Monday, May 31, 2010

a good excuse to be a bad influence

Wind me up and watch me go
Where she stops, nobody knows
It's a good excuse to be a bad influence on you (and you and you and you and you)
(click here for the soundtrack to this post) 

I don't like to drop names (so I won't), but I know a lot of people in the music biz...enough people that other people are sometimes impressed with me, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but makes me feel like the rockstar I was destined to be.  After all, there are at least two CDs sold in music stores across the country where you can hear my voice, so I can feel a little special, can't I?

Regardless, because of these people, I readily recognize that celebrities (generally) are just like us normal folk, they're just more visible.  I'll grant you, not everyone can afford the things they have or the places they go, and no one cares what Mister and I order from the local Chinese place, but They have the same feelings, the same needs, the same desires, for the most part as you and me.  Because of all that, I rarely hold a celebrity in high enough esteem to emulate their behavior/dress/etc.  I have one weakness:  P!nk.

I would like to believe that I would be cool if I met her, that I wouldn't be starstruck or stupid and I would be able to have an intelligent conversation with her.  Heck, she's even a local girl - raised in the Philadelphia 'burbs.  We share a common ethnic heritage and we both have great cheek bones (toot toot).  So, perhaps it was more out of respect for her than a moment of celebrity worship that I took her advice on wine.

In an interview you can view on her website, P!nk (aka Alecia Moore) describes her favorite wines.  I had heard of Super-Tuscans before and when I googled them I realized why in the same answer she made the comment that she "a very expensive date."  Most Super-Tuscans retail for $175 and up, averaging in the mid $200s for one bottle.  To think I've spent a great deal of my life enthralled by the idea of a $100something bottle of Dom Perignon is shameful in comparison.

I figured I may as well give it a try, since I had been craving a good, new red anyway.  Summertime (or warm weather) usually brings out the part of me that craves a crisp, clean Riesling, or a Pinot Grigio every few years.  I have been drinking almost exclusively Riesling since April, but I prefer reds, so I was happy to give Super-Tuscans a go.

Fortunately for my non-rockstar wallet, I stumbled upon an article on, leading me to more affordable luxuries than those commonly enjoyed by P!nk.  Although I realize that $80 is a bargain on a wine that usually costs upwards of $250, it just isn't something I'm willing to spend when I'm the only one drinking it, so I went with the "most affordable,"  Castello Banfi Centine Toscana (pronounced chen-TEE- nay).

I opened it tonight, to accompany the delightful Italian-inspired dinner Mister chose (more in a minute) and it was just as spectacular as I'd hoped.  We're on the third glass now, so pardon me if I start to lose the thread, I just don't want to waste it and I can tell it's prone to spoil quickly.  How, you ask?  From the one prior experience I had with a Super-Tuscan, I can tell you that they are relatively dry and bold in flavor, and as a result, they do what I call "vinegarizing" fairly quickly after being opened.  Something I noticed about this particular wine is how disparate the first taste is from the one that lingers on your tongue after you swallow.  I could use the technical terms, but sometimes that takes all the fun out of it.  When you pull the wine into your mouth, it is obviously colored with dark berries (by the way, this wine is so dark as to be opaque in the glass) and a hint of subtle spice, not unlike a Pinotage.  However, there is a slight sting at the back of your throat as you swallow and you're left with a slightly vinegary taste, along with some more savory notes.  It was under $20, so please take my word for it and do your best to find this and serve it with your next Italian dinner.

Good segue?

Mister chose from my fridge-posted menu tonight.  I've been trying to involve him more in the process, so I just show him the menu, tell him what we've already eaten (he's not one to remember fancy names), and request his input in selecting dinner.  He chose Orecchiette with Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Tomatoes from Vegan Italiano, not surprisingly.  I'm pretty sure Mister would be perfectly happy if I made 50% (or more) of our dinners Italian-influenced.  After all, he bought that cookbook for me for my birthday a few years ago.  Aside from the cheeses, Italian cooking is very amenable to the vegan lifestyle, so I'm okay with that too, but honestly, cooking pasta annoys me.  It requires the sink to be empty so I can strain the pasta, and frequently, that means I need to either do the dishes before dinner or just have half-nasty dishes on my counter a foot away from where I'm preparing dinner.

Anyway, dinner was wonderful - despite the canned tomatoes and canned chickpeas, there was something about it that just tasted fresh.  The broccoli is finally done being gross, even if it is still a little small.  There is a part of me that wants to make this again tomorrow, but with fresh tomatoes and basil and see what a difference that makes.  I am so pleased with this dinner.  I served it with Sicilian-spiced olives, Kalamatas, and Parmesan for Mister, Centine for me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

menu fail and vegan paneer

First things first:  I've been trying to be a little more creative in my photo taking - I recently remembered my camera has a zoom feature (most do, I'm sure).  Furthermore, if you hold real still and let it focus, you can actually get some highly enticing shots.  Exhibit A:

This shot really redeemed the number of photos I dragged to the "trash" because gooky sauce doesn't take pretty pictures.

