Monday, June 28, 2010


My family is wonderful. Yes, of course the folks I mention from time to time, my husband, son, daughter and two dogs, that goes without saying, but today I also speak of my extended family, and particularly my family of origin. We have had the good fortune for several days to have my parents, my brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece visit. My brother and sister in law are teachers in China, and their family has called that country home for a couple of years now. They are able to return to the States once a year during the summer. My parents live in Virginia, and when they visit us they take a couple of days to get here. I am so grateful everyone rallied to make the trip for this little family reunion.

This was my family's first visit since I have been vegan, so I was a little nervous. All amazing people, these family members are open-minded, reasonable and non-judgemental, so I wasn't worried about their treatment of me or my choice, but like anything else, I wondered how something familiar and crucial to the core of who I am would mesh with my new vegan context. I needn't have worried at all. Pleasantly curious, several of my family members asked enough questions about the vegan diet that I could comfortably discuss it in a celebratory vein, while not demeaning their own food choices. Each of us is on a journey through life, side by side, if only figuratively, and each journey is valid.

We had a lot of delicious food together. My family has always loved pitching in together in the kitchen, and my father and brother are especially good chefs. My brother, animatedly described a certain pepper in China which apparently has no English name, and is so hot it acts like novocaine for a few minutes. He had left it in the luggage at his wife's parents' house, so he made do with what he could find in my kitchen and prepared spicy chili-lime peanuts for us all to snack on. Yum! My Dad helped with several dishes, my favorite one being grilled veggies. He chopped eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, onion and shallots, and I added from my garden these lovely Chinese long beans, a couple of yellow squash, a handful of cherry tomatoes and some twigs of thyme. To all this we added olive oil, salt and pepper and my husband stir fried it in a grill pan as he prepared shishkebabs for the carnivores and a field roast sausage for me.

There were several big vegan hits over the days with my family.  They really enjoyed the Raw Kale Salad and Pasta alla Formiana from Little House of Veggies ( and the Cassoulet from Veganomicon. Otherwise, there was always good bread and a salad of some sort, and plenty of snacking, with vegan choices figuring prominently.

I am sorry these wonderful people have moved out of my house and back to their own lives now, but I am left feeling so grateful for our time together. Mom, Dad, Brit, Cathy, Braedon and McKenzie, you guys are amazing -- thanks for everything!  Until next time . . . .

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bountiful Summer

Summer is bountiful in every way. Time with my teenage kids is bountiful, and they, mostly, enjoy each other's company. They each get a kick out of the other's sense of humor, so laughter is bountiful.  Plans and responsibilities are bountiful. Ambitions are bountiful. My garden is bountiful enough, with plenty for me to eat, and will soon be overly bountiful, which will be fine since I will have enough to give away.  What is proving not to be bountiful is time to take care of it all.  Still, I can only do my best, and we are very blessed with this bustling, happy household.

Here is a wonderful plateful of a salad I assembled quickly recently for lunch from a new harvest and leftovers. On artisan butter and frisee lettuces, I layered last night's crookneck squash (homegrown by moi) with shallots and mushrooms -- cold, chickpeas, almonds, capers and leftover barley.  I topped it off  with Annie's Goddess dressing, which I find to be too thick on its own, so I add a tablespoon or so of Bragg's apple cider vinegar and shake it up to thin it.  This was such a wonderful, bountiful way for me to use up little bits and pieces of leftovers, and the meal was energizing and filling, and kept me going all afternoon.

Here is my most recent garden harvest.  I love everything about it.  Don't my veggies seem to have personalities?  Particularly entertaining to me are the cucumbers.  They have grown so quickly, and look like funky little aliens.  They are all wearing an unusual corset of spikes, like cacti.  I guess this is protection against marauders.  After delivering a painful poke to the harvester, when rubbed from the side they come right off. I have enjoyed these in salads, and I have also made a batch of umeboshi vinegar pickles from them.

