Friday, December 30, 2011

squeaky wheels and shiny round things

It's a thing of beauty, isn't it?
That, friends, is the All-Clad d5 Stainless Steel 4-qt Saute Pan after which I have been lusting for the better part of 18 months (at least).  I've had a longing in my heart for All-Clad cookware since I was planning my wedding (you'd better believe they bought full-page ads in every bridal magazine published in the Northeastern part of the USA).  That yearning only grew more intense as I watched my mother-in-law preparing sauces and roasts and whatnot with her All-Clad cookware - now I could see how beautiful it is in real life and what a pleasurable cooking experience it appeared to offer.

If you clicked the link, you know that All-Clad is definitely not a bargain brand.  One of my favorite past-times has become asking Mister if he'll buy me a $4,000 27-piece set of All-Clad for Christmas, my birthday, Valentine's Day, or Tuesday.  (Hurry! It's on sale!  Only $2,800!)  I've made comments, half-joking to Mister, my mother, my father, Angst, and anyone else who will pretend to listen to me, just so everyone possible is aware that I would be eternally grateful if anyone ever felt like blessing me with at least a piece of this cookware.  That's right - just one item, because that would be enough to know if the "hype" is true.

If you've been reading for a while, you've had the privilege of seeing multiple snide remarks directed toward my faithful but insufficient CuisinArt 3-qt Saute pan, which has helped me make dinner since I got it for our wedding 4 years ago.  Actually, it was piece of a cookware set that I got on sale and I got what I paid for, so 4 years later, we're down to about half the original set and I've been replacing pieces bit by bit as needed.  I shared my initial dilemma here, where I was trying to decide whether to dig a deeper hole of debt to get a nice cookware set or just buy nice pieces as I was able.  Actually, looking up that post made me realize I've been complaining about my 3-qt saute pan for over two years.  On with the show!

For Christmas this year, Mister got me.....

Not All-Clad.  But he did get me a new cookbook, which is awesome, since I'd run out of creativity with my old ones (one of the many reasons I've been so neglectful in my posting).  I've been cooking from it all week, but tonight's meal was particularly colorful and attractive: Vegetables Provencal on basmati rice.

Why am I posting this after completely ignoring pretty much all month that I cook and eat dinner on a nightly basis?

The answer is very simple and even more gratifying.

My mother reads my blog.  On Christmas, she asked me what my inaugural meal would be...

in the All-Clad 4-qt saute pan she got me for Christmas...

I am a happy and very blessed lady.

The pan is a lot heavier than my "old" saute pan and I'm having trouble figuring out exactly where it's going to live.  It was so easy to cook with and it's so beautiful it makes me smile involuntarily.  I knew the real test would be washing it.  I haven't had stainless steel cookware since my generations-old RevereWare bit the dust, but I remembered that being a huge pain in my butt to scrub clean.  Since we have nonstick cookware, we don't have a scrubby thing.  I accidentally got too wrapped up checking Facebook and looking at happy pictures and let the pot sit on the stove with leftover tomato-based sauce for about an hour.

Washing it felt like petting satin.

So, ask and ye shall receive, eh?  My 1-qt sauce pot is starting to show its age....


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

sweet and simple success

So, despite last night's relative failure (not really, but it didn't live up to my hopeless perfectionism, so...) I strapped on my holiday-appropriate red-n-white striped apron again.  I guess it's kind of like getting right back in the saddle after being thrown?

Well, maybe not as painful, although you may find it painful to observe my "clashing" stripes.  By pure lucky coincidence, I happened to be wearing horizontally-striped socks and I thought it was a funny combination with the vertical stripes of the apron.  If you disagree, remember what your mother taught you about what to do if you don't have anything nice to say.

I have plenty of nice things to say tonight - we'll start with the cookies.

My first "nice" statement is to point out how lucky my colleagues are that I am a woman of my word (and that by telling them I was baking I created built-in accountability).  Mister and I each had one small cookie to test their quality and were completely impressed.

In addition to being attractive on the outside, these cookies are "charming and delightful" and a pleasure to be around.  I do not expect them to last very long tomorrow - they are just the right amount of sweet, aided, in part, by the cinnamon sugar in which I rolled them before plunking them down on the baking sheets.  However, the generous amount of Earth Balance that began the batter contributed to an incredibly buttery taste and texture - you could liken these to a combination of those Dutch butter cookies so much like shortbread, and honest to goodness sugar cookies.

