December 28, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Buffy looking spiffy after a morning at the spa

On Wednesday, December 14, I took my beloved dog, Buffy, to the veterinarian for the last time. I knew the day was coming, and in theory I was prepared, but still, my heart was broken, and I could barely see, as I drove home alone. Buff was 19, and had been a member of our family since we adopted her from the Humane Society when she was three.

The Humane Society was on my daily route, and I stopped there once or twice a week to see the dogs. I was looking for a second dog to add to our family, and be a companion to our dog, Starr, so he wouldn't have to spend his days alone. I saw Buffy shortly after she was brought in, and it was love at first sight. She was small, cute and friendly, and I put my name on her card and started making arrangements for the rest of the family to come meet her, as per the HS rules for adoption. Of course everyone, including Starr, agreed she was adorable, and we set about becoming her third home in three years — her forever home. (Her first family gave her away when they moved. Her second family decided they had too many pets and dropped her off at the HS.)

Buffy preferred not to have her photo taken.

She walked into our home like she'd lived there all her life — no fear, no confusion, no hesitation. She was sweet, loving, confident and well-trained, and she gave our feisty Starr something to think about. Although her papers said she was a miniature poodle, she was so overgrown and matted I believed she was a mixed-breed of some sort. Also, because I'd never had a dog that needed more than baths and brushing, I didn't quite understand the concept of hair verses fur, and the need for haircuts every eight weeks. I learned fast. The first groomer I took her to told me she was so matted she might need to be stripped, or closely cropped. I vaguely agreed, but when I went to collect her, my adorable little dog had been turned into a giant hairless rat, and I was horrified. She was so hideous no one in the family wanted to walk her, but her daddy came through for her, and walked her until she looked normal again, and the rest of us could take over.

When we moved to Seattle, of course the now 17-year-old Buffy made the cross-country trip with us. She loved to ride in the car, though the length of the trip may have exceeded her expectations. She seemed to enjoy it, though, since every two hours or so we'd all get out, go for a walk and have a few snacks. She made the trip five times, and was a real travel-pro.

She wasn't fazed in the least by the move, settling in to her new home just as she had the last time, so many years ago. She made herself right at home, finding a comfy spot to nap. She took down the comforter, snuggled between the pillow and covers, and settled in. She wasn't too pleased when I ran for the camera after discovering her in the guest bed, but she didn't move from her spot — just opened her eyes slightly to give me a "look" before shutting them and continuing with her snooze.

Lest you think she was a passive dog, she was not. It's true she was loving and gentle, but she also was smart and a little sneaky, making it impossible for me to ever place hors d'oeuvres artfully on the coffee table. She was also an escape artist who could find her way out of any fenced space, and the lower 12 inches of the fence around our large yard was covered with chicken wire.

Sept. 2011, 19 years old.
When we bought a house and moved again this past fall into what would be her last home, she was just as calm and unperturbed as ever about the change. Sweet little Buffy, I still keep seeing her everywhere, and when I'm away from the house, I suddenly think I have to get home to check on her or take her outside. Then I remember. I miss her so much.

What? Are you taking my picture AGAIN???

Up until the end, Buffy always wanted to be in the room where the action was. If we had company, she was there. Although she, herself, wasn't so active anymore, she liked to watch. One person she was particularly interested in was Miss E, and she was always right by her side as Miss E played. I'll leave you with a video taken one year ago of Miss E taking Buffy for a walk — a favorite pastime for both of them.

December 13, 2011

We have a winner

The cookbook giveaway has ended, and the random number generator has chosen a winner. The winner of Celebrate Vegan is Ashley, a vegan from Texas, and this was her first blog-contest win. Thank you all for entering — I wish I could send cookbooks to everyone!

December 08, 2011

Sunday brunch for 10 | Spicy cashews

We recently had the pleasure of hosting a brunch for 10 guests. Because the rest of the weekend had involved a lot of cooking, and also considering the early start to the meal, I wanted to keep the menu simple. That doesn't mean I wanted to skimp on flavor, of course, just on preparation time.

