Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Bountiful Bowlful

One of my favorite things about cooking during the holidays is the leftovers! I'm a simple vegan+, really, usually subsisting on greens mixed with whatever is on hand, but a holiday dinner is special, featuring a few different dishes to go along with the old standbys. For Christmas dinner this year, to please my own culinarily motley crew along with a guest -- Wynne's friend, Yuval, here was the menu:

  • Sweet curried collards with mushrooms, carrots, onions and chick peas (inspired by a recipe from one of my favorite former blogs "{Plate+Simple}" --you may still be able to find the archives)
  • Roasted potatoes with onions, salt and pepper -- raw chopped potatoes, 450 degrees for half an hour.
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts with shallots, salt and pepper (I've seen some lovely maple- or agave-glazed roasted sprouts recipes, but I am not crazy about sweet sprouts, and since I am the boss of veggies around here, we had 'em simple -- quickly steamed sprouts (1 minute, then rinsed in cold water), then 425 degrees for 15 minutes. I have roasted them exactly like the potatoes before, but the outsides turned out burnt and the insides, still almost raw. The short steam at the beginning, with a slightly lower temp, and a shorter roast time is my preference.
  • Sesame ginger soba noodles -- These seem to come out a little different each time I make them since I don't measure, but the important ingredients are grated ginger (about a Tbsp.) oil, a little rice vinegar, a little shoyu, a couple shakes of red pepper flakes, a pinch of salt, scallions sliced on the diagonal -- lots of 'em, cooked soba noodles, a few drops of sesame oil at the end and a small handful of sesame seeds thrown in after it's all done. I like the black ones.
  • An organic chicken I roasted myself -- this was rough, I'm not gonna lie, since it did involve touching and manipulating a dead body. The worst part was that I assumed the inside of the carcass would be similar to turkeys I have roasted in the past (neat little packets of unmentionables), but it wasn't. I spent a few minutes trying to pull the neck from the cavity before realizing (!!!!!) it was still attached. Ugh. Horrible. They don't chop the necks off the organic ones (shudder). I said a prayer for the little birdy, choked back some bile and adjusted my martyr cloak. Then I poured a little Christmas martini and felt better. I had considered buying a pre-roasted rotisserie chicken, but I thought I would do something nice and take the hormones and antibiotics out of the family's poultry experience. I won't do it again.
Chicken necks aside, it was a lovely meal, and today's leftovers were amazing. The bowlful in the photo features poultry-free leftovers only! Stay tuned for the next reinvention of these delectable morsels.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Reminder For Merry Elves

You know who you are . . .

It seems silly since we all know how to take good care of ourselves, but especially for you moms out there this time of year -- remember to breathe! When I was reminded at yoga the other day, I was surprised I had forgotten. I'd been keeping my shoulders up around my ears (I must have looked lovely that way), and had been breathing only from the chin up, quick and shallow. That's barely living. Deep breaths everyone -- slowly. Only a few will make a world of difference.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Houseful

Time is short, and I keep getting this message everywhere I turn: "Simplify". Heeding it, I turn to something lovely and luscious like this polenta to put on the table. The recipe is from Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Kitchen. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this recipe. I have made it many times and still crave it. Constantly. The carnivore, vegetarian+chicken nuggets eater and macaroni eater all like it too. The kale is not in the recipe, but, you know, I don't think Kris would be opposed to it!

It's wonderful to again have the four of us here for a couple of weeks, (I know, you are thinking "why is that a houseful?") but as a family grows outward, pulling back inward can present an "outgrown shoe" sensation as new freedoms chafe in the context of a childhood home. My best strategy for a healthy, happy holiday season is to remain flexible, impose no agenda and provide something simple and healthy to eat but to remain unoffended if someone still decides to order a pizza.

In further striving to simplify, today I'll attempt to wrap up all my Elf tasks, and will forgive myself when I don't quite finish. At this stage of motherhood, as I shift from micromanager to whatever's next (still figuring that out!) I'm using new tools to keep the magic in Christmas such as repurposing the guest room. Check out my low-tech, anti-micromanaging skills:

My progeny have thus received fair warning, and will partner with me in maintaining the magic if they so choose. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sustenence + Odds-n-Ends

Just a couple of weeks out now, when fueling body, mind and spirit, it behooves us to choose wisely. This Italian preparation of one of my all time faves -- broccoli rabe -- fit the bill perfectly this morning. This was lovely with a tiny drizzle of balsamic vinegar (a little goes a LONG way!) but it would also be great with nutritional yeast on top. Here's my simple recipe:

Italian Broccoli Rabe

1 large bunch of broccoli rabe, washed and trimmed roughly
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 can of chick peas, rinsed (you may choose white beans instead)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. earth balance "butter"
a pinch of salt

