Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Birthday Wynne!

In our family, besides whatever other celebration is going on, the birthday kid gets to pick a restaurant of his or her choice for a small family dinner on the actual birthday evening. Yesterday was my daughter Wynne's 13th birthday and she chose Romano's Macaroni Grill. This is a pretty great chain restaurant, with so many options and a wonderful ambiance -- lots of colored glass vases and roomy, cushy booths.  I love the "make your own pasta" option. I chose bowtie pasta with spicy arrabiata sauce, broccoli, spinach and mushrooms - so good! I wolfed the whole thing right down! Wynne had spaghetti with butter and parmesan, it doesn't take much to please her. She mostly just loved the large sheet of white paper and crayons she used to mindlessly create amazing sketches throughout the meal while we chatted -- faces, hairstyles, fashions. These images were all beautifully layered and intertwined, filling every inch reachable to her. The meal was delicious and fun and a great way to spend an hour or so.

Next we went to Yogli Mogli for some frozen yogurt. I was prepared for some sitting and watching the others eat, but the establishment heeded my earlier requests and provided non-dairy mango sorbet! Wynne whispered, "Mom, I bet they got this because you asked for it!" Whatever I can do to forward our vegan cause!

It was fun to be able to participate in the yogurt consumption, but I am paying the price now. My vegan-clean liver seriously does not like sugar, and especially not right before bed. I was fast asleep for about an hour and a half and now I am up at 3:30 a.m. Ugh!

I am mindful of the fact that I have been talking about my 13-year-old daughter for a couple of months now, and she only really turned 13 yesterday. I suppose this is how I ease myself past certain milestones. I did the same thing with my own 40th birthday. I thought of myself as 40 for a good six months before it happened, visualizing 40 simply as the top edge of the 30's, and then when I reached 40 it didn't feel like the body blow it does to some folks. This little trick no longer works for me as I assess myself. I am well aware that 45 is nowhere near the 30's! But whatever framing I have done of my baby's official status as teenager has helped me to focus on what's important -- she is still the same person and I am so proud of her!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My EASY Chili!

You followers of A Midlife Vegan know by now that I get a real charge from ordering vegan food off a menu, but my biggest vegan thrill in life (besides nourishing my children) is feeding my husband vegan food that he enjoys! This is a delicate operation. He wants full disclosure, but then he doesn't. Intuitively reading his mood at the appropriate moment, I carefully craft my answer to "What are you thinking about for dinner?"

More often than not, his response to me is, "I wish you hadn't told me that,"

But I know dishonesty has no place in our marriage and would only be met with ire. Also, I've got no poker face. So I usually keep it vague, "It's vegan, but there is nothing weird in there," With this I sidestep the whole point, which is: what does he consider weird? It doesn't matter -- we just won't go there!

Inspired as I frequently am by Morgan's creations at "Little House of Veggies" ( her Chili and Whole Grain Corn Bread caught my eye the other day. Check out her recipes -- you won't be sorry! I considered following these two recipes to the T, but then I realized I had an opportunity to soft-sell vegan to the man.  So I made vegan chili the same way I used to make his chili with meat. Then I did make Morgan's corn bread, since I knew there would be no complaints about what was "in there" about corn bread. I have no doubt Morgan's chili is amazing and will definitely try it sometime soon, for myself, and if it is not too different from what my husband is used to, will offer it to him as well. But the other night, I just did my usual, easy, lazy chili, only replacing the meat!  Here's the recipe:

My EASY Chili
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, small dice
1 package McCormick Chili Seasoning Mix - mild or medium
a package of WestSoy Seitan wheat protein strips, chopped a little smaller
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 16 oz can black beans
3/4 c. water
shredded cheese of choice --I offered dairy and non-dairy
2 scallions, chopped

Coat the bottom and sides of a slow cooker with the oil then add all ingredients except cheese and scallions to the pot, on high at first until mixture begins to bubble. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 hours. Serve topped with cheese and scallions, if you like. (I chose non-dairy, he chose dairy)
Serves 6

If you prefer to cook on a stovetop instead of in a crock pot you may. There is nothing uncooked here, so the reason for the long cooking time is only to meld the flavors. This chili would be finished on a stovetop after bubbling gently for about 20 minutes. Stir frequently during this time to keep from burning. The chili is not likely to burn in the crock pot, as long as there is enough liquid.

I forgot to record the size of the seitan package before it went into the trash, but it was small, and you could use as much or as little of it as you please. The reason I chopped the strips into smaller pieces was to make them less noticeable, while still providing the right "meaty" texture. It's all about the psychology when we are trying to trick, er, coerce our loved ones into eating more healthfully! My husband really enjoyed my chili and, wisely, did not ask questions.

Here is my take on Morgan's cornbread:

It was delicious and more nutritious than traditional cornbread because of the addition of whole wheat flour. My husband liked it too! This morning I warmed up a couple of pieces and topped them off with a schmeer of earth balance butter and a dab of all-fruit blackberry preserve. It made for a lovely breakfast!

I encourage you vegans out there to use your intuitive psychological and creative cooking skills to get some healthy food into the diets of your loved ones! It's fun!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Couple More Outings

I'd like to show you some beautiful (and delicious) vegan restaurant meals I've eaten recently. Our kids, 16 and 13, are at such fun ages now, but between schoolwork, activities and busy social lives, we all seem to be going in different directions much of the time. Sometimes we like to hold them hostage at a restaurant for a family meal they cannot walk away from prematurely, as they tend to do at home, preoccupied as they are with responsibilities or friends. Today we had our family meal at Taco Mac, a local chain featuring a large menu with plenty of variety. We all like the lively, casual atmosphere and enjoy hanging out together for just a little while.

