April 30, 2010

Crazy ranting | Cheribundi™! | Lentil-spinach soup | Test recipe

I’ve never felt particularly comfortable suggesting to others what they should eat. I’m strong in my opinions about what I eat, and what I believe constitutes a healthy and cruelty-free diet, but so is everyone else. If someone asks for my opinion or guidance, I’m there, but I don’t like trying to convert others to my way of thinking. Everyone has a different opinion about what foods make for a “healthy” diet. Some think a healthy diet consists of raw foods, and some think all food should be cooked. Some think a diet should contains lots of meat and dairy, and some abstain from all animal products. Some think fat and sugar in “moderation” is fine and others try to eliminate as much fat and sugar as possible. Some eat only white flour, some only whole wheat flour, and some eat no flour at all. I know people who think their SAD diet filled with Twinkies and burgers is healthy, and others who think brown rice and veggies is all that’s necessary for good health. Some believe no animals should be eaten, and some think animals exist for our gustatory pleasure. One big thing all these different eaters have in common is, based on what they are used to eating, they all have an opinion on what tastes good. Our taste buds are trained by what we eat. If you eat a lot of salt, less salty food tastes bland. Eat lots of sugar, and unsweetened foods taste boring. Eat lots of butter ... you get the picture.

I recently read a review that suggested vegan baked goods are all pretty much inferior to baked goods made with dairy. Maybe for someone used to traditional baked-goods, that’s true. (And, in fact, I often adjust my cooking if I am preparing food for people used to a meat-and-dairy-based diet.) But the point I want to make is, when you change your diet, your preferences tend to change, too. The thing is, I don’t really care if my chocolate chip cookie tastes like it’s made with a pound of butter. I don’t want it to taste that way because it won’t taste good to me; it will taste greasy. If food is too salty or sweet, I find it unpleasant to eat. My tastes have changed as a result of changing my diet, and I’m not trying to replicate animal tastes or flavors from the past; I’m not trying to make my bean burger taste like a cow. High-fat, high-salt food doesn’t really give me comfort, and I sometimes find myself less appreciative than others of restaurants or cookbooks that specialize in vegan comfort food. I love great-tasting food, but my idea of what tastes good doesn’t depend on replicating the flavors of a meat-and-dairy-based diet. When I first became a vegetarian, these kinds of foods were considered transitional — foods to bridge the gap between an animal-based and plant-based diet, or foods to serve omni friends. Lately, it’s starting to feel like these foods are a kind of new vegan diet — one that is the same as an omnivorous diet, only cruelty-free. The race is on to create new vegan cheeses and meat analogs that more closely replicate animal foods, often with long and scary ingredient lists.

The more people who find their way from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet, the better, and if this is the root of the current emphasis on comfort foods, then I’m all in favor. I just hope we’re not losing sight of the connection between diet and health, the pleasure of eating simple foods, and learning to taste and appreciate the real flavors of the foods we eat.

Speaking of simple foods, my husband had oral surgery this week, and needed to eat soft foods for a few days. I made a simple lentil and rice soup that was both easy and delicious. (This soup would be even better if the cumin seeds were whole and toasted, but my husband couldn't have seeds.) If you use brown rice, it will need to cook about 15 minutes longer. The soup has no added fat.

Soft and simple lentil and rice soup with spinach
  • 1 cup dried red lentils, washed and drained
  • 1 cup short grain white rice, washed and drained
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (low sodium)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 2 cups (approx.) frozen spinach
  • juice of 1 lemon
Place everything but the lemon juice, salt and spinach in a 5 quart soup pot. Bring to a boil then turn down heat to simmer. Simmer covered for 25-30 minutes until rice is tender and lentils are cooked. Add spinach, salt and lemon juice, and heat gently until spinach is defrosted and cooked. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Add more broth if soup is too thick.


When the makers of Cheribundi™ cherry juice asked if I'd be interested in sampling their juice, of course I said yes. I love tart cherries, and each eight-ounce bottle of Tru Cherry™ contains 50 cherries — two servings of fruit. The Cheribundi™ Web site says: "Our proprietary juicing process, which was developed with Cornell University, bottles all of the good nutrients of tart cherries rather than boil them away. The phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals in cheribundi™ will keep you feeling great and living life to the fullest." The cherry juice is not from concentrate.