The decision was made to serve a soup, salad and muffin brunch. Way back in September 2009, I reviewed a cookbook devoted entirely to soups, Love Soup, by Anna Thomas, and I decided to make one of the memorable soups from that book.

Rich and creamy spicy Indonesian yam and peanut soup with its fragrant ginger-infused base, is entirely worthy of company meals, in my opinion. Yams, carrots and parsnips mingle beautifully with herbs and spices to compose a soup that's perfect for warming guests on a chilly morning. To accompany the soup we had a large salad based on baby greens, dressed with piquant creamy miso salad dressing from The Vegan Table by Colleen Partick-Goudreau, and low-fat chocolate zucchini muffins form The Happy Herbivore Cookbook (reviewed here). To perfectly round out the meal, one of the guests brought a toothsome loaf of homemade whole grain bread.

To finish our little brunch with a sweet flourish, we had yummy Lazy Samoas from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and monkey bread, baked by another guest.


Spicy cashews

This is a snack I found at Manjula's Kitchen that I thought would be a nice thing to add to our usual appetizer tray of olives and artichoke hearts at the brunch described above. It sounded just like the spicy cashews I once bought at an Indian deli in Milwaukee. They tasted like they had been made with eggs, even though I'd been assured they were not. Now, of course, I know it was the Indian black salt, kala namak, that gave the cashews their characteristic sulfur (eggy) taste. The cashews I made with Manjula's recipe tasted exactly the same. I recommend trying the recipe yourself — it's delectably spiced. But I warn you, they have a distinctly eggy flavor.

I used half the oil called for in the recipe, but had a little trouble with the spice mixture coating the nuts, so ended up adding a little more oil to the warm, roasted cashews, and shaking them in a jar with the spice mix, which worked perfectly. Next time I make these I'm going to try something different. I'll oven-roast the cashews without oil, then drizzle a small amount of unheated oil onto the warm nuts and shake them with the spices. I'm trying to use less oil, and am hoping that by not letting the roasting cashews absorb oil in the pan, I can get more mileage from less oil by adding it after they are roasted. What do you think?


There's still time to leave a comment and win a copy of Dynise Balcavage's new cookbook, Celebrate Vegan. Enter here. (Update: the contest has ended.)

December 04, 2011

Celebrate Vegan — Book review and giveaway

If you follow the Urban Vegan blog (and you do, right?), you know that Dynise Balcavage provides her readers with clever, beautiful and delicious recipes that are usually surprisingly easy to prepare. You can cook the recipes for every day meals, but feel perfectly comfortable serving them to dinner guests. In her second cookbook, Celebrate Vegan: 200 Life-Affirming Recipes for Occasions Big and Small, Dynise shares her collection of elegant but (mostly) easy, vegan, seasonal recipes, for celebrating special events from around the world. She's covered everything from the most typical U.S. celebrations to holidays like Timkat, the Ethiopian Epiphany, for which she provides recipes for Ethiopian collards, mini injeras and spiced lentils. Accompanying each recipe or group of recipes, is a short, informative discussion about the holiday, as well as chatty, personal anecdotes that weave Dynise's vibrant personality into the menus.

I was one of the lucky recipe testers for Celebrate Vegan, so I can tell you first hand how good the recipes are. I made the three Ethiopian dishes mentioned above, and they were great. Here are photos of some of the dishes I've tried, and the holidays associated with them.

Cinnamon-date scones - Snow Day (Hey, why not treat a snow day as a holiday?)

Paté aux champignons éxotiques - Bastille Day

Cecina - World Vegetarian Day

Mushy peas (OK. This one wasn't my favorite, but my husband liked it.)

Hot and sour carrots and lentils - New Year's Day

Tofu with broccoli and black bean sauce - Chinese New Year

Mega-Israeli salad - Hanukkah

Spicy tomato-lemon dressing - Girls' Night In

(You can find recipes for the hot and sour carrots and lentils, and the tofu with broccoli and black bean sauce in the sneak peek feature for Celebrate Vegan on Amazon.)

