Monday, November 30, 2009

a thousand beautiful things

I don't want to say the last two dinners were failures...but I can't say they were successes, either. I enjoyed the Cuban Black Bean Soup just as I imagined I would, and Mister grinned and bore it, just as I imagined he would. Mister didn't have have anything to say about last night's Saffron-Spiked Moroccan Stew aside from "what is this?" However, I think both of us really had to make an effort to remember how fortunate we were to find out that we aren't big saffron fans and muddle through our flower-scented dinner.

Tonight, I sought out the safety of the Pasta with Beans & Chard because one can rarely go wrong with pasta, especially where my husband is concerned. I guess that's why pasta seems like such a reliable meal to feed one of those crazy people who doesn't eat the preserved corpses you usually serve. By the way, I say things like that to point out the irony of people thinking I'm weird because I eat the bounty of the earth rather than glut myself on the bloodless bodies of the weak. Sorry - I couldn't even say that straight. The point is, I think it's funny that people are so taken off guard by vegans and vegetarians and resort to trying to make us feel inferior about what seems like such a natural choice, purely because our choices make them uncomfortable.

So, that was quite the tangent. The point here is that tonight's dinner didn't suck:
I had mentioned in one of the posts where I was still forming the idea of Operation Gratitude Attitude that my recent introspective pondering was partially owed to the influence of Annie Lennox. I would like to share some lyrics from the specific song with you now, so that you might ponder it as well and keep it close to your heart and mind when you help me build my list of blessings.

1000 Beautiful Things
Every day I write the list of reasons why I still believe they do exist
A thousand beautiful things
And even though it's hard to see, the glass is full and not half empty
A thousand beautiful things

I thank you for the air to breathe, the heart to beat, the eyes to see again
A thousand beautiful things
And all the things that's been and done, the battles won, the good and bad in everyone
This is mine to remember

So, then, here is today's list:
1. I am grateful that today is over and I feel the pieces of a very complicated puzzle coming together.

2. I am grateful for the opportunity to prove myself at work this week.

3. I am grateful that I woke up this morning with enough time to paint my nails - it's amazing what a shiny new coat of red can do for a girl.

4. I am grateful for this tasty elixir:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

sometimes the obvious eludes me

For example, if you knew that saffron was the dried stigma of the crocus flower, wouldn't you expect it to emit a floral scent? You would, wouldn't you? Yeah, I didn't.

Tonight, I made Saffron-Spiked Moroccan Stew and it was my first experience cooking with the much exalted spice in the title. I mentioned in my menu post that I have substituted turmeric for saffron in the past. Why? They are not even remotely similar, aside from them both imparting a deep hue to whatever food they are sprinkled upon. Turmeric is a bitter spice that turns things (like scrambled tofu) yellow. Saffron is red, turns things red, and stinks. It has an inescapable and very strong floral odor that really made it hard for me to eat my stew. I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of it!

Dinner was very pretty, though and Mister and I managed to fill our bellies, with the help of some salt and a serious effort to ignore the fact that our dinner smelled like a spring bouquet.
Today has kind of been a day of nauseating scents. Dinner actually didn't taste bad, it just smelled weird, which was distracting. Earlier, I made more scrambled tofu and although it tasted as good as it did yesterday, I absolutely could not stand the smell today. I don't know if I did something different or if I just wasn't paying attention to the smell yesterday, though that's not likely. Moving on...
1. I am grateful that I have just spent 5 days relaxing and ignoring almost any sense of responsibility.

2. I am grateful for my sense of adventure when it comes to selecting my menu, even if it backfires sometimes.

3. I am grateful that I can see clearly out of both my eyes now that I got rid of that flawed right contact lens.

4. I am grateful that today is the first day of the Advent season, officially marking the beginning of Christmastime, my favorite time of year.

What are you grateful for?

not everyone likes fruit in soup

So....remember my hesitance about the Cuban Black Bean Soup? I never really went into detail, but I mentioned that the ingredients were a little off the wall. I also said that I had little doubt that I would love it, but at least a decent amount of doubt that Mister would. Well, it turns out the most tactful way Mister could find to describe the soup was, in fact, "weird." He ate it, God bless him, but I don't think I'll be able to get him to eat it again. I loved it, on the other hand, so we can just move that to the Wednesday file.

There will be no pictures, because they really didn't come out well and the soup really wasn't much to look at anyway, but here is a synopsis of our dinner experience:
The soup contains this bizarre mixture: hot sauce, black beans, coconut milk, and bananas. There are some other things, but those are the ones that make it weird. Specifically, the bananas are probably what lost Mister's vote (and won mine). I guess we can't all love fruit in soup. They added what can only be described as a buttery smell, which really confused me, even though I was the one who made the soup and therefore knew that there was not even Earth Balance in there, let alone butter. The immersion blender gave the coconut milk a bit of froth, as well as gently pulverizing just enough of the bananas, black beans, and peppers to thicken the broth a bit while still leaving chunks to satisfy Mister's desire to not feel like he could eat his dinner with a straw.

With that, we'll head right into Operation Gratitude Attitude.
1. I am grateful for the opportunity to play Christmas music at my piano for hours today, uninterrupted.

2. I am grateful for and the opportunity to watch Josh sing one of the most powerful songs in musical theatre in the privacy of my own living room, so I could cry without shame.

3. I am grateful that facebook reunited me with a fellow JG-fan who told me that he played the part of Anatoly in a two-day performance of Chess, my favorite musical, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, directed my Tim Rice himself.

4. I am grateful that I still have one more day left before the insanity of the week starts.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

omni-vegan feast

Where to begin? Thanksgiving was really an adventure, challenge, and delight. As it turns out, my mom and I were almost matched dish for dish on the dinner table. Representing the Omnivores, she had prepared a hunk of turkey, our family tradition - pineapple casserole, a sweet potato casserole, and a salad with some biscuits. On the Vegan team, I brought my tofu turkeys (absolute triumph), spiced potatoes and green beans, and chai applesauce. Mom also had pumpkin pie and chocolate ganache sandwich cookies for dessert. Buckle your seatbelts, folks, I think this is going to be a long, picture-filled post.
here's the dinner table, all decked out for the holiday and covered with more food than I think any of the four of us had anticipated.
here's the Chunky Chai Applesauce, looking quite regal in gold and ivory
Tofu Turkeys keeping the Sweet Potato Casserole company
Spiced Potatoes and Green Beans in front of Mom's traditional Pineapple Casserole
my happy little plate, with my tofu turkeys bathed in just a bit of the gravy I made from the leftover marinade...which my father liked so much he wanted to keep it to use on his turkey leftovers this week!
And here's Dad, showing the whole world that he DID eat a tofu turkey. He also liked it so much that he had a second turkey with no prompting! I'm so proud.