The juice comes in three flavors, one of which contains whey. I received the two without whey, Tru Cherry™ which is lightly sweetened with apple juice concentrate, and Skinny Cherry™ which is sweetened with stevia, and is lower in calories. I sampled the Tru Cherry™ for breakfast this morning, and it tastes just like cherries! It really does. It's perfectly, deliciously tart. I can't wait to try the second flavor.

Full disclosure: This product was sent to me as a free sample with no requirement that I blog about it or make positive statements about it. All statements in this post are my honest opinion.


Recipe testing

I tested a recipe for Clem Chowdah for the amazingly creative and productive team of Celene Steen and Joni Marie Newman. Yum!

April 26, 2010

Wrapped and ready | Family dinner | Getting testy

Cinnamon rolls wrapped and ready to go to the sale.
This past weekend I participated in another world-wide vegan bakesale — held at Sidecar vegan store in Seattle. The bakesale raised funds for Pig's Peace Sanctuary, a non-profit organization that provides a safe home for unwanted, abused or neglected animals in need. I'm merely a contributor to the sales but the hard work of organizing and running them is done by Bethany, who writes the blog, Spotted Devil Cat and his Vegan Assistant. For this sale I made nearly three dozen vegan cinnamon rolls. Making them wasn't nearly as hard as packaging them, since each item needs to be individually wrapped. I tried to make the packaging attractive by adding a ribbon and ingredient list but it takes so much time, and also I feel guilty about the packaging. I used the last of my roll of cellophane, and then moved on to plastic sandwich bags, ugh.

To make the rolls I used the recipe for Outrageously Easy Big Bread with a few small changes. The ingredients and recipe are all over the Web so I think it's OK to list the ingredients here. The filling was my recipe, but it's so simple it doesn't feel right to claim it.

Baked and smiling sweetly (but not too sweetly.)
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt plus 1 teaspoon Indian black salt (or just use sea salt)
  • 4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup canola oil or corn oil
  • 1 cup evaporated cane juice
  • 1 cup finely ground almonds (or almond flour)
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
Follow the directions in this recipe link for mixing the dough.
  1. Let the dough rise for 2 hours, covered with a damp towel, then punch down. Divide the dough in half.
  2. Roll one half to an approximately 11 x 17 rectangle. (I rolled mine on a floured piece of parchment paper.)
  3. Mix the filling ingredients together and spread half the filling on the dough, leaving 1/2 inch uncovered at each long end.
  4. Roll up into a long log, pinching the last edge to seal.
  5. Cut into 3/4 inch slices with a serrated knife, and place on parchment paper in a large baking pan to rise, covered with damp towel. (Leave at least 1 inch between rolls.)
  6. Repeat with second half of dough.
  7. When doubled in size, bake for 20-25 minutes in a 350˚F oven.
  8. Remove to a wire rack to cool. (Frost or glaze if desired. I like them plain.)
update: The sale raised $1,240 on Sat, $530 on Sun, for a total of $1,170!!!


Dinner for eight

We had a family dinner Sunday night with one of the families contributing a delicious tomato- pesto pasta, my husband making a green salad, and me making roasted cauliflower and white bean salad, kalonji and sunflower seed bread, and rice pudding. The salad came from Herbivoracious, a Seattle-based vegetarian blog that has many interesting vegan recipes. I enjoyed the salad very much, and found it easy to make. (I doubled the recipe.) I didn't have the orange-scented olive oil in the recipe but used TJ's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar which was recommended as a substitute, and it worked well. And I used basil and olives.

tip: Instead of mincing the garlic, I grated it on my microplane zester. I don't like chomping down on pieces of garlic, and the zester puréed the garlic so it mixed easily into the dressing. I was careful not to get my fingers too close to the grating surface but was still able to grate all but the very end of the garlic cloves.

The bread was based on the same recipe as the cinnamon rolls (above) but with a slightly different ingredient list. This bread requires no kneading and is incredibly easy to make. Tastes great, too! It makes two loaves.
  • 1 tablespoon dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 3 tablespoons evaporated cane juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt plus 1 teaspoon Indian black salt (or just use sea salt)
  • 4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons lightly toasted kalonji
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
The kalonji seeds added an exotic flavor to the fragrant, soft bread, and the sunflower seeds contributed to the rich texture and taste. (see above for a link to directions.)


Testing 1, 2, 3 ...

Our dessert was (a lowered sugar and fat version of) Frangipane Rice Pudding, a tester recipe for Celene Steen and Joni Marie Newman's newest cookbook-in-progress. It's been ages since I've had rice pudding, and this easy version was a treat. Of course there was also an assortment of baked goods from the world-wide vegan bakesale but I forgot to take a picture.