Today I chose vegetable fajitas, and veganized the entree by asking them to leave off the cheese and sour cream. It was served piping hot, in true fajita fashion. In the first photo I took, the food is not visible due to a large cloud of steam. On the side was some shredded iceberg lettuce with some little tomato chunks, a small bowl of mexican rice and another small bowl of black beans. But the stars of this meal were in the cast iron pan -- quickly seared fresh veggies. I was grateful for the beans for their nutritive value, but they tasted like vinegar so I only had a couple of bites. The rice was fine. The whole meal would have been greatly improved with a large dollop of guacamole. But I'm not complaining. I particularly loved the broccoli, perfectly steamed then seared with the onions, peppers and portobello slices. I only made one fajita. Flour tortillas -- I can take them or leave them, and I certainly would rather fill up on the veggies instead. I ate the rest of the meal with a fork. While I love cooking, on a busy day like today I am thankful for a chance to indulge in some lovely fresh veggies I didn't have to wash and chop myself. But next time I will remember to ask for guacamole!

The other meal I want to feature was consumed last weekend.  The boys went to an air show to see The Blue Angels, leaving me with my daughter for a "girls' day". We did a bit of shopping and enjoyed some beautiful weather, then decided to stop at z pizza for lunch. My daughter has a vegan friend at school who told her z pizza features a vegan pizza! I thought, "I'll believe it when I see it," since I had heard the same thing about California Pizza Kitchen and it did not turn out to be true, at least not here in the deep south.

Anyway, back to our z pizza lunch -- tucked into a nondescript strip mall, the restaurant did not make much of an impression from the outside. But once inside, I could see this place was different from most pizza parlours. The ingredients looked bright and fresh, and the whole interior had a laid-back California vibe. Newspapers and magazines were strewn around the tables, and wifi was available. It felt as if lingering would be encouraged in the way it seems to be at Starbuck's. Thrill of thrills for a vegan, there was indeed a menu item already vegan, with no changes needed. It's called The Berkely Vegan. Though I could have picked and chosen the toppings, I decided instead to order the pizza straight off the menu, just because I could! The Berkely Vegan featured marinara sauce, vegan cheese (it was daiya, I could tell), veggie burger crumbles (these tasted very much like sausage), zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions and bell peppers. The cheese was under the veggies, which worked out well, allowing the vegetables the heat needed to cook without getting soggy. It was delicious. With no camera, I wolfed down half of the pizza and packed up the rest of it for later. This photo is the leftover half after being warmed in the oven.

Normally I am a cheap date compared to my non-vegan family members, but in the case of z pizza this wasn't the case. We spent about $25 for two small pizzas and drinks. My daughter had a dairy cheese pizza. We each only ate half of our pizzas, so the small would have been enough for both of us, but of course I didn't want dairy and she didn't want non-dairy, so we needed two pizzas. We did each have leftovers, and nothing got wasted. We will be doing this again from time to time. It's nice to see restaurants coming up with more options for us!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What I've Been Eating

I am currently in a "flying by the seat of my pants" season, i.e. the kids have been sick and have also had heavy homework, test and project loads, so I haven't had the time or the mindset for much creativity in the kitchen. Nevertheless, a girl's gotta eat, and I've been able to eat pretty well in the midst of the recent chaos. There's not much that's original here, and certainly no recipes, but for inspiration's sake, here is what I've been eating lately.

For lunch yesterday I made a cold "pizza" from leftovers and odds and ends. I famously tend to overstuff all manner of tacos and wraps, so I decided to go "open-face" with this one. On a large whole wheat flatbread (the soft, pillowy kind) I spread some spinach/artichoke hummus, then topped it with arugula and leftover beans and wild rice. My jar of dijon mustard was all but empty, so I put about a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of veganaisse and a dash of balsamic vinegar into the jar and shook it up. I drizzled this dressing over the top of the "pizza" for some extra flavor. I used a pizza wheel to cut this into wedges, and it was totally satisfying and much neater than my overstuffed sandwiches tend to be. If you are not such an over-stuffer, you might like a combo like this in a sheet of nori or on a tortilla.

For dinner last night I fixed Sicilian Collard Greens from Alicia Silverstone's "The Kind Diet". This is such a delicious, tried and true recipe for me. It's a real treat and I highly recommend it! I had previously boiled pasta on this burner, so when I started the collards recipe last night the burner was still a little too hot, burning the garlic and collards ever so slightly. It didn't matter to me. I still adored this crispier version and finished the leftovers this morning for breakfast!

Also for dinner last night I made a variation of Morgan's Herbed Mashed Potatoes from her amazing blog, "Little House of Veggies" ( If you haven't tried Morgan's wonderful recipe, I encourage all of you to check it out immediately! Morgan's potatoes are my daughter's favorite. She loves them much more than any non-vegan potatoes. What I did here is really only based upon Morgan's recipe, since I was out of most of the ingredients. I didn't have any fresh italian parsley, so I used dried dill, and I used veggie broth instead of plant milk since the plant milk I had open was almond milk, which my son is allergic to, and I was hoping he could try the potatoes. These potatoes turned out to be delicious, but I prefer the fresh herbs.

