Monday, January 31, 2011

somebody loves me

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy not too far from here, (also known as the 1980s) a man named Michael W. Smith was getting some quality airplay on the radio (remember the radio??).  His music colored at least part of my adolescence, alternately preventing me from doing something stupid and causing me to think with a little more depth about where my life would go.  I remember one song that attached itself to my heart in a particularly possessive way:
Somebody love me - come and carry me away
Somebody need me to be the blue in their gray
Somebody want me the way I've always dreamed it could be
Won't somebody love me, love me?
Talk about the heartcry of a teenage girl!  Are the lyrics cheesy?  A vegan wouldn't touch them with a ten foot pole.  Do they perfectly sum up the lovesong almost every good girl with an eye toward marriage sings in the depths of her heart?  Does a bear....ahem, you get the idea.

Anyway, before I veer too far off course, I just want the world to know that somebody loves me.  My favorite part of every day is coming home from work and seeing my husband and kitty.  On Mondays, this is particularly rewarding since I hate to leave them after a beautiful Sunday spent together.  On this particular Monday, though, coming home was even better than usual due to a surprise I got upon opening the door to our apartment:

What?  Doesn't everyone's sweetheart write love notes with Sharpies on scrap paper and then suspend it at eye level just inside the front door using dental floss and scotch tape?  How adorable is that? 

Or for that matter, how cute are these big, doleful eyes?  Angst is getting so worked up over the move, I feel kind of guilty that I started packing so soon.  I just know how time gets away from me and I didn't want it to be this time next week with nary a book nor trinket packed.  In a few weeks, he'll be fine and have fun exploring his new home, but for now he's quite the sad sack.

Anyway, with Angst keeping a close eye on me from Mister's dining chair, I prepared a dinner he didn't have the remotest interest in begging for: Pasta Jambalaya from Vegan Express.  This recipe is so good and although I really enjoy making it with cavatappi pasta (because cavatappi pasta looks cool), I really think the rotini made for a beautiful photo.

I also used fresh parsley this time, which I don't ordinarily do.  I really hope I'm able to cultivate a little window herb garden in the new place because I truly enjoy cooking with fresh herbs, but they're just so darn expensive.  The parsley isn't terrible and you get a lot for your money, but I don't think I've ever used it all.  With little herb plants growing in my window, I can just take what I need and let the rest continue to grow and thrive until I need more.

On a (pretty much) completely unrelated note, there's been a lot of chatter lately about Whole Foods selling out to Corporate Satan Monsanto by compromising on Genetically Engineered alfalfa.  Due to spending most of my weekday waking hours at work and most of my weekend hours packing, I really haven't had the chance to explore this topic as much as I'd like to, so I would love to get a little feedback from my peanut gallery, if you'd be so kind.

1. What are your thoughts on GMOs, and/or the Whole Foods "situation"?

2. Are you interested in reading my take on GMOs in general, the implications of Whole Foods meeting Monsanto "halfway," and what that means for me and my choices as a consumer who cares about my health and supporting agriculture that shows caring for world health?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

smushed chickpea love

I have a feeling that February is not going to be a terribly restful month.  Lucky me, it's the shortest month of the year, so even though I anticipate a lot of unsettledness and crowding, at least I can face it armed with the knowledge that it will end.

Since I didn't get too much accomplished yesterday, packing-wise, I pretty much devoted all of today (except for the time spent at Salon Sugar, having my grays camouflaged and cut) to packing.  I got all my music books packed, as well as one small bookshelf.  The big bookshelf may have to be a Me&Mister collaboration, since at least half those books are his and I don't want to just go around deciding which of his books to keep and which to donate...

The main problem I'm running into is the growing City of Boxes.  Fortunately, they can be stacked on top of one another, but eventually they will give me anxiety.  Miraculously, all of the things that are now in boxes that are beginning to take over my living room and bedroom actually had A Place, and since I've displaced them, they're just clutter again.  I'm cutting this week as a loss, in terms of taking things to the thrift store, but I think I'll spend most of next weekend filtering out what is definitely not following us down the street and moving it to the thrift store.  At least that way, we'll have more room for boxes!

Although I usually make a relatively time-consuming dinner on Sundays, 'cause I can, I made something short and sweet tonight instead. 

Lemony Garlic Chickpea Patties from Vegan on the Cheap, served with roasted red potatoes I tossed with olive oil and Mediterranean Seasoning from my trip out west.  To make the patties, I got to use two happy kitchen toys tools: my food processor and my new burger press.  It is so fun to smush those little round balls of almost-burger! 

The "dough" seemed like it was going to be too dry to hold everything together (since the only liquid was 3 Tbsp lemon juice), so I added a bit more lemon juice.  All told, I used the juice of two Meyer lemons and it definitely dominated from the first bite, but not in a bad way, just in a "Oh, hey, there's the lemon" kind of way.

This pan is a secondary vision of Mister's Heaven: A roasting pan full of potatoes, generously decorated with herbs, spices, and salt.  I gave in and bought one of those adorable bags of tiny red potatoes, which lengthened the scrubbing process but decreased the chopping time.  They came out really well - crispy outside, squishy inside, and well-seasoned.

After dinner, I just couldn't get back into the groove, so I think we're finished packing for the evening.  Angst is trying to help - he already has one of his pillows (and himself) in a box.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

a big pot of pasta

Last week, I made a menu that was completely suited to Mister's tastes.  It was kind of my way to make up for all the weird meals I've been making since deciding to make the leap to vegan this summer and since I've started testing for Dynise's forthcoming cookbook.  I absolutely adore the way she writes, the stories she tells as she introduces her recipes, and most of all, the way she convinces me to combined ingredients I wouldn't ordinarily combine or eat something I wouldn't ordinarily eat.  Mister could do without all the adventure sometimes.  That being said, the only recipe he really didn't care for was the Basil-Balsamic Glazed Tofu; everything else he has embraced.

I think I made a new favorite tonight, though: Pasta with Red Peppers and Basil from the upcoming UV2.

Rather artful, the way I scattered those toasted Spanish pine nuts on there, wouldn't you say?  By the way, I don't know what's so special about Spanish pine nuts (not to mention that since they were in the bulk bin at Whole Foods I don't actually have any way to verify that they are really from Spain), but those little suckers are $23/lb!  Fortunately, I only needed 1/2 cup for the recipe.

It's a good thing I also have some recipes from Vegan on the Cheap in the menu, because in the off-season, this particular recipe could be very expensive: $23/lb pine nuts, $4/lb red peppers (and I needed 2lbs), and fresh basil, among other things.  This will be a much more affordable meal around July/August, so keep that in mind if you are a seasonal-ingredients cook who knows you have to buy this book when it comes out.  

