Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HO! HO! HO!

I've been meaning to post this for at least a week but computer glitches and phone-line overload have prevented that from happening. I will keep my fingers crossed as I type, save and (hopefully!) publish this entry.

I prepared a special vegan Spanikopita for a client's Christmas Eve party last week. I was dying to cut into it, but had to restrain myself for presentation sake.


I consider making Spanikopita a Zen-like experience. It's one of those foods that you need to 1) be patient with and 2) make while listening to good music (I chose Abba's Greatest Hits to sing along to).
Start with a hefty amount of fresh dill and parsley. Chop until they are itty bitty little shreds and the pile is half the size as when you started. [NOTE: It helps to have "Dancing Queen" playing while you do this.]

Combine in a large bowl with a big bag of spinach and your tofu, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and nutritional yeast mixture. Then get ready to prepare the layers of filo.


Lay about 12 sheets of filo in an oiled baking pan, spreading each sheet generously with olive oil. Then spread the filling in evenly and lay another 12 oiled layers of filo on top.



Be sure to score the surface with a knife so that the pieces won't crumble after you cut into it once it's baked. This baby gets covered with foil then gets popped into a preheated 375 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 and cook uncovered for about 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.


I had to take mine out a little early since it was going to be heated a second time for the party and I didn't want it to get too browned and crumbly. But it still looked pretty tempting.

Dessert was a chocolate cake with Godiva liquor between layers topped by a chocolate raspberry tofu cream and garnished with some pretty little craisins and mint leaves. Alas, it's a sad affair not to be able to dig right in...


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dinner for 8

Yesterday I had a request to prepare dinner for a holiday party at St. Francis Hospital's Preventive Medicine Center. Nothing fancy smancy, just the entree (and then I threw in a dozen double chocolate chocolate chip cookies for good measure).


It’s been awhile since I worked at a restaurant, and as a personal chef cooking primarily for families I generally prepare a maximum of 4 servings for each entree. This was a little different from my normal routine, but I quickly relearned the process of completing multiple servings of an identical meal so that they’re all done at the same time. So it was assembly line time in the kitchen of Well on Wheels.



I chose a menu that looked festive with plenty of bright red bell pepper red and mustard greens green for contrast. The flavors were equally complementary, with a sweet and spicy theme from the peppers, caremelized onion and spicy mango sauce and sharp bite of the mustard greens. I think I may have to make this one for myself soon.

This recipe was inspired by one I found in the January issue of Vegetarian Times which called for a sauce made with spicy mango chutney. I’m really loving this shredded mango chutney made by Kitchens of India. It works well in this tofu sautee, and I bet it would be equally delish accompanying a rich coconut curry.


I’m also thinking… I know this sounds kinda weird… a little dollop atop a scoop of vanilla soy ice cream, or better still Purely Decadent coconut ice cream, would be heavenly. oooo… if only the health food store was open past 7:00.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nataz "Adventures in Eating"

Now, when you see a banner like that hanging on the front entrance of a restaurant, you either think "yeah, sure" or "ok, let's see." We opted for the latter and gave Nataz in North Branford a shot at adventurous dining.

The concept is simple: price fixe four-course meals and BYOB. The catch is... there's no menu. The dinners are different every night, which makes it an adventure for most diners. And a potential hazard for vegans. Fortunately, we spoke with owner and executive chef, Rik, prior to arriving to be sure he could accommodate my no-eggs, no-dairy, no-gluten request, and he went out of his way to do so. In fact, the service here is the best I've ever enjoyed. Waitstaff is pleasant and attentive, and Rik spends half his time out on the floor greeting and serving guests (unless there's a twin doing double-duty in the kitchen... that could be the secret).



He prepared a special appetizer of Fruit Ceviche, a citrus marinated mix of fresh pear, pineapple and tomato, while my companion got a mini Caprese Salad with an assortment of artisan cheezes arranged on a platter like an artist's pallette.


