Saturday, December 29, 2012

Martha, Martha, Martha!

Do you feel like Jan just developed a lithp?

Have you ever noticed the subtle (or maybe not so subtle) kind of rivalry that exists between neighboring states?  Our schools are better, their cities have more crime, and have you ever seen those people drive??  I suppose it could be some instinctual and subconscious home pride that causes us to look down on our neighbors.  It could be that we are so accustomed to the way we drive that someone who drives differently is seen as a bad driver.  It could be that in our deepest heart, we know there's nothing more special about the place we call home (especially if living there wasn't an active choice) and have to specifically focus on why we're so lucky to live here instead of there.

That said, there are two things I know:

  1. "Northern" magazines don't harp on living north of the Mason-Dixon line.  Don't get me wrong - I love my southern kin and indeed, the South itself, but something you cannot miss if you read Southern Living (and I do) is the insertion of that identifying adjective whenever remotely possible.
  2. People from New Jersey cannot drive.  There.  I said it.  Like a good little Philadelphian pedestrian.  Deny it all you want, point back to my opening paragraph, but none of that changes the fact that every time I nearly get hit by a car while crossing in a crosswalk with the right of way, it is a car with a front-facing NJ license plate that tries to be my undoing.
I wasn't actually exposed to the "rivalry" between Pennsylvania and New Jersey until I reached college and met a bunch of people who were inordinately proud of coming from New Jersey.  When people are that "yeah, I'm from Jersey, it's the best thing ever, what're you gonna do about it?" it's easy to see why the people who are on their home turf (I went to school in Pennsy) feel the need to defend how awesome our state is and how lucky they are we let them cross the bridge (after all, you need to pay $3 just to escape from that state.... but not a penny to enter it).

Imagine my surprise that one of my domestic goddesses, someone who guided almost every step of my wedding preparation, and someone I love to hate (because I really love) and taught me a great deal about color combinations as well as complementary flavors, hails from New Jersey.  Martha dear, say it ain't so!

Years ago, when I was still figuring out how to turn on my stove and hadn't quite perfected the art of dicing a zucchini, I came across a recipe destined to become a favorite.  The first time I made Martha's Mediterranean Pasta was also the first time it ever occurred to me to eat artichoke hearts a) on purpose and b) on pasta.  I remember being pleasantly shocked by the way the cherry tomatoes and basil brought out a sweetness I had never noticed before, while the briny kalamata olives were the contrasting color (literally and metaphorically).

So, thank you, Martha, for inspiring tonight's dinner.  I can forgive you for being born in New Jersey.  After all, you did not choose where to be born any more than Mister had a choice in where his family lived throughout his formative adolescence (and yes, I knew that before I married him and consoled myself by telling myself he'd lived in Pennsylvania longer than he'd lived in New Jersey, therefore, he was not from New Jersey).

Pasta with Artichokes and Zucchini
4 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
2-4 Tbsp vegetable broth
4-5 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp salt
black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp dried organic basil
12 oz penne rigati (or similar length and shape of pasta)
14 oz artichoke hearts, chopped
1 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced thinly
4 large Roma tomatoes, diced

Cook pasta according to package directions.  If you start heating the water to a boil while you are preparing the sauce, you should be adding the pasta right before you add the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium-low and saute the garlic for about a minute.  Add the chopped artichoke hearts and stir well to coat with oil and garlic.  Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally so the garlic doesn't burn.

Add the zucchini and tomatoes; stir to combine.  Sprinkle on salt, pepper, and basil, then add 2 Tbsp vegetable broth and stir well.  Turn up the heat slightly and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If necessary, add more broth.

Drain pasta and then add to the vegetable mixture and mix well.  Cook for about 1 minute, then turn off heat and continue to toss pasta with vegetables until everything is well-combined.


PS. Rienzi pasta was on sale and it is really worth it even when it's not - the difference in al dente between store brand and Rienzi (or Barilla, for that matter) is notable.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

pepperpot weather

The weather forecast said there was a chance for snow on Christmas Eve.  The weather map showed a contradicting and disheartening green over Philadelphia, indicating that we would have to make due with rain for Christmas.  I still spend every December hoping for a white Christmas, even though I can count the number we've had on one hand, so imagine my delight when I looked outside around 5pm on Christmas Eve and saw fluffy white flakes of real snow falling steadily from the sky!

It snowed but didn't stick, which was fine.  I was happy to see some snow on the actual ground when we made our journey an hour outside of the city to spend Christmas Day at my parents' house.

Today it was dark and gloomy and freezing cold with a bit of happy white snow in the morning that lasted about 10 minutes before turning into big globs of miserable cold rain.  In my little isolated world that unemployment creates, this was the perfect way to spend the day after Christmas, but I'm sure everyone who had to travel to work disagreed with me.  Mister and I drank plenty of warm coffee and stayed cozy while trying to be at least somewhat productive, but eventually, the chill invaded our home and my bones.

I hid in the bed for about 15 minutes before Mister found me... and decided to hide with me.  We enjoyed our warm little cave a little longer than we intended because warm + cozy = accidental nap.  Once we forced each other out of that dangerous nest, I decided dinner was probably a good idea.  I was totally fixated on making a pepperpot.

I wanted something rich and hearty, something that needed time to cook, because it was just a slow-cooking kind of day.  I have a recipe for a pepperpot stew, but I wanted something with texture, something that we could really sink our teeth into, something that felt warm and nourishing.  Coincidentally, it turns out pepperpot is a Christmas food, entirely because it does require a good amount of time to cook correctly.

Post-Christmas PepperPot
about 5 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
14 oz extra-firm tofu, cubed
1 tsp salt + a sprinkle
1 tsp smoked paprika + a sprinkle
black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp vegan worcestershire sauce
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
15 oz petite diced tomatoes, undrained
cooked rice to serve (I used Basmati)

First, drain the tofu and gently squeeze out as much water as you can with your hands.  Don't worry - you won't get it all, you just don't want it dripping all over your cutting board.  Once you've squeezed "enough" water from the tofu, cube it and lay it over 3-4 paper towels to drain a bit while you wash your veggies and peel your garlic.

Make no mistake, I very specifically had my mind set on making something with tofu tonight.  As a quick aside, for the past year that I've been enjoying my All-Clad cookware, one thing only has marred my delight; trying to cook tofu in stainless cookware is kind of like supergluing a little green army figurine to your bathtub and then trying to push him loose with your Daisy razor... not happening.  So I've been cooking my tofu in my old Cuisinart nonstick saute pan and transferring it to the other food once there's enough liquid in the pan to prevent an adhesive reaction.  Not the end of the world, but it's just another [unnecessary] pan to wash.  Enter my Christmas present: a nonstick 4-qt All-Clad saute pan.

Anyway, once all your veggies are ready to be chopped, heat the oil in whatever pan makes you happy (but it should hold at least 4 quarts) on medium-low heat.  It's ready when you plop a cube of tofu into the oil and it sizzles.  Add all the tofu and make sure it is in one layer, give the pan a little shake to make sure the oil is evenly distributed, then cover and cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, stir the tofu so the cooked side is showing (which means an uncooked side is now facing down in the pan), give it a minute, then sprinkle a little bit of salt and a little bit of paprika over the tofu and mix well, until evenly coated with seasoning.

Stir in the celery and garlic, cover and cook for another 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning.

Stir in carrots and both bell peppers, cover and cook for 3-5 minutes, then stir in the tomatoes, teaspoons of salt and paprika, as well as your preference of black pepper, and the worcestershire sauce. Stir very well to ensure the seasonings have coated everything in the pot.

Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low.  Set your kitchen timer (or whatever far more technologically advanced device you may have) for 25 minutes.  If you're using white Basmati or Jasmine rice, now is the perfect time to cook it.  This way your pepperpot and your rice will be ready simultaneously.

It was so good.  It was exactly what I wanted it to taste like.  Honestly, I could have happily just eaten the tofu and given Mister the veggies (though they were also very good) because the seasoned juices from the peppers and tomatoes perfectly braised the tofu to exactly the flavor and texture I was craving. This is a great wintertime meal and I hope you make it and enjoy it and remind yourself that you can always go back and have more later (no need to continue the holiday habit of stuffing oneself until bursting!).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

allium allergy??

I have shallot breath.

Strangely enough, I think I'm developing an allergy to alliums.  Well... the two alliums I allow in my home: garlic and shallots.  Not the kind of allergy where vital parts of my anatomy stop working or my noggin swells up and I can't see or breathe.  Nothing quite so severe.  Still, I think I have at least some small reaction that appears to be consistent with the use of those two things (and believe me, it is a rare night indeed that finds me preparing dinner without garlic!).

Although I love garlic and find shallots an acceptable substitute for onions (picture me wrinkling my nose while I say that), every time I cut one of either open, I find myself sneezing in the kitchen.  We'll push aside any ideas of how sanitary that may or may not be to focus on the tragedy.  What if I actually develop a full-blown allergy to garlic??  OMG!  Life (or at least dinner) as we know it would cease and poor Mister... oh, poor Mister.  He already has to deal with my fear and loathing of cayenne pepper severely dampening any opportunity to eat "hot" food at home and I've long since banned onions for their stench and nasty texture.  If I stopped cooking with garlic, I think he might leave me.

Heck.  I think I might leave me.

Nevertheless, I have shallot breath.  Considering myself victorious for only sneezing once through the chopping of 3 shallots tonight, I heated a generous portion of olive oil in my trusty All-Clad sauteuse.  Upon adding the shallots, I stirred and waited.... as they sizzled and melted and stunk up the whole apartment (granted, it doesn't take much), Mister followed his snuffling nose out of his work-room and into the kitchen.  I think the Stinktastic Shallots Sizzling part is his favorite part of dinner - possibly more favorite than even eating it.

I regret I have no pictures, especially because our Aloo Mattar from La Dolce Vegan looked as great as it tasted, but the final product was very pleasing and even though I have shallot breath, I have to admit they really do add to the flavor.

A few notes if any of you folks reading are fortunate enough to own La Dolce Vegan or have asked Santa to drop it down the chimney for you (there's still time!  he hasn't left yet!):

  • I doubled the recipe so we'd have some leftovers to eat for lunch, but I found that I needed to add a full cup of vegetable broth (vs 1/4c) to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of my pan.  This is usually the case for me and potato curry recipes.  I feel like it's likely that the authors intend the potatoes to sear on the bottom, rather than just get cooked to mushy perfection, but since I'm not working with nonstick cookware now, I'd rather have a brothier curry - besides, the starch in the potatoes squishes out (or something far more scientific) and causes the broth to become a thick sauce rather quickly.
  • When doubling the paprika, I decided to add a little some'in some'in so I did half regular paprika and half smoked paprika and I think that made a huge difference in the flavor.  I will definitely do that again.
  • I did not double the garam masala, but I was "generous" with the prescribed amount.  I should have doubled it.
I have to go take care of this shallot breath.
And blow my nose.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

imaginary chili

I never ate chili until I stopped eating animals.

To be honest, I'm not sure I've ever eaten chili I didn't make.  Fortunately, there is no shortage of vegan chili recipes - I'm pretty sure I have over 20 among my various cookbooks and I've made at least half of them.  Our reigning favorite continues to be a Sarah Kramer recipe, which isn't surprising considering her husband approaches recipe taste-testing with trepidation, telling her that he gets nervous because he thinks she got it right the first time and will never make a better recipe than her original.

Mister has no problem favoring one of her later chili recipes... or her Shepherd's Pie recipe.... or one of the few recipes where he will actually isolate the spice-coated tofu and eat it without other things to distract him.  Let's just say Sarah's a favorite around here.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of my newfound poverty and desire to use all the extra time I just got in place of a paycheck, I have created my first (and possibly last) chili recipe.  It was fine, but I just couldn't be confident about it with so many great recipes jeering from the cookbook shelf, waiting for me to fail.  Mister supported my effort, encouraging me when I said I was just going to put a bunch of stuff in a pot and see what happened, saying "That's how chili works!"

Mister liked it at least enough for 2 bowls, so my made-up-as-I-went-along chili couldn't have been bad!

Imaginary Chili
6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, pressed/minced
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 generous tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 small green bell peppers, diced
3-4 small carrots, sliced
1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 1/2 cups corn
15 oz beans (I used pinto, you could use black beans if you wanted)
1 and 1/2 Tofurky Italian Sausages, quartered lengthwise and sliced.  Or dice them, whatever.
28 oz diced tomatoes
12 oz crushed tomatoes

Heat the olive oil over medium-low, then add green peppers and garlic.  Stir well and allow to saute for about 10 minutes - lower the heat to low if necessary to prevent burning and stir occasionally.  While the peppers and garlic saute, slice your carrots and zucchini and measure out your corn.  If you have some leftover time, you could even rinse your beans!

After 10 minutes, add carrots and zucchini, stir well and cover.  Saute 5-7 minutes until you can see the zucchini beginning to "wilt."  Sprinkle on the chili powder, salt, and paprika, then stir well so that all of the vegetables are coated.  Add the diced and crushed tomatoes, beans, corn, and tofurky sausage.  Stir very well to ensure everything is mixed up, including distributing the spices, then cover.

Allow chili to simmer covered for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Sprinkle in the vinegar, stir again, then cover again, lower the heat to the lowest setting and allow to simmer another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with cornbread or tortilla chips.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

there was a little girl

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

That poem, composed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow while trying to quiet a daughter for sleep, is a perfect narrative for my relationship with Trader Joe's.  Well, the Trader Joe's in Philadelphia, anyway.

I love Trader Joe's for a few reasons.  First (and possibly most importantly), they have an amazing 10-grain bread that makes amazing toast (it gets all crispy and chewy in the best possible way) and even Mister likes it.  I bought the multigrain bread at Whole Foods for years before he told me he didn't like it.  Second, and also important, is that I usually save a ton of money buying produce there, rather than Whole Foods.  Let's compare: $0.69 for a red bell pepper (when they're in season) versus $4.99/lb (meaning the average pepper is over $2).  $0.39 for a potato versus the seeming bargain of $1.99/lb.  You get the idea.  Finally, they have the most palatably store-brand soymilk.

So what's horrid?  Ever trying to shop quickly.  Which can be important to me.  Also, ever trying to shop between 5 and 6 pm.  It doesn't matter if it's a weekday or a weekend - trying to shop at that hour is maddening.  The lines literally run halfway down every aisle and I'll be in line longer than it takes to shop.  Also, since their low prices do rely on seasonal produce, they don't always have stock of what I want, where I know Whole Foods almost always will (even if it's $8 asparagus).  This is not a bad thing, per se, but when it's already inconvenient to go there (on the other side of town completely), I want to get as much as I can to make it worth the effort.

One thing they're hit and miss on is arugula.  This week, it was a miss, so I ended up with fresh baby spinach, even though I have two bags of frozen spinach in my freezer.  Why the hunt for arugula?

Pasta Della California from Veganomicon had cried out to be made one last time before I do a snow dance and hunker down with a wintery menu of stews and chilis and other impossibly hearty things to be cooked slowly and to warm my innards from head to toe (or... at least my belly).

