March 30, 2014

Chia, by Laurie Boone: a book review

Chia seeds and I haven't always seen eye-to-eye, like when they sneaked into my sugar jar and pretended to be an insect infestation, or when they added crunch and lumpies to a pudding that should have been smooth and creamy. I believe they are really good for me, and I always add them to smoothies, but they go into the Vitamix to become one with my breakfast drink. When I was offered a copy of Chia, by Laurie Boone, for review, I was intrigued — maybe I just needed some good instruction.

The book is divided into six chapters, the first five of which each speak to a different health benefit one would expect to receive from eating chia seeds. Each chapter contains health information, and recipes related to the health goals described in the chapter. The chapter topics include: healthy weight, super stamina for peak performance, the healthy gut, strong heart and better blood sugars, and chia for glowing beauty. Chapter 6 contains general, essential tips for working with chia, and 'templates' for creating your own recipes. Chia seeds are high in protein, fiber, minerals and essential fatty acids, and after reading through the book, and being convinced that adding more chia seeds to my diet would be a good thing, I looked at the recipes, and found quite a few that interested me. There are 75 recipes to accompany the health information, and since this is a cooking blog, it seemed appropriate to try a few.

I decided to start with the basics, and tackle my nemesis, chia pudding. You're probably shaking your head and wondering what my problem is, but although I like both crunchy and creamy foods, I don't like them mixed together. You will never catch me adding nuts to brownies or eating a bowl of (vegan) mocha almond fudge ice cream. So, I regarded the recipe for Velvety Banana Chia Pudding with suspicion. Instead of coconut milk I used unsweetened soy milk blended with a few cashews, and I doubled the vanilla, but otherwise I followed the recipe exactly. And guess what? I was wrong about chia pudding — I loved it. So did my husband, and the pickiest eater of all time — Miss E. I used, black chia seeds because that's what I had in my pantry, but maybe white ones would have been prettier. They both taste the same and have the same nutritional value.

The next recipe that caught my attention was Chia Corn Cakes. The book isn't 100% vegan, and occasional recipes might contain an egg or honey. Following the tips found in chapter six, I made chia gel, and subbed it for the egg.  Also as suggested if subbing chia gel for an egg, I added 1/4 cup of a different flour (in this case, garbanzo flour) instead of the milled chia in the recipe. (I didn't even know you could buy milled chia — and it's kind of pricy.) The corn cakes were great, and I'm sure I'll be making them again.

The cinnamon and spice sweet potato crisps sounded tempting, so I got out my mandoline and made paper thin slices from a sweet potato, as directed. The recipe said to use three medium potatoes and spread the slices in a single layer onto three large baking sheets, but after cutting just one, I had more than enough slices to cover three baking sheets. And I was real tired of slicing. It also took a lot longer to get them crisp in the oven than the recipe said. They were delicious and fun to eat, and I'm glad I made them, but probably won't do it again — too lazy.

The recipes are vegetarian and gluten-free. Most of the recipes are vegan, and those that are not, are very easily converted. The book contains a great deal of nutritional and fun information about chia seeds, as well as clever ways to integrate them into your diet.

About the author
Lauri Boone, R.D., is a registered dietitian and raw food instructor. She is a regular contributor to One Green Planet and has written articles for Crazy Sexy Life and has appeared in numerous media outlets including CNN, BBC Radio, NPR, the Huffington Post, Fox, Oxygen magazine, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Update. She has worked with clients in private practice and conducted nutrition classes for a variety of groups including Whole Foods Market, DC United Major League Soccer, and Avon 3-Day Walk for Breast Cancer. She lives in Victor, NY.

Fair Winds Press offers nonfiction books in a range of practical categories, including nutrition and cookery, fitness, parenting, beauty, treating sickness, mental health, and using new medicine..    

I received a free copy of the book for review purposes. I was not paid to write the review. All opinions are my own.

March 25, 2014

Balsamic asparagus, artichoke pasta and new, red sandals — it must be spring

I was in a store where I don't usually shop, looking for grape tomatoes for a recipe I want to re-vamp, when I spied a huge display of beautiful-looking asparagus. Finally — fresh organic asparagus at a reasonable price. They weren't exactly local, but California is a lot closer than it was when we lived in Wisconsin — so almost local.

