Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tahini Dressed Butternut Squash with Chickpeas

An Innocent Squash

      First of all I would like to say that I love butternut squash. I really do. With that said, if you were to ask me if I like it, I would probably tighten my lips and scrunch up my nose before I said (with hesitation) it's okay. This is because before I learned about roasting squash to bring out it's delicious sweetness, squash to me was what my mother made at the holidays. She boiled it until it fell apart at the sight of a fork, then drained, sugared, buttered, mashed and put it in a bowl, where over time it became a grainy mound of water leaching mush. I don't think my mother was the only one to commit this crime against squash. That's just what they used to do to vegetables (way back then). I promise that you will not find any of that here.

      Luckily I was able to get over the trauma of my mother's squash and give the innocent vegetable another go;  otherwise I would have missed out on dishes like this.
   This is one of my favorite ways to use tahini. It is a simple sesame dressing that mixes well with all kinds of grains and vegetables. I often eat it over quinoa and some steamed broccoli for a quick meal. Here I have paired it with roasted butternut squash, because the markets are flooded with them, and chickpeas, because it seemed the natural thing to do. Tahini and chickpeas have been joined at the hip for centuries.
   The sweetness of the squash is the main player here, but there are a lot of other flavors kicking around in this dish. There is the mellow heat of the ginger, the distinct tang of the vinegar, the brightness of the cilantro, and of course the nutty, earthy tahini is there to round out the team. The cinnamon is subtle here, detected first with the nose, and the onion adds a bit of raw bite and juicy crunch. But what I appreciate most is the  way the structure of the cubed squash, with it's rawness cooked out of it, transforms itself into soft smooth sweetness.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Recipe serves 4 as a side.

For the squash:
2 lbs. of butternut squash peeled and cut into 3/4" cubes
2T. olive oil
2tsp. grated ginger
2 cloves of minced or crushed garlic (I advise against using a  garlic press here)
1/8tsp. cinnamon
dash or two of cayenne (1/16 tsp.)
salt and pepper

1 c. cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans) - use fresh cooked if you can, but if not I suggest draining a can of chickpeas and rinsing them well. Then boiling them in clean salted (if needed) water for about 8-10 minutes before draining again. I think this makes them taste better. Taste them before adding salt. (note: I use only beans from BPA free cans)

2T. minced red onion
2T. toasted sunflower seeds 
1/4 c. chopped cilantro

3T. cider vinegar
2T+ 1tsp. tahini
2tsp. sesame oil ( not toasted)
or more olive oil
1T. olive oil
2 tsp. tamari or Bragg's liquid aminos
2T. water
salt (if needed) and pepper

   Mix the cut squash with the oil and spices. Then spread it on a baking sheet. I like to line my sheets with parchment for easy clean up. Place the pan in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes ( give it a stir after about 15 minutes). They will be tender and easily pierced with a fork when done. 

Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients.

In a large bowl mix the cooked squash, chickpeas, onion, seeds, and cilantro.  Pour on the dressing and mix well. Serve. You could sprinkle some extra seeds and cilantro on top.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sunflower Seeds nutrition and cancer

    You may start to notice that whenever appropriate, I suggest a sprinkling of nuts or seeds atop a dish.  Of course the obvious reason is because they add a delicious roasted flavor, a sweet nuttiness, and a bit of crunch to a dish. The other less obvious, but equally important reason is because they are nutritious, and my goal when preparing food is to maximize flavor and nutrition. Yes, you can do both.
    Today I am going to talk about the nutrition of one of my favorite seeds, sunflower seeds. 
Did you know that 1/4 of a cup of sunflower seeds provides:
82% of vit. E
34% of selenium
28% of magnesium
70% of copper
43% of thiamine
28% of B6
33% of phosphorous 

   Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, and has been shown to aid in the prevention of cancer. It is also an anti-inflammatory, and can reduce symptoms of diseases such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
   Selenium has been shown to inhibit cancers growth by repairing abnormal cells, and by detoxing the body of damaged cells.
   Sunflower seeds are also high in Phytosterols, which can enhance the immune response, and reduce the risk of certain cancers.
   I found no information stating that roasting the seeds destroyed any of these benefits.  If I do I will let you know. Or if anyone has any information on this, feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Goodbye Not Dogs

 Farro with Roasted Vegetables and Mustard Dressing

   I love mustard, so much so that there was a time, back in the 90's, when I would eat those processed soy (not) hot dogs just to have something to put mustard on. I would put a couple of those rubbery wieners on a plate with a big blob of mustard, stab them with a fork, dip them in the golden condiment, and savor the sharp, salty heat. I have made a lot of progress in the kitchen since then, and I am happy to say that I no longer eat soy dogs. As you can see, I now get my mustard fix elsewhere. 

   As with most grain salads this one can accommodate a whole range of vegetables, but I suggest sticking with brassicas and roots. I think their density is better suited to the chewy texture of the farro, and it is their heartiness which gives this recipe it's main dish status.

Here is the recipe. 
Serves 4

    Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
for the roasted vegetables:
3 large carrots
1/2 head of cauliflower
1 lb. of brussel sprouts
1T. olive oil

1c. farro
3/4 t. salt
3c. water

for the dressing:
2 1/2t. of grainy dijon mustard or other strong mustard
2T. cider vinegar
1t. lemon juice
1t. honey (can be omitted)
2 cloves of garlic crushed
4T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

2T of parsley 
2T of sunflower seeds to garnish (preferably roasted)

   Prepare the carrots by cutting them into 4' lengths and then into quarters lengthwise, and the cauliflower by removing the core and cutting or breaking apart the florets. The brussel sprouts can be left whole if small, but larger (anything approaching the size of a walnut) 
should be cut in half. 
   Toss all of the vegetables with the 1T. (or a bit more) of oil. Spread them in a single layer on your baking sheet. I like to toss each vegetable separately and keep them that way on the sheet, but that's mostly my need for aesthetic order. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.
  Put them in the 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until tender and beginning to brown. You will want to give them a stir after about 20 minutes to check on their progress.
   Meanwhile rinse the farro, then cook it in the salted water by bringing it to a boil over high heat, and then keeping it at a simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes. Check the texture. It should be soft and yielding, but still retain a good amount of chewiness. Drain off any excess water.
   While the farro is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients with a fork.  Taste and adjust if necessary. Always taste and adjust as you go with sauces and dressings.
   Toss the roasted vegetables with the farro, pour on the dressing and mix well. Sprinkle on the parsley and give it a quick mix. Then top it with the sunflower seeds and serve. Any leftovers will be excellent the next day cold or at room temperature.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Caramelized Bananas

   How to turn an everyday, taken for granted banana into something luxurious.

      I almost forgot about these bananas, until my birthday this year, when my friends Jenna and Jeff invited me over for dinner. They didn't know what to serve me, so I told them I wanted campfire food. I think they were a bit thrown by this request, but you see my birthday is at the end of September, so I thought that sitting around a campfire on a cool fall night would be just the thing. We managed to come up with a delicious menu. You know- potatoes wrapped in foil and all that. I offered to  bring some peaches to grill, but wouldn't you know it,  my local co-op didn't have any to offer (in Sept.!) Anyway, I brought bananas instead, and a pint of gelato as a backup.
   Well, my friends were quite impressed  with the grilled bananas. The firmness of the bananas had relaxed from the heat of the grill, taking on a moist silky texture. Their browned sugars added a hint of caramel.  Here is a stove top version that I have been making for years.  They are great over ice cream, french toast, or even on their own, but this time I put them on my oatmeal with a splash of almond milk, and I have to say I felt very decadent and pleased with myself. It was almost like having a piece of rich sweet banana bread for breakfast. Almost.

