Purple Prose

Setting the table for Passover with the good China, the candle sticks from generations past, the weathered old Haggadot that still bear politically incorrect gender pronouns, the trappings of the holiday are almost as ancient as the occasion itself. The millennia-old story of attaining freedom in the face of impossible odds resonates in a renewed tenor, filtered through more contemporary events. It begs the question, why not update the script for a modern audience?

Honoring tradition while revitalizing the predictable Passover Seder with a colorful new twist, I’m throwing a splash of purple onto the table with an unconventional first course. Deviating from the original offerings of lamb shanks and eggs on the Seder plate to begin with, as roasted beets and avocados are perfectly acceptable alternative symbols, it’s not a far stretch to consider more diversity on the menu itself, too.

I wouldn’t dare suggest replacing the irreproachable matzo ball soup. Perish the thought! Rather, I think there’s room at the table for another dumpling darling. “Kneidlach” is generally accepted as merely another word for the unleavened flatbread staple, yet it carries none of the weighty connotations. These doppelgangers might be made of potatoes or even almonds, and most scandalously, there might not be any matzo in the mix at all. Such is the case with my purple potato dumplings, making them suitable for gluten-free diners as well.

Delicious well beyond the scope of Passover festivities, their heftier chew is more reminiscent of gnocchi than fluffy matzo balls, which means they’re prime candidates for side dish servings as well. Boil as directed and then saute briefly in a bit of vegan butter and onions for a real savory treat. The hint of herbaceous fresh dill is like a kiss of spring sunshine, paired with the very subtle sweetness of the purple potatoes. You could also use regular orange-flesh sweet potatoes in a pinch, to create a more golden glow.

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Eat to Beat Anxiety

The connection between diet and mood is more than just food for thought. “A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health,” according to Felice Jacka, and she should know. She’s the president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. “A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.” As someone who suffers from both, I’m acutely aware of the difference in how I feel when choosing healthier whole foods, but what exactly is it that causes this shift? It’s tough to pick apart such a tangled ball of yarn, where so many elements are inextricably tangled together. When it comes to anxiety though, I’ve seen amazing and rapid improvement by focusing on a few select superfoods to keep all-out panic at bay.

Almonds are often praised for their high levels of healthy fats, touted for heart health. Moreover, these nutty superfoods bring iron and zinc to the table in ample measures, both of which are key nutrients for balancing one’s mood and overall energy level.

Hemp seeds are another good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help with anxiety. Naturally, it stands to reason that CBD oils derived from hemp has the very same nutritional properties, along with chemicals called cannabinoids that bind to specialized receptors in the brain. These affect everything from appetite and pain perception to mood and memory.

Chocolate, dark and intense, without added sweetener or milks, is more than just a feel-good flavor. Yes, it does help boost moods based on great taste alone, but it also has been shown to reduce cortisol, which is a stress hormone that can wreak havoc if left unchecked. Additionally, the flavonoids in the cocoa are protective for all the cells in your body. These antioxidants have shown promising results in lowering blood pressure, boosting the blood flow to the brain and heart, which all adds up to less anxiety. Just be careful not to overdo it, since the natural caffeine compounds could add up and have quite the opposite effect.

Maca root is bit less common, but particularly potent. Adaptogens are all the rage these days, promising protective properties against stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. Maca in particular is a remarkably concentrated source of phytonutrients such as magnesium and iron, which are both critical for controlling anxiety.

Whole grains, packed with satisfying, satiating fiber, are the complex carbohydrates that help maintain a steady energy boost. If you’re hungry, you’re less rational, less patient, and quicker to irritation. Oats especially are said to help increase the production of serotonin, most famously known for addressing symptoms of depression.

Coconut, and all the individual ingredients it creates, from coconut milk, oil, flour, and butter, are made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are smaller fat molecules that are easily broken down and used as a backup source of energy. The brain is made of approximately 60% fat, so it needs these essential fatty acids to function properly. The brain can’t store energy and can continue to function properly for a very short amount of time without it. You need to consistently feed your brain these good fats to keep it happy and healthy.

Taken individually, these separate ingredients can do a world of good, but when they join forces in a fully balanced diet, they make the most impact. Beyond the powerful nutritional punch you get from the array of vitamins and minerals you get from so many unique sources, they happen to add up to a really delicious combination, too. Joining all of these anti-anxiety superfoods in sweet blended harmony, the resulting creamy shake will blow any powdered meal replacement out of the water. Malt shoppes only wish they had the true earthy goodness that maca brings to the table, playing off the subtle woodsy notes of true cocoa. Thick and rich with whole oats and fresh coconut, rather than sugary scoops of ice cream, you can drink it down to power up, rather than crash out from a sugar coma later.

There are no overnight cures, no quick fixes for holistic lifestyle changes, which can also be said of many medications, too. You really are what you eat, though; eat well to feel well!

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Ease into Easter

Watch out for seasonal whiplash. Ready or not, we’re hopping madly towards the first big family gathering since Christmas. If you’re still recovering from a brutal winter, far removed from the pastel-clad merriment of egg hunts, parades, and garden parties, fear not. There’s still plenty of time to shake off any residual frost and turn out a stunning dessert.

Inspired by the brilliant fresh flavor of real berries baked into Voortman Raspberry Wafers, these light and crispy creme-filled cookies have kept me sane in the dark days of barren farmers markets and middling fresh fruit options. Now, paired with the tender ruby gems themselves, those sweet sticks become the building blocks of even greater tastes.

Swapping bland, spongy ladyfingers for these new treats from Voortman injects new life into an Italian staple. Stacking bright, vibrant layers of flavor with the greatest of ease, anyone can assemble this masterpiece in minutes.