To make your recipe choices especially relevant to your needs, Dynise has coded the recipes as fast, frugal, kid-friendly, make ahead or omnivore-friendly, and marked them with icons for easy identification.

If you'd like to win a copy of Celebrate Vegan, leave a comment on this post, and I'll randomly choose a winner Dec. 11.

UPDATE: This contest has ended and a winner has been selected.

Full disclosure: I received two free copies of the cookbook from the publisher, and I'm giving one away. I earned my copy by participating in the recipe testing. I was not required to write a review. I am not an affiliate of this company. All opinions are my own.

November 28, 2011

Late, as usual ... | Featured

It seems I'm always the last one to post about holiday events — everyone has long since moved on, and here I go sharing our Thanksgiving meal — with photos taken in a rush under the worst lighting possible. Even color correction couldn't make the tart look like a normal shade of blueberry. But without further apology, here's what we ate. Above is a glamor shot of the tofu turkey, described in more detail, here.

This is the brown basmati, wild rice, toasted walnut and mushroom stuffing that went inside the tofu turkey, and also into a casserole dish. It's pretty much the same stuffing I always make but this year I didn't include bread cubes. I also made a mushroom gravy with ingredients as varied as the liquid left from cooking the wild rice, and the remains of a bottle of leftover beer, kept in the fridge for just such a purpose — simmered with a cinnamon stick and seasoned with fresh sage. Best gravy ever! (But maybe not gluten-free because of the beer?)

Here is the scrumptious potato-buckwheat stuffing (kugel) made by our oldest son. It's from a recipe handed down from several generations of my family, and a holiday wouldn't seem complete without it. My mother used to stuff the turkey with it, but there was always a great quantity packed into casseroles as well. The original recipe used bread rather than buckwheat, but we were going for gluten-free this year. Actually, I started making the stuffing with buckwheat years ago when I was cooking macrobiotic. Potatoes are very yin, and the buckwheat helps to balance them a bit (take that as you wish). I actually prefer the buckwheat, so usually prepare the dish with buckwheat now.

As a side note, I'll mention the original recipe also contained egg, which the buckwheat nicely compensates for. I still remember the year my mother accidentally dropped an eggshell into the blender as she ground up the potatoes. It was immediately pulverized, so my mother hoped it wouldn't be detected in the cooked stuffing. It was. And it was horrible. That wouldn't have happened during all the years she grated those potatoes by hand! Or if she were vegan.

My husband was in charge of the salad and dressing.

Our daughter-in-law brought a big pan of delicious rutabaga fries. The rutabaga was from her garden, making these especially cool. I've never been a big fan of rutabaga, but these were sensational.

Our middle son prepared roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots — one of my favorite veggie treats. Roasted Brussels sprouts have become a standard at our holiday table, and these were especially delicious.

Naturally we had pleasingly tart cranberry-apple sauce. I never get tired of cranberry sauce.

For dessert we had Happy Herbivore's no-fat pumpkin pie. This year's pie came out a little too firm, and slightly weird. Maybe it was because I used spelt flour instead of wheat, but maybe it wasn't. I have to say, though, that the pie improved over time, and last night it tasted quite good, but I think I'm returning to my old p-pie recipe, if I can find it.

The blueberry-pineapple tart didn't photograph well, but it sure looked good in person. This was my first attempt at a gluten-free crust, and I thought it was a big success. It had both pleasing taste and texture, despite the fact I didn't follow an actual recipe. I have a question, though, for experienced xgfx bakers. Although the tart was great when I served it, the leftover crust got kind of mushy the next day. Is that typical or was it because of my ingredients? (brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, coconut flour, walnuts, Earth Balance, maple syrup.)