Last night's dinner was Hunan-Style Orange "Beef" and Asparagus Stirfry from VTCC.  I got to use some of my favorite things in the making: the zester I was so excited to find in my Christmas stocking (despite the weird looks my mother gave me) and those funny rice noodles.  I also used two of Mister's favorite things: asparagus and fake beef.  There were a few amazing things about this dish.  For one, I didn't realize how much flavor the freshly grated zest of a whole orange would impart to the dish, even when added at the very end!  Second, I'm not sure what the point of coating the stirfry strips in cornstarch was, but it had two very noticeable effects: it coated the bottom of my wok with a layer of blech (that's the scientific name) that I had to scrape off with my fingernails (all the while realizing that the nonstick nature of the wok has absolutely left the building), and it made the 2 cups of sauce into a very gooky, sticky, lacquer (which probably didn't help the situation at the bottom of my wok).  Although I won't put this in regular rotation, it was certainly good enough to make again, and just one bowl each was quite enough for Mister and me.

Tonight, we had Tofu Saag from The 30 Minute Vegan.  It was extremely flavorful, thanks to the recent reunion I've had with my beloved Frontier Curry Powder as well as some cumin and coriander.  I continue to adore the way all recipes in that book that use tofu have you roasting it first.  It smelled so good in the oven and there was a richness of flavor that it added to the dish that would put real Indian paneer to shame. 

I used frozen spinach (per the recipe instructions) but neglected to thaw it first like the recipe suggests.  As a result of my own stupidity, it became more than a 30-minute meal, but we had nowhere to be, so there wasn't any rush. 

It tasted as good as it looks.  I served it on top of Jasmine rice, which does not take 40 minutes to cook, as the bag claims.  Fortunately, I checked on it "halfway" through (yes, I know you aren't supposed to lift the lid, but I'm just too good at making rice stick to nonstick cookware to take that chance) and found that it only needed about 5 more minutes.  Also, in place of the onion and to give it a little color, I sauteed a diced orange bell pepper with the garlic and ginger.  It was very flavorful and I absolutely would not be able to eat it without the rice.  While the noodle dish (above) was heavy enough that we only had a serving each, this meal is rich enough that we could only stomach one bowl.  I will definitely make this again, though I will probably cut down on the spice blend just a little.

Now, I know I said I would strive to have a menu this week which excluded an Indian-style meal.  Maybe next week...

1. Orecchiette with Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Tomatoes from Vegan Italiano by Donna Klein (a good Italian name if ever I saw one).  I also purchased something special today to drink alongside:  Castello Banfi Centine Toscano, a Super-Tuscan.  I hope it's as awesome as it sounds!

2. Penne with Roasted Vegetables and Garlic Puree also from Vegan Italiano.  I fear the Fatkins Hysteria has infiltrated my mind in at least a small way, because I got this far into my menu and said "Okay, that's enough pasta for the week."  Someone save me.

3. Mediterranean Rice Salad with Roasted Red Peppers from One-Dish Vegetarian Meals by Robin Robertson.  Okay, you got me - rice is still one of those evil carbs, but I like to look at it as a whole grain :)  Besides, the Mediterranean diet makes a lot more sense in my little Greek(-Irish) household.

4. Indian-Spiced Vegetables over Basmati Rice also from One-Dish Vegetarian Meals.  I almost made it through, but Indian-style food is just too tasty to leave out!

5. Moroccan Chickpeas with Couscous from One-Dish Veg. Meals.  I have made this before, but it's probably been about a year, so I figured it was okay to dust this one off.  I love the flavors of Moroccan-inspired dishes, too, but I feel like most Moroccan dishes have been "anglicized" for our bland American tongues.  At the same time, I feel like there's probably a good reason for that and my Irish tongue is thanking me for that.

Just in time for Memorial Day, Summer has made an appearance today.  Here's how Angst is coping:

Friday, May 28, 2010

baba ganoush: the new superhero

Eggplant is Public Enemy No. 2 in my home (Mushrooms have taken the No. 1 spot), at least as far as Mister is concerned.  I suppose if you really want to think about it, Meat is really number one on our Least Wanted list, but if you look further down that list, you'll see things like "eggplant" and "sweet potatoes" and "squishy wheat" scribbled hastily in Mister's nearly illegible handwriting.

So it might appear that I was setting up an old-fashioned Western showdown, complete with spurs and sagebrush (and maybe a few tumbleweeds for good measure) when I selected our dinner tonight: Chickpeas in Eggplant-Tahini Sauce from The Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook

If we want to skip directly to the fairy tale ending, it was Mister waiting impatiently to eat and then having seconds while stating with enthusiasm how good dinner was.

If you'd like to know how I did it, keep reading - I'm full of devious schemes to deceive my husband and make him eat everything he hates.

Not really, actually.

