Thursday, January 30, 2014

Porridge Weather, Redux

This post features more porridgy weather and better porridge than the last one. I've got no more tales of charming English rodentia today, but I'm savoring the good stuff -- steel cut Irish oats -- as I survey my winter wonderland. These oats were the kind in the tin which needs to be sliced open with a knife. The task was dispatched without injury to myself or others. I boiled and simmered the oats for half an hour, and served them in the traditional manner -- with buttermilk. For me that means vegan buttermilk, which is a few tablespoons of almond milk with a couple of tablespoons of fresh lemon juice stirred in. The taste is wonderful and very close to the flavor of buttermilk, believe it or not! I topped it all off with a dab of earth balance butter. Delicious! This'll "stick to my ribs" as my folks used to say.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Eggplant

This is what became of the featured speckled eggplant yesterday. I utilized another great recipe from Moskowitz' and Romero's Veganomicon. Since the speckled sky turned into this:

(photo courtesy of my friend, Linda -- I nabbed it off Facebook)

--by the time I started working on the "Roasted Eggplant, Tomato and Chick Pea Stew", going for missing ingredients was out of the question. I had no red bell peppers, which the recipe calls for roasting and peeling, but I had a crazy idea that I'd seen a jar of roasted peppers somewhere in my house about a year ago. Unbelievably, within a few seconds I found it in my pantry. (it's a hoarder's pantry, so it's quite miraculous the jar fell into my hands so easily when I needed it!). I didn't have a can of tomatoes, but I did have some fresh ones. I had everything else I needed except the tarragon, so I did without that particular flavor. The stew was so rich and warm and silky and full of flavor and sustenance. Perfect cozy food for our snowy night!

While a stew like this would be lovely with polenta or rice, I served it over my own recipe, "Easy Mashed Roots". This can be made with any root veggie, but it's important to use mostly potatoes. This is my favorite combo:

Easy Mashed Roots
3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks of about an inch
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into same size chunks
a large handful of Italian parsley, washed and minced
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance Butter
1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk, or other non-dairy milk
nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste

Boil the roots for 13-15 minutes, then strain them and transfer to a large bowl. It's okay if a little bit of the boiling water remains since the roots will become drier as they cool. add the other ingredients except the parsley, and use a hand masher or pastry-chopper, or a large fork to mash it all together. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Add parsley and fold into the mash.
Serves 4 as a side dish.

I wait for the mashed roots to cool a little before adding the parsley since I only want the greens warmed, not cooked. I prefer the parsnip with the potatoes because it is so mild and only subtly different from traditional mashed potatoes, and goes with so many different flavors. Depending upon which roots you choose, you can play with the seasonings, though I'd avoid adding sugar as some people like to do with baked sweet potatoes. This is a savory dish, with only the natural sweetness of the roots themselves. If you use a sweet potato you may like a little cinnamon or even a squeeze of lemon. If you add a carrot maybe powdered ginger would be good. Just have fun experimenting.

While we are enjoying being snowed in (after a few hours on the road which should only have been 10 minutes) our hearts go out to those folks who have still not made their way back home after being in the car since yesterday afternoon. Many people abandoned their cars, which had either run out of gas, had spun out and were undrivable, or were simply at a standstill on the highway along with all the other vehicles with nowhere to go since exit and entrance ramps were often completely impassable due to wrecked or unmovable vehicles. Some children were even stranded on buses, or at school overnight. After leaving their cars, some people walked miles to get home. One guy tweeted he had walked 11 miles after being in his car for 15 hours! People slept on the floor at Whole Foods, Publix and CVS, and some were lucky beneficiaries of good-hearted strangers who took them into their homes.

