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flower on stone“We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light!” — Hafiz

What a perfect quote to embody New Year. Persian New Year, that is, aka  Nowruz!

To me, it just feels right and natural to have a new year start with the promise, rebirth, and blossoming of spring.

Spring is a reminder of the inner light within each and every one of us. That’s worth celebrating!

Persian Card_New_YearsScroll down below for a roundup of highly celebratory (and symbolic) recipes from fellow Persian food bloggers. 

Thanks to the fabulous Sanam, of My Persian Kitchen, for putting this together!

Oh, technically the big day of the Persian New Year is always the spring equinox, which falls on Thursday, March 20, this year. Now’s as good a time as any to spread the happiness and to prepare for a fresh new season.

At the moment, I’m in a bit of Spring Cleaning Mode. (Oooof, those closets needed every ounce of attention I gave them last weekend. Ha!) I’m also prepping to host another yoga retreat, in upstate New York/in the Hudson Valley area.  March 14-16—perfect timing to get us ready for spring.

Looks like 2014 is a year of new beginnings for me in many ways. I’m headed to India at the end of the month. This trip has been a dream of mine for many years. At just the right time,  the stars aligned, the Universe and those I love are shining their support and approval on me, and I’m flying off on the night of the new moon. It’s happening!

As for Spring Cooking:

This is a classic clip for my (somewhat limited) TV archives. Here I am cooking kuku sabzi on live TV for Nowruz. This was on Good Day New York a.k.a Fox 5 a few years back:

More blogger Persian New Year goodness:

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Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies are fudgey, brownie and cookie-like all at once. You'd never believe they're free of many common allergens, including gluten, dairy, and can easily be made minus eggs and tree nuts.

Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies are fudgey, brownie and cookie-like all at once. You’d never believe they’re free of many common allergens, including gluten, dairy, and can easily be made free of eggs and tree nuts. Cookie photos by Kristen Joerger of tiny-gourmet.com  .

This Double Chocolate Chunk Cookie recipe post has literally been years in the making.  A couple of years ago, I ran across a cookie recipe I really liked, and tinkered with it.  Soon, I was baking these babies up, and taking them to house parties, to weekends away, on hikes, and on road trips. People LOVE these cookies. I’ve heard people go so far as to call them “The best cookies I’ve ever had in my life.”

cookiesI’d bet money they’ve gotten me invited back a few places ;-)

They were a huge hit at my most recent yoga retreat.

People always request this recipe, yet I always got sidetracked.

You’d never guess these cookies are free of many common allergens. My goal was to make them taste chocolately and decadent, not diet. These cookies have no:

  • gluten
  • dairy
  • egg (if you choose to veganize them, that is)
  • or tree nuts (if you choose the tree nut free option, that is)

Here are some of us at my most recent yoga retreat in upstate New York:

fall retreat group shot 2013 upstate

This magic batter traveled with me to my most recent yoga retreat, and the cookies were a huge hit when we packed them into the bagged picnic lunches we took with us to the apple orchard.

These cookies are packed with flavor and a beautiful texture.

Bria’s Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies.

  • 1 cup peanut butter (or almond butter, or, to go tree nut free, use sunflower seed butter.)
  • 1 cup UNSweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of brown sugar (I prefer dark brown)
  • 1 egg (replace egg by combining 1 tbsp ground flax seeds + 3 tbsp warm water in a small bowl and stirring.  Allow a “jelly” to form after a few minutes and use this as your “egg”)
  • pinch teaspoon salt (leave out if your peanut butter is salted)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips, chunks, or half a cup of each (I used Trader Joe’s brand, as they are free of dairy)

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a nice, roomy mixing bowl, cream together peanut butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla.

3. Begin adding in cocoa powder, 1/4 cup at a time, and mix until well incorporated and moist. If the batter gets too dry, add in bit of water, leftover coffee, or milk of choice to loosen it. Then remix. If batter becomes too loose, add in more cocoa powder to tighten it up.

