I know, I know. It's been about 7 years since I last posted. I guess the jig is up, but being a blogger is actually really hard. Not that I ever thought that this would be easy. But coming up with content that you are actually happy with and proud of on a constant basis is challenging #AF. Especially in regards to the topic of mental health...
One of the things I told myself when starting this blog is that I would never let it stress me out. This blog is not my job. It's something I do because I think sharing about mental health is important. Sharing and documenting my experiences has been super therapeutic for me. And I've liked coming up with different and creative ways to discuss mental health and subsequently discuss self care.
Part of that creativity burst was creating the health food collaboration series with Nina. It was something I was really excited about. And I really wanted to share the ways that my overall health was contributing to my mental health successes. But as life would have it, right after posting the very first blog in the series, life got a bit crazy for both of us. My jobs and projects were piling up and I was hit hard in the face with dance competition season. And Nina accepted a new internship position on top of the other things she was already doing. Not to mention that Boulder/Pittsburgh time difference is actually pretty significant when both of you have full to the brim schedules.
Needless to say, the collaboration was put on the back burner. And honestly, so was any time for me to actually cook at all. The last 2 months have been filled with a lot of soup and roasted veggie bowls. Which is totally fine, but it's not exactly exciting. And it's definitely not anything I thought would be interesting enough to share with others.
I got so caught up in my stresses that I actually kind of forgot why I liked cooking in the first place. I forgot that it actually de-stresses me (unless I'm on a time limit). I was definitely on auto-pilot. I cooked things essentially to check more boxes on my to-do list. Does this meal contain fresh produce? Am I using at least one super food ingredient? Will this take me less than 15 minutes? Ding, ding, ding. Winner winner, nourish bowl dinner.
I fell into a pattern. I cooked to keep up with the new format of my life. I didn't try anything new. I wasn't inspired. Food was just kind of there, and cooking was just another thing I needed to do before I could be done with my day. But over the weekend, Greg and I celebrated our two year dating anniversary. He took me to my favorite vegan restaurant in Pittsburgh, Apteka. We had incredible craft pierogies and potato dumplings. Our meals came with the most delicious lima bean puree (yea that's not a sentence I ever thought I would say either) with greens and cabbage charred to perfection. It was impeccable.
Long story short, we attended an event after our dinner and I may have let loose a bit. Okay fine, I let way loose - especially for someone who hasn't really been drinking very much this year. So needless to say, I was not exactly feeling my best once Sunday morning came. In true hungover fashion, I clung to my big glass of ice water and perused Netflix to find something to binge as I nursed my pain. I settled on Chef's Table. And I haven't stopped watching since (it's now Tuesday).
If you haven't watched this show, I highly advise watching at least one episode. Especially if you like food. Especially, especially if you are a fan of cinematography. Especially, especially, especially if you consider yourself a foodie. It is a docu-series, meaning it's full of insight and interviews you wouldn't normally get in a scripted cooking show. But the greatest part about this show is the way it's shot. It's seriously stunning and I enjoy the mirrored commitment to excellence and beauty - both by the chefs themselves but also to the crew creating the series.
Needless to say, I quickly became inspired to cook again. I was still feeling lingering effects of the sugar hangover (I really need to stop drinking so much wine) and was craving plant based "junk food". But like, high end plant based junk food. So Sunday night, I took a stab at creating my own craft pierogies. And yesterday I made a full vegan lasagna from scratch. And let me tell you, I think I nailed them. Well, Greg said I nailed them. That counts right?
And as much as I try to focus on my health, as much spinach and kale and broccoli and bananas and quinoa that I eat, sometimes you just need some good ol' comforting self care food. So without any more hesitation, let's get cooking.
Now I know I don't have any food photography skills (I'm in the works of deciding on a real digital camera rather than only ever using my iPhone, so hopefully one day that will help) so this photo does zero justice to how amazing these guys tasted. You just have to trust me. And they were super easy to put together once I decided how I was going jazz these bad boys up.
