Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rep. Kucinich, Tsk, Tsk . . . .

I was disappointed to hear a story on the news this morning about Dennis Kucinich (D - OH) filing a lawsuit against the Capitol Hill Cafeteria system for an olive pit that he found in his wrap. Rep. Kucinich, who suffered a broken tooth from the pit back in 2008, is suing for physical damages and also "loss of enjoyment". Really? What kind of lawyer would suggest an elected public official should sue for such a thing? Indeed, what elected public official would agree? Why not let the representatives' special lifetime healthcare benefits take care of paying for the damages, Rep. Kucinich? Yes, I am disappointed in the frivolous litigation, but more than that I am disappointed that Rep. Kucinich is painting vegans in a bad light. Yes, that's right, it is being reported that the reason Kucinich had been eating olive tapenade is that he is vegan! Ugh!

A broken tooth -- of course I wouldn't wish something so uncomfortable on anyone, but I've gotta wonder with how much vigor the representative was chomping his veggie wrap. As vegans, we realize our food is much less processed than most and a little olive pit fragment in my tapenade wouldn't surprise me.
In fact, remember bunco last week with my olive tapenade crostini? Sorry for the repeat photo, but it is the best serendipitous illustration of this Kucinich story I've got. At bunco, while my neighborhood lady friends were enjoying my vegan snacks, my friend Carol pulled a little something from her teeth and held it up, saying, "Oh, got a little extra roughage here," referring to an olive pit fragment.

"Oh, sorry, are you okay? I bought the tapenade at Costco," I said.

"Oh yeah, I'm fine -- I've got that Costco tapenade too, love it! I don't know why anyone would make their own when they could buy such good tapenade so cheaply,"

Then everyone within earshot nodded in agreement and that was the end of the olive pit episode in my basement pub.

Rep. Kucinich, sorry you lost your enjoyment with the little olive pit. With your frivolous lawsuit you are illustrating what many constituents believe about their elected officials, that they are elitist and out of touch. I'm not sure you would fit in at bunco.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Luscious Leftovers Salad

When a vegan actually cooks something rather than just opening a package for food, it is usually pretty darn spectacular. I'm serious. When we consider our nutritional needs coupled with our over-the-top celebration of plant foods and how special they make us feel, every meal can seem like a gourmet indulgence if we wish it to be. So, I don't know about you, but around here vegan food doesn't get wasted. It just gets reborn!

This wonderful salad was born of some of my bunco leftovers (the raw veggies) and my leftover potato gratin. It is a giant handful of arugula topped with the veggies and crispy cheezy potatoes, then a julienne of raw daikon which I am loving lately most days. I've been doing a fair amount of spackling and sanding, dusting and rearranging, so my sinus has been working overtime processing the nasty air I've been breathing. So, since I have been taking decongestants from time to time, the daikon offsets the systemic problems the medicine will bring. I love food as medicine!

To top my healthy luscious leftovers creation I slightly drizzled two oils I have been enjoying lately.

On the left is Blood Orange Olive Oil from The Olive Press, a gift from one of our wonderful friends, and on the right, the Black Truffle Oil I bought for Alicia's Radicchio Pizza (my most favorite food of all time as of this moment). I was unable to locate White Truffle Oil, which was called for, but I've got no complaint with the Black Truffle version. I was very light with the truffle oil, which is more viscous and richer in flavor. The two oils beautifully complemented one another and my delicious salad.

Food reinvention is one of my favorite vegan hobbies. "Waste not, want not" becomes, "Wow -- this is better than the first time!"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


On Sunday, while I was cleaning/organizing, my husband came over and said, "What were you thinking about for lunch?"

I answered, "Well, I just finished breakfast, so I wasn't. You want some soup?" as I pointed to the cans in the pantry.

"Can you make Paella?"

"Um, sorta,'"

So my vegan paella, complete with optional seared chicken was born. I am sorry, it was a rush job so I did not write the recipe as I went. Here is what I remember:

1 c. brown rice
2 1/2 c. broth or water with a bouillon cube
6 shakes of turmeric (I didn't own any saffron)
half a large white onion, diced
a clove of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
a large handful of grape tomatoes, sliced
half a cup of sliced raw spinach
1 c. frozen peas, unthawed
optional if you are catering to your omni-brethren: three frozen chicken tenderloins (for one omni-serving)
Serves 4

Start the rice and broth/water and bouillon -- I just lazily put it all in together and stirred it a little as it came to a boil. Then I lowered the heat to low and covered. From here the rice took about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients. Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes and tomato paste. Cover and continue to cook. I found I needed to add some more warm water about 30 minutes in, as the rice was still too firm and the evaporation was happening too early. You could add half a cup here or just start out with 3 cups instead of the 2 1/2 that are on the rice package. In a separate pan, cook the frozen chicken in some olive oil over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Keep the pan covered since the melting ice will create spatters. Once the chicken is browned, turn the heat to low and leave covered so it can finish cooking through as the rice finishes. When the rice is finished, take off the heat and stir in the frozen peas and spinach. The heat will thaw and wilt everything together. Serve it up!

Obviously, with a little heads-up, I would have had the opportunity to make this much more spectacular and much more vegan -- sausages, gardein, but my husband loved it as it was, I thought it was pretty good and, as a bonus, my picky but sometimes veganly (could that be a word, please?) adventurous daughter loved it, and opted for it sans chicken (I only put the chicken in my husband's bowl - the rest stayed vegan). She even wolfed down the leftovers on her way to workout the next day after school! (they feed them lunch at school at 10:30 -- crazy, huh?) I warned her she might get a cramp during workout, but she was starving so I let her have the healthy leftovers. As luck would have it, she had a very good workout and was no worse for the eating schedule.

