Friday, June 19, 2015

"Accidentally Derivative"

Confession: I've been feeling creatively frustrated. Ok, if you know me, that's not any new revelation. However, today's post is something a little bit different. Poetry is not my favorite medium but I literally woke up this morning and wrote this in bed. Well, it wrote itself. I was barely awake. Obviously, these words needed to come out, so I'm sharing them with you.

By Tara M. Erickson

I'm an unwitting member among eccentrics and oddities
Thoughts are free roaming
Cheap commodities
What have I thought that I haven't already read?
What can I say that hasn't already been said?
We've never met but we're on the same page
Decades between us
But we're still the same age

The world is the same, only the people have changed
Existing in cages we label "free-range"
We've made our life goal to seek perennial distractions
But there are consequences; 'equal and opposite' reactions

We've made the world angry
Abused and destroyed
No reverence for life
Accountability devoid

Thoughts are my own, unbridled and free
But when you think them, too
I feel unlike me

Lost in a sea of nameless faces
Taking up space in ordinary places
Just a person
A number, a pawn, a rook
Passing off my ideas as new
Like some crook

But my thoughts are my own
So wild and free
I guess I'll stop overthinking
And just be me

 (©) 2015 Tara Erickson

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Comfort food and compromise

"If you set out just to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing." – Margaret Thatcher


"All compromise is based on give and take but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take." – Mahatma Gandhi

Lately, I find myself reflecting quite a bit about the need to compromise in many aspects of my life. What should I compromise? How should I compromise? Of course, the most important question to ask when considering these is really why?

Ultimate Comfort Food--'Chili Mac'!
My husband and I recently celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary in early May. You know what--this may come as a shocker--marriage is compromise! ; ) Many people who know me in life, especially as a yoga instructor are often surprised to learn that my husband, Keith is (brace yourself) an omnivorous non-yogi! Although I do all of the cooking, (which he thoroughly enjoys, mind you) he eats meat occasionally. I respect his ability to make his own decision about that. I don't preach to him about not eating meat and he doesn't preach to me about eating it. That said, he's about 85% vegan/vegetarian anyway, just by default because of how we eat at home.

After Keith and I started dating (10 years ago!) I transitioned from being vegan back to vegetarian for a few years. However, by the time we got married in 2010, I was eating mostly vegan, barely eating dairy once a week. I realized that the reason I was still even consuming it at all was out of convenience and to make it easier for other people. However, I knew I felt better when I didn't eat dairy. (I honestly never even liked eggs but would eat them in things like baked goods.) Ethically, I just didn't want to support factory farming at all anymore. So in September of 2011, I eliminated 99% of all animal products from my diet. I won't say 100% because I'm not strict about local honey and I'm sure that I'm not 'not vegan enough' for someone out there-- and I do not apologize. I just don't want to be accused of pretending to be something I'm 'not', so I will abstain from labeling myself from 'vegan' on this blog. However, recipes are promised to be vegan. Either I have to compromise myself to fit the label or the label has to compromise itself to allow me to be a member of the club. I can only speak for myself but I suspect that neither of us are willing to budge.
May 8, 2010

Getting back to Keith and I, our relationship is one of mutual respect, love and compromise. He is the yang to my yin and we are very different people in many ways. I like to think that we compliment each other in the best ways. I keep him a little bit healthier and he keeps me from becoming too rigid on my 'path.'

Keith actually really likes vegan and vegetarian food but one of the ways I compromise quite a bit is in the type of dinners that I prepare. I can't feed him broccoli, salads, tofu and quinoa every day; that would not fly. Shockingly, he actually likes those things when they're prepared well but he wants to eat filling, tasty comfort food on a regular basis. That means that sometimes I make food that is richer and heavier than I want to eat and sometimes he eats quinoa and salads. It's about compromise and balance.