My "trick" was simple: Baba Ganoush.  This hummus look-alike even had Angst begging for a taste when I set down our bowls and garnered an emphatic thumbs-up from Mister.  I whisked about 4 oz of this roasted and pureed eggplant dip into the tomato-tahini sauce, along with two huge and unnecessary cloves of garlic and possibly a tad too much salt.  I would like to apologize in advance to my new hires and any colleagues who visit me in my sequestered station tomorrow - I fear I will smell like garlic into the first part of next week.  Sexy.

In addition to the chickpeas and kind of in place of the eggplant cubes, I thought julienned carrots would make a nice addition and round out the meal's nutrition profile.  Okay, I also wanted to play more with my newest kitchen gadget.  I do think they made the meal more attractive, though, than a saute pan full of chickpeas simmering in a chunky, gooky sauce.

To go alongside (and on top of) dinner, I made this simple salad of marinated tomatoes and cucumbers.  It was much better tasting than I thought it would be (since I don't normally care for raw tomatoes) and it was so pretty, with flecks of chopped fresh parsley sprinkled throughout.

glamour shot

Thursday, May 27, 2010

brookies? cownies?

What would you call a cookie-brownie hybrid?

I have recently taken to bribing thanking people I work with by bringing them baked goods.  Thank you for mentoring a new hire.  Thank you for assisting me with training.  Thank you for helping me get promoted.  Thank you for making the website work....and please keep doing so.  There are a few people who get to share in the baked goodies simply because I like them and they like my "food."

Bribing, er, thanking people with baked goods is not completely selfless - it allows me to make tasty treats but not have to bear the horrible burden of eating them all.  Despite what may present itself as an overwhelming desire to do just that, I hate clothes shopping too much to allow for the inevitable weight gain behavior like that brings.  I make a batch of cookies or brownies or a small cake, I have a cookie (or five) or a brownie (or two) and take the rest to work - I guess it's kind of like a group of ladies sharing a dessert at a restaurant, but ever so slightly less expensive.

I stood in my kitchen tonight with two recipes in hand - one, my banana blondies recipe, and the other the Banana Everything Cookies recipe from VCIYCJ.  I couldn't decide which to make and the two bananas threatening to dive off of the banana "tree" atop the fridge were not helping.  I tried to get Mister to decide, but his sage advice was "make the fun one."  Thanks, darling.

I did what any half-insane, sleep-deprived person would do when they want to bake something at 11 PM on a work night - I created my own hybrid recipe.  Lucky you!

Coconut Oatmeal Brownies
makes 9 (or more, depending on your preferred brownie size)
dry ingredients
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

wet ingredients
2 large ripe bananas
1/3 cup canola oil
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil an 8x8" baking pan and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. 
Combine wet ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth and a little foamy - about one minute.
Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until completely moistened and sticking together.  Scoop batter into the prepared pan.  With an offset spatula, press down so the batter is evenly distributed and pushed into the corners and to the sides.
Bake 25-30 minutes, until a tested inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan or turn out onto a cooling rack after 10 minutes.  When cool, cut into 9 (or more) squares to serve.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

boldly going where I haven't gone before

The last two nights, I've made a couple of recipes I had looked at previously but didn't feel courageous/ambitious enough to cook.  My recent feelings of creativity somehow manifested themselves into bravery and allowed me to step out of my "regular" recipes in a couple of books I've had for a while and see the recipes with new and anxious eyes.

Last night, I made Penne with Asparagus and Spring Herbs from the Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook.  You can see that it is fairly attractive, despite the "cream" sauce.  I'm not sure that came across the right way: so that I don't alienate my cream sauce-loving readers, it's not that I don't like cream sauce, but it tends to mute the colors of the dish and has the potential to make it look slimy.  See Exhibit A (above)...

It was tasty, though it had that impression of "needs a little something."  Turns out that something was salt, which we added at table.  Mister also sprinkled his with a very generous helping of Parmesan and shared a tidbit with Angst.  I'm not very good [yet] about tasting and adjusting simmering sauces, but I'm downright negligent about doing so for blender sauces.  Since the recipe advised adding salt and pepper "to taste," I just skipped it and figured we could add it later, which we did.

Here are my happy steamed carrots and asparagus before I drowned them in the herb and poached garlic "cream" sauce (it was made by pureeing silken tofu with the vegetable broth in which I poached the garlic).  You'll notice (my mother and I hope) how perfectly uniform my julienned carrots are.  I did NOT buy one of those very handy bags of "shredded" carrot that come that way - I used my birthday toy for the first time and it was awesome!