This isn't much of recipe, but here it is.
bananas (1 per person)
coconut oil or butter for the pan
a squeeze of orange juice (optional) 
something to sprinkle on top - sesame seeds, coconut,or  toasted nuts

   In a large saute pan over medium heat, put enough coconut oil (or butter if you like) to lightly coat the bottom.
   Slice the bananas in half the long way and place them in the pan. 
Do not move them around. You want them to start to brown before you turn them over. This will take a few minutes.  
   Turn them carefully with a spatula. Expect them to be a bit stuck.
   After a couple of minutes on the other side, splash them with a good squeeze of orange juice (about 1/4 of an orange per banana). Remove the bananas from the pan before all the juice evaporates. Scrape any bits of banana from the pan and pour the bits and the juice over the bananas.  Top with some seeds or nuts. Serve.

A splash of bourbon in the pan could be nice here, but maybe not for breakfast. I'll leave that up to you.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lemon Rosemary Kale and Quinoa Salad

Lemon Rosemary Kale and Quinoa salad

     Have you made the shift yet? As the seasons grow colder and the days get shorter, have you noticed your bodies natural tendency to want to slow down a bit, to linger a little longer in the warmth of your bed, or with your morning cup of tea/coffee? Has your appetite for warmer, denser, more comforting foods increased? Mine has, but I am not yet ready to give up the flavors of summer, so I made this transitional salad.
   In the summer I would have used raw red pepper in place of the roasted tomatoes. I would not have blanched the kale, and I probably would have chosen white quinoa. Here the extra chewiness of the red quinoa and the cooked vegetables make it more suitable for the season, and it's every bit as delicious, a little bit lemony, a little bit piney, and a little bit of summer's sweetness.


1 c. quinoa
2 scallions sliced thinly
1 buch of kale de-stemmed chopped coarsely
1/2 c. roasted cherry tomatoes
1/2 c. corn 


2 T. lemon juice
4 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. fresh rosemary finely chopped
2T. chopped parsley
1 small clove of garlic crushed or minced
pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to about 350 degrees.

   Start by roasting the tomatoes if you don't already have some on hand. You can choose to cut them in half or not. Of course cutting them shortens the cooking time. I usually cut them unless they are tiny. Place the tomatoes on a sheet pan and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Mix the oil into the  tomatoes, and then sprinkle with a bit of salt.  They will take about 25 minutes to roast. Give them a stir about half way through. You can let them go longer if you want a more concentrated caramelized flavor.
   Rinse the quinoa very well. Cook the quinoa in 2 cups of water with about 1/2 t. of salt until tender. This takes about 20-25 minutes. You can drain off any excess water if the quinoa seems done before it is all absorbed. You don't want mushy grains.
   In the meantime cook the kale and corn. I start with a pan of salted boiling water a few inches deep and plunge the kale into it. You only want to wilt and soften it, so leave it for only a minute or two.  I remove the kale with a slotted spoon to a colander and using the same water cook the corn until tender, and then drain it. Don't forget to squeeze out the excess water from the kale. I do this by using the spoon to press it against the colander.

   Then make the dressing by combining all the ingredients.

  When all the components are ready mix everything together including the scallions. This salad is best at room temperature, and if you make it a bit ahead, it appreciates the time for the flavors to mingle and get acquainted. Leftovers may be even better the next day.

Note: rosemary aids digestion, is anti inflammatory, and best of all can increase blood flow to the brain. I need to find more recipes with rosemary!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cancer in Remission

