30 August 2010

Eating in the Bay

As I mentioned earlier, I dined out quite often during my visit to the Bay.  In Oakland, Berkeley, and surrounding areas, there are numerous options from which to choose that could satisfy virtually any type of culinary craving.  I spent much of this food exploration with a dear friend who has doubled as my food buddy since we were dorm roommates as university freshmen years ago.  We always have an enjoyable time trying new eating establishments whenever we're able to spend time together, so because much of the week was spent wandering the Bay with this person, it really goes without saying that we both ate well.  My friend is always mindful of my dietary preferences--in fact, curious about and open to sharing the type of animal-free food I eat--which I think is just fabulous.

I always felt a little odd about taking photographs of food when I'm dining out (although I have no problem ogling over the awesome shots others take and post on their own blogs), so unfortunately, the so-called "food porn" will be kept to a minimum here; I only have snapshots of items that made it back to my sister's house, where I could not only photograph in peace, but also continue to devour my edible finds without shame.  And now, for a quick highlight reel of delectables:

Coffee made a regular appearance throughout the week, most notably Blue Bottle Coffee Company drip.  It's tasty stuff that, judging by the long line at the Oakland-based company's local farmers' market stand, many people also enjoy.  Cole Coffee's custom drip wasn't bad, either, and has a shop not too far from my sister's house, but my main reason for ever going there is to buy Pepples Donuts.  They're cake-style, vegan, organic, delicious pairings for a hot cup of coffee, no matter what flavor.  My favorite so far has been the chocolate donut with chocolate icing, although the orange-iced one was also good.

I was pretty excited to check out the new Cinnaholic storefront in Berkeley, which opened not too long after my last visit to the area.  Vegan, customizable cinnamon rolls?  That suits me quite well.  I selected an Old Skool roll (a classic cinnamon roll with vanilla frosting) and a roll with maple frosting and hazelnuts, both of which I shared with my sister, her boyfriend, and my foodie friend.  The Old Skool was good, but we all agreed that the maple-frosted roll was delicious.  Maple and cinnamon go so well together, and the whole hazelnuts just took the whole thing up a notch.  I'll be making a return trip to this place next time I'm in town.
Just a few hours before leaving the Bay, my sister and I stopped by last weekend's Eat Real Fest, which was held at Jack London Square in Oakland.  Basically, it was an epic food-centric gathering that featured multitudes of food truck vendors from the area.  While my sister had her fill of non-vegan fare, I supported the vegan presence.  

The Forest and Earth Mushroom Polenta Cone from RawDaddy Foods was a delightfully savory treat about which I was initially skeptical, just because I'm not a huge fan of mushrooms and didn't know what to expect from raw polenta.  But it was, indeed, very tasty, and the small, crisp, wafer-thin flax cone was the perfect vessel for holding  the corn and mushroom concoction.  It was like eating ice cream from a sugar cone, but all-raw, savory, and with a lot more texture than your average frozen dairy confection.

My second purchase at the festival was from Scream Sorbet, whose stand I'd see at a local farmers' market but never visit, usually due to by that time already having had my fill of lunch and various produce and snacks from other market vendors.  I'm glad I finally tried the sorbet, because it was pretty much as delectable as I'd always heard.  A few of the flavors on their regular menu contain honey, but I think each of the six available at their festival stand  that day were vegan.  I selected a scoop each of melon and pistachio, both of which were flavorful and refreshing.  The melon reminded me of a delicious melon gelato I had in Vienna, and the pistachio tasted, as my sister described it, just "like creamy, sweet ground pistachios"--very delectable, indeed.

My final animal-free indulgence from Eat Real Fest came from Fat Bottom Bakery's stand.  Rather than opting for one of two cupcake choices--although my sister did enjoy a miniature red velvet cupcake--I selected a Raspberry Crumble Bar.  I only took a nibble, because at that point I wasn't very hungry and decided to save it for my flight home, but I already liked it.  When I got around to properly enjoying the bar, although it was slightly smashed from having sat wrapped and in my purse for an hour, I found it to be a scrumptious blend of  crumbly and flaky textures, with a not-too-sweet raspberry filling.  It reminded me of brief discussion I had with a friend-of-a-friend I met the night before, who simply raved about vegan desserts, saying that she thought they were often just as good, if not better than non-vegan desserts.  (She also recommended that our mutual friend and I share a pint of Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica vegan ice cream with her, with which I am now in love.  That stuff is so creamy, no one would ever know it doesn't contain dairy unless they were told about it directly.)
That wasn't the full scope of my culinary exploration during my latest Bay trip and certainly won't be the end of it, either.  It's nice to see that more eating establishments are recognizing the diverse dietary and lifestyle choices present these days and are willing to accommodate them.  I hope that open mindset continues to catch on elsewhere.