Tonight, there were no fancy kitchen gadgets (unless you consider tongs fancy).  I made Chile Cornmeal-Crusted Tofu from Veganomicon accompanied by Garlicky Kale (but no Tahini Sauce) from VwaV

How adorable are the tofus?? I actually almost skipped this one because I didn't feel like dealing with the breading, but I'm so glad I did it - both dishes were so good!  The kale was dressed in just the perfect amount of olive oil and sauteed garlic - it needed absolutely no augmentation.  Mister was completely enthralled with the tofu, which I invariably count as a victory.  When he came to the table, his remark was "Oh, that looks fun!"  As it turns out, my husband loves breaded things - who knew that's all I needed to do?  Granted, the crispy outer layer was exceptional as well as pretty, and the way it perfectly surrounded the little puffy cloud of tofu was pretty darn cool.  There is a part of me that is a glutton for punishment and would love to try this with silken tofu, for the complete smoothness and creaminess of the tofu within the crispy outer coating.  Something tells me the silken tofu wouldn't hold up through the dredging process quite as well, but it might be worth a try.  Stay tuned for more adventures!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I used up all my clever on the menu

I am embarrassed to say how long I've been sitting here trying to come up with a clever post title to catch your eye, but I'm having a moment best captured by one of those souvenir tee-shirts that say something like, "my friend went to Hollywood and all I got was this lousy tee-shirt."

On the up-side, though, I do have a very varied and creative menu to share with you!  First, though, is dinner:

Tonight, I made Snobby Joes from Veganomicon.  Mister wasn't sure he was ready for dinner when I started cooking, but when the scent of green peppers and garlic sauteing in olive oil reached his nose he decided he could probably eat something.

Or three somethings.  Yes, Mister had 3 Snobby Joes (in the time it took me to eat my salad and one Snobby Joe).  Turns out they were pretty good and he was hungrier than he realized.  I was finally emptying out from my low-calorie lunch with Mom...

Banana-Walnut pancakes with caramel syrup.  Very tasty.  Tasty enough that I probably kept eating well past where I should have stopped, but you only live once, right?

Anyway, back to the Snobby Joes.  They were nearly indescribable in their near-perfection.  I would have trouble trying to improve a recipe like this - Isa's husband is very lucky.  My husband is also very lucky that I accidentally stumbled upon Vegan With A Vengeance and thought the title was too funny to pass by.  The tomato flavor was good and the earthiness of the lentils prevented the acidity of the tomato sauce from dominating the dish.

Now, let's move on to my diverse and cleverly crafted menu for the upcoming week:

1. Chile Cornmeal-Crusted Tofu accompanied by Garlicky Kale with Tahini Dressing, both from Isa's wacky brain, but from two separate cookbooks.  Just go buy them all.

2. Penne with Asparagus and Spring Herbs from The Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook.  This is a huge book and I have had it for a few years and barely scraped the surface.  One of the reasons I continuously buy new cookbooks (besides that they keep coming out with newer and better ones) is because I tend to get into a comfortable rut once I've had a book for...well, a month.  I'm feeling quite creative lately (you may have noticed a bunch of new recipes after months of nothing), so I thought I would sit down and try to see this "old" cookbook through new eyes.  It appears to have worked.

3. Chickpeas in Eggplant-Tahini Sauce also from VTCC.  Shh - don't tell Mister about the eggplant - I have some tricks up my [short] sleeve!

4. Hunan-Style Orange "Beef" and Asparagus Stirfry also from VTCC.  Asparagus season is most definitely coming to an end, so this week's menu features more or less a "last hoorah."  Also, I thought it might be handy to have a Chinese-ish recipe in case I need to make up for #3.

5. Tofu Saag from The 30 Minute Vegan.  I think next week I'll try to see if I can actually go a full week without an Indian-inspired dish on the menu.  I think this cuisine so frequently infiltrates veg-diets because the religious beliefs of that culture are much in line with vegan ideals.  Nevertheless, I'm starting to sweat cumin and coriander and I'm pretty sure my colleagues won't appreciate that in the summer.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

sweet somethings in my bowl

Sweet nothings in my ear are nice, too, but my goal is to entice you, not nauseate you.

Tonight's post will [I hope] be full of rewards for suffering through my beauty product reviews.  Let's start with a sweet review.

I have found that the best weapon in my arsenal of healthier eating options is to always have healthful alternatives to Mister's favorite junkfoods readily available.  With that in mind, I took advantage of a recent sale at Whole Foods to pick up something I have heard great things about but never tried...until tonight.

Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss is a great brand, ethically speaking.  They are vegan, pareve kosher, and use fair trade ingredients.  Their non-dairy desserts are a blessing also to people who can't do soy or gluten, since they're based in coconut milk (I hope that doesn't come as a surprise).

Not nearly as creamy in texture as the Tempt "ice cream," the Mint Galactica Coconut Bliss we tried tonight was more like Breyer's - it tastes clean and natural and in that way, it is very refreshing.  It is not as thick as Tempt, which perhaps makes it a better choice for hot summer days/nights.  The nutritional profile is slightly more worrisome, packing about 50% more calories and a ton more fat than Tempt, so this will more likely be a special and occasional treat, though I feel fairly certain we'll get this again.  Enough people brought up their concern with the 12g saturated fat that Luna & Larry have it covered in their FAQs, but if you want my take on the healthful qualities of coconut fat, look here.

Tonight's dinner ended up being sweeter than I thought it would be.  I made Thai Steamed Green Garden with Coconut-Peanut Sauce from Vegan Express

The sauce was sweeter than I thought it would be, despite my conservative addition of agave nectar and my relatively generous addition of harissa (in place of the prescribed curry paste).  I think tamari might have added the savory character I was anticipating.  The lack of bite or savory caused the sauce to come across as quite mild.

