Monday, October 31, 2011

bottom of a bottomless pit

I may have mentioned this before, but in my world, certain things simply exist infinitely, without any risk that they'll run out.  These things include dried herbs, spices, and various grains.  I know the frozen veggies run out, I know the oils run out, and believe me, I'm aware of coffee's continual escape from our cupboard. In my brain, however, there will always be cumin, marjoram, and bulgur, and in the needed quantities.

Well, there was... until tonight.

I had only one meal left on last week's menu: Curried Bulgur with Chickpeas and Vegetables from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures.  It was only after I'd poured enough water to cook a cup and a half of bulgur that I realized I had barely one full cup...  I considered trying to draw out some of the water to make less bulgur, but then I realized the spice ratio would be off.  This resulted in a swap for brown rice that didn't suck but probably won't happen again.

First, though, check out how perfectly julienned these carrots are!

No, they did not come pre-cut from a bag.  Lest you think I'm bragging, though, I want to be clear that I was only able to pull off that level of perfection because of that still-super-awesome julienne peeler my mom gave me last winter.  That is truly one of my favorite prep toys.

Anyway, it all came out perfectly edible, but the rice blows up bigger than bulgur, resulting in a wider distribution of the curry spices, resulting in a slightly more bland dish.  I resisted the urge (several times) to add salt at table, instead resorting to stabbing an oil-cured olive and combining that with a mouthful of curried rice to take advantage of its almost painfully salty qualities.  Without a word, Mister was doing the same.

So with that, we'll move on to the new menu.  Welcome, new menu!

1. Vegetable Lentil Stew from Vegan on the Cheap because I saw one of my old posts highlighting this (when we'd just moved into our new home and I was sick as a dog) and I want to eat it again.  I picked up a huge corner of what must have been a monstrously large loaf of Irish soda bread at Whole Foods tonight, which I intend to cut into chunks for Mister's and my dipping pleasure.  Hopefully, he'll leave it alone until that happens.

2. Tofu Rancheros for the same reason (except for the part about bread).

3. Five-Spice Seitan and Noodles from my own twisted mind... I can't remember if I've shared the recipe previously, so I will likely include it on this making.

So, that's it - a short menu because I really wasn't all that into making a menu last night and I only need to get to Friday anyway.  And another "That's it," goes out to MoFo 2011!  If you found me this year, I'm so glad and I hope I've convinced you to stick around a bit longer.  Here's me and Angst, signing off for October and my third MoFo:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

pea kitty

So, there's this blog I follow - Peas and Thank You - in which the blogger/mother/cookbook author occasionally makes a snarky remark about the family cat.  Apparently, she and the cat haven't gotten along very well since she started making babies and it makes for some charming off-handed remarks along the way.  Since the theme is peas, she's Mama Pea, married to Pea Daddy, and the cat is Pea Kitty.

Angst is trying to usurp Pea Kitty's throne.

I don't think he actually wants to move to the Pacific Northwest and live with a family he doesn't know which includes two darling children to torment his anti-social little butt, however, he did earn the name from Mister during dinner tonight.

Tonight we had Spicy Vegetable Ragout from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures.  I completely failed to get a picture of it because it was pretty busy at work, I was hungry, and I just wasn't thinking about how fun it would be to snap a photo of my food to share with the world.  Honestly, my brain had already left dinner and fast forwarded to the imaginary E.L.F. cosmetics shopping spree I've decided to try, inspired by my all-day make-up tutorial marathon yesterday.

You don't need pictures, though, to hear about the best part of this dinner.  It was Angst discovering he loves peas.  Seriously.  Possibly more than chickpeas and maybe even spinach.  He came over to bother Mister when I set down dinner.  Like normal, Mister selected something from his bowl to convince the kitty he didn't want to share are dinner.  Also like normal, Angst loved what Mister shared and wanted more...and more... and more.  Pea after pea dropped to the floor and was scooped into his mouth after many squeaks and sad eyes at Mister.  We couldn't believe how crazy he was being, so we just kept giving him peas.  He probably ate 10 before we said, "sorry, no more" and showed the pouting kitty our empty bowls.


I never would have guessed.  Mama Pea?  You need another cat?


One thing I have to admit I love about news & weather websites/TVstuff is how easily and frequently they sensationalize any possible divergence from "normal" weather.  Last winter, we had a "snowpocalypse" and I will admit, last January saw way more snow than I can remember in the last 15 years - in fact, the only time I remember more snow was January 1994 when they were cancelling school by the week and I actually only had three days of school in January.  That was, as you say, epic.

So, enter today.  Well, last night, actually, started predicting a snow storm with actual accumulations along the northeast corridor, including Philadelphia.  By the time I left work, they had updated it to the season's first Nor'easter.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, let me break it down like this: really really sucky windy storm that usually comes down from Canada to mess things up real good between Virginia and Ohio and up to Maine, generally involving heavy cold precipitation of some sort.  Now, I like snow a lot, but a nor'easter was not what I wanted to hear.

So I wake up this morning to my alarm, believing I can probably head out to the suburbs and teach before anything serious starts, if it's even more than just crappy rain.  I'm lying there for just a minute before rising and I hear it:  tap, tap, ping, tap, etc.  I think to myself, "'s not freezing rain.  Not yet," and get up, pulling my bathrobe warmly around me as I head into the kitchen for breakfast.