Take a good look at my arugula.  You can see the telltale nibble marks of the fat, green tomato worms (really caterpillars) who have found the greens first.  I pick through these and give the chewed ones to my dogs Emma an Ellie, who don't mind eating after caterpillars.  They love veggies!

Well, my plate is full today -- literally and figuratively -- so I'd better go get to it!  Find and enjoy your bounty!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Holy Moly, Was This One Good!!

Alright, you know how excited I become when I don't have to work too hard to get what I need and want at a restaurant. Not that I resent educating a server to champion my vegan cause, but sometimes when I get all gussied up and go somewhere fancy to be served a lovely dinner, well, I just want to be served a lovely dinner -- lovely by MY standards that is.

After the USA v. England party, my husband thanked me by taking me out for a nice meal. This time we chose Milton's, a wonderful restaurant built from an historic farmhouse in Milton, GA. We had been to the place a couple of times before, but had always met friends in the bar area, where we sampled hors d'ouvres instead of eating a full meal (I had enjoyed a mediterranean crostini without the feta).  This time my husband got us a table so we could eat a proper meal. Milton's expanded from the original farmhouse in a beautiful manner, with a series of small rooms up or down a few stairs, following the topography of the land. All the new construction honors the integrity of the style of the original so that the expansion is seamless to all but those with a construction background. Last year, on a vacant portion of the restaurant's property, evidence of old plowed rows of a garden was discovered. So Milton's vegetable garden was revived and it provides lovely fresh veggies for most of the meals served at the restaurant.

I opened my thick menu, preparing to try to speed-read for my best choices (phooey -- forgot my glasses again!) but on the second page, as my eyes adjusted, under the "Lighter Fare" heading was "Chef's Vegetable Plate" -- yay!  I did the responsible thing this time and asked about any dairy or animal products included with this feature. The server explained that feta cheese was used in the fried green tomato batter (darn -- I love fried green tomatoes!). She did assure me that I would love the dish without the FGT's, and that whatever hole was left from their absence would be filled by a wonderful varied selection of vegan foods.

Mmmmm -- boy did this dish knock my socks off!  Tender sauteed spinach -- fresh from the ground outside and bejeweled by roasted garlic cloves, sauteed young green beans, fresh off the vine, roasted asparagus, roasted tomatoes, roasted fingerling potatoes, and to round out this bounty, a very pleasant bean, corn and vegetable pilaf, heavy on the veggies, light on the rice.  I was a member of the clean plate club that evening, and after dreaming about the meal, woke the next day feeling a little sad I had no leftovers in the fridge. You can bet I will be back at Milton's before too long ordering exactly the same thing!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Are You Ready For Some Futbol?

For a week or so the energy in the air around here has been palpable. My husband is a HUGE soccer fan and The World Cup has been much anticipated. Yesterday we hosted a small group of friends for a viewing of USA v. England. Our little band of die hard fans was as entertaining for me as the featured event. I snapped this photo without warning shortly after USA scored. Moments earlier there was such a loud outburst of celebration I bet folks across the street could hear it, though it's hard to tell from this photo. Instantly, those who were most focused on the game snapped right back into form. The group here is mostly an athletic bunch, and there are some who are VERY competitive. It is very entertaining to be around these wonderful personalities. Regretfully, I didn't catch everyone in this photo as some had gotten up to refuel after the goal. For those of you who didn't watch the game, England scored first, so the energy of my little party was rather subdued for some time until USA made it's tie-making goal.  I loved witnessing the emotional shift in the room at that point.

