Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Big Garden Stars

When I look at these gorgeous vegetables, I wonder why everyone wouldn't choose a plant-based diet. This year I didn't grow the purple onions or the garlic, but the chinese long beans and the tomatoes? Yes, I did! And in a very big way! Without question these two veggies have been my garden stars, producing so easily and prolifically. And here they are, only minutes from being pulled off the vine, still coursing with nutrients, topping a small mound of brown rice. This was so simple - I was only trying to find another way to use up the pretty veggies - but so brightly full of delicious flavor!

Actually, this "garden-handful-garnish" was the only new part of this delicious meal, made up otherwise of amazing leftovers. I already had the pot of brown rice and a big bowl of pasta salad that was inspired by Morgan's recipe (http://littlehouseofveggies.blogspot.com) but followed oh, so very loosely because of what I had in the crisper to use up (loved it though -- great dressing Morgan!). This is the way I eat most often,  grabbing delicious vegan food that needs to be eaten and jazzing it up sometimes with a little something extra. I love creating something original and more elaborate, but the luxury of time is not always available in this busy and dietetically diverse household.

Here are some of my stars! This photo showcases an interesting adaptation that the plants made which I like. Outside the garden fence, one of the chinese longbean tendrils stretched to escape the shady thicket of its brethren, who were so carefully contained in the garden enclosure. This rebel vine found freedom and abundant sunshine by making friends with this heirloom "black" tomato, grown in a pot on a pedestal outside the garden fence due to a lack of enough space for all the tomato cages inside. Winding around the tomato vines, if you look carefully you can see a couple of the lavender bean flowers and a few of the beans themselves in varying stages of maturity. They sprout from the blossoms horizontally and then continue to grow vertically toward the ground. You may recognize this black tomato plant from an earlier post, featuring Heimlich, the tomato worm. Obviously, this tomato plant prefers the invasion of chinese long beans to Heimlich's invasion! That little guy never showed up again, by the way.

The Beans growing on the tomato plant and along the fence are so much easier to keep track of. They grow so quickly and every day I leave the garden with large handfuls of them, but within the vine thicket, unless they are out in front, I can unfortunately miss some of them, finding them behind the leaves of the plant only after they have turned white from old age and are three feet long. I am learning much about gardening this year. I will not need as many tomato or longbean plants next year. The yellow crookneck squash took up a lot of room in the garden but only produced three squash before withering. I have had many blossoms on my zucchini, but nary a fruit. The cucumbers have grown well in pots, but again, I won't need so many plants. The swiss chard was disappointing, but I think it was the wrong season or latitude for it -- very bitter. I have enjoyed the japanese eggplant, but there were only two of them. I will get more of those next year. The learning curve in gardening is steep, but the rewards are indeed bountiful!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Choosing Our Battles/Priorities

Saturday morning, I had a hankering for a hunk of toasted garden tomato and daiya cheese.  You can pretty much see all the contents: day-old bakery multigrain bread, tomatoes, "cheese" all buttered with earth balance. I just fried it up in a pan. Not diet food, probably not even wholly vegan (mystery bread) but it was delish. This leads into my topic for the day -- choosing our battles as vegans. Sometimes my choices are less than pure because of convenience (I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich in the morning, no time to bake my own bread) and sometimes for social reasons -- I will touch on this later.

Before I finish with the grilled cheese, here's the first photo I actually took of my sandwich:

That's my husband, Andres, life of the party, who popped up into the screen just as I was snapping the photo. This is his debut on "A Midlife Vegan". He is unaware I am choosing to feature him.

Back to the topic . . . I have finally moved beyond my social worries about getting what I need to eat (within reason) at restaurants. I am used to asking about how food is prepared, and if I can have it without cheese.  I've found servers are much more willing to delete meat than dairy.  Some of them really have to be talked into it, strangely, as if they think the food won't be worth eating without the dairy fat. But I am tactful and do not shy away from pushing the non-dairy point. In a party situation, I am unfazed because I can plan ahead, filling up on some fabulous vegan leftovers before I go, but this weekend I did something out of the ordinary -- we went to a wedding!