On medium high heat, quickly saute onions and garlic in the oil, stirring frequently for about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add chick peas and salt, stirring frequently for a couple more minutes. Turn the heat back up to medium high and add the tomato and the broccoli rabe, stirring constantly as the greens wilt. You may need to add the greens in batches since they take up a lot of room when raw. Don't worry, no need to remove the original batch before adding the next. The size will quickly dramatically reduce, and the next batch can be stirred right in. I use two wooden spoons to more easily keep it all in the pan. Once all the greens have begun to wilt, add the earth balance to temper the bitter greens and silken the texture. Stir for a couple more minutes and remove the pan from heat, covering so it can continue to steam  until you plate it. This would be perfect with polenta, pasta, brown rice, quinoa or amaranth.

Incidentally, my sweet Mom made that pretty plate! I have mugs to match. I don't use her homemade pottery often because I would hate to break it, but I do feel closer to her when I use it.

For the odds-n-ends portion of the post, here are a couple of photos from the last few days --

The other night we attended a "white elephant" party where you bring an anonymous gift, pick a number and either choose a gift from the pile or steal one from someone else who has already opened it. The party goer whose gift is stolen then gets the same choice, and so on. When it was my turn, I stole this blooming tea system from a very sweet lady who is married to one of Andres' coworkers. Luckily, since I was the 11th chooser, I had already witnessed the sometimes ruthless nature of the game, so I didn't feel too bad about engaging in the shenanigans, myself. I love this! Isn't it cool? You boil water, put a little dried tea pellet into the teapot and then add the water and watch the tea bloom into a lovely flower. There are about 8 other pellets of different flavors and colors, so if I bloom any more pretty ones, I will share photos. I'm not competitive by nature, but I do enjoy this game.

My brother and his family sent us this beautiful  holiday arrangement all the way from Kazakhstan! Thanks, guys! Enjoy the season.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fa La La La La, La La La La

Okay kids, how are we doing?

I've noticed a frenetic panic setting in during this shortened holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas are closer than usual this year, and Hanukkah started on Thanksgiving). Everyone is cheerful enough on the surface, but distracted and hurried. The default facial expression -- brow furrowed, focus downward -- only yields, with bewilderment, from direct eye contact and a smile. Normally this would be the perfect time for our favorite social experiment game. Wynne and I like to find the grouchiest soul in a room and change everything with a genuine, positive greeting or just a smile. It can be very entertaining -- the dramatic change in mood is usually preceded by several seconds of confusion. The payoff is akin to the karmic blast one gets from paying a stranger's toll or restaurant check.

This year, however, I've noticed that I am the one with the furrowed brow. It's my own fault, really. I've become obsessed recently with creative, crafty pursuits I had given up long ago because of their time-consuming nature. Once enmeshed, I was thrilled with the soul-soothing process, until I realized again just how time-consuming creativity is. Continually craving a quick payoff, I have started project after project, only to find that there is no quick payoff. It's time to focus on Christmas. I am watching myself procrastinate, but I just . . . can't . . . stop.

It all started on October 1 with Wynne's request that I create Arwen's cloak for her to wear on Halloween. My youngest child wanting something from me that I can actually do? -- Involving something from Lord of the Rings???? Um, yeah! Ten days, 3-7 hours per day later: the cloak was born! I'd show you a photo, but she is 16 and doesn't approve mass consumption images of herself, unless they are selfies, of course. I did a great job on the cloak, so I thought I was a master seamstress again. Wynne then wanted Haylie Williams' plaid pinafore/jumper thingy, so we went looking for the fabric and pattern. We found something I thought I could work with. I found myself something too. I am not done with either project and am not thrilled with early results. To soothe my jangled nerves from seam ripping the mistakes over and over again, I started some homemade Christmas gifts for friends and neighbors. I'm still in the early stages with these.

Still searching for the elusive sense of accomplishment, I bought piles of yarn so I can remember how to knit, and maybe teach myself to crochet -- haven't touched 'em. I'm about halfway done with Christmas decor -- tree up, no ornaments, cardboard box containing creche figures on the side table. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are still in their bubble wrap.

Still, sometimes the spirit moves me. The other night, fixing dinner in the kitchen, I spouted forth: "God rest ye' merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!"

Andres, watching something on tv in the other room, responded "shush!" Wynne and I made eye contact and had a fit of giggles.

But I can give any grinch a run for his money. Having a snack after school the other day, Wynne got a kick out of watching me go through the mail while loading the dishwasher and prepping dinner. Glasses on, brow furrowed as per usual, I read each Christmas card, bill, junk mail/coupon aloud to help it make sense to my scattered brain.