Angst is in the window, smacking at the snowflakes.

Yup.  Snowflakes.  In October.  I mean, for heaven's sake - it's not even Halloween yet!  Everyone was freaking out all over Facebook, swearing they were going to move if we were in for another winter like last year, or worse.  Me?  I'm kinda hoping for it :)

Anyway, because it's so unusual for snow to start so early in the season ("normal" first snowfall in Pennsylvania - with any accumulation likely - is mid-December), everyone, including, is now talking about Snowtober.  I guess that's kind of clever.

In case you were wondering, I did not ride the train a half hour out to the suburbs for the privilege of teaching at least three students who didn't bother practicing.  Instead, I watched really awesome make-up tutorials on YouTube by this angelic little English girl, Klaire de lys, and then completely neglected to paint my own face.  Poor Mister.

Eventually, I got it together to make dinner, which really couldn't have been anything other than Black Bean Soup with Kale and Rice from Vegan on the Cheap.

I was so relieved when the soup came out so chunky and substantial, because I know Mister's not a fan of soup dinners and he didn't eat much all day, but he seemed pretty happy about everything except eating his dinner with a spoon.  I had forgotten how rich the broth is, and what a fabulous mouthful all the ingredients come together to make.  Some sweetness from the carrots, creamy black beans, chewy rice, bitter kale, and tangy tomatoes were all brought together and spiked with a savory broth with simple spices.

Nevetheless, I knew Mister would be craving something more to eat later on, so when I was washing up the pot afterwards, I put a stick of Earth Balance out to soften.

Right now, my home smells incredible.  I started out with the intention to make Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting, also from Vegan on the Cheap, but decided I had very little interest in the frosting.  I started to just make chocolate cupcakes, but then decided to "doctor" them a little, resulting in a cupcake version of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which were always among my favorite [Trick or] Treats.

It was a simple alteration, really.  I started by filling each cupcake tin about 1/3 of the way

then I dropped about a half teaspoon to a scant teaspoon of peanut butter (I used chunky 'cause that's what we stock, but you can use whatever makes your little heart sing) into the center of each future cupcake, pressing down very lightly to set it in place.  The dough is actually pretty stiff, so you shouldn't have trouble.

Once the PB was safely nestled in a little chocolate nest, I plopped the rest of the batter on top, filling each cupcake paper almost to the top, taking care to ensure it fell completely around the glop of PB, encasing it.

After teasing Mister and I with a luscious smell for about 25 minutes, these little beauties were finished cooking and ready to cool as much as we would allow them to...

Back to Klaire de lys for a few minutes...ah, so that's how they did the make-up for Black Swan.
And other stuff I don't really need to know.  Thank you, YouTube!

Okay, back to the cupcakes.

So good.  Seriously.

There were a couple of things I'd like to tweak in order to make this recipe completely my own and utterly scrumptious.  Cooking Light got me in the habit of mixing up my flour to lighten it and then gently spooning it from the bag to my measuring cups before leveling them off.  The idea here is that you use less flour = less dense baked goods = fewer calories.  I think I need to abandon that for these cupcakes, in order to make them the dark, dense, fudgy outside I want them to be.

I think they could hold a little more peanut butter, too.  I think a full teaspoon, maybe even heaping, would be in order here.

I also need to remember to check how much cocoa powder I have before committing to a chocolate cupcake recipe.  I didn't have exactly a half cup of it left and I think that was to the cakes' detriment.

Believe me, these will be made again.  And again and again and again, especially if we have a really snowy winter.  Once I've "perfected" them, I'll share a recipe.

Friday, October 28, 2011

carpe rosae

I can be a bad influence.  I don't mean in that You-Should-Do-Drugs-'Cause-It'll-Make-You-Cool kind of way.  Rather, I encourage people to choose the better of two evils when locked in an internal conflict of conscience.  For example, the following conversation occurred at work today:

Colleague:  I really want to go to Sampan for lunch, but I shouldn't.
Me: Why not?
Colleague:  I brought a sandwich, so I was just going to get soup.
Me:  Okay...
Colleague:  Aw man.... I just remembered how good their soup dumplings are...[self-flaggelation follows]
Me:  You should go.
Colleague:  No, I should eat my sandwich, otherwise it will go to waste.  I'll just go tomorrow.
Me:  You don't know tomorrow will come - no one is promised tomorrow.  If you want to go, you should go today. [little horns start to poke up from under my hair]
Colleague:  You're a bad influence.
Me: Yes.
Colleague:  But I'm having dinner with my cousin after work, so the sandwich will go to waste.
Me:  The sandwich you were eating earlier?
Colleague:  Yes.  But I still have half left.
Me:  Okay, but it's 4:30 right now and you're working until 9, so you won't have dinner until 9:15 at the very earliest.  You'll be back here at 5, you'll eat your other half-sandwich around 7 because you'll need a snack to get you through until dinner.
Colleague:  You're a bad influence.
Me: Yes.

With that, Colleague headed out the door for his lunch of Kimchi Fried Rice and Soup Dumplings at Sampan.  He came back 30 minutes later with a satisfied smile and the last bite of an ice cream cone that had been his dessert poking through his lips.

