Saturday, April 30, 2011

Some Notes on The Royal Wedding

No photo, but I am compelled to share my thoughts on yesterday's activities.

I wasn't invested in getting up at 4:00 a.m., though I did the equivalent when I was around 14 years old for Diana's wedding. Leading up to the big event this time, during my usual half-hour of insomnia, I did note the frenzy building. But, waking at my normal hour,  I was amazed to find the whole thing was still going on. As I prepared my son's bagel and set out his medicine, I watched the newly married royals sitting and listening to something special, something historic.

As I prepared my daughter's lunch, I realized that one-third of the world was watching what I was watching. As the cameras panned aloft to the vaulted ceilings and the elevation of Westminster Abbey which I had studied as an Art History student At William and Mary, and later visited with my family, I became misty. As the precious little boys in ruffled shirts began to sing in their clear, pure voices, I began to weep.

From the visit to Westminster Abbey in my 20's, to the hours reading Harry Potter to my children, to the chunks of my childhood spent reading the Chronicles of Narnia over, and over and over again, and The Lord of the Rings, and anything British, I remembered how much my anglophilia is a part of my very soul.

I enjoyed the weeping amidst rushing my kids to school. I enjoyed remembering a fairy tale I had held close not so long ago. I enjoyed seeing the resurrection of the monarchy.

Best Wishes Will and Kate!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Homemade Tapas

Last weekend we had plans to meet some friends for a drink. We found ourselves ready to go about an hour early and, since the weather was lovely, decided to spend the time with some homemade tapas on the screened porch. Here is what I quickly threw together for us to nibble upon. I spread a flatbread with hummus, sundried tomatoes and arugula, then sliced it like a pizza. On the side are some pickles: my homemade ume radish pickles and also some sweet and spicy"Wickles Pickles" that I had picked up at the grocery store.

I also made a nice herb dip to go with the brown rice chips we like so much. Here are the ingredients of my dip:

The herb mixture was from a Pampered Chef party my Mom attended. I did not measure anything here, just a dollop of each ingredient. Very easy.

I only took about 3 minutes to throw all this together, and it was as good as any restaurant tapas, in my opinion!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Old Friends

As much as I enjoy carefully tending my veggie garden, perhaps my biggest horticultural thrills come from plants which seem to thrive on neglect. Check out this sturdy little flowering shrub I planted in a pot a couple of years ago. I don't water it, I leave it outside in the dead of winter and it doesn't get fertilized. I don't even know the name of this specimen. Still, inexplicably, this sweet little plant bursts back to life in the spring. Aren't the blossoms lovely?

As I drove home from my workout today I was greeted with these old friends -- Japanese iris! Many folks carefully cultivate these specimens, thinning and splitting the rhizomes annually. I just let them be, since that portion of my front yard is a happy place for them beside the stones of the dry river bed and under the corkscrew willows, and I don't mind if they spread and wander a bit. They seem to love the slack I'm giving them. Looking at these bright yellow blooms feels like breathing sunshine.

Finally, look at these gorgeous fat peony buds just ready to burst forth. If you were a "Midlife Vegan" reader last spring you may recall my folly as I overzealously tried to save my peony buds from little ants which were crawling all over them. You see, I planted this peony bush about eight years ago, and it has never bloomed until last year, so I was all jazzed up for the big blooming event and dismayed at the ant invasion. I chose an "eco-friendly" pest control, and nearly finished off my prized plant. Later, a neighbor explained that it is important to "leave the ants on the peony -- peonies need ants" She did not know why or in what way the ants are important, but there you have it. Peonies need ants. So I am purposefully neglecting this peony bush and its attendant ants, even going so far as to look askance as I walk by, though I did sneak in quickly with a zoom lens for this photo. This year the peony seems to be very pleased with my lack of supervision. It is as healthy as I've ever seen it. There'll be quite a show any day now.

As I think of my lovely garden and yard, I do tend to ascribe personalities to the plants. It is easy to think of them as high- or low-maintenence friends. I am grateful for all of them, but these old friends who show up whether or not they get any love from me are much appreciated. They feel like gifts --- like grace.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Odds -n- Ends, Settling In

Here is a photo I had meant to include with my garden installation post. This is the path from the front yard to the side of the house where my little garden is. I like the photo because the pebbled path is enticing to me -- I want to follow it through the gate to see how my garden has changed each day.

