Thursday, September 29, 2011

Garlicky Green Fajitas With Tangy, Creamy Tomatillo Salsa

I've missed you my bloggy buddies! I have a backlog of your wonderful blog posts to read, and of course I miss writing my own posts. All I can say is there are times in our lives when it seems necessary to put one's own life on the back burner for the benefit of a loved one, and this is one of those times. Plus, it is currently college application season and my firstborn has his sights set on twelve universities. We've already sent in one application, and I plan to complete most of the next three applications this week. My son is writing his own essays, of course, but he really doesn't have access to most of the information for the forms (past address histories and dates for in-state status, his social security number, financial info for student loans). So for the time being I am a professional college applicationist.

Food:  Forgive me for my recent lame food offerings. After college application season I will make more of an effort for proper recipes, but in the meantime I want to share with you something really, really delicious! I was making fajitas for the omnis, and had a real hankering for my garlicky collards and chick peas. So, instead of chicken, peppers and onions, my fajitas were filled with the collards. You've seen them before -- just lots of fresh garlic, 10 cloves, chopped roughly this time, and a pound of frozen organic chick peas, sauteed over medium-high heat for a few minutes, and then topped with a big pile of chopped collards, stems removed. I stirred it all up and then turned off the heat and covered the pot so the greens were not overcooked.

This collard concoction would have been wonderful on its own in a whole wheat flatbread, but I came up with a snazzy idea that made the dish sublime -- Tangy, Creamy Tomatillo Salsa. I am a lazy vegan, but I like it that way. Here is how I made my salsa: half a cup of green tomatillo salsa from a jar, half a cup of veganaise, juice from half a lime. That's it. Mmmmmm!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'm a Kale Junkie

Lately, life is whizzing along at breakneck speed, so I've not spent enough time being creative in the kitchen (sorry). Nevertheless, the body's cravings continue to direct my healthy diet, and I continue to comply. There was literally no time for breakfast yesterday before my workout, so I was famished upon my return home. What did I crave? Kale. The smoothie is made from four leaves of kale, two leaves of romaine and an apple, with some coconut water. It was just what my body wanted. Since I didn't blend the smoothie with ice, it quickly separated, so I drank part of it with a little involuntary grimace from a layer of bitterness. Next time I'll add an extra apple and some ice. Bitterness aside, this smoothie was just what I wanted.

In life there seem to be periods of time -- seasons, I like to call them -- where it feels like we are not the stewards of our own schedules. I'm in one of those seasons right now, just trying to keep up with everyone's needs and requests. I realize the reason for the kale craving. Kale calms my nerves and centers my thoughts. The way I crave it lately is akin to an addict's desire for a fix.

Yep, I'm a kale junkie. Oh, the five minutes it took to drink it sitting at my little alfresco table also helped calm the nerves. Doesn't taking a moment to appreciate nature do wonders? I'm a kale and fresh air and sunshine junkie!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

To Me, This is Beautiful

Not many of my non-virtual friends are vegan. As such, I know a few readers will judge this plateful to be unappealing. But they don't know what we know, vegans, do they?

Here's what I know:

Wild and brown rice is nutty, creamy and filling. It doesn't leave one feeling overfed, and it doesn't hang around the system. It leaves me feeling light and nourished. I make it in large quantities and use it many different ways over the course of a couple of days.

Kale, steamed or raw, is what I crave every hour of the day. With my unaddled (sugar-free) tastebuds, I can actually taste the iron and the vitamins. This concept may sound disgusting to a non-vegan, but the flavors of nutrients are delectable to me. Kale clears my head and calms my nerves, at least for a little while. I try to eat some before I have anything else each day. Those days are the best. I wish kale was sold in larger bunches. I'm noticing lately the supply of kale is slim, even in the better stores. I can usually only choose from two old, wilted bunches. My belief is that folks, vegans and omnivores alike, are learning the benefits of kale, and the buyers at the stores haven't yet caught on to the trend. The supply should pick up soon, I hope. Kale is a cool-weather crop.

