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The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook

The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook
Recipes and Stories from a Zen Retreat Center
by Nadia Natali
North Atlantic Books, 2008

"Ten miles north of Ojai, at the end of a very long road in Matilija (pronounced Ma-til-i-ha) Canyon, lies Blue Heron Ranch. It nestles within the Los Padres National Forest in southern California. Here we, the Natali family, have faced fires, floods, bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. We built a home, raised a family of three children, and have run a modest Zen center and fed a myriad of visitors for twenty-five years," writes Nadia Natali in the preface to this cookbook, a sequel to Cooking Off the Grid, produced and published by the Natali family in 2006.

"This cookbook was inspired by the many individuals who visited our center and encouraged me to write about the meals prepared for our retreats.

"Interspersed with the recipes, I’ve included stories about Blue Heron’s beginnings and how it has evolved. In addition to the recipes and stories, I’ve offered tips on cooking for a crowd and fresh ideas that you can use for weekend visits of friends or family members. Or perhaps you’re starting your own retreat center! You’ll find a good sequence of meals to serve to a small group over a weekend, along with helpful shopping lists."

The  recipes, like the Natali's unique retreat, have a welcoming homemade feel and produce hearty meals of healthy and tasty dishes. Accented by the delightful color illustrations of
Marica Natali Thompson, the book is spacious, clear and easy to browse. Menus for family gatherings and retreats are outlined in the front of the book, followed by lists of recommended foods and supplies.

Personal stories about the Natali's arrival in California's in 1980, the floods and wildfires they endured, the teepee they constructed and lived in, homeschooling their children, the loss of their youngest son, and the Zen Center they founded are interspersed throughout the text.

Initially skeptical about Zen retreats, Nadia Natali eventually agreed to attend a family-oriented retreat near Santa Clara and became enamored of the experience:

"I learned that sitting is an opportunity to watch yourself while in a dilemma. It is very clean. It took a while to learn not to judge my mental antics. I discovered another part of me that is almost impossible to find under the usual noise of everyday life. There is a larger me who can include all the various aspect of my ordinary self. This discovery is not a one-time thing, nor is it the same each time. It changes and develops as long as I give it the space and attention it needs.

"By the end of my few days I was so 'up' that I said to Enrico (her husband), 'Let's start our own Zen center.'"

The small Zen retreat center that resulted, Blue Heron Ranch, became both the inspiration and proving ground for the recipes in this cookbook.

Recipe: Blue Heron Ranch Potato Leek Soup

I usually cook this soup for Friday night dinners when our retreats
commence. Soup has a warm welcoming effect, and in the case of a meditation retreat you don’t want to start out with too heavy a meal.

1. Sauté:
2 Tbs Olive oil
3 Leeks cut in thin slices
3 stalks Celery cut in thin slices
1 head Garlic cut in large chunks

2. Add and cook for 20 minutes:
8 cups Water or vegetable or chicken stock
1 Tbs Tamari soy sauce
8 New potatoes cubed

3. Add:
1/4 lb Noodles elbows style
2 tsp Dill

4. Add when noodles are just done:
1 lb Tofu cubed

Serves 8

From The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook by Nadia Natali, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2008 by Nadia Natali. 

The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook
The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook


Vegetarian Dinners

My Favorite Tomato Sauce
Grandma Elizabeth’s Polenta
Lasagna from Enrico’s Family 
Matilija Manicotti 
Pizza with Goat Cheese
Seasoned Rice 
Blue Heron Beans
Adzuki Beans and Rice 
Black Bean Enchiladas 
Ojai Chili 
Sauteed Vegetables with Rice
Special Vegetables with Almonds
Vincenzo’s Risotto
Carrots and Tofu
Lentils and Mint
Curried Lentils 
California Split Pea Dahl
Pucci’s Potato and Egg Curry
Sunday Stuffed Potatoes 
Spinach and Anaheim Chilies 
Baked Eggplant 
Saturday Market Quiche 
Garden Vegetable Quiche

Fish and Chicken Dinners

Kobun’s Rice Balls
Miso Pine Salmon
Millennium Paella
Chicken w/ Chard & Noodles
Francis’s Chicken and Curry
Westport Pineapple Chicken
Apple-Baked Chicken
November Stuffing

Soups and Stews

Simply Miso Soup
Rainy Day Tofu Soup
Potato Leek Soup
Cross-Country Lentil Soup
Garbanzo Soup with Tomato
Winter Minestrone

Chicken and Fish

Southwest Chicken Stew
San Francisco Chicken Stew
Blue Heron Chicken Stew
Rainy Day Chicken Noodle Soup 
Ojai Bouillabaisse

Summer Borsch
Avocado and Cucumber Soup
Marica’s Gazpacho
Poor Man’s Gazpacho
Yogurt Soup

Salads and Dressings

Frankie ’s Salad Dressing
Blue Heron Salad Dressing
Baby Green Salad
Sackets Harbor Summer Salad
Santa Barbara Salad Variation
Cool Cucumber Salad 
Potato and Bell Pepper Salad
Mixed Bean Salad
Rice Salad
My Roasted Red Bell Peppers 
Goat Cheese Salad
Cloved Fruit Compote
Two Fruit Salads
Raita Salad 106

Breads and Muffins

Whole Wheat Bread
Rosemary Corn Bread
Garlic Bread
Tortillas from South America
Naan from India
Banana Bread
Weiner Sisters’ Popovers
Golden Scones
Marica’s Biscuits
Quick Ginger Molasses Muffins


Sunday Pancakes
Hearty Breakfast Crepes
Delectable French Toast
Birthday Waffles
Sesshin Oatmeal
Early Morning Rice Cream
Home-Baked Granola

Puddings and Custards
Black Bear Apricot Pudding
Bread Pudding
Brown Rice Custard
Coconut Rice Pudding
Mexican Rice Pudding
Mocha Mousse
Zabaglione Cassis


Two Delicious Pie Crusts
Blue Heron Apple Pie
Blueberry Peach Pie
Persian Mulberry Peach Pie
Lemon Meringue Pie
Mitzi’s Chocolate Pecan Pie
Autumn Pumpkin Pie
Apple Crunch 160


Cardamom Cookies
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Butter Walnut Cookies


Cardamom Bundt Cake
Lemon Cranberry Bundt Cake
Chocolate Marble Bundt Cake
Chocolate Apple Sauce Cake
Birthday Coconut Cake
Persian Mulberry Cake with Goat Cheese
June Apricot Cake
Pear Upside-Down Cake
Meyer Lemon Half-Pound Cake
Carob Coconut Brownies
Tiramochamisu or Tiramintmisu Cake
Vincenzo and Kana’s Wedding Cake
Wedding Cake Filling and Icing


Ginger Honey Sauce
Matilija Tamari Sauce
Ojai Lemon Sauce
Green Enchilada Sauce
Pesto Lemon Sauce
Mushroom Garlic Sauce
Marinated Ginger
Desert Hummus Sauce
Festive Cranberry Sauce
Hot Fudge on Ice Cream


Robin’s Chai
Teepee Hot Cider
4th of July Lemonade
Christine ’s Punch
Honey Almond Chai

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