They are, in a way, sugar cookies - The recipe, filched gracefully from is for Brown Sugar Drop Cookies but my increasingly OCD self couldn't deal with the ugly little deposits of dough on the sheets, so I rolled them into buttery little balls and then dunked them into cinnamon sugar before pressing the down a little onto the sheet.

Time to pack them up! Before Mister and I eat them all...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

in pursuit of the perfect brownie

I know you're not expecting this, but OMGMyHomeSmellsSoGood!

'Twas the week before Christmas
and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring
'cause Angst killed the mouse

I suppose I could probably rewrite the poem to be clever, but why mess with something that time-honored. Besides, I've got brownies to wax poetic about.

Thanks to Isa and Terry, I've got vegan cupcakes and vegan cookies down, but brownies continue to be that impossible-to-replicate baked item.  I have a few recipes and I've gotten some decent feedback on them, but to me, they've fallen short of "the real deal;" dense, fudgy brownies with the crinkly top.  When I stumbled on this new post from a fellow Prodigal Blogger, I decided this recipe would answer all my prayers - after all the post's title is "The Best Vegan Brownie You Will Ever Eat."

I hope that's not true.

To be fair, it is the best vegan brownie I've eaten so far - so in a way it is true.  However delightful it made my kitchen (and therefore, entire apartment, possibly the better part of the building) smell, and no matter how crinkly the top was, and regardless of the fact that this is the first vegan brownie I've had that's resulted in me chugging soymilk to settle the sweetness, it's still not all that I wanted it to be.

It's very chocolatey.  It's very sweet.  It's the closest I've been to the moist, dense, fudgy brownies I remember from the not-too-distant past, but it fell just a little short.  My main grudge against vegan brownies is that they crumble.  Brownies are not meant to crumble - we'll leave that to shortbread and biscotti.  Brownies hold together by the sheer weight of their fudginess.  You could, conceivably, eat a brownie without a plate.

When I was mixing the wet and dry ingredients together, I thought it would be fun (and a little extra decadent) to include a handful of peanut butter chips (and it was).  As I was "pouring" the batter into the prepared pan, I found that I had to "spread" it to the corners - not a quality I usually look for in brownie batter, but the recipe did state that the batter would be thick.  It certainly was.  I kind of think that if I hadn't pushed it into a perfect rectangle with my spatula, it would have been perfectly content to be a little oblong brownie.

That's another thing.  I don't know what's up with all these "brownie bites" you can buy in grocery stores, but brownies are square or rectangular.  They are not round.  When you pour brownie batter into a mini-muffin pan and bake it, what comes out of the oven are mini-muffins, not round brownies.  There is no such thing as a round brownie.  Are you listening, Superfresh?

Okay, back to tonight's baking adventures.

So, my intention was to make these incredibly dense and moist and fudgy brownies, spiked with little bits of peanut butter, and then carefully pack them between layers of wax paper and deliver them to colleagues tomorrow so they could ooh and aah and exclaim their surprise about how fudgy and perfect my vegan brownies were.  I'm not sure they'll make it in and it's not necessarily because Mister and I can't keep our hands off (though they really are very tasty).

My brownies are crumbly.

I feel like I should have known that when I was forcing the batter into the corners of the pan.  At least three times before I put them in the oven I thought, "maybe I should add a little more liquid?"  Because the flavor is so good, I may make a second attempt and follow my heart on that, but it's too late tonight.  No brownies for you, faithful and persevering colleagues, or at least not tomorrow.  Tomorrow night will find me in the kitchen again "after hours," either perfecting this recipe or making cookies.  I guess you'll have to stay tuned to find out...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

glitter and good will

If you look back over posts from Decembers Past, you'll find I don't usually have time to enjoy The Most Wonderful Time of the Year due to working like a maniac.  Since I find myself working a retail position this holiday season, I figured I would once again miss out on the fun due to a busy schedule.  It has been plenty busy but since I am now in the city from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep again, I still have enough leftover time and energy to enjoy the holiday - how welcome a relief!

I hope you found my last post more inspiring than depressing or mean.  I expect this one to be of a far more light-hearted nature.

