends, and chop up the brussels sprouts into slices or into 6ths. Place in bowl and toss with 2TB olive oil and salt/pepper. Spread onto baking sheet and bake in oven for about 20 minuets, tossing half way through.  During the last 5 minutes, spread out the almonds on a separate pan and toast in the oven for the last 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile heat up a large skillet with 2TB of coconut oil on high heat (or olive oil, but in this case, on medium heat). Once hot add in your already pressed and cubed tofu. Toss in the oil and fry until crispy and golden. About 5-10 minutes. 

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Once Brussels sprouts and tofu is cooked, toss together in a bowl along with the chopped onion, tarragon, toasted almond slivers, and pepitas. Whisk together the honey, dijon mustard, and white wine vinegar. Then slowly drizzle in the 1-2TB of olive oil while whisking until you have reached your desired dressing consistency. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Lastly, squeeze over some fresh lemon juice, toss and distribute into bowls. If desired, top with a little extra tarragon.

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A dinner of turnips + french beans in butter + Prosecco.

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Sometimes it is fun to make a small array of side items from produce lingering around in your refrigerator. Pair it with one fancy item, in this case prosecco, and you have got a special meal. Prosecco goes surprisingly really well with this vegetable meal. It's light, dry, sweetness complimented the butter, warm turnips, and french beans.

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Turnips roasted in butter & paprika. 

Turnips - 3 medium/large turnips.

Butter - 2TB

Paprika - 1-2tsp

Salt/pepper - A few good pinches

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Cut up the turnips into wedges. In an oven-proof deep skillet melt the butter on medium heat. Add in the turnips and toss to coat. Add in the paprika, I used about 2tsp, and the salt/pepper to taste and toss to coat. Place the skillet in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring once half way through.

Haricot verts in butter, garlic & lemon.

Haricot verts - 1/2lb

Garlic - 2 cloves, minced

Butter - 1.5TB

Lemon - juice of 1 lemon

White wine vinegar - a splash

Salt/pepper - to taste

Heat up a large skillet on medium heat with the butter, once melted add the garlic. Cook for about 1 minute. Add in the french beans and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Add in the lemon juice and the splash of white wine vinegar. Cook for about 2 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.

Place everything into bowls and serve with crusty pieces of bread & something fancy, like prosecco. 

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Chickweed goddess dressing over a spring salad + violets. How to forage for chickweed & violet

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Last night I came back from a nice, warm, summer night out that started with listening to Brazilian drumming with drinks and ended with Thai curry. We arrived back home, parked the car in our semi-gravel/semi-grass driveway, I stepped out with my shoes in hand, feet on the earth, and just dead stopped; I was transfixed by the sky. The deep, midnight, blue sky was flecked so brightly with stars twinkling around the silhouettes of budding tulip poplar branches that seemed to arc over me. It was one of those instances where your whole body feels sucked in and swallowed by what you are paying attention to. Like the sky was a giant magnet pulling the top half of your body up many miles to meet with it. I would have given anything in that moment to reach up and cup my hands around each and every star and plant a big kiss on those bright star cheeks. I wanted to say thank you to the earth.

Once spring finally hit us it stuck for one day and then immediately leaped to summer. When I moved a bit further north I thought I would be relieved to take a break from the suffocating heat of summer but now I realize how much I drink that warmth in. How replenishing it is. I wiped the literal sweat off my brow in relief at the return of heat. On an early April day of 90 degree heat I spent most of my day licking up the sun in my cutoffs and tank top while wandering around the woods in search of wild edibles. Successful in my venture, I made this salad and it never felt more nourishing than after a day in the sun. I realize now that as far as I move, as little or as frequently as I travel, I am some weird breed of southern girl. It's landscape, its sweltering humid heat, cicadas, common phenomenon of waving to strangers, fireflies, and biscuits are in my blood. Just as I adore and prefer to be in the woods and mountains, I have the salt and heavy air of the coast flowing through my veins since my birth. As much of a vegetarian as I am I have appreciation for a good seafood recipe and envy that I can't partake in a good shrimp n' grits or étouffée, it is the cajun in me. Some things you can't fight, its the soul speaking. I can't deny that even though I find some southern traditions and politics a little suffocating, I have love for the southern wild. I'm part of it and I will always find comfort in the return of the heat. So thank you chickweed, thank you violet, thank you stars.

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hickweed goddess dressing

vocado - 1, sliced

Garlic - 3/4 cloves, coarsely chopped

emon - juice of one lemon

Chickweed - 1-2 cups fresh, chopped into chunks

live oil - 2TB

Salt/pepper- to taste

Water

Put everything in a blender or food processor (except the water) and blend. Then add water a few TB at a time to thin the dressing out to your desired consistency.