"Add some sparkle to your holiday, (a credit card solicitation) -- NO!" (ripping it in half).

The phone rang: "Why, why, why is my phone always ringing?! -- oh, hi honey,"

Thank goodness my child is there to show me myself from the outside so the two of us can laugh at me. Yes, I understand I'm avoiding getting into the thick of the season with mindless grinchery and distraction, so as of this moment I will just say no to ripping out another seam on a homemade dress that I don't need and which is not working out. After the new year and a long winter's nap, I'm sure projects will flow more smoothly.  I'm going to sit down now with this lovely soy nog (cut with unsweetened vanilla almond milk) and work on those homemade gifts. Oh, and Jesus, Mary and Joseph, let's get you out of those bubbles!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pretty Tacos!

Lovely, no?

Tacos are one of my favorite things to serve this vegan/vegetarian/carnivore/junk foodie family. I put it all out there and they can each pick and choose what they want. I made a purple cabbage slaw with the juice of a lime, a couple of tablespoons of veganaise and a couple of shakes of chipotle powder. It is as addictive as a slaw can be. I can't stop thinking about it! My pretty taco contained wild rice, black beans, avocado slices, slaw and a dab of salsa. The shell was so jammed with lusciousness that I had the peppers-n-onions on the side. These were a big hit and I'm still enjoying the leftovers.

Random recent fact: The UPS lady just informed me a big white swan was sitting on my roof just now and only flew away as she approached the front porch. What does this mean? Maybe the bird can sense I prefer avocados and purple slaw to poultry.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

When In Doubt, Add Kale

How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was lovely, just the four of us this year. With Hans off at college and Wynne in high school now, it's nice to be able to rein 'em all in for a bit. Now that the day-o-cooking has passed, the annual challenge of reinventing leftovers is upon me. Roasted veggies are great  piping hot and crispy, fresh from the oven, but the next day, cold and a little soggy, they need a creative reboot.

I warmed them in a pan with olive oil, on low heat at first, then I turned up the heat to help the roots get their crispy on. A big bowl of kale was then dumped on top and I tossed the whole panful with two wooden spoons for about 3 minutes. The resulting "breakfast hash" was just what I wanted.

In other news, after a recent juicing mishap, I noticed veggies on the ceiling. I fetched the ladder and did what I could to eradicate the mess, but it looks like there'll be a permanent stain. I got a good belly laugh from my 16 year old though -- any little thing I can do to entertain that sweet girl, who revels in my veggie adventures.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Avocado Woes and Moe's

A first world problem, to be sure, but lately I've had trouble finding good avocados. Maybe the "10 avocados for $10" sign should have tipped me off, but the last 3 I bought were rock hard and the next day ripened rotten. I'm glad I didn't buy 10. It's not the avocados' fault. My theory is mishandling somewhere between the avo farms in Mexico and the lush produce display of the local Kroger. By mishandling, I simply mean the avocados are likely being picked too early, then stored cold, which anyone tropical hates. Ask my husband, who was born in the jungle. He rolls his eyes when I say that. He really was born in the jungle, by the way, albeit in a hospital within the jungle. In any case, the jungle boy does not like the cold.

Back to the avocados -- the one in the photo actually wasn't that bad. The other two were beyond help, and many folks would have given up on this one as well, but in the "waste not want not" spirit of my mom, I got out my scalpel. I always think of Moe's surgery as I strive for a "clear margin" on this tropical fruit. For those unfamiliar with Moe's, it is a cancer surgery invented by a guy named Moe where the least amount of tissue is surgically removed while leaving a clear, cancer-free margin for the patient. The surgery involves multiple passes, testing each sample and going back for more if the margin isn't clear. It is a tedious process, so if I have somewhere to be, I pick a different breakfast that day. For the days I do have 15 minutes to perform my Avocado Moe's, it is well worth the effort.

I know the comparison between the rot of the avocado and cancer will be unsettling to some. Keep in mind, vegans, that you've likely not touched animal flesh in some time, and may not remember how horrible prepping chicken is. As the wife of a tropical carnivore, I do still prep dead flesh from time to time, unfortunately (that's how much I love him). So Avocado Moe's is a piece of cake for me!

I have the utmost sympathy for those with a more intimate knowledge of the actual Moe's procedure and by my light-hearted use of the term, mean no disrespect for what you have gone through or may still be going through. I'm just telling you what goes through my head as my scalpel goes through my avocado.

