June 29, 2012

Fear of Baking (Chocolate chip-banana bread) | Botanical Gardens

How many successful cakes will it take to convince me that I can make a gluten-free cake and it will be good? I wish I knew the answer to that question so I could just calm down and bake a cake once in a while. Like the *chocolate chip-banana bread from The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Bread, for example. It's supposed to be baked in a loaf pan but I, who used to be such an optimist, didn't believe it would really work, and I'd end up with a rectangular slab.

I baked it in a 10" springform pan because I was also sure it would stick and I'd never get it out of the pan. Well, duh. It didn't stick and it turned out just fine. Probably would have worked in the loaf pan, too.

But, here's the crazy thing — I'm still afraid to try again. Why, why, why can't I get past my fear of gluten-free baking?

*You can download the recipe for Chocolate Chip-Banana bread as well as other baked goods, at Laurie Sadowski's blog, Whisking and Writing. (The link is at the bottom of the page.) But really, I think you should buy her book.


Exploring local gardens
We've been exploring some of the public gardens in and around Seattle because I'm very interested in doing some landscaping around our small property and I'm trying to learn more about plant environments in the Pacific Northwest. And also because they are beautiful places to walk!

First we visited the Seattle Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum. It was beautiful in every direction we looked.

All the critters were out for treats from the tourists — ducks, koi and turtles made a beeline for the bridge whenever humans approached the water. I tried to photograph an over-zealous duck but it kept getting too close to my camera lens and I couldn't focus!

The koi were overjoyed to see us but soon lost interest and dispersed when they realized all I had was the camera.

The second garden we visited was the much larger  Belleview Botanical Garden, and it was my favorite of the two — it's also free as opposed to $6 each for the Japanese Garden.

According to their Web page: "The Bellevue Botanical Garden is an urban refuge, encompassing 53-acres of cultivated gardens, restored woodlands, and natural wetlands. The living collections showcase plants that thrive in the Pacific Northwest. Our demonstration of good garden design and horticulture techniques inspires visitors to create their own beautiful, healthy gardens."

I'd love to recreate some of the beauty we saw at the gardens. We'll definitely be heading back to Bellevue — there is at least one area we missed on our walk through, and I want to learn more about the plant species growing there. Next time I'll take a notebook.

June 25, 2012

The Vegg | Cookbook love | Solstice parade part 2

When I was a baby, the doctor told my mother to feed me an egg each day — you know, so I'd be healthy. My mother faithfully cooked an egg for me every morning, then threw it away because I refused to eat it. Eventually, she gave up, because she couldn't afford to waste food, and it was clear that eggs and I didn't mesh. I continued my disdain for eggs though my childhood, but as I got older, I started occasionally eating hard boiled eggs, or scrambled ones if they were very, very dry. I wouldn't touch an egg that had any sort of "wet" spot. Eeeewww. At some point I became willing to eat a soft-cooked egg if the white were totally solid and dry — I wasn't an easy person to cook an egg for.

As an adult, I liked the sulphur-y flavor of eggs, but continued to want them dry, dry, dry. I could only eat a fried egg (we called them sunny-side-up eggs) if the white were thoroughly cooked and crisp at the edge, and the yolk only slightly runny. I liked dipping my toast into the yolk. In the late 70s, when I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian, I was buying my eggs from a friend who lived in the country and kept chickens. One day, not long after Thanksgiving, I took a bite of an omelet and it tasted exactly like turkey. I just about gagged, and couldn't eat it, the taste and smell were so strong. I thought something was wrong with the eggs. My friend later told me she gave her chickens table scraps, and there must have been some leftover turkey in the mix. She said the flavor of eggs can be affected by what chickens are fed. To be honest, when it comes to eggs, a slab of crisped tofu with a little kala namik (Indian black salt) is more appealing to me than an actual egg ever was. 

When I was offered a sample of The Vegg (rhymes with egg) to test and review, my first reaction was a confused "what will I do with it?" But as I thought it over, I was really curious to see how I could use it to recreate the taste of eggs, which I liked, without eating an actual egg, which I haven't done since 1981!

We were having a family dinner to celebrate my husband's birthday, and I planned to try the Vegg in one of the dishes. The Vegg comes in a 1.56 ounce package that can be blended with water to make one liter of "yolk." You can also choose to make 2 to 3 yolks by using 1 teaspoon of The Vegg and 1/4 cup of water. The package emphatically (in caps!) implores you not to mix the product by hand, so I used my VitaMix to mix three teaspoons with 3/4 of a cup of water in preparation for making a garbanzo flour quiche, a dish I've made before without The Vegg. Once blended, The Vegg looked like egg yolk, and kind of tasted like I remember egg yolk tasting, so I was expecting the quiche to be much more eggy than before.

In the recipe, I substituted the Vegg mixture for an equivalent part of the liquid. The final result seemed softer and creamier than the original, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. I suppose it's a matter of personal taste. Everyone really liked it (they didn't know about The Vegg) but no one said anything about it tasting like egg.