When Mister and I were shopping at Superfresh last week, I saw a surprising thing for December - a sale on Haas Avocados!  So I gently poked a few, trying to find a ripe one.... then took one that looked a good size and let it ripen on my counter the last few days.  It is so rare to find avocados for less than a dollar here in Philadelphia (not exactly prime avocado-growing climate), I couldn't resist the urge for a flavor and texture that always brings me happy memories.

Failing to find arugula, I opted for a slightly easier-to-eat green and honestly, I may always make it this way now - it was really good with the baby spinach and its silkier texture.  It seemed a better match for the nice squishy, creamy avocado.  The arugula provides a bitter foil for that creaminess and it works, but this was so good even Mister commented on the flavor.

So, with this last delightful dish (before I continue pressuring my friend to go to El Vez for their unbelievable guacamole and delicious margaritas via facebook chat), I bid farewell to the last gasp of warm days in December and look forward to some snowy weather....

Thursday, December 6, 2012

christmastime is here

(Christmas Time Is Here by Sarah McLachlan)

For the first time in three years, my dad and I got to go to Macy's for their holiday light show.  This was a tradition from my childhood that we revived when my dad started working in the city and I was laid off from my job in 2006.  The light show features the world's largest and oldest pipe organ (in continual use), is narrated by Julie Andrews (obviously not in person), and has been a Philadelphia holiday tradition since my father was a child in 1956.  Honestly, it's nothing spectacular compared to the visual stimulus offered these days, but the nostalgia can't be beat.

After breaking our necks to watch the show (we were on the ground floor - the show takes up a vertical stage from the 2nd through 4th floors), dad and I ambled through the City Hall quad to the west side of Broad Street to wander through the Christmas Village.  After seeing our share of Bratwurst and Schnitzel shops and glancing over the various wares of the jewelry and pretty scarf persuasion, we dodged several groups of oblivious school children to head into the underground "streets" of Philadelphia.

Neil Gaiman's first attempt at a literary novel (with actual words!) was the stunning Neverwhere, a dark mix of sci-fi and fantasy.  In the novel, we follow the hero through an alternate City he never knew existed until a random act of compassion pulled him underground and into another world.  I don't want to spoil anything by summing it up, but if you like to look at things from a different point of view, I can't recommend this book (or ANY of his others) enough.

Our jaunt through Philadelphia's belly was not nearly as interesting as the hero of the novel, but we weren't looking for adventure, we were trying to walk without having to constantly interrupt our conversation to dodge an unruly crowd of Charter school kids.  Nevertheless, there was something creepy-cool about walking relatively silently beneath a city that was presently teeming with life and activity.  As we walked and talked, Dad shared about an event at his church tomorrow - an event where less-advantaged neighbors are provided with gifts to give their families and a basket of food to make a nice holiday dinner.  As long as they're in the nice cozy warm church, they'll also be treated to a somewhat lavish dinner.  Dad chuckled a bit, telling me one of the dinner options is Shepherd's Pie, which is not standard fare in those parts of town - I didn't even know what it was until I found Sarah Kramer's recipe in How It All Vegan and discovered it to be one of Mister's favorite things!

So of course, that got me somewhat fixated on making this hearty, warm Favorite Dinner tonight.  I can't even remember the last time I made it, since it's fairly time-consuming and not really a warm-weather food.  Well, the temperature dropped about 30 degrees over the last couple of days, so I figured tonight was as good a time as any.  I have made this enough times to have a mental inventory of its ingredients, so after Dad and I said farewell, I headed home by way of SuperFresh, where I picked up some mashing potatoes and a few other essentials.

After we put up our little Charlie Brown Tree and some scant decorations throughout the apartment, I'd worked up enough of a hunger to think it was time to make dinner.  Oh no!  I remembered that I'd given my copy of HIAV to a friend at work because her son was having some dietary issues and she wanted to try a vegan diet for him (there is an entire section in HIAV devoted to child vegans).  I have no doubt I'll get it back when I see her again, but I didn't have it tonight.  What to do??

The interwebs never let me down....  so with the help of this vegan-celiac website, I made Mister one of his favorites and we all munched happily ever after.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

winter garden

After a short trip to Georgia (the US state, not the country - you have no idea how many people think, nay swear, that I am of Eastern European descent.  If I am, it's news to me!) where I wandered about with my jacket open carelessly to the spring-like weather, I am back in Philadelphia and it is growing cold.  We had our few nice days, too, as I apparently brought some of the warm back with me (or, you know, the jet stream or some other meteorological explanation), and there may be a few nice days left, but don't deceive yourself - it's December.

Would it be easier to put up my Christmas tree and start decorating for the few weeks we have left this holiday season if it was cold and snowy?  Yes, of course.  I'm still holding out hope for a white Christmas and Mister and I have mint cocoa and some peppermint oreo-type cookies leapt off the shelf and landed safely in my basket at Whole Foods today.  Nevertheless, there was time for one more "spring cling" in our made-up menu.

Although a part of me aches for my neatly planned menu and my well-organized grocery lists, I am actually enjoying this different way of shopping; haphazardly selecting things to cover our basic nutritional needs and then hoping everything can play nice in the sauteuse.  I had grown quite weary of my cookbooks and needed to get myself out of a MadeThisAMillionTimes rut.  It's nice to have "safe" recipes you can come back to, where you can locate the right page in the cookbook by the proximity of splatters and spills, where you can nearly make the recipe from memory but just need a few crib notes and stolen glances at the book.  This little bird was ready to stumble out of that safe nest and the lifestyle/financial change was the nudge I needed.

Green Garden Paella
4-6 servings as a main course

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
3 stalks of celery, sliced thinly
1 large(ish) green bell pepper, 1-2" long thin slices
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup basmati (or jasmine) rice
3 cups vegetable broth (or 3 cups water + 1 Rapunzel bouillon cube)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried and lightly crushed tarragon
4 oz smoked tofu, cubed (small)
10 kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise into quarters or sixths (depending on the size of the olives)

Heat the oil in a large saute pan (4-qt) over medium-low heat.  Add celery and garlic and stir well to combine and coat with oil.

Cover the pan and reduce heat to low.  Cook, stirring frequently to prevent burning, for about 10 minutes.  You can be slicing the pepper during this time.  Once the celery is tender, stir in the green pepper.

Replace lid and cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring once or twice.  Dice the zucchini.  When you're ready to add the zucchini, remove the lid from the pan and push the pepper and celery out to the sides of the pan, creating an empty space in the middle.  Within a moment, this space should be invaded by the oil and accumulated cooking liquid.  Once this occurs, add the zucchini in this space and sprinkle with the salt.  Do not stir.

Cover and turn heat up slightly.  You should hear evidence of slightly higher heat in the sizzling sound your food is making.  Allow the zucchini to steam-saute for about 1-2 minutes, then lift the lid, sprinkle on the thyme and tarragon and stir everything together.  Shake the rice over the vegetables, then pour in the broth and stir.  Raise heat to medium to encourage boiling and the minute it comes to a full boil, reduce heat to the lowest setting and cover.

Cook the paella, covered and without stirring, for 15-17 minutes.  You can check your facebook, read emails, peruse your new issue of Southern Living (it's the Christmas copy!), whatever.  What you should be doing, though, is dicing the tofu and slicing the olives.  Once they're all set, you can resume wasting your time however you please.  When the 15-17 minutes have passed, take the lid off your paella and put it somewhere out of the way - you won't be needing it anymore (until it's time to do the dishes).

Add your tofu and olives, then stir everything together.  There should still be a noticeable amount of broth to be absorbed.