4. Fold in 3/4 of the chocolate chips and/or chunks. Save the rest for garnish.

5. OPTIONAL/not always necessary: Stash mix in the freezer for 10-15 minutes while you prepare  your cookies sheets. I either line mine with parchment paper, or spray them with cooking spray. One of these days I WILL get a Silpat.

6. Use a cookie scoop or a spoon to make uniform sized dough balls. (I do this by hand and spoon, and each cookie is a generous tablespoon of dough). Do NOT smash cookies down.

7. Place 3-5 chocolate chips and/or chunks on the top of the cookies. You can flip the cookie dough ball upside down and get the chips to adhere that way.

8. Bake cookies for 9-14 minutes, until ever so faint cracks appear on the surface. I know 9-12 minutes is quite a range, but I find that variations in altitude and ovens really do make a difference in bake times. In my NYC toaster oven, these cookies are perfect at 8-10 minutes of baking. In Colorado, I had to go closer to 12 minutes, sometimes beyond, in the “big” oven, to get the right texture.

9. Let cool slightly (or a lot, your choice, but I can never wait too long to try these). Enjoy!

So there you have it. An easy, creative,  recipe that is so delicious, you’d never know it’s friendly to many “restricted” diets and actually kinda healthy.

Question Time:

What’s your go-to dessert?

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Moist, cakey…like a cross between a cookie, a cake, and a muffin. Cream cheese icing optional. I found these cookies delicious without it.

Carrot cake is awesome, isn’t it? In cookie form, it’s pretty amazing, too. Especially when the cookie is moist and cakey at the same time, much like actual carrot cake. Bonus: cookies are soooo much more portable than cakes, or even cupcakes. Throw these in a picnic basket or lunch box, and you’re good to go.

At my last Yoga retreat.

I rigged up this recipe when looking to create a cookie  for my upcoming Yoga retreat. I wanted something with fall flavors and a comfort food vibe. I looked around online and found a handful carrot cake cookie recipes. With a few modifications, the cookies easily become healthier, with zero loss of flavor or texture.

My carrot cake cookies don’t taste “free” of anything, but they are indeed free of many common allergens, including dairy, gluten, and, if you prefer, tree nuts. Of course there’s sugar, but a moderate amount.  There is egg in them, but you could likely leave it out and just do a flax or chia “egg.” (Leave me a comment if you try it to let us know how it goes). These cookies are packed with flavor and a beautiful texture.

Carrot Cake Cookies

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies.

  • 1 cup (5 ounces) oat flour (simply grind 1 cup whole oats into a flour-like texture in your food processor or blender. If gluten free is a concern, get certified GF oats)
  • 1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (Yes, it’s a lot. Trust me on this).
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons sunflower seed butter, at room temperature (I use Trader joe’s brand; Sunbutter brand is good, too)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light both work)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (note: these ARE a tree nut; leave out if needed. I personally prefer my cookies minus nuts, and leave them out.)

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a nice, roomy mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients: oat flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and powder, salt.

3. In a second roomy mixing bowl, cream sunflower seed butter, brown sugar, and vanilla. Once smooth, add egg and mix until smooth again.

4. Make a well in the wet ingredients. Gently incorporate dry ingredients, 1/3 of the mixture at a time. Fold in raisins, grated carrots, oats, and walnuts (if using).

5. Stash mix in the freezer for 10-15 minutes while you prepare  your cookies sheets. I either line mine with parchment paper, or spray them with cooking spray. One of these days I WILL get a Silpat.

6. Use a cookie scoop or a spoon to make uniform sized dough balls. (I do this by hand and spoon, and each cookie is a generous tablespoon of dough).

7. Bake cookies for 9-14 minutes, until ever so faint cracks appear on the surface. I know 9-14 minutes is quite a range, but I find that variations in altitude and ovens really do make a difference in bake times. In my NYC toaster oven, these cookies are perfect at 9-10 minutes of baking. In Colorado, I had to go closer to 14 minutes, sometimes beyond, in the “big” oven, to get the right texture.

8. Let cool slightly (or a lot, your choice, but I can never wait to try these). Enjoy!

So there you have it. An easy, creative, fall-friendly, carrot cake cookie recipe that is so delicious, you’d never know it’s friendly to many “restricted” diets and actually kinda healthy.