Dahl, an Indian lentil concoction, seems like meditation. I swear I'm always feeling slightly holy and enlightened when I treat myself to this delicious dish. I associate the subtle curry flavor and texture with recharging, with becoming centered and grounded. It is easy to visualize the turmeric and other warming spices neutralizing any oxidized cells that could otherwise morph into cancers. I found a great way to enjoy dahl lazily, so I can have it more often. I buy Amy's canned lentil dahl soup, and jazz it up with more turmeric and a little filtered water. This way I can get two meals from one can, especially when I eat it along with other yummy accoutrements like this rice and kale.

I'm cognizant of the fact that most of these are acquired tastes, but I'm so happy I've acquired them! Once one understands the nutritional processes of a food, the way it makes you feel is as big a contributor to its deliciousness as the flavor. That being said, the flavors, alone, in this bowl are enough to keep it in my list of favorites. I think it's beautiful!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Odds-n-Ends" Quinoa Edition

This week I made a giant pot of quinoa, which was a good idea, because now it is all gone and I'm wishing I had some more. Heretofore I will make it in this larger quantity. There are so many different ways to eat quinoa, and it's so nice to have it on hand for that fantastic vegan-complete-protein energy boost. Instead of using all veggie broth this time in the quinoa prep, I used half broth and half filtered water. I was not sure how I'd be using the quinoa and I didn't want to limit the possibilities with a pronounced savory flavor. Above is a photo of a fantastic bowl I ate for lunch with arugula, cold quinoa, black beans, red pepper hummus and goddess dressing jazzed up and thinned with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil (it was the bottom of the bottle, and I hate to waste any!).

Here is one of Wynne's school lunches. Sorry about the bad photo quality. It was about 6:30 a.m. and I hadn't yet finished my coffee. Wynne is not a vegan, but she doesn't like the idea of eating animals. For all intents and purposes, as it turns out, she's usually vegan at lunch. Wynne says the school lunches are terrible, and from what I understand, she's right. It's a shame our public schools can't do better for our children, but that's enough for another post. Making Wynne a lunch each morning from my vegan leftovers is something I am more than happy to do. You will notice a variation on a theme from Wynne's last favorite meal featured -- tomatoes and chick peas! This time they are mixed into the quinoa with a little touch of veganaise. Wynne LOVES food like this. I also send her a luna bar, some applesauce and an Izze fruit juice soda.

Very similar in content to the first salad pictured, but different in dining experience, is this warm bowl I put together from kale, quinoa, hummus and almonds. This was a very satisfying and filling dinner. Among other meals born of my giant quinoa pot are:

A great massaged kale salad recently featured on Sammy's "Vegan Pandamonium" -- the kale is massaged with avocado instead of oil, and then cooked quinoa is added -- it is so good!

Quinoa "porridge" for breakfast -- I just added some almond milk to the cold quinoa and microwaved it. The porridge was fine, but I was too morning-foggy to think about yummy additions that would have made it delicious like chopped, dried dates or maple syrup, etc. Next time . . .

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wynne's Favorite Pasta Salad

This pasta salad is so easy it's embarrassing, but it's what my little girl craves! Wynne has enjoyed lots of different pasta salads I've made throughout my vegan life, and strangely she thinks of all of them as the same, despite varying ingredients. I guess this is because I always find the rejected goodies: olives, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, spinach, arugula, etc. in the bottom of the bowl, so the parts she actually eats do happen to be the same. The common denominators in Wynne's salads are chick peas, sun dried tomatoes and a dressing made from Veganaise and balsamic vinegar.

So, when Wynne was under the weather yesterday I let her stay home, bundled her up and made her favorite meal. Here's the recipe:

Wynne's Favorite Pasta Salad
1 1/2 boxes of multi grain pasta
1 packet of julienned sun dried tomatoes (dry)
1 can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
4 Tbsp. Veganaise
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Rinse with cool water and drain. Toss in the packetful of tomatoes and the chick peas, then whisk together the Veganaise and vinegar and incorporate into the pasta salad, mixing well. Finally, season to taste and mix again. 

