Friday, September 30, 2011

saving my awesome for MOFO

Tomorrow is the first day of Vegan MoFo 2011 and I can't believe it's here again already!  I'm really not sure what happened to September, though it's the same thing I imagine happens every time someone starts a new job - time just runs away with all the fun (and learning, and doing, and stress).  Regardless, October starts in a little more than a half an hour and with it begins my third MoFo.  I am totally looking forward to this.

If you want to read previous years' MoFo posts, just navigate along the right side bar --> to October of 2009 and November of 2010.

I don't have anything at all to say about my awesome 10pm dinner of leftover Chana Masala with Green Goodness, but I will tell you my walk home from work was awesome.  Everything is a matter of perception - whether you realize it in the moment or not, you always make a choice in how you respond to a situation.  Here are the FACTS about my walk home from work tonight:

  • it was raining
  • it was in the mid-60s for temperature
  • it was 9:30 on a Friday night
  • I was hungry
  • I am sick
There are two ways to look at this.  On the one hand, you could read those as complaints.  They would be justifiable complaints, too.  Who wants to be leaving work, alone, hungry, and sick at 9:30 on a Friday night and walking through the rain to get home?


Honestly, those things all suck (well, the temperature wasn't bad), but I was so elated to be walking home from work that nothing but that actually mattered.  I continue to be abnormally happy about this change in commute style and length.

Before I leave you to go cough in a corner, I wanted to share something I thought was awesome (in that ironic, "um, right" kind of way).  I've mentioned before that there are two locations for my new job.  The one I was at tonight, which is walking distance from my home, is nestled between two Starbucks.  There is one a half block north, which is connected to Macy's and there is one a half block south and one block east.  The latter is a great location for grabbing coffee on my way in to the store, but if I'm actually just grabbing coffee during a break, I go north.

I was waiting for the nice young spaz at the espresso machine to brew my autumnal caramel americano and I glanced into the fine jewelry department of Macy's.  Just as I finished being underwhelmed by their displays (can we get some sparkling lights, please?), I noticed one of the most ironically super signs ever.

In case you can't make it out, Macy's wants me to know that for my convenience there are restrooms on the third floor.  I would like to point out that since I was in a Starbucks with a street entrance separate from the store, that means we were all on the first floor.  However, for my convenience, if I need to pee, I can find the ever-ellusive escalators or wait for the same elevators that have been creaking up and down the floors since 1928 so I can use the convenient restrooms on the third floor.

For the sake (and convenience) of their customers, I sincerely hope Starbucks has its own restrooms.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

green goodness! it's special sauce!

I'm a little slow to jump on the Green Juice Train and I'm not ashamed to admit it's partially because I don't have any unquenchable desire to drink algae.

I think my mom might need a moment.

Anyway, I'm sure it would be more enticing and rewarding if I made my own green juice like this superstar, but I do not have:

  • the time
  • the desire
  • the juicer
So instead, every once in a while, when I feel like I need an extra kick of Healthy, I'll buy some.  I've found that I quite enjoy Naked's Green Machine - enough that I can ignore the algae as long as I shake it before every sip.

Tonight, I stopped into Whole Foods to grab a couple of items I had intended to get at Trader Joe's before remembering I wouldn't be able to get there until Sunday and I didn't have the ingredients for enough complete meals without those things to get to Sunday, so it was all a moot point.  Anyway, I had picked up everything I went in for (except cauliflower, which was either hiding or absent, but I didn't see it) and I'm not even sure how I was in a position for this to catch my eye, but I did see Bolthouse Farms Green Goodness and decided to give myself a little punch since my chest is still tight and I keep hacking up a lung if I breathe too many times in a row and I make too much noise at night trying to breathe for poor mister to sleep and it's probably bad form to cough on customers.... enough reasons?

Good, because truth be told, once I got it home, my courage and drive somewhat evaporated.  I mean, really - you cannot look at this and tell me it screams, "Ooooh ooh, ME!  I'm tasty!"

Not exactly irresistible.  Nevertheless, I hate being sick and I like taking care of my body and if "8 delicious juices" delivering "14 powerful nutrients" including iron, vitamins B6, B12, A, and C has to be green....well....I guess it has to be green.  I have nothing against green, by the way, but that "juice" is what we call in my world murky.

Fortunately, it is quite delicious.  I think it might be slightly less sweet than Naked's Green Machine and I'm okay with that, though I think Naked will still be my favored green smoothie.  I almost bought R.W. Knudsen's Mega-Green juice when I was there yesterday, but I just cannot do it.  There's something about the way it's marketed that makes it look as though there's no way it will be anything but straight-up nasty.  Maybe someday I'll be adventurous enough to find out, but this week was not that Someday.

In other news, Mister and I have an astonishing talent for being at our most OughtToSeeADoctorness during the three months out of the last 5 years that we haven't had health insurance but I still don't regret not devoting an entire paycheck to COBRA coverage between now and when my coverage at work kicks in.

Dinner was chock full of veggie goodness, though (by the way, is everyone else aware of how awful Chock Full O' Nuts coffee is?  Well, now you are).  With the snow peas I picked up at Whole Foods, I was able to make the Hoisin-Braised Tempeh Tofu with Chinese Vegetables from Vegetarian Times Fast & Easy that I was daydreaming about all day.  Everyone at work was female today, so instead of music, we had the Food Network on and watched way too much Rachael Ray, who I have deemed The Anti-Vegan.  I swear, I've never seen anyone include that many animal products in their recipes. 

Back to dinner.

It was good and the tofu worked so well I can't really imagine tempeh being better, but I'll probably never know since Mister dies if I even say the cursed word out loud.  Dinner is always fun when it involves snow peas and hoisin sauce amuses me because it kind of looks like Chinese BBQ sauce.

It was good, but not outstanding.  There were two weak points - one the fault of the book and one was my poor choice of accompaniment.  I served it over brown rice, expecting the braising sauce to be more potent.  It wasn't dreadful, but I can almost taste how much better it would have been with rice noodles instead of rice, so I may try that in the future.

In the book, it doesn't actually tell you when to add the hoisin sauce, so I added it just before the 15 minute simmering time.  I figured this was probably right since it was meant to braise the "tempeh" and wouldn't do a very good job of that if I didn't add it before the braising time.  I tasted the sauce when I added the snow peas for the last few minutes of cooking and it barely had any flavor since it was diluted with nearly the same amount of water, so I added more.  The recipe calls for 1/3 cup, but next time I make this, I will probably go with a half cup from the start and possibly less water, since the bok choy seemed to still have some clinging to its leaves, which added to what I had poured in.

Despite the slightly frightful tightness in my chest, I am still looking forward to the first truly cool day of autumn this Saturday.  Since I'm teaching, I can even dress appropriately for the cold, thereby decreasing my chances of catching tuberculosis!

photo credit

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

bring on October!

October is my favorite month for so many reasons.  I think it may also be Amy Lee's favorite month, because she released the second Evanescence album in October 2006 and now, after an agonizing 5-year hiatus, she is releasing a new Evanescence album with an almost completely new line-up on October 11, and yes, I have it pre-ordered through iTunes.

That's only part of the reason I can't wait for October to start.  Yes, I've been eagerly awaiting this album while covering my ears with my hands and singing "LA LA LA LA LA" any time someone gossiped about the band breaking up for the last 5 years or so, and the rumors were not helped by the fact that we actually know one of the former band members and were aware that he had moved on to another band.  However, I refused to believe a talent like Amy Lee's could be squandered, so I'm glad I was right.