Oh yes, we also had pre-dinner tidbits, but they didn't get well-photographed, unfortunately. I made baba ghannouj, a tray of calamata olives, stuffed green olives and marinated artichoke hearts, accompanied by a bowl of Food Should Taste Good tortilla chips. The eggplant for the baba ghannouj was roasted over our gas stove burner so it would taste smoky, like the grilled eggplant traditionally used for this dish, but the eggplant was so huge, that I got discouraged about halfway though the roasting, and finished baking it in the oven. The time spent toasting on the stove-top was enough to impart a smoky flavor, so now I know I can partially roast in the oven if necessary. Or maybe I can just use liquid smoke next time. :)

The mystery cat (I call her Tinkerbelle) showed up to join the family for our Thanksgiving celebration, and made herself right at home.


This blog was featured

Lorilee Lippincott, who writes the blog Loving Simple Living ( featured this blog on her site yesterday. She has geared her blog toward embracing a simple lifestyle, and I think you might enjoy visiting her site.

November 26, 2011

Pre-Thanksgiving: tofu turkey or TG part 1

I altered our family tradition this year and made a tofu turkey instead of a stuffed seitan, and I thought I'd do a little step-by-step photo story as I made the dish. I really love when bloggers show the progress of a complex creation. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people, though I seriously tried. The camera was in the kitchen, but my mind was preoccupied, and I only got so far. The recipe on which I based my tofu turkey is here. (I made my own version of stuffing.)

Before getting to the tofu, I started the day with a nod to the season and made a cranberry smoothie. It also had banana, frozen blueberries, frozen mango, a tablespoon of frozen OJ concentrate, lucuma powder (thanks, Ricki!) and almond milk. It was so pretty and delicious that I think frozen cranberries may become a regular smoothie ingredient. Suitably fortified, I moved on to the tofu business.

The following takes place the day before Thanksgiving.

Since pressing the tofu seemed key to getting the texture right, I first pressed my tofu for a few hours in my Japanese pickle press. The tofu was the fresh stuff from a Vietnamese tofu shop, and seemed quite firm, but I was amazed to see how much water came out of it, so I'm glad I took this extra step. Fresh tofu is much more flavorful than the supermarket variety, and I wanted my concoction to taste really good, but any extra-firm water-pack tofu would be fine.

After pressing, the tofu got puréed in a food processor. (I tried the VitaMix first, but that was too gross, and removing the tofu from the blender jar was horrible.) Next the seasonings were added. I used hickory smoked salt in the seasoning mix, not broth powder. In addition to the herbs in the recipe, I added some light yeast flavoring that I'd previously made from this recipe from Miyoko Nishimoto Schinner.* (She used to make and sell the Now and Zen Unturkey, which I've never actually tried, but the light yeast seasoning is very handy, and you might want to make some!)

The next step was to line a colander with cheesecloth, and pack the tofu into the colander, covering the top with the overhanging cheesecloth. A plate got placed on top of the cheesecloth and a weight was placed on the plate; in this case two boxes of veggie stock were placed on their sides atop the plate. This is where the communications between my brain and the camera broke down, and no further illustrative photos were taken. The tofu-packed colander was placed on a plate and went into the fridge overnight.

The following takes place on Thanksgiving day.
I made a stuffing with wild rice, brown basmati rice, toasted walnuts, onions, garlic, ginger, fresh sage and lots of baby bella mushrooms, all cooked to perfection in my trusty wok. Once the stuffing was made and cooled, the cheesecloth over the top of the tofu was pulled aside, and tofu was scooped out, leaving a rim of 1 to 2 inches. The resulting hole was filled with stuffing, and the tofu I had removed was smoothed over the top, forming a solid covering. (Still in the colander.) The next part was a little scary, but it worked perfectly.

To cook, the stuffed tofu was inverted onto a baking pan, and the cheesecloth-covered blob miraculously fell out without breaking. I carefully removed the cheesecloth and basted the mound, placed it into the oven, and removed and basted many times until it was done. In the end, I had to turn the oven up to 450˚F for about 20 minutes to crisp it up.

Voila! It emerged looking quite nice. I had planned to surround it with roasted veggies but miscalculated the amount of space it would take up on the serving platter, so settled for some parsley and a few tomatoes.