Leave the pot uncovered and the heat on the lowest setting and let your paella simmer for 10-15 more minutes, stirring from time to time.  When nearly all of the broth has been absorbed, spoon into bowls and serve.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

fun with homemade seitan

So, in my continuing quest to be frugal and use what I have resourcefully, I made seitan on Sunday and since I had everything I needed for this recipe, it didn't cost me a penny, much less the 459 of them I would have spent at Whole Foods.

Okay, that's kind of a lie.  Not the price - that's true - but the motivation for making seitan.

Going back a week.... Now that we're hosting Thanksgiving, my precious Mister gets to have his long-awaited Tofurky Roast.  We started that "tradition" last year and continued it this year.  The night before Thanksgiving, however, we celebrate with his father and that whole side of the family.  Throughout some conversations, I heard Mister answer someone inquiring about the taste of Tofurky this way: "Well, it's better than the worst turkey you've ever had, but not as good as good turkey."

Silly me, I took this, added it to the fact that Mister only had one slice the following night at our Thanksgiving, and came to the seemingly rational conclusion that Mister didn't like Tofurky so much as he felt like Thanksgiving required it and he just kind of muddled through it for that reason.  So, the day after Thanksgiving, as I was giving thanks for not having to work on Black Friday (see? unemployment is fun!), I decided to eat the leftover Tofurky, gravy, and potatoes.  Do you see where this is going?

So, later that night, Mister went rummaging through the fridge for way longer than usual.  Finally, I asked him what he was looking for.  He said "The leftover Tofurky," and I felt that little twinge of guilt and then said "Oh.  I ate it."  Crestfallen, poor Mister looked for something else to eat, even though he'd apparently "been looking forward to it alllllll day."

Bad wife.  Someday I'll learn.

Anyway, Mister has mentioned in the past that the homemade seitan [loaf] I make is seasoned in such a way that it tastes like lamb, the other thing my sweet Greek misses about eating animals.  To make up for being selfish and thick-headed, I spent Sunday making seitan, which I then sliced and served as filet with Broccoli Chickpea Casserole from Vegan with a Vengeance.

Last night, I wanted to use up what was left of the seitan, so I created a delightful little mediterranean ragout, based roughly on a new recipe in Vegetarian Times by Nava Atlas.

I should say the resulting dinner was "loosely inspired" by the recipe in this month's VT.  In the end I think the only similarity was the 2 Tbsp olive oil and 3 shallots (which were not small).

I don't really have a name for it... I guess you could call it

Broccoli and Seitan Stew (as in, the kind of stew you serve over rice or mashed potatoes)
4-6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
3 large shallots, sliced
1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 cups broccoli florets
15 oz petite diced tomatoes, undrained
about 2 cups cubed seitan

Heat the oil in a large saute pan (4-qts) over medium-low heat.  When oil begins to shimmer, add shallots and garlic and stir well to coat.  Reduce heat to low; Cover and stir occasionally for about 7-10 minutes.  About halfway through, you may find the garlic is sticking and/or browning more than you'd like.  If so, add a splash of broth to deglaze the pan and add some liquid.  By the time you add the broccoli, the shallots should be browning slightly and very soft.

Add broccoli, sprinkle salt and pepper over the broccoli, then pour in half of the remaining broth and cover.  Turn up heat slightly and allow the broccoli to steam for about 5 minutes undisturbed, then lift the lid and stir to combine broccoli and shallots.  Stir in tomatoes, then add the cubed seitan and the remaining broth.  Stir well and cook for about 10 more minutes, uncovered, until everything is tender and smells amazing.

Serve over an aromatic rice (I used Jasmine) or mashed potatoes if you're lucky (and your spouse didn't eat them all...).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

been a long time comin'

Hello Friends!  It's been a while, eh?

By way of a very short explanation for my sporadic posts, a few of which had absolutely nothing to do with food, and my months-long absence from any kind of posts, I will just say that life has changed a good bit this year, and sometime in the late winter, early spring, I decided that I didn't have anything interesting to say about food anymore.  I was repeating recipes and/or not cooking due to an awkward schedule and I just couldn't think of anything worth saying about stuff I'd made dozens of times before.

Sorry about that, but let's get back to it, shall we?

A couple of weeks ago, I lost my job.  It's cool, don't worry - I feel much better, actually.  It was incredibly more stressful than it needed to be and although I felt good about the things I was able to accomplish in my relatively short time there, my professional development was being strangled.  So, aside from that "money thing," I've decided to consider my newly acquired LotsaTime a blessing.

Back to that whole "money thing" for a minute, though.

If you look back over older posts in this blog, you'll see a few times when our financial situation changed and we had to readjust our budget/financial paradigm.  I'm a naturally frugal person anyway and gain great satisfaction from seeing the little "You saved $___.__ today!" that prints out at the bottom of my SuperFresh receipt after I painstakingly examined the 3 different brands of Navy Beans to find the one that would save a bit of money.  Maybe not the best example, but when I can pay $3.59 for 28 oz of organic fire-roasted diced tomatoes or $0.88 for 28 oz of "regular" diced tomatoes, I find that a bit of a victory.

So what has inspired me to start writing again?  Well, in a sense, I found a new thesis statement (do you remember having to learn those in elementary school English class??): How to Still Eat Well (taste-wise, as well as nutritionally) with Diminishing Funds.

When I lost my job, I had already put together a menu for the following week, since it included Thanksgiving, which I had the privilege of hosting again this year (click here for last year).  It made my insides shrivel up when it came time to run our purchases down the conveyor belt of each store and watch the cashier tally up our debt, knowing it would be higher than usual and at possibly the worst time.  Nevertheless, we had a delightful Thanksgiving and it took us many days (nearly a week, actually) to clear enough leftovers from the fridge for me to start cooking things that created more leftovers.

When it came time to shop for this week's food, I did something I haven't done in years.  Literally.  As in, since before I started this blog and began charting out weekly menus (which I continued all through my absence, even though I didn't share them with anyone but Mister).  I went to the grocery stores and just bought staples and a few fresh veggies I knew would play well together.  Then what?  Then I took all the knowledge I've been storing away over the last three years of Cookbook Studying and just made it up!  I know, right?

One night, I made a thick, hearty minestrone using some canned tomatoes, fresh zucchini and carrots, and orzo lovingly donated to us by my dear FIL (which is a whole other story for another time, but let's just say Mister comes from good stock).

Oh?  You want a recipe?  Well... it's the least I can do after leaving you high and dry for so many months.

Hearty Winter Minestrone (I know it's not winter yet, but it should be!)
yields about 4 quarts (I'll let your bowls decide how many servings that is)

1 Tbsp olive oil
6-7 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed (depending on clove size and personal preference)
4 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
2 large carrots, sliced into pieces of uniform size
2 small zucchini, diced*
1/2 tsp McCormick Mediterranean Sea Salt Blend
1 quart vegetable broth (or measure 4 cups water and add 2 bouillon cubes when it starts to boil)
28 oz crushed tomatoes
15 oz petite diced tomatoes
15 oz can of white beans (cannellini would be good, but I used Great Northern)
scant tsp sea salt
1/4-1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried basil
1 cup dried orzo
* The easiest way I've found to do this is to "top and tail" the zucchini, then slice each one 4x lengthwise, then cut those slices 3x lengthwise and then just cut across in half-inch slices.

This is definitely the kind of meal where you can be chopping ingredients as you go along, so you should, because it'll shave off a little time.  Don't get me wrong - this is absolutely a delightfully slow-cooked soup, but there's no need to be standing around watching the pot for 5 minutes until it's time to add the next thing, right?