April 22, 2010

Am I poisoned? | Cute vegan shoes

I mentioned recently that I'd picked up a Borner V-Slicer mandoline at Goodwill for $2.99 to add to my growing collection of thrifted kitchenware, and used it to cut carrots for sushi. I actually enjoy cutting vegetables by hand, so I cut the rest of the sushi veggies with my santoku, putting the V- Slicer away for another day. That day arrived sooner than I thought it would, with a terrible urge to cut potatoes into shoestrings and fry them in a pan.

We always seem to buy potatoes and forget about them, so when I went for the bag, the poor taters were covered with big sprouting eyes. So are these things poisonous or not, and are the potatoes safe to eat if you cut off the sprouts? What about green spots? After much research, I found advice ranging from, "not poisonous at all" to "discard potatoes that are turning green or sprouting." Even Rachel Ray weighed in on the subject with a video assuring everyone that poisonous potato eyes and green spots are an urban legend. After reading everything I could find, I've come to the conclusion that neither sprouting potato eyes or green-tinged potatoes are good to eat. The green color, while not in itself toxic, is an indicator that the potato has increased its production of solanine and should be discarded. Special care should be taken if children will be eating the potatoes as they are more susceptible to toxins.

Wikipedia said this: "Potatoes contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids, of which the most prevalent are solanine and chaconine. Solanine is also found in other plants in the family solanaceae, which includes such plants as the deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and tobacco (Nicotiana) as well as the potato, eggplant and tomato. This poison affects the nervous system causing weakness and confusion. These compounds, which protect the plant from its predators, are generally concentrated in its leaves, stems, sprouts, and fruits. Exposure to light, physical damage, and age increase glycoalkaloid content within the tuber; the highest concentrations occur just underneath the skin. Cooking at high temperatures (over 170 °C or 340 °F) partly destroys these."

"Glycoalkaloids may cause headaches, diarrhea, cramps and in severe cases coma and death; however, poisoning from potatoes occurs very rarely. Light exposure causes greening from chlorophyll synthesis, thus giving a visual clue as to areas of the tuber that may have become more toxic; however, this does not provide a definitive guide, as greening and glycoalkaloid accumulation can occur independently of each other. The U.S. National Toxicology Program suggests that the average American consumes at most 12.5 mg/day of solanine from potatoes (the toxic dose is actually several times this, depending on body weight). Dr. Douglas L. Holt, the State Extension Specialist for Food Safety at the University of Missouri, notes that no reported cases of potato-source solanine poisoning have occurred in the U.S. in the last 50 years, and most cases involved eating green potatoes or drinking potato-leaf tea."

I also found this: "Many plants contain small amounts of naturally occurring toxic chemicals. For example, two commonly eaten foods, the potato and the tomato, come from the nightshade family. The nightshade family is known to contain toxic compounds called alkaloids. The alkaloid in the potato is solanine. In the United States, healthy potatoes contain 1 to 5 milligrams of solanine per small potato. Under current FDA regulations, 20 milligrams of solanine per 100 grams (a small potato) can render it unfit to eat. Solanine is produced as the potato gets old or is exposed to light. So consumers should avoid potatoes that are old, sunburned (green under the skin) or spongy. Under these conditions, the solanine levels can increase sevenfold or more. Do not eat the potato eyes because they contain a high concentration of solanine. Toxic amounts of solanine can seriously affect the nervous system and have caused death." Source: Angela Fraser, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Food Safety Specialist, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University.

And I found similar advice on Snopes, my favorite myth-buster site, to discard potatoes with green eyes, sprouts or greenish skin.

But on Chow.com, an article by Roxanne Webber states what I always believed, that if you cut off the offending onion sprout or green part, you can eat the rest of the potato. "Potato sprouts are considered toxic due to their potentially high concentration of glycoalkaloids," says Dr. Nora Olsen, an associate extension professor and potato specialist at the University of Idaho.

“Potato alkaloids exert their toxic effects on the nervous system by interfering with the body’s ability to regulate acetylcholine, a chemical responsible for conducting nerve impulses,”
notes UC Davis vegetable specialist Marita Cantwell in the Perishables Handling Newsletter, Issue No. 87. She explains that the main types of glycoalkaloids found in potato sprouts are a-solanine and a-chaconine. “[S]ymptoms of solanine toxicity include headache, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea,” she writes. Cooking is not believed to reduce levels of the compounds, but you can cut the sprouts off and still safely eat the potato."