Question Time:

What’s your favorite fall dessert recipe?

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Homemade almond milk with vanilla. I get a real kick out of using my vintage style milk bottles to bottle up this creamy drink.

My new friend Ellen, who I met in Colorado this summer, taught me how to make homemade almond milk. (I met her via Airbnb when I rented a room in her place for a few nights during a Yoga workshop weekend I was attending. We totally hit it off. She reminds me a lot of my older sister).

Once back in New York, I was out of almond milk one day and pressed for time. So I decided to give her method a whirl rather than running to the store. It couldn’t be a  simpler DIY, and it’s saving me tons of money. Goodbye to buying almond milk for $4 per half-gallon. At Costco, I can get a 3lb/9 cup bag of almonds for around $8. You can really “milk” this one bag, considering you only use a cup of almonds per batch.

Almonds are loaded with vitamin E.

As for the actual recipe: The first couple of batches I made were super rich and creamy. Pretty awesome, actually. When using this milk to make my hot cocoa…oh my LAWD. Amazing! It was foamy, almost like a cappuccino.

Because I made that maiden batch on the fly, I used unsoaked almonds. The milk was a tad grainy. Didn’t bother me, but something to consider.

If you want a thinner milk, just use more water. Soaking the almonds ahead of time will get you a smoother texture, too. I prefer something in between the super rich and super thin (I’m sure there’s a bad joke in there somewhere), so I go with about 5 to 6 cups of water to a cup of soaked almonds. Foamy, creamy, dreamy!

Homemade Almond Milk

Yield: About 8 cups. Recipe can easily be halved.

  • 1 cup of unsalted almonds (soaked overnight in water, if possible)
  • 5-7 cups of filtered water (use the smaller amount of water for a thicker milk)
  • 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract (optional, or use less if preferred)
  • Sweetener of choice (optional; I usually thrown in a couple of stevia packets. Other options to consider: honey, maple syrup, sugar, etc.)

1. If using soaked almonds, strain and rinse. Add all ingredients into blender, and blend, working from low speed to high. Add more liquid if needed. I let this run for a good minute (or more)  in my VitaMix.

2. Taste for sweetness and texture, and adjust and re-blend as needed.

3. Bottle and refrigerate if not using immediately.

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Easy slow cooker meatballs with loads of Persian spices.

I feel like such a bootleg Persian, because I don’t grill kebab at least weekly. We did this a lot growing up. And nowadays, I love to visit the fam and eat a good grilled meal or two. Indeed, that’s a trip highlight. But as long as I call my outdoor space free NYC apartment home, I don’t see lots of impromptu, casual grilling nights in my future. The good ol’ George Foreman grill, while perfectly functional, just isn’t the same as open flames.

So for now, I’ve turned to the slow cooker. It’s quite the opposite of grilling,  I suppose: just prep the food, load up the cooker, and walk away. For hours. To that end, I’ve taken a ground chicken kebab mix and turned it into meatballs.

Serve them atop my easy rice, with a veggie side. Traditionally, Persian kebabs are served with a chunk or two of grilled tomato and onions, plus lots of fresh herbs. Here, instead, I’ve gone more in the direction of a khorest/stew, and made a saucy tomato-based mix that tastes quite good indeed. No grill required.

Persian Chicken Meatballs

See note below for stovetop option

  • 1 pound of ground chicken breast
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon grated onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated very finely (I use a microplane for a fine grate)
  • 1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 6 Tablespoons Advieh/Persian Spice mix (sold as in specialty markets, on Amazon, or make your own using my easy recipe)
  • 4 Tablespoons saffron water (pinch of saffron dissolved in hot water)
  • 2 Tablespoons turmeric
  • Couple of pinches each of cumin and coriander
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • neutral cooking fat of choice (I used coconut oil that has no coconut flavor, and a couple of dabs of ghee)

1. In a medium bowl, crack the egg and beat it. Add in onion, garlic, breadcrumbs. Now add in HALF of your Advieh/Persian spice mix, half of the turmeric, and half of the saffron water. Add in a pinch each of cumin and coriander. Finally, add salt and pepper.