The next thing I tried was a tofu omelet. I followed this recipe, subbing The Vegg mixture for the soymilk, yeast flakes, turmeric and tahini, and I used mushrooms and red onions for the filling. Rather than add the filling to the omelet as it cooked, I cooked the omelet until the surface was quite dry before putting the filling on, and I covered the pan (a cast iron griddle) so the omelet would thoroughly cook through. The final result was well-browned and crispy on the outside, but the inside was soft and creamy like an egg-omelet might be. It tasted delicious, though not exactly like egg, and the moist texture reminded me of what I didn't like about eggs. Still, I ate it because it was really delicious, and after all, it wasn't an egg! Egg lovers might find it wonderful.

I still have some Vegg mix in the refrigerator and I'd like to try making a tofu scramble with it. Other people have been using The Vegg to create egg yolks for fried "eggs," and I think that's probably where it really excels — or in traditionally egg-based sauces or for French toast. If you were an egg fan before becoming vegan, or if you are considering giving up eggs and egg products for ethical or health reasons, it's probably well worth experimenting with The Vegg.

I haven't tried using The Vegg in baking, nor does the company provide any information on what to expect, or if it was even intended for that use.

Full disclosure: I was sent a free sample of The Vegg. No money was exchanged, and no demands for a review were made, though it was suggested I might write one. No attempt was made to influence my opinion.


Cookbook love
I mentioned above that we just celebrated my husband's birthday, and instead of just winging the food, I actually used recipes from cookbooks for our family fete.

I altered the Penne Arrabbiata recipe from The Vegan Table by Colleen Partick-Goudreau, by substituting raw spiralized zucchini for the pasta, and adding 3/4 of a cup of kalamata olives to the sauce, turning it into Puttanesca. (p.49, Penne Arrabbiatta. I sautéed the garlic in olive oil.) This is one of those recipes that tastes so amazing, you can't believe it was so simple to make and has so few ingredients. The zucchini was spiralized earlier in the day, then placed inside the refrigerator in a colander inside a bowl. It was covered with a plate and weighted with a couple of cans. There wasn't any moisture in the bowl when I removed it at dinnertime, which surprised me, but the zucchini was nice and crisp. The raw zucchini topped with a generous dollop of heated sauce, was my favorite dish of the night.

The next dish I made was Tempeh Piccata from Chloe's Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli. It was attractive and tasty, but I probably won't make it again. I really liked the way the tempeh was prepared, but the sauce wasn't my favorite. In addition to the quiche, tempeh and zucchini, we had steamed quinoa to round out the meal.

For dessert there were raw chocolate morsels (photo; recipe) and Coconut Bliss ice cream in Mint Galactica, and Vanilla. Mint Galactica is my favorite flavor, but the Vanilla, with real vanilla beans, can hold its own! There's just so much darn fat in it. The Mint Galactica has 16 grams in 1/2 cup. Most of the time I make my own ice cream in the VitaMix, using just frozen fruit and a little almond milk. It tastes great, and I think it's a much healthier treat, but I was was craving a little bite of Coconut Bliss.

Full disclosure: Both cookbooks were personal purchases.


Fremont Solstice Parade (part 2)
In my last post I shared some of the nude biker shenanigans from the solstice parade, and now I'm adding a few photos of the floats and groups that followed the bicyclists. None of the floats are allowed  to be motorized, so all are moved along by man/woman power. You can see people pulling the marriage equality float in the first photo.

 This was one of the crowd favorites — the beach chair drill team. In addition to their precise formations involving beach chair and body rhythms, the ladies wore flower-covered bathing caps!

The Veterans for peace always brings tears to my eyes as they remind me of the stupidity of war.

As the last band passed by, the crowd jumped to its feet and started dancing! Can't wait for next year's parade.

June 20, 2012

Simple GF pancakes | Naked Solstice fun

I used to enjoy making breads, and things like pancakes and waffles — before I started eating gluten-free. I had it down pretty well, and could whip up credible baked goods without recipes, if I wanted to. Now I'm so intimidated by all the flours and starches that go into GF goods, I often avoid  baking, except for special occasions, or if I'm testing a cookbook. One day recently I got a craving for pancakes that had me running to my well-stocked, but usually avoided, GF pantry. I just wanted to throw together some pancakes — sheesh — is that too much to ask? I chose four flours (four!) and a starch and threw them together as I've learned to do from months of reading cookbooks and blogs, and ate pancakes. I thought they were delicious, and I hope I can remember that and feel a little freer to experiment more often. I mean to try them out on Miss E Sunday morning to see if she notices a difference from her usual pancakes.