Heat the oil in a 4- to 6-qt pot on medium-low.  When the oil starts to shimmer a little, add the celery and garlic.  Stir well to combine and thoroughly coat with the oil, then cover and reduce the heat to low.  While they're cooking, cut up your carrots.  When they're all cut up, add them to the pot.  If you have super-fast, ninja-like knife skills, feel free to dice the zucchini and add that at the same time you add the carrot - the idea is to give the celery about 5-7 minutes of quality time in the sauna, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing burns.  Whenever you add the zucchini, sprinkle the Mediterranean Sea Salt blend over the whole mess, stir, and cover again.  Let that melange mix and mingle for another 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the diced tomatoes, then sprinkle with sea salt, pepper, and basil, then pour in the quart of broth and stir everything together.  Turn the heat up as high as it will go and wait for your soup to boil.  It'll probably do this faster if you cover the pot again, but don't wander off and check your facebook - you want to be ready the very moment the broth starts to boil, so hang out in the kitchen and glance between the latest issue of Vogue and the pot on your stove.

When the soup has reached a healthy boil, slowly pour in the cup of uncooked orzo while stirring the pot. Continue stirring while the broth boils for another minute or two, then lower the heat to medium/medium-low.  The soup should be at a vibrant simmer, but not boiling.  Be sure to stir frequently now that you've add the orzo - the first time or two that you stir, you'll likely find yourself pushing stubborn bits of pasta off the bottom of your pot, but once you've gotten to the 8 or 9-minute mark, you can relax the stirring and just let your soup simmer another 10 minutes or so.

Taste for seasoning; if necessary, add more salt and/or pepper, and serve immediately.

Friday, June 1, 2012

boys like girl-treats, too!

It would be something of an understatement to say my cupcakes were a success.  I'm not a big braggart (ordinarily), but I have irrefutable evidence that my cupcakes were a hit - 3 previously cupcake-filled containers came home with me empty.  Then there were the nearly vulgar sounds some colleagues made while eating them.  Personally, I'm a fan of the eyes-widening, mouthful-of-cupcake-smiling reactions, of which I got many.  I've kept you in suspense long enough - wanna see 'em?

of course you do
Let's travel back in our magical phone booths to... 24 hours ago (Mister's been watching Dr Who)...

Although I honestly bought the wine specifically to make the icing, I knew I was only going to use a couple of ounces and it would be such a shame to waste that whole big bottle...  Nothing says "I'm ready to bake!" like a glass of wine balancing on top of two small cookbooks.... nothing, maybe, but a brand new apron (seriously, I don't think I can have too many - I'm becoming an apron addict).

I wish I could have gotten more of the apron in the picture, but my arm isn't long enough to do a full body self portrait, but that cute little pattern just repeats along the body and down to the cute little gathered hem bits.  Okay, so clearly I have to take a picture of the whole apron by itself because that last part made No sense.

This, right here, is probably my favorite part of the whole recipe (except the Eating It part).  This is the part of the recipe that made me fall in love with the oddly-named Funeral Cake.  This part of the recipe actually smells better than the part where the cupcakes are baking.  I know - you don't believe me - but go ahead and melt Earth Balance in a saucepan with oil, water, and cocoa and tell me you couldn't die happy.

Go ahead.  I'll wait.

Anyway, once I was done salivating from the scent of the cocoa boiling on the stove and had cleaned up enough to feel comfortable touching it, I poured the chocolatey mixture over my dry ingredients (which includes so darn much sugar I actually ran out and had to sub in some brown sugar to make up the difference - way to plan ahead and check your ingredients, Natalie - apparently flour wasn't the only thing keeping me from baking) and mixed it all together until it resembled oily fudge.  I filled the cupcake liners to the top and just look at them pretending to be pure chocolate candy cups!

Once they'd finished baking (about 25 minutes was perfect), I managed to let them cool to Nearly Room Temperature (the closest I'm likely to get any time soon) before trying to ice them.

I put about a cup of confectioners sugar in a bowl, then carefully sprinkled in 2 Tbsp red wine.  I stirred it up good with my little whisk, until the sugar had all melted into the wine and the icing had a puce kind of hue going on.  Never a big fan of pink-purple, I added another teaspoon red wine for color, but then the icing was way too thin.  In the future I will likely do the same amounts but either
a) use 1.5 cups sugar OR
b) put everything (cupcakes and icing) in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Despite the huge mess I made, I ended up dipping the top of each cupcake into the icing, swirling it around a little and then setting it down on the tray they live on in the refrigerator.  I put them all in the fridge overnight and it definitely helped the glaze set but not before it dripped all down the sides, making quite a mess when people pulled off the wrappers today.

The woman who inspired me to make these was extremely grateful and astonished I could combine two great things like chocolate and red wine, but she took her cupcake home to eat for dessert tonight, so I have to wait until tomorrow for her reaction, but everyone else gave me instant gratification.  The gents loved the cupcakes and used many descriptive words to tell me how much.  Another colleague has now specifically requested the Strawberry Creme cupcakes that were part of yesterday's brainstorm.  Fortunately, the incredible reactions I got on this batch are definitely provocative enough to get me back in the kitchen in time to bring those cupcakes in next week...

Thursday, May 31, 2012

nothing ventured, nothing gained

So, I've been thinking of baking on and off for a couple of months.  Obviously, the best time to do so is during the first May heat wave in years.  Let's back-track, though.

A few times recently the Baking Bug bit me, only for me to open my cupboard and discover (repeatedly, since I don't learn the first time) that I have less than one cup of flour.  Not too many things you can make with that little flour.  A few times recently, Mister's been up to his old tricks, wandering into the kitchen, wanting "something," only to be thwarted by the fact that neither of us has replenished the flour, so again - no baking.

This past weekend I was around cakes almost every waking hour.  I watched batter being made in large quantities and enough frosting (they call it "icing" in the South) to fill a plastic storage bin other people would use for their winter clothing or to corral cleaning supplies.  I was surrounded by the heavenly scent of cakes baking - chocolate, almond pound, vanilla - and watched as they were prepped for icing and then decorated efficiently and skillfully.  I was even lucky enough to have some batter slung at me while I was eating my breakfast, as a sister-in-law reacted in time to save a full cakepan from overturning but too quickly to put down the spatula first.

Needless to say, after a weekend like that, all I wanted to do last night, my first night home, was bake cupcakes and even decorate them.  It's rare that I bother with icing my cupcakes, as I explained over the weekend, because you have to be patient enough to let them cool and I just want to eat them while they're still warm.  Nevertheless, when I started daydreaming about what I would make and how I would decorate, I was rudely awoken to the continued Lack Of Flour in my cupboard.


Over the weekend, we moved the retail and service portion of our flagship store (which is currently our corporate headquarters) into a new location, just two doors down.  Despite the move being so close we didn't even need movers' assistance, and despite a bunch of hardworking individuals pulling a 14-hour day while I was sitting in Georgia sniffing cake batter, things are still a little crazy as everyone gets settled.  A little (okay, a decent bit) of that chaos is leaking back into the "old" building, where me and other administrative folks are still in residence.  By the end of today, one of my colleagues was clearly in need of some TLC and good, old-fashioned, female-tilted relaxation.  