29 August 2010

Cooking in the Bay

After spending the past week in the Bay, I have once again returned to my little suburban hometown in southern California.  It's always a bittersweet journey when transitioning between the almost-too-familiar setting of my permanent residence and the increasingly-familiar-but-still-novel-and-certainly-dynamic setting of the more urbanized environment in which my sister and various friends reside; while I enjoyed my week spent with some of the dearest people in my life and am developing a growing fondness for and comfort with the general geographic location they occupy, that attachment also makes departure that much more difficult with each visit.  And with another one of my close friends having just moved to Oakland (the same city that houses my sister and her boyfriend), I continue to find more incentives to travel in a northerly direction.  I'm already hoping for another return trip by the end of the year.

While out of town, despite having my sister's approval for cooking in her kitchen, I primarily dined out with a friend and a few times with my sister and her boyfriend.  A high proportion of restaurant dining, rather than cooking and eating in, is always to be anticipated on out-of-town excursions, considering the convenience of having food prepared by someone else and the Bay Area's particularly vegan-friendly array of eateries.  I had, however, originally planned to try to cook more often during this visit--bringing along an absolutely massive summer squash my aunt generously gave me the day before departing for northern California--with the intention of eating at least a few relatively healthy meals during my stay at my sister's house, while also saving some money.  The plan didn't quite work out, as I never got around to using the entire squash and still ended up spending most of my budget at various eating establishments in the vicinity.  However, on the few occasions I did actually cook, the dishes were simple, each containing a handful of ingredients (whatever was on hand) and requiring only a short amount of time on the stove or in the microwave.
I could not discern the specific type of squash my aunt had given me, so based upon superficial examination, I assumed it was merely a very large, pale green, zucchini-like squash.  Upon cutting into the thing, it appeared to be more eggplant-like, but with a thicker skin and white flesh that didn't oxidize upon exposure to air.  I was a little perplexed by all of this, but proceeded to treat the squash as if it were indeed akin to zucchini.  Inspired by Maangchi's Zucchini Pancakes (Hobakjeon) and David Lebovitz's Korean Scallion Pancakes (Pajeon), I used a hybrid version of the two recipes, using only a quarter of the mysterious squash; basically, I prepared the pancakes according to Maangchi's recipe, added green onions and red pepper threads called for in Lebovitz's recipe, and adjusted the amount of flour and water to achieve what I deemed appropriate pancake batter consistency.  I also added a shredded carrot and minced garlic for extra heartiness and flavor.  To cook the pancakes (it ended up making two large ones), I heated a little bit of canola oil in a large, nonstick pan, spread a layer of batter onto it, and allowed it to cook until golden brown on both sides.  I wasn't too fond of the interior softness of the pancakes--the moisture from the veggies is the likely culprit--but the crisper exterior supplemented that textural issue well enough.  A dipping sauce of mirin, sriracha, and shoyu was the perfect accompaniment for the mildly-seasoned snack.
Sticking to the Asian-inspired dishes that comprised the extent of my cooking while out of town, I prepared a simple tofu dish by pressing a block of extra-firm tofu, cubing it, then marinating it in a blend of shiro (white) miso, water, mirin, and sriracha.  After draining and reserving the marinade, I pan-fried the tofu in a lightly oiled nonstick skillet, finishing with freshly chopped green onion.
By the end of the week, I still hadn't prepared most of the sea tangle noodles I purchased at the beginning of my trip, so I assembled a noodle dish similar to the one I made a few days prior, as a side for the tofu.  This time, the sauce was composed of chunky peanut butter, some of the reserved tofu marinade, mirin, almond milk, orange juice, sriracha, and finely shredded carrot.  Rather than just rinsing the noodles in warm water, I simmered them in the sauce.  I added a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach, cooked them until just wilted, then tossed in chopped green onion.  The sweet, savory, spicy, chunky sauce was flavorful and pretty tasty, and the texture of the noodles (like that of al dente wheat pasta) was perfect.
Because I cooked the tofu and noodles the night before departing from the Bay, I left any extras in my hosts' fridge.  My sister has developed a taste for fried tofu, so I hope she'll also enjoy the leftover miso tofu.  If only she and her boyfriend can find time and motivation to make something delicious from the rest of that gigantic squash!