I still have vivid memories of the first asparagus I ever tasted, even though it was a lifetime ago. I was at my boyfriend's house for dinner, and his mother had cooked a side dish of asparagus to a dull, grey-green color, and, unbeknownst to me, transformed the texture to slime. I'd never had asparagus before — my mother pretty much stuck to salad, and a few frozen things like peas and green beans — so I had no expectations. I put a piece of the slimy spear into my mouth, and had an immediate gag reflex which I did my best to suppress. I didn't know what to do because I didn't want to be rude and throw up, but there was so way I could swallow that disgusting asparagus. I looked at the rest of the spears on my plate with chagrin. I think I eventually cut them up and spread them around, like children do to avoid eating something, and covertly spit the mouthful into my napkin. I never thought I'd eat asparagus again, until years later, a friend cooked some for me, and asparagus was forever transformed in my mind. Now, I love it.

Back in 2007 I printed a recipe for balsamic asparagus, and I've been making the season's first asparagus pretty much the same way ever since. I make mine in a wok, though a large non-stick skillet was recommended in the original recipe.

Balsamic-glazed asparagus (adapted from a recipe in the NY Times, 2003)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), washed and trimmed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced (or 1 teaspoon dried minced garlic)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Add oil to a large a large non-stick skillet (I use a regular wok) and heat.
    When the oil is hot, add the garlic and asparagus, and spread out. 
  2. Toss for a minute then sprinkle on the vinegar.
  3. Reduce heat to medium high and cook, turning the stalks frequently to coat with vinegar, until they are bright green and crisp-tender. 
  4. Grind fresh pepper and salt over the top, to taste.
4 servings — unless you really like asparagus! My husband and I eat them all.

We had our asparagus with another favorite — (gluten-free) pasta with artichokes. I first blogged the recipe in 2009, and it's become one of our go-to pasta dishes. The original recipe called for artichokes marinated in oil, but I like to lighten it a bit and use either frozen artichokes or artichokes packed in water. We also added (re-hydrated and pressed dry) soycurls to ours; adding your favorite plant protein such as soy curls, beyond meat, or even beans, adds to the satisfying nature of the dish, though it's perfectly delicious without. The parsley accidentally didn't get added this time, and it really should have been. You should definitely add the parsley.

Tomatoes and artichoke hearts with pasta (adapted from a recipe by Sheila Lukins)

  • 12-oz. water-packed artichoke hearts
  • 1–2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-cup chopped onions
  • 2-tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1-24-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2- tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1-teaspoon dried basil
  • 1-teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2-teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2-teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4-cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • juice and zest of one small lemon
  • 1/2-teaspoon sweetener of your choice (just a few drops if using liquid stevia)
  • 1-cup of prepared plant protein (optional)
  • 12 oz. package dried pasta, cooked (linguini or thin spaghetti recommended, gluten-free if required)
  1. Drain the artichokes and cut them in half lengthwise.
  2. Sweat the onions in the oil for 10 minutes. (Cook over low heat in a heavy, covered pot, until translucent) Add the garlic during the last two minutes.
  3. Stir in the crushed plum tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, oregano, rosemary, sweetener and red pepper flakes. (Rub the herbs quickly between you hands to release their oils, before adding)
  4. Simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes.
  5. Add the artichoke hearts and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir in the parsley and half the lemon. Taste and add the rest of the lemon if you want more tang. Add salt and pepper if needed. Adjust sweetness, if needed.
What vegetables or fruits (or anything) announces spring for you? Ramps? Strawberries? Sugar snap peas? Or is it sandals?

Is it sandal weather yet? 

Now, about the sandals. First, I want to assure you that I bought the sandals of my own free will — no one sent them to me to review, though I wouldn't have refused if they had offered. I've been wanting vegan red sandals ever since I gave up my wonderful leather ones, and that was a long, long time ago. I love shoes and I love bargains, which is probably why I like the shoe store DSW so much. They have so many choices at good prices, and if you sign up for email notices, they send discount specials to you. My new Tevas are a closeout color, but since, coincidentally, it was exactly the color I wanted, it was a score for me. The original price was $80, but they were on sale for $49. I used an email coupon plus an 'earned points' coupon to bring the price down to $27.95 plus tax, with free shipping. And yes, they're vegan. There's a DSW near me so it's an easy return, but I'm keeping them. My only regret (true of anything ordered online) is the extra packaging it entails, though DSW seems to minimise the packaging compared to some places.