After sauteing my 2lbs of red peppers long enough for them to get all soft and roasted-red-peppery, I stirred in the chopped basil and long, lovely strands of Meyer lemon zest.  It's very possible Dynise wanted the kind of grated zest you get from a microplane grater, but I thought the swirly strips of bright yellow zest were so pretty I didn't even chop them smaller.

This photo strongly resembles what Mister imagines heaven to look like.  To quote him directly, "a big pot of pasta is a happy thing."  Sounds kind of like a fortune cookie, doesn't he?  In any case, he was sufficiently delighted with our dinner - enough to have three hearty servings and help me provide a better idea to Dynise as to exactly how many servings this recipe makes.  I can see it traveling well and tasting good chilled with a light garlicky vinaigrette sprinkled over it for a potluck/picnic.

Of course, it's beautiful enough to be an appropriate first course for a dinner on our china with our real silver and crystal, in a room lit by ambient light and music playing softly in the background...

Yes, I am already planning my first dinner party now that we're two weeks away from moving into a home that will allow me to entertain.

packing lists

I'm a list girl.  I used to be incapable of taking a trip (vacation) without making a list of what I was going to pack, checking everything off as I packed it, and then re-checking it when I was re-packing to leave my destination.  I make to-do lists, especially when I want to justify taking a day off from work.  I make grocery lists each week and wish lists at least once a year (Christmas).  I have a running list of restaurants I want to visit in New York and cookbooks I will eventually add to my shelves to compensate for the five I got rid of in the packing/purging process.  The whole 9 months between my engagement and my wedding can be retraced by following one huge list I still have on my computer.

I am actually surprised that I haven't made a packing list for this move, but I think that's owed to the completely overwhelming nature of packing up my entire home.  With my wedding, I could construct a timeline, replete with projected deadlines for the completion of various tasks, and with the included reward of being able to check off the finished things.  The only way I have any clue how far along I am in this packing process is by the growing City of Boxes developing residences throughout my already crowded home and by [eventually] running out of things to put in boxes.

I had already anticipated running headlong into nostalgia and other such pangs during the unearthing of things I probably haven't looked at in years, so while I have had to force myself to look at some things objectively enough to say "even though this is old, it's kind of ugly and not really worth anything," and recognize that I was only holding onto it because it once belonged to someone who isn't part of my life anymore, I can let them go with the understanding that I don't love that person any less without an ugly teapot to remind me of them.  On the other hand, I've found some fun things that I've rushed over to Mister to share:

 It's a funny little Christmas plate and aside from the fact that it is obviously hand-painted, there's nothing special about it.  Until you turn it over to wrap it up...

"Hand Painted in Italy for F.B."  FB are the initials of my mother's mother, Florence Beverly.  That's pretty darn cool.  Quick side story that will only be funny to women old enough to remember "adopting" Cabbage Patch Kids: My mother's mother was one of [I think] five children and all the girls had names a CPK creator would envy: Florence Josephine, Erma Matilda, Henrietta something-or-other; amazing names.

Anyway, back to 2011, after two days off from work, I managed to get there today.  I even brought home two more boxes, which made for a challenging walk home from the train (since the buses still aren't running near my home).  I may still do a little packing tonight, but I decided to take a blog & Beaujolais break first. 

Since my green pepper urgently required my attention, I decided tonight was as good a night as any to make my favorite Cajun Red Beans and Rice from The Accidental Vegan.  This is absolutely my favorite rice-n-beans recipe; I'm pretty sure it's the generous addition of Worcestershire sauce, although I think the scant bit of liquid smoke helps.

In place of the usual Tofurky sausages, I used what was left from my homemade seitan.  I'll tell you, this recipe is going to save us hundreds of hard-earned dollars.  It was actually a bit better with the seitan than with the sausage, though I think I'll slice the seitan next time, rather than cubing it.  Lots of chewing.

Finally, in my effort to stave off more packing until tomorrow, I constructed the new menu for next week, which may very well be the last full menu before we move.  I have quite a collection of Cooking Things, as well as an entire 3x1' shelf of herbs and spices, so next weekend we'll probably have to start packing some of it.  I probably won't realize how much that limits me until it's too late, but suffice it to say that I anticipate only getting two or three items in before switching to sandwiches/take-out.

So, in the spirit of list-making, I present to you
The Last Full Menu in This Residence

1. Pasta with Red Peppers and Basil

2. Chickpea Broccoli Casserole from Vegan with a Vengeance.  Since it bakes for about 45-60 minutes, I figure it will give me time to pack while it's baking - hooray for multi-tasking! 

3. Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes and Kalamata Tapenade also from VwaV.

4. Rice Island Casserole from Vegan on the Cheap; I have a few tricks so it doesn't take as long as it did last time, but even if it does...see #2.

5. Tuscan White Bean Pizza also from Vegan on the Cheap, because pizza is awesome and there are no leftovers (I suspect that will also become important over the next 15 days).

6. Pasta Jambalaya from Vegan Express

Thursday, January 27, 2011

snowpocalypse: the beginning of the end

How's that for an epic title?

We got a whole ton of snow here in Philadelphia - I think the final numbers were around 15-16 inches.  Today began the great dig-out, so I moved through today to the soundtrack of shovels scraping the pavement.  That's right, folks, I got another snow day after all.  I wish I'd known ahead of time, like I did in high school, so I could just sleep in, but I think I got a lot more done than I would have if I'd gone back to bed.  I really did think I was going to work this morning, despite my desire for another snow day; however, there's not much you can do when all the buses have stopped operating and every train that would take you to your destination is being canceled.  Since the sidewalks were a hideous mess and cabs were sliding into the curbs, walking to the train station to wait for a train that would never come kind of lost its appeal.

So, thanks to Snowpocalypse 2011, I have begun the process of moving, which I will probably document here as a pitiful excuse for my interesting meal stories diminishing.  Believe me, my pots, pans, and everyday dishes will be the last things packed (besides the cat), but I fully anticipate:
a) some take-out dinners in the last part of this process and
b) packing taking priority over posting.  I'm only here now because my new bottle of Beaujolais, picked up when I was harvesting boxes from the wine store, was singing its siren song and I needed a short break from wrapping every(fancy)thing a person could possibly drink from in newspaper.

I spent most of the daylight hours hunting down boxes since I can't get them home from my office.  Between Essene, the wine store, and a few other places, I've managed to procure 14 boxes.  So far tonight, I've filled two, but it's only 10:30, so I have time!  I also traded some books for $33 of store credit at a used bookstore beside the thrift store that will soon inherit some wine glasses, bowls, and decor I've outgrown.  This packing-n-purging thing is going really well.

By the way, if anyone was wondering the outcome of last night's quandry, I was strongly encouraged to consider baking cookies by Mister... I really didn't need that much coaxing.