I try to live by that whole "carpe diem" thing.  Some people think it's morbid when I point out that we don't know that we'll have tomorrow, but it's true and I'm just trying to be realistic - you don't know.  People close their eyes on their last day every day - if today is mine, I want to know I had a good one and didn't say, "eh, tomorrow," as though I had a limitless supply.

Actually, one thing, before we move on to happy things - here is a clip from Brandon Lee's last interview before he died quite unexpectedly on the set of "The Crow."  You can skip to minute 5 for the part that is relevant to the first part of this post.

Now, Angst also likes to live in the Now, and doesn't want a single opportunity to eat something he shouldn't to pass him by.  Enter the newest object of his hungry lust:

Two or three times a year (anniversary, birthday, and/or Valentines day), Mister ignores that Angst likes to destroy my roses and gets them for me anyway.  At that point, Angst commences to stalking them, so we have to take them in the bedroom at the end of each night.

Yesterday was Mister's and my fourth wedding anniversary, which we celebrated by me working until 9pm, freezing my butt off as I walked home, and then hugging some and deciding to go out tonight instead (when I was home from work much earlier).  Nevertheless, he did a bunch of sweet things for me - he got me my beautiful roses, changed the kitty litter and lit a smelly candle, and turned on the heat so I'd be warm when I got home from work.  He's a keeper!

After a full day of trying to find somewhere to fill the void of Horizons and wishing Vedge was open, we ended up at La Fourno, having an enjoyable Italian meal.  I will say, they have some of the most creative and substantial salads I've seen - we had some trouble finding the lettuce under all the grilled veggies!  There was nothing terribly outstanding but I do have one little word of advice for my friends at La Fourno: wine should never be served in a heated glass.  They really need to work on differentiating "cellar temperature" from "pizza oven behind this wall" temperature.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

whataya want from me?

If I could start from a decidedly non-culinary direction, I don't think I've made any secret of my love of two female vocalists.

Amy Lee of Evanescence

the incomparable P!nk

I realized something sometime in the last 48ish hours - I love them completely, equally, and for totally disparate reasons.  They each represent something I love or want to love about myself - a glorified, famous part of me.  I love Amy Lee for the ethereal beauty that she is - she looks a lot like me :) and we are both classically trained musicians.  She is rumored to be a domineering perfectionist... no comment.  P!nk, on the other hand, is the badass I want to be.  I love how raw she is and how passionately she makes each poignant point, yet with enough fire that she doesn't normally allow for the same otherworldly wallowing I find so comforting in Evanescence's music.

It all made a lot more sense in my head, so let me wrap all that up by saying that Amy Lee speaks to the part of me that is aloof, mysterious, and all too in touch with the heartbreak of this world while P!nk pulls me up by my bootstraps, kicks me in the butt and reminds me that we can take this on, as long as it's worth fighting for.

Believe it or not, this really is leading up to dinner (kind of).

Tonight I made Rice Island Casserole from Vegan on the Cheap.  

This is definitely not the first time I've made this, but sometimes, I spread my repeats so far apart that Mister forgets we've had something before.  Also, I think he somewhat depends on me taking so darn long to remake a recipe so that he doesn't have to tell me when he doesn't like dinner.

Don't get me wrong - he went back for seconds.  It might have been the second bowl that reminded him this wasn't his "favorite dinner," which is his cute little euphemistic way of saying, "I'd rather you didn't make this again."  It's also possible that he ruined his own second bowl by thinking hot sauce would be a good addition.  Either way, he got halfway through his second bowl before giving up.

I can probably take a lesson from a Sweet-n-Sour dish I made a few months ago which he helped me choose and then forgot when I served it, making a comment that he would never eat something sweet-n-sour "on purpose."  I might have even caught on by his almost violent reaction to my suggestion that I might make pineapple cupcakes for his birthday and some derogatory comment about pineapple.  I didn't, though, or I ignored it because sometimes, dinner is about what I want to eat.

In case you didn't know, P!nk actually wrote Adam Lambert's hit single "Whataya Want From Me?" and this is an incredible mash-up of the two of them singing it.  It just seemed an appropriate song considering our dinner adventures...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

birthday coffee and shameless plugging

I will beg your pardon ahead of time - this post may bounce all over the place.

Yesterday was my dad's birthday which is absolutely no excuse for not posting since we didn't do anything but talk on the phone, but all I did for dinner was send Mister out for more tortilla chips while I reheated the leftover chili, so I didn't consider that very post-worthy.  Something post-worthy could have come out of the conversation I had with my dad while I walked home from work, but I couldn't think of anything clever to say about his boat being shrink-wrapped for the winter (but doesn't it evoke a fabulous mental image of men on ladders with hair-dryers?).  Here's something I love about my dad, though - me calling to wish him a happy birthday turned into him asking whether I prefer my coffee beans whole or pre-ground... just in case he returns to the Realm of Dark Chocolate Ecstasy Coffee this weekend...

Tonight, I made an old favorite recipe that I haven't made in years for no good reason except my own lack of imagination: Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures.

Angst absolutely loved all the little Hummus Balls (chickpeas) Mister was sharing with him.  First he licked off all the salty, garlicky sauce, then he ate up his Hummus Balls with great gusto!  And to think, possibly the only reason I haven't made this in recent years is because it didn't occur to me to just leave off the Parmesan - shame on me!

Okay, I'm sure a little of my negligence was due to the cookbook-buying spree I went on when I discovered how many amazing vegan cookbooks there are out there, thanks to the blogiverse.  Speaking of amazing vegan cookbooks....