2. With your hands or with a fork, gently add in chicken and mix everything together until egg mixture is well integrated into the meat. Don’t overwork.

3. Wet your palms. Grab a couple of tablespoons of meat mixture, and using the palms of your hands, form into a meatball. Repeat until you have 15-18 equal sized meatballs.

4. Heat up cooking fat in a skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry 5 or 6 meatballs at a time for a minute or two on each side. You’re looking for a nice golden or golden brown color, not to cook them all the way through.

5. As meatballs cook, place a 14-16  ounce can of tomatoes in slow cooker. Break up tomatoes with a spoon or fork. Throw in the rest of the spices. Mix.

6. Gently add in meatballs to tomato mixture and set cooker for 2-4 hours. (In my cooker, they’re done at 2 hours, so I either switch to “keep warm” mode if I’m home; if not, they’re okay to cook for the full 4 hours. )

7. Check tomato sauce and adjust seasoning to taste.

NOTE: Stovetop Option

Follow recipe through step four. Remove meatballs from pan, then add tomatoes and spices to the pan.  (Make sure you’re using a deep skillet or even a Dutch over here). Mix well and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Lower heat to low, add meatballs, and cover with a lid. Cook for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. If you desire a longer cooking time, add water as needed so the sauce doesn’t dry out. If in doubt that meatballs are cooked through, use a food thermometer to check, or cut one in half to verify it’s cooked completely.

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After all the holiday sweet, I was craving savory. Meaty. Hearty. Fragrant. This is what I put together in my slow cooker,  fork-tender Crockpot Persian Saffron Lamb:

Persian lamb leg cooked in my slow-cooked, along with saffron and many other fragrant spices.

It’s a Persian-spiced boneless leg of lamb on a bed of basmati rice. Saffron enhances both the lamb and the rice. This would make a perfect New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day dish. It’s luxurious, festive, and fragrant. Plus, quite easy to prepare.  Only a few minutes of hands-on work, then the slowcooker does the rest. Time heals all wounds, and time makes this lamb tender.


It’s a flexible recipe, too. Not a lamb fan? Use a beef pot roast instead. Into lamb but don’t have a boneless leg of lamb? Use shanks instead. In fact, I prefer lamb shanks, simply because the bone imparts so much flavor. But alas, all I had was a boneless leg of lamb, and still, the result was fantastic.  Friends of friends were begging that I send some their way. And I did ;-)

Persian Saffron Lamb, Slowcooker Style

Delicious!

  •  3-4 pound boneless leg of lamb, or an equal amount of lamb shanks or beef pot roast
  • 1 onion
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, ghee, or neutral cooking oil of choice
  • 2-3 Tablespoons advieh (Persian spice mix) OR pumpkin pie spice (they have similar ingredients).
  • 2 Tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 Tablespoons saffron water (boil 1/4 cup water to the temperature you’d use to make tea. Add a pinch, approx 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads to the water. Refrigerate un-used portion for future use)
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and left whole
  • 1 28 ounce can of tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove fat from lamb using a sharp knife.

2. Chop onion into half moons. In a large dutch oven. cooking pot,  or skillet, heat fat over a medium heat and add onion, stirring often.

3. Allow onion to cook about five minutes. As it cooks, salt and pepper the outside of the meat. Either remove onion from the pan altogether or put it aside. Place meat in the pot and sear it for 2-3 minutes per side…enough to get a nice crust on it. Remove meat from the pan and place, carefully, on a heat-safe surface.

4. Place onion back in the pan and add all spices EXCEPT saffron. Stir often, and cook for about 30 seconds, or until you begin to catch the scent of the spices. Put onion into slow cooker immediately.

5. Cut a few slits deep into the meat and insert the garlic cloves. Make sure the cloves are spaced evenly throughout the meat.  (Don’t worry about losing moisture from doing this…the slow cooking method will keep the meat plenty moist).

