After predictions of months of snow, which here in the Peaks would mean longer than average as it clings to the hills, it’s been a mild winter so far until recent sleet and icy cold blasts. Now it’s all cold rain and damp chill that gets in your bones, and strong winds that blow themselves out into achingly still nights full of the shrill cries of the female tawny owl in the trees outside our bedroom window. After weeks of rain and ‘cleggy’ weather’ on the Dark Peak, the sunshine came out to dazzle in the ice ice cold, it was so wonderful to feel the warmth of the sun on our skin and to be up in the hills we ♥
The first sunny day we went on the first ambitious walk after my recent juice fast. I felt fit and good! I’ve definitely shifted some pounds and am more comfortable and happy with myself, the juice fast was such a good thing for me. My arthritic knee and hip ‘went’ up on the moor line though, which wasn’t ideal, and I had a long and painful walk back home, downhill in the freezing cold dusk. But it didn’t dampen my spirits too much, as it usually would. Since fasting I’ve felt stronger in that way. I also discovered that walking backwards (once on the road) helped my joints and at one point Dan and I were both walking backwards, one behind the other, we must have looked so surreal it was hilarious (Dan is always making me laugh with his surrealist slapstick humour, my favourite kind), and laughter is the best way to get through something tough.
I can’t believe it’s already February 2016, I can really feel that summer is going to come soon (ever the optimist! I’m not in a hurry for it though, I don’t wish away time as I used to, but it’s going to be appreciated!), via Valentines Day, mine and Anna’s birthday (we have a wonderful few days of cooking, juicing, ice-cream making and recipe plotting planned, with a few games of scrabble in-between and lots of cuddles. Heaven. Another joint (twin!)-post is brewing for March!). Then there’s Easter, and then delicious spring/ early summer optimism and those precious first sunny warm days of rays on bare skin and sitting outside…
I love celebration days, those cultural markings we try so hard to pour meaning and love into, those excuses to treat ourselves and our loved-ones, and to have fun, to do and feel something special ♥
Now it’s Valentine’s Day! Dan and I have been together forever. We don’t make romantic gestures often (though last summer I was whisked away as a surprise to see the English National Ballet perform Swan Lake and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was it was so wonderful…). We’re extremely close and we always make each other last-minute cards, which are precious simple things that hang around on the dresser all year, super cute. We always stay in on Valentine’s Day, have a delicious meal, (this year I’m definitely cooking this sweet potato gratin, I love it so much I think about it way too often, especially throughout the juice fast!) we snuggle up to a film or a current favourite series (loving this!). Cold outside, warm in, it’s lovely. This year we are newly weds too, which is still a state that makes us both smile, it’s growing inside us like the spirit of a tree, spreading it’s structure and energy, making us feel more substantial, even more together (I’m not one for extended similes but this one felt so apt it survived the chop).
I love that so many people treat Valentine’s Day as a time to show love to the people in their life, I loved Liora’s post, using the day to think about and to spread love, the most important thing in this space-time world. Love is after all not about romance, you certainly don’t need to be in a relationship romantically to be loving. It is something to aspire to, to truly love, to be selfless and pure of heart. And I think also self-love is so important, as if we don’t love and nurture ourselves we cannot love each other. Treat yourself to a delicious wholesome meal (every day!), loving those beautiful veggies! And if you’re not in a relationship then there’s no pressure to make Valentines Day romantically meaningful and so no chance of being horribly disappointed, which let’s face it, goes on quite a lot as individuals expectations clash! I used to get highly strung about such things, but these days I’m happy with the simple life and try not to expect too much of people, which I think in general is an important thing.