There are a few other reasons I'm psyched for October - two can be found on, one will remain a surprise a little longer.  I mentioned before that Isa has a new book, Vegan Pie in the Sky, and I couldn't be more on the edge of my seat waiting for Dynise's book, tested in part by yours truly, Celebrate Vegan.  It was due to come out the week after the new Evanescence album, but when I visited Amazon, they're saying it isn't being released until November now and that makes me a little sad.

The point of all that really is this: tonight we ate the last meal on the menu, which meant I had to construct the new menu tonight.  Did you catch that?  I had to construct the menu?  Isn't this something I have raved about in the past as one of my favorite parts of each week?  Haven't I reveled in flipping through pages of countless cookbooks to find the perfect combination of meals to get through this next week?  Had to?

I realized after dinner that I was not at all excited about menu-planning this week and wasn't terribly psyched for it last week either.  It shouldn't take a brain surgeon to figure out why - I'm bored of my current cookbook collection.  To my credit, I've been a very good (=frugal = freakishly cheap) girl this year and I haven't bought a new cookbook all year.  Considering we're nearing the tenth month of the year, I'd say I'm doing pretty good.  Yet, it couldn't last forever.  I had a little help with variety in the beginning of the year, when I had just gotten Appetite for Reduction and had a constantly renewing source of recipes I actually had to cook for recipe-testing for Dynise.  I've been slowly stagnating since then, and just recently I've realized that I've been through my cookbooks so many times, I can't even look at them with fresh eyes anymore.

Lucky for all of us, there's a surprise ending, but let's talk about dinner first:

I will probably always think it's funny to call this "Hooker Dinner," but that doesn't change my love for the sweet-salty blend of flavors and textures that makes up Pasta Puttanesca from Vegan Express.  I served it with garlic bread so we could scoop up the leftover tomatoes and olives from our bowls after the pasta was in our bellies.

Mister has been kindly picking up the Superfresh leg of my usual shopping adventures ever since I've been hitting up Trader Joe's on the way home from work.  As you can imagine, some interesting things have been finding their way into our home.  He's been shopping with me enough times to know that the goal is almost always to find the lowest price on a product, unless to do so would compromise its quality.  I can only imagine that some kind of pang of pride for his adolescent home, New Jersey, pulled the jar of New Jersey tomato sauce into the basket by his heart strings.

It wasn't very good.  I shouldn't say that.  It was clearly very fresh and made from real ingredients.  I would liken it to making a batch of homemade tomato sauce, from the dicing of the the part where you make a kind of weak, watery gazpacho with them, rather than a thick, chunky sauce.  I had to let the sauce simmer a little more lively and longer than the recipe said to allow it to reduce acceptably, and I also felt inclined to add some savory flavors to complement the olives.

It worked out well enough - both our bowls went into the sink pretty clean.

Now for the happy part of menu planning.  When I went over to my bookshelf, half-heartedly looking to see if there was a book from which I haven't cooked in a while and which interested my palate, I noticed something I've been keeping in the corner of my eye for months:

When Mister and I moved in February, we got rid of a ton of stuff - we moved just as much to have a good reason to purge as to get away from that apartment.  We ended up taking a bunch of books to a used book dealer who was happy to write up a credit slip for us to use to buy "new" books from them.  We started out with nearly $100 worth of credit (which means we gave them a lot of books and that they are generous with their appraisals).  One afternoon I went browsing in there and found the gem pictured above.

I already had two Moosewood cookbooks and one of the things I like to make the most from them are the slow-cooking stews and soups, so I scooped this up.  Unfortunately, it was not soup weather, so I just put it aside on the shelf to wait for cooler times.  Well, Saturday greets October with a chilly, chilly day and even the rest of this week isn't supposed to see temperatures out of the low to mid 70s, so I think I'm safe to start investigating that new treasure.  And so, my first adventures will be....

1. Autumn Minestrone from Moosewood Restaurant Soups & Stews Deck.  I plan to serve it with a long, crusty loaf of Italian bread and a bowl of olives.  (Would anyone have found it completely offensive had I written "a long, hard loaf" of bread?  Sorry, too much Anne Rice - she gets a little carried away sometimes.)

2. Mediterranean Stew, also from the card deck.  This chunky pottage will be accompanied by Roasted Cauliflower and Olives from Vegetarian Times Fast & Easy, because I figure Mister will respond better to the first week with not just one but two soup dinners on the menu if cauliflower is involved.

3. Warm Chickpea Ragout with Swiss Chard, Carrots and Harissa, also from Vegetarian Times Fast & Easy because hey, I had the book open!

4. Hoisin-Braised Tempeh Tofu and Chinese Vegetables, also from VTF&E, but the twist here is that I've never actually made this one before.  The reason is because I usually employ this book when I'm either anticipating being brain-dead or already am brain-dead.  As such, I've managed to complete avoid the logic that would make a person say, "well, yes, my husband is deathly allergic to tempeh, but I can substitute tofu."  I'm kind of excited about this one so I'll let you know how it turns out.

5. Vegetable and "Sausage" Skillet from an old issue of Eating Well magazine.

6. Seitan and Broccoli with Pantry BBQ Sauce from  I had an incredible experience with the recipe here, so I thought it was worth another go.

Monday, September 26, 2011

huge apples and lentil hummus

Everyone around me has been raving on and on about these apples.  What apples?  Honeycrisp Apples.  Everyone seems to have something to say about how amazing they are and how in season.  I must confess - that is one of the myriad reasons I love fall.  Not honeycrisp apples, per se, but the pure bounty of varieties I've never seen before that crowd my grocery bins and await Mister and I should we actually make our way to Linvilla one of these days.  At the moment, I have a bag full of a new surprise favorite, Gingergold apples, in the fridge.  I discovered these little beauties at Essene and then found a whole bin of them for a lower price at Whole Foods.  I expected them to be a little spicier, but they are "just right," to steal a phrase.  However, right next to the bin of yellow apples was a display of apples the size of a baby's head.  Honeycrisps, of course.

I mean, seriously - I have abnormally large hands for a woman, to give you an example of that apple's size.  If anyone plays the piano, you might be further intrigued to know that I can reach a 10th with those hands.  Yet, I could barely capture the entire honeycrisp with it.  Wonder how much apple that is when you cut it up for breakfast?

Enough to be piled upon a dinner plate.  Best breakfast ever.  Well, except for all the other times I've said that - I just really like breakfast.  There's no shame in that.

Last night I was sick by the time I finished work - my throat was so swollen and hurty that I could barely swallow.  I was dizzy and my eyes were crossing from being exhausted.  By the time I took off my shoes and visited the loo, my cheeks were bright red with fever and my skin hurt.  By 9pm, Mister had tucked me in for a long Autumn nap which lasted until my alarm yelled at me at 7am this morning.

I still felt kind of awful, but my mega-dosing on vitamin C and other things that are good for me (had a Naked smoothie on my way home from work) and 10 hours of sleep seemed to at least fend off disaster for the moment, so I showered, dressed, took two aspirin and went to work.  Fortunately for me, my attendance was requested with a new trainee starting today - I'm beginning the structuring of future trainings, so I get to participate in training opportunities between now and when we start implementing.  It was much easier to get through today sitting most of the time.

