I am comfortable here in Southern California. We have pretty moderate temperatures, the air smells clean from the coastal breeze, we have family close, friends around we've had for decades, we live in a safe area and have jobs we like which support the life we've built in this place (it's a privilege to write things like that, that is not lost on me, especially these days). There is traffic and smog, and property is stupid expensive, but the positives keep us here and hustling. Sometimes being comfortable feels stale and stagnant, and stagnancy does not breed creativity or action or new ideas or a life that feels lived in. Whenever I feel like I have nothing to write or nothing to cook, I need to leave. I need to learn something new, meet new people, eat somewhere I've never been. Travel has always shaken up my routine and paradigms in the best way. So when I landed in both Boulder, CO and Vietnam this past August, I felt ready to learn and absorb a process that was new to me. Celestial Seasonings has been making tea since 1969. I took a tour through their facility and saw the bones of how they blend and produce more than 100 blends of tea. I drink tea, I know what I like, but I can't say I knew very much about the process or curation until I went on this adventure and tasted what a good cup of tea should taste like.
The rural areas of Vietnam are breathtaking. There are people transporting loads five times their size on the back of a scooter, acres of cinnamon trees and people quietly harvesting within the rice paddies, the tops of their conical sun hats poking just above the horizon. My favorite part was watching the people and their process. You can be running the same routine for a while and you start to not even see it any more. My eyes were glued to the window on the long car ride to the cinnamon farm, I listened to every word of the tour, I soaked in each person I saw. How hungry I was to learn and see.
After decades of eating fast food and then thinking healthy was packaged foods labeled as "fat free" and "sugar free," I fell in love with food by working on a farm. I was romanced by the entirety of it - seeds, care, harvesting, market, cooking. To be in Vietnam and witness all that goes into producing cinnamon, one of their largest exports, reminded me of what I love about all this food stuff. Celestial Seasonings showed me the steps of creating tea from seed to sip. The care towards the cinnamon process is followed all the way through to the tea - that assertive but balanced cinnamon involved in India Spice Chai or Bengal Spice gets paired with a handful other spices to make it taste just right in your cup. I met the farmers, the women who clean it up, shave it down and dry it out (process it), I saw how they package it for Celestial Seasonings who then flavor pairs it with a handful of other spices. I met Charlie Baden, their Senior Blendmaster, who takes herbs and botanicals and creates recipes for a perfect cup of tea, and Mo Siegel, who started the company all those years ago in Boulder. The stories within our food system can be gross and greedy, but they can also be really inspiring and motivating. There is a video of part of the story over on my Instagram page.
So I came home with fresh cinnamon and felt like trying something new. I always put cinnamon in baked goods, but how could I use it in a savory application? I grabbed other aromatic spices to play off the naturally sweet carrots and roasted them until just tender. They are delicious straight off the tray, but I will dump nearly anything into a bowl of greens to make a meal of it, so we ended up with the recipe below. I'm predictable with my favorite things, eh? A leopard can't change its spots, even across the globe and back within five days. So into the kitchen with fresh eyes, lots of vegetables, nothing overly complicated or time consuming, and gratitude for the process.
This post is in partnership with Celestial Seasonings.
HARVEST SALAD WITH SPICE ROASTED CARROTS // Serves 2-4
As written, this is a wonderful side salad or a base salad for two to add your choice of protein to make it a meal. Some seasoned chickpeas or rotisserie chicken on top make this an easy weeknight dinner or to pack along for a work lunch.
Line your baking tray with parchment paper for easy clean up of roasting the carrots.
1 1/2 lbs. carrots, peeled
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne, more to taste if you like spicy
1/2 tsp. sea salt
5 cups spring mix
2/3 cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
2/3 cup (about 5 ounces) crumbled sheeps' milk feta cheese
pomegranate seeds, for garnish
1 Tbsp. minced shallot
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Pinch of fresh chopped parsley
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400’. Cut the carrots into 1” slices, on the diagonal and put them on a rimmed baking tray. Drizzle them with the oil, maple, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cayenne and salt and toss to coat well. Spread them in an even layer and roast for 25 minutes until tender and browned on the edges. Remove to cool completely.
While the carrots cool, make the dressing. Into a bowl, combine the shallot, dijon, honey, vinegar, salt and parsley and whisk well. While whisking, drizzle in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning. The dressing can be made up to three days in advance.
To assemble the salad, dress the greens with desired amount of dressing. Top with the carrots, chopped pistachios, crumbled feta cheese and a handful of pom seeds.