Speaking of tofu turkeys, I ended up with a bunch of tofu leftover after I cut out the cute little turkeys, so I packed all the pieces into tupperware, covered with water, and sealed those suckers in there. Today, around brunch-time, I thought, "What a perfect day to make scrambled tofu!" I have never actually made scrambled tofu, but the idea has been growing on me for a couple of months at least, but probably more like since I got my copy of Vegan Brunch. I didn't have any nutritional yeast, so I consulted How It All Vegan because I seemed to remember Sarah Kramer also having a love of scrambled tofu. Sorry, Isa, but hers is much easier... So I heated some oil in a fry pan, blotted some of the leftover tofu on a paper towel and then "crumbled" it into the fry pan. I let it sizzle for a little while, then I sprinkled it with some turmeric, cumin, and garlic powder. I stirred it for a good while (at least a minute), then I sprinkled in some tamari and let it soak in for a bit. I think the whole process took a little more than 5 minutes and the effort was so worth it that I'm kicking myself for not doing this sooner...not that I frequently have scraps of leftover tofu lying around.
seriously - who needs eggs?

Tonight, then, we had the last thing on last week's menu - Beef and Cabbage Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce. It didn't come together quite as smoothly as I would have liked, but I think I could have been a little more organized. I was rushing myself because I got a late start and because it is my opinion that stir-fries should be fast, adrenaline-pumping experiences. I got to use my new juicer to get the 1/3 cup orange juice I needed (2 oranges, if you care) for the sauce. It came out very delicious and looking much like its picture, which always thrills me.

Now, on to this week's menu:

1. Saffron-Spiked Moroccan Stew on couscous, from The Vegan Table. I have stayed away from things that call for saffron, since it is excessively expensive, or I just substitute turmeric if it's not a main ingredient. I have decided, upon reading this recipe, that it is worth the cost of the saffron to try it out.

2. Orzo Pilaf with Roasted Red Peppers & Peas, also from The Vegan Table. This looks like a fun and savory pasta risotto kind of dish.

3. Cuban Black Bean Soup, also from The Vegan Table. I read this recipe three times, mulling the ingredients over in my head before deciding I want to make it. It is really a weird soup if ever I've made one, which both intrigues me and worries me. I have little doubt that I will think it's fabulous, but I never know how Mister will react to some of my more adventurous dinners.

4. Hearty Stew, also from The Vegan Table. I have made this before, but I want to make it again now that I have discovered the amazingness of Ray's Seitan. Yes, I know amazingness is not a word - spell check told me so, but I don't care - it's the best way I can think to describe this stuff. If you've ever been to Horizons, you'll understand.

5. Chickpea Stew with Fried Polenta from Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook. I love this enough to have made it a few times in recent history, and it'll make a fast, easy dinner on one of my insanely busy nights next week (which one? pick one).

6. Thai Pineapple Stir-Fried Rice from Vegan Express. I would be lost without this book. What amazes me is that I have been relying very heavily on his book since I got it and I still find new things to make every time I go in there! This looks fun. It looks like it may be a lot of work, but her recipes really never seem to take longer than a half an hour, so I think I can make it happen.

7. Pasta with Beans & Chard also from Vegan Express. Okay, so I've made this one before... I didn't say I never repeat a dish.

I didn't forget! Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I should have started then, but I was too fat to type. Today, then, is day one of Operation Gratitude Attitude. Remember our deal? I'll start with my four things:

1. I am grateful that I have enough money to keep my home as warm as I want it to be.

2. I am grateful my parents love me and support my crazy aspirations and experiments.

3. I am grateful that I have over 145,000 miles on my car and it hasn't given me any real trouble yet.

4. I am grateful to be able-bodied enough to walk to the grocery stores tomorrow.

Your turn! What one thing are you grateful for today?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

'twas the night before feasting

This will likely be a two-part series, the follow-up obviously being about the Thanksgiving holiday itself, as well as the official start of Operation Gratitude Attitude. I actually kind of hate works-in-progress, but I am having so much fun with my Thanksgiving cooking contributions I couldn't wait to share.

I'm also having fun with a new favorite thing...
Definitely not a French Martini, but it is an adequate substitute. Apparently, a champagne flute is also an adequate substitute for a martini glass.

Anyway, after running around in the mist and muck all day, I returned home in triumph with the last turkey cookie cutter they had at the restaurant supply store across the street from my home. That store has saved me on prior thanksgivings, when I didn't have the right-sized casserole dish, for example. I played Christmas music on my piano for a little while, then set about chopping peppers and eggplant for my dinner: Cumin-Roasted Eggplant with Sweet Peppers and Chickpeas. The title doesn't really lead to a need for explanation - I think the more astute readers can figure out what was in it...
Since the whole shebang roasted for about a half an hour at the highest heat my oven makes, it definitely needed to sit a while and think about what it did, so while I waited for dinner to cool, I made my first applesauce ever! Chunky Chai Applesauce is not your standard applesauce, but it's still my attempt to bribe my father into willingly consuming a tofu turkey.
before 5 happy Grannies met their fate
after they spent some time with Apple Cider and Spices

It really blew my mind to uncover the pot after those cubes of apple were simmering with the apple cider for 20ish minutes and find that they needed no mashing. It also blew my mind that after adding 1 cup of brown sugar, as well as the chai spices, you can still taste the tartness of the Granny Smith apples.

While I waited for the applesauce to cool so I could store it in tupperware in the fridge, I got to carving my turkeys and heating the marinade. I am so excited to see how this all comes out, I can't even express myself. Of course, that could be the pomegranate martini, too. I will leave you with a picture of my little tofu turkey army and a promise to update on all fronts tomorrow.

Truly the coolest thing I have ever done with tofu

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

looks like we made it

By we, I mean me and my imaginary clones that helped me get all my work done these past two days. I can't believe I just used a Barry Manilow song as the title of my post.