6. To the slow cooker, add the lamb, canned tomatoes, saffron water, and a pinch or two of salt and pepper (you can always adjust salt and pepper later).

7. Cook on low setting for 6-8 hours. I cooked mine for 8 hours, overnight. Once the meat is done, taste sauce, adjust seasoning accordingly, serve over rice, and enjoy!

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It’s been a minute since I’ve posted a Persianized recipe on here. Sorry about that! These saffron spiced pecans are the perfect remedy to my laziness, and they make a fabulous holiday gift.

Persian spiced saffron pecans are easy to make and make delicious holiday gifts.

I apologize right now for the “spoiler,” because some of ya’ll who read this are getting these as part of your Christmas package. (Sorry, Dad, but you’re just so challenging to buy for!) If anything, after seeing this post, maybe they’ll be looking forward to their nuts.

A nice change of pace from the Yoga pants and ponytail. Tribeca, NYC, December 2011.

Anyways, I’m about done with holiday gifting. I deliberately keep my gifting list short, and am a big believer in showing appreciation and affection to friends and fam throughout the year. I do have a couple of post office runs to make to mail off gifts, and some of you know how I feel about those. Yeesh!

Things have been busy on the part-ay front as well. I’ve already been to like 4 holiday parties, with more to come. Admittedly, it’s kinda exhausting, but fun. And hey, any excuse to trade in the Yoga pants for a cocktail dress and 6-inch heels? I’m there, honey! Sometimes with bells on, literally. Jingle-ling-a-ling!  ;-)

Ok, let’s get it on with these nuts. (Sorry, I’m so incredibly mature…you didn’t think we were gonna get outta here without a nut pun, a Dr. Dre reference, AND an Marvin Gaye shout-out,  now did you?)

Saffron Spiced Roasted Pecans

Recipe an adaptation of one by Dorie Greenspan, from Around My French Table. Easily doubles, triples, and so on. . . .

  •  1 egg white
  • 2 Tablespoons of honey, agave, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc. (You choose; I used honey)
  • 2 cups whole pecans
  • 1 Tablespoon saffron water (to make, just put a pinch of saffron thread in 1/4 cup hot, not boiling water. Jar and fridge the unused portion)
  • 2 Tablespoons advieh (Persian spice mix) OR pumpkin pie spice (they have similar ingredients).
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 300 F.  As oven heats, in a mixing bowl, run a whisk through the egg white a few times.

2. Add in honey (or sub), salt,  and spices. Whisk some more until well blended.

3. Fold in the nuts and mix to coat well with spice mixture.

4. Line your baking sheets (I used 2) with foil, and then pour nuts and any liquid into a single layer on each sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, checking for crispness at 20 minutes. If you need to bake more, do another 5 minutes. I’ve never had to bake these for more than 25 minutes.

5. Remove from oven. Let cool slightly, then carefully remove from foil. Let cool more, then bag them up in cute gift baggies.

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Nutella cakes are easy to throw together.

My first memories of Nutella are from way back when, during my first semester at Columbia. That’s when I first tasted this hazelnut and chocolate blend of European origin. I’ve loved it ever since. Somehow, it brings back memories of my time at alma mater. For a lot of people, Nutella is the taste of childhood memories. For me, the taste reminds me of truly feeling like adult. On my own, in a strange city, thousands of miles from family, and being fine. Happy even.

Alma mater.

It also reminds me of one the only phases in my life during which my fridge wasn’t packed. A bit of context: I’ve never truly been That Girl with a sparsely packed fridge. (What a blessing, to have this problem). Anyways, if anything, I’m That Other Girl with both a fridge and freezer that are packed. Packed, I say. To the point that my current freezer appeared to not be working some months back. So I called my super. And he called a repairman. My landlord paid the guy to come out and tell me (wait for it). . .

. . .that my freezer was too packed, and it’d start working again swimmingly if I just got rid of some stuff, already.

Oh dear.  I’m sure my psychologist friend and I could have a field day with analyzing why I do this to my appliances.

Turns out the repairman was right. But I consoled myself by telling myself that my lack of common sense had kept this guy working, at least for part of one day. My own personal contribution to the economy, and during a recession, no less!