I hatched a plan on my walk home: moist dark chocolate cupcakes, topped with something decadent.  Maybe I would get a decorator tip and food coloring and make a red rose topping (a wee bit ambitious for someone who has never actually decorated a cupcake outside of smearing an improvised "cream cheese" icing on top and carefully placing chocolate chips to look randomly sprinkled on).  No.... I try to stay away from artificial ingredients, so why would I use food dye?  Ah!  Strawberries!  Yes, I would puree fresh strawberries and then make a pink "buttercream" to frost the tops of these decadent chocolate cupcakes.  Hmmm.... suddenly, the light flavor of a strawberry creme topping seemed better suited to vanilla cupcakes, which I had no interest in making.  Then I remembered a comical conversation about Tequila-tinged cupcakes and rethought the strawberry theme - I'll stop at the liquor store, pick up some Pinnacle Whipped and macerate some berries in it, then plop them on top of a chocolate frosting!  But then there's the issue of transportation... thinkthinkthink... I've got it! 


As I sit here, telling ridiculous stories and dragging this post out as long as possible to make up for all the words I haven't been sharing, I am breathing in the thick, delicious aroma of newly baked chocolate cupcakes.  I used Dynise's recipe for Funeral Cake in her new book Celebrate Vegan.  I actually tested this recipe for the book, so I knew its intense flavor was exactly what my colleague (and I!) need to make it to Friday.  It is taking every ounce of my imaginary self-control to stay away from the cooling cuppers (though I think the large amount of batter I scraped from the sides of my mixing bowl and ate while they baked helped...)

I know, I can feel your sarcasm seeping through the computer as you think "Wow, Natalie, you made chocolate cupcakes?  Good freakin' job."  No, no, friends - it gets far better.

When I stopped to get flour on my way home (and strawberries, just in case I changed my mind), I also picked up a bottle of sweet red wine.  Again, nothing much new here, so let's skip right to the Big Innovative Moment this has all been leading up to:

If I actually let the cupcakes cool without eating them, I'm going to whip up a glaze using that wine.  The cupcakes alone are enough to give you a foodgasm, (have I mentioned you need to get the book??) but if the icing comes out even half as well in real life as it does in my brain, the complementary flavors will kick these sweets up a notch and a half.  Current plan is to do a cup of confectioners' sugar with 2 Tbsp of the wine, then more or less paint the glaze on or possible dip the nicely domed tops of the cupcakes to allow a little Hershey Kiss-shaped action on top.

No pictures tonight, sweetpeas, nor confirmed recipes - I promise I will return tomorrow with pictures, recipes, and reactions, but for now it's time to get to sleep so I can get up early and ice my cupcakes!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

the greatest of these is love

Pardon me.  Have you seen the movie "Crash"?  Very much the way it starts by flashing around to seemingly unrelated stories, I am going to start with two apparently independent vignettes.  Just like the movie, it will all come together in the end.


A little while back, Christians worldwide celebrated their holiest holiday, the one that gives irrevocable substance to their beliefs - Easter and the holy days preceding it.  Long story short, the man bold enough to call himself the son of God breaks bread with his friends and then tells them that the next time he will eat with them will be "on the flip side."  After a night of ardent prayer in a garden in Jerusalem, one of his "friends" leads those who would arrest him to Jesus, beginning the end, so to speak.  The next 24 hours will find this supposed Messiah tried, beaten, and hung on a cross, crucified until dead.  The miracle, though, upon which Christians base their faith and find their salvation, is that after resting in a tomb from a Friday afternoon until a Sunday morning, Jesus rose, bringing veracity to all his claims and reconciling a broken relationship between humanity and a pure deity.

I have no idea who named all the holy days, but as Easter approached this year, my cousin's wife inquired if anyone knew what the word Maundy meant (as in Maundy Thursday, the night that Christians remember The Last Supper and take part in a sacrament begun on that night 2000ish years ago).  I'll admit, I referred to the expertise of the internet to help me answer her, but upon finding this article, I remembered things I learned in seminary.  "Maundy" is taken from "Mandate."  Let me explain further:

After humbling himself and washing his friends' feet in a symbolic act of what he was about to accomplish on a far larger and bloodier scale, and after instituting the sacrament of Communion by offering his friends his body/bread and blood/wine and asking them to remember him when they dined together, Jesus gave them one last mandate.  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (Gospel of John, 13:34-35 ESV)


Do you know who Beth Hart is?

I've mentioned her before, but lately she's been taking up a lot of space in my brain and in my heart.  I believe I have come to decide that she is truly the greatest performer of my time for what she does.  There are two reasons for this:
  1. She seems to have perfect pitch - she never misses a note!
  2. She is so completely honest and raw... she pours every part of her heart into her music.  I saw an interview with her when she said that she wrote when she was sad and toured when she was not, more or less.
Having lost myself in hours of YouTube videos over the last several weeks, I've seen her live performances from all over the world, in all kinds of venues from stadiums to dive bars, and multiple versions of her more popular songs.  She is a consummate performer - she enjoys every moment of what she does (even in a bittersweet, maudlin kind of way) and recognizes at every opportunity how lucky she is that she gets to sing her heart for a living.  She is so real.

She is a storyteller and I love that.  Through her songs and the tales she uses to introduce them, I learn more about her and her life and her inspirations.  She has written the most sincere love song I've ever heard and the most painful plea for love, too.

Beth did not have the fame she deserved in the USA, so she does most of her touring overseas, throughout Europe.  She very clearly feeds off of the energy of her crowd, so she interacts with them frequently throughout the concert.  She loves it when her crowd sings along, they obviously love when she talks to them, and there is always this intense intimacy between her and those in attendance at her shows.  I hope to be so lucky one day.  

As I've been vicariously participating (via YouTube), I noticed a trend in her closing song.  It is not normally the same song, though they are almost always incredibly personal and sometimes heart-wrenchingly painful songs.  One can almost imagine Beth's fans leaving the concert in a contemplative way not unlike the worshippers at a Maundy Thursday service.    

After concluding her Wroclaw (Poland) concert with the song that made her [at least somewhat] famous, she sincerely thanks her fans for being "so nice to me."

Maybe I was in a particularly melancholy mood while watching this one night, but I thought to myself, "what kind of pain makes a person thank total strangers for being nice to her?"  It was enough to push tears into my eyes, thinking of all I knew she had been through from reading up on her and watching interviews with her.  Divorced parents, possible abuse, a heroin user by age 15, when she was 22ish her old sister, who she holds in high regard, died from AIDS, which she caught from a dirty needle.  It took Beth years to care enough about herself to clean up (and the love of a good man).  Her self-esteem is still just awful and my heart aches for her.

In her adult years, she reconciled the broken relationship she had with her father, who left when she was still young.  When she wrote one of her more recent albums, 37 Days, she asked him what his favorite song was.  He told her he didn't know why, but it was this one:

She told him she knew why - Because he is an addict, just like her.  Clean or not, it is a continuing struggle, laid bare in this song.  "God knows I can't change me; I've tried and tried... it's been a long time at the bottom.  Spent a lot of time way down there.  It's been a long time at the bottom - I don't know how I made it here."


So how do the two parts of this post "crash"?  Really, it's quite simple.

You don't know what another person is going through or has lived through.  You don't know their joys or the pain they carry unspoken.

Be kind.  Love one another.

Friday, April 20, 2012

this is your brain on bacon

Bacon.  It's kind of like The New Superfood except that it'll kill you, not make you stronger.  In addition to its high fat and cholesterol content, there is a carcinogen in bacon that is activated through the cooking process.

Nevertheless, Bacon.  People love it.  All kinds of people - big people, little people, fat people, thin people, couch potatoes, athletes....and vegetarians?  Yup, sometimes vegetarians love it, too.  It's been referred to as the "gateway meat," the one temptation that proves too much even for a committed vegetarian to resist.  I've heard stories of friend's friends who are steadfast vegetarians... until they get really drunk and then they want to eat bacon.  I guess it's not made of pig when you're drunk.

But listen, I'm not here to criticize.