I believe the trick to this dressing is to use very good balsamic vinegar. A cheaper vinegar might impart a sharp note which would clash with the tomatoes. An aged vinegar is rich, sweet and mild, without that tannic tang which would turn off a tender palate. I liked using the shell-shaped pasta this time. The chick peas tend to find their way inside the shells and the effect is kind of like a chick pea ravioli in texture. This pasta salad was an enormous quantity, but it was by design. Wynne's a bit like me -- if she enjoys a meal, she finds herself craving it again for the next few meals. Also, I always find my husband wanting to eat whatever I make for the kids, though not usually what I make for myself. My food is normally way-vegan and the kids' is just vegan in the guise of omni. Anyway, with the large amount, I knew I would be covered for the next several meals, no matter to whom it appealed. It worked. Wynne ate the salad for lunch yesterday, Wynne, her Dad and I ate it for dinner last night, and she finished it off at lunch today. It may seem this meal is a bit lacking in veggie content, but you'll have to remember it's a huge step up from store bought mac and cheese a couple of times a day, which is the way my kids used to eat.

An update on my shaggy messes conundrum -- I got a response from my wonderful friend, Sherri, who wisely stated that some of her best days were the result of no plan (paraphrasing here). Thanks Sherri! I took a deep breath at this and realized that there was no need to make decisions. I can just clean up my summer garden and let it lie fallow for a season while I plant a couple of things in some pots out of Buster's reach. Future planting decisions will be based on what happens during the fallow season. As for the mop on my head, I trust my hairdresser and think it will be fun to let her do whatever the heck she wants with it. Artists always love free rein. Besides, it's just hair. I did get a good night's sleep and everything makes much more sense today!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Shaggy and Without a Plan

There's my garden, AKA Buster's Estate. Here, at the end of the Summer season, where the Labor Day weekend dropped us from 94 degrees Fahrenheit to a chilly 64, I cannot expect much more from my burgeoning tomatoes. Any little green-orb effort the plants make is quickly nabbed off the vine overnight. The aubergines, all three varieties, are still hanging in there, and will likely become Eggplant Parmesan soon since I adored it so very much the last time I made it. Back to the tomatoes -- those are only five plants. Will you look at that shaggy mess? It's so long and unruly, but thin and without substance. It sort of reminds me of my hair:

Shaggy without a plan . . . I've loved it short since April, and have learned from my wonderful artiste of a hairdresser that a bit of a mess is much less aging on a short do than a carefully coiffed arrangement (the dreaded helmet-head!) So my technique is to run some product through with my fingers, blow dry in every direction for about 2 minutes and then choose a few fingerfuls to feature with a little wax. It's worked like a charm until now. My "pretty mess" is not so pretty anymore. I think my hair is falling out from the stress of raising teenagers (it doesn't get any easier, you moms of tots!) So now I have an unruly mop, not lustrous and thick as in days of old, and I have no plan. Shall I cut it short again? Shall I go even shorter? Is it time to grow it out? I don't think I even remember how to grow out a short cut.

With my garden I'm also at a decision point. After I tear out the unproductive tomato bramble, dare I sow a winter crop? I've no doubt Buster would adore a bit of variety, so the collards, broccoli and cauliflower I covet, alkaloid-less as they would be, wouldn't last a day with Buster around. Maybe a winter crop of gourds and winter squashes might fare better. If I plant anything that is appealing at all to Buster, am I only encouraging him to remain planted in my garden? Maybe if I leave the garden fallow for a season or two Buster would lose interest and move on to greener pastures. How long is a chipmunk's natural lifespan? Might he share the news of his present good fortune with other real-life Disney characters? In that case the topic of a chipmunk's lifespan is beside the point. The Buster and friends - cycle could potentially continue indefinitely.