In years past, as in, those that came before full-time jobs and adult responsibilities, I used to love the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Everyday I would open my eyes in anticipation of a snowfall that usually didn't come.  At night I would decorate the envelopes in which I would send off treasures - Christmas cards and sometimes invitations to a grand party.  One year, I even managed to have a formal party - I wore a full, floor-length gown of midnight blue georgette and satin!  I was the most dressed of all my attendees, but they did humor me and dress to the nines.  Although I'm not yet back to the point of being able to host a lavish, gilded soiree, I have decorated my home for the first time in many years and tonight I covered myself and my dining table with the glitter that fell from the Christmas cards I was addressing in my finest script.  It feels good to have a box full of treasures for mailing!

In the hopes of pulling you into my Holiday Spirit, let's have a Picture Parade!

Here is a tiny ceramic nativity scene.  It seemed like the best place for it was beneath the tree, since I do consider the birth of my Savior to be the greatest gift of all.  Despite that truth, I will probably have to move it when I start putting presents beneath the tree (which I hope will start happening this weekend!).

Anyone remember Beanie Babies?  This is my angelbear beanie - its name is Halo II (good name for a friend, right?) and we share a birthday (even if we are 22 years apart).

I have a lovely angel ornament who is currently too big and heavy for my little Charlie Brown tree.  Fortunately, this year we have a mantel and a fireplace and I think she looks just lovely suspended there, just beyond the tree.

Santa's keeping a close watch over my watercolor of Lake Tahoe (I think he'd rather locate his toy shop there).

Initially, I thought I'd clear off the mantel completely and put up green garland, maybe with some lights and ribbon, then weave some candles and other Christmas decor (like my tiny nativity scene) in, but then I looked again and saw what a beautiful job Mister had done, arranging one of my favorite wedding photos amidst some candles and other works of art created specifically for us, and I thought I would rather just augment his work.  So, I added another Santa.

Eleven months of the year, this guy lives inside the santa box above.  He's a painted ceramic snowman lantern.  Think about that.  A snowman lantern.  It's a little twisted, don't you think?

"Hey, what should we set on fire?"

"How 'bout this snowman over here?"

I mean, really?  What thought process goes into making a snowman lantern?

Nevertheless, I love it and will keep him burning as long as I keep finding tea-light candles.

This is a little pewter nativity scene candle.  Again, with the irreverent things to set on fire, but anyway... my father-in-law gave me this little token at my first Greek Christmas.  He did so because he didn't know if the hostess, Yiayia (Greek for Grandmother), would have included me in the gift-giving and he didn't want me to feel left out.

So I love it.

That's a little tin pail, painted up to resemble Santa.  It appears Santa is like the Beans-n-Rice of my decorating world - can't have too many versions, can I?  This one makes a great candy holder, so there are individually-wrapped peppermints in there right now.  Candy canes may or may not be next.

Angst was feeling a bit uncertain about the decor changes.

In fact, he was pretty sure he wanted nothing to do with all these sparkly, lit-up things.

 Oh.  Wait.

Dangle-y things?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

grinchy mcscrooge

What is up with kids these days???

Yes, I've become one of those stodgy old geezers that says things like that.  Hear me out, though - in the "olden days," stodgy old geezers were called by a different name - Elders - and people showed them reverence and respect simply because they had managed to live long enough to get gray hairs.

I work with a bunch of people who are, on average, 10 years younger than me.  While this is usually something we don't notice, I can't help but wonder if it is a generational difference that allows me to love Christmas in all its trimmings - the music, the food, the scents, the decorations - and that causes them to adopt an attitude of apathy at best and downright mean-spirited, steal-your-sunshine hatred at worst.  I don't know when this happened since I was too busy to enjoy Christmas the last two years, but it seems that without exception, my colleagues display a total bah humbug attitude toward the holiday season: while I look forward to the isolated 4 weeks each year that I get to listen to Christmas music, they hate it and complain relentlessly about having to listen to it.

I've had it.

What happened to holiday cheer?  Where is the "most wonderful time of the year"?  Why doesn't anyone "buy into" that anymore?

I think most people are quick to blame the heinous over-commercialization of the holiday for all this Anti-Christmas sentiment.  I can understand how it must feel like Toys-R-Us opening at 9pm on Thanksgiving and the ads for holiday shopping season starting right after Halloween can take away the charm and sentimentality of Christmases past.