It's not that easy for me to find shoes because in addition to wanting them to be cruelty-free, my feet can be hard to fit. My first criteria for shoes, after vegan-friendly, is comfortable. I like them to look good, but I won't buy a shoe that I can't walk in for miles. (I should say I usually won't. I've been known to break this rule.) I was a little leery about buying Tevas because they've never felt comfortable to me in the past. My new Tevas, though, seem incredibly comfortable — I'm hoping for the best.

Kalso Earth Shoes used to make great-looking and extremely comfortable vegan sandals and shoes, but Earth seems to have moved more into the fashion shoe business, and their vegan collection is limited. I still love my old Earth shoes, but I've been forced to move on. I've had a lot of luck with J-41, the same company that makes Jambu. My J-41 shoes are usually much less expensive than similar shoes, extremely comfortable and ultra long-lasting. J-41 clearly labels their vegan shoes so you know whats what. Do you have a favorite vegan shoe brand?

    March 19, 2014

    Tiny black things in the sugar vs. chocolate banana cheesecake | Sumo orange

    For those of you who may remember the black worm incident, don't worry, this is not that.

    When I saw the photo of chocolate galaxy banana cheesecake from Vegan Pie in the Sky on Chow Vegan's Pi Day blog post, I knew that I'd be making it one of these days. Chow Vegan had made it as mini-tarts, and that left me itching to get out my mini-tart pans and do the same. I followed her link to the recipe, bookmarked it, and moved on with my life, because I figured the tarts were not going to happen any time soon. It was true that a couple of days later we were having a bunch of family members over for dinner, but my husband was doing the cooking for that event, and I'd already decided not to make a dessert. However, on the morning of the dinner party, while the husband was out for a morning walk, the cheesecake invaded my brain, and before I knew what was happening, there I was in the kitchen getting out ingredients and pans.

    The recipe has a graham cracker crust but I was going to make an almond flour crust instead. I had just added the flour and sugar to a mixing bowl, and was combining them when I noticed tiny black things in the bowl. Ugh. Ever since the worm fiasco, I'm really suspicious of anything that doesn't look exactly right. You might say overly suspicious. The black things weren't moving and didn't appear to have legs, but they were so tiny I had trouble noting the details. There were a number of them in the sugar jar and I fished one out, put it on a white surface, and looked at it with a (not so great) magnifying glass. It had a certain brown pattern on it. All the black things had the same pattern. Eeuww. I vaguely remembered seeing something like it before but couldn't place it. Was it some stage of insect development? I tossed the mix into the compost when, duh, I had a thought. I looked at the measuring spoon I had used in the sugar. Double DUH. The little black things were chia seeds left from when I'd added a spoonful to my smoothie, and some were still clinging to the bottom of the measuring spoon. How dumb is that? Have you ever looked at chia seeds closely? They are not solid black, but have a pattern on them. How embarrassing to admit this in public, but there you go — sense of humor trumps shame.

    After wasting all that expensive almond flour, I decided to just make the cheesecake without a crust. I had also used up my small window of time with all the seed/bug nonsense, and had to get going on the cake or there wouldn't be enough time for it to chill. Instead of using the mini pans without a crust, it seemed more expedient to use one nine-inch pie plate — easier and quicker.

    As you can see, the cheesecake was beautiful, but was it good? Of course it was good — it came from an Isa and Terry cookbook. It was enjoyed by all the guests. One guest asked if it contained rum — it didn't, but a question like that is always a good sign. However, I still have the memory of an extraordinary tofu cheesecake I used to make, the recipe for which is buried somewhere in my recipe collection. I remember including the cheesecake on a buffet at a dinner party I was hosting, and seeing one of the guests (an omnivore foodie) slicing a piece. I watched him place the cheesecake on his plate, cut a piece with his fork and raise it to his lips. I startled him when I yelled, "WAIT!" "It's not what you think," I said. "It's made with tofu."