There are seasons in life involving life-changing events:  weddings, babies, divorces, funerals. Our current station in life has afforded us very few weddings lately. We were married eighteen years ago and we are likely at least five years away from the first wedding of friends' children. So, in this dry wedding season, it was wonderful to be able to attend one. Dietarily, I wasn't sure what to expect. The wedding was at 2:30 p.m., Coptic Orthodox, with a reception immediately following at a Country Club. There were no menu-choice options on the RSVP card, so I assumed that, because of the time of day, there would probably be a buffet of hors d'ouvres. What a lovely wedding it was, and so different from what I am used to. The Coptic Orthodox Christian faith is so authentic, I imagine, rife with Middle Eastern influence, and probably so much closer to the actual experience of following Christ as he lived in the Holy Land. We were privileged to attend this wedding and to experience the cultural stretch. By the time we arrived at the reception venue, it was almost 4:00. A cocktail hour had been arranged, and I was surprised to see fully set tables in the adjacent room.  We would be having a seated dinner!

A go-with-the flow kind of girl, for the most part, I know I can always find something good to eat, but I wasn't really expecting this. It did cross my mind that there would probably be unavoidable dairy, but I just relaxed and really did decide not to pick this battle. The groom being a friend and business associate of my husband's, I was not close enough to him or his bride to have reasonably inquired about dietary choices in advance. I decided to let the bride be the bride and to stand out only as a happy party guest.

As it turned out, the most difficult part for me was the salad, covered with goat cheese.  I picked around it and got a bit of greenery. Then the fully assembled dinner plates were placed. I used the salad fork to lift the chicken gracefully off my plate and placed it upon the bread plate off to the side. I was left with a lovely selection of fresh baby carrots (the long kind with the greens still attached) broccoli and wild rice. The veggies were very lightly cooked and everything was delicious.  Yes, of course I am sure there was butter. Yes, I was slightly sluggish the next day. But I am fine and I had a wonderful time. I actually got to speak about my vegan diet with curious fellow diners at our table. Everyone was so interested and respectful. They just wanted to learn about it and I didn't get any of those questions about protein, calcium, etc.

Looking back on this wedding, I feel completely blessed to have been a part of such a culturally rich experience, and such a poignant moment in the lives of two lovely people. As a bonus, I got to extoll the virtues of my own dietary values in a graceful, non-threatening context, to a handful of curious, intelligent, respectful people. All in all, I am happy with this non-battle choice. Now I sure am craving barley and collards!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Being "Kind"

This grocery bag is made from recycled plastic bottles! What a double-dip of eco-correctness! I didn't know how I would be able to implement the change of carrying this bag instead of using the plastic ones at the stores. I buy so many groceries, since each of the four of us has different dietary choices. I had bought the thermal bag months ago, with good intentions, but found that I forgot to bring it into the stores. I just began carrying the bags in the car up front so I would remember to bring them with me. I love using this bag -- it'll be great for farmers' markets too!

This bottle of wine was made from organic grapes and I've thoroughly enjoyed having a glass during meal preparation in the evenings this week. The kids are back at school now, and we have been adjusting to an early morning routine, so around dinner time it's tough to follow a train of thought and I've found that a sip of wine takes the edge off enough to reduce the stress and allow the gourmet vegan creating to flow!

Speaking of gourmet vegan creating, three cheers for Morgan!  If you haven't yet checked her amazing blog, "Little House of Veggies" http://littlehouseofveggies.blogspot.com, you should. I made Morgan's "Chick'n" and Mushroom Piccata with Creamy Garlic and Herbed Mashed Potatoes recently. This meal was so delicious. It was seriously as good as any restaurant meal I have ever had, vegan or not. My husband, non-vegan and miserable with a common cold,  did not want to eat "soy" so, instead, I offered him the leftover linguine with clam sauce I had made him the night before.

"No, I'll just eat this," he said. Then he wolfed it all down and went back to bed before I had a chance to sit down. 

My daughter, "Miss Potato-Head" I oughta' call her, worried and fretted over the potatoes.

"Will they taste good without cheese? Are they any good without milk? What are those flecks floating in there?"

I told her I thought they were delicious but she didn't have to eat them. That way I could eat more. She tried them and, eyes wide, said, "Oh, Mama, these are the best potatoes I have ever had! Don't ever make my potatoes with cheese or milk again!" Score! (I love it when my 12 year old calls me "Mama"!)

