From the SMC Kitchen: When Life Gives You Summer, Make Lemonade

by Avajra John Russell

JohnLemonWell, summer is here. Thunderstorms are rolling through the mountains and when they’re not, the immense sky is a crystal clear blue with the ever-changing play of puffy clouds.  And, (finally!) it’s hot this week here at Shambhala Mountain.

But let me take this opportunity to recommend making the most of your summer, wherever you are spending the season.  Although planning those big outings can make your summer memorable, I think it’s just as important to enjoy the small things—not grasping but taking full advantage of this spontaneous creative moment, ripe with possibilities. Try some summer fun swinging in the hammock with a tall one, make fresh lemonade, or spend some quality time hitting the ball around with the kids. Meet an old friend, or a new one, for a walk in the park.  Making the most of this summer is an art form unto itself and although it may take a bit of doing, the potential joys are rich and manyfold.

Here’s an easy and refreshing recipe for mint lemonade:

1 3/4 cups sugar, honey, or agave

1 1/2 cups of fresh squeezed lemon juice

8 cups of pure water

Several sprigs of fresh mint

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Remove seeds from lemon juice, but leave pulp. In pitcher over ice, stir and shake together chilled syrup, lemon juice, and the remaining 7 cups of water.

Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Avajra John Presents: The Perfect Rice

By Travis Newbill

In order to clarify the confusion of all sentient beings attempting to make rice, we present another installment of Avajra John‘s pithy kitchen wisdom.


There are quite a few different approaches to making rice. Each of the different approaches works well. This can be confusing. There are some 40,000 varieties of rice from around the world. Short-grain and long-grain brown rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, Arborio, and Koshihikari from Japan are some commonly available varieties. In each of these different rice cultures around the world, there are recipes for making perfect rice that is considered a high art within that culture. So let’s simplify this and start at square one:

  • Cook the rice on the stove top or in the oven.
  • Use a pot or pan with a good, tight-fitting cover.
  • Use the proportion of one cup of rice to one and a half cups of water.
  • Use cold water.
  • Put the rice and the water together in the pot or pan and cover tightly.
  • Bring the rice and water to a boil.
  • Then turn down the heat to medium low.
  • The white rice varieties will take 25 to 35 minutes to cook. The brown rice varieties will take longer usually 45 or 50 minutes.
  • Try to keep the cover on the rice for the whole cooking duration (check it if you must, but keep this to a minimum).
  • After cooking, let the rice rest with the cover on.
  • Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

Good Tidings (and a Great Recipe) from SMC Chef Avajra John Russell


Avajra Claus is real

By Travis Newbill

Did you know that Santa’s kooky cousin lives at Shambhala Mountain Center? He is just a jolly as Old St. Nick–though much thinner, and his magical sleigh is pulled by a single garuda. His name is Avajra Claus! His specialty is making tasty things in the kitchen for the SMC community—many healthy meals, and some sweet delights as well.

According to folklore, Avajra used to bake cookies for Santa back when they were little elves. Ever since they parted ways, Santa has been searching the world for treats as tasty as the ones Avajra used to make. In exchange for the cookies that the kids leave, Santa brings gifts.

Now, Avajra has a gift for you: a classic holiday recipe! He asks that you enjoy it with your loved ones, and also leave some out for his chubby cousin, Santa.

From SMC lead chef Avajra John Russell to you and yours:

Here we all sing together…

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

and a Happy New Year.


Good tidings we bring for you and your kin,

Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.


O bring us some figgy pudding

O bring us some figgy pudding

O bring us some figgy pudding

and bring it right here.


And we won’t go until we’ve got some

And we won’t go until we’ve got some

And we won’t go until we’ve got some…

Well if you want your holiday guests to ever go home, better have some “Figgy Pudding” on hand. It is also noteworthy that here at SMC, we live as a community, so we are all home already, together, which is sweeter than any treat I could make.