Yanked from

Best segue I could come up with accidentally to remind everyone that Celebrate Vegan by local Philly Urban Vegan, Dynise Balcavage is now available through and you should order it.  This is the cookbook I had the incredible privilege of testing recipes for over the winter last year and I know I can't wait to get my hands on it!

For your reading pleasure, and with the hopes of enticing you to get this cookbook with express shipping, here are some links to my wintertime testing:

  1. Farfalle with Shallots and Chard - I cannot wait to make this again!
  2. Gussied-up Tabbouleh and Smoky Zucchini Bean Dip - the best tabbouleh I've ever had.
  3. Pasta with Red Peppers and Basil - because "a big pot of pasta is a happy thing" according to Mister.
  4. Lemon-Champagne-Braised Baby Bok Choy and Pan-Seared Tofu with Balsamic Glaze - I kind of want to start stockpiling the baby bok choy now... I already have a little bottle of champagne in the fridge.
  5. Funeral Cake - BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE EVER and just in time for some Addams Family Halloween Fun!
  6. Mega-Israeli Salad - the only thing better than the crunch is the bite of the garlic.
You can also click on the "testing" label at the bottom of any of those posts to see more adventures, but seriously - you need this cookbook.  Celebrate Vegan by Dynise Balcavage - go get it!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

slimy noodles

Ordinarily, when I make Better-Than-Takeout Tofu Stir-fry from Vegan on the Cheap, I serve it over rice.  "Ordinarily," I say, as though I make this all the time and not just twice before.  Anyway, it's a pretty saucy "stirfry" and I'm not talking about its demeanor.  As such, when I put it on the menu, I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be fun to see how this works as a noodle dish?"

I'll admit, it's because I like to eat Asian-inspired food with chopsticks and in my opinion, noodles are far more fun and far easier to eat with chopsticks than rice dishes.

Anyway, as I was cooking the tofu and veggies, I boiled half a box of linguini and once it was finished, added it to the nice, thick, goopy sauce.

It came out great!  A little messy, I'll grant you, but very tasty and I am pretty sure I will make it like this again... possibly always.  The sauce made the noodles a bit slippery, which made my eating a bit slurpy and napkin-intensive.  Mister was eating with such gusto that I asked him if he had eaten anything today.  He explained that he had, but that he had to eat the noodles quickly because they were "slimy" and wanted to fall out of his chopstick grip.  He has such a way with words.

Today was a gorgeous fall day, part of which I spent on a coffee-date with an old friend and part of which I spent shopping for the following menu:

1. Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures.  I used to make this all the time so I hope my memories haven't built it up too much - I hate being disappointed!

2. Curried Bulghur with Chickpeas and Vegetables, also from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures.  I really find the name of that book rather amusing.  This is another dish I made so much that I took a long break from it and the last time I came back to it, I couldn't believe it was so tasty.  Then again, I suppose there was probably a reason I used to make it so much!

3. Spicy Ragout of Vegetables and Tofu, also from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures.

4. Rice Island Casserole from Vegan on the Cheap.  This recipe specifically names dark red kidney beans in the ingredients, but at least once I've substituted light-colored beans because SuperFresh is doing this weird thing where the dark kidney beans cost almost twice as much as the light ones.  Can anyone provide insight, like dark kidney beans are very rare and only grow from one bean plant located on top of a craggy mountain in Turkmenistan?  No?  What then?  The point, though, is that dark kidney beans were on sale this week (maybe they found a second bush somewhere) so I'll be true to the recipe.

5. Black Bean Soup with Kale and Rice from the Slow-Cooker chapter of Vegan on the Cheap.  I've made this once before, though, so I know the secret way to make it without a slow-cooker (hint: it involves your stovetop and a soup pot).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

sticks and stones... in my soup

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I'd like to call BS on that for two reasons.  First and foremost, words can hurt a lot.  If you don't believe that, you were never a 7th grade girl.  Second, planks and rocks might break bones, but sticks and stones probably won't even bruise you.  Someone got it backward.

Sticks and stone will probably break your teeth, though, should you find them in your Homey Vegetable Stew with Dumplings (from The 30 Minute Vegan).

If you remember the first time I made this, you'll probably notice the dumplings look a little different from the way they did then.  A little...browner?  A little less cohesive?  Kinda gross-looking, actually?

The recipe calls for Spelt flour, but I was plum out - it's not one of those things I just keep around the house.  I was going to use plain ol' wheat flour, but when I grabbed the bag down from the cupboard, I saw a special little jar hiding behind it - the mesquite flour my sister had ground for us from the pods of the mesquite tree in her backyard!

I pulled it down and measured out 3/4 cup to start making the dumplings, but I noticed there were some pebbly looking spots.  In the interest of evening things out, I put the flour through my sifter.  Good thing, too!  When the flour had drifted dustily down into the bowl to be mixed with soymilk and canola oil, I looked into the sifter to see little bits of sticks and seeds and possibly stones (?) hanging out there.

Considering we don't have dental insurance right now, I'm glad I decided to sift before Mister broke a tooth.

When I set down the bowls, the dumplings smelled a little like gingerbread.  They were sweet and a little mealy, but not in a bad way.  I will probably do this in the future, but I will cut it half-and-half with "normal" flour because the mesquite flour did not hold the dumplings together all that well, and I think they were a little sweet for Mister's tastes.