As luck would have it, the boss took me and the new hire to lunch at Pure Fare and it was utterly delightful.  Normally, I get one of their outstanding salads.  I had kind of gotten it into my mind last time, though, that I want to try one of the sandwiches.  Today was that day and I happily chowed down on the Lentil Hummus sandwich on multigrain bread.  The bread was very good, though a little too soft/flimsy to support the weight of all the awesome things inside:  green hummus (I can't even imagine how they made it), halved cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, fennel, and broccoli raab.  Delicious!

That got me through the rest of the day and when I came home, I still had some energy for making dinner!  I made Sloppy Joes from The Urban Vegan with one small twist.  I thought I had more TVP than I did, so I ended up adding about 1/3 cup of red lentils to make up the difference, which resulted in me also needing to add some vegetable broth to be absorbed by the lentils, and having to cook it a little longer.  That was fine, since I also wanted to serve "something green" with dinner, especially since I'm not feeling 100%.

It was tasty and I love how the broccoli is eager to soak up the herbs and spices as well as the broth when I steamed it with just a little.  It's amazing how easy it is to make a tasty veggie side dish - it really required almost no thought and slightly less effort (granted, the broccoli was pre-cut).  I had one sandwich and thought about having another - they really weren't that big.  However, I reflected on the vague nausea I've been carrying with me since this morning and decided against that.  Considering my belly is still a little sad, I think that was the right decision.

Well, kids, I'm off to try for another "full night" of sleep, so I'm signing off for now.  Sweet dreams!

Friday, September 23, 2011

how Anne Rice helped me make spanakopita

I'll tell you what - I don't care if it makes me a geek - I like Anne Rice.  I like her books, I like her storyline, I even like her personal life (what I know of it).  I love how descriptive she is and how she has helped me to broaden my vocabulary and taught me the names of two of my all-time favorite bands (which may also tag me as a dork: Savage Garden and Evanescence).  There are times when I read her words through the eyes of a grammar snob and think of how absolutely horrendous her writing is from a technical standpoint, but she isn't teaching English class, she is trying to paint pictures with words, which she accomplishes flawlessly.

Like many people, I imagine, I was introduced to Anne Rice in 1994 when Interview with the Vampire took up movie screens across the country and discussions between bigger geeks than I took up basements and Denny's all around the country, arguing about how much better the book was than the movie.  The book?  I was a teenager in 1994 and although I had always had a love for reading, I had such limited free time that when the option was to read a book or watch a movie based on that book, the movie won every time.  It wasn't until a few years later, when I discovered "the book" in my college library, of all places, that I grew to truly love Anne Rice.

I read "the book" and finally understood two things.  First, I understood why people who read the book before seeing the movie were almost universally disappointed in it - there was a great deal more detail in the book which elucidates parts of the story that don't quite connect in the movie (or would have connected better).  Also, the actors appeared miscast when compared with the images she creates for them in the book - although I will maintain with my dying breath that no one could have pulled off Lestat the way Tom Cruise did, Antonio Banderas and Brad Pitt should have swapped parts, at least in terms of the physical descriptions she provided.  However, she paints a stronger picture of Louis's character than what Brad Pitt portrays with his beautiful pout and I regret to say this, but he didn't do the character justice.  Nevertheless, this is not a book review - I'm actually going somewhere with all this.  The second thing I learned was why so many of my friends loved reading her books, which resulted in me working my way through the magnificently interwoven Vampire Chronicles, and then discovering her one-offs, like Violin and Cry to Heaven.

That leads to my second time reading through The Witching Hour, part one of a trilogy of books about the Mayfair Witches (supposedly).  I read through it several years ago but discovered at the end that it was part of a series.  The series was 20 years old, so I had considerable trouble locating the other two books.  Just this summer, I came into possession of both, so I'm starting over.  I'm nearly through this book, but it took a while.  I thought I could get through it in the week between jobs, but it is 1,043 pages long.  To give you an idea, that is about half the length of the Bible.

Here is the connection: how do you get people to read a book that is over one thousand pages long?  By using small print and reaaaaallllly thin paper so it looks like a normal-sized novel from the outside.  This is how Anne Rice helped me make Spanakopita from The Accidental Vegan.  Finally.

The most daunting thing about spanakopita (and baklava and tiropita, etc) is working with phyllo dough.  I think it's kind of deceptive to actually use the word dough because there is no human way to get dough rolled that thin.  How thin?  Probably a middle ground between the thinness of the rice paper used to print older Bibles and the paper Anne Rice uses to make her books seem surmountable.  I will admit, I was surprised at how easy it was to work with the phyllo sheets after getting myself so worked up about them.

I've determined that the reason they didn't freak me out is because I've spent weeks now turning fragile, super-thin pages in this never-ending saga of three hundred years and thirteen (spooky!) generations of witches.  As such, I was not too concerned about tearing these fragile sheets of "dough," rather, I just carefully pulled them apart and gently laid them atop one another.  It was great fun "painting" each one down with my bowlful of oil.

The recipe makes 12 squares and we each had three.  It was a fun and tasty dinner and we each gave up on trying to eat like civilized people (with a fork) within minutes of the flaky top exploding all over our plates.  I was a little concerned about the filling, since I kind of felt like I should have used the tofeta marinade from Vegan on the Cheap, but I had already used my Tofu Xpress to squish all the liquid out of both the spinach and the tofu, so I didn't feel like investing even more time to let the tofu marinate and then have to press it again.  Fortunately, the spices from the spinach-garlic mixture penetrated the tofu during the baking process - which smelled absolutely divine, by the way - and resulted in a tasty, almost-feta flavor and texture.

Mister was thrilled with his little Greek wife making spanakopita for the first time (I was just pleased as punch that it wasn't awful) and we both enjoy it from time to time.  Although this certainly will not regularly enter any kind of dinner rotation, it's good to know it's not that difficult to make.  I will probably give it another go in a couple of months and introduce my family to the glory of Greek finger foods at Thanksgiving.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday's the new Friday

I've reached the "weekend," so to speak.  Despite being very happy at my new job, it is still a welcome break.  I would like to say [just one more time] how much my quality of life has improved with this job change.  I came home, stopped at Superfresh, CVS, and the wine store before getting home and spending at least a half hour talking to Mister before starting dinner.  We ate dinner and everything was cleared and cleaned by 9 and I've just spent the last hour or so "surfing the web," a luxury I usually reserve for one Sunday every two months or so.  I have so much time!  I'm just really happy.  Finally.

Despite my early start and euphoria, tonight was still not going to be the night for spanakopita, so I made Chana Masala from Vegan Express while the tomatoes were in that delicate place between perfectly ripe and rotting.  Cooking with fresh tomatoes is both a rewarding and stressful experience.  For one thing, nothing beats the flavor of lightly sauteed, summer-fresh tomatoes, or the sweet explosion of flavor from a raw grape tomato at the peak of ripeness.  On the other hand, I really do get seriously grossed out from the seeds.  I don't know what it is, but it's enough to turn my stomach sour if I look too long.  If only I could buy pre-seeded tomatoes.  But that leads to the last point - there is really only one or two days that they are truly, incredibly edible and if you miss those days, you're either coaxing flavor from a hard, yellow-green, overly-acidic tomato, or begging the one you're trying to cut to refrain from rotting for just one more minute while you try to dice the grainy, falling-apart flesh while it separates itself from its skin (but never its stupid seeds...).