My salad was mixed greens, fresh pineapple and pear slices tossed with a balsamic vinagrette. It would've been topped by a tangle of breaded and fried onion strips, but alas, these were coated in flour so I had to forgo the crunchy treats (and who needs those pesky trans fats anyway?). A basket of warm and toasty bread and a tray of accoutrements such as herbed olive oil, fresh butter and white bean compote accompanied the salad.
For my entree, Chef Rik prepared a primavera with mushrooms in a marsala wine sauce atop rice. It was a colorful array of snap peas, zucchini, yellow squash, tomato and carrot, and flavorful (though I added a bit of the herbed olive oil and fresh black pepper to perk it up - next time I'll remember my vegan Parm!).


My dessert was almost a reprise of my appetizer, minus the pickled flavor. Still, I can't complain about a champagne glass filled with fresh pineapple, strawberries and mango. The perfect palate cleanser.

All in all, I enjoyed my dining experience, mostly because of the effort made by the chef and his staff. I know it's tough for a "regular" restaurant to please a vegan. This kinda reminded me of going to my mom's house for dinner; it's just nice to be home.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cookies

This weekend I baked a lot of cookies. Probably about 6 dozen. It was for a good cause, the Unitarian Universalist Society of New Haven was having a craft fair and bake sale. Thanks to all who stopped by for some goodies. And special thanks to Dianna, Budget Babe and photographer extroardinaire, for the fab photos.




Small batches of cookies (Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip Pecan Craisin, Double Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Toasted Coconut Almond) and a test run of Vanilla Cupcakes with Pomegranate Pink Frosting. Most were gluten-free. I think I'll have to make this an annual event.


Afterward, I dropped off a bunch of cupcakes and cookies to the Food Not Bombs kids serving the homeless vegan dinners on the New Haven Green. It was really cold out there, so I hope these sweets warmed them up a bit. Thanks, Donna, for the phone #!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pot au Pho

Brrrr.... it's nights like this - frigid, windswept and threatening - when I find myself craving pho, that delectably light, yet warm and satisfying Vietnamese soup that's a one-bowl meal. Last night was no exception. We had a holiday party on the late night agenda, yet being that I knew my dining options would be limited once we arrived, the plan was to eat ahead. So we headed downtown to Whitney Ave. to this reliable little hideaway.

Set up a flight of stairs from the streetside Asian apothecary, Pot au Pho is a cozy spot for an informal, inexpensive and quick meal. The upstairs has two tables with limited seating, so you're welcomed downstairs to join the small but lively college crowd that typically gathers most weeknights.

We started our meal with the summer rolls, thin rice paper packages filled with rice noodles, shredded cabbage and fresh basil accompanied by a peanut dipping sauce and spiralized pickled carrot salad. I chose the Soup Chay for my entree, a humungous bowl brimming with clear broth flavored with Star Anise, baby bok choy, carrot rounds, shiitake mushrooms and chunks of steamed tofu. It's amazing how such light fare can prove to be so filling.


I had my heart set on the delectable banana tapioca pudding for dessert and requested it at the beginning of the meal, only to be crushed when told they had already sold out. This is no ordinary pudding. It's the perfect blend of creaminess with the warmed bananas and chewy tapioca all bathed in a decadent coconut milk cream. I think I may have to make a special trip there this week to get my just desserts.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Holiday Survival Guide for Vegans


I must admit, I have mixed feelings when it comes to holidays. While it's great to get together with family and friends we don't often see, it can be difficult to be seated at a table overflowing with pot roast, sliced ham and meatballs. I often find that this can add to the typical stresses of shopping, wrapping presents, gift giving and driving around from party to party.

To keep upbeat this holiday season, I've prepared a few simple party tips for vegans. Let's call it the "Holiday Survival Guide for Vegans." Whether it's your party or someone else's, the most important thing is to think like a Boy Scout and always be prepared. Oh yeah, and try to have fun, too.


1. Plan ahead. You might want to call the host or hostess to let them know ahead what you can and can't eat. Ask if there's a special dish you can bring to share with others. This will help make it easier on your host/hostess and also ensure there's at least one thing you can eat.


2. Eat ahead. If you don't know what will be on the menu, eat a full meal ahead of time so you won't wither away at the dinner table.


3. Grab a snack. I always pack a snack in my pocketbook just in case hunger pangs strike before, during or after the party. Fresh fruits like oranges and apples, dried fruits and nuts travel particularly well. Larabar makes a great raw snack that keeps well, too.