This "paella" was something I wasn't inspired to do, but I was proud to have been able to bring it all together spur-of-the-moment. I was also proud it was another healthy option for my little girl!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Comfort Food

 Golly, looking at this photo again, I'm drooling. I am so sorry the leftovers are all gone! Branching out and getting into my "vegan freaky" foods I am drawn to lately, I picked up some brown rice pasta. I hadn't tried it previously because, pre-vegan, I used to love Eziekiel bread but did not care for the Eziekiel pasta. I assumed any non-wheat pasta would be a disappointment. How wrong I was! I don't know if it's because my tastes have changed so much or that I just happen to love brown rice pasta, but I like this so much that I am actually inspired to give the Eziekiel pasta another go to find out.

I love the texture of the rice fusilli. If you try it, don't skip the cold-water rinse. It makes this pasta springy and tender. Interestingly, the cold leftovers from the fridge were inedible to me as the springiness had turned into hard waxiness, but as soon as I warmed it up again I was relieved to find it resumed the desired tenderness.

Assembling cheezy rice fusilli before baking

After preparing this pasta I stirred in about 4 tablespoons of my cashew cheez sauce, a sprig of tarragon and a handful of grape tomatoes, sliced thinly. I then baked it all for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Mmmmm.

To me comfort food is necessarily warm, especially in winter, and needs a little something starchy or at least substantial. Here are a couple more comfort food meals I put together:

This is a potato gratin that started out being a way to use up my cashew sauce. Not that I will be eager to see it go, but I just don't want it to go to waste. Baked, the sauce turned out strange on top, but soft and cheezy between the layers. I actually liked the strange crispy-cheez topping, but would not likely serve it to omnivores. I am always careful not to give them fodder for any ridicule of vegans.

To make this gratin, I sliced a large russet potato very thinly along with a large shallot. I layered the dish thus: one-slice thickness of potato, shallot, a grind of pepper and a couple of spoonfuls of sauce. I repeated until all ingredients were used. The sauce was salty enough that I did not feel the need to add more salt. I baked the dish at 375 for half an hour.

The next dish I want to feature as a comfort food is nothing new, you have seen it on this blog in various guises many times before, but it does comfort me so here it is:

Greens-n-Beans:  A can of canellini beans, rinsed very well and added to a panful of collard leaves and shallot slices that were cooked in olive oil on medium-high heat. The key is to use the highest heat you can without burning and stir, stir stir. It only takes about 3-4 minutes. My favorite part is the little bits that form from the few beans that fall apart and get crispy in the oil. I scrape it all up with wooden spoons. Not a speck gets wasted as I (privately after dinner as I'm loading the dishwasher) sit down and scrape it all out with spoons, fingers, whatever necessary in a bit of a feeding frenzy. Ahhh!

It seems the body is in diversification mode lately, craving a wide variety of plant foods. It seems to me, as in any investment, diversification is good! Invest in your own good health -- keep feeding your body and soul what is luscious and pure -- you're worth it!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Calling All Kale Chip Afficionados!

I made kale chips today. It's the latest in my ongoing saga of trying to invent a fruit or vegetable dish that my 17 year old son is not allergic to and will like. If you don't know the background, Hans is allergic to tree nuts -- that is all nuts except peanuts. It is a serious, life-threatening allergy with links to certain fruits and vegetables. At first I found this hard to believe, but the allergist confirmed it. If something makes Hans' mouth itch, I cannot insist he eat it. Hans' health has been poor lately and I am sure the lack of many fruits and vegetables in his diet is the cause.

So -- kale chips! I have found many simple recipes for kale chips with differing cooking temperatures, lengths of cooking time and other instructions. I settled on a compromise and cooked the first batch at 325 degrees for 10 minutes (not crisp), then another 5 minutes (burnt -- stunk up the whole house). So I tried another batch at 300 degrees for 13 minutes. The kale chips mostly turned out pretty good but were only crunchy here and there. They were still a little rubbery and I would have put them in a little longer but was afraid to burn them.  Then it dawned on me that maybe I am using too much olive oil. Or maybe I took the "single layer" admonition too seriously. Maybe it is okay for them to be bunched up a little at the higher temp.

I ate the crunchy/rubbery batch myself and thoroughly loved them, but I know I will not win my boy over with kale chips like these. Are any of you kale chip chefs? What are your tricks? I am indebted to you for any knowledge you can send my way. Thanks!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I hosted our bunco group in my basement pub the other night. It was a wonderful opportunity to flex my "vegan ambassador" muscles. Though I personally enjoy "freaky" vegan food as much as the next vegan, it's nice to show folks that vegan food does not necessarily need to be so very different from the food they are used to. Featured here are Alicia's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups from The Kind Diet, fresh dipping veggies with my avocado aioli, crostini with "butter" and olive tapenade and with artichoke spread. Here are my easy recipes:

Artichoke Crostini
1 can artichoke hearts in water
5 Tbsp. Vegenaise
5 drops umeboshi vinegar
salt and pepper
1 baguette, sliced thinly
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spread the bread slices on a cookie sheet. Toast the bread until lightly browned, turn the slices over and  toast the other side. Meanwhile, drain the artichoke hearts and press in a colander with a bowl and something heavy on top for several minutes to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Combine all remaining ingredients in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency is achieved. Top each toast with a spoonful of artichoke spread. I then garnished with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds.
Variation: Butter each toast and top with olive tapenade. I bought mine at Costco. The butter is a nice compliment to the oily/vinegary tapenade. 