Here we are, two weeks home from the beach and I am just beginning to feel settled. Why does it take so long? Well, life doesn't stop to let me get caught up on laundry, bills, cleaning and unpacking. Groceries still have to be bought, meals prepared, doctor's appointments still have to be attended, guitar club, lacrosse, migraines, workouts, sleepovers, etc.

In any case, I'm grateful to be getting back into a more normal routine and nothing says settling in like tending a crock pot -- just enjoying being home, stirring, tasting, adding a little of this or that as the flavors meld.

True confession: this is the first time I have ever cooked dried beans! Weird for a vegan, huh? I've just always taken the lazy way out and opened a can -- pretty pitiful. I'm not knocking canned beans, I'll be using them again, but I will say these were pretty good, less gassy (ahem, sorry!) and I enjoyed the process of cooking for the sake of cooking, with no assigned consumption appointment. I just ate them when they were ready. I created this yummy concoction inspired loosely by Veganomicon's Rustic White Beans with Leeks and Mushrooms. I say loosely because I didn't do much measuring, just using quantities I already had on hand, and also because I threw a few drops of liquid smoke in there (I know-- MSG, but I like it and I hardly ever use it!) These beans are very delicious and sustaining. I still have some in the fridge, which makes me happy and is very settling indeed.

With the beans last night I prepared my take on Bistro V.G.'s Simple Arugula Salad -- just Arugula, sauteed shallots, fresh lemon and olive oil, salt and pepper. Never gets old . . .

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Fresh Garden!

I planted my summer garden today and I am so excited to be able to employ certain lessons I learned from last season's crop.

Here's my new tomato patch. This year I am utilizing "companion planting". Pests like last year's "Heimlich" (see "Desnudos" in AMLV Archives) do not like the scent of these marigolds, so hopefully they will forage elsewhere. I only planted six tomato plants this year: one cherry tomato, one big vine I found at Walmart which was labelled "heirloom beefsteak" and one little four-pack of "Rutgers" heirloom tomatoes I bought later at Lowe's because "heirloom beefsteak" sounds like some kind of embellishment to me. It'll be a fun experiment to see what kind of tomatoes are produced by the different plants. Last summer I planted way too many tomatoes -- 12 plants! If you will remember, I ate tomatoes at least twice a day for a month and eventually figured out I was suffering from a tomato overdose with stomach pain . . . too much of a good thing. Besides the tummy trouble, the tomatoes were planted so thickly that many were lost in the tomato jungle and wasted. Next to the tomatoes and marigolds are two pepper plants: sweet bell and chili.

This side of the garden may not look like much just yet, but it was fun to plant. There are three eggplants:  one "Ichiban" japanese eggplant, a long, dark thin-skinned fruit I enjoyed in my garden last year, one white eggplant called "Gretel" and another dark eggplant called "Hanzel". Cute! The blank spaces were the most fun for me. Along the back, in front of the trellis, I planted a row of dried beans I saved from last year's crop of Chinese long beans. If you will recall, I really overplanted this crop last year, creating a thicket so dense that many three-foot-long beans were not noticed until they turned brown on the vine. It was these brown beans I wound up and stowed in a brown paper bag for this year. I simply opened the pods and used the little red-brown beans as seeds. I took care to rotate the crops, reversing the beans and tomatoes from their locations last year.

Here is most of my herb garden, Italian parsley, dill, cilantro and Greek oregano. None of these herbs take up very much space, so I thought they could easily share this pot. I've decided not to plant any food crops without dedicated irrigation this year. We will be travelling a bit this summer, and it makes me sad to see perfectly good food wasted because it didn't get watered enough.

Here's my other herb, in its own pot because it is bossy -- mint! Have you ever grown mint? Once my mom planted some in her half-acre garden in the backyard of my childhood home, and it muscled out all the other plants, and was difficult to eradicate. Mint is wonderful, but, like an unruly child, needs firm boundaries. I can almost taste the fresh water with a sprig of mint I will be drinking all summer!

In more irrigated pots I planted arugula, mixed leaf lettuce and zucchini. Zucchini is another bossy plant, but in a viney kind of way, not a spreading way like mint. I put another trellis beside the zucchini pot in case it seems to want to climb. I've also been looking for tarragon, but haven't yet found it. If I do, it can share some space in the zucchini pot since the vine will be wandering elsewhere.

Now that I've got my veggie patch all spiffed up, I am noticing it's just about time to pull out my spring pansies, at least in some locations.