Anyway, to celebrate the end of my very short but action-packed work week, I made Greek Orzo Stuffed Peppers.
Aren't they pretty? There were supposed to be four peppers, but I don't see how there would have been enough stuffing without gypping the three I did halve and fill. Also, I couldn't tolerate the thought of gutting that last pepper, so I'll eat it tomorrow with my eggplant.
Very tasty little dinner. It would only have been improved by the presence of a cocktail. I am presently obsessed with drinking a French Martini (vodka, chambord, pineapple juice). I suppose I could make one myself, but my martini glasses are at my parents' house and I don't have any of the necessary ingredients anyway.

I am so looking forward to my day off tomorrow. I plan to run all over Philadelphia, so I hope the weather is nice, or at least not crappy. I still need to get a few food ingredients and I realized the other day that making tofu turkeys will be very difficult without a turkey-shaped cookie cutter. I am not free-handing it. How hard can it be to find a turkey-shaped cookie cutter? I guess we'll find out tomorrow!

Monday, November 23, 2009

one down, one to go

Work days, that is. In a stroke of good fortune, as well as possibly the stupidest combination of responsibilities, there are only 2 [very very busy] days in my work week this week. I managed to get through today...well, I should rephrase that and let it read more like this: today completely took over and before I could blink I was 75% through my work day and upon completing aforementioned blink, the imaginary whistle was blowing and it was time to go home. I imagine tomorrow will be very much the same way and despite the joy it brings me to just work my normal workday, there is a part of me that thinks I should head in early tomorrow so I can leave on time, and I don't see HOW Monday will happen without overtime. Did I mention I was a little busy?

I was also kind of a babbling idiot by the time I got home from work tonight and my mind just stopped spinning with myriad thoughts about 15 minutes ago after forcing myself to focus on providing my sister with an answer to her question about Jews, Muslims, and pork (as well as their apparent mutual exclusivity). Fortunately, dinner required almost no thought and relatively little effort. I think the total hands-on time for the Lentil-Edamame Stew was approximately 5 minutes, including the time to put it in bowls and set them on the table. This is a great recipe for those days when you simply cannot focus on a dinner that requires constant attention.
Speaking of dinners which require all of your attention every minute - I made that one last night. The first meal of the "week" is always the hardest because I have everything I need for all of the recipes and can choose any one I want, really. Once you pick one, though, the rest are easy. I consulted with my tastebuds to see what we were feeling - the answer was a resounding "umami" so I decided to go with the Seitan Stirfry with Black Bean Garlic Sauce.
It was very good and quite simple as well = a pound of seitan, a pound of green beans (I'll admit, I used frozen), a wok. I added some bok choy because I had some leftover for reasons I'll probably never know. Also, I finally broke down and bought Cooking Rice Wine. I have dozens of recipes that call for it, which I have generally overlooked because I thought, "What an esoteric ingredient! I'll end up with a huge useless bottle to use only when I make that recipe....a few times a year." Somewhere along the line, though, I realized that I have a bunch of recipes like that, so it might not be quite as esoteric as I smells really good.

By the way, I'm still trying to figure out where November went. Anyone?

Finally, I did make cookies last night and I'm proud as hell that they made it to my work potluck because they smelled SO good baking. I think Mister and I deserve some serious kudos for only doing our quality analysis on two samples... I made Banana-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies from the July 2009 issue of Cooking Light.
I veganized the recipe very easily. I mean, seriously? Banana-anything cookies/muffins/cake beg for another banana to replace the eggs, so that was a no-brainer. I also replaced the butter with 1/4 cup canola oil. They were a big hit - they smelled just like banana bread, but had the toothsome texture of whole oats and the squishy sweet surprise of dark chocolate chips. Hopefully, they provided a healthful polemic to the Turducken one group brought in. The smell of the turducken = utterly revolting and at least somewhat nauseating. Not one, but 3 roasted corpses, each one crammed into the next size up...mmmm..... NO.

Actually, that is probably the best segue I'll have to throw out this little thought-nugget: my sister emailed me an article from the New York Times. It's an Op-Ed by Gary Steiner, a vegan professor at Bucknell University. In the [very well-written] article, Professor Steiner points out the stunning dichotomy present in the growing concern over how Thanksgiving turkeys lived prior to having their heads chopped off, feathers plucked out, and being roasted in an oven for a bunch of gluttonous Americans to eat. Free-range poultry is all the rage, as omnivores everywhere try to assuage their consciences of any guilt that might be associated with killing a big bird that you know you won't finish, so you make sandwiches and soups and other stuff from the plethora of recipes that come out about this time of year to help you use up the leftover turkey. How often, though, does someone stop and think about how little it matters whether the turkey was happy before you ate it because it was bred, born, and raised specifically to DIE and be roasted on the fourth Thursday of November?

That's enough from me - I'll let the good professor [angrily] make his point.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

of menus and magazines

When I was planning my wedding, I think I truly bought every bridal magazine that was widely available - Brides, The Knot, Martha Stewart Weddings, and a few others. Up until that point, I was actually not a big fan of magazines. I would go through phases in my early twenties where I thought I liked magazines, so I would subscribe to a bunch, then I would inevitably run out of time to read them. I was really good until my 29th birthday, when I got engaged. I didn't actually subscribe to any of these magazines, and knowing my affinity for letting things pile up, I made a deal with myself that I had to get rid of a magazine every time I bought a new one, so I spent a lot of time poring over the magazines, then cutting out what I thought was important and recycling the rest to make room for a new glossy treasure.

My engagement was not quite a year, so my magazine-buying spree didn't last all that long, but it had become a habit. By the time I got home from my honeymoon and recycled the last of my bridal magazines, I'll admit - I was at a loss. I had gotten so used to buying magazines, I felt like I needed something to fill that void. I tried a book and realized that probably one reason magazines are so popular is because you don't have to devote a lot of time to them - you can read a quick article here or there and come back later and start fresh with a completely unrelated article, whereas with a book, there is generally a continuing storyline.

I'm not completely sure how it happened, but somehow, I managed to get a bunch of trial issues of magazines I was at least remotely interested in, and out of those trials, I think I ended up subscribing to 3 magazines: Cooking Light, Eating Well, and Health. After a year, I let Eating Well drop because the magazine and the website were more or less identical - it is that same reason that I didn't subscribe to any Martha Stewart publications, despite my love for her. I have had Health for a year and apparently stopped reading it after about four months, because I have a lot of issues still wrapped in plastic. I renewed my Cooking Light subscription last year and also got a subscription for my mom for Christmas. Somewhere in the past few months, though, I have fallen out of love with Cooking Light - too much meat. Most recipes I get from there are either desserts or side dishes and I don't make either frequently.