Avocado Aioli
3 avocados
6 Tbsp. Vegenaise
Juice of 1 lime
Process all ingredients in a food processor.

I have featured this aioli several times on "A Midlife Vegan", and each time it is different. It's that kind of a recipe -- hard to mess up.  The proportions don't matter so much. This version was more avocado-centric than others. The lime is crucial.

It was so fun to get together with the girls and I love feeding friends healthy, kind food. After rolling the dice, I didn't personally win any money, but everyone loved my food so I still felt like a winner!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Random Ramblings Which Began as a Quickie

I have fodder for a nice long post whenever time permits, but for now I'll put out a short one. This morning is the first time I have a couple of hours to take my nine-year-old pup, Emma (the sweet honey-colored one) to the vet to get a lump checked and to get a bath and nails done, etc. Emma's my first dog, she's dear to my heart, and I'm a little worried about the lump. Send good vibes our way if you've got any to spare.

For my quickie today, I just want to comment on chocolate.

When I chose a vegan life almost a year ago, a thought that haunted me that I had to wilfully suppress on a number of occasions was that Nutella would be a thing of the past (dairy). So the other day when I came across Justin (that's what I will call him) I fell in love. Justin is essentially vegan nutella, but less sweet. Perfect! Sugar doesn't float my boat so much anymore anyway. I sampled Justin in tiny, pea-sized bits straight from the jar and was very satisfied. So next, I put a big honkin' spoonful on top of my oatmeal. I did not like it. Too much. Also, Justin is not as appealing to me melted. Who'd have thunk it?

Teasing my next post, I hosted bunco last night at my home. It was a perfect chance for me to create some vegan masterpieces that would also appeal to my omnivore friends. I believe all the creations were hits.  Appropriate photos and recipes will be included in the post, as promised ladies. As expected, the star of the show was Alicia's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups from The Kind Diet. I made them in a mini size, however, since they are so rich. I did not try them last night, knowing what chocolate does to me post-2:00 p.m. or so (no sleep). So at 6:30 a.m. this morning as I was rousing my kids for school, after staying up until midnight putting the food away, I sampled my wares. Verdict: very good, but I was loving the peanut butter portion. My body is off chocolate! Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the taste of it, but there was an aversion or something. I did not feel ill, I was just missing that rock-star feeling I get from whole, pure foods. I'll leave the rest of the chocolate to the others. I don't feel sad about the chocolate chapter of my life (mostly) closing. I'll still treat myself with pea-sized bits of Justin.

I realize my quickie is turning out not to be (I think I am subconsciously sabotaging my trip to the vet) so, while I'm on a roll, let me add one more random thing: As I was typing this post, this album by Mumford and Sons popped up in my Amazon Associates box as a popular item. I just want to say I am surprised to see it, since I thought we were the only ones who knew about these guys. It's a great album, and "Little Lion Man" is the best, though rife with expletives. I don't feel they are gratuitous, though, as the song is very emotionally powerful, in an Irish bent (thought I believe they are British?) The bad words add to the song. Just don't play it around your kids. Maybe everyone already knows about Mumford & Sons, I don't know. I'm only a sheltered 40-something Georgia girl. But it's a good album.

Okay -- thanks for bearing with me. It's time to get responsible and get my puppy to the vet. Stay tuned for my Bunco food!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Almost a Year In -- Cravings Still Changing

On February 11 I will have been vegan for one year. The year has passed so quickly, and I only mention the milestone because I have had occasion recently to realize that my vegan body, which speaks to me so clearly, is evolving even still.  I must have had more animal sludge stockpiled than I thought!

I judge what's going on within by how I feel, and by the extreme cravings that come barreling through. I always answer my cravings by indulging them to the best of my ability. I had reason recently to open Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet, something I realize I haven't done in a while, my tried and true recipes from the tome being so ingrained already in my mind. The way I realized I hadn't recently flipped through is that certain recipes that used to make me grimace were now calling to me, namely the Radicchio Pizza and the Braised Daikon. So I had to try both yesterday.  Something else I suddenly had to have was cheezy cashew cream sauce, which I had recently noticed from various sources. I made up a recipe for it too. So I had a big hodge-podge cooking day yesterday!

Here's what I came up with:

These are the slices of daikon cooking in the mirin mixture that is finally getting syrupy after about an hour. I think it took so long because my daikon wasn't very large and so didn't fill the pan very well, so covering the slices required too much liquid. Alicia says that size doesn't matter here (I see what you did there, girl!) but, um, I think it does!

Verdict -- wasn't too crazy about these at first -- too sweet on one side, too not on the other (I can't stand sugar now, almost a year in) I really really liked the refrigerated leftovers, eaten cold with my fingers the next morning. Weird, but there it is. Also, I really liked how the daikon got everything moving. The effect was very energizing. Food as fuel.

When I had been thinking the daikon would be my lunch, I planned a cabbage dish to go with it -- just cabbage, leeks, shoyu and lemon.

Here is the bowl of lovely clean veggies -- see the root end of one of the leeks there? I washed it well and included it. I love the texture -- I don't remember liking it last year.

And here is the sauteed veg, complete with shoyu and lemon. Four shakes tasted too salty to me (I am recently intolerant of salt as well) so I put some of it on some whole wheat linguine and topped it with my cheezy sauce:

That's the ticket! Since I had made the sauce just for me, I put very little salt in it, and it is luscious! The sauce with the veggies and plain whole wheat pasta was exactly what I wanted to eat!