4. Drink plenty of water. Hold onto a glass of water throughout the evening and take a few sips here and there to help hydrate and prevent headaches. This will also make you feel less hungry if you haven't found much to graze on.


5. Breathe deeply. Think of the delicious meal you're about to enjoy or the one you've already eaten at home as you inhale and exhale deeply. Visualize a pleasant dining experience of good conversation, a bounty of food and peaceful contentment.


6. Take small bites. If you're lucky enough to be gathered at a table which includes an array of veggies among the offerings, don't hesitate to take a second serving. Then make it last as long as you can.


7. Compliment your host/hostess. Enjoy what you can, and let the chef know how much you appreciate that they included some yummy foods you can eat.


If you'll be hosting your own holiday party this year, BRAVO! Make it a healthy and compassionate one for all to enjoy. For tips on creating the perfect vegan table, please read the article in Veg Family's Magazine for Vegan Family Living.


Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Food is elementary



For the past two days I've had the priviledge to attend a food educator training session for the "Food is Elementary" curriculum developed by Dr. Antonia Demas of the Food Studies Institute. Words can't express how impressed I am with this organization and the amazing work Dr. Demas does. Her program teaches children of all ages about healthy food and nutrition through hands-on multi-cultural lessons that engage all of the senses. And it's real nutrition, too, about vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans (not the typical USDA Food Pyramid nutrition stuff that encourages the consumption of meat and dairy).

The training session was geared specifically for teachers who have volunteered to become part of a pilot program to incorporate these lessons into their regular curriculum. I commend all of them for their incredible enthusiasm, creativity and commitment, as it was a pleasure to share this learning experience with everyone.

Even though I consider myself to be relatively well-versed in vitamins and nutrients, there was still plenty to learn, particularly in the methodology department. Most important, I liked the "No YUCK" rule. Antonia explained that students should be introduced to these new foods gradually, in a safe environment, encouraged - but not forced - to try them. First with smelling and touching, then with taste. It's ok if somebody doesn't like what they eat, as long as they politely indicate this... maybe with a "this is different" or "I've never tasted something like that before" comment. This encourages a sense of freedom and independence so that children learn to appreciate the food on their own. No more cajoling or demanding "Eat it! It's GOOD for you!!"

For most of the teachers, this food was new, too. We created and sampled staple dishes from a variety of ethnic traditions, including Egyptian, Italian, Soul Food and Native American. Who knew okra could taste so divine?! Our group was assigned the task of walking like Egyptians, and we created this lovely Bulgar Wheat Pyramid Pilaf with Dried Apricots, Pistachios and Pomegranate Seeds.

Our main meal consisted of a Barley Salad with Leeks, Artichoke Hearts and Fresh Dill. It couldn't be any easier: simply soak your barley in water, rinse, then put in a pot with water and bring to a boil. Cover it and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Dump it into a collander to drain off any extra liquid. Then return the pot to the burner and sautee leeks and artichoke hearts in olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the barley, some frozen peas, fresh chopped dill and a little salt and you're done. Delish!


We also read the lesson plan on the Egyptian culture, learning that the slaves who built the great pyramids ate a diet consisting solely of bread, onions and beer. How's that for the perfect fuel?!










Friday, November 28, 2008

Ooo, you're a holiday

I'm really happy with the way everything turned out yesterday. The soup was the best, and the rest of the meal was pretty good, too. I was actually quite surprised that I finished making everything about an hour before guests arrived and had time to play some tug-of-war with my dog. Afterward, she waited patiently under the table, eyeing the front door for any movement.


Earlier in the day, NPR affiliate WPKN 89.5 FM aired a little segment on vegetarian Thanksgivings and interviewed me to find out what I'd be serving. Thank you Melinda Tuhus for inviting me to speak on your fabulous program, The Forest and the Trees! Here's the menu:

Gingered Winter Vegetable Bisque
Cornmeal Crusted Tofu Cutlets with Crimini Mushroom Gravy
Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Parnsips
Brussles Sprouts and Broccoli with Shallots
Minted Wild Rice Pilaf with Dried Cranberries, Toasted Pine Nuts and Orange Zest
Maple-Glazed Butternut Squash with Pecan Praline
Mixed Berry Applesauce


After dinner, we indulged in Pumpkin Pie, Apple Crumble and Chocolate Chip Cookies. Sorry... we were too busy stuffing ourselves to stop for a picture. Then we collapsed by the fire and bid a fond adieu to another Thanksgiving.