Nutella! One person’s taste of childhood is another’s taste of emerging adulthood.

Anyways, the point here being that my time at Columbia was about the only time that I had a fridge that wasn’t jammed to the max. I’m not sure exactly why (again, my shrink friend could probably be of help here. . .)

The edibles I did have on hand,  were of the highest quality (for a student).  In no particular order, most all of it purchased from Westside Supermarket:

  • Nutella (yes, I kept it in the fridge. No I am not THAT dumb. I just wanted to prevent myself from gobbling tons of it at room temp, because, admit it, it tastes better at room temp).
  • Smoked gouda cheese (HAD to be smoked!)
  • Almonds (usually smoked)
  • Bagged spinach
  • Alcohol (wine and vodka, mostly)
  • Lindor truffles by Lindt (this was back before they were available at a Wal-Mart near you)
  • A roasted chicken (sometimes)
  • Bread (kept in the fridge to prevent it from molding)
  • Apples
  • And yes, I had a tendency to “fridge” things that really shouldn’t be “fridged.” I’ve learned. I think.

My friend dubbed these PMS cakes.

But mostly I lived off of cheese, almonds, and spoonfuls of Nutella. And I drank quite a few meals, I must say. Ahem.

I certainly wasn’t ambitious enough to throw together mini-nutella cakes back during my Columbia Daze, which is too bad, because they’re so simple. The cakes, not the Columbia Daze. Gluten-free wasn’t a buzzword back in those days, either, but hey, we’ve all moved on, haven’t we? I know I have…I’ve evolved enough that the meal I drink most nowadays is a green smoothie for breakfast. And I now realize one can eat Nutella in ways that don’t involve licking it off the spoon. At least sometimes. Ahem…

No ramekins? No problem. Use small, oven-safe coffee cups or bowls.

Nutella Cakes (Gluten Free, Kinda High in Protein)

Yield: 3 to 4 small cakes. Depends on the size of your ramekins or whatever small, oven-safe bowl you bake them in. Recipe can easily be doubled, tripled, etc.

  • 1/2 cup coconut flour (could use gluten free flour of choice, or if GF isn’t a concern, regular flour should work here, too. I like coconut flour because it’s rich, and has a lot of protein and fiber)
  • 1/2 cup Nutella (Thank you Costco, for keeping my Nutella costs in line; if vegan is a concern, find a vegan chocolate hazelnut or almond butter)
  • Splash of milk of choice (amount can vary…start out with a Tablespoon)
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips plus a Tablespoon or two extra

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  As oven heats, in a mixing bowl, combine the flour and milk. Mix lightly until pasty, but still pliable. If too dry, add in a bit more milk.

2. Add in Nutella and stir until combined.

3. Fold in chocolate chips.

4. Spoon mixture into small ramekins (fill them 2/3 to 3/4 full). Top each cake with a few reserved chocolate chips. Bake for 15 minutes. (Check for doneness after 10-12 minutes, by poking a knife or a fork into center of cakes). Personally, I like my cakes a bit undercooked and gooey, and hey, it’s safe to do that here, because there are no eggs in this recipe.

BRIA’S NOTE: If vegan and/or gluten free are of concern, be sure to double check all your ingredients’ labels. Can bake one at a time. Keep the remaining dough, covered, in the fridge. Load up a ramekin and bake when desired/as needed. Because we all need chocolate sometimes, yes? Plus, the one little dessert at time is a very college-like thing, isn’t it?

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Buckets and buckets of dates. Date syrup is an easy way to use up dates so you can enjoy snacking on premium dates like the ones in the pic. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

I’m loathe to waste anything. Perhaps this is a Persian thing. Or perhaps not. It’s definitely a “me” thing.

Recently, I lucked into a big, fresh batch of medjool dates. They’re creamy, caramel-y, and just perfect. But wouldn’t you know it? I had some other dates lying around that were looking pretty sad.

You know I was not going to let those sad, dried out little dates go to waste. I’d feel too guilty enjoying the plump, sassy ones I’d just been given knowing that the dry, pathetic ones were just sitting there, dessicating even more. Ha!