Here's my cheeze sauce recipe:

Cashew Cheeze Sauce
11.5 oz. whole raw cashews
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. barley miso
4 Tbsp. nutritional yeast, plus more for sprinkling

I've heard the cashews should be soaked overnight, but mine weren't. I was in a hurry. I soaked mine for a little over an hour, rinsing them well and changing the water 3-4 times. Then, in a high-powered blender, cover soaked cashews with fresh water and process until completely homogenous, incorporating all ingredients.

This is a completely raw sauce and turned out to be just to my taste. You could easily tinker with the ingredients to create the sauce of your dreams too.

Whew! What a lunch-creating frenzy all that was! It was fun though, and the daikon really went straight into the fridge for the lovely cold next day breakfast that it turned out to be.

My family decided it would be fun to make our own pizzas for dinner, a few hours after the above frenzy. So I put out some ingredients and left them to it, while I again opened The Kind Diet for myself. I decided to create a sort of morph of two of Alicia's recipes, The Radicchio Pizza and the Thin Mushroom Pizza. I used two Whole Wheat Flatbreads, spread with tofutti cream cheese (I was over making sauces at that point) and topped with radicchio, salt, pepper and black truffle oil (couldn't find white truffle oil). It was TRANSCENDENT. I know all-caps is like yelling, sorry, but that is how very delicious this meal was to me. I am so sad I just finished the leftovers.

Yum. This is the best food in the world to me right now. This and my own homemade apple sauce. I actually dream about those foods.

Yes, the vegan transformation has been drastic and surprising. It is still an adventure, and I wouldn't have missed a second of it! Um, maybe those first 6 cheese-addiction-detox-tremens weeks, but other than that, not a second! I look forward to what's next.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Football Party Food

We went over to our friends' house last night to watch the Falcons game, along with a few more people. It was a tough game to watch after the first quarter. But no matter. I mostly enjoyed being in the company of dear friends, and eating delicious food.

The hostess had picked up barbeque, along with sauce, buns and cole slaw. So I volunteered to make a salad. This is something simple and delicious I came up with that is omni-friendly, i.e. sweet, no bitter greens. It turned out to be great. My preference would have been to throw the bite of arugula into the mix, but it's hard to find lately with the ice storm.  The salad is simply a head of butter lettuce, a head of romaine lettuce, some sliced strawberries and hearts of palm. I created a delicious dressing from a blood orange-steeped olive oil I received as a christmas gift. I used 2 tablespoons of that, along with 4 tablespoons of vegenaise and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. The flavor combo was really delicious, especially with the salad ingredients. I find the pairing of strawberries and balsamic vinegar to be a winner every time!

It would have been fine if I'd only brought the salad, since we were a small group and the hostess had provided plenty of carnivore food, but I was coming off a day of not much protein (tapas the night before, where the best I could hope for was bruschetta without the feta cheese). So I brought a bonus dish of Veganomicon's Quinoa and Chick Pea Pilaf. If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it, and the pilaf is one of my tried-and-true dishes which has received accolades from friends and family alike. Though nutritionally superior in its protein and fiber content, Quinoa can be a bit of an acquired taste, unless you prepare it in an inventive way like Isa Chandra and Terry do in this recipe. The key is to infuse the grains with the flavor -- in this case, onion, garlic, olive oil, broth, tomato paste, cumin and coriander, rather than first cooking them in water and adding the flavor later. I am looking forward to looking into Isa Chandra Moskowitz' next book, Appetite for Reduction, which is coming out at such an appropriate time of year!

So here's the Quinoa and Chick Pea Pilaf:

Sorry the photo is a bit blurry -- I've got to go back to the Opthamologist -- it's been too long!

The food I brought was perfect for me, and a few of the others liked it too. Best, I had the opportunity, in describing the contents of the pilaf, to discuss the amazing protein punch that quinoa affords. I was the only one in the room going back for thirds (my husband felt bloated after his pork sandwich). The tastes were addictive and I knew my body was hungry for this healthy food, so I fed it! I love the very clear signals a vegan body sends -- they take all the guilt out of indulging.

Well, it was a bad night for Atlanta football, but a good night for delicious food and fun with friends. Stay tuned for my next vegan/omni-friendly recipes for bunco, which I will be hosting on Wednesday. I always like to be a vegan "ambassador" first, presenting something that anyone would love, but am also tempted to push the envelope just a little.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Congratulations Alicia and Christopher!

I'm short on time today, but I was just checking a discussion thread on "The Kind Life" that I had commented in that was, ironically, about people's motivations to have children. As I was closing the "Kind Life" window -- something caught my eye -- Alicia Silverstone is expecting a baby with her husband, Christopher Jarecki!  This is wonderful news and I just want to send good wishes to the happy couple. The baby will undoubtedly have a healthier start than most, and will have a great foundation for a healthy and enlightened lifestyle. I love good news!

Thanks, Alicia, for all you do, and all you have done to inspire so many people to better their lives and open their minds to a kinder world. Every good wish to you . . .

Photo has nothing to do with this post -- it's just some of my pretty summer garden veggies.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What a Wonderful Surprise!

Being under 4-5 inches of snow + a crust of an inch of ice all week has had me in the kitchen and on the computer a lot more than usual, which is just fine for a blog, it turns out. Seriously, the kids are on their 4th snow day out of school, and I'm beginning to wonder about the curriculum, but . . . not my problem.