25 August 2010

Pasta of the Sea

Have you tried sea tangle noodles yet?  Seeing packages of translucent bundles of what looked like rice noodles piqued my curiosity during a recent trip to a Korean market near my sister's house.  These incredibly low-calorie strands are composed of kelp, so they are much more nutrient-dense than wheat or rice pasta.  Despite being sea vegetable-based, the noodles have a neutral flavor, making them ideal for pairing with any number of sauces or dressings.  Left raw, the noodles are fairly crunchy; boiling them briefly softens them a bit, leaving them with a slight bite.  I simply rinsed them under warm water to loosen the bundle, then served them with a warm sauce.
Because the sea tangle noodles were purchased rather spontaneously--a bargain at 99 cents for a 10-serving bag--I hadn't yet devised a plan for how I would prepare them.  My generous hosts for the week (my sister and her boyfriend) are always willing to share whatever contents of their kitchen I can and want to eat, so before heading back out to gather ingredients to dress the noodles, I rummaged through the refrigerator and pantry of my loved ones' home  for sauce components.  Fortunately, a combination of a few on hand ingredients produced a tasty dressing, negating any last-minute shopping excursions.  The following amounts are approximated, based upon the haphazard process by which I threw together this quick and easy dish.
Nutty Sea Tangle Noodles (printable recipe)
Yields one serving

Handful of sea tangle (kelp) noodles, rinsed with warm water and drained
1 T peanut butter, extra crunchy (creamy is fine)
1/2 tsp black bean garlic sauce
1 T mirin
Generous squeeze sriracha, or to taste
3 T to 1/4 c almond milk
Handful of baby spinach, rinsed and spun dry

In a small, microwaveable bowl or saucepan, combine the peanut butter, black bean garlic sauce, mirin, and sriracha, stirring until well-combined.  Stir in almond milk a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is thick and comparable in consistency to a cream sauce.  Microwave the sauce on high for 45 seconds or heat in saucepan over until it is just warmed through.  Stir the sauce once more, toss with the noodles, and serve over baby spinach.  Enjoy!

23 August 2010

Cranberry Orange Walnut Pancakes

Cool, autumnal weather always reminds me of warm spices, crunchy leaves, and Thanksgiving.  And when I think of that particular harvest time celebration, for some reason I think more of cranberries than of turkey, despite never liking cranberry sauce or even cranberries in general until fairly recently.  In fact, I very much enjoy dried cranberries nowadays--support, perhaps, of the idea that tastes do, in fact, change with time.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that the weather can actually be considered autumnal--although save for today, it has been rather cool during the day, with the morning air quite crisp--but it certainly hasn't felt like summer in my coastal hometown for a good stretch.  One of those smells-like-autumn mornings last week, I returned from a jog with thoughts of amber-colored foliage and, of course, cranberries.  Soon, I was whipping up a small batch of fruity, nutty pancakes for a post-run breakfast.  The small batch--using an adapted version of this recipe--made enough to serve one person (me!) and was sweetened with maple syrup instead of brown sugar.  I also used unsweetened vanilla almond milk and added about one-half teaspoon fresh orange zest; approximately two tablespoons dried, sweetened cranberries; and roughly the same amount of toasted, chopped walnuts.  The resulting pancakes were tender, chewy, fruity, nutty, crunchy, and just sweet enough to not warrant additional maple syrup topping or dipping.  With a hot mug of black coffee, they made for a delightful breakfast treat that unseasonably cool morning.  Ah, I can't wait for autumn to actually arrive...

22 August 2010

Party Time

Happy weekend, all. Today marked the end of a long process of planning and preparing for my sister-in-law's baby shower, which doubled as a massive family gathering. After a long afternoon filled with family time and brimming with excitement for the upcoming arrival of the little one, I am thoroughly exhausted, but ultimately happy and relieved with the event's apparent success. The turnout was massive--we welcomed the guest of honor's friends, coworkers, and extensive family--but everyone seemed to enjoy the party. Due to the sheer size and scope of my sister-in-law's side of the family, it's difficult to get most of them in the same place at any given time. I'm glad that as co-hostesses, my mom and I were able to make this celebration happen for my brother and sister-in-law, because it was very important to them that they be able to share their joy with the people who matter most to them.