Plain Jane chocolate chip cookies, but boy were they good right out of the oven.  I got so into making these [wonderful] bizarre fusion cookies that I forgot how magnificent it is to bite into a gooey, melty chocolate chip cookie.  Don't be alarmed!  I've remembered.

As my own form of repentance or a spectacular display of irony, tonight I made Pasta Con Broccoli from Appetite for Reduction.  Those cookies are the reason cookbooks like this must exist.

It was delightful, just like last time, although the broccoli got a little mushier than I wanted it to be and I really feel like 1/4 cup of sliced garlic should have a more obvious contribution to the meal.  Perhaps I've been spoiled by the bite of raw garlic in my recent recipe testing, but I could barely tell there was garlic at all!

Anyway, the broccoli got mushy because I let it steam too long while I was trying to clear the table for dinner.  Putting 14 boxes at the table seemed like a good idea when I was bringing them all home...

I think the hardest part of, well, anything, is starting.  Just like I always have trouble deciding which recipe to make first when I have a fresh menu, I had more than a small amount of trouble trying to figure out where to start packing.  Obviously, I would start with things I use infrequently and as the next 16 days progress, I'll move closer to the things I use regularly.  Two weeks from now we will absolutely be eating from takeout containers.

Finally, I decided the most logical place to start was by packing the things I never ever use.  Also, there is something in the restaurant downstairs that vibrates sometimes and causes these beautiful teacups to make very annoying clattering noises.

This is one of those family heirloom stories - I have very few of them, so I cherish those I have.  Aside from the rightmost teacup, these teacups (and the ones in the first picture) have been passed from my mother's mother to her, and from her to me.  As a result of my love of these pretty things, my dear friend and my mother-in-law are helping me to build my collection.  The rightmost teacup in this picture was a Christmas gift from my friend back when I lived in my ghetto apartment.  She gave me another one this year and my husband's mother has given me teacups the last two years for Christmas; for my bridal shower, she gave me a whole tea-set, including the teapot, creamer, and sugar bowl.

This "shot glass" is 108 years old.  You may or may not be able to see in the picture that it is cut crystal, with red tint and two thin gold bands bordering the white stripe in the middle.  I have four and I cherish them - they are what is left of six original glasses with a small crystal pitcher that I inherited from my father's father when they were almost exactly 100 years old.  The reason I know their precise age is because they were apparently a "parting gift" at the 1903 Republican National Convention.  My grandfather was born in 1913, so although I inherited them from him, he must have inherited them from his father.

I love old things.  My design ethic is completely bizarre and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out in the new home (where I'll actually have space to decorate and design).  I admire the sterility and order of modern design; as I believe I've mentioned once or twice, I am completely in love with IKEA and have no issue designing my home to look like their catalogs (I've already begun plotting my kitchen improvements for the new place).  On the other hand, I adore old things and the aesthetic of antiques.  I have very Victorian leanings, but dear heavens does that create clutter!  I love my grandmother-mother's teacups and my grandfather's souvenir shot glasses (I'm pretty sure they're actually stemless cordials) because they link me to a far off past and join me to my family in a quiet, subtle way.

Speaking of subtle, I think the last sip of my wine is the quiet prompt to get back to packing.  I think we'll do platters and plates next.  See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

snow day(s)!

It seems the last couple of posts have incorporated a plural noun..."fortunate locations" or "comforts of homes."  I'm hoping the trend continues and that I have more than one snow day purely because I made my title plural.  Well, I guess the blizzard outside can play some part.

I have a really strong urge to bake but I really can't just bake every time it snows....can I? We'll have to come back to that later.

I spent the better part of yesterday reassuring one of the managers at work that the snow wasn't going to be that bad and it would probably be fine.  I have very little faith in the weatherguessers, you see, so when they get all excited and put up a big red warning for 4-6 inches, I'm not inclined to believe them until I see it.

I got up this morning, bright and early, figuring I'd head out to work, possibly get delayed by a few minutes, but be at work before any serious snow started.  That way, at least I'd show my face before probably leaving early, before the train tracks froze.  I put the teapot on to boil and started to make breakfast and prepare my matcha.  It was only then that I looked out the kitchen window and saw, to my unabashed surprise, a decent accumulation of snow!

While eating breakfast, I checked out and discovered that the forecast was now calling for 6-8 inches, mingling with some freezing rain for some nice snow-ice-snow Oreo action.  I was surprised that there were no tweets from SEPTA regarding delays in transit, so I kept moving toward the goal of going to work, despite the foreboding forecast.  After showering, I found that the snow had gotten huge and was falling at a far heavier rate than originally forecast.  Upon checking the weather again, I found a big mea culpa from the weather folks, saying that we were getting heavier snow than anticipated and upping the total accumulation expected to nearly a foot!

I'm sure you know where this is going.  Much hemming and hawing and pacing the apartment later, I did one more evaluation and upon seeing that trains were running 15-25 minutes behind, buses were being detoured, and people were slip-sliding all over the place in their cars, I decided to keep Angst company.  I wish I'd gotten some pictures of him earlier - the snowflakes were probably about the same size as his paws and he was sitting in his window just batting at them (and hitting the window instead).  He got himself all worked up - it was quite a sight.

After another unsuccessful attempt to buy shoes, I started dinner.  Mister didn't have any opinions since he knew he would like anything on the menu, so I made Seitan Cacciatore from The Accidental Vegan.

I've made this a few times before, although this is the first time I used homemade seitan, so it looks a bit different since I cubed the seitan.  Also, I'm pretty sure the seitan I buy (Ray's, Michael's) is simmered, not baked, so it has a different texture.  As it was coming into its final five minutes of simmer-time, I realized I hadn't made anything upon which to serve it.  I wouldn't say I panicked, but I was a little worried about how Mister would take it - we've had a couple of conversations in the past about the necessity of a grain/pasta/carb-of-some-sort as the base to our meal and how he can't cope with a meal made of only vegetables and a protein source.  I wished with all my heart for couscous to magically appear in the cupboard, but it did not happen.  There was not enough time for rice and I used up all the bulghur in the stew...

Fortunately, between the pepper "noodles" and the big "meaty" chunks of seitan, Mister didn't even reach for bread!  I guess it passed muster, but I'll still make a grain with it next time.

I was not nearly as productive today as I wanted to be and the snow got heavy way later than it was supposed to.  I'll be interested to see what that does to the morning commute.  I'm not going to deny that I'm hoping for another snow day... but for now, I have to answer a very important question:

to bake or not to bake?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

comforts of homes

I should probably be packing right now, but instead I'm posting while inhaling the heavenly scent of baking seitan.  What an action-packed day!