Attractive though it is, I realized something tonight.  I really don't like steaming vegetables.  Maybe I don't do it right, but they always taste like water.  Supposedly, steaming veggies is the best way to keep their flavor and nutritional character intact but that has not been my experience at all.  I like the idea behind this, so I'll probably make it again, but next time I will saute/stir-fry the veggies and add tamari to the sauce.

Wednesday could have been a One-Serving Cooking Adventure, but instead I did an exact repeat of Tuesday's soup and wrap dinner.  Due to a stressful day at work, Mister was not in an eating kind of mood last night, so I got a second chance to be creative - it takes a special level of tragedy/stress to make me not hungry.

My brainchild/labor of love started out with me scanning the cupboards of my mind for all the things Mister won't eat but I do.  Immediately, I knew I needed to incorporate quinoa (pronounced KEEN- wah) - a lonely, almost-full bag has been sitting in my cupboard ever since Mister told me he hates quinoa several months ago.

Toasted Quinoa Pilaf Salad
makes 2 servings (no one is perfect and I needed leftovers for lunch)

1/3 cup quinoa
2/3 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp tamari (soy sauce)
1/4 tsp minced ginger (I used jarred)
1/3 cup shredded coconut (sweetened)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup mixed dried fruit (I used pineapple and cranberries)
3-5 baby carrots, sliced on the bias
salad greens

Toast the quinoa in a dry skillet/saute pan on medium heat, 2-3 minutes, until it starts to crackle and pop (but no snapping!).  Pour in broth, ginger, and tamari and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover and simmer 20-25 minutes. 

Once the quinoa has absorbed nearly all the liquid and the germ is spiraled out of the grain, remove from heat and add dried fruit.  
Cover and allow fruit to steam on top of the quinoa for about 5 minutes, then stir together.

Meanwhile, toast the coconut and almonds together in a dry skillet over low heat for 3-5 minutes, until fragrant and the coconut is just beginning to brown.

Lay salad greens in a shallow bowl or on a plate, top with quinoa mixture and carrots, then sprinkle generously with coconut-almond topping.

Friday, May 21, 2010

product round-up: the good, the bad, and the ugly

A subtitle for this post could be: the Awesome, the Adequate-but-Mediocre, and the Straight-Up-Nasty.

I still have reservations about stating loud and clear for all the world, "I am vegan."  Although I eat a primarily plant/grain-based diet, there are still occasions, rare though they be, when I eat cheese or something made with eggs.  While I will choose a non-animal-product food/drink/thingy when they are readily available, I am not yet to the point where I eat egg- and dairy-free or not at all.

Nevertheless, I am taking my babysteps towards living a life of compassion and finding that it is not always as inconvenient as it may seem.  One of the subjects which has recently taken up residence in my mind is the great number of beauty products most people don't even realize contain [relatively gross] animal by-products.  We don't normally read the contents of our lotions, lipbalms, moisturizers, and various other salves other than to laugh at the multisyllabic and unpronounceable names of the ingredients, much less to probe into whether they are natural or synthetic, plant- or animal-based.

As I prepared for my trip to Arizona, I took it as an opportunity to try out some new beauty/body care products in carry-on-friendly sizes.  I started using a natural toothpaste a while back not out of any concern for any animal products that may or may not be involved in the production of popular brands but because I wasn't buying that the artificial colors and flavors were benefiting my dental health.

I picked up a trial sized bottle of Nature's Gate hand lotion a few months back and it got the gears turning in my mind about how vegan hand lotion compared to "normal" lotion.

With the help of blogs, search engines, and the magical, mystical internet, I found Avalon Organics.  Although living in an urban area certainly makes it easier to find products those in the outlying 'burbs and sub-rural towns might consider bizarre or exotic (at best), there still seems to be a separation between natural/vegan products one can find on the East Coast versus those available on the West Coast.  I remembered seeing Avalon Organics at Whole Foods, so I was excited to try.

I bought both hand lotion and body wash (another thing that wouldn't have occurred to me as non-vegan) in one of my favorite scents - Peppermint.  I am completely in love with them both.  The shower gel stimulates and cools my skin, which is helpful in waking me up in the shower and I imagine the cooling sensation will become more welcome as the temperature rises over the next couple of months.  I wasn't completely through my tube of Curel lotion when I made my purchase, so I was able to compare and had the most astounding discovery - the Avalon Organics lotion felt so clean, the next time I applied the Curel it felt gross and fatty.


 As I've aged (ahem), I find my skin in need of more moisturizing oomph.  I have hopped among a few moisturizers over the past few years (Neutrogena, Aveeno), but I always seem to come back to Ponds, despite its stupendously inconvenient pot design.  I can only scoop so much gook behind my nails before I start fantasizing about a squeeze bottle or at least a pump.