So --- part of my kitchen time has been taking stock of what is rotten or on its way out, and cleaning up my larder a bit. About 2 months ago I bought a huge flat of Honey Crisp apples from Costco. I've kept them in our garage fridge since I have found that I really enjoy apples more when they are cold. The refrigeration has served to lengthen their shelf life, of course, but 2 months? After the first couple of weeks I only had 6 of them left and forgot to look at them for a while, assuming they wouldn't be in good shape. Well, after two months, I finally went into that part of the fridge and pulled them out and, no they were not in the best shape, a little softer, a few bad spots, but I thought they were worth cutting into. I peeled and chopped the apples, removing the soft spots (there weren't many) and I put them in a pot with a couple of tablespoons of earth balance. I know that sounds like a lot of "butter" but it was a lot of apples, and I was not inspired to add water. I let them cook on the range on low for several hours. It would have been a good thing to make in a crock pot, but that was still dirty from the hoppin' john (lots of people stuck in the house eating lots of home-cookin' = a backlog at the dishwasher).

I know it is disappointing to some of you when I don't create formal recipes, but I honestly wasn't expecting much from this experiment, so I didn't measure or record anything. The only reason I know the amount of earth balance is that it was the end of a stick, and it had the markings on the foil, and I was just using it up. From memory, to the pot I also added a couple of grinds of fresh nutmeg, a shake or two of cinnamon (about half a teaspoon, I guess), same amount of allspice, and a tiny drizzle of agave syrup -- less than a teaspoon. I considered squeezing a little lemon, but am so glad I didn't. The applesauce was perfectly sweet/tart as it was. I kept the heat very low and stirred every half hour or so. I was making other food too for dinner so I am not sure how long I let this cook, just until most of the apples fell apart.

Can I just say that this is just about the best thing I have ever made? I realize I sound over-the-top here, but I am serious. It's delicious! And to think I was considering throwing the apples away! After dinner, I curled up in my favorite chair with a little, warm bowlful of it and decided my applesauce was up there as the best dessert I've eaten -- ever (and I used to be a creme brulee chick pre-vegan!) This applesauce was that good. No kidding.

This morning I put some in my morning oatmeal and almond milk, with a tiny sprinkle of pumpkin seed granola on top:

Good grief! It was like apple pie a la mode, no, better than that -- just heaven!

I've loved being snowed in here, but now I'm out of apples! Gotta make another batch of this applesauce!  Snow/ice, it's time to start melting! What a Wonderful Surprise!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Oh, The Irony! Good Luck Peas and Rice for a Snowy Day

Here it is halfway through January, and I am finally getting around to serving Hoppin' John. I'm right on schedule for this year actually, since I only took my Christmas decor down a couple of days ago.

For you non-southerners, Hoppin' John is a traditional southern dish originating in the Low Country and the Gullah Islands (South Carolina, Georgia) comprised mainly of black-eyed peas and rice. It is usually prepared with a slab of bacon or a hamhock. Some Hoppin' John afficionados cook the peas with the rice and some cook them separately. The dish is purported to bestow good luck for the year to someone who eats it after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. There are many legends surrounding this tradition. It was said the southern slaves had smuggled the black eyed peas from Africa and used them in their magical feasts. The plantation owners jazzed the peas up with the pork products and some even hid a shiny dime in the dish. The person at the table who found the dime would have extra good luck in the coming year. There are many theories as to where the dish got it's name. My favorite is that there was an old man with a crutch called "Hoppin' John" who peddled mugs of the magical dish on the streets of Charleston.

I was raised mostly in rural Virginia, which is not as southern as where I am now, but it was southern enough for us to eat black eyed peas for good luck on New Year's Day.  My mom never used any piggies in her peas, she just served them straight out of the can with a little garlic salt, I think. I loved 'em!

So yesterday, on January 11, I endeavored to bestow good luck for the year upon those I hold dear.  I made up a recipe based on what I had on hand. Inspiration had struck too late for me to soak dried peas, so I pulled a can out of the cupboard. You are probably wondering what's so ironic about this lucky-pea installment of A Midlife Vegan. Well, I'll tell you . . .

Once almost all the ingredients were happily bubbling away in my crock pot, I raised the pepper grinder to add one more generous grind of my favorite multicolored fresh pepper. Then the grinder broke in my hands. About 3/4 cup of unground peppercorns were suddenly in the stew and bouncing mischievously all over my countertops and floor. The dogs went bananas, barking and chasing the naughty little spices. My husband went bananas trying to keep the beasts from wolfing down what would surely later result in piles of vomit. I went bananas just in my own little head, as I stared, wide-eyed at the pile of pepper in my good-luck peas. 

"This has got to mean something!" I moaned, ridiculously.

"I mean -- why does this happen?"

My husband, uncharacteristically cool-headed as he went to get the broom and dustpan (I guess he could sense I was hot-headed enough for the both of us) said, "Things don't always have to happen for a reason,"

I disagree, but I kept that to myself since he was being so helpful. 

I scooped as much as I could off the top of the half-finished stew, then reassessed. "I guess I don't need to add that scoop of salsa I was considering," I said to myself.  

As I stirred and inspected, I realized I was at a decision point. Do I throw it away, or go through the stew pea by pea, grain of rice by grain of rice? I opted for the latter. I wasn't giving in to whatever the universe was dishing out, or rather, I just didn't want to waste it, and it would be too much of a mess to throw away. We are all snowed in, and who knows when the garbage man will make it out here.

In any case, I turned off the crock pot and got a large bowl and a plate. I spread out scoopful after scoopful onto the plate, going over the contents with clean fingers to extract every last peppercorn that I could find. This took an hour. Check it out:

Those are the soggy peppercorns I extracted and that is the broken peppermill -- I don't know if you can see the vertical crack in the collar -- the whole top fell off.