Be it an elegant brunch or low-key gathering with friends, it’s hard to beat this invigorating combination of rich, tangy cream cut by a touch of citrus zest, lightly spiked and softened wafers, and whole fresh raspberries. Bundle up the whole pan to go and take it away on breezy springtime picnics, since it’s surprisingly stable at room temperature too.

Served immediately, the cookies will remain crunchy for a resoundingly satisfying bite, but hold up brilliantly to delayed gratification. After a day or overnight, you’ll enjoy a more tender forkful from top to bottom, easy to slice, serve, and fully embrace with an open mouth. Go ahead, prep well in advance, so you can be ready whenever your party springs to life.

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Mousse Tracks

Like so many great culinary achievements, we have the French to thank for inventing the edible frothy custard known as mousse. Originally a savory dish akin to aerated pâté, it didn’t catch on as a dessert, typically built upon fruity flavors, until the later half of the 19th century. Undergoing a dramatic rebranding since then, the concept is now nearly synonymous with chocolate, which is precisely what we’re celebrating today.

National Chocolate Mousse Day is a real date on the official calendar, and this designation is genuinely warranted. As easy to whip up as your average pudding but far more decadent, eggs need not apply for any of the natural loft in my last course. Swapping in tofu makes the process effortless, and the end results impressively high in protein.

Fool-proof, crowd-pleasing, and devilishly decadent, one of my favorite versions comes from Laura Theodore. Her Marvelous Chocolate-Peanut Butter Mousse has been a frequent dinner party guest. Always welcome at the table and excellent company to share, it even seems to clean up after itself; every glass is licked clean by the end of the night.

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Pho-Nomenal

Robust, deeply savory broth spiked with equally bold and nuanced spices are the defining characteristics of any successful bowl of pho. Rice noodles are an essential component, soaking in those carefully honed, painstakingly crafted layers of flavor, but never the stars of the show. It all comes down to the soup itself, sometimes simmered for hours, if not days, built upon generations of family secrets.

Celebrated across Vietnam and now the world at large, that same passion for the process sometimes gets lost in translation, especially when searching for a vegan option. Pho Chay, born of Buddhist traditions that take all forms of meat off the dinner table, is all too often a sad, watered-down tease. Plain vegetable broth is not an adequate substitution for this edible art, but if you don’t know any better, how can one possibly get the delicate seasoning right?

With as many recipes as there are cooks that make it, happily, there are no hard and fast rules for building a better broth. That’s why even a blatantly “inauthentic” rendition can still soothe those soulful soup cravings.

Inspired by the uniquely aromatic blend of cinnamon, clove, ginger and cardamom found in Stash Chai Spice Black Tea, Pho Chai is both a crafty play on words and a delicious departure from the norm. The blend of strong Assam, muscatel Darjeeling, and well-balanced Nilgiri found in every sachet add surprising umami flavor along with unexpected sweet Indian spices. Energetic notes of cardamom and ginger brighten this bowl, harmonizing beautifully with the fresh spray of herbs piled on top. Perhaps the concept is dubious on paper, but unquestionably compelling on the tongue.

You’ll want to stock up on this warm, spicy tea for more than just soup. Head over to StashTea.com and use the promo code BITTERSWEET-SC to get discount off your purchase, and don’t forget to follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for both sweet and savory tea inspiration.

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If it Ain’t Got That Spring, Then it Don’t Mean a Thing

Fleeting warm breezes tease on cool mornings, while sporadic rays of sun manage to break through cloud cover, gently kissing still frozen earth. Tempting, taunting, spring arrives in maddening snippets too short to savor at first. Right when you begin to peel back layers of heavy sweaters and fold up thick comforters, winter rages back in with a vengeance, more brutal than before, crystallizing budding sprouts into frosted popsicles or piling on a fresh coat of ice, depending on your locale. Every time it seems certain that the seasonal shift has taken place, hopes soar high on those fresh winds of change, and crash hard like a kite with no string, back down into the forbidding frozen tundra.

For the first time in recent memory, the calendar date actually seems to align with the weather. Spring resonates through dewy grasses, shouting its arrival from the rooftops of micro gardens across the urban landscape. At least in the bay area, the changing of the guard has officially occurred, and I’m more than ready to reap the benefits.

Spring is all about fresh greens in so many forms. Tender, sweet curlicues branch out from between soft pea leaves, one of the best if underappreciated parts of the whole plant. Though it’s a tough sacrifice to cut these vines down in their youth, before pods appear bearing those toothsome green caviar, the greens themselves are a true delicacy that are worth a splurge. Typically found in Asian cuisine, stir-fried very simply with a splash of wine and a handful of garlic at the most, their full potential has yet to be realized in western culture.

Borrowing inspiration from Spanish tapas, the term “cazuela” simply indicates the terra cotta cooking vessel for the dish, much like you would refer to a tagine. Contents of that pot vary widely across countries, always encompassing some sort of vegetable, though sometimes meat as well. The version from Barcelona Restaurant, based on spinach and chickpeas, inspired my springtime spin-off.

Deceptively rich and complex but full of verdant, simple vegetables, think of it like a warm spread that falls somewhere between hummus, pea puree, and spinach dip. Masses of fresh pea leaves wilt down into a concentrated tangle, amplified by the fruit of the pods themselves with a garlicky, cumin-forward taste that will linger with each bite.

If Mother Nature remains stubbornly resistant to embracing a timely spring conversion in your area, sunflower sprouts or baby spinach might just be able to suffice in a pinch… But the best things remain for those who wait. Ask around at local farmers markets, search ethnic markets for dòu miáo (豆苗,) or head to the backyard and get growing. Though it may sound like great lengths to go for just a handful of tiny sprouts, you’re only 1 – 3 weeks away from the best taste of the season, and it won’t get any fresher than that.

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