It matters whether the potatoes were stored in the light. “Sprouts exposed to light can have two to four times more glycoalkaloids than nonexposed sprouts,” Olsen explains.

"A potato exposed to light, sprouted or unsprouted, may itself have an increased concentration of glycoalkaloids. If this is the case, the toxic area will turn green. Strangely, that green is not the poison itself but chlorophyll, which is harmless. The green color is, however, a good indicator that that part of the potato may contain higher levels of the poisonous compounds. As with the sprouts, Olsen explains, you can cut the green part off and eat the rest of the potato."

I cooked my elderly potatoes before reading any of the articles, and now I'm wondering if that was such a good idea. But, there doesn't seem to be absolute agreement on whether it's safe to eat potatoes after removing sprouts and green areas. My potatoes had sprouts, but not green skin or flesh, and they had been stored away from light. I carefully removed all traces of the sprouts, and put the potatoes through the small julienne attachment of the slicer. I also shredded half a large onion with the mandoline. If I were still at our house in Wisconsin and had access to my big old cast iron pan, I probably would have used that to fry the potatoes, but I ended up cooking my potatoes in the wok, which has become my all-purpose pan.

The wok was heated, and a couple of tablespoons of canola oil were added and swirled around to coat the cooking surface. Kalonji (black onion seeds) were sprinkled on the wok and the potato-onion mix was arranged in a thin layer on the bottom and sides of the wok. The potatoes were sprinkled with ground cumin and turmeric and left to cook. When the bottom was brown, the potatoes were flipped over for the second side to cook. When the potatoes were tender but crisp, they were finished with fresh ground pepper and a mild hickory-smoked salt.

I recommend making this with fresh, firm, sprout-free, not-green potatoes! I'm composting the rest of my bag because they're old and soft as well as sprouted, and after reading all this information, I've decided to be more cautious with my spuds. Do you use potatoes that have sprouted? Turned green?


Dividend time

Now that we're in Seattle, headquarters of REI, squandering our REI dividend is more fun than ever. It's true I have to check my ego at the door when entering REI alongside the young, hip and fabulously fit crowd, but hey, I've been a member since memberships cost $5. I'm entitled. My husband wanted a new jacket so we spent a LOT of time in the men's department picking one out. It was a lot less expensive than we thought it would be, plus we had a 20% off coupon for each of us, so we had a bunch of dividend dollars left. We headed to the shoe department to look around because I'm always interested in seeking out vegan shoes. I immediately found two pairs of really cute vegan shoes to try. I have to mention that every woman in the shoe department — and there were a lot — was trying on hiking boots, except me. I was trying on CUTE SHOES. Even the sales clerk said, "Hmmm. These are awfully CUTE SHOES for REI." I looked her straight in the eye, and told her all my other shoes were hiking boots, and I needed something different.

This is not far from the truth, but I had to ignore the serious-hiking-boot-action around me to get the CUTE shoes on my feet. I liked them both, and unable to make a choice, I bought both pairs thinking I'd try them at home, and then decide. What should I do??? They are both comfortable. (And yes, I already do have hiking boots.)

There is some confusion about whether or not the Jambu "Pilot" shoes are vegan so I called Jambu to see what's what. The woman I spoke to said three of the four Pilot colors are vegan; black, raspberry and pistachio are vegan but the brown color is leather. This is because the designer couldn't find an acceptable brown vegan material. The box doesn't say "vegan" but the shoes definitely are, according to Jambu customer service. Various Web sites are listing the shoes as nubuck but Jambu told me this isn't the case. That's all I know.

April 18, 2010

Making sushi | Carmelita's pizza | listed again

The sushi rolls I made in class.
I recently dreamed I went out for ice cream with my youngest son to a place I heard had vegan options. At first we couldn't figure out where to get in line to place our order, but once we did, I saw there were four vegan flavor choices. The only one that sounded good was peach. I ordered it, and it was a grey-brown color, and came between two slices of dark brown bread — an ice cream sandwich of the weirdest kind. I ate the ice cream off one slice and immediately felt sick. Luckily I woke up before I could eat any more.

My very first inside-out rolls.