Anyway, tomato-induced trauma aside, dinner was light and tasty:

I can't tolerate Indian-influenced recipes served on brown rice, so I used white Jasmine and it was perfect.  I would have preferred basmati, but until I have my huge chef's kitchen when Mister's solo album goes gold, there's only room for two rices.  The tomato curry sauce clung very lightly to the creamy chickpeas, with a very subtle hint of What-is-that-Oh!-it's-lemon lying just beneath the garam masala and turmeric.  As a contrasting but perfectly intense side dish, I roasted some asparagus with salt and pepper.  I thought about adding some garlic, but decided to let the simple spices of my childhood draw out the naturally perfect flavor of these right-sized stalks before they go missing (or obscenely over-priced) for the winter.

In case you can't tell, I was as satisfied with our dinner as I am by my new urban-centric life.

On that note, I'm off to celebrate with red wine, dark chocolate, and a book about NOLA witches.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

squiggly pasta and other favorites

So, Friday finally marks the official start to my favorite season.  I get excited about the Autumnal Equinox the way most people get excited about Memorial Day marking the inaugural beach weekend.  For me, the First Day of Fall marks the end of the hot, sunny season that makes my husband sneeze and sweat and makes me squint too much.  More importantly, it reminds me that other favorites are just on the horizon - my favorite month (October), my favorite time of year (between Thanksgiving and Christmas), my favorite weather - cool, dry, a little bit of a nip on your nose by the time October bleeds into November...that first time a starkly cold breeze whips your breath away or colors your cheeks with the slightest crimson.

I put my husband in charge of determining how we would celebrate the arrival of Fall (it's his favorite time as well) and upon conferring, we came to a mutually agreeable decision - we planned to go to Linvilla Orchards, a little outside the city.  They have baskets upon baskets of freshly plucked apples of many varieties we don't commonly see in Whole Foods or Essene.  There are apple cider donuts, dozens of different pies, and of course, apple cider and coffee.  This year, Mister has his heart set on funnel cake with gooey cinnamon apples piled on top.  There is also plenty of lovely land upon which to wander and enjoy each other.  We went to Linvilla to celebrate our first wedding anniversary (and left with every imaginable apple product that you don't have to plug in).

Fast forward to the weather forecast.... of all the days this week, the day it's supposed to pour and be absolutely miserable?  No, you don't get a prize if you guessed Friday - it was kind of a "gimme."

So, new plans?  Baking.  Probably lots of it, too.  What this is all leading up to is that there is just no way I will have the energy to care about making good spanakopita until Friday, when I've sat inside all day watching P!nk videos on YouTube and trying to decide whether to bake cookies or cupcakes or both.  Instead of spanakopita, tonight I made Pasta Twists with Cauliflower and Spinach from Vegan Express.

Let's see - pasta, cauliflower, garlic, kalamata olives (subbing for sundried tomatoes, about which Mister can sometimes be a bit wary), and spinach... yup, lots of favorites in there.  I will almost definitely make this again - it was easy and tasty.  There are, however, a few things I will do differently in the future.

Since there is no "sauce" to speak of, there needs to be something else lending flavor.  Cauliflower is not the most exciting vegetable (especially after you slightly over-steam it...sorry, Mister) and spinach is good, but again, not a hugely flavorful vegetable.  The only real flavor came from the kalamatas and the dried cranberries (subbed for raisins, which Mister hates more than I thought possible), and unfortunately, they didn't play together all that nicely.  In the future, I'll steam the vegetables with broth, not water, and I will be a bit more generous in my sprinkling of Mediterranean Sea Salt.  I may also involve a flavorful finishing oil, like a fruity olive oil or possibly walnut oil with the slightest drizzle of dark sesame oil.

As you may be able to see, there is a round of garlic bread peeking in on the pasta...

Mister was kind enough to go to Superfresh for me while I was at work today (second time!), and when I got home, he explained that there was a sale on the big round kaiser rolls I asked him to pick up for sloppy joes, so he got 12 instead of 6.  I know he'll use some for sandwiches, but 12 is a lot of rolls when they're the kind that are freshly baked and without preservatives, so they'll go bad before Monday.  Remember - no kids - it's just me and Mister.  So, I figured two of them could turn into garlic bread to accompany our meal.

Well!  It's still early, which is one of the many things I love about my new job, so I've been able to devote a few hours a night to redeveloping myself into an intelligent and well-rounded human being.  Let's compare:

Old Job:

  • get home around 9pm
  • hurry to get dinner on the table between 9:30 and 10
  • eat
  • clean up
  • screw around on Facebook for a few minutes and probably drink a glass of wine depending on the day
  • Go to sleep (and still only get 4-6 hours a night)
New Job:
  • get done work around 6:30 or 7, depending on the day
  • stop at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Superfresh or anywhere else on the way home
  • take my time saying hello to Mister and telling him a little about my day, maybe lying down for a couple of minutes before starting dinner.
  • Dinner is on the table and we're eating between 8 and 9pm
  • By 10, the dishes are done, the leftovers are put away, and I'm blogging (sometimes).
  • Now, I will spend a little time doing work homework (that I'm happy to do because I like what I'm learning and know that extracurricular work will help me to succeed at a growing company that is willing to take a chance and invest itself in me)
  • Then I will continue reading my silly Anne Rice book for my own adolescent pleasure,
  • then bedtime with 6-8 hours of sleep.

Monday, September 19, 2011

monday =/= spanakopita

I don't know what made me think Spanakopita on a Monday night was a good idea, but last night before I went to sleep, I pulled the phyllo sheets and frozen spinach out of the freezer and let them sit in the fridge to "warm up" while I was at work today.

I'm still getting used to my new job and its different patterns, so I guess I just had no idea how busy a Monday could be until I was halfway through it.  It was a relatively stimulating kind of busy, the kind that involves you in enough projects and interactions that before you know it, it's nearly closing time.  Still thinking I was hot stuff, even though I nearly fell asleep at least three times on the short bus ride home, I pulled the thawed phyllo and spinach out of the fridge and put them on the counter while I opened up The Accidental Vegan to find the recipe.

After reading through the recipe twice, I took a long and meaningful look at my unfrozen prey... and put them back in the fridge.  The recipe is probably very simple, but it just had entirely too many steps and too many warnings for a Monday night.

Thinking fast and presenting myself with a mini-basket challenge, I surveyed the miserable, TimeToGoShopping contents of my fridge and freezer, then pulled out La Dolce Vegan, grateful that I picked up some potatoes to roast with the spanakopita I didn't make tonight and made Aloo Mattar for what I believe is the first time.  I was missing a tomato, but I couldn't see how it would make a big difference.

Savory, squishy potatoes with little sweet green peas, bursting with a sweet flavor made for a fun combination.  I can't see this becoming one of the "regular" curries I make from this book, but we'll certainly add it to the Perfect Portions series and I'm sure it will find its way onto our table again.

Speaking of things finding their way onto our table...

1. Chana Masala from Vegan Express, accompanied by a roasted green thing (probably asparagus, possibly broccoli) because I can't deal with the idea of just eating chickpeas and tomatoes for dinner.