Either way, the pot of Ponds on my dresser was not small enough to make the trip out to Arizona.  Considering the state's name comes from "Arid Zone," I didn't think it was wise to go without any moisturizer at all, so I stopped in to the beauty aisles of Essene Market and found a travel-friendly squeeze bottle of Aubrey Organics moisturizer.

The Awesome?  It works.  I'm sorry - I just didn't know what to expect, so I was pleasantly surprised when it actually succeeded in its purpose.  The Almost? It smells edible and not in that "ooh, I smell like a sugar cookie!" kind of way.  It smells kind of like if I got tired of Ponds not really having a scent and decided to use up some of that terrifying Muchi Curry powder.  I don't especially like smelling like Indian food, since my first impression of the spices were how closely they resemble Body Odor.

Another find from Essene's beauty alcove was EO Hand Cream.  To be completely honest, by the time I picked this up, they had already made the intercom announcement to take your purchases to checkout because the store was 5 minutes from closing, so I didn't put that much thought into the purchase, other than that it was under 3.5 oz.  I have mixed feelings about this one.

First, considering EO stands for Essential Oils, I really felt like it should smell better.  I'll grant you, lavender is not one of my favored scents, so I may have better enjoyed the unscented variety or possibly the chocolate mint scent.  Second, and this is something I've noticed with almost all natural hand salves - it leaves "lint."  I'm sure that isn't the right word, but I don't know how else to describe the little specks of....something...that end up all over my hands after the moisture has been absorbed by my parched skin.


I really wanted this to work.  After my success with Tom's toothpaste, I tried the brand's deodorant.  The consequences were nearly disastrous.  I think the saving grace was that I tried it on a day off from work, so I could apply another coat (of a different deodorant) when I started to stink.

I gave this poor puppy a real trial by fire by applying it right before Mister and I trolled 4th Avenue in Tucson.  It was an astonishing failure - I stunk after 30 minutes.  It was embarrassing.  What was worse was knowing it was the only deodorant I had with me.  I applied it 4-5 times each day just to prevent myself from knocking Mister out with the stench.  I tossed it in the trashcan the moment we got home.

  Hopefully, other veg-curious folks out there or even my beauty-inclined friends found this little round-up review helpful.  Stay tuned - there's some fun food stuff coming soon!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

ginger: it's not just for soda anymore

When I was a kid, ginger ale was more or less a staple in our home, if I recall correctly.  It was always available to soothe my savage belly or quench my father's summertime thirst (I think there might have been something sharing the glass with the ginger ale, though).  I can remember my mother having me sip flat ginger ale one teaspoon at a time when I was sick to my stomach, and though it seemed like the Chicken Soup/sugar pill of the nausea realm, apparently ginger really does have the ability to calm an unsettled stomach.

I find myself craving ginger ale sometimes, as a kind of creature comfort.  That was not the case tonight, however.  Tonight, my husband specifically requested a quick-cooking dinner, so I selected the quicker of my two Vegan Express recipes, Quick Green Veggie Soup with Couscous.

When I was perusing my books, I rolled the flavors of this soup over my tongue as best I could without actually tasting it.  It seemed like a risk worth taking and I am so glad I went with it.  The base is a pungent combination of vegetable broth, tamari, and ginger.  It smelled a little bizarre, but I played that off as my additions of freeze-dried chives and dried dill - that stuff (dill) really smells awful but it somehow managed to play a helpful role in the overall flavor of the broth.  I added to this a surprising party of green foods: zucchini, spinach, and broccoli and was treated to the beauty of a same-toned soup.  I normally prefer to eat the rainbow, so a meal that is primarily one color does not normally find a place on my table.  You'll notice I spiced things up a little by including a red chili wrap, but we'll talk about that in a moment.  I realized a couple of hours days too late that I didn't actually have any couscous, so I broke up some cappellini noodles and they worked just fine.  I think I would like to make it "correctly" someday, though, so this isn't the last you'll see of this tasty soup.

One of the first things I recognized in Vegan Express was Nava's willingness to prevent me from thinking too much.  I've mentioned before that although I am trying to branch out and present more "balanced" meals, complete with salads and side dishes, I really don't enjoy the extra effort required to fill out our dinners.  Since Mister wanted a fast dinner and because Mister generally does not consider soup to be a complete dinner, I was planning to construct a relatively masterful (but still fairly simple) salad to accompany the soup.  While the soup was doing its thing, though, I happened to glance down at Nava's serving suggestions and it couldn't have been more perfect.  She suggested simple veggie wraps - what's easier than using up what's left of the hummus, the last couple of red chili tortillas, and some of the mixed greens I had planned to turn into a salad?  So, for the five minutes the soup needed to simmer, I busied myself making salad wraps and pinning them closed with toothpicks.