Anyone have any stories to share? I love a good story...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksliving

It's 10:00. Do you know where your turkeys are? Hopefully, they're all gobbling away at Farm Sanctuary in bucolic Watkins Glen, NY.

As I write, there is a pot of Gingered Winter Vegetable Bisque simmering away on the stove. This will be the first course of my mini-epic Thanksgiving Feast which I will be hosting at my home tomorrow afternoon. I hope it sets the perfect mood... No politics. No religion. No talk about the weather. Nothing but mmmm...

[ed. note: I needed to take a break because that buttercup squash just smelled too good to resist.]

I am now sitting happily, a warm bowl of soup in my tummy. This is the perfect way to take the edge off a cold autumn day. For an added kick and contrast to the creamy sweetness of the squash, I decided to top the soup with green onion and toasted spiced sunflower seeds. Chili powder, cinnamon, sea salt and a tiny pinch of cayenne sauteed in about 1 Tbl of Earth Balance, then tossed with the sunflower seeds until they sizzle and pop. Ooo, it smells heavenly.

I limited myself to an itty bitty serving so as not to skimp on my Thanksgiving guests. Quite a challenge, but it will give me something to look forward to tomorrow.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oven-baked Polenta with Portobella Mushroom Sauce, Wild Rice and Zucchini Spears


This morning I was in the mood for mushrooms. Not just any mushrooms, but big, juicy portobellas. So I decided to recreate a dish inspired by a meal I had eaten at the Shoreline Diner in Guilford this summer.

One of the things I love most about my business is being able to experiment with food and sharing the end results with my clients. Today's entree is a typical example. I wanted a rich, hearty sauce that would complement the mushrooms and sit atop toasty polenta rounds without getting them too mushy. For a pleasing color contrast to the reddish brown sauce, I decided to do half moons of zucchini cut at a sharp angle, then sauteed lightly in olive oil and garlic with just a few sprinkles of sea salt to bring out the sweetness. A couple zings of fresh chopped parsley perked everything up just right. And since it's fall, I had to do some wild rice to emphasize the earthiness of the dish. I must say, this was divine.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

What's for dinner? Turkish delights!


Last night we were faced with the perennial quandry, "What's for dinner?'' Our first thought was to try the new Kumo Japanese restaurant that opened downtown. It's the second location for this sushi, hibachi and Japanese steakhouse in the New Haven area, the original being located on Skiff Street in Hamden. I wanted a show. I wanted entertainment. I wanted veggies. But I just couldn't get past the "Steakhouse" part of the name, so we opted instead for Istanbul Cafe, the cozy Turkish restaurant on Crown Street.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Lotsa lamb. Exactly. I mean, it's nearly impossible to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant without being surrounded by kabobs and animals roasting on a spit. But it's so cozy in there. And with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees and a windchill making the air much more frigid, this is what came to mind. Plus, they make a delicious vegetarian red lentil soup.

I recommend their lovely Soquk Meze platter, which offers a sampling of most of their vegetarian appetizers: Nohut Ezme, Patlican Salata, Antep Ezme, Ispanak Ezme, Yaprak Dolma and carrot salad. It is arranged beautifully on a decent sized plate in a thick, colorful ring, almost like a painter's pallette. Note, however, that the Ispanak Ezme and Carrot Salad are made with yogurt, so you'll have to let the non-vegan in your party indulge in those. Everything else is suitable for a vegan. These tasty spreads are served with a basket of warm, crisp and chewy flat bread that I was forced to sample in spite of my gluten sensitivity.

Along with the red lentil soup, I ordered the Imam Bayildi, which is technically an appetizer, but the two together combined to form a perfectly satisfying entree. The Imam Bayildi is a tender baby eggplant served at room temperature that has been roasted in olive oil, stuffed with a blend of green pepper, sautéed onion, garlic, tomato and parsley, and sprinkled with pine nuts. According to the website, "legend has it that a Muslim cleric once ate this dish and was so overwhelmed by its splendid taste that he fainted. It is a rich vegetarian choice." I very nearly swooned each time I took a bite.

