Cookbook author Mindy Toomay's blog about eating for health, cooking with spirit, and celebrating life in northern California. Here she dishes up food rants and raves, recipes, and plenty of kitchen wisdom.

By your own efforts, waken yourself, watch yourself, and live joyfully.
-- The Dhammapada

Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?
-- Peter Mayle


Pear Pinwheel Salad

Here is my idea of the perfect winter salad. It is somehow light and substantial all at the same time, and provides a mostly raw experience without being too cooling to the system.

Although the blue cheese isn't essential (vegans, take note), it adds a creamy and tangy note that I find delicious. The dressing I recommend is made of apple juice, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Here are basic proportions for a few servings:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple juice
2 teaspoons dijon mustards
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
scant salt and pepper

The salad ingredients could vary somewhat, but I highly recommend this exact combination.

Start with a bed of spinach, add some shredded red cabbage and cooked brown rice. Slice a perfectly ripe pear and toss with a little lemon juice, then arrange some slices in a pinwheel design on each salad. Add a few raw or roasted walnuts and a sprinkling of a creamy blue cheese. Drizzle on the dressing and enjoy.

It's a simple and scrumptious lunch for you and a friend.

Blessings and bon appetit!


A smoothie boost

It might seem counter-intuitive to have a cold and creamy beverage on a cold winter day, but in fact it makes some sense. A smoothie, as it happens, is a great medium for lots of "boosters," ingredients that have special nutritive powers.

Pictured here is a four-fruit smoothie. The base is equal parts grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed is best) and plain yogurt. This went in the blender, to which I added a cut-up apple (unpeeled if organically grown; the skin carries fiber and vitamins), a banana (peeled, of course), and a cup of frozen raspberries.

Now come the boosters. I sprinkled in a teaspoon of vitamin C crystals (powdered ascorbic acid) and a couple of tablespoons of ground flax seed (for its fiber and omega-3s). Then I added 2 ounces of aloe vera juice (soothing for the digestive tract) and squirted in some echinacea tincture (legendary immune booster). The latter tastes very bitter on its own, but is perfectly palatable in the smoothie context.

Those are apple wedges on the rim of the glass, BTW, but lemon or orange also make nice garnishes, and/or a sprig of fresh mint.

Drink nice and cold, if that appeals, or pour it into tall glasses and let it sit around for a while. Let it come to room temperature and it won't chill you to the bones. Mother Nature will take care of that!

There you have it, a very simple and immune-boosting breakfast or lunch.

Blessings and bon appetit!


5-Minute Tacos

Have you heard of the slow food movement? Some folks in Italy started it several years ago to promote the idea that eating and cooking should be honored as meaningful traditions to be savored and celebrated. It's the polar opposite of the fast food mentality.

I'm a slow foodie, for sure. Yet sometimes the clock gets in the way. Some days, that slippery eel called time wiggles out of my control and suddenly I've got maybe half an hour to eat, brush my teeth, and get out of the house for a meeting or movie or poetry reading at the local bookstore.

These tacos are for just such occasions. They're also great for when we're just plain famished and want some wholesome food in our stomachs as soon as possible.

Here's how:

1) Heat a dab of oil in a small pan. Add a few shreds of finely chopped onion and mushroom and cook for 2 minutes over medium-high heat.
2) Now add half a can of your favorite veggie chili (or 3/4 cup of cooked beans and a teaspoon of taco seasoning), a handful of baby spinach leaves, and a drizzle of water.
3) Keep the heat medium-high and let it bubble for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring every so often, while you heat up a couple of corn tortillas, which I generally do by laying them one at a time on the grill of a gas burner on my stovetop, turning 3 or 4 times as they warm and puff up slightly.
4) Fill the tortillas with the bean mixture and add some salsa and cheese, if desired.

You've cooked a meal in no time flat, now slow down and enjoy it. Yes, breathe between bites and really taste what you're eating.

Buddhist philosophers like Thich Nhat Hahn would call this mindful eating. If we're present for each moment, our minds focused on the sensory information contained in the here and now, we can experience true peace and pleasure.

And that's the best thing about being a slow foodie.

Blessings and bon appetit!


Satisfying sukiyaki

I adore Japanese food. The flavors are light and simple, the ingredients wholesome and fresh, and the presentation at restaurants quite lovely.

The Japanese have made cooking an artistic and even spiritual pursuit, and I feel deeply nourished by the aesthetics of a Japanese meal as well as by the food itself.

Sadly, I know many vegetarians who steer clear of this particular ethnic cuisine, thinking it is all about fish or meat. In fact, there are lots of vegetarian options on Japanese menus, and I've found restaurants that will happily make substitutions or honor special requests.

In the home kitchen, many traditional Japanese dishes can be adapted to the meatless diet. Sukiyaki is one example. The vegetarian version might not pass muster with a Samurai chef, but it's delicious just the same.

Sukiyaki is traditionally made with thin slices of beef, but tofu makes a great substitute. The only other ingredients are veggies, broth, and a few Asian seasonings. Oh, and brown rice as accompaniment, so be sure to cook up a batch.

I'm lucky to have a huge Asian grocery store in my neighborhood, where I frequently shop for shiitake mushrooms, tofu in an amazing array of forms, Asian vegetables like choy sum and diakon radish, and all manner of condiments. For this recipe, the specialty ingredients you'll need are mirin, a sweetish rice wine, soy sauce, and dark (roasted) sesame oil. Fresh ginger is a nice addition, but not essential.

The preparation couldn't be simpler.

1. Begin by heating a little dark sesame oil in a saute pan, than add thinly sliced vegetables of your choice. For this version I used onion, carrot, and yellow bell pepper. Add a pinch of salt and saute for a few moments, just to start sweating the vegetables.
2. Add a couple of cups of vegetable stock and freshly grated ginger to taste, plus a slosh of soy sauce and mirin. (The traditional recipe calls rice wine and sugar, so if you can find sake but not mirin, you're in business. Go very light on the sugar though, for best results.)
3. Add slabs of tofu, which should be submerged in the broth, and add a layer of coarsely chopped or sliced shiitake or oyster mushrooms, cover, and simmer for 5 or 6 minutes.
4. Pile on your favorite leafy greens. I like spinach or the aforementioned choy sum. Bok choy and mustard greens are other good choices. Cover and simmer another few minutes.
5. Ladel over brown rice in a bowl, garnishing with chopped cilantro and/or togarashi, if you wish. (Togarashi is a combination of sesame seeds, chile flakes, sometimes seaweed, and other seasonings served as a table condiment with soups and other dishes. Highly recommended if you can find it.)

That's it, a quick and simple and light and lovely ode to Japan.

Blessings and bon appetit!


Broccoli rabe

I'm welcoming 2007 with lots of healthy cooking, including soups, sautes, grains, and greens. In my part of the world, the weekly farmers market operates year-round (except in pouring rain) and these days large leafy bundles of winter greens are regular offerings.

I especially love bitter and spicy greens, and rapini, aka broccoli rabe, probably tops the list. Its mildly bitter flavor pairs well with all things Sicilian, such as olive oil, tomatoes, pasta, and black olives. In fact, this very combination of ingredients is one of my old standbys.

Rapini also makes a wonderful side dish. Simply saute some minced garlic in olive oil with a pinch of chile flakes, pile the chopped broccoli rabe on top and add a couple of tablespoons of water. Sprinkle with salt and cover the pan tightly. About 6 minutes later, the greens will have wilted into a delicious mound. A little lemon juice or vinegar creates a nice balance of bitter/spicy/sour flavors and aids in the digestion of the calcium contained in those dark green leaves.

I wish you good health and pleasure at the table all year long...