I think that's only part of a much bigger picture.  I've been thinking a lot about this because to me, Christmas is a joyful time of year - I love Christmas.  I look forward to it the way a child does, but not in anticipation of presents - rather, I linger on every sight and scent, I enjoy every single day.  I smile when I see the first snowflake decorations tied to the lampposts in Philadelphia and the sight of Headhouse Shambles and Rittenhouse Square all lit up for Christmas makes my heart swell.  I feel joy when I walk past a tree or window display of a storefront.  I actually love Christmas shopping because I know that I have all the excuses I need to "spoil" the people I love.  The only thing I really don't like about Christmas is the time that I have to wait between buying a gift and giving it because I love the joy a small token of love and friendship can bring to a person.

Why don't other people have that joy?

From looking around me and doing some serious thinking (who, me?), I think that a bigger part of this new "bah humbug" trend is the deterioration of relationships - relationships with your family, possibly your colleagues or friends, but yes, relationships.  Whether people admit it or not, I think that is why so many young people hate Christmas.  I know people who hate Christmas just because it means they have to see their family and deal with all the drama - when your family is built around dysfunctional relationships, it doesn't feel good to spend time together.  When we place all our worth on being in a romantic relationship, it "ruins" Christmas if that person dumps us before or around the holiday season.

Honestly, friends, what it comes down to is this: a lack of connection to, respect for, and relationship with the Savior whose birth Christmas celebrates removes any last vestige of holiday joy. [Before anyone reading feels the need to bring this up, I am very well aware that the Church strategically selected December 25th due to the celebration of a popular pagan holiday and that December 25th is not actually when Christ was born.  None of that changes the fact that this is the designated holiday to symbolically celebrate the miracle.]

This time of year you hear ads on the television and on the radio, reminding you to "keep Christ in Christmas" or remember the "Reason for the Season" and it's easy to roll your eyes and say it's hokey, but if we refocused the holiday and remembered why we celebrate it, we might find a joy that transcends holiday shopping madness (I freely admit to hating mall shopping during December, despite my love of buying gifts), gives us strength to put aside differences and hurt feelings and gather with our families at the table, and most importantly, gives us a worth that will never be matched by another human being's love.

So what's wrong with kids these days?  They were not raised in a Christian society, so Christmas has never been anything but a secular, universally celebrated, shopping holiday and another excuse for their family to make them miserable.  The songs that I love to listen to remind me of the incredible love God showed by allowing himself to be born as a human infant to poor, unwed parents so that he could live among us, as one of us, and ultimately give his life so that we would no longer be separated from him.  They remind me of the traditions my family has kept and the new ones I have adopted with the family I married into.  They evoke warmth and love and golden images of happy people being nice to each other.

The songs they hate have no meaning apart from reminding them how useless Christmas is now that they aren't children looking for something special under the tree.  As we [as a secular society] have successfully removed God from every facet of society that is not the cloistered halls of a church, we have lost our holiday traditions and the little things that can touch our hearts and make us remember that we have a lot of love to give.

I have a lot of love to give.  Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones from me and mine.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

somethin' in the works

Yes.... I know I suck at posting recently.  I'm sorry.  But you're tired of hearing me apologize for sporadic posting anyway, aren't you?

I could babble about why I haven't been posting but it comes down to this: I don't find it interesting to post about recipes I've made multiple times and if I don't have anything interesting or entertaining to say, I don't want to post just for the sake of keeping up the blog.

Stick with me, folks.  Not giving away anything just yet, but stay tuned - something's coming.



While we're waiting, though, why don't you page through some of my older posts?  I used to put together some fairly entertaining posts when I was still figuring out this crazy cooking thing!  Pick a post you enjoyed, then click on one of the tags for other posts like it.  Or, just pick a random past month to check out.

If you want to laugh at someone being completely random and scatterbrained, check out December of any year and January of 2010.
If you want to think deeply, check out October 2009 or the tag Operation Gratitude Attitude (November through December 2009).
If you like faerietales, read the posts I wrote about PIFA, either by using the PIFA tag or by going to April 2011.
If you want to know more about the information that led to my decision to "go vegan," check out my multi-part review of Skinny Bitch between August and October of 2010.
If you need a suggestion, leave me a comment with what you want to read about/learn and I'll point you in the right direction.

No food pictures because you've seen them all before.  How about an Angst picture?