Atlanta is the butt of many jokes today for falling to pieces over 3-7 inches of the white stuff, but bear in mind that the budget does not include much salt/sand or road crew and equipment, since this never happens. Unfortunately the Department of Transportation got it wrong this time and sent all the resources to the wrong part of town. Also, the departments were not communicating and workers and schoolchildren were sent home at the same time, so all of Atlanta was on the road at once. Not many of us have snow tires, and even transplants like we haven't driven on the ice in a long time. We all know how one car wreck can affect traffic on a highway. Imagine 200 wrecks happening simultaneously in a small area (and many times over in other areas too), involving mostly entrance and exit ramps because that's where the slippery hills are, and you get an idea of what we are up against. Abandoned cars still litter the streets, which now cannot be cleared as a consequence. The roads are still too dangerous for the drivers of these vehicles to make their way back to them. We are sending prayers to anyone still in danger, and are counting our blessings to be snugly at home.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I like that word. It connotes a certain type of fun as in these unexpected organic, speckled butter beans or this lovely organic speckled eggplant:

Currently, I am witness to a speckled sky (snow), though my photos don't do it justice, so I'm not including one here. The snowy speckles make me happy because this winter in the deep South has been devoid of the Currier and Ives ambiance of my Virginia childhood. The snowfall lends a bright, hush to the day and reminds me of a magical memory from when I was three years old, making stained glass windows out of melted crayons with my sweet mom. I can feel her smiling now.

Speckles remind me of freckles across my sweet niece's and nephew's faces, and of my own speckled pup, Ellie Belly Jelly Bean:

Look at that grin -- I probably woke her from a dream of her earlier bird-dog days. The songbirds didn't realize until it was too late that she also could fly with her vertical 6 foot leap in days of yore. It's true -- she wasn't a vegan dog, but she does love carrots and raw sweet potatoes! The old girl is not quite as spry anymore, so the birds can relax around here as she munches another tuber.

I'm enjoying this speckled day in the spirit of my "Happy" Board on Pinterest (here's a link if you want to take a peek at random photos et al which bestow giggles:

Enough of the spotty-happy-stream-of-consciousness, back to business. Here's what became of my speckled beans:

These were SO GOOD! I'm not kidding. I used a recipe from the epic culinary tome Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Those girls know what they're doing. I've not made a bad dish from the book. This recipe, "Mediterranean Lima Beans", lent itself well to my organic speckled beans. I have never tasted better beans. When I wasn't eating them I was daydreaming about eating them, and now I miss them.

Next, I'll put that speckled eggplant to good use.  I'll keep you posted . . .

Monday, January 27, 2014

Inspired by Organics!

Have you heard of Groupon? I've been enjoying unbelievable bargains these last few months including yoga, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and now local organic farm delivery through Groupon. The deals are really a "foot-in-the-door" way to introduce products and services to those who'd ordinarily not indulge, in hopes the new customers will become regulars.

I got a large box full of organic goodies delivered to my door for $19.95 instead of $35.00. The large box is actually called "small" and "tiny" is also an option for the future, so I guess that's what I will do from now on. Receiving "mystery" veggies (whatever's seasonal and plentiful) is fun, but does require more planning than my lazy brand of veganism usually affords. I pulled out the cookbooks.  This luscious salad utilized a couple of beets, arugula, romaine and an orange from my local/organic box. I started with Sheryl Crow's recipe from her If It Makes You Healthy cookbook. Besides the aforementioned organic gems, it also contains sauteed shallots and candied almonds. Sheryl's recipe calls for raw purple onion instead, but I had no purple onion, and I prefer sauteed, so I did it my way. Also, ditto on the pecans she used. I veganized the candying process, scratching the egg white, and just using oil, sugar, cinnamon and chipotle pepper powder instead. The dressing couldn't have been simpler: orange juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. I also squeezed a lemon over all of it because, well, I love lemon on everything. This salad was amazing.

Stay tuned for more of my organic experiments. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014


We are well into January when most of us have implemented resolutions or beneficial changes, but I realized today I've still been operating in "triage" mode, i.e. living reactively rather than proactively. I've been like the vaudeville performer who focuses only on the plates spinning atop vertical rods, looking for a wobble that needs a little spin. For a creative soul, this is no way of living. Yes, I've indulged in yoga here and there, and have been reasonably mindful, though not innovative, of diet, but I've not tended to creativity -- my need as a mother to continue "birthing" (projects, not progeny -- that chapter has closed).