I thought they provided a great, if not unexpected foil to the very salty-savory broth of the chunkier-than-I-remembered-it stew.  It was just right for this first truly chilly fall day, though.

Friday, October 21, 2011

home, sweet huh?

Sometimes when I come home from work, the home I return to looks very little like the home I left.  It both amuses and disturbs me when Mister does huge, home-changing projects in my absence because he never ever finishes before I get home, and then he gets distracted and loses steam.

As proof of that, there are two large boxes hanging out in the middle of the living "room" and clothes are strewn all over the bed and floor in the bedroom.  At least we found a place for the shelving unit that had also been in the middle of the bedroom when I first returned from work.

When I married him, I had no idea he would rearrange our furniture every few months while I was at work.  Isn't that something for which women are supposed to be blamed?

Lest you think me ungrateful or dissatisfied, let me assure you - my very first reaction to our home, aside from a brief moment of "what the heck is going on??" was one of joy.  It really looks better (except for the clothing all over the bedroom floor, but that's an easy fix).  He cleared up some space in the living room and finally hung up my carved antique shelves and unpacked the two remaining boxes in the bedroom (yes, I know we moved in February...obviously we didn't need the stuff in the boxes that bad).

I had stopped at Superfresh on my way home because we lacked bread and garlic and apples.  Although he did let me put the groceries away first, as soon as I had my coat off, he required my input for the bedroom, so we finished arranging a few things and moved them around a bit.  Only then did we park on couch and Mister said he was hungry and asked if we could eat.  He isn't usually that forward, so I asked if he wanted me to make something or if he wanted to go out.

Well, today was payday and Friday and I lead the team in sales today, which is quite an accomplishment since I just started a month ago, so we went to Pietro's for a nice little dinner.

We started with a plate of grilled vegetables.  Forgive the dark picture, but the inside of the South Street Pietro's is modeled after the darkened streets of Italy, apparently.  It's beautiful and rustic, with red bricks and stucco and green things growing all over the place and Juliet balconies "overlooking" the dining area.  There are even "gas lamps" on the walls and at the ends of "fences" between dining areas.  It's actually quite gorgeous, but dark.

Anyway, the grilled veggies consisted of artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, grilled zucchini and eggplant (which I rescued from Mister), tomatoes and a couple of cheeses Mister was happy to have to himself.

Mister happily ate his standard order: pizza, while I tasted a little bit of heaven in each bite of my Spaghetti con Pomodoro Fresco.  When I was running an errand for work earlier, I passed the Rittenhouse location and that got my tastebuds drifting off in a reverie of remembering the last time (first time!) I had this and how incredible it was.  Honestly, and it's awful to say this so close to Ralph's (I hope they don't hear me), but this is the best spaghetti I've ever had.

Speaking of heavenly... there are only 1 minute left for the Rapture to occur!  Hold onto your hat, Mr. Camping - I think the bus is coming!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

stocking weather

It's coming.  It will be here before you realize, making even the fittest women feel like slobs.

Stocking season.

Now, I know bare legs have been the trend lately, but nothing is going to change the fact that every day it gets a little further into autumn, a little closer to winter, and the new season of stylish legwear is making its way into stores: tights, stockings, nylons - whatever you want to call them, they are coming and they are cruel.

You can cheat a little - I know I do - by wearing thigh-high stockings, but there comes a part of winter when it's too bitterly cold for anything but serious, sweater-material, covering every-last-part-of-my-legs stockings.  This is the part where I start wondering if I've been deceiving myself when I see a woman in the mirror who appears to be an appropriate weight.  By design, stockings are meant to be tight - this helps to prevent adding bulk to the legs and prevents any possibility of cold air squeezing in.  That does not mean they don't give otherwise healthy-weighted women a "fat" complex upon donning them the first, second, or hormonally-driven time.

Why do I tell you all of this?

I have been a size 4, more or less, for about 13 years.  Since my early twenties, I have managed to stay within a 10-pound range in my weight, with a couple of odd life circumstances bleeding an extra few pounds on one side or the other for a very brief time.  Over the course of my life, I've been subjected to the misdirected ire of overweight and obese women.  Some "can't wait" until I get fat, others insist I weigh so little because I don't eat anything.  More than a few people want to blame my horribly restricted dietary choices for my ability to maintain my weight, but let me tell you - there are plenty of fattening vegan foods.  For heaven's sake, there are several cookbooks devoted solely to making delicious vegan desserts, followed by a vegan diet cookbook...

No, friends, the reason I have done a fair job of maintaining my weight for most of my adult life is because I keep myself in check.

I know that sounds boring as heck, but it's true.  If you've been reading Angst Loves Spinach for a little while, you may have even experienced some of my "OMGINeedToDetox!!!" moments already.  Well, hold onto your hats, because I'm pretty sure stocking season will bring on another round of that panic/vigilance.  Which is good.  Because I'm having Mardi Gras a few months early.

Every once in a while, I have a day where I am completely aware that I am taking in way more calories than my body needs and I do it anyway because sometimes, I just can't make myself care.  Now and then, I have a week or weeks like that...that is when I start to gain weight.  Not a lot, of course - it takes far more effort than you might imagine to gain a lot of weight (unless there are extenuating circumstances), but my skirts fit a little tighter, I like my profile a little less in a full length mirror, and I dread putting on full stockings.