   I am in remission. In remission- what does that mean? It's just a new label. My tumors are stable. The cancer is not active. I am no longer a cancer patient in treatment. I have been given a new identity. Hello, I am in remission.  A pleasure to meet you. Is that anything like being in the witness protection plan? You are given a new identity and told to act normal and get on with your life, but contact us if you feel anything is suspicious, or experience any signs that the criminal/cancer has found you and is again threatening your life.
   Your always on alert while in remission. Will this

food give me cancer. Is this just a headache or could it be a brain tumor (because you know it could be). Your always looking over your shoulder waiting for cancer to catch up with you. But don't get stressed out about it. That could give you cancer. 
   This is my second time in remission. My doctor and I expected I would be in remission for a long time after my surgery and first round of chemo. I did so well. Five months later I had 5 new tumors, and it had metastasized to my liver. I had to go through chemo again.
   Recurrences are hard. They are a big let down, to say the least. After surviving everything the first time I felt invincible. Hah! I survived cancer. I survived surgery and chemical poisoning. I am alive and I kicked cancer's ass!
   I no longer feel invincible (but I still kick ass).  I don't know how long it will be before the cancer finds me / comes back, or if it will. I do feel somewhat like I am being chased, so I am running faster. Not out of fear, but out of a sense of urgency. I am not running from death. I am running toward life. If today is all I can be sure of, I want it to be the best day of my life. 
  I wish I knew where I read this quote. It rings so true for me.

 "It is only in accepting death that real life is found"

Cactus Inspiration

finding inspiration

   Look at that sweet little flower on my cactus. Amazing!

   I know that this little cactus is not all that formidable as far as cacti go. It's spines look like they couldn't hurt a flea. But the fact that a fragile little flower had the courage to emerge from beneath that thorny surface is truly an inspiration. 
   When life gets thorny and you feel fenced in, push on through and let your beauty shine. Beauty is within us all. Be a flower. Bloom! 

"Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."
                                                                                 Hans Christian Anderson

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." 
                                                                    Lao Tzu

Your present circumstances don't determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start"
                                                                                                                                  Nido Qubein

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Food I Eat /My Cancer Diet

    I thought it was time to explain a little bit about the foods that I eat, since those are the recipes that you will be seeing here. I try to follow the seasons and what they have to offer. I eat a primarily plant based diet with a focus on eating a variety of whole organic foods. That said, I am not a vegan. True, most of the recipes here will be vegan, but I reserve the right to throw in an egg, or a splash of dairy now and then. Especially when I splurge and get a little decadent. I rarely use any kind of sugar or sweeteners except for whole fruits, but being a former baker, I do indulge on occasion, especially when celebrating with others.
   I'm not about using substitutes either.  You won't see any meat or dairy substitutes here. And as far as tofu goes, while it is certainly fine for most people, there is a lot of controversy over tofu as it relates to certain types of cancer. I avoid it most of the time.
   We all have to decide what is right for our own bodies and beliefs. This is my diet. It is what I believe is right for me. I hope that my recipes will appeal to everyone, but especially to those on restricted diets, or those striving for optimal health who may be having a hard time finding delicious foods to replace the familiar loved foods that they may no longer be able to eat. 
   Being on a restricted diet can be difficult, even if it is self imposed, as it is in my case. Don't fear food or resign yourself to a bland monotonous diet. Take the challenge of creating delicious inspired food. Expand your palate.
   Try new foods even if they seem weird or unappealing. Other cultures are a great place to find new foods and tastes. By taking an interest, and taking a chance you will start to have fun with food, and begin looking forward to every meal.
   Remember that recipes can be altered to suit your needs. If you see a recipe that interests you, but has ingredients that you can't have, deconstruct it. Keep what attracted you to it, and reconstruct it into something you can eat, something new.  Sometimes you may come away with only a sauce, but it may be one that makes everything you can eat taste great.

Kale and Parsley Pesto

   This pesto recipe is a nice alternative during the cooler months, once the summers bounty of basil has passed.  Parsley and kale work very well together. They both have an earthy bitterness, but the parsley adds a welcomed element of brightness to the combination. 
   I like this pesto best on whole wheat pasta, so much so that I insist that you try it first on a whole grain pasta. The nutty flavor and sturdy texture of the whole wheat make an important contribution to the overall enjoyment of this dish. Of course quinoa, barley or rice pasta can be used by those avoiding wheat.

    If you have been following my posts, then you know that I have stage 4 cancer.  Any foods that are high in antioxidants, or have been shown to inhibit cancer growth go into my shopping cart.  This recipe is full of cancer fighting properties.  