When there is no room in our lives for original brainwork, it's wonderful to have some trusted recipes in our arsenal. I do, however, have some new ideas rumbling around in my mind, so be on the lookout for them in future posts!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Okay guys, I'm baking again! This is out of my comfort zone, since measuring has never been something I enjoy -- I normally just throw food into a dish until it tastes good -- but baking requires measuring, and I love to learn, so I might as well learn how to bake! I didn't use nuts in my cookies, because of my son's allergy to nuts (just breathing them could be dangerous) but you could add nuts in place of some of the chocolate chips if you like. These cookies were about as jam-packed with chocolate chips as they could be -- I had to push the ones that were falling out back into the cookies again before I popped them into the oven. I regret using the organic cane sugar, though I did not use much. I had bought it at the beginning of my vegan journey before I discovered that many cane sugars are not vegan because animal bones are used in their filtering (I hope this organic sugar wasn't filtered that way!) You could replace the sugar with a sweetener of your choice. I will be reinventing these cookies soon using agave instead of sugar -- I will just have to play around with the solid-to-liquid ratio. One thing I do love about these cookies is the date sugar. Date sugar is truly only crushed dates. It adds such a subtle, earthy sweetness, and goes really well with the in-your-face chocolate flavor. Here's my recipe:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 c. oats
3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 c. date sugar
1/4 c. granulated unbleached organic cane sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (I used large grain kosher)
2 tsp. baking soda
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. safflower oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. silk chocolate soymilk (or plant milk of your choice)
1/2 c. Ghirardelli non-dairy chocolate chips
Cookies before baking
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients except chocolate chips in one bowl, combine wet ingredients in another bowl, then mix the two together. Fold in the chocolate chips. On parchment-lined baking sheets, scoop about a tablespoon of the mixture for each cookie, spacing about an inch and a half apart. These cookies will not melt or spread, so squash them flat a little bit before baking. Bake for 10-11 minutes. Let sit on the baking sheet for two minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.
Makes 24-28 cookies, depending on size.

Though I rarely eat sweets anymore (my system doesn't handle them very well) my husband definitely does, and he enjoyed these vegan cookies, which were much more wholesome than what he would otherwise be eating. I enjoyed them too, though I purposely limited the quantity and was mindful of not eating them too late in the day, lest they contribute to a sleepless night. The kids prefer their white sugar cookies, so they didn't touch these little treasures. I wonder if I could invent a fabulous plain white vegan  "sugar" cookie they would like?  Hmmm, stay tuned . . .

Monday, October 18, 2010

Check My Little Health Story on Alicia Silverstone's "The Kind Life"

Good Afternoon! Just a quick post to let you know that today Alicia Silverstone is featuring my response to a query about health benefits of a vegan diet on her website, "The Kind Life" ( Briefly, in my response I mention how, since becoming vegan, this is the first time in my life I haven't suffered from seasonal allergies. I can see now that the culprit for the cause of these allergies was likely dairy. This wonderful health benefit is just one among many I have experienced since becoming vegan.

When the folks at "The Kind Life" contacted me to okay their featuring my health story on the homepage of the website, I actually had to rack my brain to try to remember what I had written that they would be featuring. You see, I have had many health issues in my life and as such I have much to celebrate regarding the all-around health improvements afforded by a vegan diet. When I saw today that I had only shared the improvement of my allergies with "The Kind Life", I had to giggle a little bit. Don't get me wrong, getting rid of allergies is nothing to sneeze at (pun intended), but the alleviation of some of my MS symptoms, not the least of which is debilitating fatigue, is a much more life-changing health benefit to me personally.

My responding to the query on "The Kind Life" is a foggy memory to me (it was several months ago) so I don't quite remember my thinking behind only mentioning the allergies, but it must have been springtime -- I'm sure I would have been astounded to be sinus-infection-free. Also, I was just getting to know the online vegan community at that point, and mentioning something as heavy as MS to relative strangers didn't seem right, I suppose. For whatever reason, my lack of allergies was the topic, and that's all for the good. I see there are already quite a few responses to this discussion thread.

I am honored to have been part of Alicia's "The Kind Life" today. The website is a wealth of information and support for us vegans.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Here's Another One . . .

I'm keeping these salads coming! Dark leafies are so important to me, and for whatever reason, I am craving them raw lately. I really believe in listening to our bodies' signals. There's a reason for that craving! Again, no measuring, so no formal recipe. I made this side salad from spinach and shredded purple and green cabbages, with a creamy balsamic dressing made from equal parts balsamic vinegar and vegannaise. This salad is a perfect example of simple, uncomplicated food. The cabbage provides such a satisfying crunch. Adding beans or tofu would elevate this salad to a main dish, but in this case I had my protein on the side. Being vegan is only as complicated as you want to make it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Couple of Recent Delicious Salads

Today I won't be giving you recipes, since these salads were thrown together from inspiration according to what was on hand, and there was no measuring. I'm sure you vegans out there do the same thing -- from bits and pieces you create culinary masterpieces. These are just a couple of salads I came up with that turned out to be delicious and pretty too.

The base of the salad above was a handful of arugula. Then I added a handful of thinly sliced purple and green cabbages, thinly sliced radishes, a small homegrown tomato and half an avocado. I dressed this salad with Annie's Goddess dressing, thinned with Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar. The tang of the vinegar was great with the fatty avocado chunks. This salad was voluptuous and crunchy. There was a different flavor and texture in each bite. Yum.