My son didn't try any of it, but that involves a long story.  Short version:  He just got his drivers' license and has been looking for reasons to go driving on his own. So, after school, at 5'10" and 130 lbs. When he asks if he can go get a burger, I let him. He will get over this habit once he runs out of money and the novelty of driving by himself wears off. After his drive-thru adventure, he plants himself at his desk for the next couple of hours for homework. He has a pretty heavy load at school with two AP classes this year so I want him to work when he feels like it. My preference would be to sit down to dinner together as a family after my son finishes his homework, around 7:00 p.m. But new routines are all still forming with this first week of school. We will find our rhythm.

At least two of us LOVED this wonderful meal, and my daughter was disappointed I had eaten "her" potatoes for lunch the next day! Morgan, you are much appreciated -- I will be making this again!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Family Bonding

The other night we went out to Johnny's Pizza as a family. At our kids' age, sometimes it is easier to engage their company, or rather to maintain that engagement for any duration, if we hold them hostage out in public. Otherwise, the lure of chatting with friends, be it via skype, facebook or interactive videogames, makes family bonding over dinner feel like an obligation to them, and they ask to be excused immediately after wolfing down their food. Mindful of how normal it is for teenagers to begin to branch out socially, we do what we can to maintain a connection and an influence while allowing some approved social freedoms. Current tools to this end include renting movies together, chatting in the car during commutes, hosting sleepovers with approved friends and weekly family dinners out.

At Johnny's, I hoped not to have to order a salad. Most salads at restaurants, reliant upon cheese, meat or creamy dressings for flavor, are a disappointment to me once these non-vegan items are omitted. I can make a much better salad for myself at home. So, knowing that my kids would be ordering their favorite -- a large cheese pizza, I went out on a limb and asked if this little pizza parlour would consider making a pizza for me without cheese.  The helpful server said that they could, and she even went one step further and suggested I opt for no butter brushed around the crust. I wasn't even aware that was part of the pizza making practice. My pizza is on the bottom, and you can see the difference in the crust from the kid's cheese pizza above. My pizza was very good -- onion and green pepper.

As I ate my pizza, I began thinking about ingredients, and I realize that it is just as likely as not that the crust contained dairy or eggs. I am not far enough along in my vegan evolution to opt for a lackluster salad over an unknown pizza crust. At some point I may become more discerning. Right now my food choices involve balancing between two worlds, and maintaining a crucial cultural connection to my wonderful family. I am pleased with myself when I can manipulate a menu item into being as vegan as possible, knowing that the rest of the week I will be treating myself to whole grains, beans and dark leafy greens, and lots of other good, real food.

The next day for lunch I enjoyed two leftover slices warmed with a little Daiya non-dairy cheese. I heeded warnings I have seen in the online vegan community about not overdoing the amount. This little sprinkle of cheese was perfect. I remember, before detoxing from dairy, tasting non-dairy cheeses and being disgusted. It is very interesting how our tastebuds change according to what we eat or don't eat. Now the idea of dairy cheese does not appeal to me in the least. I'm a big fan of a little bit of daiya!

The kids are back to school on Monday. With a bit more time to myself, I am open to the next stage of my vegan evolution. Maybe I will learn how to make vegan breads and pizza dough!

Friday, August 20, 2010

What a Fun Gizmo!

Have those of you who are parents ever been surprised to find you have been using phrases from years gone by, previously uttered only by your own parents? You young'uns who haven't yet experienced this phenomenon, hold on, you will.  The other night, while out with the family at a local pizza parlour, my 16 year old son began talking about this cool "gizmo" I had been using the night before when I was making a salad.

Shocked at hearing my mother's word coming from my son's mouth, I asked, "Where'd you hear that word?"

"That's what you called it," he replied.

"Of course," I thought, though I hadn't realized I was being my Mom again, not such a bad thing to be, incidentally.

So what exactly is this gizmo? It is a gift from my wonderful friend, Sherri, who I am very blessed to also call my next door neighbor. Sherri went with her husband earlier this year to Europe where she had many amazing experiences, including a cooking lesson in Italy. These "gizmos" were utilized in the preparation of some of the vegetables. I don't know what the actual term for this tool is, since my one semester of Italian does not afford me the knowledge needed to understand the words on the packaging. The brand name is perOni, however, if that helps. When my sweet friend returned from her trip, she presented this gift to me, saying, "I thought of you, my vegan friend, when we learned how to use these," What a cool chick!  Thanks, Sherri!