I wonder how many women will propose this Valentines Day as it is a leap year? In this time of (still struggling for) equality women should always feel so empowered. I asked Dan to marry me. And then we were engaged for about three hundred years. When we bought a lovely antique ring he asked me to marry him and got down on one knee in a car park (he says olde worlde alleyway! A combination of the two… It was very sweet anyway ♥ ‘Planning to propose? struggling to think of the perfect location? Think laterally…’). He put the engagement ring on the wrong hand, which we didn’t realise for a while, and I was wearing these (goddamn) bejeweled Indian slippers which gave me a terrible blister and within minutes of this epically romantic moment I could hardly walk… those were the (mad old) days. Now we just sit around with tartan blankets over our knees wondering what’s for dinner…
Today’s recipe for red onion and sweet potato gratin with basil, made with a cashew and coconut cream sauce is a perfect Valentine’s Day meal. I love cooking with sweet potato and red onion, their colours are so vibrant, so uplifting, and that’s such a gift to yourself, to work with such beautiful ingredients is to truly be mindful when cooking and to enjoy it. I love a big shared bake, a table full of hungry appreciative family and friends, and there is enough sauce for that in the recipe, but these individual earthenware pots are so pretty and perfect sized portions for a light but sumptuous and delicious meal. It’s perfect accompanied by a simple green salad with a lemony dressing, or a pile of steamed or braised garlic tossed vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and kale ♥
I love this kind of food. It’s luxurious and yet there is nothing that isn’t wholesome and giving about it. Sweet potatoes go beautifully with the creamy cheesy sauce, their soft, sweet goodness in its element. The fresh basil, I think my all time favourite herb if I had to decide (which thankfully I don’t, although you never know the crazy scenarios the future might throw at you so it is best to be prepared…), is subtle here and just lovely. The red onion on top I especially like, it adds texture and its beautiful sweet tangy flavour. Enjoy!
- 3-4 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 large red onion
- 3 cups soaked cashews
- 2 1/2 cups of coconut milk, canned (though of course fresh would be better!)
- dash of olive oil
- 2 1/3 tsp salt, to taste
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- about 400g fresh basil leaves
- 1 heaped tsp black pepper
- 4-5 tsp lemon juice, to taste
- 1 tsp mustard powder, wholegrain English can also be used
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 large garlic cloves
Pre-heat the oven to 220 C 10 mins before the bake is ready to go in
Slice the sweet potato in the thickness of slices you like, I do them fairly thinly, and steam for a few minutes to soften.
Slice the onion rings for the garnish thinly from the middle of the onion, rub a little oil and salt onto them and set aside.
Soak the cashews for at least 20 mins, preferably longer as the longer you soak them the creamier the texture of the sauce will be. Drain and blend with the coconut cream and garlic cloves for a few minutes, until smooth. If using whole grain English mustard instead of the powder add to the mix to blend.
Finely chop the red onion, heat the oil in your pan on a low heat, add the onion, salt and bay leaf and sweat them on a low heat with the lid on for 15 mins of so, stirring occasionally. If they are going too brown take them off the heat and leave with the lid on. Add the cashew and coconut mixture to the onions and season with the nutritional yeast, mustard powder, black pepper and lemon juice. Remove the bay leaf. If the sauce has reduced down a lot and you'd like it thinner add a dash more coconut milk or the water from the sweet potatoes. Finely chop the basil leaves and add to the sauce, taking it off the heat.
alternately layer the sweet potato slices and a generous amount of sauce, leaving the top layer as sauce.Garnish the bake with the onion rings. I have used a single serving earthenware pot, but you can make a larger bake and arrange the onions in one layer.
Bake in a hot oven on the top shelf for about 30 mins, or until browning with the onion caramelising.
This makes a lot of sauce, if you wanted to make a smaller bake, the leftover sauce is very useful. It can be used as welsh rarebit on toast, combined with agar agar and made into a harder cheese or cheese spread, or used in other bakes, it's very versatile and an excellent thing to make in bulk for the week, making life that bit easier.
If you don't have nutritional yeast maybe add a little more salt and lemon to taste, it's a bit less cheesy but still very delicious.
I have been listening to... Martha Wainright ‘Proserpina’…