That dream sucked, but how about this one? I'm in a pleasant room with my husband and a number of other people, and a former zen monk hands me a bowl of perfectly cooked and seasoned rice and a plate of exquisitely cut veggies with which to make sushi. This is a much better dream, isn't it? Only this isn't a dream; this is a real cooking class at our local food co-op. It feels like a dream, though. How many times have you wished for a sous chef to perfectly prepare ingredients for your masterpieces? The teacher demonstrated cutting techniques, and talked a little (maybe too little) about cooking rice, but he did all the prep work, which is both good and bad. We didn't get to practice cutting or learn how to make perfect rice, though we did get to make both regular rolls and inside-out rolls. I've made lots of sushi rolls before but learned how to make them better. And this was my first go at inside-out rolls. You can see the results above.

The next day at home, I set about making sushi without the teacher's help, and realized nearly all my rice-cooking experience was with brown rice, and I'd chosen to use white rice for my sushi experiments. The teacher used a rice cooker but I used my pressure cooker. I remembered back to the Shojin Japanese cooking class we'd taken previously, where we learned to wash the rice with several changes of cold water until the water ran clear, and I did that. Then I cooked it and left the rice in the pot with the lid on for 30 minutes after turning off the heat like the sushi teacher recommended. Once the rice is cooked and rested it goes into a wide, shallow bowl (a wooden bowl is best because it absorbs excess moisture), and the side of a rice paddle or spoon is used to gingerly mix the rice with seasoned rice vinegar. (Seasoned rice vinegar contains salt and sugar and I don't use it. Instead, I cooked the rice with a pinch of salt, and used brown rice syrup along with unseasoned rice vinegar to season the rice.) It's the vinegar that is supposed to make the rice sticky, not the mixing, so care should be taken not to damage the rice kernels and release starch. You want to mix and fan the rice to bring it to room temperature.

Following the teacher's cutting techniques as best I could, I prepared vegetables for the sushi. I used cucumber with the core removed, avocado, carrots, baked tofu and green onions. In our class we also had asparagus but we planned to have wok-grilled asparagus for dinner so I didn't include any in the rolls. On the plate there is also wasabi and umeboshi paste. (Just thought I'd mention I cut my carrots with the new Borner V slicer I found at Goodwill for $2.99. I don't know if I should stay away from that store or go more often.)

To assemble the sushi, lay a sheet of nori on a covered bamboo mat with the shiny side of the nori down, and the lines on the nori going in the same direction as the bamboo slats. The major thing I learned in class that changed my sushi-making was to place much less rice on the nori than I used to. The layer of rice should be very thin, with bits of nori showing through. The sushi tastes much better when the fillings don't compete with a thick layer of rice. Above you can see the rice spread to the sides of the nori sheet with a 1/2" edge of nori left at the top and bottom. I still put a little too much rice on this sheet because I can't seem to help myself from overdoing the rice, but really, it tastes better with less rice. There is also a stripe of umeboshi and a stripe of wasabi. The fillings should be confined to about 1/4 of the sheet. (If you compare my class sushi with the home version, you can see how the amount of rice used affects the ratio of rice to filling.) Keep a small bowl of water handy to dampen your fingers so the rice won't stick to you, but be careful not to use too much water or to wet the nori sheet.

To keep the bamboo rolling mat clean you can encase it in a plastic bag or cover it with wax paper, if desired. I used the covered mat and my fingers to help encase the fillings in the first rollover, and to press it firmly in place. If the rice comes out the ends of the nori, you've pressed too hard! I've moved the bamboo mat away so you can see the first roll. Use the mat to roll another section, being careful not to catch the paper into the roll. Roll and firm until the nori is completely rolled up. Use a very small amount of water on the open edge of the nori to seal the roll.

There should be chop sticks instead of a fork.

When the sushi is completely rolled up, support both sides of the roll with one hand and slice it into halves with a sharp, damp knife, using a sawing motion. In class we used a Japanese chef knife but I think a serrated knife works well, too. Cut each half in half, and repeat until you have eight pieces. Our zen teacher told us if we mess up any of the sushi, we should eat it and keep going, saving the best ones for serving. As you can see there are only seven pieces of sushi in the photo above because I took his advice!


Out to dinner at Carmelita - not your ordinary pizza

We had a gift certificate to Carmelita that needed to be used, and since no one felt like cooking Friday night, we went out. I've had really good as well as not so great meals at this restaurant so I wasn't sure what to expect, but the meal was pretty terrific, and I was sorry not to have my camera with me. I won't go into the details of my asparagus appetizer or my husband's nettle soup and sweet potato gnocchi; I just want to talk about my pizza. It was topped with a puree of roasted sunchokes and truffles, with hen of the woods mushrooms, toasted pecans, roasted garlic, watercress salad and sunchoke chips. (The photo is of the half I brought home because I was stuffed.) The crust was almost like a crispy cracker and so delicious, and the toppings were amazing. I can't even begin to describe the gorgeous flavors, but on the downside it was way too oily, and my stomach was not as happy as my greedy taste buds. The next day I consumed two of the leftover pieces and felt like I'd eaten six. So yes, it was delicious, but will I order it again? Probably not.


