The Teacup Chronicles

Month: January, 2011

Baked Sweet Potato with Mojo Sauce

Sometimes, a person just needs a little dietary pick-me-up. Something vibrant and pungent and powerful to transform the winter’s supply of root vegetables into something exotic and new. Something intense. Something that will take the taste buds out for a wild night on the town.

I was having just such a craving the other day as I was thumbing through recipe books, when I stumbled upon a recipe for Mojo Sauce. Mojo sauce. It sounded interesting. Like something that Austin Powers would eat. In fact, when I read it I could distinctly  hear a yeah baby! from some distant recess of my brain. To be honest, I think that was what sold me.

The recipe originates from the Canary Islands, and is a mixture of garlic, parsley, cilantro, jalapeño, olive oil and lime juice with a mixture of toasted spices. I’m not sure if their meaning of mojo is the same as our modern one, but it would seem to fit. I looked mojo up the dictionary out of curiosity and found Mojo: A magical power or spell. Yes, I could see this creating magical powers, or in the least, deterring vampires.

And what a perfect winter food! Garlic, full of antimicrobial and immune stimulating sulphur compounds. Parsley, loaded with vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and volatile oils that are anti-cancer. Cilantro, which aside from being strongly antioxidant and rich in phytonutrients, also binds heavy metals like lead and mercury and prevents their absorption. Plus heart healthy monounsaturated olive oil, vitamin C rich lime juice and jalapeño, and digestion enhancing spices.  Maybe this truly is a sauce of magical powers!

In any case, it was just the vibrant, pungent, taste-bud enlivening condiment I was seeking, with the added benefit of being a great immune tonic and source of nutrients. A little dollop on fish or pork, a spoonful stirred into squash soup. The possibilities we’re unfolding before my eyes as I peeled garlic cloves and toasted cumin, coriander and star anise seeds in a dry pan. It was fate that my eye then happened upon the sweet potato. I immediately threw a few into the oven wrapped snuggly in foil while I finished chopping the parsley and cilantro.

One hour later, I was seated at the table with a feast for the senses. Warm glowing orange and vibrant green looking up at me; steam carrying a mixture of garlic, toasted spice and lime. I dug in, and while I can’t say for sure, I had the distinct impression that my mojo took a turn for the better.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Mojo Sauce

  • 4 medium-sized sweet potatoes
  • 1 green chili, deseeded and chopped
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp each cumin, coriander, star anise and cinnamon
  • 1 large handful parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 large handful cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • juice of 1 lime

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork or knife, then wrap in foil. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 40-60 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

2. Whiz all the dry ingredients in a food processor or blender, to form a paste. Slowly trickle in the oil until the sauce is creamy and thick, almost like a mayonnaise. Add the lime juice and pour into a bowl.

3. Slice your potatoes in half lengthwise, and lightly mash the insides with a fork, keeping the skins intact. Add a heaping spoonful of mojo sauce and dig in.

Note: You could add a handful of black beans to your sweet potatoes to make this dish into a main course meal.


Inspiration short #13: Play in the snow!

This is the time of year when cabin fever begins to set in. Those long restful days of our feet up by the fire that sounded so delicious during the busy month of December begin to get monotonous and tiring by the end of January.  Restlessness sets in, then what feels a little like claustrophobia. Before you know it, you’re on the computer looking at ticket prices to the Caribbean.

Is all that winter napping wearing you out?

But there is a very simple remedy for cabin fever, and it costs a good deal less than round trip airfare to Jamaica. Do you want to know what it is? I call it,  “go out of your cabin!”.  A little fresh air and some movement will do wonders for that restless, stagnant feeling that comes from too much time indoors.

Sassafras and Taliesin demonstrate "going out of the cabin"

Perhaps even better than simply going out of your cabin, how about going out your cabin for the purpose of playing in that magnificent white powder blanketing everything with its soft, silvery sheen?  There is enormous potential for a good time when it comes to snow. I’ve always found that the people who tolerate winter the best are those who get out there and make the best of what it has to offer.  So if you’ve got a bad case of cabin fever, you know just what you’ve got to do.

Here are 10 enormously fun ways to enjoy the snow:

  • Make a snow angel
  • Have a snowball fight
  • Build your own snow fort (perfect for those ginormous piles left by the plows)
  • Make a snow sculpture (snowman, snow-woman, or how about a snow elephant!)
  • Lay in the snow (especially nice in the forest when out of breath from snowshoeing or cross country skiing)
  • Go sledding
  • Downhill or Cross country Ski
  • Go snowshoeing
  • Make a snow cone using maple syrup or your own herbal syrup (elderberry, rosehip, etc)
  • Go ice skating (ok, ice is not exactly snow, I know, but it does involve frozen water, wintertime and is very fun!)