Simple GF pancakes - serves two (or one really hungry eater)
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 5 drops liquid stevia
  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/4 cup quinoa flour
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
  1. Mix the vinegar and milk in a measuring cup and allow to sit for a few minutes until slightly thickened, while you combine the dry ingredients in the next step. Mix in the stevia.
  2. Combine the rice flour, quinoa flour, almond meal, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, baking powder, baking soda and xanthan gum in a dry bowl, and whisk together until well-combined. 
  3. Mix the wet into the dry.
  4. Heat a cast iron pan until water hisses when dropped onto the pan.
  5. Spread a thin coat of oil on the pan.
  6. Cook the pancakes on one side until bubbles form and the edges start to dry. Carefully turn pancakes over and cook the second side until done.
  7. Serve with maple syrup or the topping of your choice.

Naked Solstice fun
O.K., now that we've got the pancakes out of the way, here's what you're really looking for, right? We attended the annual Fremont Solstice Parade held in the Center of the Universe, the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. There's lots of unusual stuff in Fremont, but perhaps the strangest and most fun is the annual  parade with its nude bikers. This is our second experience attending the parade.
Perhaps no one ever feels they have quite enough to offer
The parade is the highlight of the annual Fremont Fair, which was started in 1972, and now draws 100,000 people. The parade opens with a nude bike ride. The original riders back in the 70s were either arrested or threatened with arrest, but not any more. There were 800 to 1,000 riders this year, painted in every imaginable way.

Some riders wear only paint while others incorporate strategically placed clothing items or other props like hats, to enhance their costume theme.

Captain Hook has a scarf, hat, cuff, belt, and hook paraphernalia, but the rest of his attire is paint. Some of the paint jobs are so amazing, it's hard to tell they're not really clothes, though there are some telltale signs, ho ho.

The woman perched next to me on the guardrail told me she had never heard of the parade before. She was in Seattle accompanying  her husband, who was attending a  conference, and had convinced him to play hooky and come to the festival.

She said she was a very conservative person, but found the nude bike ride quite acceptable because the riders were so cleverly painted you never look at their private parts. She told me this about 10 times, and while I agree it's not a sexual message the riders are spreading, can I claim I never look? Noop, sorry, can't say that.

I will say that I laughed hysterically and clapped my hands in appreciation along with the rest of the crowd, through the whole parade.

I can't print all the photos I took, but here are a few more to give you an idea of the fabulous, crazy event.

Thing one and thing two!

The nude bicyclists are only the opening act of the parade. There is a whole parade full of floats, crazy bands and assorted costumed revelers that follows, but I'll save a few photos for my next post. In the meantime, Happy Solstice!

June 13, 2012

Bowl fever | Gardening fever

Lightly-cooked baby kale, cannelini beans, tomatoes, carrots over rice pasta
We used to attend a yearly fundraiser for the local homeless shelter called Super Bowl. It was an event put on by our neighborhood high school in which local potters as well as the high school's pottery classes, donated hand-thrown pots. Soup provided by restaurants was served in the bowls. We'd choose a bowl to purchase, and then have it filled with soup. I have a substantial collection of bowls from many years of attending the event — each one different — that I'm very fond of. I also have a collection of plain white bowls in two sizes, that I love. In addition, I have lots of other miscellaneous bowl collections as well as larger serving bowls in all sizes and designs. Surely, I have enough bowls, but I still look longingly on a certain oval-shaped white bowl from World Market in which I was served a delicious lunch at a tea house in my old neighborhood — more than once. If I could figure out where to keep more bowls, I might buy them.

I was wondering what came first, my obsession with bowls, or my pleasure in eating an entire meal in a bowl. In my last post, there were photos of one-bowl meals that combined both cooked and raw food. Here are examples of cooked food in bowls.

Sweet potato, broccoli, kidney beans over quinoa, with tahini sauce

Tofu, mushrooms, broccoli, tomatoes, avocado (raw) over quinoa
Zucchini, chickpeas, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives over quinoa pasta

Taco bowl: chips, black beans, bok choy, tomatoes, creamy chipotle sauce


Plant-friendly spaces
It's been three years since I've had my own space to garden in, and even now that I finally have space again, it's not a lot of space. I thought I was going to do a lot more landscaping than I did, but I haven't decided just what I want to do to spruce up our small lot. So instead of tackling the real gardening issues, I've been trying to make some of the smaller outdoor spaces more peaceful and inviting. I've added a bunch of plants to the little front porch ...

... along with a couple of chairs and a plant stand borrowed from the dining room. I sewed cushions for the chairs to make them a little more colorful.

On the back deck I've planted various herbs and flowers in pots. (Notice the large bamboo pot in the back? I found it at a garage sale for $1.) We've cleared enough space in the yard to plant an assortment of veggies, and I made a small herb garden around the side of the house.

I want the bench! (And the garden, too.)

I'm still hoping to turn the spaces around our house into pocket gardens, like the one in the photo I took on a recent walk. I would love to come across a bench like this to stash in a side garden! Here's hoping foraging through garage and estate sales, and craigslist, will come through for me. :)