Another list?
It seems my humble blog made it onto another "best" list. Yikes. Here's an excerpt from an email I received:
I just published an article on my site, 50 Best Vegan Lifestyle Blogs. I am happy to let you know that your site has been included in the article.
Best, Theresa Jackson
Theresa has assembled an interesting and useful list covering categories from becoming vegan, vegan cooking and international vegan cooking to gardening and vegan podcasts. Check out her list for blogs you may not be familiar with. New and aspiring vegans may find it especially helpful. I'm going to add some of the blogs to my reading list.

April 14, 2010

Vegfest 2010 — greetin' and eatin'

This past weekend we attended our first Vegfest — a giant vegetarian sampling party put on by the Vegetarians of Washington. When I say attended I also mean worked, as we volunteered for a four-hour shift handing out food samples. For more than four hours I cut into pieces, practically non-stop, various kinds of Clif Bars, and placed them into cups for eager (I mean EAGER) attendees to try. I have to say practically non-stop because it's also true that not 10 feet behind me was the scooping station for SO Delicious coconut milk ice cream, where frantic and sticky volunteers scooped ice cream into cups as fast as they could to meet the demand of hungry attendees. It was impossible to forget what was going on behind my back, and every so often I was compelled to zip on over, politely snatch a delicious ice cream-filled cup, and dash back to my station. I felt guilty, but not THAT guilty. In any case, four hours of cutting Luna bars makes one consider all the levels of meaning in the word, "luna."

Getting ready — before the event opened and the crowds arrived.
I shared the table with my husband, who was pouring Tejana tea, and Crystal Geyser Juice Squeeze, into cups at breakneck speed. People were VERY thirsty, which may have had something to do with the Punjab Snacks — a spicy-salty very delicious Indian snack mix made by Punjab Sweets in Kent — being scooped into cups by Bethany at the table next to me.

This is Bethany, before she was dragged to the SO table to scoop ice cream, and she was still clean and serene. Note the enigmatic smile.

Punjab Sweets is a vegetarian Indian restaurant that also has an online business selling sweet or spicy party mixes in bags, like the ones Bethany and the restaurant's owner, were sampling. This is a restaurant I'm very interested in visiting.

Mighty-O Donut samples just begging to be eaten.

In the spirit of full disclosure, in addition to the So Delicious, I may have had more than my share of Mighty-O Donut samples.

After our work shift was up we walked around and tasted things, and one sample that sticks in my mind (besides the ice cream and doughnuts) is the Field Roast classic meatloaf. I'm not a big fan of meat analogs, though I do occasionally make them myself. Mostly, the commercial ones are just too salty, and I hate the dying of thirst sensation I experience for hours after consuming them. I was, however, quite taken with the meatloaf. It tasted really good, and I may even buy it — at least once. I have coupons! If I'd been in my right mind I might have snapped a photo, but I was very hungry and the little sandwich I was handed was screaming, "eat me now." Oh well.

After all that tasting, did I discover any new foods to add to my shopping list other than the ones I've already mentioned? Probably not. There are still a lot of samples in my bag that I haven't tried yet — lots of energy bars and cereals — and if anything jumps out at me, I'll mention it in a future post.

April 10, 2010

Walnut date confections | black onion seeds

Several days ago I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Chow Vegan, and was taken with the almond-date bars described there. These confections appear with regular frequency on blogs, and it wasn't the recipe per se that sent me running to the kitchen — it was the photo. I wanted to eat it. Of course, that was impractical, so I was forced to actually make the treats. Chow Vegan's (inspired by a recipe on dreaminitvegan) alluring version was made with chopped almonds, dates, coconut and vanilla, shaped into almond-topped bars, and drizzled seductively with melted chocolate. They were quite fetching.

I often used to make stuff like this back in the olden days when I was first learning about whole foods and vegetarianism. I remember having a favorite recipe called bliss balls, which if I'm not mistaken, probably contained non-instant dry milk, the nutritional darling of the moment. I was under the impression that adding milk powder to just about anything boosted its nutritional value. My opinion about milk has changed since then, but combining ground nuts, dried fruit and coconut into chewy sweetmeats is just as delicious as ever, and I love seeing the latest versions on blogs.