2. Pasta Jambalaya, also from Vegan Express, because this is fun and we haven't had it in a while.

3. Pasta Twists with Cauliflower and Spinach, also from Vegan Express (can you tell I feel the need to make and eat dinner in a short amount of time?  Just because I'm getting home from work earlier doesn't mean I'm not starving after an active day...)  Anyway, I'm pretty sure we haven't had this before and I can't imagine why, since cauliflower and spinach are happy things.

4. Pasta Puttanesca, also from Vegan Express, because I absolutely can't recall the last time I made this. that we've got all the pasta covered...

5. Sloppy Joes from The Urban Vegan.  There are two reasons I chose this - first, it's so easy and so tasty and cooks up so fast.  Well, I guess that's kind of three reasons, but we'll say one because the second reason is that I am super stoked for Celebrate Vegan to arrive in bookstores and online retailers everywhere on October 18th!  So, I'm ramping up my palate for more tasty recipes from Dynise, in other words.

6. Granada Paella, also from The Urban Vegan to revisit an old favorite.  I was actually torn between this and the Tunisian Soup, but since it's just beginning to be soup weather and everything is still unpredictable, I decided to go with BurnMyFaceOff Paella instead of trying to serve Mister soup on some surprise 80-degree day...

Anyway, we may try again for the Spanakopita tomorrow, or it may wait until Thursday, but either way we'll  have a fun recap of that adventure in the near future!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

helpful reminder

It feels like fall is arriving a week early.  Mister and I are completely okay with that, although I need to be a little more vigilant about wearing enough clothes to deal with the lower temperatures.  Due to "rail improvement," what is usually a 30-minute train ride to teach turned into an hour-and-15-minute-long odyssey.  At the conclusion, I decided to treat myself to a coffee to wake me and warm me and as I was walking back to where I teach, I passed a restaurant marquee that struck a chord (sorry, terrible pun).

"It's time for soup and chili!"

Obviously, that was meant to be an invitation for passing cars to pull into the parking lot and enjoy soup and/or chili inside the restaurant, but as I strolled by, coffee in hand, I thought, "Yes, yes it is."  During the long way home, I had plenty of time to plot my replacement for what was supposed to be Spanakopita, including which grocery store to hit for supplies.

So, as I sunk into my light scarf and hooded shirt and watched the dreary scenery of West Philadelphia pass by my window, I daydreamed of a hearty, savory soup and September Lentil Soup was conceived:

September Lentil Soup
6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, pressed/minced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
3 large carrots, peeled and diced (I quarter them lengthwise and slice at about 1/2-3/4")
5 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp kosher salt (or whatever suits you, though I wouldn't recommend amethyst bamboo salt)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1 Tbsp [vegan] Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup brown lentils (a la Goya)
1/2 cup red lentils
4 cups vegetable broth

Heat oil in a large saucepan or soup pot (I found my 2.5 qt saucepan was just fine), then add garlic and green pepper.

aim for all veggies to be of uniform size

a shortcut I find helpful is to press the garlic onto
the peppers and scoop the whole mess into the pot

Cover the pot and reduce heat to low.  Saute garlic and pepper for about 5 minutes while you're dicing the carrots, then add them to the party.  Cover again and saute 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, while you dice the tomatoes.

Stir in tomatoes, thyme, salt, and black pepper.  Sprinkle on liquid smoke and Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine, then cover and simmer 5 more minutes.

Stir in both the brown and red lentils, then pour in the broth.  Add tomato paste and stir well to make sure everything blends together.  Raise heat to high and bring to a boil.

Once the soup has come to a rolling boil, reduce heat to the lowest setting and allow to simmer, uncovered, 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender.


Mister and I certainly did enjoy it!  It was everything I wanted it to be and it was really a great feeling to recognize that I now have an adequate enough understanding of how certain things taste and how those flavors can work together that I can create a tasty recipe out of thin, chilly air.  It was perfect - an attractive, chunky, filling and totally savory soup.  Mister, who does not normally appreciate soup dinners went back for a generous second helping.  Fortunately, he was also in total agreement with the marquee that started it all...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

sometimes, you need to squish

Angst does this thing we call "squishing."  It involves him poking, kneading, and otherwise massaging something soft and puffy until it seems comfy to him... at which point he usually walks away, abandoning all his hard work.  It's always fun to see him really working something, though, even if it boggles my mind that he doesn't do the obvious thing and lie down on the thing he just squished to oblivion.

He's got something, though - squishing is fun!  It feels neat and benignly destructive.  A human example might be something like a stress ball or the ghetto equivalent - an uninflated balloon filled with flour and tied off.... or tofu.

I wish I'd gotten a picture of my tofu-cotta tonight but my hands were a little bit covered in tofu to operate a camera.  Tonight's scrumptious meal was Baked Ziti from Vegan on the Cheap.

We actually have a few contributing factors for how this became the dinner of choice.  First, I got home from work a little bit earlier than usual (= more time), and Second, I have tomorrow off (= more time to stay up).  Third, and possibly most important - it was really darn cold by the time I tested how fast I could walk in my new boots.  Hey!  That reminds me - I never talked about my boots in the last post!

No time like the present...

Aren't they adorable?  I'm spending a bit too much time on my feet to continue wearing 3-4.5" heels, but I just cannot get into the flats trend.  It is my opinion that they spread out your feet and make the whole picture less attractive... or maybe I'm just not willing to pay $60 for shoes that don't have a heel and don't make my legs look longer or my stature taller.  I won't lie - high heels are a woman's Power Suit.

Anyway, I went to Macy's - twice, actually, and the first time almost made me swear off the store and did make me write a long and detailed (and unanswered) email to the company's customer service department.  Regardless of my growing disdain for the store, I had spotted a few pairs of boots when I was wandering around the shoe department unattended for 40 minutes the week before, so I figured I would give them one last chance.  I'm glad I did, because I ended up with these adorable, non-leather American Rag cowgirl boots that show the rockstar side of me without breaking my ankles or helping my outermost toes bind to one another.

By the way - when it's in the upper 50s with a strong "breeze" and I'm wearing nothing but an above-the-knee skirt, mid-calf boots, and a short-sleeved polo shirt, I can walk pretty fast in them.

So, now that that's out of the way - back to dinner.

I felt like the Baked Ziti needed a companion of the greenish nature, so when I was at Trader Joe's after work on Monday, I picked up a bag of broccoli and cauliflower.  I used about half the bag and steam-sauteed the veggies with some olive oil, garlic, my Tuscan herb mix from California, and some salt with just a few spritzes of water to keep everything steamy.  It came out sooooo well.

It tasted just like the baked ziti I remember my mom making (well, her's probably had melted mozzarella,  but beside that, it was pretty close) and it was actually pretty simple.  One of the reasons I made it tonight was because I thought it would be really time consuming, due to the need to cook the pasta and make the "ricotta," but it really did not take as long as I thought it would.  In fact, if I had been prepared (and didn't kind of want it to take a while), I probably could have made the whole thing, start to finish, in a little more than an hour.

That being said, this most likely would not be a dinner I would make after a particularly tiring day or on a normal work day in the middle of a normal work week, unless I had thought ahead and already boiled the pasta and prepared the tofu-cotta so all I had to do was combine everything.  The tofu-cotta was convincing enough that I am pretty sure you could feed this to a bunch of omnis and no one would know it wasn't "real" ricotta.