I'm no surgeon, but look at my luscious Avo-Toasts this morning:

Kris Carr's recipe calls for red pepper flakes, but since I am having a red-hot love affair with chipotle powder (smoky! warm!), the Avo-Toast is an apt vehicle for it. The recipe calls for half an avocado, but after this morning's surgery, I needed to use the whole avocado. This was a wonderful, clear-margined breakfast!  Kris is a cancer patient herself -- check her out if you haven't:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


This photo is unrelated to today's short post -- it's just pretty, recognizable, vegan food: broccoli rabe, tomatoes, chick peas, pine nuts, sauteed. Yum -- this dish was made and consumed some time ago, but now I'm craving it again. I've only had a fabulous green juice today, and you've seen enough of those on AMLV+, hence the above photo.

I've been thinking about the roles we play. The role dearest to my heart -- the core of who I am -- is MOM. I've been doing a pretty good job of momming lately! No, not mamming (a recent online trend for breast cancer awareness -- google it if you've not seen it), momming. We get to an age where there's no point in being humble about what we do well. I'm tooting my own horn -- TOOT!

Being a parent of teens is no joke. I believe it is much harder now than it ever was "back in the day". I don't need to go into all the ways the world has changed since I was a teen, challenging my own sweet mom. As a mom, myself, I've made mistakes and I've had successes. I have no doubt there will be more of each but today, for my own brilliant, talented, multi-dimensional, out-of-the-box kids, I can see that I'm being a good mom. Ah, the Zen that brings. My husband is being a great Dad too, by the way -- thanks honey!

Yes, I'm tooting my horn, but I want to give credit where it's due -- my inspiration, always:
My own gorgeous, amazing mom, Jeanine McKenzie Allen. Following your example brings sunshine to my life, and I'm so grateful. I miss you, Mommy.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Winding Down

At what point does one decide the summer crop is over? I get a little crop like this every day now. You can see in the Chinese longbeans a certain madness now. Somersaulting, pinching and twisting, they are in a frenetic scramble as they sense the "last call" of the season.  I'm sort of loving the show, but it may be time to pull it all out, dry the pods that remain for a new crop in the spring, clean up the garden and condition the soil for the winter.

Indoors, here's a recent project (I LOVE the warm, soothing light of the very early morning):
Sprouts! My friend, Liat, loaned me this awesome hemp sprouting bag which works so, so much better for me than the tall jar with the rubber gasketed/screened lid. I am ordering one of these bags right away! I showed my daughter my sprouts and she asked, "But what do you eat them with?"

"My fingers!" I answered, demonstrating.

Another bonus is that Liat is the Mom of my daughter's best friend, so the sprouting bonanza provides fodder for hours of eye-rolling, teenage fun at our expense! It is such a joy to make those kids laugh.

Here's another way I eat my sprouts --
This was my breakfast this morning: sprouts (Ezekiel Bread), sprouts and hummus! Delish!

Why sprouts? Bioavailability! Simply put -- the sprouts are alive, with 100% of their nutrition intact, and have converted the starches/gluten of the seed/bean to the phytonutrients we all need for regeneration and fuel for our cells. I'm a newbie in this learning process, so I will share more when I know more.  I'm going to go throw a handful into the juicer now with some kale and maybe a pear. What do you do with your sprouts?

P.S. upon re-reading, I'm happily noticing the sprouts echo the acrobatics of the longbeans, all indeed "winding"!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Miso-Bean Creamed Kale

I never tire of eating kale in any form, but it's still fun to experiment with different ways to incorporate the superfood into our diets. I came up with this idea the other day and made a big pile of it, visions of leftovers dancing in my head.  But it was so good that I went back and polished it off a couple of hours after eating the first bowlful. I'm going to make another batch to share with the family tonight.

Miso Creamed Kale

1 large bunch of kale, torn from the stems into small pieces
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. Miso paste
1/4 c. filtered water
1 can cannellini or navy beans, rinsed well and drained
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast, or to taste
1 tsp. tamari or to taste

Over medium-high heat, saute the onion until transluscent, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, dilute the miso in the water -- mixing with a fork until liquified, set aside. Add the beans and the tamari to the pan, stirring periodically to be sure they don't burn. The beans will fall apart a little bit, and crisp up here and there. You'll want about 1/3 of the beans to fall apart, so if you happen to have a can of firmer beans, smash a few of them with the back of a wooden spoon as they cook, for about 3 minutes. Add the kale and stir quickly, to be sure it all gets to the heat before the next step. Add the miso liquid, stir completely to deglaze any stuck food, then immediately cover the pan and take it off the burner. Let steam for about 2 minutes, off the heat. With the original burner off, put the pan back on the still-warm burner, take the lid off, add the yeast and garlic powder and stir it all together for a couple of minutes, warming everything as the sauce thickens slightly.

