Expanding Light: Feast of Retreat

I recently returned from a week studying with the eminent, brilliant and surprisingly droll James Kelleher at the Expanding Light Retreat Center in the Sierras.

Serenity

Jyotish in the Sierras

Ananda means bliss, and that it was. Even the meals. Despite being cafeteria style, everything was delicious and divinely digestible. It was perfect autumn comfort: warming, nourishing, strengthening, reassuring.

veg meatballs

Lunch in the Sierras

I didn’t have my camera, nor did the chefs have anything written down, but I had to share these with you – so please forgive the images, they are from my phone. Hopefully you get a sense of it. Forgive too, please, the recipes. The chefs never had amounts – and if they did, it would have been enough to feed an army – the expanding light brigade, of course!

I think you can make sense of it. If not, please leave questions in the comments below, and together we can share our successes.

veggie tofu roast

Ananda Menu

Chef Jake

Chef Jake’s Veggie Roast with Braised Tofu

Brussel Sprouts
Whole Garlic
Onions thick slice
Carrots
Yams
Peas
Safflower Oil
Tamari or soy sauce
Chives
Basil
Onion Granules
Garlic Granules
Black Pepper
Oregano
Tofu
Ghee or coconut oil
Tamari soy sauce

Chop your larger vegetables coarsely. Mix the safflower oil and everything else that follows until well blended. Toss with the vegetables and pour into a casserole dish. Cover and bake at 350 for half an hour. Uncover and bake another half hour.

Meanwhile, as soon as you’ve put the veggies in the oven, slice the tofu into 1” thick pieces. Melt ghee or coconut oil in a sauté pan. Sauté the tofu pieces 3 minutes on each side. Put the tofu in a bowl with tamari or soy sauce and cover. Leave covered half an hour. Add to the roast the last ten minutes it is in the oven before serving.

Zucchini Boats

zucchini boat

Zucchini Boats

Zucchini
Baby Bello Mushrooms
Onion, finely chopped
Garlic, minced
Ghee or olive oil
Pink Salt and Fresh Pepper
Udi’s Gluten-free bread
Walnuts
Eggs (Vegans could use flax and/or psyllium)
Option: bbq sauce, parmesan cheese, mozzarella, nutritional yeast

Slice your zucchini the long way. Scoop out the zucchini. Save the insides. Put your mushrooms in a processor and grind them into little bits. Sauté onions in ghee or olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Simmer for a moment then stir in the zucchini and mushrooms. Meanwhile, break up pieces of Udi’s bread and process with walnuts until finely ground. Drain the vegetable mixture and mix with bread and walnuts. Scoop this mixture into the zucchini slices and place on a baking tray. Chef told me that if he were making this at home, we would drizzle barbecue sauce, or cheese over the top before baking at 375F. Give it about 20 minutes. Pull it out of the oven when the top is a sizzling golden brown. They served it with garlicky mash potatoes, braised chard and the gravy below.

veggie gravy

Veggie Gravy

onion, chopped
safflower oil
garlic, chopped
veggie broth
nutritional yeast
option: for darker color and richer taste: gf tamari

Sauté onions in safflower oil. Once translucent add the garlic, stir and sauté a minute or so. minutes. Add vegetable broth. Puree, bring to a boil, stir in the nutritional yeast and tamari to taste.

Veggie Meatballs

walnut meatballs

Walnut Meatballs

Zucchini filling, left over from making the Zucchini boats
Walnuts, chopped
Egg, just enough to bind
Nutritional Yeast or Mozzarella Cheese, optional

Mix it all together. Shape into balls. Sauté in ghee, or bake until golden on the outside and cook all the way through. Serve with what the Chef called “a classic southern Italian sauce with onions, garlic, tomatoes, lots of basil and oregano, cooked long and slow.”

Met Scott while I was there, who said he knew me from my blog. He works in their kitchen, which I was visiting at that moment to write up the recipes for this blog, which is one more example of the grace of the place.

sunset sierras

Expanding Light is part of Ananda Village, a spiritual community started by Swami Kriyananda, devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda. So everywhere you are there, you are under the gaze of that great Guru, which is itself another name for Jupiter in Sanskrit. Whether it is by the light of the guru, or the ananda of divine embrace, or enjoying a meal prepared by sweet, pure hearted devotees, it is all love. I wish you that eternally.