The two flavors really didn't go together, but were each tasty in their own separate way.  The red chili tortillas are actually a little hot which is always a surprising quality in a bread product.  I needed to cleanse my palate a bit before enjoying my soup but a swig of water was quite enough to do the trick.  The soup has a distinctly Asian flair to it, which should not be a surprise due to the prevalence of fresh ginger and tamari.  I was supposed to swirl in a Tbsp of oil but the soup was not lacking in flavor or texture when I neglected to do so.  From the first slice of zucchini to the last steaming simmer before serving took roughly 30 minutes - this is a great soup for when you crave something comforting but don't have an hour and a half to three hours to make a soup from Veganomicon or any of Sarah Kramer's books.  It's too brothy to serve alone, but a simple wrap, salad, or sandwich would fill it out nicely.  I can also imagine this being a delightful rainy day lunch, finished off with a single freshly baked brownie.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Philly's a little seedy sometimes

There's some kind of zen going on in this picture...maybe it's the accidental placement of the bay leaves so that they vaguely resemble

In any case, when I was mixing up my seeds and spices for Braised Cauliflower with Three-Seed Sauce from VwaV, I was struck by how pretty they were, so I snapped a picture [or five].  This was my first time cooking with fennel seeds and I can't say I wasn't a little leery.  I have not had much experience with licorice outside of these beauties:

The idea of integrating the taste of a popular childhood candy into my dinner made me both cautious and curious about the outcome, but one whiff of the newly opened spice had my head spinning with ways to integrate it into at least one recipe of my next round of creativity.  It came out really well and what was really fun was discovering the flavor of each bite - sometimes it was fennel-heavy, then just when you weren't expecting it at all, a smack of cumin would take over and recolor the whole experience.

I served it over bulghur because I had forgotten Jasmine rice cooks as long as brown rice (okay, maybe not for forever but at least for 40 minutes) and I didn't start it early enough.  It neither complimented nor distracted from the dish - the cauliflower and tomatoes definitely shone.  I used Fire Roasted diced tomatoes because I like the flavor they lend to Indian-style dishes.  It was a very pleasant inaugural dinner after our vacation, including a flavor-packed mixed greens salad, topped with carrots, strawberries, and kalamata olives.  I dare you to imagine that flavor combination - it was unique, but definitely worked.

Here's the thing that blows my mind, though: I found this recipe in the Side Dishes section of VwaV.  Granted, Isa does say you could serve it over a grain and turn it into an entree, but seriously - what feast would this be a side dish for??

Yes, that is my full to the brim 3-quart saute pan.  I did add a 15 oz can of beans, but I really don't think that made a huge difference since I was already regretting my use of the saute pan rather than the higher-sided 6-quart stock pot by the time I added the cauliflower to the seeds.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

soak up the sun...and there's no place like home

Okay, you got me - as just about every picture of me will show, I'm not a big fan of the sun.

However, I am a pretty big fan of My Sunshine - my sister.  So, for her, I packed myself and my husband up and shipped us out to sunny Arizona to spend some time with her and see her graduate.

In my last post before we left, I stated three goals:
1. to take my camera - done
2. to remember to use my camera - did better than I've done in the past
3. to take pictures of my food, heedless of other people's opinions of me - more or less failed, but it was more because I just wanted to eat and enjoy my food rather than being self-conscious of strangers' impressions of me.  I also didn't think Mister would appreciate me taking pictures of our food every time we ate, especially in the morning.

Without further ado, then, here are the fruits of my labor - a picture-story, if you will.  Let's start from the beginning.

The last meal I made before we left was Punjabi Peppers and Tofu from La Dolce Vegan.  I made this for two reasons: I love it and there are never leftovers, so I figured it was a safe bet for the night before we left for a week.  Fell a little short there, so I will check on the status of the one serving of leftovers tomorrow.

After dinner, Mister and I went about our Packing Dance.  Due to Mister's frequent travel up until a couple of years ago, Angst is quick to recognize the activities that commonly culminate in Mister leaving.  He can also recognize when Mommy is also engaged in that dangerous activity.  He copes by hiding in the space between my computer table and the HVAC unit.

Our travel survival kit.  Plenty of tasty and quality food bits in case all we found in the Dallas airport was a steakhouse.  Also, in addition to charging for all checked luggage (resulting in me carrying around a very heavy carry-on), American Airlines feels completely justified in removing the free peanuts and replacing them with $6 bags of granola that they generously make available for purchase on the flight.  If you don't want to fork over $3.50 for a chocolate chip cookie, you can always stuff your purse with $.99 Clif products.  The Larabar was the splurge (at a hefty $1.29).

So, after much pressure applied to the eardrums and a really rocky landing, we did arrive in Tucson, located our spiffy Nissan Versa (not so much spiffy as it was a jumpy little bugger), and proceeded to the hotel.  After relaxing for a minute or many, we made plans for dinner with my sister at Blue Willow that evening.  I had a delightful stir-fry over brown rice.  All the food was beautiful and very tasty, but I somehow neglected to take pictures!