You don't want to cook the miso at too high a heat. That's why I take the hot pan off the burner when the steam starts. The beneficial enzymes will die if they get too hot, but it'll all still taste good. If you want the full nutritional benefit, use a couple of tablespoons of water instead of the miso to steam the kale, then add the miso later to the warm pan. The resulting sauce will be runnier of course, but will thicken upon standing.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hello, My Love

Look at her sitting there in all her verdant glory! My favorite way to start the day. This is like Yoga in a recycled glass -- then I proceeded logically to actual yoga, courtesy of my friend, Liat. Ahhhh!

Wynne is working on noticing the way different foods make her feel, and is choosing accordingly. She's a pasta girl, but she is broadening her outlook and including more whole foods, and enjoying the noticeable holistic changes.

Here's a recent compromise which provided us all plenty of delicious wholeness:

Clockwise from top left, we have amaranth with sauteed onion, pasta with vegan artichoke alfredo sauce (from a jar, made mostly from cashews) topped with fresh tomato, Chinese longbeans sauteed in olive oil. This food was a hit -- what's not to love?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Here's a recent harvest from my garden, for which I am grateful, neglected as it's been this year. Look at those furry, knobby little carrots! There are also onions and yards of Chinese longbeans. Together these made a lovely veggie dish.

Ordinarily I'd have been all over these carrot greens, which dwarf the carrots themselves, but they were too strong in flavor, probably because it has been so hot here lately. I passed on the greens this time, but  they are making a nice contribution to the compost.

Here is the finished product. It was a little tricky as I started cooking before driving Wynne to band practice, came back while she was there, worked on it some more and then left it on the warm burner as I went to pick her up. I didn't throw the smallest, tenderest beans in until the end. The veggies were simply sauteed in olive oil and seasoned with a tiny pinch of salt and curry powder. Wynne LOVED these veggies. Score!

She said, "These are really good, what are the orange things?"
When I told her, she said, I've never tasted carrots like these before, this is really, really good!"  :)

I had a hankering for a pot-o-lentils, so I made some to go with the harvest. Here's the recipe:

French Lentils

1 C dry lentils
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
2 C water
1 Tbsp Shoyu or Tamari
2 Tbsp Dry Sherry
1 Tsp. dry thyme or 5-6 stems of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste 

Saute the onions on medium heat until they become fragrant and almost transluscent. Stir periodically to  prevent burning. After rinsing lentils, add them to the pot along with the water and Shoyu or Tamari and thyme. If you have fresh thyme, you can put the whole woody stems in, then remove them later. The dry herbs are stronger in flavor than the fresh thyme. It would be fine to add more fresh thyme than I have here if you like the flavor, but be careful with the dry herbs. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer 25 minutes, covered. 3-4 minutes before the end of cooking, add the sherry, stir and simmer until lentils are tender but still hold their shape. Season to taste. Don't forget to remove the thyme stems before serving.

These lentils aren't really French. They were born in the USA. I just call them that since I was inspired by some wonderful flavors I tasted while driving across the French countryside in the winter, so very many moons ago. Good stuff!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Vegan Junk Food vs. Vegan Fast Food

"What's the difference?" you ask. Well, from my point of view, vegan junk food is food which I do not know to violate vegan principles, but which likely may. Vegan fast food, for me, is simply vegan food that is easily and quickly thrown together in less time than it takes to go through the drive-through.

Here are examples of each:

This delectible pizza was ordered at Campania, a new, Neopolitan-style restaurant in Alpharetta. This establishment boasts an authentic ceramic pizza oven all the way from Italy, "Double Zero flour", a warm, dark wood interior, and a lovely wine list, all in the incongruent location of a strip mall. "Coins and Firearms" is right upstairs and "Auto Zone" is next door. Seriously, though, the restaurant is worth a visit. The food is phenomenal and different from your average pizza joint.

This fabulous pizza, to me, is vegan junk food. The rare and coveted "Double Zero flour" is still white flour, which I try to avoid, and I have no idea what else the recipe for the dough contains. For my health, I cannot eat dairy in its basic form, but my system has not been bothered overtly by dairy that may exist in baked goods. Still, I usually try to avoid it. So the crust, as gourmet as it is here, is junk to this vegan. All the rest is fabulous, while lacking in basic grains and greens.  This lovely establishment has a very small menu with specific pizza creations. Each item on the menu is so special that I got a little nervous asking for this pizza without the meat and cheese. I could see a thought fleet across the mind of the server for a split second, but then he thought better of following through by speaking it, which I really appreciated. In the past, elsewhere, I have actually had servers try to talk me into eating meat and/or cheese, as surprising as that may be. Once, I have even had a pizza I ordered without cheese brought out with parmesan cheese all over it. When I pointed this out to the server, the response was, "No, that's not cheese, that's parmesan," (!) I had to come off my high horse a bit to gently, patiently, explain that parmesan is, indeed, cheese. Everyone else was finished by the time I received my pie.