So date syrup to the rescue.

Me, my student Mythili, and Meera, at the Wanderlust Festival in Vermont earlier this summer. It was one interesting and fun June weekend!

Now I have a sweetener for my tea, baked goods, no-bake sweets, and whatever else I can think of. Best of all, it’s natural and makes good use of mineral-packed dates. And I get to snack on those other awesome dates guilt free. Well, not completely guilt-free. I don’t fast for Ramadan. Mad props to those who do, but I don’t. So in an act of restraint, I’ll try not to eat too many dates during the day as the fasting month kicks off in a few days. (Dates are a popular food to break the daylong fast with).

As to the recipe, it’s so simple, I’m not typing out a formal recipe. Because it’s summer and I roll super simple in the summer. Ha!  In my Vita-mix, I blended:

  • 20 dates, pits removed
  • 1 and a half cups of water
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

This yielded a good two cups of syrup. I just blended until it was smooth, which made the syrup liquidy and pourable. If you’re looking for a thicker texture, use less liquid.

I’ll be back at some point with a re-cap of some of my summer travel adventures, including my taking to the streets of NY on my bike. But for now, I’m off to enjoy more watermelon, which I’ve been eating tons of lately, and a chill evening. You all take care and stay cool.

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At my recent Yoga retreat, quinoa was on the menu, but we ended up not making it. We had so many other delicious things, so it fell out of the rotation. I didn’t miss it, because I thought I didn’t really like it. Until now. You will, too, I bet. You could even take this to any Fourth of July festivities you might be celebrating this weekend. It’s easy to make and travels well.

I used white, also known as yellow, quinoa in my recipe. Look for it in the rice/grain section part of your store. Technically, it's not a grain. It's a seed. And it's gluten-free and very high in protein as well. Photo via wikipedia.

Back to my quinoa breakthrough. Imagine, cooking quinoa according the package directions, and it turning out awesome? Who’d have known? Certainly not me, as I’m not always one for following directions. I can barely make my own recipe the same way twice, much less another person’s. Ha!

I stumbled upon this recipe the other night when “shopping in my cabinets.” I decided to do something novel for me and made the quinoa according to the package directions (fry a cup of quinoa for 20 seconds in butter or oil, add two cups of boiling water, cover, simmer for 20 minutes, covered, over a low heat).

Happy Birthday, America. You're 235, you say? Well, you're forever 21 to me.

As it cooked, I chopped up a bunch of veggies that were hanging around unused: some roasted red peppers, celery, a couple of artichoke hearts. I added a can of (drained) white beans. Then I mixed this all into the fluffy quinoa, along with a couple of drizzles of olive oil, some ground cumin, and some Trader Joe’s 21 Salute seasoning (salt-free and very versatile!) I threw in some nutritional yeast, too.

It was a hit, and a new summer staple was born. It tastes lovely hot, cold, or at room temp. It travels well, and it’s light yet filling. It’s a flexible recipe: vary the veggies and spices and come up with  your own combos. Plus, quinoa is high in protein; along with the beans and veggies, you have a balanced one-dish meal or side.

Quinoa, I’m sorry for my past indifference and for leaving you out of the retreat festivities. I promise I’ll make it up to you somehow, someday!

Fluffy Summer Quinoa Salad

Ingredients to serve 4 as a side, 2 as a main dish:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • oil or butter of choice
  • water
  • veggies of choice (such as peas, peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, asparagus, olive chunks, scallions, whatever you desire/have on hand)
  • 1 can of bean of choice, drained (I used white beans)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • spice blend of choice (I used Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
  • ground cumin (couple of pinches)
  • nutritional yeast or parmesean cheese, grated (optional)

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. As quinoa cooks, chops up veggies, drain beans, and gather spices.

3. Once quinoa is done (takes about 20 minutes), remove from heat.  Fluff with a fork, add spices. Lightly stir. Add oil. Fluff a bit again. Add veggies and beans and stir again. Taste and adjust seasoning, oil, and veggies amounts if   needed. That’s IT!

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