Herbed Naioli or Nutonaise

As you likely know by now, I have become somewhat obsessed with sunflower seed spread.  We eat it all the time, and I’ve been playing around quite a bit with it to see just how far I can vary and stretch this wonderful (and, yeah, cheap) little refrigerator staple.  It started as a cheese substitute for me, and has progressed to a hummus alternative, a pizza topping (oh yes, I like it better than any cheez I’ve tried), the base for vegan pesto, and NOW it’s standing in for the condiment I miss the most, my beloved mayonnaise.

Ahhhh mayonnaise.  Big Sis and I both have an old love of mayonnaise (she may not remember, but she had mayo sandwiches as a kid; I favored ketchup sandwiches – both offerings I now imagine were the result of a very tired Mom).  There is something about the creamy fatness and the slightly sweet salt of mayonnaise that still works for me in theory, although the shiny fat thing sort of turns me off now. I have missed the condiment’s place on my sandwiches, veggie burgers, various summer salads… you get the drift.  It makes me look fondly onto those culinary classes when I followed the advice of the French chefs with abandon.  They were right about a lot of things, and homemade mayonnaise was one of them.  Times have changed for me, however, and while a little mayo now and again will offend neither my sensibilities nor my  overall eating philosophy, I really did want an alternative for a few dishes.  Enter my beloved sunflower seed.

As I was already convinced that this super spread might be the solution to my problem, I started by just making a batch of the spread.  And then the simple addition that changed my condiment world… marinated artichoke hearts.  Yes, artichoke.  I grant you that this takes the spread from one that is cheap to one that is, well less than cheap, this addition made for an indulgent concoction perfect for the uses I had in mind.  I added six artichoke hearts to my batch, about a teaspoon of dried dill (sadly my fresh finished a long time ago), a little extra lemon juice, and an additional clove of garlic.  The liquid in the artichokes made the spread much thinner (in a good way).  I then turned on a the food processor and just let it go.  I left it on for a while during dinner prep, honestly I have no idea how long.  The spread got smoother and smoother.

When it was done (which means I didn’t want the noise of the food processor any more), I had something that reminded me (in flavor) of an herbed aioli and oh do I have a fairly long list of things one can do with an herbed aioli.  You could add a little olive oil and get more of the fatty creaminess, but as I was happy with both the texture and flavor, I opted to leave it alone.  We had it on our veggie burgers and… the real treat… we dipped our roasted potatoes in it and I was transported to a park in Amsterdam where I hovered over a warm and greasy paper cone of french fries that came with a side of garlic aioli.  Stupendous, delish, and all the result of a series of experiments prompted by a visit from a black bear.  Life’s funny, eh?

No, I Don’t Live in the Country

We had some big doin’s here over the weekend, and while it may be a stretch to relate it all back to food, I’m going to take a leap of faith and write about the most interesting thing that’s happened recently and trust my powers of obsession to bring it back to how we eat.  I can do it, at least I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

So on Saturday morning I was the first to rise (unusual) and I quietly made my way downstairs hoping to steal a few moments alone before starting a batch of pancakes.  I could already smell the cast iron warming in the oven.  The dog joined me and I opened the back door (as usual) to let him take his morning constitutional.  He took off like a shot, barking his head off.  He returned quickly and demanded to be let in.  As I opened the door to let him in, I saw the top of the head of a presumed stray dog making its way through the yard.  I hustled my guy in, closed the door and attempted to get a better look.  I didn’t have to work at it for long.  The dog rounded the corner, came up on the patio, and sat down at the bird feeder that he had already dismantled and began to eat.  This is apparently what black bears do.  Yes, my stray dog was in fact a black bear.  Being the coward and poor picture taker that I am, I quickly went upstairs to get my husband out of bed.  We watched (and our children joined us) for about 40 minutes as this adolescent bear silently climbed, maneuvered, explored, and bent our bird feeders to his will so that he could have a breakfast feast of sunflower seeds.  My husband opened the door a couple of times; the bear looked up but was largely unimpressed with us.  When he had enough and was tired of wondering what we were doing, he got up, shambled off with a snort at us, walked across the yard, and climbed the fence into the woods.