I am feeling unusually decision-averse today, maybe my head is only addled from the change in the weather and a good night's sleep will set things right, but if you have any suggestions about my two shaggy messes, I'd love to hear them!

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Nightshade Feast

Oh dear . . . I learn so much about gardening from year to year, and this year has been the steepest learning curve yet. I'm learning about the nightshades now because of my curiosity over Buster's preferences. Nightshades, a genus of plants containing high levels of alkaloids and even nicotine, can cause or exacerbate many health problems.

I tend to choose veggies for my garden which are hardy -- robust. Gardening is so much more gratifying when production is prolific! So I've chosen the tomatoes, the eggplants (aubergines) the peppers, nightshades all, as it turns out. There's a reason why these plants survive and thrive -- they taste bad to wildlife -- they are mildly poisonous! Duh. This being said, tomatoes have fewer alkaloids than the other listed veggies, which would explain Buster's affinity for them, but not the aubergines, never the aubergines, not even a tiny nibble. The pepper stems and leaves were delicious to Buster, but the peppers themselves he tossed to the ground -- they must have had enough of the poison to make Buster turn up his wriggly, cute little nose. But the glorious Chinese longbeans, not nightshades, naturally hardy and fast growing, nevertheless, didn't stand a chance with Buster. He denuded the bean thicket from the ground up.

Here's Buster's last dinner. It's a large heirloom tomato, unripe obviously. It was still on the vine one morning after he had finished with it, so I decided to bring it inside to ripen on my counter, after which I plan to eat the rest of it. My kids shudder that I would eat after vermin like Buster, so I won't try to sneak it into anything they will eat. I'll be the only one to eat Buster's leftovers. Don't worry, I will cut out his little teeth marks first!

So from what's left after Buster's had his way with my garden, this year I've inadvertently produced a lovely plot of poisonous veggies! What do I mean exactly by poisonous? Well, the alkaloids in nightshades can cause disturbances in nerve-muscle function (just what an MS patient like myself needs!) joint function and digestive function (remember my "tomato overdose" last year? I thought I had an ulcer). If you have arthritis, tummy trouble or nerve issues, try eliminating nightshades from your diet and see if you feel any better. I'm not wasting my veggies, but I will try not to eat too many of them at once from now on, and will learn from my present folly in my planning for next year's garden.

Incidentally, I found it interesting that the nightshade genus also includes: Potatoes, tobacco, morning glory and belladonna among many others. Belladonna is actually used to make poison, itself!

So, back to my nightshade feast -- I only realize so much of this food is of nightshade origin in hindsight. First, I made a lovely ratatoille. I love ratatoille, and the summer squashes are innocuous, as is the onion. The rest are nightshades -- aubergines from the garden, tomatoes from the garden. I did soak the chopped aubergines in salty water for a bit to draw out the bitter liquid. I have to think that removed some of the alkaloids. Also, cooking removes up to 50% of the remaining alkaloids. Sauteed at high heat, one veggie at a time, in plenty of olive oil, salt and pepper, then combined at the end, the ratatoille was delicious. I used to eat it with parmesan cheese pre-vegan, so it might also be fabulous with a bit of daiya melted on top.

What did I feature to go along with my lovely ratatoille? More nightshades!

For this batch of "smashed potatoes" I boiled 7 partially peeled russet potatoes until tender and then drained them and mashed them all up with several spoonfuls of vegan versions of sour cream, cream cheese and butter, salt, pepper and  some fresh Italian parsley from the garden. I'm sorry I have no measurements, sometimes dinnertime sneaks up on me and I have to move fast to feed the hungry people all around me. I chose these potatoes since my daughter LOVES them.  They went nicely with their nightshade brethren.

I'll pace myself as I finish off my poisonous leftovers, making sure to fill up with plenty of healing dark green leafy veggies in between each serving!