As you may have guessed, you simply push the vegetable or fruit through the wire mesh of the gizmo (that's what we will call it, from here on out, I guess). Obviously some veggies and fruits will work better for this than others. For a zucchini it was perfect. I found that starting the cuts against a hard surface was necessary, but then the veggie just slid right through with no trouble.  I felt like I was playing with Play Doh! My son loves this thing!

I found that cutting the zucchini into manageable chunks first was helpful. The whole process took about 20 seconds. You can imagine how great this tool would be for a raw diet. Here I used it in the prep for another amazing salad, the Southwest Salad with Creamy Cumin Dressing from Morgan's Little House of Veggies http://littlehouseofveggies.blogspot.com. What an inspiration that girl continues to be.

Here's my take on Morgan's salad. I think the only thing missing was the tomato. Though I am eating small amounts of tomatoes again now after my tomato overdose (long story, see prior posts) during that time I gave away all the ones that were ripe on the vine. So when I made this salad I had a garden full of green tomatoes and only one tiny red cherry tomato which is chopped into microscopic pieces and added to the salad. It is not visible to the naked eye.  My husband, the carnivore, LOVED this salad! Yippee! Because of the hefty textures of the ingredients, the salad was still great the next day even though it had been soaking in the delicious dressing overnight. Thanks again, Sherri and Morgan!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Curry Chips!

Here's something I came up with for last night's dinner table. I was very pleased with how it turned out. Hot topic of late on the discussion forum of The Kind Life's website: Yesterday my husband and son decided to grill steaks for dinner! And yes, I love them anyway (my men, not the steaks!) My choice of veganism is mine alone, although, by example, I've, at times, been able to influence some of the choices the other beloved family members make.

Back to the food:  While the men's meat was marinating, my husband uncharacteristically began working in the kitchen! He chopped some potatoes into wedges, and brushed each with some olive oil, arranging them on a cookie sheet and carefully sprinkling them with salt and pepper. It was so cute to see him doing this so painstakingly. I was already making Greenbeans with Hijiki and Ginger from The Kind Diet, by Alicia Silverstone, enough for everyone, so, noticing that my husband's oven fries would likely only feed himself and the kids, I began thinking of what else I could eat.

"I think I will make gnocchi tonight," I said, realizing I would have to come up with something quick since the men had such a huge head start on prep with their food.

"But I'm having steak!" my husband said -- he loves gnocchi, but that, along with his steak, oven fries and the green beans would have been too much food. He would miss out on eating as much gnocchi as he would have wanted. He was in a conundrum.

"I don't eat steak," I answered matter-of-factly.

"Can't you have the potatoes with your beans?" he asked -- he thinks in a linear fashion, idea to goal, and I could see his discomfort as I was throwing a curve into his enthusiastic sprint to the finish.

I explained that I probably needed to make more fries if I wasn't making gnocchi. "Oh, you want me to make some more?" He asked.

Then inspiration hit like a lightbulb overhead, "No, I've got another idea," I said. I had been thinking of the flavor of ginger that I was about to experience with the beans, and I realized the eastern flavor would go so well with curry!

At one of our favorite Irish pubs, before I went vegan, we used to enjoy the snack of Curry Chips along with a pint of Guinness. They were simply thick wedges of potato, fried and salted, served alongside a mild, creamy curry dip. I am guessing the origin of the curry in an Irish pub was from the influence of nearby England, which was in turn influenced by the eastern flavors during the time India was a British colony. Since I am not eating dairy now, I have not had this dish in some time, but quickly realized I could create something much healthier that incorporates the best of the curry chips, without any dip at all.

I washed and chopped four small potatoes, threw them into a mixing bowl, drizzled a splash of olive oil over them, generously sprinkled them with salt, pepper, curry powder and turmeric powder and gave them a stir to evenly coat them. My husband's mouth fell open as he noticed what I was doing. "That's smart," he said, as he was no doubt recalling the tedious way he had brushed each side of each of his own potato wedges before arranging them painstakingly on his cookie sheet. I enjoyed his company in the kitchen. I hope it happens more often.

As my husband went out to the grill with his meat, I popped the two sheets of potatoes into a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes.