It started at about 5 minutes before work, when my cellphone rang with the call I've been waiting on for nearly 2 weeks: we got the apartment we visited at the beginning of the month!  After a little negotiating, we set a date for Moving Day, so all the chaos surrounding me needs to find its way into boxes or the garbage or the thrift store between now and Valentines Day.  That's right, folks, the most romantic way Mister and I could think of to spend Valentines Day is by moving into our new home.  We'll probably also have a dinner date, but if we go to Horizons again (which has been the plan), we'll have to wait until Tuesday night anyway.

Anyway, when I got home from work, I grabbed Mister, ID, and our checkbook and headed over to our future landlord's house to sign the lease and put a deposit down to hold the apartment.  Afterward, we went to Superfresh, where I picked up polenta and found that the Broth Drought has already ended!  As a result, the seitan I needed to make for two of our dinners is currently baking, and we finally had the Chickpea Stew with Fried Polenta from Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook.

I don't know why I keep taking pictures of it - it always looks the sameIt also always tastes the same which is one of the many comforting things about this dinner.  It is so easy and comes together really quickly.  At this point, I pretty much have the recipe memorized and I just put the book out because I'm in the habit.  There is also always one serving left for me to take to work for lunch...which is good, since I was trying to explain to a colleague what polenta is and could not muster an adequate explanation, so now we can just do Show n' Tell.

Well, I must be moving along...I have dishes to wash (now that we have water!), seitan to flip, and a home to purge and pack!

Monday, January 24, 2011

fortunate locations

Although there have definitely been some moments when me, the right place, and the right time have all come together, I assure you, it was probably a lucky accident.  I am generally late to the party, last to join the dance, getting there just a minute past the excitement.  Heavens, even the "coincidental" encounters I had with my husband before we were even dating were choreographed by his sisters/my best friends like a high schooler's attempt to write a sequel to "The Parent Trap."

Perhaps I need to be more trusting, but leaving things to chance just isn't how I roll.  I'm afraid I'll miss something (like the bus) and be left out in the cold (below freezing for days now) or at the very least, hungry (due to a broth drought).  Once in a while, all the little pieces come together and make me think that sometimes, I don't have to have everything pinned down.

Yesterday, I was clearing out my already-pretty-bare cupboard to make space for the pantry items I picked up at Superfresh.  Upon discovering the last few fortune cookies from our Chinese take-out dinner last week, I decided to eat them, and of course, read the fun fortunes.  I got some real winners:

"You will go on vacation soon."  Really?  And who is going to pay for that?

"Handsome is as handsome does."  Apparently, Forrest Gump is in the fortune-writing business these days...

"Stop searching forever, happiness is just next to you."  Finally, a good old-fashioned fortune.  I thought about going with the spirit of the fortune and saying something mushy to Mister, but when I realized where I was, I thought it was much more fun to take my fortune 100% literally.

I was standing just next to the coffeemaker.  Yes....happiness, with a tiny taste of bitterness to balance it all out.

As I was drinking my matcha and eating my breakfast this morning (an Ambrosia apple and a Cinnamon-Date Scone), I visited my favorite website to hate - - and discovered that the reason I didn't have ANY water, even for a shower, was because it was 7 degrees out.  I didn't even look to see what the "real feel" was.  When it's in the single digits, it starts to not matter.  Anyway, I timed things so I could catch a bus a few blocks north of my home that would take me, warmly, most of the way to the train station.  However, per my usual luck, the bus was not running on time.  I stood at the stop for a moment, then decided it was in my better interest to keep going and see if the bus caught up with me.  It didn't, but just as I thought my nose was going to freeze into a solid block of ice and fall right off my face, I reached an intersection at exactly the same time that a westbound bus was pulling up.  Talk about ending up in the right place at the right time!

So, aside from the train running late enough for me to miss the connecting bus and have to call my work to get a ride, it seems I've had a pretty fortunate 24 hours, doesn't it?  Well, there are no buses home at the time my evening train pulls in, and by the time I was cold enough to be willing to catch a cab, there were none.  I froze my way home, changed into my cozy yoga pants and hoodie, my heart set on making the Chickpea-Polenta Stew...only to discover that I utterly neglected to pick up polenta yesterday.

Fortunately, I have a loving husband who volunteered to run out and get it for me (probably because he didn't realize exactly how darn cold it is out there).  After a while, I started to worry and feel bad because it occurred to me that he had probably been gone so long because he didn't get to Essene before it closed and was now running all over our neighborhood looking for polenta or broth.  I sat in my warmer home and wished him home, which eventually worked.  There was no polenta, nor was there broth (I kind of knew that already), and not even Tofurky sausage...but there was a big bag of falafel and fries!

We are blessed to live so close to Maoz Vegetarian.  In the summer months, we frequently walk to the little storefront, stand in a line that can stretch out the door, just to get some falafel with fixin's and a cone of steak fries to enjoy on the South Street bridge for a little urban nighttime picnic.  In the winter, we're not huge on the take-out options unless it's the Chinese place that is literally 15 seconds from our front door.  I was glad it was there tonight though - it smelled so good and so warm.

So, no fun cooking stories tonight - Mister made dinner and it was fabulous.  Now I have to go take a shower since there probably won't be any water in the morning again and you can't stink in an office.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

a menu for Mister (+1)

With some favorite cookbooks nearby for inspiration, I made Mister a present last night: his very own menu.  I put my mind to making a whole week of meals that are Mister-approved: pasta, Italian-inspired, our favorite rice-n-beans recipe, and the chickpea stew that never stops being a near-existential experience.  I was so pleased with myself by the time I got to the end that I interrupted Mister at his computer to proudly display my masterpiece; he was thrilled and recognized that I did it just for him.  Here is Mister's Menu:

1. Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Marinara Sauce from Vegan Italiano.

2. Chickpea Stew with Fried Polenta from Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook.  I have managed to hold off temptation for a few weeks, but now it is time to make this hearty, satisfying dinner and experience some mid-winter zen.

3. Seitan Cacciatore from The Accidental Vegan.

4. Cajun Red Beans and Rice, also from The Accidental Vegan but with a twist this time... you'll just have to wait and see.

5. Lemony Garlic Chickpea Patties from Vegan on the Cheap, served with Greek-seasoned roasted potatoes.  They're like big falafel I get to use my burger press to make; best of all worlds, especially with the potatoes.

6. Pasta Con Broccoli from Appetite for Reduction.  Yes, I just made this a couple of weeks ago, but it's really good and Mister really enjoyed it.  I really enjoy having Italian pasta dishes that don't include red sauce once in a while.  Unfortunately, it appears that since we've overcome our Spinach Famine, we are now experiencing a vegetable broth drought.  There was not a single drop to be found in Superfresh or Essene, which means at some point this week, I'll have to try Whole Foods.

Tonight, I asked Mister what he wanted me to make first and I didn't have any trouble getting a response.  In my brain, I had silently placed a bet with myself that he would start the week with the very first item on the menu, because although he loves the whole menu, I think he'd be most enthusiastic about simple pasta with red sauce.