The point of all this explanation is to let you know that I spent the past few days going through a stack of back issues of these magazines and tearing out what I need and recycling the rest. I will not be renewing any subscriptions this year, although I believe I will always toy with the idea of subscribing to Vegetarian Times. I wanted to do something completely different for my menu this week, since it's so disjointed anyway between One-Serving Wednesday and Thanksgiving. I went through my magazines and did my best to convert recipes from what they are to something vegan, as well as get some ideas together for Thanksgiving (I can't serve the turkeys alone!). Here are the results of my toils:

1. Greek Orzo Stuffed Peppers from Eating Well magazine, March/April 2009.
2. Beef & Cabbage Stirfry with Peanut Sauce from Eating Well, January/February 2009.
3. Lentil-Edamame Stew from Cooking Light, December 2008.
4. Seitan Stir-Fry with Black Bean Garlic Sauce from Cooking Light, December 2009.
5. Cumin-Roasted Eggplant with Sweet Peppers & Chickpeas from Vegetarian Times, January 2009 - This will be my "One-Serving" Wednesday dinner because Mister hates eggplant. He doesn't want to, he just does.
Tofu Turkeys
Chunky Chai Applesauce from Cooking Light, November 2008 and
Spiced Potatoes and Green Beans from Cooking Light, September 2009.

I am so excited about those stupid turkeys. The whole menu looks fun (for the week, not just T-Day), so hopefully I'll have some great stories for you this week to make up for my three-day absence just now.

I will be back later with stories of tonight's dinner as well as the cookies I'm making for my work potluck tomorrow - I am really excited about these cookies, too, especially because of how easily they were "veganized."

I will leave you with a couple of pictures of our last two dinners and a few stories:

On Friday night we had Moroccan Meatballs on Couscous. I have made this a dozen times and it's always fun. The best story I have about this is when I bought the vegan meatballs at Whole Foods and the cashier was way more enthusiastic about them than I was. In fact, while she was picking them up and exclaiming that they were the "best thing ever," I was wishing there was a better vegan meatball out there. They taste great, don't get me wrong, but they fall apart way more easily than I would like - I cook hard. It's also fun to cook with pomegranate juice, except that even POM Wonderful doesn't sell pure pomegranate juice anymore - it's always a blend: pom-mango, blueberry pomegranate, etc. I ended up with Odwalla Pomagrand.
Last night we had Pasta Jambalaya with my happy Tofurky Italian sausages. Last time I made this I cut them into rounds and that just seemed like a little too much sausage in one bite, so this time I halved each link lengthwise before slicing it into half-moons. I was really impressed with how flavorful this pasta dish is - you almost need the pasta to calm the flavors. The paprika really shines in this dish, though it overpowers the thyme a little. I really don't like the crunchiness of the celery and I forgot to cook it until it was mushy.

Anyway, I'm off to make dinner and bake cookies - I'll probably share about dinner while I'm waiting on the cookies, so check back in a few hours!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

turn that frown upside down

If there was a painkiller for frownyface, I think it would be called "a cupcake." At the beginning of VCTOTW, Isa postulates on cupcakes' inherent ability to bring joy. I got to experience that in all of its fullness today.

I work for a weight loss company (which shall remain nameless). It is the fourth quarter and we are staring Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Chanukkah right in the face, as well as all the eating associated with these holidays. Suffice it to say, our sales people are bored to tears. However, those of us who know what's coming in the 1st quarter of the new year (aka, "diet season" thanks to all those this-time-I-mean-it resolutions) are presently running around like crazy people trying to get everything in place, get everyone trained, get events planned, get samples and scripts and streamers and balloons (in company colors, of course).

The Director of all this madness has been running around non-stop, with a perma-frown on her face and her eyebrows constantly furrowed in thought. As she passed my desk today, I called out, "Smile!" to which she responded "Not yet." Then I said it.

"I have cupcakes!"
She screeches to a halt, breaks into what can only be described as an irrepressible smile and changes the course of her footsteps to make her way over to me. Like a child being offered a tray of candy, she bashfully but excitedly picked her cupcake and then, I swear this is true, took the time to truly savor it.

Asking what spiced it, she tasted each component individually as I named them: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, white pepper...that one took her a moment, but when she caught it, her face lit up all over again as though she had just unraveled the greatest mystery.

Now, the reason I compared cupcakes to a painkiller, rather than a cure, is because the numbing effects eventually wear off and push you back into whatever they had previously blocked. Moments after the last crumbs had made their way past her lips, the perma-frown regained its position. It made me happy, though, to offer just 5 minutes reprieve.

I'm also grateful I had such a great cupcake story to share, since dinner was quite unremarkable. It wasn't bad or anything, it just wasn't anything special. If I make it again, it will probably be as filling for some kind of vegetable. The Valencian Rice and Red Beans certainly took some nice pictures, though!

Angst loves cupcakes

At least, Angst fervently believes he would like to eat one of the Chai Latte Cupcakes I just made from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
They aren't terribly interesting to look at since I failed to follow the decoration instructions. But I'm sure if I had sprinkled them liberally with confectioner's sugar and then sifted the cocoa, cinnamon, and nutmeg over a cupcake stencil to make a nifty design, they would probably be much cooler looking. Nevertheless, they taste just like a freaking chai latte and that blows my mind. Actually, they also taste like Chai Luna Bars, which really makes me want to stop by Whole Foods on my way to work tomorrow... Or maybe I'll just have another cupcake and wait until I go food shopping in a few days.
I had a bizarre experience at work today that I would like to ramble about for a few minutes before I go to bed.

About three years ago, I discovered that I am actually capable of making my own soup and that it is actually much better (in many ways) than canned soup (even Amy's, sorry), which I had happily eaten for the first twenty*ahem* years of my life. In that instant, I forswore canned soups...until today.