Okay, this traditional Christmas dessert dates back to 16th century England. The many varied recipes that have been handed down to us include baking the dessert or steaming it in the oven, some call for boiling it or frying. This sweet gooey Christmas treat is more like a cake than what we’ve come to think of as a pudding. It can be soaked in Brandy, which makes it really luscious. Traditionally, it is served topped with “Hard Sauce”, although whipped cream can also be a fabulous pairing. I’m including two recipes here, one baked and one steamed in a double boiler.

Is everybody singing?? No?? … just the sound of one lone voice wafting out from the kitchen…  Singing & laughing. – Avajra John Russell


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup soft bread crumbs

1 cup water

1 cup molasses

1 cup chopped dried figs

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup orange peel strips

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1teaspoon ground nutmeg


1. Grease the inside bowl of a double-boiler.

2. Mix flour, bread crumbs, water, molasses, figs, raisins, walnuts, orange peel, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg together in a bowl until batter is well incorporated; spoon batter into the prepared double-boiler bowl and cover.

3. Fill the bottom half of a double boiler with water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer. Place bowl in the simmering water and cover. Steam until pudding is cooked through, adding water as needed, 3 hours. Cool slightly with cover ajar before serving warm.

*Thanks to sueb’s Great Grandmother for this recipe



1/2 cup butter

2 eggs

1 cup molasses

2 cups mission figs chopped

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh lemon rind

1 cup buttermilk

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups brandy



1. Preheat oven to 325, grease baking pan(s).

2. Beat butter until soft, add eggs and molasses and beat until fluffy.

3. Add chopped figs, grated lemon rind, and buttermilk, combine.

4. Pour dry ingredients into wet mixture, stir well.

5. Pour into prepared pan(s), and cook 1 hour or until toothpick comes out ‘almost’ clean.

6. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then carefully dislodge cake(s), and place on baking rack.

7. Soak cheese cloth in brandy.

8. After cake is cool, wrap up several times in soaked cheesecloth and allow to set and seep in brandy cloth for at least 24 hours.

9. May be served plain or with hard sauce.



1/2 cup butter

2 powdered sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

(for non-alcoholic 1 teaspoon rum extract)

1 teaspoon rum, sherry wine or brandy

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/4 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle with teaspoon cinnamon just before serving (optional)


1. Gently heat all ingredients

2. Whisk together over low heat or double boiler.

3. Whisk well until mixture is smooth, warm and fully incorporated,

4. Serve warm or chilled depending on preference.




SMC Recipe: Holiday Gingerbread House and Cookies


As Thanksgiving will officially kick off the holiday season a week from now, it’s not too soon to start imagining how to best bring loved ones together this time of year. Nor is it too soon, nor too late, to reflect on holidays past. Our wonderful chef, Avajra John Russell, recalls how making cookies can be a magical way to celebrate the good fortune of family–of any sort. The SMC Community is a family and John is our beloved, crazy, artistic uncle. We hope you’ll enjoy his recollection of time spent with his childhood family and the cookies (or houses) that can be made with his recipe.

Avajra John Russel

Avajra John Russell

The holidays can be a special time of creating warm memories together that can stick with us throughout our lifetime. In my family, we always had some kitchen projects going, in the days leading up to Christmas. We used to stuff dates and my mom would always make crabapple jelly with crabapples from our trees–to give as gifts to friends and family. Occasionally, we would also make a gingerbread house and decorate it with all sorts of gum drops, jelly beans and different colored icings to paint in all the details.

These warm memories live on in my heart.

This recipe is pretty foolproof and can be used for cookies or gingerbread houses. It is somewhat flexible and can be adjusted for sweetness and spice. Roll the dough thicker for a moister and chewier cookie. Roll the dough thinner for a more stable gingerbread house construction.

As a side note: The gingerbread house project may seem daunting but please disregard that kind of distraction and build some cherished memories.

