Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner - A Satisfying Diet for Unsatisfying Times

Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner - A Satisfying Diet for Unsatisfying Times


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Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner - A Satisfying Diet for Unsatisfying Times by Ellen Kanner

What do we turn to for both everyday sustenance and seasonal and seasonal celebration? Food, Often, through, we're like the hungry ghosts of Taoist lore, eating mindlessly, wandering aimlessly, and wanting more-more than food itself can provide. Ellen Kanner believes that if we put in a little thought and preparation, every meal can feed not only our bodies but our souls and our communities as well. Warm, wicked, and one-of-a-kind, Ellen offers an irreverent approach to bringing reverence into daily living ? and eating. She presents global vegan recipes that call you to the table, stories that make you stand up and cheer, and gentle nudges that aim to serve up what we're hungry for: a more vital self, more loving and meaningful connections, a nourished and nourishing world, and great food, too. Feeding the Hungry Ghost will challenge you to decide: keep reading or start cooking?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608681648
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 02/05/2013
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

Ellen Kanner is an award-winning food writer, Huggington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, and the syndicated columnist the Edgy Veggie. Her work has been published in Bon Appétit, Eating Well, Vegetarian Times, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and Culinate, as well as other online and print publications. An advocate for sustainable, accessible food, she has served on the Miami boards of Slow Food and Common Threads. She lives in Miami.

Read an Excerpt

Feeding the Hungry Ghost

Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner

By Ellen Kanner

New World Library

Copyright © 2013 Ellen Kanner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60868-164-8


the SEED

Seeds are where it all begins. They promise the start of things. They're superconcentrated sources of energy. I look at everything growing in my backyard, from my newly sprouted purslane to the ten-foot firebush exploding with firecracker-red flowers, favorite of zebra longwing butterflies and hummingbirds, to our thirty-foot live oak, which stretches its lanky, leafy limbs out to provide shelter and canopy. They all began as seeds — everyday magic.

Nature makes that kind of magic easy. You drop a seed in the dirt, cover it with soil, give it some water, leave the sun and the seed to make friends with each other, and honey, you're in business.

But then there's the fine print. Firebush needs direct sun and can handle shallow, sandy South Florida soil. It's a tough native. Purslane is supposed to be a weed and thus thrive like a weed, but mine's anemic, timid, probably suffering from sunstroke. Even weeds have their needs, and purslane prefers filtered sunlight. A seed only fulfills its superhero potential if it gets proper nurturing.

Then there are your more metaphoric seeds (and I do love a metaphor), the new beginnings life offers you — the joy of a new job, a new love, a new home, a new baby, a new year. Such new beginnings endow you with all the energy of a seed. You're awakening, feeling your way, tentatively reaching your roots into the soil. These kinds of seeds are times of hope; but they're always times of change, and change is tough.

Here's what's even tougher — you don't always get to choose a new beginning. Losing your job or breaking up with your partner wouldn't make anyone's list of top ten fave life events, but suddenly, there you are, in it up to your adenoids. That seed generates an energy of its own — like a tornado, it rips up your life and knocks you on your ass. It takes a herculean effort to roll out of bed in the morning. Where's the joy in that, ace?

And while it seems to be raining seeds around you, both the happy kind and the seeds you wouldn't even wish on your ex, think of yourself as a seed, too — a really gorgeous, spectacular, one-of-a-kind seed. But your gorgeousness can't come into full flowering unless you, too, get the nurturing you need.

For me, it means rooting myself in my community, being part of the initiatives that bring real food and real people together. Sometimes, I confess, I need to force myself to attend this meeting, that event. But I'm almost always better for it. The people I meet inspire me and energize me and take me in directions I didn't know I wanted to go. You're growing oyster mushrooms? Wow, how do you do that? How can I do that? You're teaching children to cook? Can I volunteer? I'm lucky to be nourished by my native soil.

You know best what kind of metaphoric soil you need, where you feel your happiest, truest self, where your own strength is coaxed forth, where you can set down strong roots and lift your face to the sun.

Or maybe you don't know. Maybe you've been so pelted with misery seeds, you barely know what you look like, let alone what you need. They say suffering is wonderfully character building. I say you've got plenty of character as it is. I say whatever's giving you grief should just get out of your way and get out of town. Until it does, though, you're stuck. You're going through hell, it's taking every ounce of your strength, and you can't quite see how you're ever going to return to that blissful, faraway place called normal.