How about his Greatest Hits?

See you soon!

Monday, November 28, 2011

flashbacks are fun!

Everyone have their Flashback Hats on?  Okay, hold on tight - here we go!

It was sometime in the autumn of a day in the mid-1990s.  I was in college, sitting in my dorm room.  It was later in the evening, I'd probably just finished some homework and had no other plans for the evening. I was hungry, but all food options on campus (aside from the healthful options in 1990s vending machines) were closed down for the night.

What's this?

My eyes fall on a plastic milk-crate beneath my nailed-to-the-wall desk.  It's packed to the gills with all kinds of "food."  When I shipped off to college, a group of dear friends had assembled this Care Package for me, full of strange and exotic foods I'd never eaten before.  Well, okay, I'd had PopTarts on the rare occasion my mother was willing to permit them as a breakfast treat, but never artificially purple frosted Wildberry PopTarts.  By the way - they're revolting.  If you've never had them, there's no reason to start now.

I pulled the crate out in to the glow of the flattering fluorescent overhead light and poked through the contents for something that would qualify as Substantial Food.  Finally, I pulled out a plastic packet which I pulled open to reveal a brick of dried "noodles" and a packet of seasoning that I think was supposed to taste like chicken.

That's right.  Ramen Noodles.

I had never had them before, but I broke the brick into smaller bits, sprinkled the seasoning over top and filled the bowl with hot water.  It was love at first slurp.

I can't even imagine what my body thought of the extraordinary sodium increase, but 10 (or so) pounds later, the love affair began to fade...

Don't fret!  There is still time for a happy ending!

So a few months ago, vegan ramen started being a new foodie trend and for the first time, I learned that ramen is not just a 10-for-$1 phenomenon that prevents college students from starving at midnight (while raising their blood pressure and increasing their waistlines).  NO!  It's also a normal, everyday Japanese dish, ordinarily made with a savory (albeit animal-based) broth, plenty of fresh veggies, and long slender noodles.

Imagine my delight upon paging through Celebrate Vegan for this week's menu to find that Dynise had included her own ramen recipe.  Tonight's dinner, then, was the ubiquitous Ramen Noodle Bowl from that very same book and it was far more delicious than those bricks of dry noodles soaked in reconstituted broth could ever be (no matter how long I'd been writing a term paper, preparing a speech, or studying for a test).

I don't know why the picture is green - all I can think of is the reflection from the placemats?  Anyway... per the recipe instructions, I simmered ginger and garlic in a vegetable broth, along with carrots, green cabbage, broccoli, and green onions, topping it off with cappellini noodles standing in for those old, crumbly bricks (and also, because of a sale, the box of cappellini cost less than a six-pack of prepacked ramen noodles).  It was delicious - Mister and I both slurped up two bowls with reckless abandon for our waistlines or blood pressure, and although I'm sure we could do without the concentrated sodium in the cubes of Rapunzel bouillon I used for the broth, I'm sure we could have (and have) done worse.

I was impressed with how much more flavorful and, for lack of a less pretentious word, complex the broth and noodles were.  I'm not going to pretend that the cabbage added some je ne sais quoi, but I will say that the drizzling of toasted dark sesame oil to finish the dish did so with such a flair, it's hard to believe someone would bother simplifying all that jazz to sell by the penny to poor [stupid] college kids.

By the way - if you're wondering where the Freshman Fifteen comes from, it's not the beer Freshmen are too young to drink legally - it's from the Ramen their parents willingly buy them to get them through all-night study sessions (which really do happen!).

klutz in the kitchen

You would think I didn't know my way around a kitchen.  You'd think I've never cooked before... or measured anything... or stirred a pot.  If you haven't been following this blog for the last couple of years, you might think I was just learning to cook from the way I was dropping things and tossing things around tonight.

You know, it's ridiculous - I took a couple of days off from my kitchen and it's as though I've never handled a measuring spoon or a spatula before.  I spilled water, poured salt all over the counter, knocked rice on the floor, and dropped at least two measuring spoons.  I tossed bits of spinach all over the stovetop and God forbid I transfer the coconut milk from the counter to the pot without dumping some of it on the skillet and pan-frying tofu in the process.

Fortunately, it all came together (after a little swearing and a lot of stooping) to make Sag Paneer from Celebrate Vegan.

