Fig and Twig Tea Oatmeal cooking


Sometimes it’s hard to recognize that something simple, even humble, can be a marker of profound healing. Now that I live farther “out” from downtown, the walk in and back is probably almost two miles. In the winter weather, Romeo and I suit up, and I usually wear my backpack, especially if we’re going downtown to do errands. It starts out rather empty, but it’s never completely empty. It always has my checkbook, my wallet, my glasses, my list (hopefully), dog poop bags, and often there’s extra bags and containers for shopping in bulk. Or a package I have to drop off at the post office, or a book that needs to go back to the library. Plus there’s the coats, the headbands, the gloves, and when it’s icy, the ice cleats. . .sometimes it feels like we’ll never get out of the house.

But we always do. And when we’re clipping along toward Washington Street, the cool air on my face, I’m glad we’re outside, no matter the weather. As we turn onto  Washington for the walk into town, several times I have stopped cold, certain I’ve forgotten my backpack. A flurry of worry crosses my mind. I lift my arms to feel the shoulder straps. They are there. It’s all there. Then a wave of confusion. How could I not know my backpack is on? Finally, after a third or fourth time of this, my monkey mind let the sun of a new thought shine through: I am so much stronger that I don’t even feel it on me anymore, unless it is laden with groceries.

It’s hard to explain the significance of this. I’m now walking more than twice as far and back to get downtown. Unless there is ice, Romeo and I frequently walk up the big Jefferson Street hill to get to the library, something I thought I would always have to avoid. And years and years ago, before starting to eat this way, I was so weak I could feel even a heavy necklace pull my head down and tire me out. I always could feel my backpack, the minute I put it on. I wore it, and I used it, but it weighed me down, and later I would need to recover just from having it on me.

There are times, still, when it’s so full of groceries that I ask the grocery clerk to hold it up for me so I can put it on, since it’s easier to slough off when it’s heavy than it is to lift it onto my back. And it saves my arms for anything else that may come up on the walk home. Like Romeo needing to do his business. Often though, even then, I’ve forgotten I’m carrying a heavy pack until I bend over to pick up the business and it slides a little out of place. That used to be call for big concern and alarm, since it might knock me right off my balance and onto the ground. But it doesn’t anymore. And if need be, I can always touch base with Romeo’s back as he waits while I right myself again.

Like a friend who had a career advocating for people with disabilities once said to me over a decade ago when she was helping me fill out a form for Social Security, ability is effortless, automatic. You don’t have to think about it or try to do it. My body work therapist had told me the same thing. This was news to me. Living a life from the beginning with mild CP had always meant conscious attention to succeed at walking, balancing, climbing stairs, turning around–apparently things other people didn’t have to think about at all to do.

So I know these seemingly small changes are huge, and I’m happy about them. But first I had to get over the shock of what I’m experiencing, since it’s so different from what I conditioned myself to expect years ago. It’s like recognizing the porcupine in an amazing photo a Moscow friend took. It took me a minute to see him, but there he was: a magnificent porcupine “hiding” in a network of bare branches. I was so enchanted with him I spent weeks trying to draw him in this natural hideout.


We are so bombarded with spectacle in our world that sometimes it’s really hard to see the porcupine. So in honor of the simple earthy beauty of his natural habitat and the simple “automatic” experiences that point to complex healing processes, I’d like to share with you a simple, earthy way to eat your oatmeal.

As those of you who follow my blog regularly know, I am notorious for eating a big breakfast. So I confess, this is often my “second course” after a Decadent Pomegranate and Kale Breakfast Salad–almost always without the pomegranates and the jam in the banana carob dressing. I use whatever fruit I might have on hand and add cooked quinoa instead of buckwheaties. It’s currently my favorite way to eat breakfast.

This oatmeal has started to follow that breakfast salad in the cooler weather, and as our walks got longer or the day contains things that will require some stamina and a long wait for lunch. It’s simple, whole food, made sweet without sugar. I eat it just like this, without any spices or added almond milk. You can dress it up further if you like. I only ask that you taste it this way first.

You can use any tea you like, but kukicha, or twig tea, is my go-to choice. It’s a Japanese “green” tea that isn’t really green, because it’s made with the twigs from the tea plant. It’s what peasants used to drink, since it was mostly what was left over after the tea leaves were harvested; hence it’s earthy taste and very low caffeine content (1 or 2 percent I think). Now it’s touted for a myriad of health benefits and is no longer considered the leftovers. It can seem pricey. A very dear friend of mine (who shall not be named but might be reading this) thought the big bag I bought on Amazon was too expensive for her. But there are many varieties of it in tea bags, too, you can buy on the shelf in any co-op or Whole Foods (or different brands of “loose twig” in smaller sized bags on Amazon, I just went with the high quality brand my dear herbalist friend drinks). They don’t run any more expensive than any other specialty tea, and so I ask you: is a big bag of high quality organic twigs that costs about 7 times more than a box of prepared tea but is way more tea in actual use a pretty good deal, when it will last you a very long time? Try a smaller less expensive one to start with if you want, but if you end up loving twig tea like I do, I rest my case.

Spicy chai type tea or good earth tea might also be a good choice for this oatmeal. But I’m sticking with my twigs for now.

Here’s to peering through the branches and finding a lovely and living surprise. To seeing the porcupine in your own healing. And to twigs that can be healing tea.