When compromising, we must do so mindfully and really reflect on our highest truth. We must ask ourselves if our compromise is actually a deviation from that truth. If it IS, then it's not truly a compromise--it's a one-sided concession. That is what Keith would be doing if he went vegetarian just for me, not because he wants to or if I started eating animal products just because he does or fell back into that trap of wanting to make things easy for other people. There are many little things and big things we can compromise on in life but our values and our highest truth should never be one of them. To do so is a sure way to undermine our own physical and emotional health and well-being. When we concede instead of compromise, we try to make other people happy at our expense; our own needs get stifled and we fail to make ourselves happy. This is damaging to our self-worth and will inevitably lead to a lot of anger, resentment and negativity. We may resent the very people that we tried to please and eventually resent ourselves, since ultimately the decision of 'how' 'why' and 'what' to compromise is ours alone to make. In a true compromise, each party gives something up but both gain something from that loss; it's a decision, a meeting in the middle, a place where both parties find some way to honor their values and needs that they can live with.

In our household, compromise means eating and preparing more comfort food dishes than I sometimes want to make. I know, I have it rough, HA! So, it's unsurprising that I have quite a few original recipes for vegan mac and cheese that I look forward to sharing in the future. Today though I have something special for you-- my famous (well, only a little famous and only on Instagram, lol ) and often-requested recipe for what is now known as "Tara's Chili Mac." Lately, I've been making it gluten-free as well, so it's yet another compromise of giving Keith something filling, tasty and satisfying while not compromising my absolute standard of no animal products and presently, no gluten. I'll address my thoughts on gluten in another post for for now let's suffice to say that giving it up is an experiment to see how it affects my ongoing health issues--and that giving it up 100% for more than 10 days is kind of hard. I'm committing to a whole month. This experiment is another example of compromise--I give up eating something and maybe it will give me better health and a relief of symptoms-- or it doesn't. Either way, I gain something; I gain knowledge about body's needs and sensitivities and also expand my cooking skills and creativity as well.  Remember that compromise means we gain some else of value when we give something up. It should not be a total loss!

In relationships, both parties compromise a bit but both are gaining from the ability to peacefully build a life together while still retaining their own sense of self. It's a strong sense of self and commitment to our values that allows us to engage romantically and socially without getting lost and losing our power.  When we compromise, we remember that we are a part society and others needs are important, yet so are ours. It's about WE not ME--and WE are all equally entitled to happiness. We can notice when compromising if we have a habit of putting ourselves first or others first because like everything else in life, it's all about balance. So, food for thought right here and an opportunity to reflect...

Throwback to the day I created chili Mac
Chili Mac, however is not a compromise you will regret making, as this recipe does not compromise flavor in any way. It will allow you to get a meal on the table in about 15 minutes on a hectic night. Since it's cook-out season, you could make this dish to please your vegetarian/vegan/dairy-free/gluten-free relatives or friends and then watch all the meat eat-eaters fight them for it. It's total comfort food everyone will enjoy and no one will feel like they're compromising or missing out. This recipe calls for (organic) canned chili but feel free to sub your own homemade chili if you avoid canned anything. I usually try to but I don't mind 'compromising' from time to time if it's a higher-quality, organic canned product. It's about balance, making healthy choices regularly, not trying to be perfect!

Tara's Chili Mac


1 can of Amy's brand Spicy organic chili or 1 and 1/2 cups of your favorite homemade chili
1 and 1/2 cups of Daiya brand mozzarella or pepper jack vegan shredded cheese or your cheese of choice
A heaping 1/4 cup of salsa
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
8 oz. elbow-shaped pasta, or your favorite pasta shape, gluten-free if needed


Cook the pasta according to package directions. While it's boiling, heat the chili, seasonings and salsa in a pan, stirring frequently over medium heat. When it's hot and bubbly, lower the heat a bit and stir in the cheese until it's well melted and you can no longer see individual shreds of cheese. Toss the chili mixture with the cooked pasta, coating it evenly. It was that easy. Dig in!


  • This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled as needed to feed a crowd.
  • Greener variation: try stirring in a few handfuls of some mild flavored greens such as baby spinach if you're feeling healthy! Veggie variation: make with chili loaded with veggies.
  • Daiya works really well in the dish even if you're not a fan.
  • I'm dying to try the using the vegan cheddar from 'Miyko's Kitchen.' It's a much healthier alternative to other vegan cheeses. If you're lucky enough to have your hands on that cheese, you will need to shred it by hand first. Since the cheese itself has a smoky flavor, you can probably omit the liquid smoke. I will update when I finally try this!
  • Friends have made this recipe with homemade vegan cheese sauce with great results.
  • If you chose to make this with whole wheat pasta, try Delallo brand, it is the absolute BEST!!!!