The good news -- the resulting peas were expertly seasoned after the peppercorns had steeped for an hour in the hot broth. But you don't have to do it the hard way. Just an extra grind from an intact peppermill would also do the trick.

Here is my recipe:

Good Luck Peas and Rice for a Snowy Day
3 c. water with bouillon cube or broth
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. long grain/wild rice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1-2 organic carrots, chopped
heart of a bunch of organic celery (about 5 small stalks with leaves) chopped
Salt and pepper
can of black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
a sprig of rosemary, intact (remove later)
a couple of sprigs of sage, intact (remove later)
1 Tbsp. sherry
Put all ingredients into the crock pot except peas, herbs and sherry. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for about 2 hours. After the first hour, add peas and herbs. I also noticed it was getting dry but the rice wasn't yet done, so I added another cup of water. When the stew is thick again, after two hours, it is done. Right before serving, stir in the sherry and remove the herbs.

Here is my good luck stew right before the pepper explosion.

And here it is after I got it all cleaned up, I let it cook a little more and added the herbs. I didn't get a shot of the peas right before I ate them. I was over the whole thing at that point and just wanted to eat. It turned out to be really delicious! Give it a try, and better luck to you, now and throughout the year!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Teaser -- I've got quite a tale to tell you about something I've got bubbling in the crock pot right now, but since I've not yet tasted it, I'll wait 'til later to post on it. In the meantime, I didn't want to neglect mentioning these photos of what I've been drinking.

No, that's not tequila, I already drank that. I washed the empty bottle and am recycling it to hold my kombucha in the fridge. I finished this last bit off this morning. It got decidedly more gingery as the days progressed, so I may not need as much ginger next time. It also got ever so slightly bubbly, but not as much as the kind we buy at the store. I did more research on the bottled kombucha issue and found that the fermentation happens while the bottles are unrefrigerated, which could of course vary widely from store to store. In some cases quite a bit of fermentation is allowed to happen unchecked, hence the alcoholic content. Even so, one would need to consume 8-12 bottles of kombucha to equal the alcohol in one beer. So, I liked my own kombucha, and in my next batch will leave it fermenting a bit longer. I only gave it three days with this first batch. I'll keep you posted on what I discover in my brewing.

I needed a little pick-me-up this afternoon, so I made myself an Almond/Mocha Latte -- Just half Silk Dark Chocolate Almond Milk and half leftover coffee from this morning.  I just warmed it up and put it in this fun ceramic Starbucks-ish mug, and wrapped the whole thing with a woolen huggie. I cut up one of my old sweaters and had fun making these over the holidays. The coffee sweater is so nice to hold on a snowy day like today, and my fingers don't get burned. The latte was decadent and rich, like a cross between coffee and hot chocolate, again perfect for this weather. I'm all perked up now.

Monday, January 10, 2011


After six inches of snow last night, I walked around my home and garden. This is my little world today, so quiet, asleep under a blanket of white.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My "Kombucha"

Do you drink Kombucha Tea? I'm talking about the organic, raw, fermented bottled teas you can sometimes find in better grocery stores. I say sometimes because ever since I began liking the teas (Lindsay, of "Kiss Me, I'm Vegan" was right -- they are an acquired taste) the north Atlanta Kombucha supply has been slim. Whole Foods does not carry them at all. Sometimes Kroger will have just one bottle left for me to snap up, sometimes nothing. The labels are on the edge of the shelf, but the shelf is empty. Publix? Nope. Something seems to be going on with Kombucha.

I read on a blog somewhere that we can make our own Kombucha, so I googled it. In the list of ingredients is something called a "mother" which is actually a symbiotic collection of yeast molds that work together with a sugar source to create the fermentation process necessary for Kombucha. I wouldn't even know where to start looking for such a thing. It is described as spongy, and after you make a batch, you remove the "mother" and use it again in the next batch. So, you probably think I should go to some health food store and ask about where to get a "mother". No, I'm not gonna do it. I'm just not putting myself through that.

Georgia, I love you, and you have come a long, long way since I asked a store manager ten years ago about where to find pine nuts, only to have him stare at me, eyes wide, and repeat in a thick southern accent, "PINE  . . . . . NUTS?" then shake his head and walk away from me. There are some serious country folk down here, and a lot of them think I'm from Mars.

So an idea popped into my head:  the Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar has, "with the Mother" on it's label. Since I previously didn't know what a "mother" was, I had just ignored it, up 'til now, that is. Next step, I googled Bragg's for a recipe.  On the website is an explanation that recently the FDA has been cracking down on Kombucha sales because of the notion that the tea contains alcohol. I think this is a bunch of baloney -- I can detect the scant amount of alcohol in a non-alcoholic beer, and I think I would be able to tell if Kombucha contained it. It is said that Kombucha can become addictive. Well, maybe, but because of the energetic well-being it imparts, in my opinion, not because of alcohol. So this FDA crackdown is at the heart of the matter of why I can't find my ginger kombucha!  FDA, you are overreaching once again, yada yada . . .