Here's a shot of some of the food we nibbled at our futbol shindig.  Our friends and neighbors are always very thoughtful and generous, pitching in to help in times like these.  Nobody brought any meat products -- interesting . . . but there were a few dairy-based dips, and one lobster dip.  I enjoyed some delicious salt-and pepper potato chips someone brought, but I personally went dipless for those.  In the crock pot was what appeared to be a warm cheese dip that my dairy-eating friends enjoyed. I knew folks would be bringing food, so I provided mostly the kind of party food that I eat, but I put out plenty of that for everyone.  There was spinach-artichoke hummus with pita chips -- that was a big hit.  I refilled the bowl twice over the course of the party. I also put out some olive tapenade, little kosher dill pickles and large spanish olives.  I rounded out my party provisions with storebought cookies (I know, I missed an opportunity to make my own delicious vegan cookies, but I was too busy cleaning my house for the party to cook). I did put out a very small plate of sliced cheese with crackers.  It feels very strange for me to buy and serve cheese, but buying meat would have been worse.  I know that the vegan diet is healthier and more karmically sound than other diets, and it is, without a doubt the right choice for me, but I also honor the fact that food choices are highly personal.  All I can do is provide healthier alternatives for everyone and stand by my own choices for myself.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Supporting the Local Economy

Recently, we joined a few friends in trying some new establishments located in the next town over. We tried INC and Diesel, both in Roswell, GA. INC has been open a handful of months, but we understand it is owned and run by folks who used to have a hole-in-the wall joint called Little Alley, also in Roswell. This description is actually not entirely fair, since the only hole-in-the-wall part of the place was the location -- next to the bowling alley, behind a camera shop in a completely defunct strip mall.   Walking into Little Alley, we used to feel very sneaky, like we were in possession of a precious secret.  The food, all tapas, was amazing, and there was always live music and an unusual collection of characters for clientele. Only occasionally did we see someone we knew, which is uncharacteristic in this smallish town, and we liked it that way, guarding our "secret" jealously. I suspect others did the same, which probably contributed to the demise of Little Alley.

So we were eager to try the new spot, INC. We enjoyed a cocktail in the front sidewalk cafe area while we waited for our table -- it was pleasant on a lovely evening to watch a little part of the world go by while chatting with friends. Eventually seated indoors, the restaurant was dark and bustling, which I found energizing and fun (I've got to start remembering to bring my little ole' lady glasses -- couldn't read a word of the menu). The server immediately placed these little bowls of goodies along our table for us to nibble.  She explained what they were, but I didn't really hear, so I thought they were deep fried chick peas.

"These look vegan!" I pronounced, diving in (I know, I should have asked more questions at this point first, I wasn't being a very responsible vegan, but I was having fun and it all turns out okay).

They certainly tasted like chick peas and I really enjoyed them as an alternative to the ubiquitous corn chips and salsa. I found out much later they were actually deep fried hominy, still good, still vegan, though lacking slightly, nutritionally, compared to the chick peas. Still, I salute an inventive option I can eat!

Since I couldn't read the menu, I got to know our young server pretty well. She turned out to need no education about veganism whatsoever -- how refreshing! She suggested the vegetarian tacos for me, and said that this and most other entrees were served with black beans, but since they were made with meat, I should substitute an amazing potato salad instead, containing no meat or dairy. I placed myself part and parcel in her knowledgeable hands and was very pleased with the results. I regret my husband was deep in conversation with someone else when my entree arrived, so I got no cell phone photo of my pretty dish -- then I got hungry and began wolfing it down. I'm still hoping for a small digital camera for my birthday!!

I am not sure what was in my tacos, but they were delicious. I find I rely very much on the written word for comprehension of details, so I am eager to try this dish again wearing glasses. I know it was shredded veggies, saucy and mostly purple, so I am thinking beets figured prominently. The filling was covered in a lovely, messy, hot and smoky sauce (chipotle in adobo maybe?) It was very, very good. There were three tacos in fresh corn tortillas, with a few extra tortillas lying flat underneath across the plate, which was perfect since so much of the filling fell out with every bite. After finishing the first three, enough filling had fallen onto the lower tortillas that I could make myself two more! The potato salad was crisp and fresh in flavor -- tiny cubes in a vinegar based dressing, studded with sundried tomatoes. I ate so much delicious food, every crumb, and was grateful I did not feel overfilled and miserable the way my sweet friend across the table felt as she finished half of her chicken shish-ke-bab dish. I am against judging, and certainly am not feeling superior -- each journey is valid in its way. But I was happy for myself for being true to my own standards. My meal at INC was everything I could have wanted.