I won!  He absolutely chose Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Marinara Sauce to start the week.  I made a few tweaks to the sauce; despite many Americans finding dozens of creative ways to avoid adding salt to their diets, I was very surprised that the recipe I followed didn't add even a little bitty pinch of salt, so I took it upon myself to "write in" about a teaspoon.  Also, to balance out the oregano that I really had to pep myself up to add, I sprinkled in a generous teaspoon of marjoram and a glug of balsamic vinegar.  I don't normally simmer my marinara as long as I did tonight, but ice cold water takes longer to bring to boiling (more in a minute).  I'm glad I did, though, because at the beginning, the sauce was watery and thin, but after about 30 minutes of simmering, uncovered, it had reduced enough to be slightly more opaque.

As you can see, I also subbed rotini primavera for the penne in the title.  I don't know what's so special about rotini primavera, but it's the only dried pasta I can find in a 12 oz box - even regular rotini is 16 oz.  This was actually a much bigger decision than it needed to be due to the conversation in my head:

"I only need 12 oz."
"But I can get 16 oz for the same price, making this the greater value."
"We might be moving soon and I don't want to pack a bunch of half-used boxes of pasta."

Eventually, it was that line of logic that deposited the smaller box of pasta (for the same price) into my basket.

So, when I got up this morning, I went to the coffeemaker, presuming to make coffee and learned something.  I'm happy to learn something new every day, but I do think sometimes it's a little too early to start the lessons.  Here's what I learned before coffee or tea or breakfast: we take for granted that when we pop the faucet, water will come pouring out of the nozzle.  This is not always true.  This was not true in my home this morning.  I flipped up the magic wand that would fill my waiting coffee pitcher with water to make Mister's favorite beverage and nothing happened.  Kind of like when I turned the key to my car's ignition on the morning of my wedding, but that's another story from another time.

Apparently, the water pipes froze in our single-digit temps last night and it took until late afternoon to get the cold water back.  There's still no hot water, which is why I'm sitting at my computer typing away instead of cleaning up the huge mess I made of the kitchen even though I knew there was no hot water.  A few times, during the baking process (yes, baking...that's the +1) I had to rinse my hands off.  Let me tell you what it felt like: Right now, the temperature in Philadelphia is 17 degrees Fahrenheit with a "real feel" of only 8 degrees.  The water coming out of my tap feels the way it would feel if you could turn Outside into liquid form and pump it through some pipes.  It was like rinsing my hands under melting ice cubes.  I don't see this improving any time soon, either, since tonight's low is also in the single-digits (I've already washed the apple I'm having with tomorrow's breakfast because I don't think there will be water in the morning).

If you ask me, all this cold is perfect weather for baking...

Cinnamon-Date Scones

So, I cranked up my oven, pushed my sleeves up at least halfway to my elbows, and tied on my apron to make a good old-fashioned flour mess in my kitchen.  The minute I saw the recipe, waiting to be tested for the upcoming UV2 cookbook for which I have the privilege of testing, I knew I'd have to jump on it before everyone else did.

I haven't had a date in years.  Wait - that didn't come out the way I meant it.  The last time I ate a date, I was living in my parents' house and my aunt was still married to my uncle.  I remember this because every Christmas, when she came to visit with us and brought her two beautiful collies, she also brought a Hickory Farms gift box full to overflowing with edible treasures: summer sausage, port wine cheese, gobs of these little hard candies dressed up in wrappers that looked like strawberries, and dates.  They were so strange and rare that although my mother can attest to what a picky child I was, I couldn't resist trying the dates and I found that I liked them very much.

Unfortunately, back in the real world, they're a little expensive to be a regular part of my cupboard neighborhood, but I decided no amount of expense would prevent me from picking up just enough for this recipe.  In the searching, I discovered that they aren't as expensive in some places as they are in others... and that brought me joy.

so did this

With a rustic, crunchy outside but a soft and cupcake-like interior, these scones will find their way to our table again.  I envision us, sitting at the table beside the big, bright window in what I hope is our next home, celebrating the first snowfall in our new home by brewing a pot of tea or coffee and sharing a pile of these sweeties.  Throughout a soft and not-too-sweet body, there are little bites of sweet, moist dates, adding a little wow factor to what would be a perfectly palatable scone with just the cinnamon.  Maybe on a future making, I will include a scant handful of cinnamon chips or sprinkle the tops with coarse cinnamon sugar for a little extra oomph.

Trust me, folks - you can't wait until this cookbook hits the shelves.

delicious surprise

Longer ago than I want to admit, in what feels like a different lifetime, I was hopelessly addicted to Star Search.  Does anyone remember that?  Every weekend, I would park myself in front of the TV to watch America's youth compete against one another to see who was the best - kind of like American Idol, but without all the drama and caustic wit.  I won't deny that as I watched Ed McMahon introduce the acts and congratulate the winners, I harbored a secret hope that one day, I would appear on that show and take home top honors.

When I was 14, my love affair with Star Search ended.  That may have been the year it went off the air, but it was definitely the year I lost interest in watching it - you might call it the beginning of becoming jaded.  My family went to the shore for a week, and although we programmed the VCR (with a VHS tape and everything!) to record my favorite show, something went awry and when I popped in the video, full of anticipation after a week at the shore, all I saw was TV snow.  This was disappointing beyond the feeble reach of language and I'll tell you why.  For about 13 weeks, I had watched with something akin to pride as this funky late teen named Beth Hart swept, week after week.  You couldn't touch her; she had Star written all over her - she had a great look and the confidence of a rockstar, strutting around the stage, interacting with the audience.  Better still, she knew it - at the end of every song she performed, you could tell she knew she nailed it.

The weekend I missed was the weekend she won.  I never got to see her winning performance or celebrate for the girl I had tuned in specifically to see for 13 weeks straight.  I turned on the TV the week after and she was nowhere.  I stopped watching.

So, that was kind of a bummer way to start, huh?  The point is I stole my post title from one of her songs - one more flashback and I promise I'll stop.  God only knows how many years after all this, possibly during college, I heard this amazing song on the radio and then the announcer said a name I hadn't heard since the beginning of my adolescence - apparently, Beth Hart went on to make it pretty big.  I went out and immediately bought Screaming For My Supper, which had a song called "Delicious Surprise," with spicy lyrics like "If I won me the lottery, I'd dance naked in the streets with a top hat full of money.  You'd wanna get to know me, if I won me the lottery."

I had two delicious surprises tonight.  The first was dinner (appropriately): we had Quinoa Bulgur, Kale, and White Bean Stew from Appetite for Reduction.