I followed Chow Vegan's recipe, except I used walnuts instead of almonds because the only almonds I could find in the pantry were salted, and that was unappealing. I had some raw walnuts (1/2 cup) that I combined in the food processor with soft pitted dates (1/2 cup), unsweetened shredded coconut (1/4 cup) and vanilla (1 teaspoon). Since I wanted to offer these treats to my 2-year-old granddaughter, and her mom prefers that she not eat chocolate, I rolled my treats in coconut. They looked and tasted yummy — to me. Miss E would have none of it. She acted as if I were offering her slimy toads to eat, and refused to try even a morsel. Ah well.


Kalonji - black onion seeds - nigella sativa

I was the lucky recipient of a bag of black onion seeds sent to me by River, The Crafty Kook, after I read her blog post about Indian food. They are tiny black seeds about the size of sesame seeds that grow on an annual flowering plant (nigella sativa) native to southwest Asia, and are used as a spice. The seeds are used as part of the spice mixture panch puran, and by themselves in many Bengali recipes, especially in Naan Bread. According to Wikipedia, "Nigella sativa has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, both as a herb and pressed into oil, in Asia, Middle East, and Africa. It has been traditionally used for a variety of conditions and treatments related to respiratory health, stomach and intestinal health, kidney and liver function, circulatory and immune system support, as analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antioxidants, anticancer, antiviral and for general well-being."

I didn't attempt to cure anyone of anything but hunger when I took some no-knead bread dough from the refrigerator, rolled it into a flatbread, dusted it with seeds, and baked it on a cast iron griddle on the stove. Delicious and very pretty!


I recently received the following email:

Hi Andrea,
I just published an article on my site, “100 Blogs Leading the Food Revolution.” First, I am happy to let you know that your site has been included in the article and if you have any questions about that article, how your site is described, etc. I wanted to let you know that you should feel free to email me. In addition, I thought I would bring it to your attention in case you think your readers might find it interesting and consequently would consider giving the article a mention on your site.
In any case, thanks for your time!

Jeanne Peterson
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April 06, 2010

American chop suey | tangy carrot and cabbage salad

My mother grew up during difficult economic times, and money was tight in her household. I don't know exactly what her diet was like, but I do know she developed an aversion to foods she thought of as the foods one would have to eat if one were poor. She despised foods she thought of as "filler foods" which generally included things like grains or pasta. Pasta was not comfort food to her, it was something you had to eat if you couldn't afford to buy anything else. When we ate at Chinese restaurants, for example, I was told not to fill up on the steamed rice, and when she made things like meatloaf or hamburgers she never added breadcrumbs or other fillers. She added eggs and seasonings.

During the early years of raising a family, my parents didn't have much money. My mother ran the household on a strict and tight no-frills budget. I wore a lot of hand-me-down clothes from my cousins (which I loved, by the way). However, the one thing my mother wouldn't compromise on was her idea of what we should eat. My mother trimmed corners in other areas in order to put meat on the table nearly every night. We had good cuts of meat every evening that my father was home for dinner, and chicken, hamburgers or occasionally fish when he wasn't. My mother favored eye roast, steak, pot roast, chops and such — no spaghetti on our plates. There also was always a fresh salad, and sometimes frozen or canned vegetables. (I didn't even know fresh vegetables existed.) She seldom spent food budget money on soft drinks, chips or other junk food, saving it all for the good stuff. Lucky me, right?

Naturally, all I wanted was noodles, and for that I had to turn to my father. My father was not much of a home-arts kind of guy (this is an understatement in the extreme) but there were a few things he would cook if hounded enough. He could make pizza from scratch (learned from owning an Italian restaurant), grilled chickpeas (learned from his mother), and American chop suey (learned when he was a cook in the army). American chop suey was a mix of ground beef, tomato sauce and macaroni that I believed was something only my father made, and I loved it, though my mother wouldn't touch the stuff. I recently had my memory jolted by a post on Mitten Machen in which Mary provided a description and veganized recipe using tempeh, for this homey dish. What a shock! Naturally, I had to make it as soon as possible, and although I only had linguine instead of the small pasta traditionally used in the recipe, it was fabulously delicious. (Both Mary and I used quinoa pasta for this dish. Ancient Harvest Quinoa pasta has become my husband's and my favorite pasta, and we use it for most of our pasta recipes.) You can see the American chop suey in the photo at the top of this post, and you should visit Mary's blog and make some! Thanks, Mary.