I chose to eat this divine vegan junk food because my family and I went out to dinner together and we all wanted to try Campania, of the famous zillion degree oven (roughly) that bakes each pizza, one at a time, in 90 seconds flat! I'm glad I did -- it was delicious! I left the crust ends untouched though.

Vegan fast food is much more common for me, and it normally begins with leftovers. After my yoga class today, I was so zen that I wanted the feeling to linger, so grains and greens it was! I dipped into my already-prepared amaranth and onions from a couple of nights ago, and warmed it with baby kale leaves on top, then drizzled an artisanal olive oil on top and sprinkled it with Gomashio (sesame seeds ground together with sea salt). It took me three minutes to assemble and warm my delicious lunch. That's fast food to me. Sadly, there is no photographic evidence of my fast food lunch since I gobbled it all up without thinking.

To compensate for the missing photo of my vegan fast food, here's a bonus shot:

I harvested these Chinese longbeans in my pajamas this morning before waking Wynne. Forgive the cell-phone graininess. I get a batch-o-beans like this every couple of days or so now. They really grow quickly. These legumes could feed a village. I've pulled out my barren tomato plants already, but left the wire cages for the bean plants to enjoy.  They are entertaining to grow -- always very busy -- so it would be fun to grow these with young children. I don't really get tired of these beans. I have made them into soups and stir fries, I've grilled them in a pan with other veggies and fresh herbs, I've sauteed them with ginger and seaweed and pickled them with ume plum vinegar. It's a great crop.

Each vegan comes to the lifestyle from a different perspective. Some of us were primarily motivated by health concerns, some by compassion for our fellow earthlings, and some by a combination of both. Whatever the case, the lifestyle must be doable. To this end, I choose flexibility occasionally, in the form of a cheeseless pizza. Wholesome, whole food, fast or not, will always be my first choice since the most important thing for good health is to directly tend it most of the time. So for this girl, "vegan fast food" trumps "vegan junk food" but I'm still gonna have that pizza from time to time!

Monday, August 26, 2013

30th High School Reunion!

Last weekend, my husband and I got away for a long weekend for Thomas Jefferson High School's 30th reunion. That's me, front and center. What a photobomb! The photographer added the spouses for this shot and, being on the tall side, I was trying to squat down a little to avoid eclipsing the actual class members. Instead, I look like I'm posing sassily. My daughter thinks this is hilarious.

What a wonderful group of people! I had known a handful of them previously, through my husband, but also through another Jefferson alumnus, my wonderful friend and roommate of many years, Cheryl Ross Lage, bestselling author of Twinspiration, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2006. I was happy to meet so many more from this amazing high school class last weekend. What an honor and a privilege it was to get to know all of you, Colonials and spouses!

My own 30th reunion will also be this year, but I will not be able to attend because of prior commitments. My husband and I grew up in different parts of Virginia, but after college Northern Virginia became my home as well. I lived in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax, and worked in Washington, D.C. As our taxi pulled up to the hotel, I looked up and realized our old apartment building was right next door!

There it is, shot from our 10th floor hotel room. You can see a little sliver of the Potomac just beyond the lower buildings on the left. We lived here in Old Town, Alexandria for only a few months when the kids were little. Here's an interior shot of our place there, featuring my little punkin and her rockin' hairdo:

Here's what she looks like now, except she has moved on from pink hair to blue:

But I digress . . . Back to 2013: We arrived Friday afternoon, and met up with a few people at the Fish Market that evening. It was great to be on old stomping grounds, and I really enjoyed getting to know some amazing people. The conversations were deep and rewarding, just the way I like 'em! I look forward to a continued acquaintance with these great folks.

I also enjoyed a plateful of fried oysters. I'll always choose fried oysters over iceberg lettuce, otherwise I'll choose veggies every time. I see myself as "vegan+" -- mostly veggies/grains, never dairy, or hooved or winged beasts, but very, very rarely, I'll have seafood. See for the full backstory of my mid-vegan recalibration.

Saturday morning, we were lucky to have a visit from Andres' brother, Sol, and family, who drove down from Maryland to see us. We had brunch at Union Street Public House and walked around Old Town for a couple of hours afterward.

Featured in the photo are, from left to right, our nephew, Andres, who will start Harvard Law School this week(!), Sofi, the au pair from Costa Rica, Heather, Sol's wife, Morgan, our littlest niece, Sol, Andres, and moi. When Sol and family had to leave, it was such a beautiful day that Andres and I walked all the way back to the hotel, where I needed a siesta for the upcoming fiesta.