To be completely honest, though, here is the order of dinner's awesomeness:

2nd runner up - the baked ziti itself

1st runner up - the surprisingly tasty (and simple) side dish

Winner - squishing the tofu through my fingers until it was all coarsely crumbled.  That was really way more fun than I thought it would be and I probably enjoyed it a bit more than I should have.  Cheers!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

have lunch, will travel

I can't say it enough - I love that I work in the city now.  Every single day I find a new or rehashed reason to appreciate it.  Some of the highlights include being able to walk to work somedays (there are two center city locations and one is only a little more than a mile from my home), being able to walk from one location to the other, and being able to walk to a variety of fun places for lunch.

Although I really haven't been doing anything special in the kitchen since I started (which should change sometime this week), I have had some wonderful lunch time adventures, so I figured we could do a little lunch-time round-up.

My first day of work it was pouring rain, but apparently the Big Guy managers like to take the trainees to lunch, so we ran through the rain to a crappy little bar next door.  I don't want to sound ungrateful and I don't think I will, since everyone acknowledged that we only went there because no one wanted to be outside any longer than we had to be.  The place was kind of a dump.  Several years ago, Philadelphia passed a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants - this has been both a blessing and a curse (since making people stand outside to smoke then creates a serious loitering problem for people who just want to walk down the sidewalk unmolested), but I swear, this place either still lets people smoke or so damn many people smoked when they were allowed to that the musty, stale scent of leftover ashtrays will never leave.  In addition to smelling awful, the menu was honestly burgers and salad.  I was very excited when I saw that a veggie patty could be subbed in any of the dozen burger configurations...until the "waiter" told me they didn't have veggie patties.  Okay, then - salad it is!

Our second day, they ordered Thai food.  I was cautious about anything with sauce, but all in all, I fared far better.  The third day, they let us go out on our own and that is where the fun begins.

Friday, I happily ambled over to Pure Fare in my brand new cowgirl boots (more in a minute).  It's about a block and a half away from one location and I could very happily go here every day for lunch.  If they double my salary, I could afford to do so, too!  Since that's not likely to happen anytime in the foreseeable future (I need more than a week to take over the world), I'll just let it continue to be a special treat.

There was a new salad I hadn't seen before (in the whole four times I've been in there), so I picked up the Wheatberry Salad with beets, roasted yams, tons of happy kale, and wheatberries, dressed in a nutty, tahini-like dressing and sprinkled with tiny, cute sesame seeds.  It was absolutely delightful and far more filling than I expected it to be.  I topped off with something I've been meaning to try for a while now: a Kale-Apple Smoothie.

This could absolutely become an addiction if it weren't so expensive.  It tastes incredible - just the right amount of sweetness from the apple (and I think they snuck a banana in there... I'm not complaining) with a lightness and, for lack of another word, greenness from the kale.  In a word?  Love.

Sunday found me at the more central location because of our Grand Opening of that store, and I was about 5 hours into my shift before we slowed down enough to send people to lunch.  I needed something fail-safe, so I headed to Starbucks.  I grabbed the Sesame Noodles Bistro Box, a banana, and my beloved Americano.  No, the beverage sure didn't go with the rest of the meal, but it made me happy for the last two hours of my shift...

photo from Starbucks' website

Yesterday, I remembered we're kind of poor and I'm just starting this job and should be cautious about finances, so I packed Leftovers Lunch and ate it on the steps of a church just off of Rittenhouse Square while eavesdropping on the organist practicing.  Have I mentioned I love working in the city?

By dinner, my plan kind of backfired.  I got home way later than I thought I would because I stopped into Trader Joe's to get food and ended up having a delightful surprise encounter with an old friend.  By the time I got home, I was lacking two things:

  1. complete ingredients for anything on the menu (I didn't get to Superfresh)
  2. the energy/desire to cook.
So, my money-saving Leftovers Lunch saved us the money to go out to Pietro's for dinner.  I wish I'd remembered to take pictures but please trust me when I tell you that the simple Spaghetti con Pomodoro Fresco was out of this world with flavor.  I only stopped eating so I wouldn't waddle home and I can't wait to eat the leftovers.  Mister essentially had a pile of mozzarella cheese (mozz sticks appetizer with a ricotta-less Broccoli Calzone).  I also had a pleasant Chianti that would have gone better with pizza, but I didn't want pizza.

Today, I completely forgot to take food, but a colleague used the opportunity to introduce me to my new favorite lunch spot for that location: Greenhouse.  As you approach, it just looks like a convenience store with normal convenience store stuff.  When you actually enter, you find a second room, as big as the first, and full of a hot/cold buffet.  Everything is labeled and looked fresh and delicious and it was far less expensive than I expected it to be (and the least I've spent on food so far).  I got mixed greens with sesame-sauteed spinach, snow peas, big chunks of cantaloupe, 3 halves of kiwifruit, a stuffed grape leaf, two pieces of teriyaki-glazed tofu that was stellar, and some black olives. It was an amusing combination (fusion, if you will) of Asian and Mediterranean fare and it was awesome.

Tonight, I actually bothered to cook (Mister, angel that he is, went to Superfresh for me today) and I decided to keep going on the faux-Asian theme with Seitan Pepper Steak from The Accidental Vegan.

As always, it was tasty - this time around, it seemed to have a more distinct ginger taste than I remember.  I wonder if that is because I used organic ginger - I don't think I do, ordinarily.  It seemed much "fresher" than what I get at Whole Foods, but I might have just used more or be imagining all this.  I wanted to make this first because it involves slicing 4 peppers and I hate when they sit too long and get all shrivelly.

Tomorrow is another adventure, but I have tons of leftovers in my fridge, so I must take my lunch again tomorrow....Pure Fare will have to wait at least another couple of days.  (I really could eat there happily every day if I had a million dollars.  Now that that song is stuck in your head, I'm going to skidaddle.)  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I hurt all over

When I started working at the place I just left, about four and a half years ago, the hardest thing for me to get used to was sitting.  I just sat, tethered to a phone, all day.  Yes, I had a couple of breaks, and believe me, I used that time to move around as much as possible, but for the most part I just sat.  The reason this was so difficult for me was because I had been unemployed for nine months, during which time I got into wandering around the city when I wasn't begging people to hire me.  Before I was laid off, I had a pretty physical job - moving at least every hour to go from this room to that or this house to that school.

Conversely, I got a little too good at sitting over the last four years, and my 3 hours daily of commuting did not help.  I got comfortable and besides, sitting so much allowed me to pull off dangerously high heels (which I have consequently forgone in my new least for now).  Now?  Well, my whole body hurts.  I have not had to stand up for 8 hours in a row for....well, probably 15 years, actually.  15 years ago, I worked retail between Black Friday and mid-January, but my body was 15 years younger and able to handle the stress - in heels!  Right now, I would love a good massage and a bottle of aspirin.

My new job had a Grand Opening celebration this weekend with all hands on deck from Friday until tonight.  Everyone was working the floor, including the President, Marketing Director, and a bunch of other people who usually spend a decent bit of time sitting at their desks.  I'm sure at least some of them are hurting, too.

Anyway, I don't have a whole lot to say about food.  I'm hoping to have some good stories next week so I can convince myself to write more.  I'm kind of in this place where I'm re-evaluating Angst Loves Spinach and trying to see what's important and where we're going here.  I started the blog in the hopes of developing myself as a creative chef and as an outlet for my love of writing.  I do love to write and I have had a ball the last two years doing so, but I've definitely gotten away from the original intention - to create recipes, not just babble about the recipes other people made up and I cooked.