I am generally a huge pain in the rear of our Cafe manager at work. I bug him almost relentlessly about the ingredients in things like, well, soup. As I've alluded to in the past, it just doesn't occur to some people that using chicken or beef broth as the base of a soup makes it not vegetarian anymore, even if everything else used to grow in the dirt. We have actually discussed the tomato soup in detail and I inadvertently introduced him to the PETA website while he reluctantly disclosed to me that the tomato soup is nothing more than Campbell's. He probably thought I would call him out on the inauthenticity of more or less advertising home-made soups and then pouring a vat of Campbell's Tomato Soup into an electric tureen, but I was actually thrilled, because that particular soup is 100% vegan.

The point of all that was to tell you that I ate Campbell's Tomato Soup out of a "styrofoam" to-go bowl with a ridiculous plastic soup spoon at my desk today. I realized about halfway through the soup that I felt almost melancholy and nostalgia was washing over me. I paused, spoon hovering between the bowl and my mouth, trying to locate the source of this sudden reflection when I realized it was the soup! The last time I had tomato soup out of a to-go container was when I worked in the alternative school and nonprofit social service agency. For some reason, I distinctly remember that day as the day I realized that Campbell's Tomato Soup leaves a fire-red tint on your lips if you don't wipe them with a napkin after you eat. My mind kept going back, though, further down the road of food-related memories. I remembered so very many times throughout my childhood, adolescence, and even early adulthood when we all had Campbell's Tomato Soup with grilled cheese for dinner or lunch on a lazy weekend, and how my dad always dipped his sandwich into his soup. I was not a fan of my food touching any of my other food, so I found that both appalling and intriguing as I slurped my soup and then ate my sandwich, or the same in reverse, but never together. I also thought of how many times my mother made that same combination of soup and sandwich for me when I was sick or sad or doing homework for countless hours of my junior year of high school.

I don't know how long I thought about these things, and I can only hope no one I work with caught me staring dumbfoundedly at my soup today. It's not thanksgiving yet, but I'd like to add those memories to my list of things for which I am grateful.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

all that's missing are the feathers

Like most people (I suppose), I find a blog-niche and stay with my 10 most familiar/comfortable blogs, in terms of my reading pleasure. When I find a new blog to read, it was normally linked to one of my favorites. In the case of Bittersweet, though, my Dad inadvertently led me there. That's why the next part of the story is so much funnier than it would have been if I had linked there from any of the blogs on the right side of the page here.

Having made many valiant attempts to make a scrumptious vegetarian main dish for holiday dinners, my mother has more or less waved the white flag and given that responsibility to me. I'm more than happy to take it on, and with each new holiday I try to branch out and contribute even more. Maybe I'm practicing for when she's too decrepit to make family dinners (just kidding, Mom!) or maybe I'm excited to be able to offer some of the more interesting side dishes that I never make because it's just Mister and me. Anyway, I am elated to report that I have found one of my contributions for Thanksgiving and I can't wait to make my father eat it:
Tofu Turkey - how cool is that???
The marinade looks painlessly simple and the whole process seems quite effortless, but I am thrilled. Mister finally gets his "tofurky" even if it's not the "roast" in the freezer section of Whole Foods. I get to play with tofu and cookie cutters. My parents get to experience the wonder of tofu after it's been marinated and baked. This is going to be great!

Yes, Dad - if you're reading this, I really am going to make you eat one.

Now, where was I before I started waxing sentimental the past two days? Ah yes, prepping, cooking, and eating some great dinners that escaped my literary attention because I was thinking too hard. I blame it on Annie Lennox, but we can get into that later.

Last night, I made Seitan & Polenta Skillet with Fresh Greens and it was definitely better than the first time. The difference was in the seitan. Normally, I use White Wave Seitan, but I couldn't find it at Whole Foods. I also couldn't find it under the products on White Wave's website, so I'm wondering if it has met an untimely demise... Anyway, in its conspicuous absence, I stared blankly at the refrigerator, then furrowed my brow and tried to figure out which of the remaining seitans would be an acceptable substitute. I believe I chose wisely - I got Ray's Seitan Wheat Meat which looked utterly terrifying swimming in its little tub of broth. Apparently, it's locally produced and is the brand used by Horizons to make all of their amazing seitan dishes! So, despite how gross it looked before I cooked it, the minute it hit the pan I knew I'd made the right choice. It was so much better than the White Wave that I'm kicking myself for passing it by so many times...of course, it's also about twice as expensive, but whatever - you only live once, you may as well enjoy dinner.
Tonight, we had Two-Broccoli Stir-Fry on Soba Noodles. I have to hand it to Mister - he was a good sport. He's not a huge fan of non-spaghetti noodles...he doesn't even like whole-wheat italian-style pasta - durum semolina all the way, baby. However, as I've mentioned, Broccoli is one of his favorite vegetables, so perhaps the doubled broccoli won out over the weird noodles and hunks of tofu.

Also, having failed to locate and purchase my new kitchen toys, I just squeezed the hell out of three oranges. By the way - that's how many oranges you have to squeeze the hell, er, juice, out of to get 1/2 cup. I skipped the zesting bit...the peels weren't in very good condition after all that mutilation anyway.
Broccoli BFFs hanging out on a bed of soba noodles, leaning on tofu pillows
My attempt at a more artistic still life.

Anyway, two great dinners: I love polenta, the seitan was amazing, my hunks of tofu happily absorbed the murdered oranges' juice for a fun and juicy addition to the broccoli, and I have decided that (regardless of Mister's feelings) I love soba noodles.

Monday, November 16, 2009

who needs holidays when there are mondays?

And now the whole world thinks I'm crazy :)

But really - let's compare: Christmas/Chanukkah? People more or less "expect" presents. Gifts are part and parcel with family-oriented holidays...and birthdays...and anniversaries. If a date on a calendar could possibly mean anything then a gift is probably warranted.

[Amusing sidenote: last Christmas, my sister gave us a Peace Corps calendar marking every holiday observed in every country ever, so every single day is a holiday somewhere. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish Estonians everywhere a Happy Rebirth Day!]

Monday, on the other hand? No gifts required, much less expected (as much as anyone should really expect a freely given token of love). So, then, if an amazing husband were to surprise his wife with gifts upon her return home from work one Monday, wouldn't they mean that much more?

Our anniversary was three weeks ago. My birthday is still two months away. Though malls everywhere may protest, it is not, in fact, Christmastime yet. We aren't in the habit of celebrating Estonian holidays, as neither of us has Estonian blood. So why did I get presents after my greeting hug & kisses?
sweet, sweet love...