I thoroughly enjoyed my curry fries, even more than the ones at the pub. There was no need for any accompaniment, and the potatoes came out so crisp and flavorful. I didn't get much protein at this meal, since I had thrown it together so quickly to catch up with my meat-feeding-frenzy-boys. They began preparations much earlier than normal and I had not enough time to plan. So I will eat something protein-rich today for lunch, maybe quinoa.

A note about curry and turmeric:  curry is actually a collection of different spices and it can vary widely in contents according to manufacturer.  My favorite brand, Spice Islands, contains cumin, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, turmeric, dill seed, black pepper, red pepper, mace, cardamom and cloves. I find that I like to add a bit more turmeric, which to me is one of the brighter top notes of the flavor of curry, with the bottom notes being the stronger flavors of mace, coriander, cardamom, and cumin. Ginger and cloves are medium flavor notes with a bit of a sweetness, which rounds out the stronger and more dominant flavors. The first time I added more turmeric it was for health reasons. Recent studies have shown that turmeric has cancer-preventative and -suppressive qualities, and that everyone could benefit from its inclusion in a healthy diet. I don't currently have cancer issues, (knock on wood) but there is a genetic predisposition in my family. Though I began using more turmeric for health reasons, now I prefer the flavor of curry this way. You will want to experiment with the flavors to see what appeals to you.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Comfort and Joy

The other day I had a quick lunch at a little sushi restaurant where I enjoyed this Miso Soup, some green tea and avocado and cucumber rolls. As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I could smell the miso, and knew I needed it. So simple, so healthful and sustaining.

School starts here a week from tomorrow. So as we gear up for it, we are in transition, still sleeping in a bit, trying to remember to tie up loose ends, filling out forms, finishing summer work, buying school supplies, just beginning to think about replacing outgrown clothing. We are a bit scattered as we continue to enjoy summer while readying for the next chapter. Listening to the body's signals helps me to stay centered. I am finding myself with very specific food cravings, simple healthful things like the miso and this smoothie I created for breakfast today.

I'm not yet a master of my wonderful camera. I snapped this quick shot (it looked clear to me, I wasn't wearing my glasses) then I quickly wolfed down this delicious concoction. Obviously there was too much depth in this shot, so I should have selected a different function, but at least you can see the lovely color and rich consistency of the smoothie. This is the best smoothie I have ever made. It included: a cup of rice milk, 2 overripe frozen bananas, a large handful of raw kale and a tablespoon of almond butter. This was seriously delicious. The bananas were so ripe they were almost syrupy, so this smoothie was more like a dessert. I didn't taste the kale at all, but I was happy it was in there. Mmm, I think I want to make another one!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Savory Oatmeal "Risotto"

I invented a new recipe yesterday afternoon while I was catching up with laundry.  Knowing I had no leftover grains, I looked around for what needed to be used up in my pantry. I found just about a cup of Steel Cut Oats. The oats had been languishing on the shelf because the combination of morning and working in the kitchen has not turned out to be a good one for me. The steel cut oats need to be cooked for a longer time than regular oatmeal, though when prepared well, the texture is much more satisfying. Still, since I am not big on planning ahead or being patient when I am hungry in the morning, the oats had been sitting there for some time. So I decided to experiment. I'm so happy I did!

Risotto, an Italian dish using arborio rice, is typically creamy, silky and rich, laden with cheese and other dairy. With my "oatmeal risotto" I wasn't aiming for the Italian risotto consistency, I actually had no idea what to expect in terms of texture, I was working from a flavor standpoint. I was thinking I wanted something flavorful and mild, a departure from the sweet flavors we associate with oatmeal in the morning. I wanted something savory and rich, comfort food. The resulting texture of my experiment was a happy surprise. Creamy and satiny, the oatmeal risotto was satisfying and filling, but not in an overindulgent way. I hope you like it!