I'd like to flatter myself into believing that at least a few people are reading these words in something akin to horror and thinking, "gee, I hope she's not ending the blog..."  If that is going through anyone's mind, let me give a word of comfort - that is not really my intention.  Here is what I am hoping for: I am currently adjusting to my new job and my new schedule.  Once I am adjusted, once my body finds a new strength so I'm not bone-tired when I get home from work, I will find that I have a ton more time.  My goal is to use at least some of that time to become more creative - set goals for myself, force myself to create something at least once a week.

I haven't heard anything (yet) about this year's VeganMoFo (and I truly hope it will occur again this year, but I certainly do not have the time or energy to be one of the initiators/organizers).  The last two years, this event has had a considerable influence on my posting and I'm hoping it will re-ignite the fire in my kitchen again this year.  I'm fairly certain that I will be up to speed and as comfortable as I'll ever be with my new job by the time it starts, so I want to make a schedule of goals to meet that month, culinarily speaking, so that I can spread my wings and stretch again.  I always feel such a sense of accomplishment when I come up with my own recipes, but lately I've been way to tired to do anything but follow someone else's [fabulous] recipe like a little KitchenZombie.

Nevertheless, I will, as I do every week, share the coming week's menu with you (as well as my joy that my new job is only a few short blocks from Trader Joe's, so I'll be stopping there after work tomorrow to pick up supplies):

1. Spanakopita from The Accidental Vegan with roasted fingerling potatoes.  I have never made this recipe.  I will admit, I'm a little nervous about making this recipe, the way I am always nervous when I try to make something Mister knows from his childhood of good eats made with love by a Greek father or a half-Sicilian mother.  My mother-in-law is getting awfully good at making Spanakopita from YiaYia's recipe, under her tutelage, so to go it alone like this is both invigorating and terrifying.  You can bet there will be a post the night I make this!

2. Seitan Pepper Steak, also from The Accidental Vegan.

3. Cajun Red Beans and Rice, also from The Accidental Vegan, because I used all of my self-control last week when I made the menu to not include this, since I had another beans-n-rice recipe on there, but this week, This is the beans-n-rice recipe.

4. Coconut Curry Rice from Vegan on the Cheap.

5. Baked Ziti, also from Vegan on the Cheap with sauteed cauliflower and broccoli.  This is also a new recipe (I believe - sometimes I space makings so far apart I forgot I made something before!), but when I was looking over the menu, I realized we had a lot of cuisines represented (Greek, Japanese, Cajun/Latina, Indian), but no Italian.  If I hadn't come upon this when I did, and if it hadn't looked as easy as it does, we'd have been reprising Isa's Pasta e Fagioli for the 100th time this year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

coming up for air

Should I cry about being a bad blogger again?  While I always feel a little guilty/bad when I miss a few days (because they always end up being more days than I thought), sometimes I think it's better just to be quiet.  After all, nothing is more boring that reading about dull, mundane events in someone else's life.

Actually, the past several days have been anything but dull, I just didn't think they really needed to be captured for all time in the pages of this blog.  I haven't been doing anything special with dinner - in case you didn't notice, every item on the current menu is an "old favorite" or at least "past success," so there weren't any ground-breaking discoveries to share.

So, what have I been up to?  Well, I spent the weekend teaching and shopping.  Food shopping, clothes shopping, shoe shopping - you name it.  As a result, I had plenty to say on Pretty Woman in an Ugly World, so if you have some time, why don't you read about my experiences?

Yesterday, I started my new job!  So that's fun, right?  Absolutely exhausting, too.  See, it's funny - for the last several years, I have been the one standing up in front of a group of new hires and teaching them about the company, processes, products, etc.  Now, I'm in the learner's seat and it's fun to see the other side - the side that is slightly bewildered, not by the information, but the speed at which it is delivered.  I'm learning quickly, though, which is good since we have a special event this weekend and need all hands on deck, so to speak.

I actually had intended to post last night, but was quite exhausted after all that learning and could not even focus on the screen so I just went to bed after convincing myself to wash the pots and knives so I could just come home and cook tonight without having to clean up.  That's another thing:

I get home when it's still light out.  You may or may not realize how incredible this is, but it is rare that I need my sunglasses on the way home from work, since I usually got home around 9pm.  Today, I was sitting on the bus for my 15 minute commute home (can I tell you how much I love that??) an hour and a half earlier than I would have been leaving my old job.  It was such an incredible feeling that I found myself grinning like a fool and the other folks must have thought I'd lost it.

Tonight, I made and ate dinner, cleaned up leftovers and started this blog before the time I would have even been putting dinner on the table two weeks ago.  Again, I cannot express (and I have a lot of words) how wonderful that realization was.  Not only are we eating dinner closer to times that "normal" people eat dinner, but I also don't have to start dinner the very moment I walk in the door to ensure that we can eat and I can clean up before bedtime.  I'm still getting used to that - four years of walking in the door and immediately starting dinner is a tough habit to break.

Enough about all that - let's have a food parade!

The last meal I made before starting my new job - Rotini with Spicy Vegetable Ragu from Vegan on the Cheap, at Mister's request.  If you haven't noticed that he always gets what he asks for, just keep reading.

It was tasty and pleasantly spicy, but I think I must have overcooked the rotini because it kept falling apart.  I feel like that happened last time I made it, though, so I might experiment with a more stable pasta shape in the future.  

I hate having an open package of Tofurky sausage lying around for very long, so the very next meal I made was the delightful and hearty Savory Sausage and Peppers, also from Vegan on the Cheap.

Depending on where you live or how much you care about the weather in other places, you may or may not know that it was miserable here in Philadelphia yesterday.  The temperatures didn't quite make it past 65 and it was pouring rain - in fact, it was the most opportune time possible for me to learn about the leak in my umbrella, as I was standing in the rain, in pumps, waiting for the bus...and then walking through a 2-3" puddle to get into the bus....poor shoes, poor feet.

Needless to say, after Mister finished coddling me and petting me and telling me what a cute little drowned rat I was, I stripped off my shoes, soaked stockings, wet clothes, and put on my "comfy clothes."  All I could think of cooking was something warm and slow and hearty...

Today, on the other hand, started out quite grim and foreboding, but by lunchtime the sky was clear and sunny and the weather turned out to be beautiful.  It almost seemed a shame to be inside a training room, and once again, I could feel sympathy for the hundreds of new hires I taught over the last few years, especially when the training room had no windows.  Nevertheless, preferring to see opportunity rather than obstacle, I just thought of how lovely it will be to take picnics in Rittenhouse Square this fall.

Speaking of lunch, from the rumors the seasoned employees are spreading and the way we've been treated so far, it seems the boss knows quite the way of "wining and dining" his new employees - we've been taken out to lunch or had lunch ordered for us and there will be a big grand opening party this weekend with food, fun, and open bar.... what a great introduction to the company!  From what I can tell, people are their primary focus and I'm completely on board with that - it is evident that every employee is valued, and because they feel appreciated, morale is high enough that everyone is completely pleasant and invested in passing on those "good vibes" to the customers.  What a great place to work.

