by Cindy Fleming

I had the great pleasure of being “chief meal organizer” at a recent Carp Ridge EcoWellness Retreat.  I say chief because it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun or delicious an experience without my two main kitchen helpers, husband Dean and Healing House Host Carol McGuire. And it was wonderful to get a hand from all the participants — table setting, food serving and of course clean up!

cindy-cookThe daily meals are an important part of the retreat experience.  Not only do they provide a time of fellowship and enjoyment, they are a mechanism for revitalizing the body and helping the mind calm down.

Key words for designing the meals are “healthy” and “really tasty”. This means vegetarian and organic as well as preferrably local to optimize freshness — and be easier on the environment.  In addition, we avoid wheat and dairy products, which are two of the most congestive (and pervasive!) foods we eat.

This type of eating gently and painlessly, (the reason for the “really tasty” bit), shifts our chemistry and metabolism towards a deep physical sense of well-being.  When we combine this with taking away the stress of everyday life, easy and fun movement classes, soothing music, relaxing meditation and lots of laughter, the result is a transformation in the direction of our optimal selves.  This experience then inspires us to make changes in our normal lives.  With every retreat we can continue this process and it becomes more and more fluent. 

What follows is “virtual sampling” of our weekend fair and a few recipes I hope you’ll try out. So, here comes the food!

We began Friday night dinner with curried chickpeas and sweet potatoes, some tasty grilled eggplant, accompanied by brown basmati rice and salad.  A dessert of fresh fruit, fig cookies (sugar free) and herbal teas followed.

Breakfast Saturday morning was hot quinoa porridge with choice of almond, soy, or rice milk, fruit, non-wheat toast and nut butters.

For Saturday lunch we made delicious grilled Portobello mushroom burgers, served on spelt or kamut buns with all the fixings, and served with a quinoa and green salad.  For dessert there was fresh fruit and vegan spelt/sucanat brownies. Thanks to Christie Unitt for literally prying them out of the pan — next time we use parchment paper lining!

Our supper was a simple yet yummy cleansing menu: kitcheree (a carefully spiced white basmati rice and red lentil dish) with steamed vegetables and a green salad.  More fruit and herbal teas followed.

Sunday breakfast was vegan oatmeal/spelt pancakes with choice of toppings, fruit, tea and nut butters. Our parting lunch was a simple yet delicious black bean pumpkin soup, finishing with a celebratory warm blueberry crisp.

I think I can honestly say that the food was enjoyed by all (except poor little Felix, our youngest and unfortunately under-the-weather participant). Special thanks go to Sandy Rawson (also a Healing House Host, but unfortunately not a participant this time) for her delicious lentil pâté, a refreshing and delightful quinoa salad and fresh vegetable platter.

I look forward to helping out another time — maybe with a ‘co-chief’ though, so I can participate in everything!

For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of attending one of these retreats, I say give it a try.  It can truly be one of those magical experiences that defy explanation!  Dean, myself and Carol hadn’t participated in a retreat before and I think we all thoroughly enjoyed our time both in the workshops and in the kitchen.  And Dean officially signed up for yoga and went home with his brand new yoga mat!

Quinoa Breakfast Cereal

Quinoa (pronounced “keenwah”) is a grain high in protein, containing all eight of the essential amino acids.  It can be substituted in many recipes calling for rice, millet, couscous, wheat berries, etc.  A little caution—rinse very well before cooking.

1 tsp oil (we used organic sunflower)
2 tsp maple syrup (optional)
1/2  cup   quinoa
1 cup apple cider (or water)
sea salt to taste
handful of raisins (you can also use nuts or seeds)

Mix the cider, oil and maple syrup in a pot.  Rinse quinoa very well and add to the pot.  Bring to a boil, add salt and let simmer for about 25 mins, with the lid on. Remove from heat and fluff gently with a fork, adding raisins at the same time.

Beet and Potato Salad

This makes a delicious main dish salad for lunch or supper.

6 medium beets–a mixture of golden and red is nice, halved (skins on)
3 large new potatoes, quartered (skins on)
4 eggs
salad greens
1/3 cup olive oil, or more to taste
1 teaspoon coarse grain prepared mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or more to taste
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 cucumber, halved, seeded, and sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
Sea salt and pepper, to taste

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add beets and simmer for 25 min; they will not be tender.
2. Add the potatoes to the beets. Continue simmering for 20 min or until the potatoes are not quite tender.
3. Add the whole eggs to the pot. Continue cooking for 9 min.
4. Tip the vegetables and eggs into a colander. Rinse with cold water. Set the vegetables aside until they are no longer hot. Peel the eggs and set them aside.
5. Remove the beet and potato skins. Slice the vegetables into 1/2-inch pieces.

Transfer to a bowl. Whisk the oil with the mustard and honey. Sprinkle with oil mixture, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Set aside for a few minutes, occasionally stirring gently.

6. Add the onion, tomatoes, and cucumber. Toss gently. Taste for seasoning and add more oil or vinegar, for your liking.
7. Toss salad greens and arrange on a platter. Just before serving place beet mixture on top of the greens.
8. Slice the eggs and sprinkle them on top of the salad. Add the oregano and more salt and pepper, to taste.
(Adapted from The Boston Globe)

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

Makes 4-6 servings   20 min 5 min prep

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
2 cups cooked black beans or 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28 ounce or 2 15 ounce cans pumpkin puree–not pie filling
1 cup corn, frozen
1 cup soy milk (not vanilla flavoured)
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
coarse salt
20 sprigs fresh chives, chopped or snipped, for garnish

On medium heat add the oil to a soup pot. When oil is hot, add onion and garlic. Sauté for 5 min.
Add broth, tomatoes, black beans, pumpkin puree and corn. Stir to combine ingredients and bring soup to a low boil. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in soy milk, curry, cumin, cayenne and salt to taste. Simmer 5 minutes, adjust seasonings and serve garnished with chopped chives.

Note:  This quick recipe can be adapted — it is equally delicious using chicken stock and cream. It also is easily doubled or tripled.