The Dutch holiday season begins every November with the arrival of Sinterklaas (the Dutch version of Santa Claus). This bearded old guy arrives on a boat from Spain and hangs around the country for two weeks leaving small gifts in children’s shoes until the real celebration day (his alleged birthday) on December 5th when he leaves the big presents. After that, on December 6th he boards his boat back to Spain, making way for the rest of the celebrations, and just like in most other western countries the excitement continues to build to a frenzy culminating on December 31st. Part of the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition is baking with Speculaas. Speculaas is a mixture of pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg and it is usually added to special nickel size cookies called Pepernoten (pepernuts) as well as larger size cookies, similar to gingerbread cookies which only appear during the Sinterklaas celebration. Speculaas has a wonderful smell and I can understand why any native would become very nostalgic for the magic of childhood just by walking down the street and smelling the aroma coming out of bakeries and supermarkets.
This year I decided to break with tradition and do something else: not bake! Well at least not just yet! The idea of adding Speculaas to something creamy seemed really, really appealing, and combining it with chocolate magical. This cake is sublime and super easy!
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup dates
a pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups of soaked cashews
1 2/3 cups of nut milk
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1-1 1/2 tsp speculaas spice (or all spice or cinnamon for the non Dutchies who can’t find this anywhere)
1/4 cup cacao powder
-process all the crust ingredients
-press crust in a cake form and even it out well
-put all the filling ingredients in the blender and blend except for the cacao
-blend very well at high speed until totally creamy
-pour 3/4 of the filling on the prepared crust
-put the cacao powder in the blender with what is rest of the filling and blend well
-pour cacao filling on top of the other filling creating a swirly shape
-shape further with a chopstick or a knife so that the chocolate cream penetrates the speculaas cream
-cover with plastic wrap and freeze for a couple of hours until well set
-sprinkle with cacao nibs
Last night I had a baking attack. The cause of my attack was partly restlessness and impatience because I can’t wait to get The Food Press going, partly gluttony and partly trying to avoid doing yoga (yes I have a problem….). But don’t judge me too quickly because baking late at night when nobody is around was almost as zen as my Kundalini session would have been, plus the way I whizzed around the kitchen at an ungodly hour was a total physical workout. I ended up baking late because I got caught looking through my cookbooks, which for me is more than just looking through recipes, it is more like going through some sort of of nostalgic memory lane. In my recent explorations of my very large cookbook collection (in preparation for The Food Press) I have rediscovered quite a few books. Some of these books I bought more than 20 years ago when I first came to the Netherlands, trying to recapture what I experience as a “cinnamon muffin” sort of coziness which I associate so much with the neck of the woods where I partly grew up(the East coast). I guess creating The Food Press is partially a way of recreating those feelings, smells and sense of community that I find so particularly American. Among the books that I rediscovered was Laurel’s Kitchen , from which I had never cooked anything until recently when I tried a couple of things that turned out very nicely. Although a bit outdated the book has nice common sense recipes, maybe too simple for the me of 21 years ago, but just earthy enough for the present me, and with lots of room to change things around. Nevertheless the introduction is still my favorite part of this book which gives me a fuzzy warm hippy feeling to which I easily allow myself to succumb. Another gem I came across was Wake up and Smell the Coffee by Laura Zahn. This book has a unique All-American character and many of the recipes are very veganizable, like the Coffee Cake Muffins I made last night in which I substituted an egg for 3 tbsp of chia seeds soaked in a bit of water. But my all time favorite old cookbook is the Kripalu cookbook. Again, it may be partly nostalgia or maybe some mild form of homesickness, but I love this book, and unlike the other two books mentioned earlier I have used this book throughout the years to the point that it has no cover anymore and many of its pages are loose. This is the book from which I have made my Banana Bread all these years. It is a vegan recipe and I have done nothing except follow the instructions, knowing that by the time it comes out of the oven I will have a deliciously moist, guilt-free loaf.
At about 11:30, after I had made the Banana Bread and the Coffee Cake Muffins I felt a second wind coming and a feeling that I was just beginning, so I proceeded to go ahead and make a Rye-Poppyseed-Pulp Cake. I really would share this recipe with you but unfortunately I forgot to write it down (I guess the late hour did take its toll on me after all). But since it turned out so delicious I will recommend to not forget that bag of rye flour that’s been sitting around your pantry and use it in baking cakes, it works really well (in combination with other flours). I also used the pulp from my morning pumpkin-carrot-sweetpotato juice as well as some of the pulp of the morning’s nut milk and added chia and linseed as “eggs”. Anyway I am afraid that this post is as endless last night’s baking adventure, so I will stop here and leave you with the best Banana Bread recipe ever.