After a healthy breakfast, a several-hundred-calorie snack at our staff meeting this morning, and two large slices of tomato pie (more in a minute - let me finish my self-flaggelation first), I recognized that I was probably about topped out for my small body's caloric needs for the day, but I still had my heart set on Put the Tex in Your Mex Chili from The 30 Minute Vegan for dinner tonight, served with a generous bowlful of tortilla chips, which I have come to accept as our standard "utensils" on Chili Night.

testing the limits of my saute pan... crowded much? 

It really is a fabulous recipe - two kinds of beans, two kinds of peppers, an acceptable amount of garlic (not that I needed more after lunch today!) and seitan, among other things.  It's hearty, savory, and fun to scoop with tortilla chips.  Fortunately, I was able to stop after just one bowlful purely because I don't want to have someone carting me to work in a wheelbarrow tomorrow.

Ah, well.... as I used to tell my clients when I worked for a weight loss company, tomorrow is a new day with new opportunities to make healthy choices.

Now, about that lunch: any local readers, please do yourselves a favor.  If you find yourself in the vicinity of 21st and Chestnut Streets, find a way to be hungry and then head into Mix Restaurant and Bar.  I went there for lunch today with a colleague, so I can't speak for the bar part of the restaurant, but the pizza!  They have several pies available from which you can select a slice, including a masterful tomato pie: fresh chunks of tomato, tons of garlic, olive oil, and an artful spiral of jade green pesto adorning the pie.  I thoroughly enjoyed both of my pieces and happily wolfed them down accompanied by water they don't charge you for and a delightful lunchtime conversation.

I absolutely do not regret my lunch choice and I will do it again (with an overpowering mint gum as a chaser, in the best interests of my customers), but again, the time for moderation is at hand... we can't start stocking season with a over-thought body image crisis, can we?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

peanut-scented zen

I think the whole "bowl" idea is more of a West Coast phenomenon.  Maybe I'm wrong.  I'd like to be, actually, because I love bowls - I love the way they look, I like how much easier it is to eat most things from a bowl, rather than chasing things like cabbage, cannellini beans, and rotini around a plate.  Let's have a short flashback parade:

Waaaaaayyyyy back in February 2010, my parents gave me The 30 Minute Vegan for my birthday.  I've mentioned in the past how fruity and flowery the book is, written by a hippie couple blessed to live in Hawaii where it's warm enough all year to consider a 50% raw diet do-able.  Raw.  I can deal with raw.  When we start talking about "living" soup, I get a little creeped out, to be completely honest.

Anyway, although I'm sure I had some other "bowl" recipes (Isa also favors them, which might put a bullet in my West Coast Bowl theory), it was this cookbook that introduced me to the Monk Bowl.

Later that same year, Mister and I took a trip out to LA for Blizzcon and some QT with his sister, her husband, and their adorable little boy.  While out there, we visited Native Foods, which as you can probably imagine, is a whole restaurant whose menu consists almost exclusively of bowls.  To back up just a second, here is the basic make-up of the ubiquitous "Bowl."

  • rice, quinoa, bulgur, or some other kind of grain; occasionally noodles, depending on cuisine.
  • veggies - usually steamed, occasionally lightly sauteed or raw.
  • protein source: tofu, tempeh, possibly seitan, commonly beans
  • topping: a dressing of some sort, maybe two - BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, tahini-mustard dressing, etc - normally a "creamy" or opaque sauce, rather than a vinaigrette - "bowls" should not be confused with salads.
So anyway, my whole point is - I heart Bowls.  Mister could probably do without them, but he's never complained really... he just tends to set the table with plates when he has a chance.

Tonight, I made Monk Bowls again (you might have seen this coming).  This time I was not overly concerned with perfecting the symphony in my kitchen or creating peaceful zen through multi-tasked cooking.  No, this time, I was focused on a change I've made from the last few times I made this.  I did not feel like making a dressing, even though it takes about 5 minutes if I'm really clumsy.  I also did not feel like steaming the vegetables, because as I learned a little bit ago, I really don't like the water-logged flavor/texture of steamed veggies.  I combined my solution for those two "problems" in one action.

The book even mentioned this, but I hadn't bothered reading the variations until last time I went through the menu.  I sauteed them instead.  In order to provide the flavor that would be missing from the dressing I did not intend to make, I made it a two-step process.

First, I poured a generous amount of olive oil into a pan and let it heat up a bit.  I added about 2 tsp of za'atar, scant 1 tsp of sea salt, and about 1/3 tsp garlic powder.  I let them warm in the oil, then stirred everything together.  When the sesame seeds in the za'atar started to pop, I added the bowlful of chopped veggies (a red pepper, three carrots, and a head of broccoli) and stirred everything really well to coat the veggies with oil and za'atar.  Then I covered everything up and let it steam-saute while I tended to my roasting tofu and simmering brown rice.  All said, I let it simmer like that, stirring now and then, for nearly 15 minutes, which turned out perfectly, flavor- and texture-wise.

Angst was pretty sure he liked the smells in the kitchen and waited patiently in front of the dinner table.

He begged, noisily, throughout the entire meal, too, even though we insisted there was nothing he wanted.  Mister even put his bowl on the floor so Angst could inspect it.  Upon determining Mister wasn't eating real food, he turned his big sad eyes on me since apparently, I had what he really wanted.