I'll be honest, I was not all that impressed, after all my hard work (of spinach-slinging, salt-spilling, and rice-scattering).  It was really rather bland, despite the addition of the maximum amount of salt (plus a little, probably) and the shallot-garlic-ginger base.  I caught Mister trying to be subtle as he snuck more salt onto his second serving and unabashedly doused both servings with a generous amount of hot sauce (at my suggestion).  I did not have an opportunity to test this before the cookbook was published, but I wish I had so I could have suggested a ton more flavor.  One of my favorite parts of Indian food is the almost overwhelming 'spiceyness' and flamboyant flavors - those aspects were disappointingly absent from this recipe, making me glad as heck for the overboard flavors in The 30 Minute Vegan's version of this Southern Asia staple.

Angst still seemed to think he urgently needed to share Mister's dinner...

"This is my Imploring Face"
(note the paw on Mister's knee) 
"Please, Mister, I NEEDS!"
So, Black Friday I came home and ate leftover Spanakopita and leftover Apple Pie.  Saturday I slept most of the day, drank some coffee, got another make-up delivery, and then went out on a belated Anniversary Dinner with my hubby because....

...Vedge finally opened!  Hallelujah, folks.

I took a bunch of pictures, but it's possible that Vedge is even dimmer than Horizons was, so none of them came out.  Here's the synopsis:

I started out with an Apple Cide Car, per the power of suggestion from Dynise's review of the Friends and Family night.  With dinner, I enjoyed a nice glass of Dolcetto.  The server explained that the Chef suggests three plates per person and that the menu lists plates in order from light to heavy.  To share, Mister and I ordered our old favorite from Horizons - Truffled Fingerling Fries, a newsie Crispy Cauliflower with Kimchee Mayo and an order of Roasted Baby Broccoli from their "Dirt" list (today's fresh veggie sides).  I elected to try a new dish, despite many of my favorites from Horizons making a slightly altered appearance on the menu - Steak-Spiced Tofu with squash, chanterelles, and a few other unidentified vegetables.  I can honestly say that this dish marked the very first time I have actually found mushrooms enjoyable.  I will not be seeking them out any time soon, but it was nice to not have to eat around them.  Mister stuck with what he knows, ordering the Grilled Seitan, even though it came on a bed of beluga lentils with some mushrooms surrounding it.  It was so refreshing to be able to order and eat anything on the menu.  The delightful thing about the small plates thing Vedge is doing is that it enabled us to order and enjoy dessert without feeling like total pigs (and since it's much further from home, the walk back helped burn off a few calories).  Mister, as usual, got Fig & Quince Cheesecake and discarded the fruit.  The figs tasted kind of "green" and the quince was middle-sweet.  I would have left them on, myself.  I got the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Pumpkin(-spiced) "ice cream" and loved every warm, melty bite.

As a side note, Angst helped me finish the blog post tonight and Mister took pictures:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

still alive - be thankful!

I know other bloggers have gone far longer than a week without a post, but I am not normally among them so it feels like forever.  I hope you'll excuse my absence, considering how busy I've been preparing for Thanksgiving and Black Friday - or I should say it like this:

  1. the first Thanksgiving (or holiday at all) that I've hosted in my own home!
  2. the first Black Friday I've worked retail in fifteen years.
Fortunately, both went off pretty well, yet both were fairly stressful in the days leading up to them.  Additionally, I just haven't felt like I had anything interesting to say.  I realized recently that one of the reasons I've found blogging to be so much fun and so fulfilling in the first two years of this little blog was because I was still learning how to cook new and interesting things, so I was always trying to make something I hadn't made yet so I could come up with a unique post.  Over the last several months, I've found myself perfectly happy to repeat "favorites" from the last few years, and although I only rotate recipes every few months, I still didn't have anything interesting to say about making "this" dish again.

Here is a quick recap of my Celebrate Vegan mini-menu:

The two pasta dishes (Pasta with Shallots and Chard and Pasta with Red Peppers and Basil) were just like I remembered them - relatively easy with a ton of flavor.  Neither of them made as much as I thought I remembered, but believe me, with Thanksgiving coming up, there was no place in our fridge for leftovers anyway.

I made one new recipe from the book I wasn't able to make before because it needed tweaking for Mister's intestinal safety, the Jambalaya and it was quite tasty and fake-meat-alicious!

So let's switch gears.