The unconventional baby shower still featured a few traditional shower games and baby-themed decor (most of it pink, in this case), but as a coed barbecue, also included food, and plenty of it.  My Filipino in-laws are undisputed omnivores and none of the non-family guests were even vegetarian (certainly not vegan), so of course, animal-laden fare dominated the gustatory element of the celebration.  Even with last-minute decor, favor assembling, general set up, and other co-hostess duties, I still managed to crank out a few vegan food options from the kitchen.

Dulce de Leche Brownies
I adapted these from a David Lebovitz recipe in order to make them vegan-friendly.  Vegan substitutions merely involved replacing dairy butter with vegan butter, eggs with flax "eggs" (milled flax mixed with warm water until viscous), and dulce de leche with a homemade nondairy version.  I also used a half-and-half mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flours, used semisweet chocolate, reduced the amount of sugar, and added almond extract.  I doubled the recipe with no problems, and it was a good thing I did, because these incredibly rich morsels of chocolate and caramel delight disappeared quickly.

Kiyuri Namasu
I made my usual version of this pickled cucumber salad, increasing the amount of ginger to a full teaspoon.  A sharp V-Slicer made quick work of reducing two large, seedless cucumbers to a pile of paper-thin slices.

Pasta salad
Barbecues never seem quite complete without a big salad.  I took the lazy and reliable route to crowd-pleasing pasta salad by doctoring prepared fat-free Italian dressing with lemon zest and juice, as well as fresh, chopped parsley.  A colorful variety of vegetables, olives, and chickpeas added hearty, tasty crunch.

Spicy Coconut Lime Tofu
This was a surprising hit.  Being that the guest list was comprised of meat-loving individuals, I didn't expect to have any sort of vegan protein available unless I provided it myself.  Finding myself with a bit of leisure time before the party, I hastily whipped up a small batch of this Chinese- and Thai-inspired tofu dish, deciding that I wanted to be able to enjoy more than just salad and melon.  It turned out that several guests scooped up a few pieces of the tofu as I was tending to party matters away from the main food area where the dish was kept, and enjoyed it so much that only a single piece remained by the time I was able to assemble a plate.  Had I foreseen the dish's apparent popularity, I certainly would have prepared a larger batch.  (Fortunately, one of my in-laws also brought some food, including a Chinese-style fried tofu and vegetable dish that was very tasty.)  Some of the guests' inquiries about how to cook the dish encouraged me to share the process here.  What is particularly nice about this formula is that it requires so little effort while still producing satisfying results.  I hope you enjoy it!

Spicy Coconut Lime Tofu (printable recipe)
Yields 4 servings.

19 oz firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
1/4 brown rice vinegar
3 T black bean garlic sauce
2 T sambal oelek (Asian hot chili sauce)
1 1/4 c light coconut milk
1 T agave nectar
1 tsp fresh ginger, slightly crushed
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Oil for pan-frying

Cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces and place in a shallow dish.  For the marinade/sauce, combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl, until well-mixed.  Pour marinade over the tofu and allow to marinate, covered, for at least 1 hour.

Heat a lightly-oiled medium skillet over medium flame.  Gently drain the tofu, reserving the marinade.  Lay the tofu pieces in a single layer in the hot skillet, reduce to medium-low heat, and cook until golden brown.  Flip and continue to cook until the other side is golden brown, then remove from heat.  In a small saucepan, cook reserved marinade over low heat, until it just begins to simmer.  Pour sauce over tofu and serve hot.
I'm heading back up to the Bay area for the week, so I may or may not be able to cook as much as I normally can at home.  In any case, it will be nice to spend some time with my sister and a few friends.  Should I find myself cooking after all, I'll be sure to share my experience here.

18 August 2010

Grain-Free "Risotto" and a Giveaway

I love, love, love One Frugal Foodie's recipe for Cauliflower "Risotto."  It is seriously so easy to make--less fussy and much quicker to pull together than the real thing while still mimicking its taste and texture.  Whenever I have cauliflower on hand, this is what I usually end up making with it.  Whenever I have cauliflower on hand, this is what I usually end up making with it.  I feel a little bad when I inevitability abandon my self control by giving into the addictive nature of this dish, but then make myself feel better for eating most of it in one sitting by reminding myself that 1) my nonstick pan makes the use of oil unnecessary and 2) a bunch of cauliflower is a much healthier alternative to the arborio rice it replaces.  During stressful and busy weeks like the one I'm experience right now, this type of simple, reliable, quick-and-delicious recipe is a blessing.  I spiced up the recipe a bit by adding roasted garlic and red pepper flakes.
Speaking of One Frugal Foodie, there is an awesome, four-cookbook (all vegan!) giveaway going on over there.  Head over and check it out, and while you're at it, enjoy the other tasty-looking recipes there.