I know I had what I really wanted!  It turned out really well.  The tofu was sublime.  I pressed it in my handy Tofu Xpress before a brief marinating time in soy sauce, peanut oil, and water (okay, maybe there was a little drop of toasted dark sesame oil, too).  It had a great texture after roasting 15 minutes and I don't remember the flavor pervading the tofu as much as it did this time, so I will continue to press the tofu for this recipe, even though it's not called for.

The sauteed veggies came out great, with a good yet subtle flavor from the za'atar.  I will probably make some dressing next time, purely because dressing is fun.  I just didn't want to deal with it tonight, and I had gotten the idea in my head to use some of the za'atar I got in San Francisco.

I wouldn't say it was a zen ballet, but then again, I'm not sure I would use that language to describe anything.  Why don't we just leave it at: it was easy, it was tasty, and I'll do it again.

Monday, October 17, 2011

far from farfalle

There's no need to build up to it with a clever story.  Tonight's dinner was Farfalle with White Beans and Cabbage from Vegan on the Cheap.

Now, those among you who consider yourselves observant may notice there is something wrong with the farfalle.  Namely, it looks an awful lot like rotini, not butterflies or bow-ties or whatever farfalle looks like.  That, friends, is because it is rotini - rotini primavera, to be exact, which is the clever name they give the naturally colored pasta (which is no more nutritional than plain pasta).  Apparently, we're having a Farfalle Famine here in Philadelphia, because try as I did, there was not a single box at Superfresh and I'm not paying $3-4 for special pasta made from Vietnamese rice harvested under a full moon by blessed virgins at Whole Foods.

I would kind of like to leave it there, but I'm just not that short-winded, no matter how epic a closing line that would have been.

Although the tri-colored rotini was very pretty, it really does not work with this dish.  The cabbage stays flat and gets limp through the cooking process, so it seems to actually need the flat farfalle noodles to work with it.  I was, however, quite pleased with the improved flavor of the cabbage/bean saute - I added a very healthy dozen shakes of Mediterranean Sea salt, as well as a few pinches of plain Jane salt and pepper.

Angst could not get enough slimy, savory cabbage... even if Mister was making fun of him for slurping it up off the floor.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

sunday, lazy sunday

I set my alarm for noon today.  I still hit snooze several times before convincing myself to get up.

I sat around in my bathrobe for hours, drinking cup after cup of amazing coffee.

That's right - Dark Chocolate Ecstasy.  You can't tell me that's not a killer name for a coffee.  It made the kitchen smell amazing, so Mister and I made and drank two pots.

I've been peeing almost all day, but it was totally worth it.

All day, or more likely between each new cup o' joe, I asked myself with a touch of anxiety, "Isn't there something I should be doing?"  Each time, the answer was the same - NO.  I did all the food shopping yesterday and we can wait a few more days for laundry, so no, there was nothing that needed doing.  It was great to just relax and enjoy my day off.

I'll admit, though, I'm still a little jittery from all that coffee - it's a bit more than I usually drink in a day and it was nearly as consistently administered (via hand to mouth) as it would have been if I had that sought-after IV drip of caffeine.  Mister just brewed a pot of decaf, but I am definitely done with coffee... until tomorrow.

Between being overly lazy and overly caffeinated, I definitely had the energy to cook dinner.  I made Mexican Rice and Bean Bake from Vegan on the Cheap, although I really ought to put "bake" in quotation marks (like I just did) because I haven't baked this since the first unnecessarily time-consuming time I made this.  I find it comes together much more quickly and with less gnashing of teeth when I cook the rice separately from the rest, adding it in once it's fully cooked.

While the rice was cooking, I minced a dark green poblano chili because I think it's wasteful to get those expensive little cans of flavorless and mushy diced chilies.  To soften the pieces up a little, I sauteed them with olive oil and garlic for at least 5 minutes, probably longer, before adding in everything else.

That smelled so good and only got better with the gradual addition of salsa, beans, sweet white corn, and then finally, the cooked rice.

I haven't made this in a long time and now I'm kicking myself because I did not remember it tasting as incredible as it did tonight.  I'm not in the habit of buying/using white corn, but it added a neat "surprise" to the dish.  It was crunch and sweet when you were not quite expecting something like that to be part of the dish, providing a nice contrast against the otherwise savory nature of this recipe.

Last night we had Pasta Florentine from The 30 Minute Vegan.

It was tasty and I always enjoy the nooch-heavy "cream" sauce, but aside from that, it was nothing special and I couldn't think of a single clever thing to say about it.  So you just get a half-decent picture.  Lucky you!

Friday, October 14, 2011

day dates and lazy nights

Since I'm such a sweetheart (except when I eat Mister's soup), I woke up on the first day of my serendipitous three day weekend this morning.  As usually happens on days I can sleep in a bit, I woke up an hour before I needed to in a complete panic that I was going to be late if I didn't get up right now.  Fortunately, I remembered quickly that I was off today and didn't have anywhere to be until I went to see the magnificent and persevering Philadelphia Orchestra play the first concert in their opening series.