The title could lead a person to believe it would be a thin, anemic soup, which is probably where Mister's lack of enthusiasm came from.  A person would be wrong, though - want to know what's propping up all that glorious kale?  Cups and cups of diced potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and leeks.  This stew was so flavorful, it didn't even matter I was one clove of garlic short.  It starts with a generous herb blend: marjoram, thyme, and the mystery spice, the thing that makes you go "hmmm?"  Crushed Fennel Seed.  It's so subtle, you don't even notice it until you pause for a sip of water and you think to yourself, "what is that sweet, anise-y taste, lingering along the sidelines of my mouth?"  It enhances the overall flavor of the stew without ever drawing attention to itself.  That's something I really like about Isa's soup - I have probably 100 soup/stew recipes, but hers are always amazing and I think the reason is because she always incorporates a little something that throws your tastebuds for a loop and makes your brain shake itself off for a second look.  Tarragon in lentil stew, fennel seed with kale and potatoes, the mellow warmth of roasted garlic.

I'm going to go enjoy my second delicious surprise while I craft the new menu.  My Beaujolais-Villages is already poured and "breathing" and I found a dessert-sized chunk of Vivani dark chocolate in my cupboard.  Bon appetit!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

curry, burritos, and cookies, oh my!

Happy Friday!  I cannot believe it is already the end of the third week of January.  Next weekend is the last weekend of January, which blows my mind for two reasons: first, I can't believe I blinked this month away already.  Second, something for which I have been preparing since May is finally culminating...or at least, beginning to culminate: my dear student has her first college music audition.  Tomorrow is our last lesson before the audition, our last chance to iron out any last kinks.

Between that and a few other things that are irrelevant to a food blog, I've been a little distracted lately...pondering the meaning of life (why did I marry a philosopher?), what I am doing with mine (why am I so introspective?), and ultimately, how to be happy.  I do want to share some fun food stories, so here's a random selection from the last couple of days.

Last night, since the Spinach Drought finally ended, I finally made Chickpea and Spinach Curry from Vegan With a Vengeance.

I was going to write last night, but I got distracted by the pure incompetence of someone from whom I've been waiting to hear news for at least a week.  I was too pissed off to focus on the relatively calm post I had in my brain - I thought a fun title would be Calming Colors: Chickpea Beige.

I love the color combination of this flavorful curry: bright red tomatoes, emerald green spinach, and golden-beige chickpeas.  Although I appreciate the bold colors of crimson and hunter, it is the subtle, creamy taupe of the garbanzos that pull everything together and make this dish a thing of beauty.  This is no testament to my still-developing photography skills, but if I saw the picture above in a cookbook, I would want to make that dish purely because it is attractive (and appears to be made of food I like).

Even though the Great Spinach Famine of 2011 is coming to an end, we're not back in business quite yet, so I was only able to get half of what I needed.  As a result of forgetting that while mixing the curry spices, the result was a little more intense than it usually is, but it was still very tasty, even if it took Mister three breads to get through his servings.

Tonight, I made Barbecued Black Bean and Tofu Burritos, also from Vegan on the Cheap, which I've made once before.  Although I went back and read that post, in which I commented on wanting to marinate the tofu, here's what I did instead:

I sliced it as thin as I could without tearing it, then laid it on some towels to drain a bit.  After spraying and heating my skillet, I arranged the slices and let them cook a few minutes while I seasoned the "up side" with sea salt and chili powder, then sprayed them with olive oil.  Once the tofu was popping enough to nearly flip itself over, I turned each piece and seasoned the half-cooked sides.  One more flip and I turned off the burner while the tofu finished cooking on the cooling-down skillet.

I will always do it that way - it came out so well.  Also, as the black beans were simmering in my home-made barbecue sauce, it seemed like there was too much liquid, so I looked in the fridge and found what I was looking for: leftover cooked rice.  I tossed that in, stirred it up and let it heat through, then lined each tortilla with 3-4 tofu slices and dumped a healthy bit of beans-n-rice on the tofu and rolled it all up.

Sooo tasty...  Speaking of tasty things, do you know what time of year it is?

That's right, kids - it's Girl Scout Cookie time.  One of my most recently hired and trained employees brought some in to sell for her daughter, but she just straight up gave me these: Shout Outs are brand new to the line up.  Round wafer cookies, embossed with one inspiring word (3 of the 4 I've already eaten said "Lead" and I wonder if I should be taking that as a message), and aside from an undefined "Sugar" in the ingredients, these sweet treats appear to be vegan - no milk, eggs, or other recognizable animal bits to be found in the nutritional label.  Also, I'm a pretty big fan of serving sizes like this: 4 cookies = 130 calories.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mexisraelican cuisine...figure that out

One of the things I admire about Isa's recipe creation and matching is the joy she finds in fusion.  Not trendy fusion, like French-Chinese or Nouveau Mediterranean or whatever it is Horizons does - no, Isa likes to mix things that don't belong.

I do, too, but I'm not quite as skilled at it.  For some reason, it always works with Isa's pairings.  Not so much with mine.  I know I have at least one poor pairing in the past, but tonight's was truly bizarre: Mexican and Israeli.  Perhaps we don't even need the label "Mexican," but even if we took a close look at Latino cuisine, I don't think we'd find many points of similarity with Israeli/Middle Eastern cuisine (aside from Mister's love of each).

For dinner, I made Salsa Rice and Red Beans from Vegan on the Cheap.  It was pretty simple to make, since most of the time was just letting the brown rice simmer away until it was cooked (only about 45 minutes, this time).  I cooked the rice completely separately from everything else, but it all came together in the end for a strangely sweet rice-n-beans.  I'm not sure if it was the fresh poblano or the fresh tomato, or even the canned tomato, but there was something undeniably sweet going on.

While the rice was simmering away, I had about...oh...45 minutes of free time, so I filled it with much chopping.  On my way home from work, I decided to take advantage of the not-arctic weather to stop into Superfresh for kitty litter and my usual fruitless glance where the fresh spinach should be but isn't.  One big difference today, though - there was spinach there!  I picked up a bag for tomorrow night's curry (finally), then remembered how I wanted to get a few extra veggies yesterday but didn't want to go out in the cold, so I grabbed my memory grocery list and a basket, and still remembered the kitty litter.

The fruits of my chopping was the Mega-Israeli Salad from the forthcoming UV2.

Texturally, it had many layers - crispity-crunchety peppers, more refined toothsomeness from tomatoes and cucumber, with a creamy smooth bite of avocado.  The dressing was delightfully simple and pulled everything together in the most mouth-watering way.  I didn't even get a chance to ask Mister what he thought, because before he finished chewing his first mouthful, he was exclaiming how good the salad was.

There's a tartness from the lemon that is only slightly overwhelmed by the zing of raw garlic, which only dominates the dish as much as you let it - you could also allow it to draw out the crunchiness of the raw veggies with even more intensity due to their enhanced flavor.