16 August 2010

Baby's Growing Up...

August is always my most activity-filled month of the summer.  Up until a few years ago, this time of the season marked the homestretch toward another school year (no longer a factor at the moment, but with grad school potentially part of my future down the road, the phenomenon may, yet again, materialize).  It has and always will be a particularly celebratory time of the year; everyone and his brother--including at least a quarter of my friends--seems to have been born during August, and more and more of my peers have given birth or are due this month.  So maybe the unconscious acknowledgement of the August birthday onslaught was what eventually prompted me to begin this blog one year ago.

When I began writing Bread Without Butter, I merely wanted to create a forum for me to combine my love for cooking and writing.  I wasn't sure that it would last for very long, but I'm glad that it has; through writing this blog, I have realized how diverse and endlessly fascinating food can be and that writing of any kind actually does have the power to keep me (relatively) sane.  Even better still, I have been able to connect with some truly wonderful readers and fellow bloggers, from whom I continue to learn new things daily.  It has really been a treat, and I thank you all for making it so.  Perhaps this time next year I'll be marking another year of food musings.  For now, I'll just enjoy the ride and see where it takes me...

Despite this one-year milestone, I didn't think the occasion warranted another homemade cake or likewise symbolic, celebratory confection.  I've had plenty of that so far anyway, what with a few friends' birthdays occurring in a cluster during the last week-and-a-half.  My kitchen certainly has seen its fair share of sweets recently, with more to come as the milestones continue.  In the spirit of celebration, I'll share some of that sugary goodness here.

Vanilla-Rosewater Poundcake
I baked this in honor of a long-distance friend's birthday.  (He didn't actually eat any of it; baking it was more of a symbolic gesture, a bit of a weird habit I've developed to compensate for my physical absence for my loved ones' significant occasions.)  This is the rosewater variation of Veganomicon's Vanilla Yogurt Poundcake recipe.  I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for some of the all-purpose flour, reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup, and added 1/4 teaspoon almond extract.  The cake was perfectly sweet with the slightest hint of floral essence.
I preferred eating the cake plain, but thought I'd see how it looked and tasted with some adornment.  Sugared pistachios and rosewater icing did, indeed, put it a little on the saccharine side, but the nutty and floral flavors complemented that of the cake itself.  It was a little more festive and visually interesting, too.
My favorite way of eating the poundcake was by individual, dry-toasted slice.  Toasting the slices crisped the sides beautifully while keeping the interior soft and moist.
Roll-and-Cut Sugar Cookies
I baked these using the recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, topping a few of them with lemon icing.  They tasted just like my mom's non-vegan sugar cookies, which I loved baking, decorating, and eating as a child.  I sent a few to another out-of-town friend for her birthday this past weekend, and she loved them!
Chocolate Truffles
These also went to the birthday girl.  I had made vegan truffles only once prior to this most recent round, but I wanted to try a recipe that didn't require tofu or additional sugar.  Consulting this recipe, I soaked the cashews first for an hour or so to ensure that they would blend smoothly, and used semisweet Belgian chocolate.  One half-batch consisted of plain truffles coated in cocoa powder blended with a touch of powdered sugar, while the other half-batch was comprised of toasted almond-coated amaretto truffles.  For those, rather than blending the cashews with water, I blended them with amaretto liqueur.  They had a distinctly nutty flavor that I loved, but on future truffle-making ventures, I may either reduce the alcohol to half the amount (replacing the other half with water) or add a sweetener to temper the boozy punch.
Cappuccino Caramels
This was the last of the sweet treats I sent to the equally sweet birthday girl.  They probably softened quite a bit during their overnight journey up the coast (along with the truffles), but I'm sure (at least I hope) they were still delectable.  The smell alone of these little morsels of delight--another fantastic 500 Vegan Recipes creation--is pretty amazing.  They're a lovely mixture of coffee and caramel flavors rolled into one sticky-sweet package.  I still have about half of the batch in my freezer (out of sight so that I won't devour them all at once) and am contemplating what I might make from them.  I'm thinking cookies will be in order sometime down the road.