Here's a view of the inside. The recipe said it served six, but I knew that couldn't be right since five pieces of tofu were involved. In fact, we had lots of leftovers to send home with guests, and even though we ate it again last night, we STILL have leftovers. Next year: smaller tofu turkey or more guests!

In my next post, I'll show you what we actually had for our meal. Hope everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving, had a lovely time.

*Miyoko Nishimoto Schinner is the author of Japanese Cooking: Contemporary and Traditional, which I reviewed here. She is also the author of The New Now and Zen Epicure: Gourmet Vegan Recipes for the Enlightened Palate, and she writes a cooking blog called, The Vegan Manifesto.

November 20, 2011

Sour cereal: a rich, spicy soup made from millet and coconut

In my last post, about the vegan blogger potluck held at my house, I mentioned that one of the guests brought a delicious, coconut-y soup made from millet. Natalie, the person who prepared the excellent dish, agreed to let me share the recipe. She said her mother got the recipe years ago from a Siddha Yoga ashram in Hawaii, and even though I can't know for sure they would be willing to share it, I'm going to take a chance that it would be OK. I'm printing the recipe as it was given to me, but feel free to change ingredient quantities to suit your taste. I plan to make some changes next time I make this, but it's really great as written, so you might want to try it before changing it. Thank you Natalie!

Sour cereal
(2 to 4 servings)
  • 3-2/3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste. This was too salty for me.)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • pinch fenugreek
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 cup shredded dried coconut
  • 1/2 tomato (I used one roma tomato)
  • 2 to 3 pitted dates, optional (I used 2)
  • 2 fresh green chilies (I used 1 jalapeno), seeded
  • 1 inch ginger root, peeled
  • 1/3 cup millet, washed
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  1. Add salt, oil, cumin, fenugreek, cayenne to the water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add millet and onion, stir, and return to a boil.
  3. Turn heat to low and cook five minutes, uncovered.
  4. Make the masala. Add coconut, tomato, dates, pepper, and ginger root to a blender jar and blend until well-combined.
  5. Add the masala to the millet mixture, cover and cook on low for 45 minutes.
  6. Add additional water as needed to maintain a soupy consistency. Taste for seasonings.

We had the soup with steamed baby bok choy and deep-fried onion tofu from the tofu shop. Completely wrong accompaniment, I know, but so good.

Slow Cooker recipe testing

We loved the stuffed collard leaves that I tested for Robin Robertson's upcoming slow cooker book. Believe it or not, I've never stuffed collards, only cabbage, and I was amazed how much easier it was to work with collards. From now on, it's collards for me!

Wisconsin has changed ...

My husband snapped this photo on his recent visit to our former home of Madison, Wis. It was tacked to the front door of the Green Owl vegetarian and vegan restaurant, because Wisconsin now has concealed carry. You can pack heat in any place that hasn't posted a warning, such as restaurants, shops — even the Capitol building. As an ironic side note, people were recently prohibited from bringing cameras into the capitol during a protest, but not concealed weapons. We've only been gone two years, but so much has changed ...

November 14, 2011

Seattle vegan blogger meetup

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting a Seattle vegan blogger potluck at my little house. There were five of us enjoying delicious food and good conversation. Attendees included Bethany from Spotted Devil Cat and his Vegan Asst., Rose, from Dandelion Blog, Samantha, from Novel Eats, and Natalie, who is still planning her blog. Calling in sick at the last minute were Sonnet from For the Love of Food, and Helen, from Vegtastic.

So what did five plant-based bloggers bring to the table?

Rose brought a large platter of delicious kabobs and spring rolls with two dipping sauces. (You can see the rolls at the top of the post.)

Natalie arrived with an amazing millet dish she called sour cereal. It was flavored with a masala.

Bethany shared a yummy cheesy casserole filled with veggies and topped with mochi.

I made Thai coconut corn soup, based on a recipe by Nava Atlas.

And Samantha brought not one ...

but two gorgeous platefuls of cookies — chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin.

What can I say?

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