Start by nurturing yourself. A basic way to give yourself the care you need is to pay attention to what you eat and to make healthier choices for all concerned — for you, for the planet.

Seeds are an easy place to begin. While vegetables still have their detractors (why? why?), anyone can chomp on a handful of seeds. If you're struggling, they'll support you nutritionally and offer a sprinkle of badly needed cheer. If you're happy, they'll only make you happier. They offer a crunch that bespeaks indulgence, but with it come the phytonutrients and fats our bodies hunger for, the kind that give us a nice inner glow, no microdermabrasion required.

Some seeds we snarf — sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds).

Some seeds we use to impart deep flavor in cooking — cumin, cardamom, mustard, coriander, fennel, to name a few of my favorites.

Some we eat without even realizing what they are. All your legumes, from teensy red lentils to massive gigantes are, botanically speaking, seeds.

And some we mean to get around to trying, because we hear how tremendous they are for our health, yet we're daunted by them — flax, chia, and hemp come to mind.

Well, honey, your time has come. Whether you're flourishing or faltering, you need more of these teensy guys in your life. Flax rules when it comes to omega-3s, those excellent fatty acids. Chia seeds are right up there in the omega-3 department, but they also have a fantastic amount of fiber and antioxidants. Ancient Aztec warriors thrived on them, and they were pretty tough guys. Hemp seeds, tiniest of all, offer more protein per ounce than any animal protein.

Use them individually or mixed together in a seedy cocktail as a topping for casseroles and roasted vegetables. We love texture. Add them to grain dishes, both sweet and savory — oatmeal isn't oatmeal for me without a sprinkling of seeds. And chia and flax make excellent egg substitutes in baking. Mixing the seeds with a little water forms a bonding agent. Not only do you get the body- supporting benefit of the seeds; you get the nice cohesive quality of eggs without the cholesterol and without ruffling a single chicken feather.

Seed Cake

I believe in backing up talk with something worth eating. So when I was thinking what kind of seedy recipe to use here, I thought of cake — seed cake, simple but soulful and long beloved in England, Ireland, and Scotland. Its origins date back as far as the Middle Ages, and back in the day, the seed in question tended to be caraway, making for a treat that walked the line between sweet and savory. Good as far as it goes, but trending toward heavy, and certainly heavy in vegan-unfriendly ingredients like butter, milk, and eggs.

Vegan baking, like life, is about balance and compromise. Rather than weird you out with a bunch of arcane ingredients you'll have to shop for, I've swapped the traditional dairy and eggs for other items that are whole and plant based and fairly get-table. I've also swapped caraway seeds for anise. Like caraway, anise is excellent for digestion but has a gentler flavor. It's mildly licorice-y and is mellow in the mouth. It joins a symphony of other seeds for a moist cake of haunting fragrance and flavor.

Seed Cake

Serve as dessert or as an anytime restorative with coffee or tea.

Serves 8 or so

1 cup unsweetened soy or hemp milk
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds (also known as flax meal)
2 tablespoons ground chia seeds
2 teaspoons anise seeds
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup evaporated cane sugar
1/3 cup hemp, flax, or canola oil, plus more for the pan
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
/13 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil an 8-inch round cake pan or a 9-x-5-inch loaf pan.

In a small bowl, combine the soy milk, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and anise seeds. Stir gently to combine and let sit while you assemble the other ingredients.

In a large bowl, sift together the whole wheat flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Add the lemon zest.

In another large bowl, stir together the evaporated cane sugar, hemp oil, applesauce, and lemon juice. Add to the flour mixture, along with the soy milk mixture, which, thanks to the seeds, will have thickened madly. Stir together, then fold in the raisins.

Pour into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden and puffed, and a tester inserted in the center comes away crumb-free and clean. You can also give it a gentle poke with a finger; it should spring back when baked through.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Wrapped well and refrigerated, the cake keeps for several days.

* * *


If other species are aware of seasons of the year and hours of the day, they don't make a big deal about it. We humans, on the other hand, have arranged our lives around the calendar and the clock, all culminating at midnight, December 31, when all the days and nights of one year end and a new year begins. If that doesn't mark us as an interesting species, there's the fact that we observe this big do-over by drinking ourselves silly and kissing anything that moves.

When we wake up the next day, the world is hushed, quiet, curled in on itself, because after all, the planet hasn't partied like a fiend. It's feeling fine and doing what it always does — what any sane life form does — in the depth of winter: it rests, gathers strength, and waits for spring.