The salad was amazing and will absolutely find its way onto my table again (and hopefully, the tables of family and friends who ask me to bring food to gatherings).  As far as pairing it goes, I guess we'll have to play around with different main courses - it completely overpowered the Salsa Rice and Red Beans, with their subtle, sweet flavor and creamy texture.

 Mister did exactly what I expected him to do when he saw the mountain of rice and beans and tomatoes - he went to the cupboard and pulled out the tortilla chips left over from our last chili adventure.  To my amusement, he alternated between scooping up rice-n-beans and treating his salad like really garlicky salsa.  Either way, dinner got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Mister.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

lessons learned at the cutting board

Call me a lifelong student or simply a student of life; I love learning things and applying the things I learn.  When I was actually in college and grad school, you couldn't shut me up once I got going about something I had learned or read and once I had babbled all about it to one person, the information was with me - learned.  There is something about sharing what I learn with others that helps me to more fully understand it myself.

It was really difficult to make myself go back to work yesterday - I had a three-day weekend because of taking my birthday off and at least half the country seemed to have yesterday off because of Martin Luther King Day.  I tried to give myself a pep talk by asking myself, rhetorically, I thought, what on earth I would do if I didn't go to work.  Unfortunately, I was prepared, and started listing things I would do if I stayed home.  Ultimately, I convinced me to go to work because I knew we were in for some nasty weather and I wanted to leave myself the option of calling out today if it really was bad.

That's exactly what I did.  I'm pretty sure it was fate or possibly predestination (in other words: I had predetermined to take the day off if the weather was even remotely hazardous to travel).  After thawing out from my walk home in 20something degree weather since the buses felt the best way to honor MLK was to make sure Rosa had to walk, I started making dinner.  As I was shredding my cabbage and boiling the farfalle, Mister drew my attention to the little sparkly bits of snow dancing around in the streetlamps' light.  By the time I put dinner on the table, there was actually a coating on the roads which surprised the heck out of me - I didn't think we were actually supposed to get an accumulation!  Through dinner and clean-up, the snow continued to fall - just tiny little guys, but enough of them that the 20-degree streets didn't stand a chance - and then they got bigger.  By the time we were heading to bed, the snow had turned from fluffy flakes of happy to ominous drops of freezing rain, ricocheting off the windows before coating the snow-covered streets with a layer of ice.

I got up in the morning and it looked like the rain had cleared up most of the streets, so I had some tea and breakfast, but as I listened to the moaning of the wind outside, I became more than just a little curious about the state of things, so I visited and decided now was as good a time as any to follow SEPTA's tweets and was I ever right.  For the next twenty minutes, as I hemmed and hawed about whether to risk a relapse of my fragile health to go to work today, I was bombarded with updates on this bus being rerouted and that one being cancelled, while this train was late and that one is only going half its normal route, and let's not forget about the trolleys being stopped because of "smoking manhole covers."  I decided the apocalypse was manifesting itself through public transit and said to myself, once again, "what will you do if you stay home?"  This time, though, I made a list of all the ways I would be more productive at home than at work, and when I hit the bottom of the paper, I called out.  It took a minute, including writing time, by the way.

What on earth does all this have to do with learning, you ask?
Well, nothing really, aside from allowing me a little extra time to cook dinner and forcing me to be introspective about something I thought I'd left mostly in my past for the sake of helping a student with her homework.  So, on to dinner!

Since I was well-rested (yes, I left out the part about going back to bed after leaving the list to be completed upon re-waking), I had plenty of energy to devote to making Chickpea Piccata, served on a fluffy cloud of Caulipots, both from Appetite for Reduction.  Here are some things I learned:

1. If Isa wants to help people lose weight, she needs to stop making her recipes so darn tasty.  I have not had trouble keeping my promise to my mom yet.

2. Thanks to Isa and Dynise, I have become much more daring with garlic and with shallots.  There was a time, about a month ago, actually, when I couldn't fathom preparing garlic in anyway that did not involved pressing it so that it would more or less dissolve innocuously into my food.  Now?  Check out these huge slices of garlic:

3. Shallots make me cry.  I've seen some funny pictures of onion goggles, but I've never really had any problems with onions, green onions, shallots, or garlic making me tear up...until tonight.  It was the weirdest thing; I was slicing the shallots and all of a sudden, I noticed my eyes were stinging and about to tear up and I stood upright and allowed myself a moment of confusion - it's not like tonight was the first time I'd sliced shallots.  I think the difference tonight is that I was wearing my glasses, not my contacts - can anyone else confirm this or am I just a freak?

4. Angst loves when I stay home, but he doesn't like to share.  He demonstrated his defiance tonight by hopping up onto Mister's dinner chair while I was filling our bowls and making himself very comfy.

Look at that scowl!  He was very clearly saying, MY chair.  When Mister came to sit for dinner, Angst just gave him that same angry look, as if to say, "find another chair. This one's taken."

He scrammed when Mister made like he was going to sit on him, though.

The Chickpea Piccata was absolutely fabulous.  From the minute I opened this book for the first time, that was high up on my list of things I wanted to make, and it did not disappoint.  I want to share Isa's intro because it perfectly sets you up for the amazing flavors about to meet and mingle in your mouth:
A plate of piccata is like an instant fancy dinner with all the stops.  One second you're just sitting there, all normal-like, but the moment that first forkful of lemony wine bliss touches your tongue, you're transported to candlelight and tablecloths, even if you're sitting in front of the TV.

I served the piccata over Caulipots, as Isa suggests.  Mister and I love the way this girl thinks; one of the things we missed the most after "going veg" was mashed potatoes, which doesn't make any sense, since potatoes are not an animal.  We realized, though, that there are very few things in our diet with which you can serve mashed potatoes.  Isa has changed all of that, though, with her genius scheme to used mashed potatoes as the starchy base, rather than the standard rice/grain or pasta - we love her for it.

The caulipots were unbeatable - they were just a little lighter than regular mashed potatoes, but packed a powerful punch, flavor-wise and nutritionally.  I used only two Tbsp of broth in the mashing, yet the whole batch was perfectly seasoned from that + olive oil + little bit of salt.  This may very well become my standard "mashed potatoes" recipe.  If I haven't said it yet, please do yourself and everyone you cook for a big favor: break open your piggy bank and head to your local bookstore to get yourself a copy of Appetite for Reduction.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mister likes it simple

My poor husband.  Every weekend, I sit around dreaming up some crazy new menu with as much culinary variety as I can muster, making an earnest effort to cook every recipe in my cookbooks that does not contain an ingredient Mister or I won't/can't eat (except my occasional sneakiness).  I make a list of exotic sounding dinners, both because I think they sound fun and because I am pretty sure no one wants to read about the Chinese take-out we ordered the other night.  Then, after all the plotting, planning, listing, and shopping, it comes time to cook these delights.  I always have trouble picking the first recipe of the week, so I usually solicit Mister's assistance.  Here is a rough transcript of our pre-dinner conversation:

Me: what looks good?
Him: uummmmm......
Me: anything jump out at you?
Him: uhhhhh.... one of these, because I don't know what Caulipots are and I don't want to eat Bulgur Kale Stew.