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pring violet salad

Spring mix/violet leaves - Several big handfuls

iolet flowers or other edible spring flowers - 1 Cup

Red onion - 1/4 slivered

unflower seeds - 1/4 a cup

Pumpkin seeds - a handful

Chickweed goddess dressing.

oss the spring mix, onions, and violet flowers together. Then add in the dressing and toss to coat. Then add in the seeds and toss until combined! Adding the dressing before the seeds helps the seeds to stick and distribute more evenly rather than dropping to the bottom of the bowl. 

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Foraging for Chickweed

hickweed is one of those great common garden weeds that has so much overlooked potential. Chickweed is around you, I promise, and once you learn to identify it there is no reason not to thank it, pluck it up, and add it to your diet every spring. In short, chickweed is incredibly nutritious, I will elaborate on chickweed as an herbal superstar and healer in a later posting. Chickweed is a great source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorous, potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B-complex, beta-carotenes, and bio-flavonoids. I have heard the flavor being compared to corn silk. That is not my first thought when eating it but it tastes similar to most of the "moderate" flavors of light, cooling, spring greens to me. You'll find it in open (untreated) lawn areas but also in and around the edges to younger woodlands typically growing in the mottled shaded patches. It is really quite easy to spot once it is pointed out to you once or twice. There really aren't many overly close poisonous look a-likes but of course never eat anything if you aren't sure and always triple check your plants, but chickweed is a great starter wild edible. 

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Chickweed is a low-growing, spreading radially along the ground about 3" tall typically, but it can get up to about 8" tall. It grows in mats up to a foot and a half in size with the leaves ranging from tiny to thumb sized. The leaves are oval, pointed, and opposite (meaning the leaves grow opposite each other on the stem). here are fine hairs on the stem of the plant and delicate white flowers at the end. The first time I looked at the flower I thought it had 10 petals but it turns out the flower only has 5 petals but each petal is so deeply cleft it looks like 10! Usually there are about 2-3 hairy flower buds drooping from the flower end as well. In addition, look up pictures online and familiarize yourself. Plus, if you are interested wildman steve brill has excellent books. Be sure to gather in areas that are not sprayed, are not exposed to a lot of road run-off, and are not a popular pet bathroom spot. 

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oraging for violet

iolet is another one of those lawn "weeds" that you probably already recognize. You know that tiny, delicate purple to white flower you have been admiring while walking along the sidewalk? Yeah that one, you can eat it. You probably have some in your very own yard as long as your lawn is untreated. Violet flowers and leaves are edible, not the roots or rhizomes, just stick to what is above ground. Also don't confuse native wild violet with the African violet house plants... you really don't want to eat those, they are poisonous. The leaves and flowers are great in salads but the leaves are very demulcent so a bit more slimy than your typical green. It is a fabulous cooling herb and rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and beta-carotenes. It is another wonderfully healing herb which I will expand upon in a later posting. Violent is a low growing, dense, clumping plant. Its flower is five petaled with deep purple, blue, to white nodding flower heads. The flowers grow on a single stem with no leaves on the flower stem. The leaves grown on separate stems and are rather glossy, heart shaped with the "tops" of the hearts typically cupping inward towards the leaf stalk. Sometimes the leaves are cupped so far inwards that they create a funnel of sorts. Violet will grow in open lawn areas in sun to shade. Be sure to gather in areas that are not sprayed, are not exposed to a lot of road run-off, and are not a popular pet bathroom spot. 

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t the end of the day I had happy bellies and happy dogs.

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Shaved asparagus, tarragon pizza & spinach, basil, goat cheese pizza

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It's spring and pizza is in the air. We got into making homemade pizzas a long time ago when Laurie, a best friend and past roommate, use to work at a stone-fired pizza place during college. She could take this little baby-bottom soft piece of dough and toss it out into a disc, top it, and have it slipped into the oven in no time. One early summer's afternoon we decided to have a pizza-luck. Laurie got a bunch of dough ball "butts" from work and everybody pitched in and brought toppings. Doing this at the house was extremely fun but not without difficulties. We had pizzas popping out of all different shapes, sizes, deformities, colors, flavors, until the power all over the block mysteriously gave out. So we were oven-less, secretly I was thankful for this, our tiny house felt like a sweat lodge after running the oven for hours and our AC didn't work so well. So we gave the pizza stones a rest and all retreated outside, sat around in our big yard with good friends, drinks, and plenty of pizza to share. 