We finished the evening with one more drink at Diesel, a very interesting establishment which used to be a corner gas station. Located at a busy intersection, this restaurant is an interesting concept, retaining the look of an old service station -- concrete, metal, glass garage doors. I believe it is mostly a pizza place, so I will have to try the food at another time. The best part of this establishment for me was meeting the owner, a very colorful character, a guy my Dad's age who is loving life and loving his job. He explained that, having opened a year ago, his establishment was just starting to take off and make some money. Ebullient and positive, this man's enthusiasm was infectious. I am eager to try Diesel again -- hope he can make me something vegan!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Vegan on the Menu?!!

A week or so ago I was reading some of the discussion threads on Alicia Silverstone's "The Kind Life" and was excited to see a discussion of California Pizza Kitchen's menu.  I have always found plenty to like on CPK's menu, of late choosing the barley soup followed by a half portion of roasted vegetable salad.  These two items appear to already be vegan, and I have had no dairy-related adverse effects from eating them.  So I will say that CPK wins the prize of being the only restaurant visited so far by this vegan which offers a vegan option on the menu needing no further alteration.  That being said, I was further thrilled by the discussion thread on TKL.  Apparently word on the street is that CPK has another menu (online? take-out?) that features . . . VEGAN PIZZA!!!

Wow!  I remember months ago loving the thin-crust mediterranean pizza, and have tried not to think thoughts of it since February 11 when I purposefully changed my life for the better.  So as soon as I could, I put my vote in for the next family bonding dinner location -- CPK!

Happy at the prospect of not having to explain myself, I confidently asked the server, "I understand you have another menu which features a vegan pizza?"

Blank stare from the server, "A what?"

I won't bore you with the ensuing patient, educational summation, since you all have plenty of experience with those, but will cut to the chase -- the server asked everyone he worked with, who all knew nothing of the word vegan.  Apparently, whatever company-wide CPK directive toward a more diverse menu has not yet made it to the deep south.  The server suggested a vegetarian pizza without the cheese.  I said, "Sure,"

While I waited, slightly deflated, I wondered if I shouldn't just change my order to barley soup and grilled veggie salad.  But before long the food was presented and I will say that, though not vegan-cheesy, my pizza was really quite glorious.  The thin, crisp crust was wonderful as I remember, and the tomato sauce was also satisfyingly familiar.  Atop these, broccolini, red onion, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted corn and sauteed mushrooms were featured.  The combination was lovely, not too dry, and full of flavor.  The whole effect was really more of a highly decorated flatbread than a pizza, but I was surprised by how much I liked it.  As an added bonus, after the third of the four pieces, I did not find myself in that satiated/miserable position of having eaten too much but wanting to keep eating anyway, the way I used to feel with the dairy-laden pizza.  With this one, there was no intestinal misery, and I happily kept plowing through the yumminess, devouring every crumb with no remorse or ill-effect.

I want to thank you followers again for your patience with my (hopefully temporary) photographic shortcomings.  The photo here is again presented in erroneous orientation.  It is supposed to be in landscape format, that is how it was taken, that was how it was edited, but importing it here is not working out for me.  Again, it is my husband's cell-phone camera.  I hope you don't get too dizzy looking at this pizza.  I have trouble looking at it this way, even finding myself tilting my head to the side  to remember the delicious contents.  It's a work in progress, and I appreciate your patience!

P.S. I finally figured out how to rotate the photo!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting Braver . . .

Saturday evening my husband and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary by going to one of our favorite restaurants, Bistro VG.  We have loved this restaurant for a long time.  About 11 years ago, when we came down here to Alpharetta for a house hunting trip from the D.C. area where we lived at the time, our local friends, Jeff and Jeanne, took us out to dinner at Van Gogh's, Bistro VG's former incarnation.  The food was amazing.  Back then, dinner at Van Gogh's was a major production, a worthwhile splurge.  We didn't skimp on drinks, appetizers, salads, main courses or desserts.