Tonight, I made Kedgeree from The Accidental Vegan because if I didn't, Mister was going to eat all the kalamatas I bought for the recipe.  The recipe actually calls for mushrooms, but we don't do mushrooms, and long ago I decided that the earthy flavor of kalamata olives was an adequate substitute for them.  Regardless, Mister loves kalamatas, so though he knew he wasn't supposed to eat them, I could see the level in the clear plastic container dropping...

I love how dark emerald green the kale's really gorgeous.  I used lacinto kale because it's a little easier to work with than curly kale and I think it went well in this recipe.

Shortly after dinner, Mister started poking around in the freezer and then the cupboards.  He did the same thing a few nights ago, so I asked him if he wanted something and this time, he told me.

So I made him cupcakes.  He didn't know whether he wanted cookies or cupcakes, so I gave him a few choices.  He chose Peanut Butter Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, but I didn't feel like making the ganache-drizzle topping, so I just plopped 4 chocolate chips onto each cupcake while they were baking.


Friday, September 2, 2011

what I hate

Hate is kind of a strong word, but honestly, there is one cooking "chore" I despise above all else.  I've mentioned this in passing a long time ago, but there is no prep step I hate more than pressing water out of spinach.

Hate it.

Unfortunately, there are at least a few recipes in this world [and my recipe repertoire] which require this soul-smothering step.  Tofu-Spinach Lasagna from The Vegan Table is one of them.  Fortunately for me, the effort is eventually worth it, since this is a flavorful, aromatic, and actually quite simple dinner to prepare.  Due to extensive prep, you definitely can't make this on a rushed night, but I'm sure you could prepare it and then pull it out of the fridge or freezer for a quick, easy meal another night.

Back to how much I hate pressing excess water out of spinach, though, because that's the point.  I've done all kinds of things to avoid this step in the past, one of my favorites (though not terribly efficient) is "dry frying" the spinach until all the water evaporates.  Tonight, though, there was no getting around the need to do it "right."  So there I was, standing over my kitchen sink with the spinach in a colander, pressing the back of my wooden spoon against it to get the ever-so-slightly satisfying sloop of water being squeezed out.  I was contemplating how much I hate doing this and a brilliant thought popped into my head.

I didn't have my Tofu Xpress the last time I had to "press" the water out of my spinach, but when I got this bugger for Christmas, I remember the little instruction manual (yes, I do read them) made an off-handed comment about also pressing water out of spinach.

I guess other people hate doing that as much as I do.  So I gave it a shot.  It was so efficient, and the best part was, I didn't have to do anything!  So, while that was pressing, I crumbled the tofu and sprinkled the soymilk, lemon juice, basil, salt, and garlic in the food processor and made "ricotta," to be combined with the waterless spinach.

After baking a little more that 40 minutes, my lasagna looked delicious and my kitchen smelled delicious.  Mister and I put away about half that pan.

So, I start my new job on Tuesday, and I have some shopping to do before then.  My purse is starting to show its age, as are a great many of my clothes.  I hate shopping.  I do.  I'm sorry - I know I sound dreadful, but I just can't stand shopping.  I want to like it, really I do, and maybe this weekend I'll finally have some Estrogen Awakening and find that I could go shopping every day.  That would really help me get a new purse, a few new items of clothing, and a pair of shoes in which I won't break my ankles walking from the bus to the door of my new job.  That would be a little embarrassing, and my healthcare doesn't kick in for three months, so the 4.5-inch Carlos Santanas have to go.

I also have to go food shopping.  That is generally far less traumatic.  How's about a menu?

1. Rotini with Spicy Vegetable Ragu from Vegan on the Cheap.  It's been a while since I consulted this cookbook, but I figured it might be a wise choice since I'm between an old paycheck and a new one...

2. Savory Sausage and Pepper, also from VotC.

3. Better-Than-Takeout Tofu Stir-Fry, also from VotC.  I needed to get a different flavor profile in there - this should do it!

4. Salsa Rice and Red Beans also from VotC.

5. Yakisoba from The Accidental Vegan because I also haven't played with this book in a while and in case you didn't notice, I'm sticking to familiar stuff this week.

6. Kedgeree also from The Accidental Vegan.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

pale september

Pale September... I wore the time like a dress that year.  The autumn days swung soft around me, like cotton on my skin.  But as embers of the summer lost their breath and disappeared, ....all my armor falling down in a pile at my feet,and my winter giving way to warm...

Yes, it is finally September.  As the nighttime temps seem to be habitually landing in the mid- to low 60s, I turn my face happily toward Autumn - my favorite season.  A season when Mister's allergies finally get a small bit of reprieve, a season full of beautiful colors, incredible scents (they already have the cinnamon pine cones at Superfresh!) and shorter days through which to squint.  A season when the spiders in my basement, theoretically anyway, should leave me to do my laundry in peace, rather than sending Mister down to make sure they're not waiting to eat me and then freaking out halfway through loading the second load into the washer because a new, not-dead, spindly spider is creeping up the wall only a couple of vulnerable feet away.  If you'll wait a moment, I need to go ask Mister to switch the loads now...

Anyway, to celebrate the new month, we met up with my parents for lunch today.  Okay, actually, it was completely coincidental that they were in town today and it just happened to be the first of September.  Regardless, we met them at Cooperage, outside the Curtis Center, and I finally got to sit at the wood veneer tables in those neat black wicker booth benches with orange cushions.  Normally, the orange and black combination makes me think of Halloween, but for some reason, with this place it just makes me think of manly men who drink bourbon and how masculine I fancy myself sometimes.  I'm probably going to regret writing that.

I got a veggie burger with sweet potato fries - yes, sweet potato fries!  This was a very exciting moment for me.  Unfortunately, they were not nearly as tasty as the ones I've had out west.  At this point, it may be a power of suggestion kind of thing.  The veggie patty was okay, but since Mister's squooshed out in every direction, I just ate mine with a fork.  Not very manly of me, I'll admit.  Then again, neither is this drink:

That's my Bumboo Punch and it had something like 5 different fruit nectars in it.  It was strong, though - despite the many competing fruit juices, I could taste the rum quite distinctly.  It was a fun lunch - our water was served in mason jars with handles and our sandwiches came in shallow metal pails.  I'm not totally sure what that was about, but it definitely added to the whole Early 20th Century vibe the place had going on (which was exactly why I chose it).

Nevertheless, after sitting in the sun for about an hour and drinking that tall, fruity, rummy drink, I was ready for a serious nap when we got home.  Instead, Mister and I had a pot of coffee.

Isn't that pretty?  Mister bought me that tea-cup a few years ago and his mom got me the saucer for my bridal shower.  Normally, I just display all of my antique tea-cups (and saucers, of course!) on my china cabinet shelves, but I thought to myself today, "What's the use in having pretty things if I don't occasionally use them?"  So I pulled that pair off the shelf, rinsed them off and had my coffee in pretty china.  That made Mister smile at me.

This makes me smile.  Actually, it makes me smile and giggle a little, too.  It never stops being funny to me how I can make Leftover Molds.  I told Mister I didn't want to make Lasagna tonight because we still had so much Jambalaya leftover, so I heated up the three pounds of leftovers for dinner tonight.  It didn't taste any different than the first time, but it sure was more amusing, slipping out of the Gladware and holding its shape like a little Cajun Bundt cake made with rice, vegetables, and seitan.