    "I like tofu," he answered mildly, and went on to eat it, and pronounce it the best cheesecake he'd ever had, tofu or not. I've never tasted anything that could compare, and someday I hope to find the recipe and make it again. Until then, chocolate galaxy banana cheesecake is A-OK — super easy to make, too, and works well even without a crust. The longer it chills, the better it tastes. You should try it! Here is a link to the recipe.

    The Sumo orange
    The orange is sitting on an eight-inch plate.

    Have you ever had one of these? It's a Sumo orange — a cross between a mandarin and a California navel that took 30 years to develop. My son, who lives in California, told me about them, and suggested I try to find some at Whole Foods. It was good, but not as sweet as I was expecting, though the texture was appealing. 

    The oranges are quite large, seedless, and have a thick, bumpy skin which is very easy to peel. Sumo oranges have a short season, which is just about to end, so if you want to try one, get to Whole Foods ASAP.

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    March 15, 2014

    Softer than a pillow, lighter than air — pizza

    In honor of pi day and a nagging pizza craving, I finally got around to making an oat-flour-based gluten-free crust I've been ogling since veganmofo.

    The crust was pretty easy to make, though it did involve some (optional) rising time since it was a yeast crust. I got the recipe here. The original was topped with tempeh tikka masala, but I just made a regular old pizza with tomato sauce and a quick cashew cheese sauce. And topped it with lots of sliced onion and aleppo pepper. I also added crushed rosemary to the dough.

    The crust (focaccia) was just as Richa described it — soft, thick, light and with no resemblance to gluten-free baked goods. But, it was almost too soft and light for me. I kept wishing I had just eaten it plain, as bread, instead of using it for pizza. I was craving something heavier and chewier — more like the toothsome gluten-y crusts I used to make. Sigh. Richa's recipes are great, and this is not meant to slight her lovely crust at all, but I was needing a different texture the day I made the pizza. Next time I'm craving something soft and pillow-y, though, this is the recipe to which I will turn.

    The extra-soft texture may have involved user-error because as I studied the step-by-step photos on Richa's blog, her dough looked much softer than mine, so I added a bit of extra water so mine would look more like hers. I'm going to try the recipe again, aiming for a stiffer dough, to see if I get a firmer result. The pie was definitely a beauty, though, and I can assure you I ate every bite. You should try it. A big thank you to Richa for all her inspiring recipes!

    Have you ever been disappointed by a cooking result because, even though it was beautiful and tasty, it didn't match what you were craving?

    March 11, 2014

    Traditional quinoa soup

    It's amazing to me how good a long-forgotten favorite recipe can taste, when it's pulled from the archives and lovingly cooked. I'm referring to my recipe for quinoa soup, which I first tasted in Ecuador many years ago. It's a very easy soup to make, and so flexible as to ingredients. Traditionally, it would be made with cabbage, plantain and thin rounds of sweet corn cut from the cob. In Ecuador I had it topped with avocado, green onions and ahi — a home-made hot sauce served on virtually everything. Here, we used cauliflower and organic frozen corn, along with potatoes, and pan-browned tempeh. In Ecuador you probably won't find tempeh in your quinoa soup, but it tastes great and adds protein. The soup comes together quickly and tastes far more complex than it is. It's one of my favorites. The soup is gluten-free.