This next salad combination turned out to be a bit like an antipasto. Strong flavors were a lovely foil to the mild spinach. I sauteed some red onion, and cooked a couple of pieces of Lightlife Bac'n, then cut it into little pieces. I let these cool before adding them to the salad, but you could add them right away if you like your spinach a little "wilted". I also added a couple of chopped martini olives (green with pimiento) and some chick peas. I dressed this salad with the Goddess dressing combination, which was good, but the vinegar was just another similar strong flavor, so next time I might try this with a sweeter dressing, maybe something with agave and bac'n -- an idea for the future!

The spinach salad was eaten at lunch, and contained plenty of nutrition - calcium, vitamins, protein. The first salad was eaten at dinner (I made one for my husband too -- he loved it!) That one was also packed with nutrition, but since the rest of my family was having fettucini alfredo, I wanted something more to eat. So here's what I had instead of the alfredo:

Mmmm -- this looks so good to me! It may not be too pretty to the average Joe, but I bet you vegans know what I mean. This is a pillowy whole wheat flatbread spread with artichoke and spinach hummus and topped off with a bit of leftover red quinoa. This, along with the voluptuous salad provided such a satisfying and delicious dinner.

By far the most common question we vegans face is, of course, "where do you get your protein?" Well, here's one way we get our protein! Quinoa is such a protein-rich grain, and paired here with protein-rich hummus, I had a real double whammy of the nutrient. I ought to do the math so I can find out how much chicken a non-vegan would have to eat to get this much protein. This was a wonderful meal.

I love being inventive and finding different ways to use up perfectly good food before it gets wasted. Doing this makes me feel my larder is very bountiful indeed. Enjoy getting creative with your food!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wild Rice Salad

We've got all our vegan foodgroups represented here, folks!

I have arrived at a tried-and-true vegan strategy for our frequent, fun neighborhood partying. When I ask what I can bring, and the host suggests an appetizer, I vegan-translate this to mean she will be providing a main dish. I vegan-understand that the main dish will invariably contain cheese and/or meat, so I then vegan-translate "appetizer" to mean "vegan main dish". So that's what I make. It's not finger-food, but that's why I also come bearing little plates and forks, just in case.

This strategy worked out just fine for the last pool party of the season for one of our neighbors last weekend. The host was serving pizza and sub sandwiches, and cheese dip and chips. Good thing I brought vegan!  Here's the recipe:

Wild Rice Salad
1 c. wild rice
3 c. water
1/4 c. orzo pasta
1/2 c. diced purple onion
2 sundried tomatoes in olive oil, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced small
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
a large handful of raw spinach, roughly chopped.
Dressing Ingredients:
1 tsp. grainy dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. vegannaise
1 Tbsp.balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

In a covered pot, bring rice and water to a boil, then reduce heat and cook, covered, for 45 minutes. After 30 minutes, add onion and orzo to the rice, stir and cover for remaining cooking time. After rice is cooked, allow it to cool completely. Stirring periodically speeds this up. When rice is cool, combine it with the tomatoes, pepper, chick peas and spinach. In a covered jar, combine the dressing ingredients and shake vigorously. Dress the salad and mix well. Adjust seasoning.

This salad received compliments at the party and I found it to be flavorful in a comforting way. I felt fully nourished and enjoyed the company of my friends that much more. I miss the flavor and texture of this salad already. Give it a try!

Monday, October 11, 2010

"My Vegan Story" Page Added

"What made you decide to go vegan?" This is a question all of you vegans have fielded, no doubt. Most non-vegans are only curious, while some are defensive, believe it or not, and will attempt to talk us out of it. Most vegans are interested in knowing why other vegans take the plunge, as it helps to round out their understanding of their own reasons. Prospective vegans probably get the most out of learning the reasons for our decision, as they are still formulating their own.

 Grandaddy and me, circa 1969

Today, exactly 8 months after starting my vegan journey, I have a better perspective about the reasons for my decision and can understand that seeds were planted quite some time ago. So I added a Page to A Midlife Vegan. It can be accessed by clicking a tab, "My Vegan Story" at the top, next to the "Home" tab. So, if you are interested in my vegan story, check it out!  Thanks for your continued support!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Season of Change

Here's my last harvest of the summer season. Most of this was a surprise, since it was not at all visible in what had become a tomato-and-bean thicket! With this long Georgia growing season, the little veggie patch really went haywire, and I realized I had planted too thickly in the small space. Next summer I will  cultivate fewer plants and will likely yield just as much produce. This is the way I learn best -- trial and error. Learning about gardening and reaping the harvest has been a joy this season, but the summer season is over.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday dismantling the veggie thicket, and reaping the last harvest. I have saved some of the beans I found all dried up behind the matted vines. I can use them for seeds next summer! I loved growing the chinese longbeans. The only summer season veggies who were still behaving well were the Japanese eggplant (look at the lovely specimen in the harvest bowl above) and the green bell pepper, so I decided they can stay for a while. I planted the new veggies around them. After the cleanup I put a little fresh soil in the garden and planted cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens and cabbage. I also planted some pansies that will be lovely in salads.  In all my years, I have never tried an autumn gardening season, so I am eager to see what happens. The garden will be jam-packed again, since these veggies need a bit of elbow room. But there will be nothing growing in a vine formation, so while the veggies may spread a bit, they won't be travelling and bullying the others like the cucumbers and crookneck squash wanted to do this summer.