For a virtuous version of chili Mac ready to come to the rescue at any time, freeze 1 & 1/2 cup portions of your favorite homemade chili and keep all ingredients on-hand in your pantry and fridge.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Spontaneous vegetable & quinoa bowl with smoked lemon-walnut sauce

"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 bow lines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. --Mark Twain

As necessary as it is to have plans and goals and to be disciplined, we also need to give ourselves some wiggle room in order to lead a balanced life. If we have too little structure, our brilliant ideas may never manifest into anything; too much structure and we may be so stuck inside of the box that our ideas are deprived of the oxygen they need to thrive.

I don't know if I was ever truly a complete type-A personality (I liked to refer to myself as a type 'A-minus'!) but I definitely spent a great deal of my early adulthood being result-oriented, driven and disciplined. In college, I traded in my nuanced, creative writing style for a more clinical style suited for (boring) psychology journals. I was very hard-working and disciplined and gradually lost touch of the creative person that I used to be.

Lately, I actually find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum-- lots of creativity and ideas swirling around without the groundedness or discipline to come to fruition. (Case in point--though I wrote a very rough draft of this blog entry about 2 months ago, I'm just typing it out now.) Some recent health issues have forced me to stop being so driven and to simply stop and 'go with the
flow.' The result is that even though I'm more in touch with my creative side, I'm less productive overall. Or at least I was!

I felt that way a few weeks ago, creative and spacey, when I went grocery shopping at Whole Foods without a shopping list or any idea of what I wanted to make that particular week. (Dangerou$!) My only requirements were 'healthy', 'fresh' and 'gluten-free.' I wandered through the store feeling a bit lost, with wide-eyes and probably a panicked look on my face as I frantically tossed organic produce into my cart if it caught my eye. Maybe I looked crazed, maybe I blended in with the other Whole Foods shoppers, overwhelmed by choices and prices.

When I got home, I assessed my haul: red bell peppers, broccoli, Japanese (white-flesh) sweet potatoes, walnuts, sprouted quinoa and chick peas. Hmm. What could I make with this that would taste awesome?

When tomorrow came, my husband asked "What are we having for dinner?" and I answered with a "Uhhh....I don't really know," even as I washed and prepped the produce for...something. I decided the easiest thing would be to roast all of the veggies together in the oven and serve it over the quinoa. So this was obviously going to be a version of the ubiquitous 'vegan bowl' but I knew that it had to be filling and have bold favors to win over my 'quinoa-skeptical' husband.

When I opened the cupboard, Berbere seasoning, a spicy Ethiopian seasoning that I rarely use was staring me in the face along with a big bag of raw, organic walnuts. I quickly inventoried the cupboard (probably with the same crazed look I wore at the supermarket) and dinner ideas began to take shape. They started out as mere shadows and as I fell into a meditative groove of cooking, the shadows stepped into the forefront of my mind as illuminated, vivid ideas. I immersed myself in the process of cooking and had one of the most truly creative times ever recorded in my kitchen. I came up with a pretty delicious and memorable meal--a meal that ultimately won over the quinoa-skeptic.

This veggie bowl was spontaneous and creative but like most creative endeavors, it required focus and actual effort to effectively execute my ideas. When we have ideas, we have to--at least briefly--take our heads of the clouds and find a sense of groundedness, where we can focus on the task at hand. I became grounded by using my discipline to focus and I stopped worrying about creating the best meal ever. Instead, I just focused on the process, the goal simply being to get a healthy meal on the table. To free up my energy, I also needed to have a willingness to fail. That willingness allowed me keep a spontaneous and creative spirit throughout the whole process.

For many of us, spontaneity isn't something we learn, it's a matter of un-learning-- letting go of fear, habits, the need to control and *above all,* the need to be perfect.

Of course, there is nothing better in life when our efforts yield something wonderful, tangible and of course, when food is concerned, something tasty.

In the end, I came up with this zesty, interesting dish with layers of flavors and textures. The vegetables in this meal are seasoned with Berbere spice, which can add a lot of heat. I used the 'Seasoned Pioneers' brand and found it to be quite spicy, in a good way for us. Feel free to adjust the seasoning according to your heat tolerance. If spicy isn't your thing, you can maybe try sprinkling the veggies with your desired amount of cumin, coriander, cinnamon and/or lemon
pepper. Feel free to be spontaneous and allow this recipe to evolve into your own thing. (Confession: I find it very difficult to follow recipes to the letter and almost never do it!)