My Dad came for a visit recently, and we had a lovely time. I don't know why it never crossed my mind while he was here to pull out the juicer -- something he and I so enjoyed last time he came. I never thought to pull out the bottles of champagne he bought for us either. My attention must have been so fragmented from tracking my wobbling plates that he's lucky he got fed at all, I guess. I'm grateful for his non-judgemental tolerance of my out-of-whackness.

Time for a reset. Today I started the day with something fresh. This morning's juice contained a head of organic romaine, 4 leaves of kale, a cucumber and a half (the other half was in a salad during Dad's visit) a knob of ginger, an organic apple, most of a lemon (it was starting to rot at one end) and a nice handful of mint -- stems and all. I craved the refreshment of the mint which goes very well with the flavors of ginger and lemon, by the way. The result was a fresh, flavorful blend -- mild and rejuvenating.

There she is! Ahh -- now I'm ready for anything, but more importantly I'm ready today to chart my own course and let some of those wobbling plates right themselves. It's a great day!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Very Best Chocolate Milkshake!

We've all had great success experimenting with juices and smoothies, but this smoothie was so simple and delicious I'm sharing it. It was the most satisfying chocolate milkshake I've tasted -- pre- or post-vegan.

My Functional Medicine M.D. has prescribed supplements to help  me manage my MS, and one recent addition is Dr. David Perlmutter's "Brain Sustain" It's a vanilla powder featuring lots of healthy fats with plenty of DHA -- the kind of fat the brain needs to regenerate. Since we have eaten high on the figurative hog these last few days with my Dad here visiting, I wasn't very hungry this morning, so instead of having breakfast, then swallowing the supplements, I elevated my supplement powder to the status of breakfast thus:

The Very Best Chocolate Milkshake

1 Scoop "Brain Sustain" or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. Raw Cacao (not cocoa)
1 banana (frozen if you plan ahead)
1 c. dark chocolate almond milk
1 large leaf of kale, stem removed
4-5 ice cubes, if the banana's not frozen, fewer if it is

Blend on low speed in a Vitamix or other high-powered blender. Enjoy.

When freezing bananas, peel them first and make sure to use a freezer bag, and squeeze most of the air out of the bag. This is a great way to avoid wasting overripe bananas. If you don't have a supplement or protein powder, you may want to add more substance to this shake with a tablespoon of almond butter.

Besides being decadent, this milkshake provided grounded energy, strength and focus.

P.S. -- I refinished those kitchen cabinets several years ago -- I'm still proud of myself. It was quite a feat!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Veganism and "Screen Rage"

Have you noticed it? The climate out there is getting more and more volatile. The "haters" as the kids these days might call them are getting more vocal and vitriolic in their expressions. I'm not just talking about the vegan haters. A few months ago a young mother of a handful of toddlers posed in skimpy athletic attire, challenging the rest of us with this message: "What's your excuse?" She definitely pushed some buttons, turning otherwise reasonable folks into unattractive, jealous and vengeful versions of themselves. YouTube comments seem to be getting more and more extreme with polarized, judgemental stances. I've even noticed some nasty comments from dairy lovers on Pinterest vegan recipes. I see this worsening phenomenon as akin to "road rage" -- within the anonymous confines of a car, the rager feels free to let it all out, or pick his nose. But we can still see him. Similarly, behind our computer screens, we may be compelled to come across more strongly. I, myself, have been labelled thus by one person. Funny thing is -- I don't feel rageful.

In this internet age, we do run the risk of misinterpreting or misunderstanding our communications with one another. The subtle social cues of facial expressions and body language are missing, and we can only read so much into ALL CAPS or emoticons. That being said, there's some raging going on out there which is pretty clear. Folks who consume the SAD diet (I'm not raging here -- the acronym stands for "Standard American Diet") get very excited about any new information about veggies being bad for us. Predictably, everyone wants to be vindicated for their choices, even if the choice is really an abdication of choice.

