Bedtime Story Plot Twist

How do you cope when you can’t sleep at night? Do you burrow deeper under the covers and count herds of sheep? Do you reach for your phone and scroll through social media feeds until your eyes can’t focus and the words all blur? Do you get out of bed to pull out a book, or binge-watch the latest trending series?

Me? I head straight to the kitchen. I’m not looking for a midnight snack, though. The first thing I’ll grab is a bag of flour. While the world outside is dark and still, all I want to do is revel in the soothing simplicity of making bread. Watching the yeast come to life, turning a shaggy, sticky batter into smooth, elastic dough. Gently, methodically kneading the warm mixture is almost like a massage enjoyed vicariously, without any messy human interaction.

Wordlessly, thoughtlessly going through the motions, it’s more about the process than the product. It’s usually a simple sandwich loaf I’ll find rising on the counter in the morning, still bleary-eyed and barely awake. Sometimes I’ll get more ambitious and try something new, a curiosity that I can’t decipher until taking a bite later. In other cases, it’s the perfect opportunity to fulfill longstanding cravings, set aside as being too time-consuming for the average day.

Scallion buns, soft as a pillow, twisted into golden strands that dance with green onions, might just be better than a full night’s rest. The stars aligned when I pillaged the fridge to discover a bouquet of fresh herbs already past their prime. This was their big chance, and mine, to make something magical.

The results would be equally satisfying steamed or pan-fried, but in my sleepless stupor, it was easiest to turn on the oven and walk away. Don’t go too far though, because they bake quickly, meaning you can leave the shaped buns in the fridge to finish off bright and early, rather than staying up all night.

Adapted from The Foodie Takes Flight, I would implore you to watch the superlative video to see how a real pro shapes these twisted sisters. Words can only do so much for such a visual technique.

Next time sleep is elusive and the hum of the oven beckons, I know exactly what I’ll be making. Do you?

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Pepper-Upper

More than fresh produce, or lack thereof, warming spices define seasonal treats as we enter the winter months. Crystallized ginger dances in soft cookies sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, while nutmeg frosts the top of frothy eggnog glasses. Clove and allspice infuse warm pumpkin pies, but what about a flavor that will really spice things up? Sichuan peppercorns aren’t exactly a typical taste for the holidays, but considering their zest and uncanny ability to lift the spirits, they deserve a place of honor at your next fête.

Still a somewhat obscure ingredient in the US that may not feature prominently at your mainstream supermarket, both green and red peppercorns have become much more widely available in recent years. Up until 2005, they were actually banned from import into the US, so unless you had access to the black market, you were out of luck. Now, like everything else it seems, they’re easy to find online, if local specialty stores can’t keep the shelves stocked.

Green Sichuan peppercorns are simply unripe berries harvested from the same vine that produces red pepper berries. They bear the same pungency found in the other peppercorns, with hints of citrus and a more earthy aroma. True red peppercorns are left much longer to ripen and dry in the sun. Their real claim to fame, however, is less about their flavor, and more about their effect. The distinctive tingling, mouth-numbing experience is unmistakable, transcending the normal understanding of what constitutes spice. It’s not exactly hot in the conventional sense, but certainly not bland in the least.

Why not apply that unique taste to more festive treats? For something that will take the bite out of winter’s chill and reinvigorate the weary spirit, go ahead and throw a pinch of this secret ingredient into any dish, really. Use it instead of that boring old black pepper and watch your cooking come to life.

If you’d prefer a more measured integration, consider the classic candied almond. Perfect for last-minute gifts, host/ess presents, easy appetizers, or late night snacks, there’s nothing a lovely lacquered nut can’t do. Crisply toasted with caramelized brown sugar, infused with a touch of molasses sweetness, you could stop right there and have a delightful, if basic, little morsel. Add in orange zest and the punch of Sichuan peppercorns to elevate each crunchy nut to a whole new level. Soy sauce instead of pure sodium lends a savory, lightly salty hit at the end.

Bask in the culinary glow of warming spices, and consider adding Sichuan peppercorns into your permanent seasoning lineup. A little pinch goes a long way.

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Lump Sum

The first time I heard the term “lumpia,” I thought it was a quirky insult. As in, “yo mama’s so lumpia…” and fill in the blank. The real insult is that lumpia aren’t well known throughout the US to begin with. Culinary trendsetters keep proclaiming that Filipino food will be the next big craze, year after year, but I just haven’t seen it take hold as promised. While you can’t walk a full city block without passing at least one pizza parlor or sushi bar, you’d be lucky to stumble across a single Filipino restaurant in an entire metropolitan area.