My husband and I really enjoyed this meal. I really like the undertones of heat and the depth of roasted flavor from the veggies. These favors compliment the smokiness in the walnut sauce while the lemon flavor adds some much-needed brightness and acidity to balance out the richness of the nuts. Roasted chickpeas and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) add more layers of texture and flavor for a well-rounded and nutritious dish that I could eat again and again.

When it comes to results, it honestly doesn't matter if we are completely spontaneous or do things by the book. Sometimes things come out perfectly and sometimes they don't. But if we find our groundedness and focus while letting go of attachment to the results, it frees up our energy and creativity; ideas flow and we make things happen. It's the balance between spontaneity and groundedness that permits us to stay anchored and focused without being rigid; then we can begin to branch out and go with the flow--without losing our way.


RECIPE: Spontaneous vegetable & quinoa bowl with smoked lemon-walnut sauce




Roasted veggies:

2 Japanese sweet potatoes, (white flesh; If unavailable substitute any variety) cut into bite-sized cubes
1 small crown broccoli, cut into small/medium florets
1 cup baby carrots, halved
2 red bell peppers, sliced into strips
1 red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
Sea salt
3 tbsp-1/4 cup olive oil1-1 & 1/2 tsp Berbere seasoning, (to taste)


1 &1/2 to 2 cups sprouted or regular quinoa, cooked according to package instructions with veggie broth OR water and a bit of broth powder or bullion

Smoked lemon walnut cream sauce

1 cup walnuts (soaked for at least 2 hours if you don't have an excellent blender)
1 cup water
1 clove garlic
1/3 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 & 1/2 tsp agave nectar, maple syrup or preferred liquid sweetener (if using maple syrup you may need to use 2 tsp)
1/2 tsp sea salt, or more to taste

Cast-iron roasted chickpeas

1 15 oz. can or 1 & 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 & 1/2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
Sprinkle garlic powder & smoked paprika


Pepitas (Pumpkin seeds)


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is preheating, chop the vegetables, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and the Berbere spice blend to taste. Toss to coat everything with seasoning. Cook for about 25-30 minutes; check and stir half way though.

Rinse your chickpeas thoroughly if canned and blot them dry with a clean kitchen towel. Add chickpeas and olive oil to a cast-iron skillet on medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently until they get lightly browned and a bit toasty/crispy. Add a touch more oil if chick peas begin to stick. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, garlic powder and smoked paprika.

While the veggies are in the oven, prepare the quinoa according to package instructions, subbing low-sodium veggie broth for the water, or simply add a small amount of broth powder.

Finally, toss all the walnut sauce ingredients in the blender and blend, baby, blend for at least 3 minutes, pausing to scape down the sides. You may need to blend longer if you don't have a high-powered blender.

When everything is done, it's time to assemble your bowl. Layer the quinoa, roasted vegetables and roasted chickpeas in a bowl. Use your desired amounts of everything according to your portion preferences and needs but you should be able to get a minimum of 4 servings out of this. Drizzle with the smoked lemon walnut cream sauce and top with a sprinkle of pepitas.


If you don't have a cast-iron skillet you may roast chick-peas in a regular skillet or roast them in the oven, if you prefer.

If you follow a lower-oil diet you can use olive-oil spray on your veggies instead of the olive oil but you will need to use it generously, spraying the pan first AND the veggies. Same goes for the chickpeas. Sometimes I like to use a light coating of spray-oil in the pan and simply cut the oil back by half. You will need to experiment to find what works for you! Remember though that this meal contains healthy fats that your body needs in moderation, especially if you're active. I wouldn't prepare all of my dinners with as much olive oil the rest of the week that I make this (balance!) but keeping that balance, I enjoy this prepared as is and feel really good about it.

The walnut cream sauce tastes best the day it is made but will keep for 2 to 3 days, tightly covered in the fridge.

If you can't find smoked paprika, use regular paprika and add 1/4 tsp of liquid smoke wherever the smoked paprika is called for here.