I was absolutely ecstatic about the Endangered Species Chocolate bar. I have seen it all over blogs and magazines lately and I can't find anything to hate about a chocolate company that donates 10% of its earnings to protecting wildlife, while proving that life without Godiva may be worth living after all. Now that I have happily savored one of the three little squares of 70% cocoa dark chocolate hiding beneath that very dignified wrapper, I can happily proclaim my love for this bar. Who knew vegan chocolate could be quite this good? Also, I have never had dried blueberries in my candy before. That made me ever-so-slightly wary, but it was awesome! The tartness of those tiny wild blueberries actually enhanced the bittersweetness of the dark chocolate.

I haven't had the Maple Candy be honest, looking at it makes my teeth hurt. It's absolutely gorgeous - the little maple sugar crystals glisten and sparkle like any maple-leaf-shaped ornament ready to decorate a Douglas Fir, but the idea of putting it in my mouth is a little daunting. My plan is to break into it on some lazy day that I can pawn the uneaten parts off on my coffee or oatmeal. I like the story behind the Coombs Family Farm, though.

Me, though? I'm going to dwell on what a great husband I have.

If ever there was a segue into something I meant to cover last night, that was it. I alluded to the holiday season when I began my ramblings about what it means to me to slowly become vegan, but I ran out of words and steam before remembering. It's been on my mind again especially since I came home to unexpected presents after a day of feeling built up by some colleagues.

I've mentioned Chocolate-Covered Katie multiple times over the months since I found her blog. I told you about Hug-A-Carb month and how that spilled over to Operation Chocolate-Covered Kindness. I directed you to her giveaway and today, she announced her Big, Fat Chocolate giveaway!

Her enthusiasm and joy are contagious apparently (and I'll take that over the Swine Flu any day). Between her good humor about damn near everything and a surprisingly thought-provoking article I read in the November Reader's Digest, I'm in a mood to count my blessings.

The season of Advent is a special time for me...Christmastime. It is a time for reflections, sometimes an opportunity to start over, sometimes a moment to wander the streets of Nostalgia and wonder when things got so damn complicated. I'm not going to pretend that if we all just embrace the holiday season with the innocence of children that we will magically transport ourselves to a simpler time, but why not take a step back anyway?

I have decided that from Thanksgiving until Christmas, I will take time each day to count my blessings. At the very least, I will find four things about each Today that make me happy. I don't have any spiffy graphics because I'm art-retarded, especially when it comes to computers, but I hereby dub that time Operation Gratitude Attitude and will do my best to blog every day, even if only a few words to record what I am grateful for that day. I would love it if you would all play along - I know there are a decent number of people (maybe even more than I realize) who read this blog regularly but have never commented or do so only rarely. I want you to share what you are grateful for with me! Let's do this together - I will tell you four things each day that I feel blessed to be/have/see/taste/etc and all you have to do is leave me a comment with just one of your blessings. Do we have a deal?

I'll start:
I am grateful for my loving, faithful, generous, kind, and compassionate husband. (I could keep going, too.)
I am grateful that my parents are still alive and still each other - December 6th will be their 40th wedding anniversary!
I am grateful to be the sister of a woman who can climb mountains, leap from cliffs, and save lives...all in one day.
I am grateful that I love my in-laws and they love me.

What are you grateful for?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

keeping the R in Random

I have been thinking all day, and now I sit down to type (with my new red fingernails) and I cannot put everything into a logical sequence. Forgive me if I flit from one topic to another without a meaningful segue.

I guess I'll start with dinner, then briefly revisit yesterday's post before ambling through my newest ponderings relating to veganism and the upcoming holiday season.

Actually, I'll start with this week's menu, otherwise you'll be confused about dinner:

1. Two-Broccoli Stir-Fry on Soba Noodles
from Vegetarian Times Fast & Easy. It looks fun, and justifies the purchase of two relatively small and useless kitchen tools - a zester (yes, I really don't have one) and a citrus juicer. I don't actually need the juicer, but it would make the recipe easier/more authentic.

2. Penne with Broccoli and Creamy Tomato Sauce also from VTF&E. I am still in awe of blender sauces, so you know where this is going.

3. Moroccan "Meatballs" and Couscous also from VTF&E. My current method of menu planning, homogenous and boring though it may seem, is to grab one cookbook and try to get as many recipes as I can out of it. The next week I choose another one. Last week was so insanely busy that I think I only had time to blog twice. If I take too long cooking and cleaning up afterwards, there simply isn't time unless I want to be more of a zombie at work than I am already sometimes, so I skip it. I don't want to do that, and I foresee this week being at least as busy, so I chose the two cookbooks that could get it done. And so, on to....

4. Seitan & Polenta Skillet with Fresh Greens from Vegan Express, my dear standby. I have skipped over this recipe looking for specific other recipes the last few times I've looked through this book, so this week, I'm making it.

5. Valencian Rice and Red Beans also from Vegan Express. I am absolutely intrigued by this recipe. There is a part of me that thinks it could really suck, but Nava really hasn't let me down yet, so I think I'm wrong. I'm looking forward to finding out!

6. Pasta Jambalaya also from Vegan Express. I will admit it: I sought this recipe out specifically because I miss the Tofurky sausages. I was determined to finish my search with a recipe that would use them, and this one was the lucky winner.

So, then, tonight we had #2 and it was delightful. It was also remarkably fast and easy...which I suppose is how it got into the cookbook, but still! I have made recipes from that book that most assuredly did NOT take under 45 minutes to prepare. I don't think it even took the 30 minutes the book told me it would - it was really fast. The pasta only boils for 10 minutes, the broccoli steams for 7, and it takes about 30 seconds to cut open the Mori-Nu package and watch that ambiguous white brick slurp out and into my food processor, and another 5 seconds to add the marinara. Oh, but let me talk about that for a minute.

I don't make a lot of recipes that call for prepared marinara sauce, and when I make pasta, it's a little too easy to make my own sauce to invest $3-$9 in whatever's on the store shelves. Ordinarily, since I know it wouldn't be the star of the dish, I just get the generic America's Choice marinara (which, by the way, IS vegan). Today, they were all out since it was on sale. However, a lot of the pasta sauces were on sale, so I took advantage of the opportunity to try Bertolli at half the price. I got the Fire Roasted Tomato with Cabernet Sauvignon (also vegan) and combined it with firm silken tofu in my food processor and it was one of the most convincingly creamy concoctions I have made yet! The flavor of the tomato sauce was outstanding, and I am still trying to figure out how the tofu didn't taste like soy. There is obviously a substantial difference between silken tofu and regular, perishable tofu, but it is very difficult to describe. I do know that leftover silken tofu makes a killer sandwich, though.