2 3/4 cups sliced banana
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup rice syrup
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp all spice
pinch of cardamom
2/3 cups chopped walnuts
-blend bananas and oil
-stir syrup into banana mix and combine with a spatula
-in another bowl mix all dry ingredients except walnuts
-add dry ingredients to the banana mixture
-mix with a spoon until well combined and add walnuts and mix again
-pour batter into a bread form and bake in a preheated oven at 375* F for about 40-50 minutes
I sometimes forget how it was that I jumped into this (healthy, plant based)cooking boat. The other day someone asked me and it brought back a bunch of memories. Although I’ve always enjoy cooking and since my teenage years toyed with the idea of not eating meat, it wasn’t until I first expected a baby that began to read about foods and health. Back in 1992 in Holland vegetarianism and health foods was still in quite a primitive state, but when visiting the American Book Center in Amsterdam I would always come home with a book related to foods in some way(Diet for a New Planet by Robbins and Diet for a Small Planet by Francis More Lappe among others). As I remember before switching definitively to plant foods I used to make a killer (no pun intended) lamb masala which my husband loved. One day after having decided to not eat meat I had the brilliant idea to go ahead and substitute the lamb for tofu…..and what a sad disaster that was! It really did taste horrible or worse yet completely bland. My husband politely ate it all and proceeded to ask (almost cry): “can we just eat meat again?” Insecurity overcame me, but didn’t completely beat me. Lo and behold the next day I received a package from the U.S from a dear friend Ellen who lived in Ithaca, the home of the Moosewood restaurants, containing almost all the Moosewood books available at the time. These books opened up a new world for me, they were my bible, security blanket as well as a key to freeing me up to learn how to cook with vegetables without feeling like a boring freak. After those books came the Kripalu cookbook and many others, over 275 to be precise. I don’t seem to get done collecting cooking books, and don’t have any plans to stop in the near future since it seems that cooking plants is becoming more and more delicious, beautiful and creative by the day and I can’t just walk into a book shop without yet another beautiful book. By this point I don’t usually follow recipes anymore (sometimes I do), but I read them like novels and admire the pictures just like I look at the great Dutch painting masters (okay almost).
This Blueberry Crumble was inspired by one of those beautiful books which I just couldn’t leave in the shop: Green Kitchen Stories. On page 37 of that lovely book (oh, I have the Dutch version so in English it will probably be on another page) you can find the original recipe. My crumble was a result of a quick scanning of the recipe and my pantry and it worked beautifully.
3 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries (I used frozen)
2 cups oat flakes
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
2 cups of the milk of your choice (I had hazelnut/pecan homemade milk)
3 tbs chia seeds
2 tbs linseeds
1/4 cup liquid sweetener (I had honey)
1 tbs coconut oil
1 cup hazelnuts
-mix oat flakes and baking powder
-in another bowl mix milk, seeds and vanilla
-in another small bowl mix nuts, coconut oil and sweetener
-put the blueberries in a baking pan and cover with the oat flake mix
-pour the milk and seed mix on top of oats and berries
-spread the nut, oil and sweetener mix on top of everything
-bake in a preheated oven at 190* for about 30 minutes
drizzle with coconut milk and a bit more sweetener if desired!
In a perfect world all autumn Sunday mornings would be like this one. After doing a session of Ashtanga, taking a shower and walking the dog in this beautiful golden autumn day I got to do one of my favorite Sunday morning meditations: doing the dishes. This is an activity that I truly enjoy doing as long as the rest of the loved ones are happily snoring away in their beds on the rooms above me. It is an almost sacred moment where I can empty my mind and just enjoy how the soapy warm water gently cleans each dish and then feel the warm running water wash everything away. While doing dishes I sometimes engage in planning out my day, or try to apply my yoga postures and breathing to my dishwashing movements. It may sound silly, but it really brings my yoga practice into actual practical activities. In doing the dishes I become aware of the beauty and inner peace that can be found in the mundane tasks of our daily lives.
While doing the dishes I had this overwhelming feeling of making a nutritious and delicious Sunday morning breakfast for my lovely Zen moment interruptors, who were about to pop-up into the kitchen any moment now. I had soaked hazelnuts and brazil nuts for nut milk and I had plenty of fruit around, including a large bowl of berries to make a nice breakfast bowl. I decided to make some oat flake muesli and some patties from yesterday’s leftover quinoa and buckwheat. By the time my dear creatures began appearing in the kitchen the nut milk was done and the muesli was in the oven. I continued with my preparations for the healthiest ever breakfast while all of a sudden realizing that one of my dearest creatures had made his own plan and had a cast iron pan on the fire with 3 eggs and several slices of bacon! Okay now was a good moment to put my yoga breathing into practice…… nevertheless a beautiful Sunday morning.
2 cups of berries (a mixture or one sort is fine)
1 cup of soy yogurt
1 cup of nut milk
-but everything in the blender and blend.
-put about a cup of the fruit blend in a bowl
-add some chopped fresh fruit
-add about 1/2 cup of muesli or granola
-sprinkle with maca and some hemp powder if you like and pour a bit more nut milk on top for a more subtle flavor