These are not happy. Since it has gotten warm, this windowbox-ful is not enjoying the full sun anymore. But look how happy the pansies in the shade are:

I don't really have the heart to pull out these pretty blossoms just yet. This is all in the same courtyard-like location so it would be nice if it all matched, but I'm going to drag my feet on parts of it that still look nice.

But this one has got to go, and the marigold will really enjoy it's hot, sunny spot.

So ends this early summer garden installment. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Junior-Senior Wars

I'll begin this post with a disclaimer: I'm gonna sound like a bah-humbug old fogey today. Any of you who may have thought I was younger than my midlife years, today you will see what a grouchy old lady I can be.

A few years ago, pre-vegan, I may have been a lot more easy-going about this subject. Heck, a few years ago before my kids entered the teen years, I still thought of myself as a teen. But now that I am more aware of the damage we do as consumers to our bodies and to our environment, my nerves are rankled.

This is some of the toilet paper, forty feet off the ground and unreachable, which will likely remain on my corkscrew willow trees for quite some time. I planted the trees myself about 8 years ago from seedlings rooted from a twig in a floral arrangement.

Toiletpapering someone's house is nothing new, but it rises to a whole new level this time every year in Alpharetta, GA, during the week of the Junior-Senior wars. I am not sure if this "tradition" is unique to Milton High School, which my son attends, or if it is a more general southern phenomenon. I know we had no such thing in Virginia growing up, and I was certainly too square to participate in any such rogue expressions of independence or brattiness at the time.

Here is one of several bags full of wastefulness my husband collected, beginning at 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning when he discovered the mess, and continuing throughout the day on Sunday, on a ladder, with an extension pole. My husband works hard all through the week and cleaning up after a bunch of spoiled brats is not the way he envisioned spending his weekend. My son also helped with the cleanup, though he had lawnmowing and powerwashing jobs in addition to his schoolwork which he is dilligently trying to recover after missing so much school due to his migraines this year.

Beyond the personal exasperation, I am mostly just disappointed in the type of kids who would participate in this behavior. We are clearly raising a group of selfish, thoughtless, immature individuals with outsized senses of entitlement. We actually got off easy. We've seen and heard of much worse destruction, from shaving cream messages which cannot be removed from driveways or destruction of the varnish on a wooden door or the paint on a mailbox, to whole full garbage cans that were upturned and emptied against the front door of a house. Sometimes, if there is a personal vendetta, the brats will "fork" a front yard -- sticking plastic forks into the yard at regular intervals and breaking them off low enough so it is hard to remove them, but not so low that they don't damage the blade of a lawnmower. We have also heard of paintballs being shot at brick homes, and, worse, being shot at the kids themselves by neighborhood vigilantes who appointed themselves "guardians" against the destruction. We know of one girl who was hit in the eye, and required surgery.

The school does not endorse the "tradition" of Junior-Senior wars, but since it does not take place on school property, they pass the buck to the local law enforcement who have had limited success in catching the kids in the act, but do crack down on underage curfew violators during the week.

Since my son is only a Junior this year, we have another round to expect next year. I can only hope we get off as easily. I remember being a teen. I remember being a rebel. But I never rebelled at the expense of someone else. "Lighten up!" some of you might be thinking. Fine -- I'm getting down off my soapbox now. But to those kids with rage in their hearts and a videogame mentality about reality, I'm disappointed in you. And to their parents, who look the other way and shrug, saying, "Kids will be kids," I'm disappointed in you too.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Mess 'O Greens

That expression is very southern to me, and I'm sure I've heard it or seen it on a menu somewhere, who knows where. I'm a transplanted southerner, although there are varying degrees of "southernness" of course. Raised and educated in Virginia, I lived in the Washington, D.C. area for six years before hopscotching across this great land of ours and finally settling in Georgia for the last ten years. So at this point I guess you could say I am southern.

When I cleared out the dregs of my winter garden, collards, broccoli and cauliflower, I took one look at the disparate elements of my harvest and said, "A mess 'o greens" to myself. So that is what I made.