What You'll Need:
• Mrs. T's classic potato and onion pierogies (note Mrs. T's dough contains eggs, so if you are a full vegan, look for a brand that excludes eggs - remember I was still hungover and I'm okay with eggs again...#judgementfreezone)
• Coconut Oil
• Vegetable Broth
• Smoked Paprika
• Black Pepper
• Crushed Roasted Garlic
• Black Sesame Seeds
• Thai Red Curry Paste
Like I said, totally easy. I heated up some of that coconut oil and tossed the frozen pierogies in. I added a dash of vegetable broth to help disperse the spices I was about to add. I added generous amounts of the parsley, smoked paprika, and black pepper to the pan and stirred to make sure each pierogi was coated. Then I flattened/crushed some roasted garlic and added it to the heat. Followed by a generous sprinkling of black sesame seeds and a spoonful of the Thai Red Curry Paste.I raised the temperature so that the extra broth evaporated and the pierogies got crispy around the edges.
It's the Thai red curry paste that really brings this together. And I can't remember why I bought this ingredient in the first place. Probably for a curry I wanted to try but never got around to making. I added it to a mashed cauliflower dish last week and Greg and I couldn't get over how good it tasted. In the moment I literally looked at Greg and said, "what's the worst that could happen?" And threw the largest tablespoon of it in. And for a second time, it did not disappoint!
And for the vegan lasagna:
So I'm not going to share the entirety of this recipe because I think lasagnas should be full of whatever you want them to be. Mine was purely vegetable with layers of sautéed spinach and garlic, zucchini and onion, and roasted cherry tomatoes and mushrooms.
What I do want to share though is the recipe I created for the cashew based "ricotta cheese" I used as part of the filling and top layer. Now when I did Whole30, I'd use the Om Nom Paleo Macademia Nut Ricotta recipe. But macadamia nuts are kind of expensive and I can rarely find bags in a true bulk size. And Greg and I eat a lot of cashews/have a giant container of cashews sitting in our basement, so that seemed like an obvious choice.
What You'll Need:
• A lot of Cashews
• Basil (fresh is best)
• Smoked Paprika
• Ground Black Pepper
• Nutritional Yeast
• Roasted Garlic
I started the recipe doing as much as I could remember from the original - and I only recalled using water (instead of a nut milk or veggie broth) and lemon. I filled up my medium sized Ninja bullet container half way with cashews. I squeezed half a fresh lemon into it and added generous (yes I like spices if you couldn't tell) amounts of parsley, smoked paprika, and black pepper. I added roughly 5 fresh basil leaves from our herb garden. Then I added a small handful of roasted garlic and the nutritional yeast. I'm going to be honest, for the nutritional yeast, I wasn't paying attention and accidentally opened up the larger side of the shaker and added what was probably 3-4 tablespoons of it when I went to shake it out. This happy accident totally worked out in my favor, but I don't think adding any more than that would be very good. So use caution!
Then I added water and I think that's the trickiest part of this whole recipe. Or at least it's tricky for people who are too stubborn to measure anything. Aka me. So I filled up the bullet cup so that 3/4 of the cashews were covered and gave it a shake. I then blended until it seemed pretty consistent in texture. And it definitely was. I added another 2 splashes of water because I wanted to see if it could get creamier - which it did. But I will always advise starting off with less because you can always add! So again, proceed with caution friends!
I feel like I'm never good at ending recipe posts, but I'm just hoping this is a fresh start to me cooking again. I had so much fun crafting each layer of lasagna yesterday - figuring out how to make multiple flavor levels become cohesive by that final bite. And I'm also just so excited for spring and all the fresh veggies coming our way. I think we want to try making our own produce box to grow some of our own vegetables instead of just having herbs, but considering I've barely had time to write a blog post, I won't hold my breath!
So to anyone in need of some comfort "healthy-ish" food, consider giving these recipes a try. It was really great for my self care/mental health to start falling back in love with something I used to be so passionate about. And I'm realizing the importance of taking breaks from passions when they start to stress you out. The things you love shouldn't stress you out. And if they do, maybe it's time to take a step back from them so they don't burn you out!