Anyway, dinner was really tasty - Mister was thrilled - he loves broccoli.
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I went to a baby shower. After the week I had, being in a small house with nightmare acoustics was not the most relaxing way to spend my first "day off," but it was great to see loved ones, so I wanted to share a picture and a funny story.

I think it was a Friday afternoon in mid-July. I was off from work and had finished my food shopping, so I decided to pick up a bottle of Riesling. I had located my favored brand, Hogue Cellars, and was at the register when I heard a voice behind me say, "Hello, Mrs. K___!" I turned and with pleasant surprise responded to my cousin-in-law with another hearty "Why hello, Mrs. K___!" We laughed, the cashier was confused, and after we had each paid for our bottles of Riesling (great minds think alike), I walked her home. That was the day I let someone else in on my ideas about starting this blog, and she has been there to encourage me along the way, so here's some cousin-love!
The Mrs. K___s

So, then, let's hippity-hop back down the bunny trail as the winter holidays draw near. I had intended to devote a lot more time and attention to this list, but here it goes.

Reasons I don't call myself vegan (amended from, Why I'm not vegan)
1. I haven't reconciled my feelings about wool, silk, and leather yet.
2. I love make-up and nail polish.
3. I love Godiva.
4. It takes too much damn effort and I don't know if I care enough to commit to it.

The list used to be much longer. October/VeganMoFo really opened my eyes and took away a lot of the reasons I had previously thought were valid. I did my own research and soul-searching and do not wish to consume honey any longer. I have thus far refrained from replacing my winter coat because it would just be my luck to start caring about wool right after making that investment. I used to swear I couldn't live without cheese, but that's not so true anymore. I'm not so hot on eating eggs in any recognizable form, but I'm not completely ready to dissect each and every food in which they could be hiding.

I've already spent a lot of time on #1, so I'm going to leave that alone for now. Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are rapidly being deconstructed by one seemingly simple choice I made at Whole Foods today. You know how all stores that have lines have strategically placed "upsells" that you can look at while you wait your turn? Movie stores have candy, popcorn, soda; Pharmacies have mints, candy, and batteries; Grocery stores have candy and magazines - Whole Foods sometimes throws organic, soy, vegan, gluten-free candles in there, too (that was a joke). Anyway, I'm really good at falling for that stuff, and even better when Mister is there to help me. Today, as I waited for my groceries to make their way down the conveyor belt to my bag, I picked up a holiday copy of Vegetarian Times. I flipped through it, remembered how many of their recipes involve dairy and put it back on the rack, feeling very responsible and proud of myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied VegNews and it was over, especially since it was the 2009 Readers' Choice Awards issue. I picked up a copy, plopped it down beside my broccoli and continued waiting.

After dinner tonight, I was looking through it and I had an epiphany. As long as you stay in a relatively metropolitan area, living a vegan lifestyle is barely even challenging! Brilliant strides have been made since I last waded in the waters of veganism (2003). Innovators and revolutionaries have spawned from the fibers of society to provide viable alternatives to non-vegan things like cheese (Daiya), marshmallows (Dandies and Sweet & Sara), and so on. There is a plethora of meat substitutes in various forms, for those who are into that - I know Mister would be sad to live a life without Tofurky. There is soymilk, ricemilk, almond milk, and even cashew milk; soy and coconut milk coffee creamers; soy, rice, and coconut milk yogurts and ice creams...the list goes on and on...

But what about Godiva? All of their chocolate has dairy. SO sad. But it appears there are so many amazing vegan confections, giving up Godiva might not be as tragic as I once thought. So, it looks like I could commit myself to a vegan diet, but what about the other things, like make-up and nail polish? Where do I draw my line? Do I care about bunnies and guinea pigs being sprayed in their eyes and living out their miserable lives in cages with no comfort or loving touch, just living in fear of the next time the humans come to visit? Yes, I do - that's a horrible picture, isn't it? Have I generally pushed that out of my mind when shopping for beauty products? Sad to say, yes, I have. It's really a denial thing, though, because unless I have vastly underestimated human nature, who could remember those things when they're shopping and still buy things from companies who exploit animals - human or otherwise?

Once again, VegNews to the rescue! Granted, this is kind of a "best of" issue, but it has worked wonders in opening up my eyes to a world of quality vegan products that really could replace things I use now. I haven't seen anything about nail polish yet, but one of their cruelty-free companies is Aveda, who is the "mother" company of my make-up manufacturers. This is worth a second thought, after all!

Conclusion? I'm not going to wake up tomorrow and call myself a vegan. Everyday, though, I will examine my choices more thoughtfully and feel good about the baby steps I'm taking towards a better me.

success is sweeter when shared

There are a few ways I know my dinner was a success. One is when Mister goes back for thirds. Another is when he exclaims, only one spoonful into his soup, "This is really good!" Both of those things happened tonight.

I made Potato Corn Chowder from The Accidental Vegan. It was great the first time I made it, but I think it might have been better tonight. Other than being very vigilant not to over-blend with my favorite kitchen appliance, I can't think of what I might have done differently. I did manage to keep myself to only two bowls this time - it may have had something to do with the cake, cookies, and fruit I had happily scarfed down earlier today.
So earlier today, I was surrounded by oodles of [very loud] family at my cousin(-in-law)'s baby shower. She looks great and got tons of adorable baby clothes, and my mother-in-law convinced herself that I'm softening up about having a baby of my own and tried to convince me that I was in denial....merely because I acknowledged that tiny little baby clothes are, in fact, adorable.

I could not eat the vast majority of things offered at the shower, but I more or less gorged myself on a huge fruit bowl and a diverse and well-made salad, as well as a few brownie-cookies and a piece of cake that was much better than I thought it would be. I guess you kind of have to eat cake when it celebrates something. I managed to get only half a piece when I swore I needed room on my plate for cookies and half a fruit tart. Have you seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? It's all true.