Parsley Kale Pesto
serves 3-4

1c. parsley leaves and tender stems roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 bunch of kale with the tough stems removed
5 T. olive oil
1T. lemon juice
1/2 t. salt  or to taste
a few good grinds of black pepper
1/2 lb. cooked pasta (don't forget to salt the water)

    Unless you are used to a lot of manual effort while cooking, I would say to definitely use a food processor here.
    While the pasta is cooking prepare the pesto.
    Bring a couple of inches of salted (1/2t. salt ) water to a boil. Drop in the whole cloves of garlic and boil for about a minute, then fish it out with a slotted spoon. You can skip this step if you like. I do this to mellow the sharp bite of the raw garlic a bit. You should then chop up the garlic.
    Roughly chop the kale and blanch it in the water (same as you used for the garlic) until softened. This takes a minute or two. Drain the kale well, pushing down on the leaves to squeeze out any excess water.
   Put all the ingredients into the food processor (except the pasta of course), and pulse until you get a nice coarsely chopped pesto. Taste for salt, and add more oil if you like. Then toss it with the pasta.
  A handful of roasted sunflower seeds on top would be a good addition here for both their crunchy texture and their nutty flavor.

   I don't put cheese on mine, but a bit of parmesan would be nice, or you could do as my friend Jenna did this morning and add some grated goat gouda. We had this for breakfast this morning with a poached egg on top and a side of beets and salad greens. It was perfect.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dal in My Shoes

a simple everyday dal

I swear things like this never used to happen to me.  I blame my undue clumsiness on cancer! Chemotherapy is a huge brain drain.  And you don't always regain full brain function. Such is the case with me. 
Here is what happened. I cut open the bag of moong dal, and in an attempt to measure out one cup of the tiny beans, I ended up with it all over the floor and in my shoes/sandals. I cut a large hole in the bag and proceeded to pour it quickly into a small measuring cup (see where I made my mistake). I did manage to get some in the cup, but half of it went over the sides. What did I expect?! So I'm not going to say much more here because I have a floor to sweep. Only that this is deliciously simple, earthy, and comforting.  And that turmeric is the mother of all impossible to get out stain makers.  I wore an apron while making this, because if I can get dal in my shoe, you know I will get turmeric on my shirt. Be careful, turmeric stains everything yellow.

Here it is:
1 c. moog dal
3 1/2 c. water
1/2 t. turmeric
1 t. salt or more to taste
2T. olive oil
1t. cumin seeds
1/8 t. asafoetida (optional, but recommended)
1/2-1t. red pepper flakes or to taste (this is not very much heat/spice)
1 small onion minced
cilantro to garnish

First thing to do is rinse the moong beans very well.  You want to either  do this in a strainer, or better yet by swishing them around in a pan of water.  You want to get rid of all the (bean) dustiness, so rinse until the water is clear.

Place the washed and drained moong dal with the 3 1/2 c. of water into a heavy bottomed medium sized saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil.  Skim off any foam that forms.

Reduce the heat. Add the turmeric. Continue to simmer until creamy, about 45 minutes.  Give it a stir occasionally to prevent scorching, and add more hot water if the consistency starts to look too thick.  You want a nice smooth, loose consistency for this dal.
Add the salt at the end.

While the dal cooks:
Heat the oil in a small pan, and add the asafo
etida, chili flakes, and cumin seeds.  They will sizzle and foam up a bit.  After a few seconds, add the onion. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and browning at the edges (10-15 min.).
This is what is called the tarka. It is a mixture of cooked spices and onions that you stir into the cooked dal. This varies from recipe to recipe, and according to the region of India it came from.
Remove the the finished dal from the heat. Pour the tarka over the top, and stir in along with some fresh cilantro and a shake of black pepper if desired.
I sometimes stir in some spinach leaves. And if I have any leftover roasted tomatoes, I love to throw them in too. You could also add a bit of tomato to the tarka towards the end of its cooking time.