Bragg's response to the Kombucha hullabaloo was to create a variety of Apple Cider Vinegar drinks that are purported to impart similar health benefits to the Kombucha. Of course they don't appear on our Georgia shelves either.  So I just made up my own recipe, which is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself, if not identical to the contraband version. Here it is:

Cheryl's Kombucha Tea
4 cups distilled water
1 kukicha twig tea bag
1 Triple Leaf Detox tea bag, or other herbal tea
8 Tbsp. Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar
8 Tbsp. Agave Syrup
4 Tbsp. grated ginger
In a pan, bring the water just to a boil, then pour it over the teabags in a ceramic or glass teapot. Don't use metal anymore after this, since it can stop any fermentation. The teas I chose work well with a long steeping time, so I just left them in the pot until the tea cooled to room temperature. If you choose a green tea, you will want to remove the teabag after about 3 minutes or the tea will become bitter. Once the tea has cooled to room temperature, remove the teabags and add the other ingredients, stirring with a wooden or other non-metal spoon. I handled the ensuing fermentation in much the same way as we make the radish umeboshi vinegar pickles from The Kind Diet. Set the teapot aside, at room temperature, loosely covered with a lid or with cheesecloth for at least 24 hours, and not more than 3 days. Then refrigerate the tea. 

My measurements were based on the size of my teapot, which holds 4 cups of liquid with space enough to add other ingredients. You can tinker with the amounts according to what works for you. Basically, after the tea is brewed, for each cup the proportions should be 2 Tbsp. vinegar, 2 Tbsp. agave and 1 Tbsp. ginger.

I taste-tested my tea as I went along, having some right away -- no bubbles at all, just a flavorful, refreshing iced tea. After about 24 hours the tea was definitely not as bubbly as the storebought Kombucha, but I did detect a slight tingle on the tongue. I will try it again tomorrow, but I will be surprised if the effervescence increases by very much. I have some ancient experience with the idea of creating fermentation (my husband and I used to be master home-brew beer makers back in the day, when time was not such a hot commodity) and I do realize that sugar -- the plain old white stuff -- was crucial to setting up the bubbling process. Come to think of it, so was bottling, hmmm, I need to seal the tea so it stops "breathing!" I'm going to go wash out our empty tequila bottle with a cork and put it to good use! I'll let you know what happens.

Verdict on this homemade kombucha experiment:  Worthwhile. The tea is similar to the stuff that used to be in the stores, but not the same. I cannot claim that it is organic, I can't claim that it is raw -- maybe if I didn't bring the water to a boil? but the agave syrup, how is that prepared? My tea is delicious, refreshing and does impart a calm sense of well being, mostly from the alkalinizing kukicha and vinegar. I'll be making this again. If any of you have experience making kombucha of your own, please share your methods. I'd love to know!

Incidentally, my husband, watching me performing what he called my "witchcraft" said, "You are just like Eula!" he was referring to my grandmother who passed away when I was only 12. He was right. In that moment I was just like that wonderful lady. I'll take the compliment!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Carnivore Loved This Coleslaw!

Isn't nature lovely? This cabbage is so pretty, but the brain-like convolutions are easier to see in a purple cabbage. You can use either for this coleslaw recipe.

Friday nights are funny around here. I normally need to fix dinner, but it can't be something too special since my husband is as likely to want to go out as not. This week, still nursing a sore back from walking all over South Beach in high heels and then spending 13 hours in a car (little ole' lady issues for you young-'uns to look forward to . .) I proactively announced I was taking a night off from the nightlife. Ahhh, just writing that feels good!

So I prepared a simple dinner from what I had on hand. I started with a couple of Tofurkey Italian Sausages I needed to use up. I cut them into little bits, then threw them into the crock pot with the other ingredients for my lazy chili: A Tbsp. olive oil, a can of crushed tomatoes, a tomato-canful of water, a packet of McCormick Chili mix, a can of pinto beans and half an onion, chopped. I let that simmer on low for a couple of hours while I dismantled the Christmas decor. Then I began brainstorming about some new and different veggie dish and found the cabbage in the 'fridge. Instantaneously all the ingredients for a lovely coleslaw popped into my head. I could almost taste the flavor combination as I considered each ingredient. I am not exaggerating when I say this is the best coleslaw I have ever put in my mouth.  If you like coleslaw, you have to try it. If you don't, you should try it anyway. It just might change your mind. Here's the recipe:

Excellent Coleslaw
2 c. cabbage, very thinly sliced or shredded (I like sliced best)
1/2 an organic carrot, shredded
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1tsp. sesame seeds, plus another pinch for garnishing
3 Tbsp. Vegenaise
1 Tbsp. Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar
a generous grind of fresh pepper (I like the multi-colored peppercorns)
a pinch of salt

Use a fork or whisk to combine dressing ingredients thoroughly. In a large mixing bowl, combine cabbage, carrot and dressing until every strand is coated. Add seeds and stir. Finish with another sprinkling of sesame seeds over the top.

Here's the finished product. I have eaten coleslaws before containing a lot of sugar and mayonnaise, which only serve to obliterate the flavor of the vegetable, which most folks like, I guess, especially in the south. I prefer a lighter, fresher, more complex flavor combination. The caraway seeds do a lot here to enhance the combination. Rather than being dry and strong as they are in a rye bread, this scant teaspoonful shines with a subtle anise-like flavor that is almost sweet. The slaw is further subtly sweetened by the organic carrot (a completely different flavor than a non-organic one, in my opinion) and the apple cider vinegar. Finally, the vegenaise serves to balance and smooth any sharpness. In this recipe, you can actually taste the fresh cabbage -- and that's not a bad thing!

Here is our simple meal. It was a major victory night for me. As I was serving it, my husband grimaced slightly, saying, "I have never been a fan of coleslaw,"

"Just try a little bit, and if you don't like it, you can have a spinach salad," I countered.