–Avajra John Russell

Holiday Gingerbread House & Cookies


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 egg whites


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the molasses and eggs. Combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. (Go easy on the cloves. Spices and sweetness are a personal taste. Adjust spice and sweetness amounts according to your family’s preference.) Then beat into the molasses mixture. Gradually stir in the remaining flour by hand to form a stiff dough.
  • Divide dough into 2 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness for gingerbread houses; roll out the dough thicker,1/4 inch thickness, for moister chewy cookies. Cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together confectioners’ sugar and cream of tartar. Blend in egg whites. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat for about 5 minutes, or until mixture is thick and stiff. Keep covered with a moist cloth until ready to frost cookies.


Summer Pasta Salad

Recipe by Terri Huggett, Shambhala Mountain chef extraordinaire.Terry the chef

Light fare doesn’t have to be light on taste. This lovely little recipe is perfect for those August scorchers when lunch is less about re-fueling and more about refreshing. This recipe will serve a whole family, or store well for days when you really can’t stand the idea of a hot stove.

2 Tbsp. salt

1 lb penne paste (gluten-free if desired)

1/2 cup olive oil, or to taste

12 roma tomatoes, stem removed and cut into 1/2 inch dices

2 cups arugula

Zest of 2 lemons, or to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste


Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt and penne pasta and cook until slightly underdone. Drain and run cold water over pasta to cool. Drain well. Place in a large bowl and stir with olive oil. Add tomatoes, arugula, lemon zest, lemon juice and stir to mix. Add salt and paper to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Serves eight.

Gluten-Free Vegan Banana Cake with Vanilla Sauce

three bananas


2 cups Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix *
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Earth Balance, melted
1/2 cup rice milk or almond milk
1/3 cup applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 bananas, mashed

Vanilla Sauce

2 cups rice milk or almond milk
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4-1/2 cup sugar, to taste
1 tsp. vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 inch pan.

Combine dry ingredients, flour mix, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar, in a large mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Combine melted Earth Balance, rice or almond milk, applesauce and vanilla in a small mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Add wet ingredients to dry ingrdients and stir until just mixed with a spatula. Add mashed bananas and mix until just blended. Pour into prepared pan and spread with spatula. The mixture will be thick and shallow in the pan. Bake for 25-40 minutes until center bounces back when pressed or when a skewer or knife comes out clean. Let cool slightly and slice.

In the meantime, combine, rice or almond milks, cornstarch and sugar, to taste, in a small saucepan with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking periodically. After coming to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook, whisking constantly for about 1-2 minutes, until thickened. Stir in vanilla. Serve.

*(6 parts brown rice flour, 2 parts potato starch, 1 part tapioca flour)


Sicilian Cauliflower


As the Sicilians say, Burrasca furiusa prestu passa—A furious storm passes quickly. At SMC a furious May 1st snowstorm has given way to rocky mountain summer and yearnings for light veggie fare. This gastro-solution comes courtesy of Terri Huggett, one of our amazing chefs.


8 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup kalamata olives, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

3 Tbsp. capers, drained and chopped

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

ground black pepper, to taste

2 heads cauliflower, cored and divided into large florets

In a small bowl, combine garlic, olives, parsley, capers, lemon juice, and black pepper.
Steam or blanch cauliflower until done to your taste. Drain, place in a large bowl and add olive mixture. Stir to blend. Good when hot or at room temperature. Serves 8.

Three Variations on a Theme: Squash and Broccolini Salad

squashThis is the Part III in our series of squash recipes. All recipes courtesy of Brian Carter, who fearlessly leads the kitchen at Shambhala Mountain.

Check out Part I, Butternut Squash Cups & Tabouleh and Part II, Squash Veloute. We thought it appropriate to post our final squash article today in celebration of the significant amount of snow covering Colorado. Happy spring!

This salad is perfect for Winter.  And Spring. Both hearty and festive. Serve at room temperature.