Recently I read an article that too much kale (or other cruciferous veggies) can be harmful to the thyroid. This got my attention, of course, particularly since I've just sworn off millet (which I didn't like anyway) because of the goitrogenic compounds. As always, please do your own research before deciding upon a radical change in your diet. I've learned one can find an article to support just about anything on the internet, so choose carefully. Using my own common sense, what I took from the recent article is that if overconsumption of veggies is a concern, adding a little more seaweed (iodine) to the diet will protect the thyroid. Kale makes me feel great -- peaceful, energetic, strong and healthy, and I'm going to keep eating it -- lots of it. To be clear -- I am typing this with an unfurrowed brow, a peaceful smile on my face and a rageless wish for each and every one of you that you feel happy about your choices and unjudged by me or by anybody else. You be you and I'll be me. Can't we all just get along? Kumbaya.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Porridge Weather

In Alpharetta, Georgia, it seldom snows. I know I'll not get much sympathy from those of you in more wintry climes, but as a kid from the hills of Virginia, I do miss a good blanket of white. This morning I woke to a blustery, cloudy 29 degrees F, which continued to plummet as the morning took shape. Soon, fluffy flurries were dancing in the air! With my husband back at work, my son back at university, and my daughter still all snug in her bed this teacher work day, I relished the icy quiet, and began craving porridge and tea as any Anglophile would.

My first impulse was to indulge in a nice bowl of Irish oats, but then I remembered the millet I had bought some time ago as I began dabbling in reduced gluten, and figured the quiet morning would be the perfect time for experimentation. The truth is, I've only tried millet once before, and I wasn't too crazy about it. As the chief ingredient in most birdseed blends it seemed to be, well, seedy. I decided I had last prepared it too al dente to my liking, and resolved to cook it longer, with more moisture. I toasted the grain first, then simmered it in unsweetened almond milk for half an hour. With these dates on top, it was better than the last batch of millet, but still not great. I should have had the Irish Oats instead, but I enjoyed the whole porridge-making and -eating process as the flurries whirled outside the window. I learned the millet continues to absorb whatever moisture you give it, so my one cup became so big that I had to invent another dish from what I couldn't finish. I am baking a rum-raisin pudding right now.

The flurries are over now and the sun is out. Bah humbug. Fact checking for this post, I just learned more things about millet which you should know. Millet is gluten-free, originates from Asia and is an excellent source of iron and protein, and is low in fat and cholesterol. Millet is also full of goitrogens. What are goitrogens, you ask? Goitrogens are compounds which interfere with the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, leading to hypothyroidism and goiter! Egads! What have I done? I'm turning off the pudding now, which was beginning to smell lovely. If you start to notice goiters on squirrels, birdseed may be the culprit. Just kidding.

Actually, this mention of birdseed and critters brings me full-circle to a true, albeit porridgey, story of rodents behaving as humans a la Peter Rabbit:

Years ago, when I used to step out my back door, the hills were covered in virgin forest as far as the eye could see. The back border of our yard is a natural rivulet called Snake Creek. In fact, our property is bisected diagonally by the creek at one corner, but since the land on the other side is only a handful of square feet, it's hardly worth claiming. We had built a little bridge over the creek in our early years here, and had arranged logs on the other side where we could sit quietly in the thick of nature, our house not even visible in the verdant summers. One day things changed, as they tend to. A rumbling engine signaled the end of our wilderness, which had never really been ours after all. With a crash, a towering pine took out our bridge and a couple sections of our wooden fence. The kindly equipment drivers were mortified and apologetic, and all was made good in the end.

Soon after the hills were denuded, my neighbors and I began noticing something curious. Bold little families of black rats began hanging out in our front yards! I say "bold" because they were seriously unfazed by our close proximity and our scrutiny of them. They had chosen the front yards because the dogs were in the back yards, of course. The rat families seemed to be lounging upon a manicured expanse of green, enjoying their tea. I'm as big a fan of adorable house vermin in waistcoats with good manners as the next girl, but in the real world roof rats are no fairy tale, so we proactively paid the big bucks to have the edges of our roof wrapped in galvanized steel (the rats chew the wooden sheathing to get inside). That's when we stopped feeding the birds, since we were also told rats are big fans of birdseed. Avoiding goiter must not be a top priority for them. When the construction of the new neighborhood was completed, and the heavy equipment gone, The little rat tea parties on the green ceased. Actually, since there is still quite an expanse of land between our home and the one behind, the tea parties are likely now taking place just across Snake Creek, where we used to sit on upended logs. With the rats' role as Beatrix Potter protagonists reestablished in my mind, I'm much more fond of them.