As long as we're going back in time, let's roll back the clock another 12 hours or so (maybe more, I'm bad at math). When I got home from work last night, Mister informed me that an old friend of ours was in town and would be coming by. I went from feeling frustrated about the extraordinary amount of time it took me to find parking (45 minutes again) to ecstatic - this was the first time in a looooong time that I we would have a guest for dinner! In fact, last time we shared a meal with a friend, he had to take it to-go! So I happily set about my washing and chopping and steeping and simmering and got to the sizzling part just as the doorbell rang!
look at all those nice browned chunks of tofu!
It didn't run away this time.

After the sizzling, the three of us all sat down together and ate a few bowls of Five-Spice Vegetables and Tofu on Green Tea Rice. All of it - the tofu was there and I used the 5-spice powder instead of cloves. It crossed my mind while I was cooking that our friend might not be a big fan of tofu. Then I remembered that he is one of those precious few people who are merely grateful that someone cared enough to make them food. He ate every last bite and thanked me a few times for dinner. It was just so nice to share a meal with someone so close to our hearts!
One last thing - click here for the recipe, but let me add something. In order to expand the dish a little and ensure there would be enough for the three of us, I used two large carrots, cut on the bias, and then I made apple fries! I had a Granny Smith apple in the fridge that I had intended to turn into half of an apple and brussels sprouts salad, but since I roasted the brussels sprouts and never got more, I decided to cut it into french/freedom fry strips and added them to the stir-fry. Let me just say that Granny Smith apples are most certainly sturdy enough to stand up to a vigorous stirfry and they really absorbed the five-spice and tamari I sprinkled on during cooking.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

amy lee looks just like me

What a funny week this is becoming! It has thus far been chock-full of memories, but also of hopeful looking-aheads. I don't know if I'm waxing philosophical because everyone else seems to be so focused on the approach of the second decade of the 21st century or what, but I will admit I'm buying into the hype at least a little.

For nostalgia, though, I mentioned earlier a memory of my mother making chicken cacciatore when I was growing up. I'm thrilled to say that my recent undertaking of making Seitan Cacciatore from The Accidental Vegan was an absolute success. I feel much more comfortable making weird, avant-garde dishes than I do when I try to replicate a traditional meal within the confines of vegan/vegetarian cooking. I guess there's always the reminder, poking my brain, that my husband's mother and father are both phenomenal cooks and he is used to eating very tasty things. I guess I'm a little worried that my seitan/tofu/tofurky version won't measure up to his childhood memories of the same foods.

Nothing to fear! I was very pleased with the way it came out, and Mister couldn't have been too disappointed - he went back for thirds! It also tasted nothing like my memory, but I equate seitan more with beef than with chicken.
True to form, tonight was One-Serving Wednesday. I think it needs a new name. I've given up on making small portions and have turned my focus to just eating everything Mister hates. My sweet potato fetish is becoming a weekly event - tonight I scrubbed and cubed another garnet yam and then tossed it with broccoli, olive oil, garlic, and a touch of salt. I wasn't really paying attention to how long it baked because I was preparing my tempeh. I haven't had tempeh since sometime this summer when Mister and I went to Horizons and I was really craving it. I was going to follow one of Isa's recipes for scrambled tempeh, but in the end here's what I did (perhaps it will find its way into recipe form at some point in the future):

Heated 2 Tbsp peanut oil and 1/2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil in a large skillet. Added about a tsp of good curry powder (I favor Frontier brand), a tsp of dried cilantro and about 1/4 tsp dried thyme and sauteed it all for about a minute. I splashed in about a Tbsp of tamari, then added 8 oz tempeh cubes and stirred to coat. I covered the skillet and wandered around my kitchen for a few minutes, checking on the tempeh and the roasting vegetables. About three-four minutes into the tempeh cooking time, I added 1/4 c water, then cooked more or less until that evaporated/was absorbed into the tempeh. Then I took the roasted broccoli and yam out of the oven and added the tempeh, stirring to combine. Quite easy, actually.
The funniest thing happened today. We are currently working with some "outside consultants" to ensure we are completely prepared for what we hope will be an onslaught of business in the new year. I presented my part of the training today and later on, the leader of the pack said to my supervisor, "That Natalie...she looks a lot like the lead singer of Evanescence, doesn't she?"

I LOVE Amy Lee. There are not too many things you can say to compliment me more, aside from the time a new trainee was being seated with one of our veterans for some mentoring. Upon reaching his cubicle, she exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, you have a picture of Natalie on your cubicle? That's so awesome!" The picture was actually Megan Fox. I was flying high for the rest of the day.

Keep an open mind - I take my own crappy pictures ;)

Anyway, I remember waaaaayyy back in 2003 when Fallen came out. I took the CD to a bar my friend tended to show it to him. From about 10-15 feet distance he looked at the CD and then at me in surprise:
"You recorded a CD??"
To be completely honest, I had not noticed until that moment that in that moment we did indeed bear a striking resemblance to one another.

So, that was my happy moment today.

Monday, November 9, 2009

sweet potato? sweet tomato!

Can I start by saying that I still can't get over the fact that bananas melt? I love that little chocolate-covered blog for many reasons, but I think one of my favorites is that it opened my eyes to a whole new world of banana-eating.

Needless to say, I had a melted banana in my oatmeal this morning.

On my way to work I indulged in a rare treat - I got a peppermint Americano from Starbucks. I always remember why these treats are rare at the cash register... but it was worth every penny! Say what you want about Starbucks, but I appreciate their effort to promote fair trade and local farming.

Speaking of farming...we slaughtered us some chickpeas and olives tonight, while ripping out the hearts of palm and artichoke hearts...okay, that was a little graphic. I made the Mediterranean Chopped Salad for dinner tonight because it was 70 degrees in Philadelphia today. Yes, it's November. No, I don't think anyone told the weather. Anyway, it was fast, easy, and beautiful:
I'll admit, I cheated a little - those beautiful mixed greens came from one of those ready-to-eat salad bags. I opened the cans of artichoke hearts, chickpeas, and hearts of palm myself, though! There were two things that really stood out to me about this salad - the oil-cured black olives and the grape tomatoes.

By November, it's pretty safe to say tomato season is over. These little grape tomatoes would beg to differ, though, and they'd probably win. I was not expecting the honest-to-God sweet taste that filled my mouth when I bit down on one. Add to that the amazing contrast of dark, salty olives and it was an incredible salad. I also love the briny taste of the artichoke hearts and the chompy texture of the palmitos. This salad is so good with just these simple adornments, you wouldn't even notice that I left off the cubed mozzarella...I know Mister didn't!