Reinvented several years later as Bistro VG, the restaurant now boasts a cleaner, more modern vibe (limestone counters, white tile mosaic, milk glass, raw linen), and along with the fabulous full-course meals of yesteryear, now features a selection of smaller plates, in sync with the way most of us dine today.  With our busy lives, we find ourselves eating out more often, and as such, are less likely to splurge.  So a selection of inventively prepared gourmet tidbits appeals.

When I went vegan, I worried that my subsequent visits to Bistro VG would pale in comparison to those before, but I easily found a wonderful small plate on the menu that was all but vegan already!  The feature was a grilled ratatouille, lovely stacked grilled slices of summer squash with eggplant, red onion and shallots.  This creation was accompanied by unusual, rectangular but delicious "chick-pea frites".  To make this selection vegan, they only needed to serve it without its "cheese buds" garnish -- capers rolled in cheese.  I had the cleaned-up version of the ratatouille dish on two different occasions since becoming vegan, and in both cases preceded the meal with my very favorite salad on the planet:  Bistro VG's Simple Arugula Salad.  One wouldn't expect something so uncomplicated to be amazing, but it truly is.  A wild tangle of fresh dark green arugula is topped with sauteed shallots, finely shaved parmesan, fresh lemon juice, olive oil and fresh ground pepper.  That's all.  The salad is sublime, and it is still amazing without the cheese!

So Saturday night, for our anniversary, we started at the bar where I had my favorite, a clean, dry vodka martini with olives.  Fortified thus, I began wondering if the chef would be game for a change in plan.  To the server, I explained my usual order and why I enjoyed it, and what I don't eat.  I also explained that I really did not want to be a bother, but was curious about other ideas the chef may have for me.  I told him if it didn't work out, I would be more than happy with the ratatouille and chick pea frites.  I did order my fab salad first, of course, which was thoroughly satisfying as expected.  Here is what the chef prepared for me, a wonderful plate of veggies sauteed in olive oil and perfectly seasoned The ratatouille is featured, surrounded by cauliflower, green beans and broccolini.  I very much enjoyed the dish and there was so much food I had to pack it up for lunch the next day.  I missed the chick pea frites, or just chick peas, or beans, or rice, etc., so I reminded myself again that I could have been more specific in my order, rather than listing only the items I don't eat.  I could have listed more of what I do eat as well.  I know I have enjoyed, in the past, some lovely barley at Bistro VG as a side dish for some kind of meat, pre-vegan.  I also need to remember that, though the chef is amazing, he may not have been trained in different diets.  Quite often people are surprised I eat grains, bread and pasta.  While I do try to eat whole grain, egg- and dairy-free versions of these, I say, "Carbs? Heck yeah, bring 'em on!"

So, yes, I am getting more brave and slightly more outspoken about what I need, but am still treading lightly so as not to stand out as an oddball.  I really am very grateful for every effort to accommodate my veggie choice.

About the photo -- those who follow may have noticed I have not posted in a few days.  I have been working on this post for too long because I am trying to teach myself about photo editing and importing, etc.  As background, now that school is out I have to compete with my 12 year old who needs the camera for sleepovers.  I tried using my phone, but it has no flash.  So the above was taken by my husband, from his phone, and obviously upside-down after a cocktail or two of his own. You should have seen the photo after I had it all perfectly cropped in landscape format, the contrast balanced, the colors and lighting just right . . .  well, no matter how I save the end result, even re-naming it, when I put it in the blog it is back to it's original orientation, dark, upside down and sideways and in portrait format.  I decided to stop wasting time on it since I really miss writing the blog, and you can still see the food even though it is upside down.  Thanks for your patience as I work out my camera conundrum.  Hey, maybe a new camera for my birthday?

P.S. 6/7/10-- I figured out how to rotate the photo!