So, I made what I was leaning toward even before this interaction: Farfalle with White Beans and Cabbage, from Vegan on the Cheap.

It was very tasty in a subtle, slightly sweet way.  Green cabbage is really growing on me (not literally) and I replaced the onion the recipe called for with about 5-6 cloves of garlic, pressed.  In place of the liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper, I shook a generous amount of Mediterranean Sea Salt over it and I think that probably added a little extra something.

But...Mister's "outburst" got me thinking.  It's a little bizarre to feel badly for a man who never has leftovers for dinner and only has about a dozen repeat dinners in a year due to his crazy wife's penchant for culinary exploration, but stick with me.  I've mentioned before that Mister would probably be happy if 50% of our dinners were Italian-influenced; I'm starting to think Mister would be happy if every once in a while, I shelved the cookbooks and just made dinner.  Normal people dinner, like spaghetti with marinara or burgers and fries, or stuff like that.  I actually can't think of any others because I've gotten so good at wanting to "gourmetize" everything we eat that I don't really know what other people eat for dinner.  Maybe it's because we really don't know any other veg-folks, so I have no archetype for a "typical," June Cleaver-esque vegan meal.

Mister eats a lot of weird stuff he probably wouldn't choose from a menu at a restaurant.  To thank him for bearing with me through my wing-stretching and recipe-testing, I'm going to make an effort to have at least one "normal" recipe on each menu.  If I can actually think of more than one (right now, all I've got in my brain is pasta with sauce), maybe I'll do a "theme week" and just make simple, Mister-approved meals. 

No.  Probably not, but it was a nice thought.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

renaming recipes

I like a well-named recipe.  When I'm flipping through my cookbooks, it is the name of the recipe that catches my eye, luring me to the ingredients list and finally to the preparation methods.  The first step, though, is always the recipe - if it has a boring name or lists an ingredient (as a main) that Mister and/or I won't eat, it doesn't get a second glance.

Because of the importance I place on the title of a recipe, it is often difficult for me to come up with my own recipe names: I want them to jump out and say "pick me!"  Every once in a while, though, I come across someone else's recipe that I really feel compelled to give a new name.

Tonight's dinner was appropriately named Corn Chowder.  I think I have at least half a dozen recipes for a chunky, hearty corn and potato-based "chowder," and they're all named similarly.  I'm not in the habit of marking up my cookbooks (I really need to get over that), so sometimes it's difficult to remember which one is which and how I felt about each of them.  More importantly, considering his aversion to soup dinners, I want to remember how Mister felt about each of them.

Tonight's Corn Chowder came to us from Vegan With A Vengeance and I couldn't tell you the last time I made this.  That is a certifiable pity because this chowder is freaking amazing.  Hearty and thick and full of various flavors, it is by far the winner of the multiple other Corn Chowders for which I have recipes.  If I'm ever babbling about corn chowder in the future, would someone please leave me a comment reminding me that this one is the amazing one?

I would like to rename this Corn Chowder: Nothing Left Chowder.  I put it on the table, Mister and I sped through our first bowls as quickly as the heat would allow, still taking the time to savor and appreciate the flavor profile created by combining mainly corn and potatoes with a diced red pepper and a few diced carrots.  I think the thing that really sets this one apart from the others, I think, is that it simmers for nearly an hour with a big, fat Turkish Bay Leaf.  Regardless, Mister had gone back for seconds before I finished my first bowl and then we rose simultaneously to refill (my second helping, his third).  Yes, that's right - Mister had three servings of soup dinner.  Win!

Because it's Sunday and I had plenty of time to start dinner early, I had plenty of time for baking projects after dinner.  Despite Angst's reticence to help, we had us a little bake-a-thon.

here he is, crammed onto Mister's expensive messenger bag,
being grumpy because he knows he has to move when Mister comes in for dinner.

Our first baking project was Banana Coconut Cookies - I was directed to this recipe via a VegNews e-newsletter.  I had been saving two nearly rotten bananas for this and when I removed them from the banana hanger on the fridge to make way for the new bananas I picked up this afternoon, I realized that they were not going to wait another day to be turned into something.  

Not a bad thing to turn into, wouldn't you say?  They are soft and chewy with a little bit of structure provided by the oats.  I made them a little big, so they didn't make the 18 the recipe said they would, but if that means I get to eat share bigger cookies, then that's good enough for me.

Currently, baking project number two is in the oven, smelling up my home something [delightfully] fierce.  While I wait for the Seed Cake I'm testing for the new Urban Vegan cookbook to gestate, let me share the new menu:

1. Chickpea and Spinach Curry from VwaV - I still haven't made this because there still isn't spinach.  Does anyone know something I don't know?  Regarding the Spinach Famine, that is.

2. Chickpea Piccata served on Caulipots, both from Appetite for Reduction.  You thought I was kidding, didn't you?  I had asked Mister, when I first got the cookbook and wanted to make this, if he liked capers.  He didn't remember because he couldn't remember what capers were.  When we were at Horizons, I separated one from my appetizer to show him.  He promptly remembered that he does like them, so this was pretty much fated to be on the menu.

3. Quinoa Bulghur, White Bean, and Kale Stew also from Appetite for Reduction.  Mister doesn't like quinoa, so I'll be substituting bulghur because it cooks nearly as quickly and Mister is ambivalent to it.

4. Salsa Rice and Red Beans from Vegan on the Cheap.

5. Barbecued Black Bean and Tofu Burritos, also from Vegan on the Cheap.  I made this before, but I want to try something different with the tofu.  Besides, it was pretty good the first time around.

6. Farfalle with White Beans and Cabbage, also from Vegan on the Cheap.  I'm really into cabbage right now...if you didn't notice.

Fresh out of the oven, here is Seed Cake from the forthcoming UV2.  As you can imagine, it got its name from the tiny little caraway seeds speckled throughout the inside.  It's a light spice cake and mine has quite a crunch to it.  I could very well have messed up, or maybe I just need to rethink my idea of cake.  This was possibly a little more like a coffee cake, especially with its optional dusting of powdered sugar, which makes a bit of sense since Dynise recommends eating yours with tea.

I think it needs just a little tweaking, but I am fully confident that by the time this new cookbook hits the shelves, this will be one of the recipes people are stumbling over each other to make for a Sunday brunch, elbowing each other in the spice aisles, trying to get the last bottle of caraway seeds.