This harvest was my first from a winter garden, and was very much an experiment. Truth be told, I was pretty lazy with it -- sometimes I forgot to turn on the water, I did not fertilize or enhance the soil with compost and I was a wussie about the cold weather -- so my broccoli responded in kind:

Still, puny as my winter bounty might have been, none of it went to waste, and I did indeed receive more than enough for a "mess 'o greens"

I love the education I am getting through this experience. At first the collard leaves were not bitter after the plants began to flower, but I did find the bitterness increased with each passing week. So next year I will harvest at the first sign of a blossom. On the other hand, the fertile parts of the plants turned out to be tender, flavorful and mild. The lovely blossoms were not the only fertile parts I am referring to. Look what else I found on the collard plants:

Geez! Doesn't that look scary! But the more closely I looked, I realized these "seed pods" actually resembled very small and tender haricots verts, or young green beans. With trepidation, I popped one into my mouth to test the flavor. It would have been a shame to spoil the flavor of my whole "mess 'o greens" with an unproven element. Ironically, these little seed pods, along with the yellow blossoms, turned out to be the most delicious parts of my "mess".

The only parts of the harvest not consumed were the woody stems of the plants. I just sauteed everything else in some olive oil and earth balance, along with a sliced shallot.

I ate my "mess" with "Beefless Stroganoff" (see archives of "A Midlife Vegan" for recipe) and barley.

The Beefless Stroganoff was CRAZY delicious, even better than the first time I created it! I think it was better because I didn't have an unopened bottle of white wine, and I am still desirous of detoxing a bit from the vacation, so, instead of opening a new bottle for the recipe, I just used a splash of cooking sherry that was already open instead. The subtly sweet, rich flavor was amazing in the vegan cream sauce with nutmeg. I will definitely make it this way from now on!

The texture of the barley, springy and light, was lovely with the stroganoff. I prepared it simply with a vegan bouillon cube and about a tablespoon of tomato paste added to the boiling water.

I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner last night, slight bitterness of the greens and all. It was very gratifying to pull my nutrition from the earth!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Quick Fix for a Sweet Tooth

When the system's in balance, I have no need for sweets, but it's still out of whack from my week-ful of bloody marys and vodka tonics and bread in many guises. From these indulgences I was feelin' fluffy -- about 3-5 lbs. was my guess before I stepped on the scale. The truth is I picked up only a couple of pounds and lost one of them the first day back. I don't really watch my weight too much since being vegan, but it is a good indicator of general health and balance. If I am eating enough dark green leafies, beans and whole grains, and drinking enough water, my weight magically, effortlessly, returns to my comfortable number. This is one of my favorite parts of the vegan lifestyle.

While my diet has improved exponentially since our return, I am still running wild playing catch up, so am not devoting enough time and planning to our meals. I'm not in balance just yet, hence the uncharacteristic sweets craving. Here's how I handled it in a jiffy -- a couple of spoonfuls of vanilla soy yogurt with a banana and a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa. This was very good and did the trick, but I was unfortunately mindlessly wolfing it down while I was wrangling a pile of bills to pay. Since I had not stirred the cocoa into the moist yogurt, it became airborne and I actually inhaled a pile of it, coating the insides of my lungs with cocoa which elicited a coughing fit for a few minutes. I'm a mess. Maybe it's time to take up meditation again!

Besides my breathing mishap, I do wholeheartedly recommend this bowlful of wholesome, sweet yum to stave off a craving! BTW, That's my favorite bowl. It reminds me of when the kids were tiny, which seems like just yesterday -- those cheeks!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Recent Salads

I've really been craving fresh salads lately. These two were really pretty similar, but featured some strong flavors which set them apart. I loved both of them!

The salad above includes arugula, half an avocado, a couple of oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, some of my ume radish pickles, a tangle of broccoli sprouts and Annie's Goddess Dressing. The combination of the smooth, creamy avocado, the acidic tomato and piquant, salty pickles was satisfying.

This bowlful began again with arugula, avocado and ume pickles, but the overall effect was more mild without the sundried tomatoes, and with the addition of pine nuts and a jazzed-up version of the dressing which was actually mellower than the goddess straight out of the bottle. For the dressing, I mixed a tablespoon of Goddess, a tablespoon of vegenaise and a couple of squirts of Bragg's Liquid Aminos.

I know a couple of photos of salads are not very original or exciting, but, while I'm still settling in, recovering from vacation, that's all I've got. Look forward to some more creative offerings soon!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Odds -n- Ends, Post-Beach Transition

See the semi-circle in the line of umbrellas and beach chairs? We sweet-talked the attendant into arranging them for us this way so we could all engage socially as a group. These are just the adults' chairs. We brought our own from home for the kids.

You know the old saying, "I need a vacation to recover from my vacation,"? Yeah, that's where I'm living right about now.