Not us, though. The New Year's Eve hangovers barely wear off before we're pacing our cages, eager to get back to the normal rhythm of our lives. And yet, we feel a heightened awareness and expectation. It's a new year! Everything feels new and fresh, and this is wonderful. Hope and the glimmering of possibility keep us light. Guilt and remorse weigh us down.

And yet guilt and remorse sell. We're attacked by ads shaming and shouting at us to lose all our holiday weight, join a gym, get six-pack abs. I've got nothing against a six-pack, but I hate all those "new you" things because I'm not so bad and you're lovely the way you are. And I hate cleansing diets, especially those sold in kits comprising little more than a bottle and a powdered, unpalatable mix of mystery ingredients.

A certain detox or dietary rethink is appropriate after the binging Bermuda Triangle of holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve). However, I dislike being shouted at. The new year deserves to be entered gradually and gently, rather than dived into headlong, because the shock alone could kill you. Going from a month of party foods to a diet solely composed of lemon and water may help you pee off a few pounds, but it's nothing you can stick to, especially when it's bitter and gray outside. It exacts a toll on your body and soul. It makes you cranky and weak.

Winter tends to make me cranky, anyway. Yes, even in Miami. On a bad day, when the wind bites through my pathetic idea of a warm jacket, the one that makes me look like a homeless person with no fashion sense, when I'm frazzled by deadlines and deadbeats, the new year reveals itself to be pretty much like last year, with all the baggage, all the stress, but without December's sparklies and parties, plus a massive holiday credit card bill to pay off. It's fine for the tourists to go around in their wifebeaters and shorts, flip-flops and sunburns; but it is winter in my soul, and it's hard to feel the benevolent force in, well, just about anything.

This is a good time to go back to bed. Until April. A normal person would sleep. I bury myself in blankets, dutifully close my eyes. They pop open. I'm so rigid with tension, I all but levitate. My brain will not shut up. "So, Ellen," it says in that snarky tone it gets when I'm vulnerable. "What happened to your big plans for this shiny new year? You know, achieving world peace, solving global food scarcity. Where are you with those? From here, it looks like you're just lying there. Wasting time."

I have made absurd, unattainable New Year's resolutions. And they only wind up frustrating me and making me feel like a loser. So for quite a few years now, I've resolved to embrace chaos. Because it's coming at us whether we like it or not. I'm still not great at it but have grown more comfortable with the concept; there are things in the world beyond my personal control — oil spills, war, hunger, illness, stuff like that. I hate that I can't fix these things, but I am learning to be — oh, who am I kidding? I'll always worry. I don't like to worry, but I'm good at it. However, because I'm learning to embrace chaos, I'm okay with my own worry. I can even let some of it go. A little. Then I worry some more.

I envy people who take comfort in faith — the defined, institutional kind — that God will provide, or if something really wretched happens, it's okay because it's God's will, or — inshallah — that it will happen as Allah wishes. These are especially the times I'd like to ask God, Allah, or whoever's in charge, just what the hell he's after.

I'm not entirely sure I believe in God. I understand he/she believes in me, which I find most cheering. I think if there is a God, it's bighearted despite our quirks and craziness, able to focus on the big picture, see what we're doing and basically shrug and say, "Oy, what can you do?" I was raised Jewish, but Reform. Really Reform. My husband, Benjamin, thinks my family's so Reform, we deserve another category — Mellow. Benjamin was raised Lutheran, and in his childhood did refined things I associate with WASP-dom. He attended cotillion. His family ate Jell-O salads. They belonged to a yacht club.

But in both his case and mine, the formal religion part just didn't take. What resonates with Benjamin about Judaism is latkes. At every Jewish holiday, he asks, "Is this the potato pancake one?" What resonates with me is the more secular part of Judaism, the concept of tikkun olam, healing the world, the social responsibility part.

Am I Jewish? According to liturgy, yes, but among the list of modifiers I'd choose, vegan and female would come well before it. Also nervous.

In each new year, I try, again, to come to terms with human frailty, mine, yours, big, small. When I come splat against yet another of my human limitations, I have an ungodly response. I get pissed.

Good karma takes way too long for me, but the karma of being pissed bites me right back in the ass every time. So I begin again. I need definite — and positive — intention. I can't just lie in bed and hope war will end. I need to take action.

For a long time, I thought the only way I could serve humanity was by running off and joining Doctors without Borders. Just how I, with no formal medical training, was going to help them was a little hazy.