Porridgey anecdotes aside, my discovery today about millet underscores the importance of our taking charge of our health proactively as we make changes for the better. I've changed my lifestyle primarily for health reasons, so incorporating something harmful into my diet makes no sense. There are too many other alternatives. It obviously behooves each of us to thoroughly research ingredients which may be new to us. At the risk of wrecking the millet/birdseed industry, I'm urging you to do a little research yourself before you decide. As for me, I'm back on the Irish oats, which I liked better anyway!

Voluptuous Food

Here's a big, giant, luscious salad I made the day after Christmas. This is a dinner plate -- not a salad plate. This salad was mine . . . all mine!! I'd have made a bigger one if there had been any other takers, but we were all running around packing for our trip to Boston, and I seemed to be the only one concerned with not wasting the Christmas dinner leftovers. This salad was so good, decadent, filling and soothing. It was easy to make too. It was simply a big pile of baby spinach, leftover roasted potatoes and onions, leftover roasted Brussels sprouts, a whole avocado (!that's right!) white truffle oil and a generous squeeze of lemon.

In the colder weather, I'm craving fattier fare. All the healthy fats here were perfect for stoking and supporting a winter system. Calorie count? Don't know, don't care!

Being a creative veggie-eater doesn't have to be complicated. We can make magic when we think outside the box. Nuts, seeds, olives, capers, raisins, dates, noodles, rice, bread, all veggies --raw, marinated, pickled, roasted, steamed, chutneys, relishes, whatever your favorites are -- throw 'em on a pile of greens and chow down guilt-free!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy Birthday Mama

Remembering my mom this second Christmas season without her, red cardinals have gotten my attention. I've been reaping the benefits of yoga these last few months, where one little red cardinal has been a frequent visitor, pecking on the windows of the studio almost every day. Eventually, I began to notice that a memory of Mom often preceded the bird's visit. He would come and go, and some days I'd forget all about him until Mom's pretty face popped into my mind and then I would hear the "tap .... tap, tap" again. The cardinal has been an appropriate messenger from Mom, always drawing to mind her red lipstick -- the only makeup she ever wore. One of Santa's elves put this token in my stocking this year:

Here she is, Jeanine McKenzie Allen, in a photo taken not so long ago. Can you see why the red bird resonates? I'm the luckiest girl in the world to have had this angel for a mother -- so many blessings.

Mom would have been 74 today. Happy Birthday Mama -- I love you.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Thank goodness collard greens and garlic are always happy waiting for me in the 'fridge for a week or so. We returned from a whirlwind trip to the Boston area only a couple of hours ago, and my good luck New Year's Day Black Eyed Peas were easy to whip up in a jiffy from what I already had on hand. After a fun-filled-toe-freezing "First Night" walk all around Boston last night, we were finally nestled all snug in our hotel beds (albeit still bone-chilled) at around 2:30 a.m. Somebody snores sometimes, so by the time the wake up call sounded at 6:30 a.m., most of us had slept for only an hour or two. Hustling to our early morning flight thus impaired was no joke, and we all are in a bit of a fog this New Year's Day 2014. Needless to say, I was not up to a grocery run, so was very happy I could make this dish so easily without getting out of the pajamas I had quickly donned upon our arrival home. The canned black eyed peas were rinsed and quickly fried in olive oil along with three smashed garlic cloves and half a bunch of collards. I added a little salt, quickly stirred it around and voila -- good luck in a bowl.

We visited three wonderful families while in the Boston area -- folks who knew us decades ago before we were hitched. Among many other attributes, Boston has amazing pubs, and we had wicked good pub food -- lots of it! Aside from cold salads, however, greens did not figure into the pub food, and even the kids missed them. This bowlful fit the bill today. This is how we do it in the South!

We had a wonderful trip, and are so grateful for dear friends, but there is no place like home!