1 lb. broccolini
1 acorn squash
1 small red onion
24 oz pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup roast whole almonds
1 pomegranate
3 oz. Manchango cheese

Pre-heat oven to 300. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Trim woody ends of broccalini. Julianne onion into paper thin slices, toss with sherry vinegar and let sit for 90 minutes. Peel squash and cut into ½ inch cubes. Place into a roasting pan, add pomegranate juice cover with lid or foil, and braise for one hour. Once water is boiling blanch broccalini for 5 minutes then shock in ice water till cool. Remove squash from the oven. Carefully drain braising liquid, or reserve for another use. Drain onions, as well. Combine broccalini, onions and squash. Garnish with almonds, pomegranate seeds, and manchego.



Three Variations on a Theme: Butternut Squash Cups & Tabouleh

This beautiful and hearty winter squash transforms in your garden from green to a golden yellow color and becomes increasingly sweeter and richer as it ripens. Its ability to grow in temperate climate areas mean it’s abundant. Plus, when other veggies go dormant, this lovely veggie is still around. Stuff anything you like into these edible vessels and make yourself a casually elegant meal. Plus, they are perfect for this fine grain, non-gluten tabouleh salad. We hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

The recipe below is part 2 in a 3-part series of squash recipes. Check out part 1, and stay tuned for part 3!

Butternut Squash Cups & Tabouleh

1 cup Quinoa
Juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup chopped parsley
1/8 cup minced garlic
¼ cup small dice onion
¼ shredded carrot
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cups walnuts
½ cup goat cheese or feta
4 butternut squash

Method: Preheat oven to 450. Slice squash around where the neck begins to narrow. Scoop out seeds (reserve for roasting if you wish). Gently brush with oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Roast for approximately 35 minutes or until the squash is caramelized.  Meanwhile, sauté garlic, onions, and carrots in oil with salt and pepper until translucent. Toss cooked veggies with parsley, oil, lemon juice, walnuts, and quinoa. Stuff squash with quinoa mixture, garnish with cheese, and gently reheat 5-10 minutes.

Coming up next:

March – Squash and Broccolini Salad: Pt. 3

Three Variations on a Theme: Squash Veloute


The problem-child veggie, deserves props for being sustainable, hearty, local, and very affordable. It comes around when more sexy juicy veggies have long gone dormant. Often victimized and typecast by rote preparations, it can substitute as a starch or a vegetable when needed. Squash is one of our more versatile ingredients — it has hidden talent and nuances, via an uncanny ability to create a subdued flavor base and/ or amplify its natural sweet/ savory basic flavor profile via roasting, or it can be a flavor sponge soaking up complimentary tastes.

The recipe below is part 1 in a 3-part series of squash recipes. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3!

Squash Veloute

This is a rich, yet subtle soup that stands up well to variations and add-ons (kale, caramelized onions, fresh herbs come to mind.)
1 cup diced onion
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced turnip
2/3 cup roasted red pepper
1 tsp thyme
3 acorn squash
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup veggie stock
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 cup grated asiago
6 sage leaves coarsely chopped
Pepita’s or roast squash seeds for garnish
Method: Preheat oven to 450.  Halve squash lengthwise, scoop out seeds, brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  Set in roasting or sheet pan lined with parchment paper, face down. Roast for 25 minutes.  Sauté’ onion, carrot, turnip in oil until translucent, season gently with salt, pepper and thyme. Add roasted red peppers; continue to sauté on low adding a splash of stock to deglaze as needed. Once squash is roasted, scoop out with a spoon and add to sauté along with stock. Bring to a simmer; let it gently cook for 15-20 minutes. Blend soup with either burr mixer or by whisking rapidly. Once soup has a pleasingly creamy consistency, add cream and asiago while stirring over low heat.  Once heated through, finish with sage. Serve in warm bowls, garnish with seeds.

Coming up next:

February – Squash Cups: Pt. 2

March – Squash and Broccolini Salad: Pt. 3