Here are a couple of photos of what I've sown:

Learning, practically through experience, is a passion of mine, and this garden has afforded me ample opportunity for it, as well as ample fresh, healthy sustenance for myself and my family. There is nothing like eating food straight from the earth, still teeming with nutrition and warmth from the sun -- talk about feeding body and soul!

Taco Salad

Atop a bed of tender organic butter lettuce, I placed the luscious leftovers from taco night. I must say I actually preferred this meal to the amazing original not-fish tacos! And that is saying something! To jog your memory, the leftovers on the salad include thinly sliced cabbage and radishes, textures and flavors still fresh and bright from the squeeze of lime, purple hull beans (they look like black-eyed peas to me) fresh salsa from homegrown heirloom tomatoes and avocado aioli. The flavor and texture combination here was remarkable. the acidic, tart and spicy tang of the salsa was perfectly offset and complimented by the luxurious, fatty (good fat!), smooth aioli. You could add tortilla chips or strips to this salad if you want, but all I really wanted was the veggies, so I piled it on. This was a real plateful of food, and I was left thoroughly satiated but not stuffed.

If I can impart one nugget of wisdom to you, dear readers, it would be:  You MUST make vegan avocado aioli! I love it so much, I want to put it on everything! Of course we are talking mayo here, so moderation should probably be employed, but its use here instead of a salad dressing illustrates how you can frame the use of aioli to your advantage!

To recap, here's the way I created the aioli:
1/2 an avocado
3 Tbsp. vegannaise
a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice
Just mash it all together with a fork.

I would advise making the aioli in small batches, since it is so easy and tastes and looks best fresh. Enjoy!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fish (or not) Tacos -- Inspired by Pure

I know I've mentioned one of my favorite local restaurants, Pure, many times in my blogging. You may remember the one catastrophic time I tried to get creative with my ordering and wound up with cheese in my burrito, but that incident was indeed the exception. This restaurant is so much fun and the food is amazing, and I have enjoyed going there with my husband. For years my favorite thing on the menu was fish tacos. I think it is still the best thing on the menu, but of course I'm not having it. At Pure, I now enjoy a bountiful salad, plus beans on the side, which  is a bit boring considering the salads I can make at home, but at least it has nothing offensive for me. But I have begun brainstorming about just why the fish tacos at Pure are so amazing, and I have come up with something delicious that is at least reminiscent of them.

My husband has eaten so much beef lately, and it worries me. He likes my vegan food as long as it contains no meat substitutes of any kind, but that obviously limits my options. So my fish tacos were a much healthier option than beef for him. He had them with fish, and I had them with avocado slices and purple hull beans.  Here's the recipe:

Fish (or not) Tacos -- Inspired by Pure
1 frozen tilapia filet, thawed in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 limes, halved
1 avocado, halved
3 Tbsp. vegannaise
3-4 small tomatoes, diced small
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
3 Tbsp. finely diced purple onion
1-2 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro, to your liking
1/2 cup thawed frozen corn, if you like
1 more Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 can of purple hull or other firm beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup finely sliced raw cabbage
4 radishes, thinly sliced (I used a mandoline)
5-6 corn taco tortillas

These are the ingredients for everything, and here are the simple instructions for each element of the tacos:

For the Salsa:
Combine chopped tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, corn, cilantro, olive oil, and the juice of half of the lime. -- (note: I usually like my salsa without corn, but I didn't have enough tomatoes, so I added the corn for bulk. It was good this way too, but would have been more like Pure's without the corn -- try it either way)

For the Avocado Aioli: (this is the idea I snagged from Pure and veganized)
Mash half of the avocado, and mix with the vegannaise and a generous squeeze from the other lime half. Mix thoroughly.

Heat the tortillas in foil in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes while you prepare the fish.

For the Fish:
Warm the oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat,  place the fish into the pan, add the juice of one lime, cover and cook for 3 minutes, then turn off heat and allow the pan to sit on the warm burner, covered, until you finish the rest of the dinner prep.

Meanwhile, arrange in separate bowls, the cabbage, the radishes, the beans and avocado slices, and squeeze the rest of the lime over each of them.

Once the fish and the tortillas are warmed fill your own tacos, buffet-style. I split the fish fillet into two pieces, lengthwise, with the serving spatula after it finished cooking, for two tacos.
Serves 2 - 1 carnivore and 1 vegan

As I have said, my husband had the fish tacos, and he said they were amazing! Score! He asked why I wasn't taking a photo of his tacos, and I explained that many of my readers would not want to look at a dead animal on a plate. I feel funny even giving cooking instructions, but here's the reality - I am just one vegan lady living with a carnivore and kids whose minds are open and undecided. I'm doing very well with my personal choice (loving it!!), and doing my best to offer healthy options for my loved ones too.

So that's that . . . now to the good stuff! My tacos were transcendent, and I do not exaggerate here! The first taco I filled had a couple of slices of avocado, plus the aioli, salsa, cabbage and radishes -- so delicious!  However, even better was my second taco -- with beans replacing the avocado slices. The flavor combination was amazing, and I guess it was much more delicious because the flavors were that much more diverse. I cannot believe how good these tacos tasted!

Stay tuned for the leftover salad the next day  -- there are no words . . .

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Pretty Pups


Bonus post today -- I was cleaning up my files a little and was so pleased to see a couple of cute photos I took of my girls the other day when they were keeping me company in the kitchen while I was cooking. Look how sweet they are -- above is Emma, who has been in our family since early 2002. Sometimes we call her Emma-lemma-dingdong. She is wonderful, wise and sensitive -- just pure love!