Herbal snow cone made with rose petal syrup

Now you’ve no excuse. Get out there in the fresh wintry air and have some fun!

Herbal Hugs: January’s Blog Party

This months blog party, hosted by Lucinda over at Whispering Earth, is entitled “Herbal Hugs.” Don’t you just love that? Her thought is that, what with all the grey and gloomy January weather, we could all use a little extra support and decadence in our lives these days. As she explains,

The idea is to write about the herbs you find most comforting, supportive, caring and indulgent or the recipes you just couldn’t be without when you feel a little low and just want a big hug from your favourite plant friends.

So with those words in mind, I am going to share some of my favorite plants and most treasured concoctions for encompassing  myself in a big herby embrace of plant love. For me, these plants are often those that deeply nurture the body, delight the senses, and uplift and soothe the spirit. But most of all, they are plants that work on that ambiguous place known as the heart – that place where love originates and is received. So make yourself a big cup of steaming tea, pull up a chair, and prepare to be smothered in loveliness.

Roses and Hawthorn for the heart

Rose and Hawthorn have long been two of my favorite plants, and some that I use most frequently in my own apothecary. Both members to the rose family, they are similarly bedecked in threatening thorns which will prick a heedless harvester. You might think that characteristic a little counterintuitive when speaking about herbal hugs and comforting, caring plants – but it is actually part of what makes them so supportive.

Rose and hawthorn are both about protection, and particularly about protecting the heart. Traditionally used as boundaries to protect and guard land or sanctuaries, they offer that sense of enclosure and protection to the sanctuary of our spirit .

Hawthorn protects the physical heart:  normalizing blood pressure, protecting blood vessels from oxidative damage, as well as strengthening the heart muscle and guarding against arrhythmias, palpitations and congestive heart failure. Rose works on the emotional heart: soothing the nervous system, uplifting the spirits and infusing the mind with beauty and love – protecting the heart from emotional hurt and healing the pain of loss.  By strengthening our heart in so many ways, they give us the sense of security and strength to truly open our hearts to the beautiful joys and sorrows of life; fully experiencing and fully giving from a place of balance.

Rose and hawthorn have also long been associated with love and beauty – the two elixirs of the heart. Hawthorn was used in the Ancient May Day festival of Beltane – the festival marking the beginning of summer and a celebration of fertility and love. Covered in pinkish tinged, sweet-scented blossoms at that time of year, the hawthorn is the perfect symbol to capture the beauty of maidenhood and budding romance. This old proverb tells of an ancient custom of bathing one’s face in the dew of hawthorn on May Day, to ensure everlasting beauty:

The fair maid who, on the first of May, goes to the fields at break of day, and bathes in dew from the hawthorn tree, will ever strong and handsome be.

I hardly have to tell you about rose’s ties to love!  A Greek myth tells that rose was created from the body of a beautiful nymph:  given joy, brightness and charm by the three Graces; love by Aphrodite; intoxicating perfume by Dionysus; and a beautiful sunny sky to open its blossoms to by the wind God Zephyr. How very true it is – these things are all contained in Rose.

I think that what rose and hawthorn do especially  is to help one love themselves – to discover one’s own beauty and sense of grace – to see the beauty of one’s life. Thus, I use them both together when I am feeling vulnerable and hurt – afraid to open my heart; when I am feeling insecure and unkind to myself; or when I can’t grasp the beauty of what surrounds me.

Here’s a few preparations I really love:

Ruby Red Rose Oil

When the summer is high in midsummer and St. Johnswort is in bloom, I like to co-infuse equal amounts of fresh rose petals and St. Johns wort blossoms in oil. (If you can’t wait till mid-summer and have some St. J oil on hand, you can make using dried rose petals by heating them very gently in the oil for several hours, then straining. The scent won’t be as fantastic, but still very nice).  Infused with the brightness of St. Johnswort and the soothing, sensual fragrance of roses, it is a wonderful treat in winter when you feel a little low and need a great big dose of self-love.

Hawthorn and Rose Heart Cordial

This lovely cordial provides the antioxidants that protect the physiological heart, and the soothing, stress-reducing effects that protect the emotional heart.