The next day we wandered around on 4th Avenue, which was full of tattoo parlors, coffeeshops, bars, vintage/thrift stores, head/smoke shops, and miscellaneous other stuff.  At a fair trade store, I found some gorgeous decorated glasses, but realized the difficulty in getting them home so they stayed at the store.  In another store, I tried on a fabulous [and very tight form-fitting] Betty Page-style dress, but ultimately realized that I don't like people looking at my body like that, so it also stayed in the store.  Here are a couple of highlights, though:

They had these all over the place - they are very creative places to lock up your bike and they are made from old bike parts.  This little guy and his friend were my favorite, and I like how you can see the mouthless face on the wall behind him.  I don't know what was going on there but she looks pretty even without a mouth.

This was the exquisite doorway to a defunct spa just off the beaten path.  The padlocked doors were made of ornately scrolled wrought iron or possibly brass and surrounded by those gorgeous lapis tiles.  I informed Mister that the reason I was taking a picture was so we would remember to include such a doorway in our future home.

Later that evening, we met up with Sister and about 8 of her closest friends at a nice outdoor cafe at Hotel Congress.  I couldn't quite gauge the level of surliness our bartender was exhibiting until Mister ordered a Pepsi and the bartender remarked that he only had "cola-syrup beverage" with a barely discernible twinkle in his eye.  After a couple of drinks, Sister, one of her closer friends, Mister, and I went to Lovin' Spoonfuls for dinner.  We had a ball ordering - Mister got Country Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy while I got the Pepper Steak.  It was all fun and tasty and again, I failed to get a picture.

The following morning, Mister and I returned for breakfast.  The Mediterranean Scramble was just what I hoped it would be - chunks of tofu, lightly browned and sauteed with halved kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, and soy bacon.  Mister had a breakfast burrito and seemed quite pleased.  Their coffee was amazing and fair trade, as well as shade grown.  We wandered along 4th Ave again, then returned to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.

My parents had arrived during the day, so we met up with Mom, Dad, Sister, and Sweetheart at a glamorous [and booked!] hotspot Downtown - Cafe Poca Cosa.  The woman in charge was such a charmer and remained completely cool amidst the chaos of three large parties arriving for their reservations at once.  My original intention was to get a margarita, but the list was extensive to the point of being overwhelming and my father wanted me to select a bottle of wine for the table.  When I saw my favorite Rosemount Estates Shiraz, I had to be a good daughter and defer to Dad...

As you can see, I've been a bad influence on him.  The minute the food arrived, he whipped out his fancy picture-taking cellphone and started taking pictures of the food!  Not to be outdone, I decided that if he could take flash pictures of the food (subtle, Dad), I could capture a couple of images as well.

I ordered the only vegetarian offering on their very meat-centric menu.  It was a phenomenal restaurant, but I really don't think it's necessary to have 3 chicken entrees, 2 beef entrees, 2 pork entrees, 2 fish entrees, and 1 vegetarian entree.  Regardless, my Pastel de Elote con Marron Amarillo was extraordinary.  It was essentially a corn cake smothered in a roasted yellow pepper sauce, accompanied by cantaloupe, watermelon, sesame seed-adorned cucumber slices, and a mixed greens salad with jicama and slice of red bell pepper.

Mister, being a bit snobby or perhaps taking a cue from his father during our Christmas Eve dining adventures, ordered the "off menu choice" of very fancy Chile Rellenos (stuffed pepper) accompanied by a slice of pineapple, about a cup of cubed carrots, and a mixed greens salad with jicama.

After we ate, drank, and made merry, Mister and I strolled around Downtown for a little while before getting utterly and completely lost [in the car] trying to find our way back to the hotel.  We retired early since we would need to check out before leaving for graduation in the morning.

There's my dear sister, being 'hooded' to symbolize her being awarded her Masters of Public Health.  Good job, little sis!  We stuck around for a picture (or 500) after the ceremony before heading off to the airport.

A few final pictures that I can't really tie in but I think are cool:

palm trees!

This was actually pretty neat - it's a picture of a little green plant sprouting from inside a chunk of 180,000,000 year old petrified wood.  There's something magical about that.

Speaking of magic, we did manage to make it home in one piece, even if our heads feel like there's cotton in them and I probably won't hear right until Monday.  I even managed to put together a menu, because heaven forbid I take these last two days to relax!  You know I missed cooking, though, so I was happy to dive into some old favorite cookbooks and find recipes I haven't made yet - I only have one previously-made dinner in here, but I can't even guess how long it's been since I made it.

1. Snobby Joes from Veganomicon

2. Chile Cornmeal-Crusted Tofu from Veganomicon with Garlicky Kale with Tahini Dressing from Vegan With A Vengeance.

3. Chickpea Broccoli Casserole from Vegan With A Vengeance  (okay, you got me, this is the repeat)

4. Braised Cauliflower with Three-Seed Sauce from VwaV - this was actually in the Side Dishes section, but I realized that with the help of some rice and the addition of chickpeas, this could be a great meal in itself!

5. Quick Green Veggie Soup with Couscous from Vegan Express.  Yes, I will push my luck with soup until the minute Mister informs me it is not soup weather.
6. Thai Steamed Green Garden with Coconut-Peanut Sauce from Vegan Express.