Here's Ellie, also known as Ellie-belly-jellybean, who has been in the family since 2005. In case you can't tell, Ellie is very busy, and also very smart. When she's calm, she will put her chin in my lap and stare right into my soul. Sometimes she thinks she can speak human, and she gets so frustrated that what's coming out of her mouth is not quite words.

Look at Emma in the background of this photo, staring at the cabinet.  Cracks me up.  She does this sometimes, and sometimes she barks at seemingly nothing at all. Is she tapping into another dimension or just staring at a wall?

Emma and Ellie only confirm what I have always known -- animals are beautiful, unique individuals and  so worthy of our respect and love.  Just thought you might like to meet my girls!

Early Autumn Stew

Snap! It's cold outside! I guess that's why they call it a cold snap -- Last weekend, seemingly overnight, the Atlanta area went from daily highs of 90 degrees to lows in the 30's! We are all digging in our closets to find something warm to wear. So I was inspired to make something warm, hearty and healthy to eat. This is the stew that received the sweet potatoes of "Trees in my Pantry" fame. I made this in a crock pot, since my son had a lacrosse game I wanted to attend and I couldn't leave a pot bubbling on the stove while I was off watching the game, but you could make it on the stove too. I will supply suggested cooking times for each.

Making it up as I go . . .

Pretty stew veggies

The thing I love about making stews is that there's not much brainwork involved. Through washing and chopping the veggies, once you find a rhythm, a sort of meditative state might be achieved or you could just enjoy some good music during the process. It's a nice way to spend a bit of an afternoon.  Here's the recipe:

Early Autumn Stew

1 large yellow onion, diced small
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 small new potatoes, diced
1 sweet potato, diced
1 russet potato, diced
2 carrots, large chunks
2 celery stalks, large chunks (I also used the leaves!)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. pearl barley
32 oz good vegetable broth
1 veggie boullion cube
1 Tbsp. sherry
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 c. frozen baby lima beans or edamame
4 collard leaves, stems removed, chopped into a chiffonade
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients except the lima beans and the collards in a pot on the stove or in a crock pot. the liquid should cover the veggies. Add water to raise the level of the liquid if necessary. bring the stew ingredients to a boil and then lower heat, simmering for at least an hour and a half if the stew is cooking on the stovetop, or for about 4 hours in a crock pot. You want the potatoes to be thoroughly cooked. While the stew is cooking, put the frozen lima beans in a bowl on the counter to defrost. At the end of cooking time, turn off the heat and stir in the lima beans and collards, which will cook quickly in the heat of the stew. Adjust seasonings to your liking.

If you are not familiar with the term chiffonade, it is really just a way to cut an ingredient into thin strips by first rolling it into a cigar shape and then cutting thin slices, like this:

After I made the stew, I decided it would have been prudent for me to have cut each chiffonade slice into quarters before unrolling. Unfortunately the strips of collards were so luxuriously long that I sometimes had tomato-broth-covered greens wrapping around my chin. Still, the stew was delicious so I didn't care much about that sloppy problem. But you may want to cut yours shorter!

The ingredients of this stew are a bit different from stews you may be used to. This is not a midwinter combination. I was inspired by this unusual in-between time of year, icy and crisp in the evening, but still warm and bright at midday. I want to clean up my veggie garden for winter, but I have a few summer stragglers still holding on that I don't have the heart to pull out yet.  So I wanted something warm and comforting, coupled with the bright tang of tomato, and the fresh pop of something green, added at the end so it is not overcooked. A squeeze of lemon might also be nice as you serve each bowl. I find this stew to be both sustaining and healthful.  As I often do, I encourage you to tailor the stew ingredients to what you personally may have on hand. Don't leave out the sherry, though, it's my secret ingredient and it makes all the difference in the flavor ---Shhhhh!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast!

Mmm!  Look at my messy bowl of double chocolate peanut butter porridge! It sure did the trick for me this morning.

Yesterday my husband fed the dogs their dinner early, for whatever reason, so this morning they began barking for their breakfast at 5:20 a.m.! I let them bark for a few minutes, but when one is the default parent/spouse, i.e. the one whose schedule is more flexible, one realizes the selfishness of languid relaxation in times like these. So I rallied, popped out of bed, let the dogs out and gave them breakfast so my loved ones could continue in their slumber for just a little while longer. As such, I did enjoy my solitude over coffee and my early morning routine, but by the time everyone was up and about, I realized I was going to need a bit more than my usual piece of toast to continue with my day. I immediately began thinking in terms of nutritional elements. I needed protein, whole grains, a touch more caffeine and a little sugar. I seriously cannot handle caffeine or sugar after about 10:00 a.m. (messes with my sleep) but since it was so early, I decided to indulge.

I poured half a cup of quaker oats into a bowl with half a cup of silk light chocolate soy milk and microwaved it for a couple of minutes, then topped it off with a little spoonful of vegan chocolate peanut butter (I am so excited to find products at WalMart with the vegan symbol!)