Please forgive the blurry picture, but you can see the important bits.  The pouty young man in the lower right corner is Julian Rachlin, the violin soloist for today's (and tomorrow's and Sunday's) performance.  He is quite a performer!  He is actually only a few years older than Mister and I and I laughed a little to myself when he took the stage - I had no idea they could make nice expensive suits to imitate the growing (and somewhat disturbing) trend of skinny jeans on boys.  I discussed this with a colleague 12 years my junior - she sees no problem with boys wearing girlpants.  Call me old-fashioned, but men's and women's pants are designed differently because, frankly, men and women have different spacial needs in certain areas....

Anyway, back to the performance.  Julian was totally a rockstar - he was a pleasure to watch as he nearly danced along with the more lively parts of the music he played and had some of the most charmingly pretentious facial expressions and theatrical, dance-like movements while he was waiting for the orchestra to let him play again.

Ordinarily, when I see the orchestra (not that it's a common occurrence, though I'm trying to weasel my way into the Lang Lang concert next Saturday, what would have been Franz Lizst's 200th birthday), I prefer to sit in the balcony so I can see all of the instrumentalists, not just the ones closest to the stage front.  The seats Mister and I occupied today were the closest I have ever sat to the Orchestra and it was amazing to be able to see the faces of the performers.  In a time when the arts in Philadelphia are encumbered at best and more realistically, endangered, and in the first few days of a new contract negotiation for the players which results in "downsizing" their salaries and benefits (the Orchestra declared bankruptcy earlier in the year and is trying to keep one of the world's best orchestras afloat), it was heart-warming to see how genuinely they enjoy playing their instruments.

For any arts lovers out there, here is the concert I had the privilege of seeing this afternoon:
Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Opus 25 ("Classical)
Sibelius's Violin Concerto in D minor, Opus 47 which was magnificent
Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Opus 92 (which was featured in the movie Mr. Holland's Opus if anyone is familiar)

I loved every minute, but classical music is not really Mister's thing.  To reward him for accompanying me, we visited a new restaurant for a late lunch (resulting in no fun dinner stories, unless you want to hear about the PB&J I'm about to eat).  Zavino is a pizza and wine bar, part of the 13th Street Renaissance owed to a pair of visionary female entrepreneurs.  Despite the threatening sky, we elected to sit outside.  There was an awning to protect us when it did start to pour but we felt badly for the waitresses who brought our food (shielded by a tray over top).  We started with a tray of marinated olives and an apple and candied walnut salad, then each of us got our own pizza.  They had a Garden Pizza on the menu and when the waitress told me what was on it, there was no question what I would order: house-made marinara (spectacular) with large, thin slices of garlic, sauteed spinach and thin spirals of fennel.  It was amazing.  Even better, my evil plan worked - it started raining once we were seated and stopped when we paid the bill, allowing us to stroll home without getting wet.  Timing is everything folks.

Speaking of timing, this seems a good time to share the new menu!

1. Monk Bowl from The 30 Minute Vegan because it's been a really, really long time since I've cooked from this book and I missed a couple of the recipes.  Those follow:

2. Pasta Florentine, which, to be honest, was the whole reason I was looking through the book to begin with.

3. Put the Tex in Your Mex Chili.  I'll be honest (again).  I hate the name of this meal, as well as a lot of others in the book.  There is no need to be this cheesy - it's a vegan cookbook!  :)

4. Homey Vegetable Stew with Dumplings requires a little extra effort but is so worth it.

5. Farfalle with White Beans and Cabbage from Vegan on the Cheap.  It's a 7-meal menu and the week before payday, so I figured I should probably complete the menu with some favorites from this book.

6. Mexican Rice and Bean Bake

7. Better-Than-Takeout Tofu Stir-fry

Thursday, October 13, 2011

mean wife makes good

I am a mean, short-sighted woman.

When I got home from work late tonight, Mister told me he'd been feeling sick all day and didn't eat much besides crackers, which made him "all pukey."  I told him I was going to eat food and asked if he wanted to eat anything with me.  He said no.

Nevertheless, it was really my finest moment of No Common Sense when I grabbed the leftover Harira soup from the fridge, heated it up and ate it.  No more than 10 minutes afterward, Mister came into the kitchen and started snooping in the fridge.  In the exact location where the soup had been.

I lamented that if I had known he would get hungry, I wouldn't have eaten the soup but I didn't think he'd want the soup anyway (even though that's usually what he eats when his stomach is angry) and he feigned devastation that I would do such an inconsiderate thing.  Soon we were laughing all over each other, then we stood facing one another as I offered to make him a new soup.  He thought for a moment, then said he would like that, so I made

Emergency Lentil Soup
2 servings

2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
1 large rib of celery, halved and sliced
1 large carrot, diced
1 medium potato, diced (I used a neato purple one we found at Linvilla last week, but I'm sure a regular ol' tater will do just fine)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup dry lentils
2 cups vegetable broth
1 sprig of fresh thyme

Heat olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat, then add garlic and celery and saute 2-3 minutes.  Add carrot, stir to combine, cover and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add potato and salt, stir to combine and then cover and saute 2-3 minutes.  Add broth and lentils and bring to a boil.  Stir in tomato paste until completely combined with broth, then place the thyme sprig on top and cover.  Turn heat to the lowest setting and simmer, stirring occasionally, 20-25 minutes, until lentils and potatoes are tender.  I usually test this by trying to smush a potato piece between the spoon and the side of the pot.  Before serving, remove the now-droopy sprig of thyme.