Combine 1 cup frozen black cherries, 1/3 cup each hawthorn berry, schisandra and rose petal, 1/8 cup each hibiscus and rose hip. Grind all the dried herbs coarsely in an electric coffee grinder, and place all ingredients in a seal-able container with 1 cup raw honey and enough brandy to cover (about 1 cup). Let infuse for 1 month or more before straining out the herbs and enjoying.

Ashwagandha and Milky Oats: Deep Nurturing

Often when I feel down, it is because I am worn down. I feel depleted and exhausted, and unable to cope with the stresses that I normally face with ease. It is these times when I turn to the herbs that build and nourish an enfeebled system, strengthening the nerves and adrenals to restore vitality and strengthen the body.  I call these the “mothering” herbs, because they give one the sense of nurturing and care that only a mother can.

Oats is the very same that gives us the nourishing seed, but as a medicinal herb, it is picked when the groats are still green and exude a milky sap (not unlike mother’s milk). They deeply nourish and restore function to the nervous system, repairing the myelin sheath, providing minerals and vitamins needed for optimal functioning. They restore energy, uplift the spirits, and reduce anxiety – swathing the whole nervous system in a protective, soothing embrace.

I like to think of the oat plant when I am taking oats – these tender, vulnerable stalks swaying gracefully in the wind, firmly rooted into the ground. By strengthening our vitality, our roots – they allow us too to sway gracefully in the winds of our lives. I like to prepare this herb as a tea, infused overnight to fully extract all those delicious nutritious bits.

Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb. The name translates to “the strength of a horse” – insinuating that by taking it, you will receive just that. It strengthens adrenal function, normalizes stress response, builds immune function, calms the nervous system, and promotes deep, restful sleep. It is one of the only adaptogens (herbs that normalize stress response) that calms rather than stimulates, which makes it wonderful for any of us that are chronically fatigued and worn but also overstimulated and anxious, as though one’s nerve endings are worn completely raw to the world.

Ashwagandha milk with rose water and honey

Ashwagandha is traditionally prepared as a powder in warm milk, which amplifies its building, nourishing qualities. To make, place 1 heaping tablespoon into a cup of milk in a small saucepan. Heat gently on low until the milk begins to steam. Take off the heat, and add 1 teaspoon of rose water and 1 teaspoon of honey. Whisk well, and serve with a sprinkling of powdered rose petal and cardamom on top. Drink before bed. (You can add a little whipped cream like I did if you are feeling particularly decadent!).

The Mint Family: Soothing and Delightful

If I had to choose my favorite plant family, it would be quite a toss-up between the Rose family, with hawthorn, rose and all those lovely fruits and berries, and the Mint family with its delightful and delicious aromas and potent medicinal effects. The mint family includes such gems as lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, rosemary, sage, motherwort, skullcap and sacred basil – a truly all star line up if you ask me!

The mint plants are typically scented with delightful perfumes made from complex mixtures of essential oils that are soothing to the nervous system and digestive tract. I find that they are uplifting – pulling one out of the heaviness of their thoughts and creating a sensation of lightness in the spirit. They bring a little hint of the divine into our hearts and remind us to dance and celebrate rather than be so serious and downtrodden. “Look up!” they say.

I enjoy these plants most as teas, where their delightful aromas create wonderful flavors that muse with the hot steam to soothe a weary spirit and awaken the heart to joy. They are the summer flowers, after all, full of summer time bliss and fairy magic.

Fairy Flower Tea

Combine tulsi, lavender, lemon balm, bee balm and rose petal in a teapot. Cover with hot water, and infuse for 10-15 minutes. Serve with milk of choice and a spoonful of raw honey to sweeten.

Motherwort Skullcap Tincture

These are two mint plants that are not aromatic, but are still amazing. Motherwort is just that – a mothering herb full of soothing, centering energy. It’s Latin name Leonurus cardiaca means “lion-hearted”, pointing to its ability to impart courage and strengthen the heart. It reduces anxiety and heart palpitations, cools and quiets the mind, and balances the female hormonal system – great for menopause. Skullcap strengthens and soothes nervous system function and puts a “cap” on overactive thinking. I carry a tincture made with equal parts of each as my rescue remedy, helping calm anxiety and soothe me in stressful or challenging situations.

Now, go and give yourself a big herbal hug!

And be sure to get some more herbal hug inspiration over at Whispering Earth, where all the blog party posts will be collected and shared.