There's a lovely song by Josh Groban (which you can hear a beautiful cover of here) with the following lyrics:

Some days we forget to look around us.
Some days we can't see the joy that surrounds us.
So caught up inside ourselves, we take when we should give,
So for tonight, we pray for what we know can be,
And on this day we hope for what we still can't see.  
It's up to us to be the change,
And even though we all can still do more...
There's so much to be thankful for.

I'm thankful for a great many things, not the least of which being how well my first Thanksgiving as the cook and hostess turned out!  Here was our menu:

When my parents arrived, we set out mixed olives, veggie crudites with Muhammara (from Celebrate Vegan) and store-bought dill dip (thanks, Mister), and Spanakopita (from The Accidental Vegan).  The main course was a Torfurky Roast which Mister has wanted since his first non-meat-eating Thanksgiving and I was thrilled to be able to give it to him.  Alongside the Tofurky was mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli, and my mom's becoming-famous salad, then dessert was Apple Pie with Vanilla "ice cream" by So Delicious.  Dad brought two delightful bottles of my favorite wines - Apothic Red and the 2009 vintage of Georges deBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages, as well as a four-pack of mini-champagnes "for after work."

Oh?  You wanted a picture parade?  Okay!

I began my preparations on Monday or Tuesday night, starting with the Muhammara dip since it would taste the best after sitting in the fridge for a few days.  I figured it was best to make it the same night we had Pasta with Shallots and Chard since my home already stank of an onion sibling (and since I already had the book out).  After simmering three chopped red peppers with a chopped onion and sliced garlic for an hour, I dry-toasted some walnuts,

And then placed everything in the blending machine...

and pureed it until it was mostly smooth and homogenously orange.

After it cooled a little, I scooped it into a "tupperware" and stuck it in the fridge, to be forgotten until Thursday.

Wednesday night, I intended to make the spanakopita because I've found that it sticks together better if it's made the night before it's eaten.  So I chopped up a shallot to substitute for the revolting onion in the recipe and sauteed the onion and spinach while the lentils cooked.

Added the brown lentils (I'm not actually sure why, either)

and then a big heap of crumbled feta tofu,

and stirred it all together.

This is where it gets fun.  By the time I started making this, I'd only worked one eight-hour day at work (the others went long in preparation for Black Friday) and after that 8-hour day (of being one half of the sales force, since one person got sent home with an eye infection) I had a 2.5 hour hair appointment (oh, how I missed you, Candi KaBoom!), so I really wasn't on my most... "with it" behavior.

I realized after all the work of assembling the spanakopita, including gluing sheets of phyllo together with olive oil while listening to the darkly angelic voice of Amy Lee through my earbuds, that I had missed one step of the two-step process required to preheat my ancient oven.  So, finding (at 2am) that my oven was still cold after it was "preheating" for 30 minutes, I covered the spanakopita with plastic, put it in the fridge and went to bed.

It came out just fine when I baked it the next morning.

Then came the piece de resistance.

Mister's long-awaited Tofurky Roast, complete with wild rice stuffing.

I put it in a little Corningware casserole dish and surrounded it with quartered potatoes and carrots, then poured half of the sage marinade over it and stuck that puppy in the oven.

It's not a real puppy, by the way.

appetizers - from the top: Muhammara, Dill dip, olives

more apps: Spanakopita, crudites

The Torfurky, all basted and roasted and ready to eat!

Sides: mashterpaters, roasted broccoli, and the canned
cranberry "sauce" Mister insisted we needed

I realized in a panic a few days before Thanksgiving (and a few days after I constructed the menu) that I had completely neglected to get/make gravy.  In an incredible (and incredibly fortunate) coincidence, my dear Mama Pea posted this recipe to save my butt.  It was good and easy to make in a pinch, but a little too thick to become a regular occurrence in our home, so next year we'll think ahead and find something a little more pourable.

Next year?

That's right!  It seems my parents enjoyed themselves enough to consider sharing the holidays - with any luck, that means I will always host Thanksgiving and they can have Christmas :)  In any case, thanks to my hard-working dishwasher and helpful husband, it didn't take all that long to clean up after dinner, allowing me to get to bed by nine(ish) since I had to be up at 3am to go to work.

In case you were wondering, Philadelphia is incredibly quiet and peaceful (and dark) at 5am.