This literally took two minutes of my time and I had such an amazing, decadent breakfast! I won't do this every day, mainly because of the sugars, I don't mind the fats so much, but today it fit the bill.  In case you are interested, I did the math on some nutritional elements of the breakfast:

1/2 c. Silk chocolate soymilk
45 calories
.75 g. fat
7 g. sugars

1 Tbsp. Peanut Butter and Co.'s chocolate peanut butter
85 calories
6.5 g. fat
3.5 g. sugars

1/2 c. dry oatmeal
150 calories
3 g. fat
1 g. sugars

For a grand total of:
280 calories
10.25 g. fat
11.5 g. sugars

Not bad. I did get my whole grains and protein, and the lovely euphoria that is afforded from a little bit of chocolate. I'm enjoying my morning so far. Grocery shopping, laundry, vacuuming and dishes are done, and next on tap is pulling out dead begonias and planting pansies. I also got broccoli, cauliflower, collards (yay!) and cabbage for my veggie garden, which likely won't go in today since there is so much cleanup to do first, but we'll see. It's a gorgeous, sunny, cool day.

A side note -- I have really been enjoying the "stats" feature of this blog which was likely always available, but only just discovered by me. It is so interesting to see where you, dear readers, are -- all over the world -- and which posts interest you the most. There's no surprise you like the brownies -- everyone gets a kick out of chocolate, I guess, but I was amused and surprised to see that the most viewed post in the history of "A Midlife Vegan" is "Trees in My Pantry"!  Why is this? Are folks just finding me? Are you just curious about the subject matter? Did you think I said "Panties"? Minds out of the gutter, people!  Just kidding.  It is a source of enjoyment for me though.  I am very interested in what you like and will keep this in mind as I write future posts.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trees in my Pantry -- Plus a Fab Sandwich

Stay tuned in a future post for my Early Autumn Stew recipe. When I was foraging in my pantry for ingredients, look what I found! What an amazing, lilliputian desert-scape this becomes if you suspend reality and focus in on it closely. I only bought these a few days ago. When I found them like this I had half a mind to bury them in my garden and see what happens. But the garden, full of green tomatoes, is about ready for a clean-up and a fall planting. I will need to plan carefully. So, instead of the garden, stripped of their pretty trees, into the stew the potatoes went.

One more photo to inspire you today:

Here's a recent lunch -- I'm sure you all have enjoyed a BLT before, but remember to try it vegan -- I had missed my red homegrown tomatoes since they have been green for a couple of weeks now, so imagine my delight when one of the green ones I picked actually turned red after sitting on the kitchen counter for a couple of days. The flavor was every bit as delicious as mid-summer! So, besides the tomato, the sandwich utilizes raw spinach, Lightlife Bac'n and vegannaise, all on a couple of pieces of toasted Eziekiel bread. I would advise cooking the bac'n only until it is not quite crisp. When it is very crisp, the way I used to eat real bacon pre-vegan, it's a little tough to bite through. The product is fully cooked already anyway. We just fry it a little to get the right texture. This sandwich was "close your eyes and hum a little tune while chewing" good.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Homemade Fast Food

Sometimes you just want a burger or a hot dog. Well, truth be told, I don't normally crave those things anymore, until I smell the grill heating up, that is. Saturday for lunch, my husband decided to make himself a hamburger and fries. So I decided to grill myself a couple of dogs -- Yves brand. Luckily I was able to find some stale whole wheat buns in the fridge (hint -- you can wrap them in a moist paper towel and microwave for about 5-10 seconds -- good as new -- unbelievable but true! I don't know how I know this, my head is full of knowledge of dubious origin.) So we had the frozen burgers, the veggie dogs, the buns, I needed something fab to place atop my mustard-smeared hot dogs -- so I sauteed some purple onion, purple cabbage and yellow pepper -- I love purple veggies, have you noticed? While I was doing this, my husband made some oven fries. He has become quite the amazing fry cook. He used my recipe (see the previous post "A Weekend Tofu Scramble") but he also added some lemon pepper. It turned out to be very agreeable.

Besides making his wife vegan french fries, my non-vegan husband has recently been making more of an effort for me by assigning a portion of the grill's real estate for non-meat or -cheese items!  So sweet!  Gotta toot his horn whenever I notice that carnivore's mind opening, if even just a little!

The Yves brand hot dogs were tiny, so I made myself two of them. They were absolutely delicious with my selected toppings, but I believe I prefer tofurkey italian sausages, and the portion is larger, so one is enough. However, I did enjoy these home-cooked dogs and fries. Was there fat? Yes, but veggie fat. were there carbs? Yes, but whole wheat carbs. Homemade vegan fast food -- another delicious option!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Weekend Tofu Scramble!

Okay, this was seriously delicious! The words "tofu scramble" don't usually elicit cravings from most folks, but try this flavor/texture combination before you judge. Above is a shot of the beginning of the cooking process, where you can see all the ingredients I used. Below is the delicious scramble right before I wolfed it down, yes, all of it! These amounts made two of these big bowlfuls.

Here's my recipe:

Weekend Tofu Scramble

1 block extra firm, silken tofu (other kinds will also work, I just like this texture)
oven fries from one medium potato, diced (leftovers work well for this, but the recipe for the fries is also below)
3 Tbsp. diced purple onion
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 c. chopped raw spinach
1 Tbsp. turmeric
1-2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Drain the tofu -- it's not necessary to press the liquid out of the silken tofu. It will quickly evaporate during cooking. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute all ingredients, stirring periodically to avoid burning. It is okay to let it sit for a while in between stirring so bits of the ingredients get a little brown and crispy. Just be careful not to burn it, though. The scramble should be thoroughly cooked after about 5-6 minutes.
Serves 2, or in my case, 1

Oven Fries
Ingredients for the above recipe (I usually make a lot more than this  though, because I love the leftovers)
1 russet potato, cut into thin wedges
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, stirring well so that all the wedges are covered in the oil. Arrange the wedges on a rimmed cookie sheet, skin side down. Roast the wedges for 30 minutes. I advise against using a glass pyrex pan for this. The temperature is too high. I found out the hard way once as I placed the empty glass pan in a wet sink. The cool water droplets made the glass explode! We were all lucky to have avoided injury. But 450 degrees is absolutely necessary to achieve the desired crispy texture of these delicious, simple fries. So use a metal pan. 

