Late Winter's Energy and Sharp Pine Nut Cheese with Roots
This time of year I think a lot about roots and trees. It’s because those are the places that the energies of nature seem to be concentrated right now - in roots waiting eagerly to support a new year of growth after slumbering away the winter, and in the new sweet sap flowing up through the trees. A walk in the woods right now is full of earthy scents: wintergreen-like birch twigs, spicy and intoxicating cottonwood buds, damp earth thawing in early spring’s sunny days.
I’ve been thinking, too, about seasonality.
It wasn’t that long ago that I used to feel incredibly pent-up and restless this time of year. I longed for the sun-filled spring days and fresh grass underfoot. The pleasures of winter recreation had long worn off and I just pined for summertime. But then I started to really pay attention to the cycles of nature and the energy of the seasons and what felt really truly natural to be doing at any point in the year. I can’t tell you how much happier this has made me. I am now deliciously content with any season because I allow *myself* to sink into it, rather than fight it or try to move through it quickly to the next one. Even in the dead of winter when there isn’t much to forage, there are plenty of things to do and eat and love that make late winter a gift of serenity.
I see my restless friends around me, aching for the warmth of spring and the adventures of summer. So I take them into the woods with me, and I show them the magic of THIS season, right now. I tell them of the anticipation in the earth and how I can almost feel the deep thrumming of roots awakening in the thawing soil. I point out the tiniest little sprouts in the soft mud and the little buds on the trees signaling that they, too, are about to explode in a frenzy. I ask them to stop waiting to rush through this beauty and instead take notice of it and celebrate it. Let's honor the beauty of anticipation.
And, since I have such wonderful, open-minded friends, they do. We eat heavy foods to nourish ourselves, for it is still cold and our bodies still crave the richness of winter foods. We have chilly picnics along the river in-between gathering cottonwood buds and frost-sweetened Oregon grape berries. We eat roots, we eat cheese, we fortify and explore.
And so now, I ask the same of you. Hold the anticipation of spring in your heart, but do not pine. Consume the taste of sweet roots. Consume the smell of new growth and earth. Consume the feeling of lengthening evenings and let yourself wake up, slowly.
You could easily make these lovely root vegetable rose snacks with a soft goat cheese, but I’ve been wanting to experiment with vegan nut cheeses for a while. Though I am not vegan, I like to practice cooking for other diets because I know how touching it is when my friends make a point to remember my own dietary restrictions. And honestly, it’s pretty incredible. I set a plate in front a few family members and friends and it disappeared before I’d blinked. Half had no idea it wasn’t real cheese, and the other half said it was like a much more flavorful hummus or dip. The pine nuts make it extra creamy, and you get just the faintest taste of them after each bite. It’s absolutely perfect when combined with crispy root vegetable chips, arranged to look like roses!
Sharp vegan pine nut cheese
1/2 c. pine nuts
1 c. raw cashews or macadamia nuts
1/4 c. lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1 1/2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
1 Tbs. miso
1 Tbs. water
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
You’ll also need:
2 Tbs. herbs of choice, minced (I really love a tiny bit of wild artemisia in there, but it’s pretty bitter so a little goes a long way!)
homemade or store-bought beet crisps
1 bag of root vegetable chips (or make your own beet chips)
optional colorants and spices: turmeric, smoked paprika, powdered beets
- Place the cashews and pine nuts in a jar or bowl and cover with water. Soak for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Drain and rinse well.
- Add the soaked nuts and the rest of the ingredients to a food processor and blend for about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down the sides a couple of times. If the mixture is too thick to blend well, add a bit more water, a tbs. at a time, until it’s mix-able. Quickly mix in the minced herbs just until they are combined.
- To make small single-serving dishes, divide the mixture up into 3 parts and place each part in the middle of a square of cheesecloth. Bring the ends up and twist to form a tight ball. Set the balls in a fine strainer set over a bowl to drain for 12 hours in the fridge.
- Unmold and place on a plate. Carefully stick the beet or root vegetable crisps into the mixture to form a rose-like arrangement and serve.
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