To add to the positive theme of the post, Zoa over at The Airy Way (a wonderful blog I always enjoy reading) recently handed me a Happy 101 award.  Thanks, Zoa!  I appreciate and am flattered by the nod.  I'm glad this humble blog of mine has sparked some interest and I'll continue to do my best not to bore all of you!  As the award consists of its recipients each listing 10 things that make them happy, I took the opportunity to reflect upon what brightens my day-to-day, which is in line with my very introspective nature.  I happen to be yet another shy recipient, but I'll share my Happy 10 with you, because it never hurts to spread the joy.
So here are 10 things (some are more like categories) that I am happy to have in my life, unnumbered and randomly ordered:

Coffee and tea - I am far from being a caffeinated beverage connoisseur, but I do know that I love good, hot, strong, black coffee (and the occasional vegan latte), preferably of non-Starbucks origin.  My last two years at university consisted of a great deal of coffee-drinking, thanks in large part to my circle of friends consisting heavily of baristas.  I love a hot mug of tea, too.  In fact, green tea comprises at least half of my beverage intake during a typical day.  Mind you, I don't need all of this caffeine to function normally; I apparently just really enjoy the stuff.

Family and friends - Having returned to my hometown since graduating from university, I have spent a large amount of time with my immediate family.  As I would imagine is the case with many people, I am occasionally annoyed by them (as they almost certainly are with me), even angered, but in the end, I still love them and am grateful for their presence in my life.  The same goes for my friends, the closest of whom are actually living far enough away so that congregating with any one of them is a pretty rare occurrence.  Thankfully, technology enables us to still take somewhat active parts in each other lives via emails, texts, and Facebook (the one good thing about social networking being the ability to stay connected with true friends).  And blogging allows me to connect with friends in the blogosphere (like you guys!).  I may occasionally gripe about the seemingly depersonalizing effects of gradually digitizing every aspect of human interaction, but for that which allows me to interact meaningfully with humanity, I am quite appreciative.  Bottom line: knowing good people makes me happy.

Music - This is yet another thing I just cannot live without.  It makes me smile to partake in the musical talents of various friends, to bask in a stranger's gentle plucking of a Spanish guitar, or dance unabashedly to an upbeat tune.  I used to be very picky about the types of music I listened to when I was younger, but nowadays, my tastes have broadened.  Along the same lines as the music itself, singing also makes me happy.  My mom has always had a lovely singing voice, apparently inherited from my late grandmother, so I suppose that for me, it is a natural reaction to a familiar tune, although my shyness allows me to catch myself before doing this too much in public.

Silence - As much as I enjoy music, I prize silence.  Especially when life seems particularly hectic and disorientating, I crave and need silence.  It creates a private space for mindfulness, thinking clearly, bringing one into the present.

Visual arts - This includes photography, film, painting, etc.  I'm not particularly well-versed in any facet of this artistic realm, but I very much appreciate others' artistry, and I feel like I'm fortunate to be surrounded, inspired, and transported by it.

Handmade, homemade goods - In our increasingly assembly-line manufactured world, it is always a delight to know that there are people out there who still lovingly create things by hand.  Cooking on a small scale is a good example of this.  I just love the inherent uniqueness of handmade items and truly appreciate the time and effort put into bringing something to life with one's own hands.  Sure, I don't mind machine-made goods, but there is so much more personality behind those created from scratch and with that human touch.

Acts of kindness of any size - Small gestures, such as a stranger pausing to hold to the door open for someone, remind me of the bright side of human nature.  When people seem petty and the world, tough and scary, those little things help to ease my anxiety and cynicism.  As I write this, I think fondly of the elderly, dog-walking couple with whom I exchange greetings whenever we cross paths during my morning run.  They never fail so say "good morning" with broad smiles, and it always instantaneously warms my heart and gets me over the most difficult part of my run.

Words and language - I may ere toward brevity when it comes to verbal exchange--I'm shy, a little awkward, and picky about the words I use--but I tend to be wordy when it comes to writing.  I think it's just that I love words and etymology so much.  Knowing the ancient Greek and Latin roots of words has this way of bringing me joy, and I don't know why.  I suppose that for someone like me who enjoys writing and has many reasons for doing it, words themselves and the languages they represent are more than just letters; they were created specifically to convey our complex thoughts and emotions (attractive for my overly-analytical mind) and feature nearly limitless ways of arranging them.  I love that sort of breadth of creativity.