If you ask most vegans/vegetarians what one thing they miss, taking animals and the environment and everything else out of the equation, it's normally bacon.

Once upon a time, in a land kind of far away (not really), I had a weekend tradition.  My friends and I would go out to a club/bar on Friday night and drink and dance until it closed, then we would return to the home of the friend who lived almost right behind the bar/club, eat nachos and then either disperse or fall asleep.  The following morning, we would curl up on the couch and drink coffee and watch ridiculous things on the TV until we were hungry enough to send her boyfriend to the nearby Burger King for food (yes, I thought that's what it was way back then).  I always got a #5 value meal with Dr. Pepper.  The #5 was a Double Bacon Cheeseburger with fries and I loooooved it.

Time passed and the "weekend treat" turned into my Go-To "to go" meal.  I would even get the "gourmet" version at a local Philly pub.  I truly don't know how I lived long enough to become a vegetarian, but I'm glad I did (and so are my heart, arteries, and waistline).

Believe it or not, this is all building up to my lunch today.  Please keep breathing - I didn't eat a double bacon cheeseburger...

I had a Ziggy Burger from HipCityVeg!  Please excuse the rotten picture - the place was packed, so I took my biodegradable, recycled-and-recyclable bag of lunch across the street to Rittenhouse Square and I care way too much about whether strangers will think I'm weird for photographing a burger, so I just took a crappy picture with my ancient dumbphone.

Anyway, I actually had planned to get the Philly Steak, but when I asked about getting it without the mushrooms and onions, I was told that they were "cooked into" the seitan, so that ended that little dream.  The bubbly, cute girl behind the iPad "register" suggested the Ziggy Burger.  She had me at "smoked tempeh," so I decided to give it a try.

Once I'd seated myself on a bench in the park, I pulled my burger out and was immediately amused by the wrapping:

It looks even neater up close.

The first bite of my burger was an almost otherworldly experience - I never thought I would taste a bacon cheeseburger again, but that is exactly what the Ziggy Burger tastes like.  It was so good.  I don't even want to describe it, I just want you to go to HipCityVeg and try one yourself.  Or anything else from this amazing menu...

photo credit

I want to try everything that doesn't involve Portobello mushrooms.  This is a goal that will likely be spread out over several paychecks, since the fast food set-up does not over-ride Rittenhouse Square pricing.  What's worse is how I only vaguely cringe at this point when my burger came out to $9.10 (including tax).  Actually, no, what's THE worst is that $9.10 only covered the burger.  If I had gotten fries (or kale!) and a drink, I'd have paid $15-20.  For lunch.

That being said, it was a great burger (though I kind of suspect the patty itself might have been a Boca vegan burger...) and when I entered the joint I was offered a free shot of their "Groothie," a green smoothie made of apples, bananas, kale, and pineapple and it was amazing.  I would totally pay $3.50 for it... on occasion.  I was fortunate to get there at a "lull" in the excitement.  Yeah, every seat was taken and some people were lined up along a wall waiting for their food, but I walked right in and up to the register to order - no waiting.  I must have (for once) had perfect timing, because by the time I moved to the wall to await my white satchel of burger with HipCityVeg stamped oh-so-indie-ly upon it in black ink, there was a queue of people straight out the door!

If you miss bacon, do yourself a favor and go to HipCityVeg.
If you love bacon and still eat it even though it will kill you, do your body a favor and go to HipCityVeg.
If you just love to eat good food (tasty and nutritious!), go to HipCityVeg!

Maybe I'll see you there after I get my next paycheck ;)  I'll be the one with sweet potato fries, sauteed kale, and a groothie begging the lady with the iPad to take my money.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

black magic, brown rice

I know, I know - how many posts can I really devote to brown rice?

At least one more.

I am just so pleased with myself at the moment.  Tonight I made the Seitanic Jambalaya from Veganomicon in just under an hour!  The book gives it an hour and a half, and previous attempts
have seen me begging the rice to be plump and done after two and a half hours of simmering uselessly on the stovetop.  Tonight, though, I nearly made this into an express meal!

Well, okay, let's not get out of control here.  Besides, it's not like I did anything terribly innovative - I just used the same trick I've employed for other brown-rice-stovetop-simmering recipes - I cooked the rice separately and then added it to the pot.  Ah, yes.  The pot.

Another contributor to my success may have been the use of my beautiful 4-quart saute pan.  Everything fit!

Speaking of perfect fits (and awkward segues...), I am so excited about a new development exactly halfway between the two center city locations of my company.

HipCityVeg is the new venture by Nicole Marquis, who was formerly the General Manager at my dear, departed, and sorely missed Horizons.  I knew I was in love when I read a review that featured a casual mission statement from the proprietress: "I wanted to put Horizons on a sandwich."  Um... you had me at Hello!

Great reviews abound and apparently there have been lines out the door since the place opened on Monday.  I am hoping to stop by there for lunch tomorrow since I will be traveling from one store to the other and, like I said, it's mid-way.  My mouth absolutely watered checking out the menu...

I'm putting my camera in my purse now and with a little luck (and probably a lot of patience), I'll finally have some food photos for you tomorrow (and of course, as detailed a review as I can muster!)  Until then, chickpeas, take care!

Friday, April 13, 2012

music in my kitchen

Do you ever have those moments, normally in the midst of some utterly mundane activity, when all of a sudden you are completely at peace?

I may be sending women back a few decades when I share this, but for me, those moments most commonly occur for me when I'm in my kitchen.  Tonight's Introspective Mundane Activity involved peeling the safety seal off of a new bottle of Hunt's ketchup.  There was really no good reason, which is what made it such a delightfully calming moment - opening a new bottle of ketchup has absolutely no symbolic significance (unless you really want to dig, Dr. Freud) and I would hardly consider it a life-changing experience.  Yet, as I was prying up the edges of the seal and pulling it carefully back from the bottle, I just had this moment where all was right in my world and I could honestly say that I am happy with where my life has brought me.

I generally try to stay away from existential dilemmas and my life-long angst around them (Sword of Damocles and all that) on the blog because I like to keep things generally light-hearted (so that when I occasionally go on a babbling streak about something I care about passionately, there's a better chance people will listen). To tell the truth, though, I have not been very happy with my life over the last year.  I think that is one of the reasons this is only my sixth post in 2012.

Other reasons include my wacktastic work schedule lately.  It's about to either settle down or get a lot crazier, but I'm excited about some changes taking place and looking forward to the new adventures I'll have as I learn my new position and work my way up this new "corporate ladder."  Nevertheless, in the past few months, I've needed to work later than I'd prefer some nights, resulting in a dinner schedule that is erratic at best.  Since I've stuck primarily to familiar recipes, dining out a little more frequently, and more dinners involving prepared foods, I haven't felt inclined to share, especially in the face of the writer's block that apparently also struck me mid-January.

Fortunately, it appears my recent obsession with current events and political hot topics, leading to last night's post (which went a bit further from the point I was trying to make than I'd prefer), has broken my inadvertent silence.  I might even start taking pictures of food again!

Let's not go overboard, folks.  Tonight's dinner was veggie burgers and fries.  But first, a word from our sponsor: Fantasies for a Future Kitchen....

{cue shimmery deedly-deedly music and wiggling fingers}

I have this vision in my mind.  Actually, it's kind of like a collage of many visions which all combine to create My Perfect Kitchen.  It's spacious, of course, but efficiently designed so that all the things I need are near me.  It's big enough for a small breakfast table, probably, and a baker's rack.  Not only is there enough space for all my stuff, but there is space left over for more!  So now I can fit in a stand mixer and... my Bose SoundDock, so I can charge my ancient iPod while listening to its eclectic mix of music out loud while I cook, rather than through my earbuds with the iPod unceremoniously tucked into my apron pocket.  Maybe I can even sing along without Mister thinking I've lost my marbles.