As we sat back after our meal in the cushioned and silky festooned booth, to sip some wine and gaze around at our fellow patrons, we noticed a woman reaching for an accordian. "Does she really have an accordian?" I asked. Indeed, she did. And her dining companions matched her musicality by pulling out a clarinet, hand drum and trumpet. For the next half an hour, they seranaded us fortunate few souls brave enough to be out on such a chilly evening with wistful Turkish delights that had many of us clapping and humming along.
Now THAT'S entertainment.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dining Out: Bentara


Last night this vegan enjoyed a special birthday dinner for a special person at one of New Haven's most popular restaurants, Bentara. We've eaten here on numerous occasions, and the reason why we keep returning is because the atmosphere has that perfect combination of subdued and lively, plus the food is delicious.

Almost always it seems as if we're surrounded by Yale grad students and professors letting loose after a long day of philosophizing. And the conversations continue while slurping down curried rice fettuccini.

I love a restaurant kitchen that can accommodate special requests. Bentara never disappoints on this account. They don't even flinch when I ask that the traditional Pechal appetizer be made without the shrimp paste, and it still tastes fabulous with the slightly spicy peanut sauce drizzled atop a warm stack of bean sprouts, green beans, cucumber, jicama and shredded carrot. It's the perfect way to start a meal.

It's tough deciding on an entree. Again, just about anything on the menu can be modified so that it is vegan-friendly. Last night I had a craving for thick rice noodles, so I ordered the Mee Kari, a noodle soup with a rich, thick coconut curry broth and bits of cabbage, carrot, potato, bean sprouts and green onion. Halfway through the deep bowl I inevitably find myself saying "please, no more!" but it's so good that I almost always stuff myself to the brim and finish the whole thing. Last night I practiced rare restraint (knowing that there were two heaping servings of vegan chocolate pudding waiting in the fridge at home) and asked to have the remaining curry packed up to go. It made for a perfectly satisfying lunch this afternoon, particularly after being augmented by some broccoli and bok choy.

If you're a vegan in search of a good meal in New Haven, be sure to head to this sophisticated little eatery for some flavorful treats.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Favorite recipe: Chocolate Ambrosia Tart


I've been making this recipe for some time now, and it has become one of my favorites for the following reasons: it works any time of the year, is easy to make, tastes delicious, looks impressive and everyone likes it, even non-vegans. Whenever I have a party to go to, I bring this along because it looks so pretty and festive. And no one would ever guess the secret ingredient is avocados. Yes, that's right, 2 or 3 ripe and creamy avocados.

For a raw recipe, it's really quite simple. Simply pulse everything for the crust in your food processor and press it into a tart pan, making sure to get plenty of the crumbly stuff into the fluted edges so it will look pretty when it's taken out of the form. Or, if you don't have one of those fancy pans (but really, you should buy one just for this purpose... they're only $9), you can use a regular pie pan or even a spring-form cake pan.

While the crust is firming up in the refrigerator, puree all the filling ingredients in your handy Vita-Mix high-speed blender. If you don't have one of those, you can just use the food processor again. Then spread the creamy pudding into your prepared tart and refrigerate a couple of hours to firm it up. Garnish it with fresh cut berries (sure, summer is best for those perfectly ripe strawberries, but even frozen will work), and you're good to go. I think I'm gonna do this for Thanksgiving!

Nearly Raw Chocolate Ambrosia Tart with Nut Crust
(from Raw Food Made Easy by Jennifer Cornbleet)

Crust:
1 cup walnuts (soaked, rinsed and drained)
1 cup pecans (soaked, rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup Medjool dates
1 Tbl raw agave syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt

Finely chop walnuts and pecans in a food processor, then add dates, agave syrup, cinnamon and sea salt and puree until it begins to stick together. Press into pie pan and refrigerate while preparing filling.

Filling:
1 cup Medjool dates
½ cup agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla
3 avocados, mashed
¾ cup cocoa powder
½ cup water (approx.)