Travel - I have not had much opportunity to travel, abroad or domestically, but I've generally liked my experiences.  Learning about history, culture, and people through travel is endlessly fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable, and invaluable.  And I do seem to learn something new each time I find myself outside of my region of residence, and I sense that having those little epiphanies and knowledge enriches my life, even if I can't quite pinpoint how or why.  But the fact that I'm experiencing and learning, gaining more than one perspective on any given topic, should be enough to make me happy.  Hopefully, my life can one day accommodate more practical opportunities for travel.

Nature - I love being outdoors, especially out in the smog-free air of a remote beach, lush forest, or quiet mountaintop.  Having lived in suburban settings all my life, in which the houses are still mass-produced to look almost eerily similar to one another and the streets are paved and lined with automobiles, I probably have more ready access to a green plot of land than individuals residing in urban sprawls, but my surroundings are still more man-made than nature-made.  So I've developed a fondness and appreciation for unspoiled earth and am thankful that there are places in which such a thing still exists.

Whew.  Thanks for enduring this unusually lengthy post!  And now is the time to pass along the Happy 101 award.  I read and enjoy so many fabulous blogs (consider this my big, blog-love shout out), making it difficult to narrow down my selection.  So I'll just mention (in no particular order) a few bloggers out there to whom I will pass along the love, with absolutely no pressure to do anything with the award if that's not really your thing.

Jessy at happyveganface
Jeni at Heathen Vegan
Laura Jill at LJ's Veganlicious Life
Affectioknit at Affectioknit
Alicia at Vegan Epicurean
Mihl at seitan is my motor
Morgan at Little House of Veggies

To anyone still reading: please know that all of you guys are awesome, and make the blogosphere oh-so-nice!

14 August 2010


It's getting busy around here.  The activity is sure to pick up in the upcoming week, so I thought I'd briefly share a dish created with resourcefulness and time limitations in mind.  It's another revamping of a week's worth of leftovers that I'll just refer to (for lack of a better name) as Salsa Hash.
The ingredient list is fairly simple, consisting primarily of refrigerated items prepared earlier in the week: cooked pinto beans, roasted red potatoes, a cob (maybe two) of boiled white corn, homemade heirloom cherry tomato salsa, onion, garlic, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.  Inspired to make something other than mashed potatoes with those leftover root veggies, I thought of cooking up a breakfast potato hash, extending the idea to incorporate other miscellaneous leftovers (i.e., the salsa and corn).  Of course, potato hash is certainly not limited to morning consumption, but that's when I was compelled to make and eat it most recently.

To assemble the Salsa Hash, I sauteed chopped onion and minced garlic in a lightly oiled skillet until the onion was translucent, then added chopped roasted potatoes.  After browning the potatoes, I added the pinto beans and corn kernels (sliced off the cob), continuing to saute the mixture until the beans were warmed through and the corn slightly caramelized.  The salsa and hot sauce went in last, cooked only until heated through.  A tiny bit of salt and pepper finished the dish, which came together in fewer than 20 minutes and successfully utilized leftovers I may not have eaten had I not thrown them into a dish completely new altogether.

The Salsa Hash was actually pretty tasty, and quite hearty as well.  The Tex-Mex-like flavors were a pleasant blending of sweet and savory, and I enjoyed the variety of textures present in the dish.  It was certainly appropriate for a carbohydrate fix.  It may not have been the most elaborate or glamorous of dishes, but hey, I avoided wastefulness while enjoying a filling, delectable breakfast--and that's definitely a nice way to begin any day.

08 August 2010

Green and Garlicky, or Non-Date Night Food

Although I normally relish cool weather--particularly in August, the notoriously hottest month of the calendar year--I am actually a little surprised that the temperatures have remained so consistently pleasant for practically the entire summer.  The coolness is likely the culprit behind the delayed proliferation of the heirloom tomato plants in my backyard, but they don't necessarily look to be struggling to survive, so I don't feel justified in complaining much about this odd weather pattern.  Instead, I am taking advantage of the unseasonably low temperatures by utilizing my stove and oven whenever it suits my cooking mood.