After freaking out in a variety of ways and splashing our encounter all over Facebook, I called animal control and got educated on our local black bear population.  We were instructed to get rid of bird feeders.  Sunflower seeds are, according to my friend at the Frederick County Animal Control office, “crack” for bears.  We had become the new dealer.  And so we painstakingly removed the source of the bear’s delight from our patio (which made sense since we couldn’t hang anything on the poles he bent with no apparent effort).  We swept up the remnants so he wouldn’t be attracted to the smell of them.  We secured the grill just in case it had any remnant anything on it that he might be interested in.  As we finished these tasks I heard some deer just outside the fence line, looked over to see them, and there was our giant friend, standing on his hind legs, checking on our progress.  I hustled the children inside, ran to close the shed so he wouldn’t hang out and stay a while.  We barely closed the back door before he climbed the fence again and returned to the patio only to find that his next meal had been removed.  I felt a little sorry for him as he looked genuinely confused.  I then realized I’d left the garden gate opened.  We watched in horror as he made his way over there.

I have never been so glad that strawberry season is over.  He looked around, but not apparently favoring broccoli, beets, celery, carrots, or pubescent cucumbers and beans, he snuffled , left the garden without so much as bending a leaf and climbed over the other fence, crossed the neighbor’s driveway and wandered off toward another part of our neighborhood.  Wow.

I’m still a bit in awe.  This was not an adult bear, but not a baby either.  He was probably 200 pounds and had to have been over 5 feet when standing upright to see me over the fence in back.  And yet he was so quiet, so calm, so steady, and so single minded.  He wanted seeds; he would climb any fences in front of him to get to them.  This giant creature, who may apparently walk 100 to 150 miles before he chooses a new territory, wanted to chow down on sunflower seeds.  There’s something kind of amazing about that.  So simple, so plain, so nourishing and so direct.  I’m hungry, I need food, it needs to help me walk a long way and I don’t want to chase anything… So there you are.

Because I like to cook and I’m susceptible to a bit of food porn now and then, I have a great deal of fun looking at recipes and pictures of recipes, and descriptions of meals and how people made their version of those recipes, and it becomes easy to get lost in the hullaballoo that food can be (and that can be delightful).  This bear looked like his Mom told him: “Just eat it.  It’s good for you and we’ve got stuff to do.”  I am reminded that feeding the hunger in a healthy way is as close as the pantry, the garden, or the fridge, and that often all I need to do by way of preparation is take out a handful, rinse something off, or pick the ripest one.  I shall strive to remind myself to keep it simple at least part of the time.  And in the meantime, a salute to our new friend with two sunflowery good  dishes…

Bear-y Good Oats 

  • 2 c rolled oats
  • 2 c almond milk (or whatever kind you like)
  • zest of one lemon
  • raw sunflower seeds
  • berries

Place oats, milk, and zest in bowl or jar overnight to soak (the lemon zest was Big Sis’ idea).  In the morning, spoon out some of that deliciousness in a bowl and top with sunflower seeds and berries of your choosing.  Bear-y Good!

Dilly Sunflower Cheez Spread – adapted from Janet L. Doone’s sprouted sunflower cheese

  • 1 c soaked sunflower seeds (soak them in water overnight and rinse well)
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • juice from 1/2 to 1 lemon
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1 T chopped fresh dill (or herb of your choice)

The original recipe suggests rubbing the hulls off of the soaked sunflower seeds to ensure that the spread is more white than grey colored.  I tried this for about a minute and found it tedious in the extreme.  I decided instead to place the rinsed seeds on a paper towel and then place a second towel on top, rubbed a bit and then picked off the hulls that were identifiable.  Not as thorough, but apparently it was enough.  If you’re okay with grey, I’d suggest skipping the hull concern altogether.  Place all ingredients but water and dill in food processor.  Add one half of the water and process.  Add more water (by a few drops or a glug at a time) as needed to achieve good blending and a smooth texture.  This can take some time – just let the thing grind away.  The longer you let it go, the smoother your spread will be.  When you’ve achieved the texture you like, scrape into bowl and mix in your dill.  Serve on bread or crackers.  Bear-y delish.

I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could…