I made these pizzas when we had two friends from Athens, who now live in Charlotte, visit us in Virginia. It was the first asparagus of the season for me and I wanted to do something special with it. Clearly, pizza is special and it is worth the grace of the seasons first asparagus. Make your own dough at home with the recipe below, buy your own pre made dough (usually found at Earthfare or Whole Foods), or use a pre-cooked crust. 

A word about making your own crust. I've tried so many different pizza crust methods/recipes and none compare to Peter Reinhart's overnight fermentation method. The problem is that I rarely make this recipe because I am usually not planning on making pizza the day before. You have to start his recipe the day before, it is essential. But if you do plan ahead, seriously, locate his recipe and make it; it is a gem.

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Dough, the short version ( makes two pizzas )

Flour (I used bread flour) - 1 1/2 Cups

Olive oil - 1/3 cup

Warm water (110-115 degrees)

Active dry yeast - scant 1Tb (or one packet)

Sugar - A big pinch

Salt - 1.5tsp

Place your warm water into a 2 cup pyrex, make sure it is between no warmer that 115degrees and no less than 105degrees. You need it to be warm enough for the yeast but not too hot or else it will kill your yeast. Add in your good pinch of sugar and whisk to somewhat dissolve. Add in your yeast and whisk until it is dissolved. Let this mixture sit in a warm place for 10 minutes until it starts to get foamy and fluff up.

Meanwhile mix your flour and salt in a mixer with the dough hook attached. You can do this by hand, just need a big bowl and a wooden spoon. Once the yeast mixture is ready add it into the mixture while it is going and then add 1/2 the oil. Let the dough start to come together and finish adding the oil when it looks like it needs it. You want the dough to be soft but not tacky. I left a little oil out of the dough mixture so I could later grease the bowl with it. Let it mix in the mixer for a few minutes.

Lightly flour a clean surface and take out your dough and knead it with you hands for several minutes and form it into a round. Grease a large bowl with your extra oil, roll the dough round to coat the top with oil. Let it covered with a cloth in a warm place to double in size, at least an hour. Once it is doubled in size, turn the dough out and divide in in half, forming each half into a round.

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Asparagus pizza

Asparagus - 1 bunch

Yellow onion - 1/2 slivered

Garlic - 3 cloves minced

A good parmesan - 1 cup grated

Tarragon - scant 2Tb chopped fine, fresh

Lemon - juice of 1 lemon

Egg - 1

Olive oil - 2Tb + some for brushing

Salt/pepper - to taste, I used generous pepper

Preheat your oven on 500degrees. Take a mandoline or a vegetable peeler and peel your asparagus into long ribbons. This may take awhile but it is worth it. It is ok if they are uneven or different sizes/thicknesses. I used a vegetable peeler and held the end of the asparagus (the part you usually cut off) as a handle. Place all your asparagus ribbons in a bowl. Heat up a deep skillet on medium heat with 2Tb olive oil. Add in the minced garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add in the onions and cook for several minuets until softened. Add in the asparagus ribbons. Cook for several minutes until just starting to soften. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt/pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in the tarragon. 

Take one of the dough rounds and place it on a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a circle about 9" in diameter. Transfer the pizza onto your pizza stone or baking sheet now, before you top it. I then brushed the outer few inches of dough with olive oil and rolled the edge in about 1" to make a crust. Scatter 1/2 cup of parmesan over the pizza. Top with the asparagus mixture, spreading evenly. Scatter the other 1/2 parmesan over the top. Part some of the asparagus in the center to make a slight well and crack your egg in it. Finish by brushing the edges with olive oil. Place your pizza in the oven and cook for about 20 minutes (maybe a little longer or a little less) Keep an eye on cooking your egg. It is tricky to get it out when the whites are set but the yolk is still runny. I took mine out a little too early then put it back in but when I went back for it, it was too late and my yolk was cooked. You could try cooking your pizza without the egg for 1/2 the time and then pull out the shelf, crack in the egg onto the already hot pizza, then finish cooking. Experiment.

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Spinach, basil, goat cheese

Spinach - Several handfuls of fresh spinach

Goat cheese - 4Tb about

Parmesan -1/2 cup grated

Basil - 2Tb slivered, fresh

Pepper - generous amounts.

With the oven still at 500 degrees. Roll out your second round like you did with the asparagus pizza. Transfer the pizza dough onto your pizza stone or baking sheet at this point. Crumble the goat cheese around the disc and the smear the goat cheese with a knife, gently, into a thin layer covering the crust. Scatter over the fresh basil. Top with the handfuls of fresh spinach and then the parmesan. Brush the crust edges with olive oil. Finish with a generous sprinkling of black pepper over the pizza. Place in the oven and cook about 10-15 minutes.

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