    Quinoa soup
    • 1/2 cup quinoa
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 cup chopped onion (it's good if half of it is green onion)
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
    • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
    • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (to your taste)
    • 1 cup floury potatoes cut into small cubes (peeled at your discretion)
    • 1 cup shredded cabbage (or cauliflower)
    • several "baby" carrots from the ready-to-eat bag, sliced into strips (or one whole medium carrot, sliced)
    • 1/2 cup frozen corn
    • 5 cups low-sodium stock or water
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • half of a tempeh block sliced crosswise into thin strips and browned
    • sliced ripe avocado for garnish
    • chopped green onion for garnish
    • hot sauce for adding at the table (this might not be optional!)
    1. Rinse the quinoa well in a fine strainer under cold running water and set aside to drain. (The rinsing is important so it won't be bitter and bad-tasting) 
    2. Sauté the onion, garlic, cumin, paprika, oregano and tempeh (if using) in the oil until the onion is wilted and the tempeh brown. 
    3. Add the quinoa, salt, potato, cabbage, carrot and water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. 
    4. Add the frozen corn, stir, garnish as desired and eat.
    note: In Ecuador, we had rounds of corn on the cob (yes, ON the cob) in the soup. It had been cut crosswise into one inch rounds. We picked it out and munched the corn kernels off, and there was a bowl on the table to discard the cob pieces. In the summer when fresh corn is available, I do this. But the rest of the year I reach for that handy bag of frozen corn that's always in my freezer. Also, you can substitute different veggies for the cabbage - you could use zucchini or kale or as you see in the photo, cauliflower. (Some recipes call for chopped tomatoes or you can add mushrooms if you want.)

    March 03, 2014

    Food and plastic and baby albatrosses

    Cooked, dried limas, roasted butternut squash, peas, corn, cashew cheese sauce.

    I've always kind of figured I was doing my part to reduce animal cruelty, and also to protect the environment, just by being a vegan. I don't eat or wear animal products, I buy cruelty-free household and personal-care products, and in general, do my best to avoid buying things that are animal-derived. I don't eat honey, wear silk or comfort myself with feathers. I compost and recycle. Good for me, right?

    Thirty years ago, when I was living my vegan family life, I didn't have that much to recycle — you couldn't walk into a store and buy a package of any vegan item you felt like having. And, I was a pretty back-to-basics person back then. I measured my dried beans and grains, into reusable containers from the bulk bins at the co-op, or I bought in 25-pound bags. I belonged to a group of friends who formed a buying club, and if the bulk items we purchased were too large for us to use by ourselves, we shared them. We used to buy 15-pound tubs of tahini, split it into jars, and return the tubs for reuse. I bought my tofu like that, too. There was very little waste compared to what I recycle now. It doesn't seem like I even buy very many packaged items, but I'm still alarmed at the recycling we accumulate. Well, I've just experienced something that has me thinking harder about my role in environmental pollution, and how it affects animals — not just the animals who don't die for my use, but animals living thousands of miles away dying from my trash. This may not be a typical food-related post, but please stick with me. I think you'll be glad you did.

    Is the compostable bag really compostable?

    My oldest son teaches high school, and every year he organizes a week-long event coinciding with World Water Week, to highlight an aspect of the environment as it connects with water.

    Last years' tee-shirt design. A sense of humor is important at all times.

    Last year was about sanitation — or, more precisely, the effects of the lack of sanitation on health and the environment. You might think most people have access to toilets, but you'd be wrong. I almost lost my lunch doing research for that one. You might be wondering what my involvement is in all this. Well, guess who is the pro bono graphic designer behind the posters, tee-shirts, water bottles, post cards, etc., that appear in connection to the World Water Week event? This year I didn't have to do the shirts and bottles, but while I was searching for stuff about one of the keynote speakers for a poster, I watched two stunning videos that both moved and disturbed me.

    The subject this year is plastic, and the keynote speaker for the public component of this year's event, is Chris Jordan, a renowned environmental artist who lives in the Seattle area. The first video I watched was a TED talk Chris gave about some of the art pieces he had made depicting the usually unseen magnitude of the result of unconscious behaviors we, as individuals take part in without thinking about their impact. I've seen Chris' work before, but obviously I didn't pay enough attention. This time I was hearing an explanation, and as I watched his talk, I was amazed by what he had done. I couldn't get the video to embed, so I'm providing a link here.

    The second video describes a devastating environmental tragedy on remote, Midway island in the Pacific. There are vast collections of plastic suspended in the sea, and thousands of baby albatrosses die as their parents unwittingly feed them plastic. Please take the time to watch the two videos, and let me know what you are thinking. If you can only watch one, please watch the second. It's especially important to watch to the end. Thank you.

    I'm paying closer attention now to how food and other items are packaged, and how I can use less packaging. It's hard and frustrating sometimes to figure out how to do this. I always bring my own bags when I shop, but that's small potatoes in the larger picture. I'm interested in your thoughts.