As I've been mentioning lately, we've had a bit of company, and our last guest, my brother, left Monday morning. On Sunday evening our son and d-i-l hosted a dinner for the family, and prepared some wonderful food.

Our d-i-l made Jamaican red bean stew (from Robin Robertson's "Quick Fix Vegetarian") in the slow cooker she found at our last Goodwill excursion. It was really great — spicy, fragrant and filling.

Our son made his excellent version of long beans and tofu. And I brought a salad. I hadn't actually planned to post a recipe so I didn't measure anything, but the salad turned out so well I wanted to share it. It was both beautiful and delicious, and I've reconstructed it as best I can, estimating when I didn't know exact amounts. It's the kind of recipe where a little more or less of one ingredient or another won't make or break the dish — lots of room for improvisation and customizing to your taste!

Tangy carrot and cabbage salad serves 10
  • 3 to 4 large carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 1/2 small purple cabbage, core removed, finely shredded
  • 2 to 3 green onions, cut fine
  • 1/2 to 1 small cucumber, sliced into thin spears (opt. but refreshing)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 5 to 8 ounces mixed baby salad greens
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons umeboshi vinegar (to taste)
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons agave syrup or other sweetener (to taste)
  • fresh ground black pepper and salt (if needed)
  1. One to two hours ahead, prepare the carrots, cabbage, onions and cucumbers. (The cabbage should be halved lengthwise, leaving you with two identical halves. You will only need one half.) Place the carrots, cabbage, green onions, cranberries and cucumbers into a large bowl and combine.
  2. Make a dressing from the oil, lemon juice and zest, mustard, vinegar and agave. Mix until smooth, then mix the dressing into the vegetables. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.
  3. Just before serving, add a few grinds of black pepper to the slaw mix and stir in. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.
  4. Add the fresh salad greens to the bowl and carefully but thoroughly mix the salad together.

April 01, 2010

Guest fest

My Passover dinner plate

I am so tired. We've had company all week with no time to blog or even read blogs. But that's not the source of my fatigue ... no, I've got some sort of stomach bug that's getting me down. At least it hit at the end of the week. Though with more company coming tonight, I hope it doesn't linger too much longer.

We've been busy entertaining my husband's mother and sister, who traveled here from the East Coast to spend a week with us in the Pacific Northwest. We've done a bit of sightseeing and hanging out.

Monday was the first night of Passover, and we celebrated with a family Seder. There were 11 of us around the table, and after the service, we enjoyed a festive meal prepared by two of my sons and me. We had matzoh ball soup, roasted asparagus, potato stuffing, chickpea croquettes, cranberry-apple sauce, salad, and carrot-coconut macaroons.

This was the ceremonial Seder plate with a couple of vegan substitutions. There was an avocado instead of an egg, and a roasted beet subbing for the lamb bone.

Here we are reading from our Haggadot, or Passover prayer books. Mr. Easy Vegan conducted the service and we all took turns reading. Lest you think we are very religious, we're not. But I love maintaining some of the rituals I grew up with, and which tie us to our history.

Here is my youngest son and his girlfriend, attending her first Passover Seder.

One of the things we did during our family's visit was to take a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, and you can see the Seattle waterfront and skyline as we pulled away from the dock. It was kind of sunny and pleasant, and I was really hoping we would have a clear view of the mountains as we headed towards our destination, but it wasn't quite clear enough. We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around the Bainbridge Island downtown, poking into stores and having tea.

Tuesday evening we went to a vegan Chinese restaurant, and there were so many of us that they put us into a private room with a huge round table. I really enjoyed the dinner, and all was well until I went to bed, and started to experience stomach distress that kept me awake most of the night. The next morning I had tea instead of breakfast, and at the point where everyone headed out for a walk at the lake, I headed up to bed. Later, as our guests enjoyed a tour of the Theo chocolate factory, I alternated between hurling, the big D, and sleeping. I made a brief appearance before dinner, but once they began to eat, I headed back to bed. I managed to consume a banana and drink water, but that was it. I feel a lot better today but my stomach is still not happy.

So with all the sightseeing and pleasant outings, what was the most entertaining aspect of the visit? I think our guests would agree that the always cheerful and ebullient Miss E wins hands down.

Except for the stomach bug, it was a pleasant week. My brother arrives this evening for round two of guest fest. I hope I feel better soon!

For all those celebrating Easter, I wish you a happy holiday!