{shimmery music fades, returning us to my small but happy and efficient urban kitchen}

There was music in my kitchen tonight, though, despite my iPod being plugged into my computer to charge while I labored over frozen fries and frozen Boca patties (we're all about the brand placement tonight, folks!).  Actually, while we're on the subject, I would like to put in a little plug for Ore-Ida.  Ordinarily, I buy the store-brand fries (as well as just about anything else), but there was a sale on Ore-Ida, so I picked up a package of "Extra Crispy" fries.  They really are!  Seriously - crispiest, tastiest fries I've ever cooked in my own kitchen.

But wait - there's more!  They sing!

Yes, really.  They sing.  Or whistle, or scream bloody murder.  Whatever.  At one point, they kind of sounded like bagpipes and for some reason, I found that so amusing I thought I actually might like to listen to bagpipes (ssshhhh! don't tell the "Irish" bar across the street!).  Seriously, I noticed a kind of sizzling noise when I stirred them halfway through cooking, but when I pulled them out of the oven, they were making a whole heck of a lot of noise.  It wasn't unpleasant, though, it really sounded like they were singing for me.

I truly never thought I could write a fun post about veggie burgers and fries for dinner, but I also never knew fries would sing for me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

kids today...

When I was a kid, there was a guy on TV that could probably be called a comedian.  His name was Rodney Dangerfield and in a trademark act, he would make his eyes all big and bulgy and indignantly utter, "I don't get no respect!"  That became a commonly reiterated phrase around our dinner table when my dear father didn't feel his daughters or wife were giving him the respect he deserved for whatever pearl of wisdom he had shared.

By the way, I know I haven't posted in nearly three months, but this post will have nothing to do with spinach.  Or Angst.  In fact, this will most likely relate to food minimally and second-hand, if at all.

Moving on...

I'm gonna do it.  I'm going to say the phrase that probably every generation before mine has said, full of righteous indignation:  Kids today have no respect.

That's kind of broad, don't you think?  I remember the first time I caught myself making a "Kids today" comment and felt like my parents and their parents before them.  I'm sure my grandparents were appalled at the misbehavior and lack of respect their children (my parents) showed them.  I know my parents were mortified when my sister and I grew our own personalities and our awareness of the world extended to the knowledge that adults were not necessarily entitled to respect purely because they had lived longer than us.  It should not (and does not) then surprise me that I think "kids today" have no respect for the world around them.

Okay.  It does, actually.

I saw in my generation a "turning around," if you will.  It seems each generation has certain paradigm shifts and cultural revolutions to which they can lay claim, but it really felt like my generation was beginning a paradigm of giving back to the world and caring for those around us.  Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe I was just blessed to be surrounded by the kind of people who would do that in any generation and age.  See this post for more on that.

I'm gonna say something now that will probably make me unpopular.  I don't like hipsters.  Like the adherents of most "counter culture" cliques, hipsters think they're really deep and thoughtful and love to take a steadfast stand on every issue that sounds remotely controversial... while normally skipping out on any kind of meaningful engagement with that issue.  I realize this is not true of every person who identifies themselves with that vapid group of people, but can we all at least agree that it's ironic that a group full of such smart people consistently misuses the word "ironic?"

I had the unfortunate opportunity to remind myself today why I try to limit my interactions with "kids today."  A friend posted an article on Facebook about how the government is now conspiring to take away women's hard-earned rights by allowing doctors to calculate the approximate date of conception using the date of her last period.

Apparently this is something new.

Ha ha -  just kidding.  That's how it's always been done.  Unfortunately, a bunch of folks who wanted to make their stand for women's rights very clear took this article as justification for their beliefs that the only issue at stake when discussing feminism and gender equality is abortion.  Clearly, if a woman is deprived of the right to mindlessly evacuate a "clump of cells" that has inconsiderately attached itself to her uterine wall, obviously through no actions the woman did or did not take to prevent that from happening, soon women won't be allowed to vote or drive a car or go to work or be viewed as human beings.  Clearly, it all hinges on the "right" to make the tiny heart of the parasite inside her body stop beating.

It probably doesn't take too much imagination to figure out where I stand on abortion "rights."

Nevertheless, there are two points I want to make.  I actually started to ponder the first point back in December when I was struggling to figure out why my colleagues were trying to rain on my happy parade with their oft-spoken hatred for the Christmas music played in all the stores throughout holiday shopping season.  "Kids today" are living in a post-Christian world.  "Kids today" were probably not brought up in the Church, or if they were, may have abandoned it once they were out on their own and no one forced them to go.  "Kids today" do not, as a general rule, follow a set of ethics that value the sanctity of life and even resent "mindless religion" for forcing people to consider that group of cells which has formed itself into the shape of a human and has a heart beat after only 22 days and a gender at the 8th week a living being.  Well, Kids, sorry to rain on your parade, but I cannot see how you can deny that the thing that has taken up unwelcomed residence in some woman's privately-owned uterus is a life, or that that life has value purely for being alive.

But that's just me.

Several comments made by friends of my friend stated, sometimes in very ugly language, that it is better to kill the child before it is born so that it:
- does not interfere any further with the life of the DNA donors
- does not die of some degenerative disease outside the womb
- does not bounce around the child welfare system (which shows nothing more than complete ignorance of how the process of adoption - and even foster care - works)
- does not contribute to the overpopulation of a world that cannot sustain additional life

I have to admit, that last one is my favorite.  So that leads to my second point:

Effective immediately, I am against any research into cures for cancer, AIDS, or any other terminal disease.  


The more time, effort, and funding we put into finding the cure for cancer (et cetera), the longer people will live when they would otherwise die of some dreadful disease.  I'm just trying to prevent overpopulation.  The world can't sustain all these people, so something must be done.  Just let them die - they've already lived long enough.

It's really no different.  Think about it for a minute.

There's really so much more that can be said about that, but that's a whole other post for another time.

There is a man named Bryan Kemper.  He used to run an organization called Rock For Life, which was a pro-life organization.  He left because he felt it was too focused on the abortion issue.  In a great speech my husband was fortunate enough to witness, Bryan explained that abortion is only one issue for someone who is truly pro-life.  To truly call yourself "pro-life," you must advocate for the end of all needless suffering and unnecessary death - that means no abortion, no death penalty, no war, no nothing that takes away life.

People like to focus on abortion because it is a polarizing issue and one about which almost everyone has a definite and vehement opinion.  The news media and gossip sites alike prefer to focus on how the government is trying to "turn back time" on women's rights by putting restrictions on when in a pregnancy a woman can get an abortion or if there are certain hoops she must jump through first (like the controversial proposed sonograph legislation).  Women's rights are far wider than whether or not we have the privilege to kill an inconveniently planted "clump of cells."  There continues to be inequality in the work place, there are still misogynistic beliefs about a woman's place and purpose that slip through lips too easily and with far too much chuckling acceptance.  I am not denying that we still need to fight to completely reverse the paradigm of our grandparents, and some of our parents, regarding "a woman's place," and what not.

All I'm saying is think first before letting a left-spun (and poorly researched and written) article get you all riled up about that one hot topic.  If you care to, I'll also ask you to spare some time to think about how you feel about life - when it begins, when it should end.  Then ask yourself why you think that - when and where did you learn it? Who or what taught you?

If you, having taken time to think, wish to leave a respectful and engaging comment, I invite the dialog.  If you are unable to be respectful, I will not hesitate to delete your comment.