Back in business after a short rest, we cleaned up and proceeded downstairs for the reunion festivities. I always worry about buffets. Sometimes the only veggies available are doused in dairy. This actually makes them inedible for me, as my system really cannot handle it after so many years without. In this case, I needn't have worried. The food was AMAZING! My cell phone pic doesn't do it justice:

There was romaine and pasta, rice, roasted peppers and sauteed veggies of a ratatouille bent. I loved this delicious food so much that I had intended to go back for seconds, but the event was so socially stimulating and fun that I lost track of time and before I knew it, it was all over. I wonder what the catering crew did with those leftovers? It haunts me.

I received so many gifts from the experience of this reunion, but here is one of my favorites from the lovely Lisa Jones Pierce, keeper and cataloguer extraordinaire:

That's my husband, senior class president Andres Salinas, with his friend, and now mine, the wonderful Wray Eldridge. Will you look at those babies?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Rustic Harvest

My garden provided enough for last night's dinner. Six golf-ball-sized garden onions, one tiny grape tomato, a small carrot with a generous feathering of greens and two fistfuls of Chinese long beans were the homegrown sauteed base for this delicious meal, planned on the fly. A couple of leftover boiled potatoes from an earlier meal, a handful of kale from the crisper, a can of navy beans and several Kalamata olives rounded out the luscious flavors. I used olive oil, salt, pepper and a scant shake of Tamari to season. This was easy, delicious, filling and teeming with phytonutrients. I always feel great when I work with what's on hand.

Monday, August 5, 2013


The best of the season! Delicious sliced warm from the sun and eaten simply on bread with veganaise, salt and pepper. No, I didn't grow it -- I bought it and ate it. It was great.

This year my garden is atrocious. I didn't even take a new photo of it for you because it is even worse now than it was before. Why is it so bad this year, you ask?  Well, I was a bit lazy in my prep, and I was gone for much of the summer so the garden was largely overtaken by nature. Amongst those items I planted on purpose, "survival of the fittest" was well illustrated. Each gardening season is a gift of wisdom, and this year is a learning experience extraordinaire!

My best 2013 gardening lessons:

  • Do not use soil with embedded fertilizer ("leggy" doesn't begin to describe my tomato plants this year -- yards-long in every direction, forming a crazy web that prevents me from entering the space at all, with nary a blossom -- my first ever sterile tomato year).
  • Start planning now for weed eradication for next year -- I'm thinking thick sheets of cardboard covering the surface through early spring.
  • Plant more radishes -- I loved them and used every one.
  • Repeat spring onion gauntlet -- It was the most effective tactic yet for deterring furry critters, I had plenty to eat and there is still enough of a gauntlet to protect the long beans.
  • Always plant plenty of Chinese long beans. These are remarkably persistent, despite the kind of neglect I can dish out.
  • Wait much, much longer to pull carrots.
  • Finally make plans to use homespun compost -- it's getting too heavy to spin.
  • Provide more drainage next year for the herb pot. Herbs don't like soggy toes.
  • Buy fresh nasturtium seeds. My 5 year old seeds did remarkably well considering their advanced age, but their oomph was lacking. They normally thrive on my brand of neglect as well as the long beans.
As in all things, we live and we learn!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Watercress is Lovely with Avocado

It really is. When creating something fabulous to eat, it is good to remember juxtapositions -- foils. The peppery, spicy nature of watercress is rounded and tempered so nicely by the buttery avocado. The Black Truffle Oil I drizzled on top was a similarly decadent, soft and rich complement to the greens. Black Truffle oil is a very worthy indulgence, by the way. My pricey little tin ($18!) has lasted almost two years now in the fridge. Because of the intense flavors here, I didn't even add vinegar or lemon. This is simple, whole food at its finest. An indulgence!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

More Mountains!

Continuing our happy vagabond existence lately, we've been indulging in more active pursuits than when the kids were younger. I'm finding the hiking, swimming, snorkeling and boating have reawakened a bit of my own youth, though now that we are back home I'm wiped out. What a wonderful vacation -- it was so good for all of us. This is our backyard view from the villa we rented on St. John. Amazing.

A memorable snorkeling afternoon was at Cinnamon Bay. At one point there was a lovely, steady downpour of rain which was refreshing and magical as the drops evenly covered the surface of the calm, warm water. Those are my grown-up babies before the rain. They enjoyed climbing barefoot for hours all over the rocky cliffs along the beach.

Wildlife was in abundance on St. John. The island is 70% U.S. National Park land and is very undeveloped. Chickens and roosters lived in the yard of the villa. Their skittishness was daunting for this amateur photographer. There's nothing like an authentic "cockadoodledoo" in the morning! Also in our yard were iguanas of all sizes. Here's a big guy who loved to sun himself on the same branch every morning just off our deck:

We encountered deer and donkeys on the beaches and even mongoose! They seem to be gentle-natured when not wrangling the King Cobra of Kipling lore. I never saw a snake at all on the island, and I doubt there'd be Cobras, but then I was surprised mongoose are common there, so . . . what do I know?