After the excessive week in Miami Beach, I could tell my husband was feelin' a bit fluffy around the edges, so I was perfectly positioned to press my vegan advantage.

"What's in the chili?" he asked.

"Tofurkey sausage," I answered.

"Okay," he said.

The carnivore enjoyed the chili, but positively RAVED about the coleslaw! "This is really, really good! Does it have a lot of fat?"

Score!  It is really good -- give it a try!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Miami, The Morning After

There's the lovely Ariella -- finally! Next time we all get together I will need to be more mindful of who my camera is missing. Here we have, from left to right, Ariella, Liana, me, Andres, Wynne, Hans and Sabrina. We were enjoying the beach at our hotel one last time before a casual dinner at Pizza Rustica on Lincoln Road. Then the girls were off to one last late night party before going back to school the next morning (ahhh, youth!) and we were off to our room to get a few hours of shut-eye before the LONG drive home the next day.

In between the New Year's Eve party and this last photo there were a couple of busy extended-family oriented days which I failed, inadvertently, to document in photos, as my focus was divided amongst many people with whom I wanted to catch up. Others were taking photos, so I don't know why I didn't remember to.

On New Years day we had moved out of the girls' home and into our hotel, and Andres' brother, Max, his wife Lisa and son, Eric, moved in for a night. The next day we all gathered together on Lincoln Road along with Andres' and Max's other brother, Sol, and his fiance, Heather, who I was meeting for the first time. Heather got a lot of good photos of the whole gang, fifteen of us total. My favorite photo was of all the siblings, three brothers and three sisters. It had been a very long time since they had all been together, eight years ago, I believe, when we had all gathered in Nicaragua to lay their father to rest. It's shocking how quickly the years pass as we live with a bit of tunnel vision, focused on our respective little worlds. It's a good idea to poke one's head up out of the tunnel from time to time to notice what is going on with the rest of the world, and with those who are near and dear to our hearts, despite being geographically dispersed.

On the road again, I longed for my vegan airport pecans, indeed for vegan anything. All fast food restaurants officially have cheese on every salad now (what happened to the oriental chicken salad, Wendy's?) I had high hopes for McDonald's fruit and nut salad, but the yogurt dip was not quite separate from the good stuff, and the fruit was actually not quite good stuff -- mushy and squishy -- probably full of some kind of botulism, as my system was not quite right for a couple of days afterward.  Starving and sitting perfectly still for 13 hours (yeah, I know, it shouldn't have taken so long -- a horrible accident had 75 shut down for two hours) took a bit of a toll on me, so I am fixing myself with food like this:

This smoothie contains a couple of raw  collard leaves, an apple, a splash of apple cider and a small splash of almond milk. It was fine, not my favorite flavor-wise, but that wasn't the point of it.

This is Sweet Curried Collards from "Plate+Simple", Rustic White Beans and Mushrooms from Veganomicon and brown rice.  This was all delicious, and just what this vegan body was craving!

Miami was a fabulous chapter for all of us, and we will miss it and our wonderful family members. Now it's time to embrace routine, balance and good health.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

More Miami

This dish warms my heart. My very good friend, Maria Jose, (mother of my little sisters-in-law) prepared this vegan version of her stir fry in a separate pan as she was fixing another panful with shredded turkey for the others. This one has falafel. I didn't worry too much about being a good guest in the home of people I love, figuring I would have a car and I could run out to the grocery store if need be. I just didn't want to be a bother. But realizing that Maria Jose had given my dietary choices some thought on top of all the other things she had to plan for, I was reminded of what I already knew to be true of her character. She is lovely, generous and gracious throughout, and I am so privileged to have her in my life. The falafel stir-fry was wonderful.

Before Maria Jose and John got home from work on the day of our arrival, the girls ordered some very good chinese food for us, including an enormous veggie dish -- the kind that's very lightly cooked without a heavy sauce. There was also a wonderful clear vegetable broth soup with quartered baby bok choy and large mushrooms bobbing in it. I ate some of these leftovers whenever hunger struck while I was a guest -- there was a ton of food and I did not tire of it!

Among other food I ate was this veggie burger from Johnny Rocket's:

All of us walked around the mall one day and did a little shopping, working up an appetite. This burger was very agreeable. I wasn't crazy about the white bread bun and iceberg lettuce, but I was crazy about the burger, pickles, onions, tomato and mustard. Yum.

And now for the entertainment portion of this second Miami installment. Remember New Year's Eve? Well, fortunately for us, we were able to crash a wonderful party of friends of the family.  Here's our hostess, Vanessa:

Vanessa told us of her memory of my late father-in-law, Maximo, right after the earthquake of 1971 in Managua, Nicaragua, where they all lived at the time. As a little girl, Vanessa remembers looking at Maximo's bandaged head as he sat in her living room. So many amazing stories . . .

The party was very culturally rich. Instead of simply toasting the new year, Vanessa had each of us write  on a piece of paper what we want to remove from our lives, and on another piece of paper what we want to nurture and grow. Then we ceremoniously burned the negatives and planted the positives in her yard.

As midnight began to approach, Vanessa instructed us to "raise the vibrations" by beating on drums and shaking maracas. Here you can see Maria Jose and her husband, John, doing their part. It was all very joyful and tribal.  And then we danced . . .

Liana teaching Hans to dance

Maria Jose and John

Liana with Sabrina or Ariella - Wynne is in the background

Liana and Sabrina

Hans, Wynne and my husband, Andres, lovin' on Vanessa's pup
Vanessa's party was so much fun, and we are so fortunate to have been included. Stay tuned for a future post about the morning after!