Savory Oatmeal "Risotto"

1 c. steel cut oats
2 1/2 c. vegetable broth or water with veggie boullion cube
1 large yellow onion, diced small
3 sprigs fresh thyme, intact
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper

Cooking Instructions:
On low heat, simmer the oats, broth and raw diced onion, covered, for about an hour, stirring every 10-15 minutes to be sure it doesn't stick. If you see it begin to stick, add a splash more water -- a 1/4 cup or so. It will all be absorbed. I'm a lazy cook -- I didn't bring this to a boil first, and I didn't even reconstitute the veggie boullion cube or saute the onion first as some of you probably would have, but I love how it turned out this way. The boullion falls apart the first time you stir it. After an hour, remove the pan from heat and stir in the olive oil and the fresh sprigs of thyme. Then let rest, covered, allowing any remaining liquid to be absorbed. I let mine sit for another whole hour, waiting for my husband to come home, and it was still warm. Finally, remove the thyme sprigs and salt and pepper the risotto to taste.

This recipe needn't take two hours, it's just what worked out for me since I was upstairs folding clothes and didn't want to work with high heat when I wasn't downstairs watching it. Also, I didn't speed up the process since I wasn't sure when the man would be walking in the door. Obviously, this recipe might also work well in a crock pot. Alternately, the cooking instructions could be adapted using the cooking times/heats suggested on the oatmeal package which would be more expedient. I'm not sure the consistency would be as creamy, however. The olive oil, warmed by the residual heat of the oats but not cooked, retains its full flavor and is integral to creating the satiny texture of the resulting dish. The thyme sprigs, also warmed thus, are more "steeped" than cooked, imparting a lovely fresh flavor. They were still green when I removed them. You could serve this with vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast if you want. I liked the delicate flavors on their own.

I had fun "stepping out of the box" with this different treatment of oatmeal. I hope you enjoy it too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Good Morning!

Yes, peaches are still amazing for me! Hallelujah! Here, I am having them with some delicious dry granola with flax and pumpkin seeds.

I've been offline for a while, dealing with  a couple of health issues which, at the risk of boring you, I will note, as a sort of public service announcement for you vegans, and also for you mid-lifers.

Strange but true:  you can overdose on tomatoes! I've lived it! After our wonderful trip to Miami Beach, I came back to find my garden gorgeously abundant with amazing vegetables (I did hire a wonderful neighbor girl to water it for me). Most abundant were the tomatoes of several varieties. I joyously threw together salsas, sauces, sandwiches, salads. Looking back, I realize I ate tomatoes at least twice a day for a whole month! The shame of it is that I knew better. Alicia Silverstone points out that tomatoes are members of the nightshade family and contain certain acids that are damaging to our systems, and are better enjoyed as an occasional treat. Well, obviously I had thrown caution to the wind and didn't bother at all with moderation. After my tomato overdose I began suffering from a painful stomach whenever I ate anything! I quickly surmised what was going on and went off tomatoes cold tofurkey. In two days my problem vanished. So heed my cautionary tale and don't o.d. on the nightshades!

My other malady has nothing to do with diet, but with aging, I guess. In April, at a Florida beach for Spring Break, I injured myself walking barefoot on the beach! Now that's a little ole' lady injury if you've ever heard one, huh? Truth be told, I was really hoofing it, power-walking for cardio benefits. The problem was that I was walking on the rock-hard wet sand, on the unlevel surface of the beach, right where the waves came crashing in. There was one step I took where I remember feeling an electric-like sensation from my heel to my lower back. After an x-ray back home it was determined I had sprained a lumbar ligament. After a week of icing the back and taking anti-inflammatories, the problem seemed to resolve. But apparently the back is still a bit tender, months later -- I am now laid low again after a rally session last weekend, preparing for our carpet replacement -- loading boxes etc. I've been in almost-constant pain for over a week now.  I did go to the primary care doc, who looked at my x-rays and determined the problem is wholly muscular. I was prescribed muscle relaxers and physical therapy. I've had one of the muscle relaxers and feel sooo much better now. I guess it was muscle spasms.

The good news:  The doctor was amazed at my good, strong, solid bones. "Do you take calcium?" She asked. "These are not the bones of a 45-year-old!"

"No," I proudly answered, "I take collard greens and I don't eat dairy!"

I guess my cautionary tale about my back would be that it is even more important to wear good shoes when exercising as we age. We don't snap back as quickly as we used to. But I can tell today that, after a night of great un-spasming sleep, I am on the mend.  Yada, yada, yada, enough about that!