What gives? Why aren’t kids begging their parents for sizzling platters as a Friday night treat? Where are all the long-simmered stews and punchy, vinegar-spiked sauces? So many of the classic staples share Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Spanish, and even American influences, so why don’t they translate the same way overseas?

Lumpia should be considered the gateway dish, an easy introduction to this true melting pot of flavors. Like common spring rolls or egg rolls, the concept itself is highly flexible. Fillings can be either sweet or savory, bundled together in thin wheat wrappers, and served either fresh or deep-fried. Let’s be real though: The best, and most popular sort are fried to crispy, golden-brown perfection, and dunked into a sour, salty, and savory dip of vinegar and soy sauce.

This particular recipe comes from Chef Reina Montenegro of Nick’s Kitchen, one of the very few vegan Filipino eateries I know of, boasting two locations in San Francisco proper. Traditionally, the most popular sort of lumpia combines vegetables like bean sprouts, string beans, and carrots with cheap cuts of meat, but you’d never miss the animal addition here. Mushroom powder makes up for the umami essence in spades, and honestly, any filling would be delicious once anointed with bubbling hot oil.

Take a bite while the rolls are still steaming hot, caramelized exteriors instantly shattering upon impact, and you’ll immediately understand the appeal. You can eat with your hands, call it a snack or a meal, and easily convince picky children to eat a rainbow of vegetables.

If this is your first introduction to Filipino cuisine, welcome to the party. Next up should be Chef Reina’s famous, unbelievably eggless tofu sissig silog for breakfast,… If I could ever needle that secret formula out of her. You work on those lumpia, and I’ll work on that subsequent recipe.

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Respect Your Elders

Stay healthy. Take care. Be well.⁣

These common refrains are easier said than done right now, and naturally, everyone’s looking for that magic bullet to protect themselves against illness. As with life, it’s about how the little things add up, rather than one big thing that will make all the difference. Elderberries offer an easy first step towards a stronger immune system, critical even when not facing a global pandemic. Studies have shown promising results in protection against bacterial and viral infections, reducing the symptoms and duration of a cold, easing symptoms of allergies, and that’s to say nothing of their impressive antioxidant and vitamin A load.⁣

Both the flowers and berries have a long tradition of culinary and folk medicinal uses going back thousands of years. In fact, Hippocrates (often called the father of medicine) referred to the elderberry as a “medicine chest,” thanks to the seemingly endless benefits and applications. The stem, bark, leaves, flowers, berries, and root extracts of the plant have all been instrumental in historical recipes, dating all the way back to Ancient Egypt.



There’s is a catch, of course. Raw, fresh, or dried, elderberries are not exactly a treat to eat. They’re rather tart at best, bitter and astringent at worst; not something you’d want to snack on out of hand, like blueberries. Of course, they have more than twice the natural antioxidant capacity of their blue brethren, but need a bit of help in the flavor department. Sambucol Black Elderberry Gummies take care of that shortcoming by concentrating that nutritional potency into soft, bite-sized chews, sweetened only with pure cane sugar. Pectin, rather than gelatin, gives them their plant-based bounce, to the delight of children and adults alike. Make no mistake, these aren’t candy, but potent supplements wrapped up in a highly appealing package.

Enticing right out of the bottle, gleaming like faceted purple gems, it’s not a struggle to get your daily dose. However, they also offer ample opportunities for some healthy experimentation.

Thumbprint cookies, typically crowned with a dollop of humble fruit preserves get a superfood upgrade thanks to Sambucol. Softening into a jammy nugget within the gentle slope of a hearty oat and almond butter base, you might forget that such tasty treats are actually powerful immunity boosters.

Comfort food and health food don’t need to be mutually exclusive when armed with naturally delicious nourishment. Consider these simple morsels your secret weapon against the midday slump, and well beyond.

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Taste the Rainbow with Popit!

Chia pudding is a perennial staple around here, appearing on the menu as breakfasts, snacks, lunches, and desserts alike. For a quick fix full of fiber, protein, and brain-boosting omega-3’s, the tiny seed just can’t be beat. Of course, plain old vanilla does get dull after so many big bowlfuls. That’s where a bit of meal planning wisdom comes in, with a bit of help from our friends at Popit!