This can be served with rice or chapati, with or without a side dish.

need a ride

center of commerce Palolem
fishing boat Palolem beach

These are just a few random pictures of where I used to live in India to make up for the lack of inspiring food pictures.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Cancer journey

I have cancer. Cancer is my new normal. I don't let it interfere with my life, but it has become the focus of my life.
This is me with cancer. I know what cancer is, what is happening in my body. I don't know why or what I can do to stop it from happening. No one does. Even science has no answer for me. So, while my doctors try to kill my cancer and save my life with their protocol of cut, burn, and poison, I am trying to heal. 
I try my best everyday to be the best me with cancer that I can. I nourish my body better than I did before cancer. I care for my body and listen to what it has to tell me better than I did before. I have stage 4 ovarian cancer. Stage 4, how did I not suspect anything was wrong? Wasn't I listening? Maybe I did suspect, but was afraid to listen.I try to be a better friend to those I hold dear, and a better daughter to my aging parents who may outlive me. A sorrow I regret I may bestow upon them.
Somedays the trying is effortless. Other days it is just too much. I just want to forget I have cancer. Then I realize with or without cancer I am a better person for the journey it has set me on. With or without cancer, this is the new me. 
I am at peace with what is.

Nice and Socca

best socca in the market

The first time I had socca was last year in Nice.  Socca is like a pancake, but made from garbanzo bean flour and is a specialty of Nice. It is why I ended up on the Riviera.
I often plan my vacations in the pursuit of food, so when I saw a recipe in a cookbook, I decided I had to try the real thing.  I was headed to Paris anyway for my birthday, and figured I couldn't go wrong with a side trip to the Riviera. Plus I liked saying to everyone "oh yes, I 'm going to the Riviera for my birthday".

Modern Art Museum


Nice was spectacular and I soon became addicted to socca.  I've seen many recipes since, all basically the same with slight variations.  

Here is how I make mine at home:
2c. garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour
2c. water 
1 1/2 T. olive oil + more for pan
1t. salt 
a few good grinds of black pepper
This yields 4 socca pancakes.

Whisk all the ingredients together until smooth. I do this at least a half an hour ahead, and up to a day ahead ( I sometimes forget about it until the next meal). This allows the flour to become hydrated.  The batter will be pourable like that of any pancake batter, and will spread in the pan.

Pour the batter into a large hot pan over medium high heat coated with about 2t. of oil.  You want the pancake to be about 1/4 of an inch thick. You can encourage this by gently tipping the pan. When the surface of the pancake loses its wet sheen and the tiny bubbles that have appeared on the surface pop, it is time to turn it over. This takes a few minutes.

It should be golden and browned in spots before turning. Turn it over gently with a spatula, and cook for another couple of minutes on the other side. Transfer from the pan to a plate that you can put in the oven to keep warm while you make the others. You could also reheat them for a few minutes at the end.

These are great because they are wheat free, vegan, and provide protein to a vegetarian meal.

I like mine topped with caramelized onions and roasted cherry tomatoes, with a sprinkling  of thyme or parsley.  They are also a great alternative to rice or chapati with Indian food.

Other great toppings: 
a fried or poached egg and some cooked greens, or fried potatoes
cheese (of course)

To roast cherry tomatoes just cut them in half, toss them with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and put them in a 350 degree oven until they collapse. You will want to keep an eye on them and give them a stir once in a while, but they should take about 25 minutes.  You can let them go longer if you want the tomatoes to be more caramelized and the juices more condensed.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cancer led us here

Welcome to Our Blog
    We are two women living fully with stage 4 cancer. Our friendship began over tea at a local cafe. We were brought together by cancer, but our desire to heal and not let cancer deny us the power of life is what led us to this blog. We hope that our blog supports and inspires you as much as we do each other. Join us in our conversations about food, life, and all the things we love. 
                                                                                 Margaret and Diane