Sweet Potato Chai Smoothie

#Sweet Potato Chai Smoothie

So here’s how spacey I can be: I put a sweet potato in the oven on Monday, thinking I’d have it later in the day with ghee and a sprinkle of Autumn spices. After an hour, its sweet aroma called me from my office. “Done!” it was signaling. I went and turned the oven off.

On Tuesday night,  3 hours away on a road trip with my mother, just before falling asleep, I remembered that little packet of Ojas, still sitting all by its lonesome in that now cold oven. Uh!

#sweetpotato

What happened? Too embarrassed to tell my husband, I let it remain there until I got home late the following night, whereupon I gently drew it from those dark cavernous racks, slid it into a safe, cozy place in the fridge, and then in the morning, knowing I had to use it or lose it, popped it in the blender and made a breakfast smoothie.

Sweet Potato #Smoothie

Being morning, following a full week of teaching and traveling, I knew it would offer the grounding I needed, but also wanted warming spices to rev up the morning fires. So I added a bit of fresh ginger, splashes of cinnamon, dashes of cardamom, and a sprinkle of fresh grated nutmeg. That, along with fresh Almond Milk, made for the gentlest, Autumn-welcoming, home-coming breakfast I can remember. Ever.

Sweet Potato #Smoothie

But then, as I mentioned, my memory is not that reliable… especially in Autumn. You see, in Ayurveda, Autumn is what we call the “Vata” season. Vata relates to the air element, which is windy and can make us restless, scattered, spacey. To balance the light, mobile, dry, cool qualities of Vata, we want to favor foods that are substantial, nourishing, wet and warm (either by lightly cooking and/or spicing). It’s almost like we are looking for foods we can sink into, foods we know will love and take care of us, foods we can trust.

I was having what we call in our house “a Vata moment,” and that sweet potato was just what I needed to restore balance. Amazingly, given how long it had sat, it was as good as if it had just been baked. That’s a food you can trust.

#vata-reducing

So here’s the recipe. If you omit the water, you’ll have something like a Sweet Potato Pudding, a great healthy dessert or snack. But I made it into a Smoothie because I needed something drinkable. That’s just the way mornings are for me.

Sweet Potato Chai Smoothie (or, Sweet Potato Pudding)
Makes enough for 2

1 small Sweet Potato (or half a large one)
1 cup Almond Milk
2 Dates
1/2″ inch coin Ginger, peeled
1 generous shake of cinnamon
A more reserved shake each of Nutmeg, Clove, Cardamom
1 t Raw Honey

1/4 cup Purified Water
Option: 1/8 t orange zest

Pierce your sweet potato and bake at 400° F for about 45 minutes. Allow to cool. Put it in your blender with everything, except the water, and mix on high until it is smooth. At this point, you’ll have something like a pudding. You could spoon this into dessert bowls and enjoy it like  a sweet snack, or for a Smoothie, add water until you get the consistency you desire. Pour and serve, with a spoon!

#SweetPotato #Chai Smoothie

This is so good you won’t believe it is good for you: tonifying, balancing, grounding, it is both Vata and Pitta pacifying. For Kapha, add more water, more ginger and clove, and maybe even a good shake of cayenne.

Given how healing and hormone-balancing sweet potatoes are, this is another truly delicious example of Mother Nature loving you. To Mother’s nature in you, Namaste!

Easter Eggs & Spinach Strata

Heidi Swanson’s Spinach Strata
A quick post to let you know what I am making for Easter Sunday Brunch. Heidi Swanson’s new cookbook Super Natural Every Day arrived last week just in time for a birthday lunch honoring my husband’s sisters. They loved the Spinach Strata and asked me to post it so they could make it for their families this Sunday.

Farm Fresh Eggs

The beauty of this is that you whip it up the night before so in the morning all you have to do is heat the oven and bake. The joy is in the gathering up of ingredients ~ just-picked organic spinach from the lovely young farmers at Saturday’s Little Italy Market, Descanso Valley Ranch eggs the color of soft periwinkle blue, ivory and ecru, Nicolau Farm’s Chevre, a goat cheese that melts in your mouth, elegantly replacing the Feta in the recipe below.  I serve it with salad greens from Suzie’s Farm tossed with a light lemony vinaigrette.

I hope you enjoy this Spinach Strata from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson of 101Cookbooks.com ~

From Super Natural Every Day (click for print version)
With Passover, Earth Day, and the birth of our friends’ new baby Theo, there is So Much Magnificence to celebrate this weekend. May we always remember the potent energy of renewal in all nature, and within each of us.
.
Jai Ma!