When we rented a dinghy for a day, several large sea turtles swam right along the surface next to us, one after another over the course of an hour or so -- lifting their kind faces out of the water to take a breath and peer at us with their large, expressive eyes. Once, we startled one and his animated reaction -- lifting his whole head out of the water and shooting us an alarmed expression with his mouth wide open before darting underwater -- left us in a fit of giggles.

We had so much fun!

One night we girls enjoyed experimenting with hair like when Wynne was little.

My villa-made vegan food was simple -- grilled veggies, beans and rice with a tomato and garlic compote here. There was quite a bit of pasta -- not gluten free, so I will catch up on my healthier diet here now, but we all loved it. We did go out several times as well, and I was happy to see Wynne trying out some vegetarian fare -- all her own choice.

Our last sunset on St. John did not disappoint. What an amazing show -- what an amazing week.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Prodigal Gardener

My son has recently spent some time camping and hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina so we took a trip up to meet him, see some of the places he explored (albeit from the remote vantage point of the Parkway overlooks) and hear about his adventures. This photo is lovely, but doesn't adequately reflect the scope of the altitude, steepness and vastness of these mountains. Of course there are steeper mountains, but the Blue Ridge is way up there for this Georgia girl. My son told me geologists have determined that the Blue Ridge has been taller than the Alps three times in the known history of the earth. It is on a fault line and geologic events have thrust the mountains upward, only to be weathered and eroded to this relatively modest height over ages -- three separate times. Isn't that interesting? Standing atop this ridge, in the cool fresh air, closer to the sun and clouds, one would assume these rocks have always been here, from the beginning of time. Well, maybe they have been, but they are alive and changing like everything else, just in a slower time frame.

The next part of our North Carolina odyssey was to the Outer Banks to see my husband's parents. I was so busy visiting, I didn't even get a shot of the ocean this time, but as we were setting the table for dinner on the deck last Thursday this view of heaven got my attention. This is a cell phone photo. Less than 5 minutes later we were all scrambling to rush everything inside and turn the chairs and tables upside down so they wouldn't blow away. At that moment a front came in which brought powerful winds, driving rain and thunder and lightening. We actually saw a waterspout about 100 yards off the beach. This heavenly view quickly transformed into an eerie, deep pink-purple as the clouds roiled. Nature's fury is always so much more dramatic at the shore. It was quite a show. The deluge lasted all night, and my mother-in-law and I noticed the condo swayed with the winds.

Back home the weather that night was also violent, spawning a tornado, though there were no injuries that I know of. By the time we got back, ten days after we left, evidence of the storm we missed here was a downed tree in the woods, and the return of the water damage we just had fixed a couple of weeks prior. The wallboard under the fresh paint is bubbled anew, and the water stain on the ceiling is back. Ah, home ownership!

Yowza -- look at the garden! After ten days of neglect in this humid, moist, hot environment, the plot is a mess. Some type of opportunistic, ground-covering weed has had its way with the soil around all the plants I put in. I don't know what it is, but it kind of looks like a creeping thyme. At first I attempted to eradicate it, but quickly found that it would adapt any part of itself to form a new root and dig in -- in other words, if I left a piece I'd pulled, it would re-root itself instead of shrivelling. Also, the roots are deep and delicate, so when I thought I'd pulled the whole plant out, I'd left a tiny bit underground which would quickly make its way to the surface and be reborn. The weed doesn't really seem to bother the veggies, it just makes the whole garden confusing to me.

The onion arsenal is more unkempt than ever, long and tangled, but appears to be doing its job deterring pests. I've seen no nibbles, not even from this guy, who is just happy to live safely under the wooden frame, apparently in an allium-induced haze.

A recent harvest revealed the bush beans had matured before the Chinese long beans, and the radishes are all grown, very large and flavorful. I sliced this one thinly to savor with a nice glass of Pinot Gris as I prepared dinner. Then I ate it's spiny leaves, undressed so I could assess the flavor -- peppery! The beans were added whole to a veggie melange including yellow squash, zucchini, vidalia onion, mushrooms, tomatoes and several whole twigs of thyme. All the veggies were store bought except for the beans and thyme -- my nightshades aren't ready yet. Olive oil, salt and pepper and the whole bowlful was cooked in a grill pan by my husband. Delish!

I plan on surrendering to the garden's will at this point, and savoring it's un-nibbled bounty. Can't wait for the tomatoes!