Maria (moonwatcher)





Thanksgiving Main Course

I was delighted by a recent comment from one of my regular readers who called the prep required for my recipes “leisurely.” I like that word for the slow steps that often go into making my whole food healthy but complex and inviting to taste. My holiday strategy is really just more of the same. So if you want a pretty presentation without a lot of difficult maneuvers, here are a couple of ideas that worked well for us at Thanksgiving.

I called this post “It Takes a Vegan Village” because I could not have come up with these variations and presentation ideas without our wonderful online community of vegan and plant-based bloggers. Although I rarely do exactly what anyone else recommends, I am always on the lookout for inspiration and ways I can tweak things to fit a half-finished idea I have. The main course for our Thanksgiving dinner was just such a wonderful melange of inspiration.

I came late to using a slow cooker; I guess it just didn’t occur to me since it seemed like a very meat-centric appliance, and even before eating like this I rarely prepared chickens or roasts. But thanks to a review Susan did, I found Kathy Hester’s site Healthy Slow Cooking. I ended up ordering her first book. I bought two slow cookers, one medium sized, one small, and I had the best time trying out all the things I could do in them, including cooking a single potato or sweet potato. Kathy’s published a few books since then, and there’s one called Vegan Slow Cooking for Two of Just You. She shared this recipe for a black bean tofu scramble, meant to be an easy and hearty breakfast burrito stuffing you put in the crock pot the night before. Now that I can make Burmese style Chickpea or yellow lentil tofu, I was curious to try the recipe out with both kinds. I made it once with each one in my small crockpot, cooked on high, and served for dinner (couldn’t wait for breakfast). I LOVED it.

And then I started thinking.. . wouldn’t this be good as a kind of filling for a cooked pumpkin?

Ever since I drew my version of “A Great Pumpkin” from my CSA which allowed me to finally be able to eat it, I have been hauling those little beauties home in my backpack any time I see them at the Co-op. I don’t even know what variety they are, but I love their textured exterior, and they scoop out easily and steam-bake into the tastiest pumpkin you can imagine, not at all watery like “regular” pumpkin can be. So I decided I’d suggest to Mike and Kelly that I bake three of these and make a double batch of the black bean chickpea tofu “scramble” and we eat it out of the pumpkins, even though I’d never actually put the two things together before. They were game to try my experiment so that’s what we did.

It was SO easy to have the main course be cooking in the crock pot while Mike made a tasty potato leek onion casserole and Kelly whipped up some of Susan’s Jalapeno Orange Cranberry Sauce. The pumpkins only take about an hour to cook in the oven at 400.  So if you’d like a seemingly fancy way to serve a main course that requires almost no effort at all, give this a try. Along with the cranberry sauce and the potato mushroom leek casserole, we served it with broccolini cooked with garlic, plain millet, and Myoko Schinner’s poultry type gravy, Mike’s favorite, which I got from a November 2008 McDougall newsletter years ago. And my seeded sourdough spelt bread.

And then, of course, there was dessert. . .

Thanksgiving Dessert

A few days before Thanksgiving a friend who was going to the co-op offered to pick me up some things I needed  if I gave her a list. One of those things was a white sweet potato I thought I’d eat in my soup bowls or stir fries. But this one was the size of a small football. We laughed about it when I pulled it out of the grocery bag.The next day or so at the grocery store in my neighborhood I heard the produce clerks remarking to each other how big the white sweet potatoes were, and we all ended up laughing about it again.

It was too much potato for me to eat at once, but it was just enough to make a half recipe white sweet potato version of Susan’s Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Topping to go alongside my Pumpkin Pie in the Free World. I  microwaved the sweet potato, which then came right out of its skin. I used a couple of  tablespoons of reduced fat coconut milk, a splash of almond extract and some tangerine juice and zest and a couple of dates in the potato part, because we had a lone tangerine on hand.  I whirred that up in the food processor. I used spelt flour, a litle bit of the coconut milk, almonds instead of pecans, a splash of the tangerine juice and zest, a spoonful of molasses, and a pinch of reduced fat coconut in the crust with a little bit of sugar. It was pretty darn good. In fact Kelly insisted I tell you about it on the blog. (Next time I’ll forgo the coconut milk and just use coconut extract. The saturated fat, even in such small amounts, is proving to be too much of a pain instigator for me, so out it goes. I’m feeling like a million bucks without it, but if you can do a little coconut, it’s a tasty way to go.)

The other festive addition to our holiday was the arrival of my Mom’s set of  vintage Noritake china, which my sister and I had shipped up here from California. It was such a wonderful gift to see it again and remember all the happy holiday dinners we had on it. My Mom and Dad loved to entertain, and Christmas was their happiest time of year, so it means the world to me to have the dishes call up such long ago joys. And they fit right in to my new little house. I cherish not only the elegance of the design, but the subtle places on the rims where the gilding is worn, testament to china that was used and enjoyed, a reminder of my parents and their generous and lively hospitality. Mike and Kelly liked the china too, and since there is 12 place settings, they decided to they could fit a few of them in on their trip home. So now the elegance, fun and memories will be spread across the generations for special occasions and every day use.

As Mike said about our new holiday set up in this cozy little house, “it’s perfect.” Thank you to my online “village” of vegan and plant-based folks, readers and bloggers alike, who helped make our Thanksgiving so relaxed, delicious and, well, perfect. Even if I didn’t happen to make your recipes this holiday, you’ve all inspired me every step of the way with your posts and your comments too. I hope these suggestions help inspire you to make your own Christmas table sparkle with relaxed fun and plant-based creativity. Maria (moonwatcher)


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