Here is a recent garden harvest. I took this photo with my new camera! Yes, my sweet husband did come through with what I wanted for my birthday -- I am still learning how to use it, but it looks pretty good so far. . . featured here are japanese eggplant, yellow crookneck squash, tomatoes, ruby swiss chard and chinese long beans. I chopped all these up with a purple onion, a red pepper and a couple of zucchini, added olive oil, salt and pepper, and my husband stir-fried them in a grill pan outside for me. We had guests who loved it! (They also loved Morgan's Amazing Refried Beans from Little House of Veggies, and Quinoa with Chick Peas from Veganomicon, by the way!)

It is important to note that eggplants are also nightshades, but I find that this slender variety is not bitter like the larger specimens, and the skins are very thin. No soaking or peeling is necessary, and I didn't feel any ill effect from consuming them. I am still picking around the tomatoes for a while, personally, leaving them for the others who did not o.d. on them as I did.

Hmmmm, overdosing on veggies, getting injured walking on the beach -- pitiful!  Feel free to have a little chuckle at my expense!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Trial and Error

After a bit of a "birthday week" with plenty of vegan junk food, i.e. whatever I could get my hands on that didn't start out  as an animal, I was craving some nice fresh vegetables, something simple and basic. I decided to make a pasta sauce, jazzed up with sauteed veggies. I started with these garden tomatoes, garlic, red onion, shallots, zucchini and collard greens. Don't they look pretty? I would have enjoyed them "as is" on some whole wheat linguine, but I didn't feel like making multiple meals for the family, so I started to think of how I could make this more palatable for them. I thought about simply adding my favorite jarred marinara sauce to this veggie melange, which I know my husband would have liked, but chunks floating in sauce have always been a turnoff for my picky-eater kids. So I threw the whole thing in my blender, and warmed it up again. This step took all the "pretty" out of my healthy creation. Take a look:

After blending, I added cannelini beans and topped it with capers. I was craving both. My husband grimaced at my sauce's appearance, but after tasting it, pronounced it delicious. The kids didn't touch it, opting for marinara straight out of the jar instead. This was fine with me, since the kids were still getting their veggies, albeit not fresh, but it was frustrating because I could have served the sauce chunky after all. The more colorful version would have been more visually appealing.  But thank goodness the whole mess did turn out to be full of bright, fresh flavors. I'm grateful to be making my cooking errors in the privacy of my own kitchen. We live and we learn!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dinner at a Steak House!

The other night my husband took me on a date to celebrate my birthday (a round number). We have our favorite haunts, but he had the hankering to try something new. We love live music, so that's where his search started. We wound up at Pampas Steak House! "Hmmm," I thought, "nice choice for a vegan's birthday,"

Always up for an adventure, however, I got gussied up and jumped right in. We began at the bar, where I had one of my favorite drinks, a dry vodka martini with olives. We very much enjoyed the entertainment, two guys, saxophone and keyboard, playing Sinatra tunes among others -- very mellow and cool.

When we were seated for dinner, my husband mentioned to the server that it was my birthday, and I felt the need to tell her right away, "But don't surprise me with anything, I don't eat sugar," (this is not exactly true, of course, but explaining which types of sugars and fats I eat seemed too involved, so I left it at that). The ensuing conversation with the server included a brief explanation of the vegan diet. The server looked worried, and said,"We normally bring a platter of raw steaks to the table to explain what is available, but I don't want to offend you," I told her not to worry about it, explaining that my husband would probably want to see it.

The platter of raw flesh was thoroughly unappealing to me, of course, but didn't ruin my appetite for more delicious food.  I was able to determine from the menu that a wide variety of side dishes, each serving two people, was available, so I knew I would find something delicious.  I ordered spinach sauteed with garlic, and told my husband to order whatever he wanted and to give me some.  He ordered Potatoes Lyonnaise, and the server was helpful in suggesting he order it without bacon so I could eat it too.  Oh yeah, he also ordered a filet mignon. Here is what my plate looked like:

It appears that there is a scallop on the plate, but it is actually a little stack of potato slices that didn't come apart in the saute pan. It wasn't wholegrain barley and collards, which is what I am always craving, but the potatoes and spinach were very delicious and filling.

Finally, at the end of the meal, the server surprised me after all. I was presented with a large bowl of fresh berries of every kind, very sweet and delicious with no accompaniment. There was even a little birthday candle! My husband and I wolfed down the dessert, and it was the perfect fresh end to a decadent meal.

It is nice to know I can find food anywhere, even at a steak house!