Big batch advanced prep is a big part of the appeal for chia pudding. Mix it up en masse, chill, and enjoy as desired for a full week. Cool and creamy, it’s an ideal healthy treat to eat on the fly, straight out of the fridge or on the go. By breaking it down into separate, single-serving containers, you get that same convenience with the flexibility to infuse each sweet spoonful with completely different flavors. While the effortless base starts the same, the end results are uniquely delicious.

The Popit! Baby Food Storage Set is ideal for making a full rainbow of bold chia puddings to suit every mood. Each BPA-free container holds 3 ounces with a patented lid and hollow silicone seal system to lock in freshness and prevent leakage. These are just the right size for a light snack or healthy treat, anywhere, anytime. The most difficult decision here will be deciding which one to eat first!

Starting with some bakery inspiration, Red Velvet gets its alluring hue from pureed beets, but tastes only of buttery cake with a touch of cocoa. Lightly sweetened yogurt swirls throughout to take the place of more sugary icing. Pitaya Princess Cake paints the Swedish pastry with a shock of bright pink pitaya puree. Nutty almond extract gives it a marzipan-like quality, paying homage to the traditional decor. Carrot Cake takes shape with naturally sweet carrot puree, warm spices, and chewy raisins mingling throughout the mix.

Moving on to more fruity flavors, Orange Zinger is guaranteed to wake you up with energetic, zesty orange zest, spicy crystallized ginger, and a dash of sunny yellow turmeric. Lemon Drop is another option made for citrus lovers, keeping it simple with fresh zest and a tangy, creamy vanilla yogurt. Banana-Nut will sooth any cravings for quick bread or muffins, with mashed banana and sticky peanut butter blended in, crowned by even more crunchy toasted nuts. Don’t forget the pinch of salt that really makes it sparkle.

Painted with the cool color spectrum and offering some cold comfort, my personal favorite, Mint Chip is like a spoonable milkshake without the sugar rush. Crunchy cacao nibs add textural contrast to this minty treat, although you could always go for chocolate chips or chunks instead. Blue Moon uses alluring butterfly pea tea for a naturally brilliant hue, with blueberries to add substance beyond mere style. Everyone’s favorite purple tuber, Ube makes an appearance alongside toasted coconut flakes, tasting like a little tropical getaway in a jar.

Taking a more decadent turn for the final three, I’ve got a whole Latte Love for the combination of instant coffee AND whole ground coffee for a serious midday perk. When I’m really craving dessert, this pudding-based Devil’s Food provides a sinless way to get my fix, with a serious dose of cocoa and rich chocolate curls on top. Finally, dark as night, with a mysterious allure, Black Sesame offers a uniquely nutty, lightly gingered flavor that’s sure to satisfy the more adventurous eater.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking comfort in consistency. If you fall in love with one flavor and want to make the whole batch to follow suit, simply multiply those ingredients by 12 and of course, omit the other optional additions.

What will be your top chia pudding pick?

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Bite Me

In times of extreme stress or trauma, regression is a real concern. Young children run for cover under previously discarded blankies, while dogs can forget their training when nature calls indoors. Training wheels snap back onto bikes, lessons once mastered must be retaught. After so many steps forward, it’s time to take a few back. That very same impulse drives otherwise reasonable adults to abandon all pretense of balance and seek solace in the comforting foods embedded into happy childhood memories. Attracted to the nostalgia as much as the taste, there’s no way of knowing just what will bubble up from bygone days.

Here’s an unexpected flashback from elementary school. Miniature chocolate chip muffins, you know the ones, beckoned in neat little plastic packages at the end of the hot lunch line. Truly unfrosted cupcakes, each sweet, squishy morsel seemed to melt away effortlessly, dissolving into a sticky morass of artificial buttery crumbs and waxy chocolate. My parents would have never condoned such nutritionally void treats, but when I could trade for such treasures, there was no stopping me.

Comforting in their simplicity, reassuringly easy to both make and eat, it’s the kind of junk food I might normally rail against. Just eat a slice of cake, or have yourself a proper bran muffin! This wishy-washy excuse for some rational middle ground is just a way to feel better about eating dessert for breakfast. Relative to the austere bowl of oatmeal in the morning, they’re loaded with sugar and white flour, and you know what? That’s exactly what we all need sometimes.

Regression is not permanent. Like so many other things in life, the urge to crawl inward, revert to the safety of nostalgia, is outside of our control. We’re all doing the best we can to survive; be kind to your inner child, plan to grow up another day. A little bite of indulgence certainly wouldn’t hurt right about now.

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