So I started doing small, specific things that didn't require a visa or medical degree. I joined a massive volunteer effort to help kids plant an organic garden in their public school. We dug up the patchy sod — hard, hot, hand-blistering work. We planted the seeds. We grew fat, red tomatoes, glossy eggplant, and a tangle of greens including callaloo, a green gift from the Caribbean. I showed kids how to cook it. I watched them eat it — a vegetable!

The kids liked it, not because it was good for them, but because they made it happen, from planting the seed to harvesting it and braising it with chili and garlic. It's that sense of ownership, of hey, I've got a personal stake in this, that makes food taste good, that gives it value. It's all about connecting with how our food is grown and sourced, with the planet, and with that great big, mystical thing beyond it. The schoolkids discovered fresh produce; I discovered my own community and that I'm better at working and playing with kids than I'd led myself to believe.

Hanging out at the farmers' markets, belonging to our local community's shared agriculture program, working with some amazing chefs and organizations and initiatives that bring what our farmers grow to the people who need to eat it — this is my idea of a good time. I can't promise it brings me to salvation. But it helps bring me back to myself, plus I get to write about it and turn readers on to a good thing or two.

That's how I met my friend Marcel, genius of soup, specifically soupe joumou, the beloved soup with which Haitians start the new year. It's not enough for Marcel to make it; he has to feed everyone he knows. So he makes a vat of it on a hot plate in his studio and serves it up all day. Even in dark times.

The 2010 earthquake devastated his homeland. He lost his auntie, uncle, and cousins, all with a shake of the earth. This is when the fetal position comes in handy. Instead, Marcel wanted to make soup. He needed to make soup. When I arrived, his place was flooded with afternoon light and was so jammed, I couldn't see the host for all the guests clustered around him, cradling soup bowls, talking, eating, laughing.

Finally, I found Marcel in his makeshift kitchen, holding court and presiding over the soup pot.

I gave him a kiss and picked up a bowl.

"It has meat," he warned, remembering I'm a meat-free kind of girl.

"I'll eat around it."

We looked at each other. He beamed and ladled it, rich and golden, like liquid sunshine, from a battered aluminum pot.

Soupe joumou is the triumph of spirit over tyranny, heart over privation, and a damn fine way to warm body and soul. This is a soup tapping into the collective unconscious of a people, evoking stronger feelings than Proust's madeleine. I wasn't going to let some bits of beef get in the way of that.


Excerpted from Feeding the Hungry Ghost by Ellen Kanner. Copyright © 2013 Ellen Kanner. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Norman Van Aken xiii

Introduction - Hungry All the Time xv

A Note on the Recipes xxii

Chapter 1 The Seed 1

Recipe: Seed Cake 5

Birth and Rebirth 6

Recipe: Haitian Soupe Joumou 12

Feeding Faith 13

Recipe: Hopping John 16

Gentle Nudge the First: Business Plan 17

A Child's Garden 19

Recipe: Whole Grain Pancakes 24

Recipe: Turkish Millet and Greens for Marcella 29

Gentle Nudge the Second: Discover the Power of Literature - Your Own 31

Sowing the Seeds of Love, or Aphrodisiacs and Other Additives 33

Recipe: Pink Grapefruit and Fennel Salad 39

Recipe: Deep, Basic Comfort Lentil Soup 42

Recipe: Unconventional but Seductive Veggie Paella 45

Recipe: Amorous Cardamom Apple Crumble 47

Gentle Nudge the Third: Dumping the Duds 48

Chapter 2 The Flowering 51

Recipe: Lavender Tea 54

Recipe: Down and Dirty Rice 55

Standing on Ceremony 56

Recipe: Farinata 62

Recipe: Red Onion Jam 63

Recipe: Spring Pea Puree 64

Recipe: Judeo-Christian Biblical Barley and Herb Salad 69

Keeping the Faith 71

Recipe: DIY Matzo 75

My Heart is Ful 76

Recipe: Ful Mudammas 78

Gentle Nudge the Fourth: Redefining Comfort 79

Recipe: Zucchini Bread 81

Mother's Day for Dummies 83

Recipe: Earth Day Special: Stone Soup (No Rocks Required), a.k.a. Vegetable Broth 84