As I said, I already had some leftover oven fries in the refrigerator, otherwise I may not have thought to include them in this scramble. I am so glad I did. If you are daunted by the extra labor step of the fries, I urge you to reconsider. Tofu scrambles are made in many different ways, and everyone has a favorite formula. This combination, though, was definitely the answer to any vegan who is nostalgic about sumptuous brunch buffets including scrambled eggs, hash browns, omelets and the like. This scramble was every bit as delicious to me as any egg dish I ever ate pre-vegan.

Some nutrition notes: turmeric is a wonderful spice, one of the milder elements of the combination known as curry. It has been touted to suppress and prevent certain cancers. The yellow color it imparts also contributes to the very egg-like effect of the tender-crispy tofu. One person consuming a whole block of tofu is probably not a great idea on a regular basis, since soy has an effect on one's estrogen balance. I rarely consume large quantities of soy, however, so I felt free to indulge. I hope you try this scramble, in fact go make some oven fries right now just in case -- they are great with ketchup too!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What I Did with the Rest of the Gizmo Salad

Go on and have a laugh at my expense here. I know this looks sloppy, but it was in fact quite delicious! The sloppiness is more a factor of my inexperienced hesitancy with a spatula than with this creation being a bad idea. When I make my daughter pancakes, they turn out like this too, just less colorful!

This is supposed to be a quesadilla -- two corn tortillas, a sliced tomato (storebought, sadly, as my garden ones are all green) gizmo salad, pressed (the leftovers get a bit juicy as the days go by, so I pressed some of the liquid out) and daiya cheese. The "cheese" was supposed to be the glue to hold it all together, but given my penchant for overfilling all manner of sandwiches, it didn't have a chance. I love quesadillas with a nice crisp crust, so I used medium high heat, and I resisted flipping until I began to fear the bottom tortilla was burning, then, trying to pretend I was an expert flipper, I garnered my confidence for one swift motion, then . . . faltered! Most of the filling flew out of the sandwich in a spectacular manner.  only a few strands of zucchini and one tomato slice landed on the counter, though.  I quickly began trying to stuff the yummy filling back into the sandwich, but after waiting, then attempting another flip, I resolved to think of what was outside the quesadilla as a "side dish". Then I just relaxed and began to enjoy the process more.

Yes, this is a mess, but look how delicious it is!  Remember, the zucchini was raw, and here it is warm and slightly crispy. The flavors were lovely together and this was a very satisfying lunch. This experiment is only blogworthy if it can impart the value of repeated reinvention of our noble leftovers, one of my favorite vegan themes. Still, I can see here I may want to think about a panini press!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Lazy Gallo Pinto

Here's my version of VERY lazy Gallo Pinto. I say very lazy because all I do is prepare wild rice with a veggie boullion cube, and stir in a can of rinsed black beans and a handful of chopped italian parsley. It is a wonderful staple to have on hand periodically that I can add to salads, soups, wraps, or top with avocado, salsa, "sour cream" or "cheese". It really isn't Gallo Pinto at all. But that's what my husband calls it.

After I whipped up this batch of beans and rice, I looked up the actual recipe of Gallo Pinto, which translates to "Painted Rooster" -- your guess is as good as mine on that one. The actual recipe is very involved, and includes chicken broth, bacon fat, white rice and lots of onions, and sweet peppers of many colors, all chopped fine. Labor intensive, apparently, the raw white rice is sauteed first for some time in the fat, before the liquid is added. I have never had the pleasure of tasting this actual dish, but it sounds very different from what I have made here. Why does my version of it stir the memory of my man? Well, you know how it is with memory. Smells and textures can be very effective triggers to a blast from the past. There is something about my beans and rice that, though not identical, is close enough to place my husband back in his childhood home in Nicaragua.

Interestingly, I remember my father-in-law, Maximo (otherwise known as Grandpapa to my kids) was very impressed with the Gallo Pinto I had inadvertently served him on one of his visits to us. I had never heard of the dish at that time. I had just fixed beans and rice. I don't remember exactly how I made it, but, since I was still breastfeeding my daughter then, I am sure it was no gourmet effort. I believe a can of Ro-Tel may have been involved. But Maximo raved about the dish, waxing poetic about how the flavors, textures and spices effectively transported him to his homeland. Bless his heart, what a sweet man. He also loved my chicken and dumplings (Bisquick).  Did the rice and beans really trigger a memory for Maximo? Or was he only being kind to me? It doesn't really matter. I am now inspired to learn more about the dish and to honor its origin by getting a little closer to the actual recipe, while still maintaining my vegan standards, of course. I will do a bit of experimentation and then share what I come up with.

Sadly, we lost Maximo several years ago. If you have been reading this blog for a while you may remember lovely photos of my husband's little sisters in Miami Beach (see Archives, July, "A Vegan In South Beach"). These wonderful girls, more like cousins to my kids than aunts, are the daughters of Maximo and his widow, our dear friend, Maria Jose Salinas-Starkey.

Here's to you, Maximo -- remembering you is so nice, and you inspire me to better honor your heritage!