Vacations are always worth it, but, depending on your family dynamic, they can tend to be a lot of work for one member of the household. As the "default parent", i.e. the one at home to  run to the store for a protractor at bedtime, etc., I am the accountant, shopper (groceries and bathing suits), cook, organizer, maid, animal-husbandress, laundress and medical consultant. These titles are all self-bestowed but pretty much touch on what I'm doing all day. This is all plenty to fill all the hours of my day (except blogging, which serves as therapy!) during everyday circumstances. Adding the additional planning for- and cleaning up after- a vacation is enough to overwhelm, to say the least.

So, still plowing through piles of mail, bills, laundry and dust, I'll take a moment to share a couple more photos which fell through the cracks.

Here is a glimpse, finally, of my short haircut. It's not usually so windblown as in this beachy pic, but that is what I like about it -- windblown or not, it doesn't matter! I LOVE effortless! I was trying to change my profile photo for this more current one, but I haven't yet figured it out and don't have the time right now.

Back home again, I made another kale salad from the beautiful savoy kale appearing at the top of the blog. It was another rubbed salad with lemon, olive oil, avocado and artichoke hearts. I had the salad with a sweet potato and my beach salsa (yes, it made it all the way home without spilling!)

That's about it for this installment of "Odds -n- Ends" Back to the laundry/bill-paying/unpacking.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Beach Food

You're looking at what I ate at least once a day while I was living in the beach condo. It would have been better on a couple of pieces of Eziekiel bread, which I couldn't find at the beach, but I wasn't complaining. This is six grain bread, spread with hummus and stuffed with kale that was rubbed with plenty of lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. It made a handy picnic lunch to eat on the veranda or with my toes in the sand. Eating the same thing for a while might not float your boat, but personally, food like this never gets old. Raw, dark green leafies, especially paired with a protein such as hummus, beans, whole grains or avocado are what I crave. One day, as I took a big bite while sitting in my beach chair, one of my friends said, "That looks GREAT, Cheryl!"

Another, meat-eatin' friend said, "No, that does not look great, and by the way, you've got something in your teeth!" He was only razzing me -- I had nothing in my teeth. Here he was later in the day while I was still going strong from my nutritious lunch:

Besides my fabulous green sandwiches, I also ate a few great restaurant meals, not without the need to educate local Florida Gulf Coast chefs ("yes, parmesan does count as cheese, but that's okay, I'll wait for you to make a new one!")

Otherwise, I enjoyed fresh sliced tomatoes on "buttered" bread and made a big honkin' bowl of fresh salsa to share with everyone, along with some jicama and red peppers in lime and cayenne for dipping. I also made a bowl of fresh guacamole that did not last long enough for me to snap a photo.

Mmm, the simple basics go perfectly with an effortless beachy existence!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Where I've Been

Did you miss me? I've missed all of you. The family and I, along with five other families, 26 people total, spent Spring Break on the Gulf Coast of Florida, just south of Alabama at Crystal Beach. It was lovely. I'll talk food in a later post (I kept it very simple) but for now, here's a taste of where I've been:

I'll be back soon with a couple of photos you can sink your teeth into.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Delicious Bowl

I'm short on time today but I wanted to share something wonderful I put together recently, inspired by Isa Chandra Moskowitz' Appetite For Reduction. I've only just begun to peruse this wonderful tome, and I like the "bowl" section because it feels very familiar. Basically Isa suggests grain, veggie and sauce combinations that work well. This is the way my brain naturally works anyway, as I am always juggling leftovers and reinventions. I've been in love with quinoa lately, so I went for one of those combos. Quinoa --check.  White beans -- check.   Grilled zucchini -- check, but too lazy to grill.  Romesco Sauce -- hmmmm, roasted red pepper (I had some in a jar) slivered almonds (um, I had whole almonds) red wine vinegar, yes, mustard, yes, agave, yes -- check. So that combo would be a go.

I started with the quinoa, red quinoa to be exact. I boiled it simply with half a bouillon cube. Then I pulled out the food processor and created the romesco sauce, albeit with not quite enough roasted red pepper, and slightly chunkier almonds, but it was amazing nonetheless. Finally I pulled the zucchini out of the crisper and realized it was unfortunately the granite hard one I bought for a small fortune over a month ago. Unbelievably it was still oddly rock hard. My very best knife would not even make a dent. Into the trash it went. So, another plan B -- collard greens!  I very lightly sauteed some wonderful greens and they fit beautifully into the combo slot!  I think I'm going to like this cookbook!