Recipe: Kamut for Mother Earth 90

Gentle Nudge the Fifth: Go Old-School 91

Recipe: Farrotto with Greens, Pine Nuts, and Currants 92

The Global Stew 94

Recipe: CSA Gumbo Z'herbes 98

Gentle Nudge the Sixth: Season to Taste 101

Recipe: Roasted Beet Salad with Chili-Lime Vinaigrette 102

Chapter 3 The Harvest 105

Recipe: Moroccan Carrot Salad 107

What I Learned in Summer School 108

Recipe: West Indian Mango Madness 114

Gentle Nudge the Seventh: Tending - and Harvesting - Your Own Garden 116

Recipe: Summer Tomato Salad with Za'atar 118

Intense Heat 119

Recipe: Rice in the Sahara 122

A Bowl of Weil-Being 126

Recipe: Harira 127

Gentle Nudge the Eighth: Stocked and Stoked 129

Recipe for Disaster 134

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cake 136

Recipe: When-All-Else-Fails Pasta (a.k.a. Ten-Minute Pasta with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Chickpeas) 142

Gentle Nudge the Ninth: Get Caught Up in the Rapture 144

Recipe: Broccoli with Lemon and Mint (Broccoli for Beginners) 145

Recipe: Kale Chips 147

Feeding the Hungry Ghost 147

Recipe: Vegetable Donburi 149

Recipe: Hungry Ghost Mood Modifier 152

Gentle Nudge the Tenth: Balancing Act 154

Recipe: Steel-Cut Oats with Goji Berries 158

Chapter 4 The Compost 161

Recipe: Pumpkin, Poblano, and Spinach Tacos 163

Wildcat Scatter 167

Recipe: Almond Cookies 168

Recipe: Orange Blossom Cookies 170

Recipe: Red Lentil Soup with Indian Spices 176

Recipe: Thanksgiving Kale with Fennel, Cranberries, and Walnuts 180

Gentle Nudge the Eleventh: Slow Food 181

Recipe: No-Knead Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread 182

Recipe: Tuscan White Beans and Winter Greens Soup 184

Sweetness and Light 186

Recipe: African American Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew 186

Recipe: Multifaith Sweetness and Light Sugarplums 193

Gentle Nudge the Penultimate: Your Daily Serving of Ahinua 194

Recipe: Ahimsa Chai 195

Recipe: Veggie Bhaji 197

What Goes Around Comes Around 198

Recipe: "We'll Always Have Paris" Wild Mushroom Salad 202

Epilogue - Gentle Nudge the Ultimate: Practice Baraka 209

Recipe: Vegetable Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Olives 211

Recipe: Flatbread from a Starter 214

Acknowledgments 217

Notes 219

Delicious Recommended Reading 223

Index 225

About the Author 239

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Ellen Kanner goes far beyond the physiological function of food in this charming book. Fun, well written, and full of information, it is an ode to veganism and a new way of connecting with the seasons.”
Jacques Pépin, author of Essential Pépin

“As an ardent carnivore, not to mention global grilling fanatic, I picked up this ode to vegan joy with skepticism. Imagine my surprise to be rewarded with a thoughtful meditation on cooking with conscience, mindful eating, community connection, and some really good, 100 percent animal-free food. In the best culinary memoir tradition, Ellen Kanner turns her kitchen into an observatory of the human condition. ‘Change what you eat, then change your life, then change the world,’ she writes in her introduction. With Feeding the Hungry Ghost, she already has.”
Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible

“A mindful, meatless, and irreverent recipe for a reverent life, Feeding the Hungry Ghost is a delicious read.”
Marisa Miller Wolfson, director of Vegucated

“Ellen Kanner warms the spirit with her witty meditations on food and its place in friendship, family, and culture, accompanied by delectable fare that’s more than the sum of its plant-strong ingredients. Feeding the Hungry Ghost encapsulates all that goes into a truly nourished life.”
Nava Atlas, author of Wild about Greens

“Just what it takes, on and off the plate, to enjoy a richer life today.” — Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat

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Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner - a Satisfying Diet for Unsatisfying Times 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Complete confusion.  I have read 100 pages of this book and cannot understand where the author is taking me.  As a vegan, I was very much looking forward to reading this food (slash self help) memoir, but I am sorely disappointed.  Basically she is just rambling on and on about honoring your ingredients, eating slower, and changing to a plant-based diet.  The stories she tells are  presented in no order that I can tell and her tone of voice is getting quite annoying, I don't need to be called "honey" again.   And speaking of honey, she calls for honey in some of her vegan recipes and also tells a story of how she ate around the meat in a soup dish.   But ignoring those 2 indiscretions,  I do not recommend this book.  The book is just one big ramble and her tone of voice is getting on my nerves.