On January 1, my sisters and mom texted our family chain asking what my word of the year would be. I’d loosely seen people talking about this idea online — the practice of choosing just one word to help guide your intentions and actions — but I hadn’t given it much thought. Didn’t really plan to, in fact; wasn’t even sure I found it that compelling, except… I knew immediately what my word was: pause. I recall in years past scheming up long, ambitious lists of things I wanted to tackle. But this year? No such list. Not that I don’t intend to do some tackling; I just want to carefully consider what those things might be.
A few of you may have seen my Instagram post last week in which I mentioned a book I’m reading, Designing Your Life. I’m generally a bit skeptical of books like this, but this one resonated as it talked about approaching your life as if it’s a problem to solve, much like designers approach a project — breaking it down first and then building it back up. If you’re feeling a bit stuck with work or fulfilling personal goals, I highly recommend it. I got to the exercise section of the book where authors Dave Evans and Bill Burnett encourage you to think about your life as a dashboard comprised of Health, Work, Play and Love. They have a visual that looks like the gas gauge in your car and ask you to shade the extent to which you feel each is full and satisfied. Work and Love are pretty self explanatory; Health is the physical but also the spiritual and emotional, and Play is something “just for the joy of it.”
I stopped cold when I came to that explanation. Something just for the joy of it! Imagine that! While I dutifully sat shading in my work gauge all the way full and my love gauge pretty darn full, I paused and realized my Play gauge was virtually empty. Well, that’s unsettling. My mom reminded me that sitting on the floor and reading to Oliver or chasing him around the house making lion noises fit squarely into my Play meter, which is certainly true. But most other things I could think of to possibly plunk into Play (yoga, hikes) had another end goal in mind (fitness, head-clearing); if I was honest with myself, they weren’t just for the joy of it.
So on this Monday afternoon, a bright wintry day when the snow is gleaming off the Olympics and there’s promise of leftover birthday cake at home, I’m reminding myself about my word this year. The word I didn’t really set out to choose, but that, as woo woo as it sounds, I think chose me.
Something I did explicitly choose? These beet burgers. They’re all about working a little less and playing more, perhaps in ways you wouldn’t guess. First, the recipe makes 8-10 burgers and the leftovers are great for easy, simple lunches, so you won’t have to spend too much mental energy on meal planning. In our house lately, we have to think about feeding ourselves but also our toddler, so now I really only gravitate to recipes that Oliver can eat as well — that way, I’m not spending all of my time in the kitchen or staying up at night to try to prep things for him to eat the next day. Because that’s making the Work gauge overflow at this point. Less of that. More sitting on the floor eating leftover beet burgers with our hands. Just for the joy of it.
Cook’s Notes: These beet burgers don’t have bread crumbs or any flour to help bind them, relying solely on egg, so they are quite delicate and a bit crumbly. I’ve made them a few times and find that an extra egg helps hold them together so while Luisa calls for just one, I’ve added an extra one to the recipe below. Make them on the smaller side to avoid any chance they’ll fall apart on you, and when flipping them, do so with care. I didn’t mind the slightly crumbly texture — we just slid them right into a bun and everyone was quite happy.
Another note: I happened to be out of green lentils, so I used red lentils and they turned out great. Personally, I find it a little onerous to cook up such a small amount of lentils and rice, so I made a proper pot of each and saved what I didn’t use to make grain bowls or fold into soups or salads throughout the week. Last, do know that grating the beets is a bit messy – I use a box grater and grate them directly onto a cutting board we don’t care about. Enjoy!
I love serving these vibrant burgers nestled into a seedy bun with sliced avocado, a few greens, and an easy herbed yogurt sauce (rough “recipe” below). You could really take these burgers to the next level with sauteed mushrooms and melted cheese, but as Luisa mentions, you can also eat them more like latkes or falafel. The burger mix itself can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator, and the cooked burgers stay good for up to four days, covered and refrigerated.
Recipe barely adapted from Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Kitchen
For the Burgers:
For the Herbed Yogurt Sauce:
Slice the onion to a thickness of 1/4 inch. In a medium skillet, saute the onions in the oil over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, until they start to darken and caramelize. Reduce the heat slightly and add the beets along with the garlic, walnuts, raisins, and paprika, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a food processor and pulse several times until chunky (you still want it a little chunky here). Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and fold in the lentils, salt and pepper.
Replace the food processor (no need to rinse it!), add the rice and eggs, and pulse to form a coarse puree. Scrape the rice mixture into the bowl with the onion-lentil mixture and mix well.
Lightly oil your hands and divide the dough into 8 -10 portions just under 1-inch thick.
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and add oil to coat the bottom. Place the burgers in the skillet and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Very gently flip the burgers and turn down the heat to low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the burgers have a firm, brown crust.
Meanwhile in a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, herbs and salt. Serve burgers with your favorite accompaniments – I love sliced avocado, a few greens and a generous spread of yogurt sauce.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.