The other day, I decided to crank up the oven to roast a head of broccoli, with the intention of eating it as a side dish to some entree I hadn't yet devised.  I quite enjoy the flavor and texture of roasted vegetables in general, but couldn't recall whether I had applied that cooking method to broccoli.  Following my usual roasting technique--tossing the florets with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few whole garlic cloves--I let the broccoli sit in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately a half hour, until the florets were just cooked and toasty.  By then, I still had not thought of something with which to pair the roasted broccoli, which happened to be quite tasty but unsatisfying as a meal on its own.

At some point, the idea of making a pesto out of it sounded like a good idea.  I'm sure it's been done over and over again, but using a cooked ingredient in a traditionally raw sauce was a novel concept for me with which I had toyed for some time, but never actually attempted.  I decided to whip together a minimized-fat version that included raw spinach and toasted walnuts.  Due to the complete spontaneity of the project, the amounts of each ingredient are approximate.  As always, it's a fairly flexible formula; please don't hesitate to adjust to taste.

Roasted Broccoli and Spinach Pesto (printable recipe)
Yields approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups.

1 medium head broccoli, roasted* and cooled
1/3 c toasted walnuts
4 cloves roasted garlic (I used the garlic I roasted whole with the broccoli.)**
1 clove raw garlic, optional**

1 c fresh spinach, loosely packed
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
2 T fresh basil, chopped
1/2 c vegetable broth
3 T nutritional yeast
Salt and pepper, to taste

*To roast broccoli: Cut washed head into florets.  Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a few whole garlic cloves.  Bake on a sheet pan at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes, turning and flipping midway through baking time.
**Roasted garlic is sweeter and mellower than raw garlic, so I used both here for the sweetness of the former and sharpness of the latter.  Omit the raw garlic for a more subtle garlic flavor, or omit the roasted garlic and increase the raw garlic to two cloves for a more pronounced garlic flavor.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the walnuts and garlic until finely chopped.  Add the roasted broccoli, spinach, parsley, basil, nutritional yeast, and 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth and process until blended, adding enough vegetable broth to achieve a thick but spreadable consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste, blending until incorporated.  Enjoy as a sauce, dip, or spread--no additional cooking required!
As the title of this post suggests, you may want to avoid consuming this pesto when you expect to be in the company of someone you might feel inclined to impress.  Aside from including broccoli and spinach--two veggies that tend to get stuck between teeth--the amount of garlic alone should be enough to warrant some physical distance.  But hey, if that sort of thing is of no issue, perhaps you might serve it up in one of the following ways:

Pesto Rice
This was the manner in which I first ate my new batch of Roasted Broccoli and Spinach Pesto, using the leftover cooked brown rice I had on hand.  Simply reheat the brown rice (I do this by microwaving it with a sprinkle of water) and mix with your desired amount of pesto.  The resulting dish ends up being a little like a sturdier version of risotto, with much less time and patience required.
Gnocchi with Pesto
Like many carbohydrate addicts, I have a hearty fondness for bread, pasta, dumplings, and starchy vegetables.  To me, gnocchi has always been akin to something like the ultimate comfort food pasta (even though it's not pasta at all), combining potatoes with flour into a dumpling, then dressed with the sauce of choice.  I prefer to make my gnocchi from scratch, so using my last sweet potato and a shiny new potato ricer I've been dying to try, I set about the dumpling-making process.  I typically wing it when it comes to making gnocchi, but the method is quite basic.  You can probably find infinite versions online, but I'll provide what I did here anyway.  I like sweet-and-savory flavor combinations (hence the sweet potato), but a regular potato may be substituted, if preferred.

Sweet Potato Whole Wheat Gnocchi (printable recipe)
Yields 2 servings.

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped, then boiled in salted water until tender
1 flax "egg" (1 T milled flax seed mixed with 3 T warm water, until viscous)
1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour

Drain the sweet potato.  Put it through a potato ricer, or mash it well with a fork or potato masher until no large clumps remain.  Mix in the flax "egg," then add the flour, and mix until incorporated.  Divide the dough into three balls.  Roll out each ball into a snake approximately 1/2" in diameter.  Cut into 1/2" pieces, then run each piece along the tines of an overturned fork (tines down) to achieve gnocchi's trademark ridges.  Place the uncooked gnocchi on sheet covered with parchment paper and lightly dusted with flour.
Drop gnocchi into boiling, salted water, and cook until the dumplings just float to the top, approximately three minutes.  Drain and toss gently with Roasted Broccoli and Spinach Pesto.  Enjoy hot.