I often get asked about the inspiration behind the recipes that I create. Good question, and one that I'd like to tell you about this morning. This is a long-winded answer, so grab yourself a cup of tea and find yourself a comfy seat!
I've been trying to figure out where to begin this story, so while it seems a bit disjointed, it will all make sense in the end...
The world of social media is an interesting, sometimes inspiring, and oftentimes infuriating place for me. When I started using Facebook many years ago, I loved the ability to connect with my friends who lived all over the world. Suddenly, my little sphere in Baltimore grew much wider, as I was able to see what my friends (and family) were doing on a daily basis. I enjoyed looking at Facebook occasionally - sometimes daily, other times less-often, but had no true feelings about the platform. For me, it was just a means for simple connection.
Fast forward a few years, it was the summer of 2015 that I started using Instagram. Back then, the Instagram world was relatively new. I created an account and posted pictures (really bad ones) of my food, my kitties, a pretty flower. I enjoyed scrolling thru my friends' accounts and seeing their (mostly) bad photos, too. I wasn't concerned with followers or likes, I was an innocent user of the platform. But innocence can't last forever, and soon I started gaining followers - people from all over the world who liked what I was sharing in my feed. I began online dialogue with some people, daily conversations based on what I was eating, what they were eating, my silly kitties, or their adorable dogs. But it didn't stop there...as I started my own business, With Health & Gratitude, I began to grow my Instagram account. It was assumed that to have any success (as an entrepreneur or otherwise), that I must have a great Instagram feed - one with beautifully curated photos, frequent posts, lots of likes, numerous comments - you get the idea. And I was all-in for awhile. I loved Instagram! I "met" lots of wonderful people online, I even was able to meet several of these people in-person, including my dear friend Clare in London in 2016 and my beautiful friend Anika in Berlin in 2017.
But along with the ability to interact with wonderful people from all over the world and form "friendships" (both real and virtual) with lots of people, there exists a dark side to Instagram, one that began to consume me slowly at first, then with more force. Instagram relies on algorithms, which seem to change frequently, and are the basis for determining what one sees in her own feed and what is shown in her followers' feeds. Hashtags and time of posting became important if I wanted to garner more likes and secure more followers. If it all sounds ridiculous, it is! As time went on, I was creating photos (not instantly, as the name Instagram implies) that looked good, so that they would generate response online. I slowly began to feel my creativity slip away, as it became more important to make something trendy and pretty, than what I really wanted to make.
My feelings about Instagram weren't fully apparent to me until a few months ago, when I had a very disturbing conversation. I was put in-touch with a cookbook agent in NYC and was asked for a phone call meeting with her. My dream is to write a cookbook, my head has been swimming with ideas for books for many years, so to have a phone call scheduled with this woman was beyond exciting to me. However, my excitement faded quickly when she told me that I'd never get a contract to write a cookbook if I didn't have a bigger social media following. There, she said it - point blank - I needed to have more followers on Instagram! My immediate reaction wasn't shock, since I was aware that I didn't have a big following, but one of sadness; that the size of a social media following - people that may not even be real (since accounts can be generated for numbers sake) would be a determining factor for whether or not I could get a cookbook published! I let that information sink in for a few weeks, and then I left on vacation with my family to Portugal.
Lots of people use social media while traveling to share their whereabouts with their family and friends at home. I used to be one of those people, but for my past few vacations, I've taken a social media break. It's nice to be away from home and untied to my phone. While my parents surely enjoy seeing frequent photos of us on vacation, I focused on spending more quality time and being present with my family, while taking plenty of great photos to share once we got home. I started my social media break on March 9th, and now, over a month later, I'm still on that break. And it may be forever. *
So what inspires my recipe creation? This week's recipe was a request by my daughter. When I asked her what she wanted for dinner, she replied "a creamy pasta with spring vegetables". The result is the recipe that you can find below. It's delicious and perfect for this in-between time of year, when you're tired of winter's root veggies but still craving something cozy. Is there a recipe that you'd like me to create? Send me a note and I'll see what I can come up with and share with you. Have any thoughts about social media? You can share those with me too.
Wishing you a relaxing weekend, full of delicious food, health & wellness.
* note that I could've written a novel about my thoughts and experiences with social media, but decided to condense it down as much as possible for your sake!
Creamy Springtime Veggie Pasta
Ingredients: (note - use organic whenever possible)
2/3 C cashews, soaked in hot water for 30 min and drained
1 C vegetable stock
1 T lemon juice
1 t mild white miso paste (optional, adds great flavor)
1 clove garlic, smashed
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 C peas (I used frozen petite peas, thawed)
2 C lacinato kale, finely chopped
1/2 pound asparagus, woody ends removed, sliced into 1/2”-long pieces
1 T kosher salt
12oz pasta (I used Jovial gluten-free spaghetti)
To serve: freshly grated lemon zest, chopped parsley (optional)
Make the sauce. Place the soaked cashews, vegetable stock, lemon juice, miso paste and garlic in a high-speed blender. Blend until completely smooth, stopping to scrape-down the sides as needed. Taste for seasoning, adjusting to personal preference. If using a regular blender, soak the cashews for an hour to soften them more, before proceeding with the recipe. Set the blended sauce aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, add the extra-virgin olive oil. Sauté the shallot until softened, approximately 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté, stirring frequently to keep the garlic from burning. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan, stir to coat with the shallot-garlic mixture, and lower the heat. Sauté the mushrooms over low heat to release their liquid, approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the mushrooms have cooked and softened, add the peas, kale, and asparagus. Cover the skillet and remove from the heat, allowing the vegetables to steam together.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 T of kosher salt and stir to dissolve. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, cooking until the pasta is al-dente. Before draining the pasta, remove 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside, it may be used to thin the sauce, if needed. Drain the pasta, rinse if desired, and let cool slightly.
Pour the sauce into the skillet and gently toss with the vegetables. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat to blend the flavors. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Add the cooked pasta and toss to coat in the sauce and vegetables. If the mixture is too thick, add a small amount of the reserved pasta water until desired consistency is reached.
Serve pasta in large bowls, topped with some finely grated lemon zest and chopped parsley.
recipe yields 4-5 generous portions
leftovers keep well, in a covered container in the refrigerator, for 2-3 days. Gently reheat, adding a few spoonfuls of water to thin the sauce, as needed.
substitute other springtime vegetables, if desired, and top with an assortment of fresh herbs