In a food processor, puree dates, agave and vanilla together until smooth. Add avocado and cocoa and puree until creamy. Pour into prepared tart shell and garnish with fresh berries.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Preventing Childhood Obesity: Go Vegan!


Connecticut's Department of Public Health and Commission on Children in collaboration with the Childhood Obesity Council recently held a conference at the Legislative Office Building to address the growing concern over childhood obesity. According to DPH Commissioner Dr. J. Robert Gavin, the rates of childhood obesity in our state as well as the nation are staggering. "The number of children aged 6 to 11 in our society that public health defines as 'obese,' has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The rate among adolescents aged 12 to 19 has more than tripled."

Children who are obese are at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and other degenerative diseases and are more likely than children of normal weight to become obese as adults. It's frightening to think what long-term effect poor diet and lack of exercise can have on our next generation.

Fortunately, there are many progressive minds working together to proactively address this issue. Educators are turning this crisis into an opportunity by offering newly designed food and fitness programs to elementary school students throughout the state and teaching our young children about the benefits of a plant-based diet. YAY Fruits and Veggies!!
To learn more about the initiatives underway, visit the Connecticut Commission on Childhood Obesity and Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It's the Bees, Honey

“We’re very close to the breaking point of what’s enough and what’s not enough. Honey bees are not healthy.” - Jerry Hayes, President, Apiary Inspectors of America


"Western honey bees, or European honey bees (Apis mellifera), are still weak, unhealthy and continue to disappear in massive numbers since Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was identified in the fall of 2006. At least one-third of all the commercial honey bee colonies in the United States and United Kingdom have collapsed as of 2008. There might not be enough pollinators for the 2009 season, forcing food growers to seek out other pollinators in Australia, Argentina and perhaps even the Africanized bees based in Mexico that have spread north into the southern United States."

- Linda Moulton Howe (2008)

If you're not worried yet, you should be. Bees make honey. But they need flowers to do so. When the flowers are treated with pesticides, the bees don't die immediately, but their memory is disrupted. That means they can't find their way back to their hives, or to the flowers, and ultimately, they die. Which means flowers don't get pollinated, and fruits and vegetables don't get produced.

Maybe you've noticed this phenomenon in your garden. Everyone I know who had a garden this summer complained about low tomato yields and withered cucumberless cucumber vines. There was plenty of clement weather, lots of hot sun and optimal rain. Something is missing from this picture: the bees.
Read about the plight of honeybees and your future here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My friend Consiglio

Sometimes it's tough being a vegan. Or, let me qualify that. . . being a gluten-free vegan. Going out to eat with friends inevitably proves to be a challenge unless you plan ahead. Most vegans can do well by choosing ethnic, as most Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and even Italian restaurants can accommodate us with only minor tweaking to their menus. But when you eliminate gluten, it pretty much rules out everything.

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. So that means pasta is out of the question. I've lived in New Haven for two years and have yet to sample one of its famous pizzas. (sad, I know) No more lo mein noodles. And even soba - which are technically buckwheat noodles and ok for the gluten-intolerant - usually are made with some wheat, and therefore off limits. Same goes for soy sauce which is made with fermented wheat and soy (read the label).

So I was at a quandry when invited to go to Consiglio's, one of New Haven's finest Italian institutions. What to do. What to do. I called ahead and asked if they served risotto, thinking they might possibly be able to make a veggie risotto sans dairy. They assured me they could. I was pleasantly surprised, asked again just to be doubly sure, and had my request confirmed. When we were seated and ready to order, I calmly (albeit abit reservedly) made my request. He pleasantly responded that the chef would be happy to do that for me. What shock!

A minute later, amidst good cheer and conversation, my world came crashing down: no risotto for Mary. The waiter informed me that they could not make the risotto to order because it would take too long and, frankly, would be pretty listless without all those gobs of cheese. I did my best to hold my head up after receiving this dreadful news. And then we spent the next 15 minutes or so scavaging the menu for veggies which could be concocted into an impromptu dinner suitable for a gluten-free vegan. I am pleased to report that the end result was far superior to your standard risotto primavera.

This dish is now my new standby for Italian restaurants. Grilled eggplant with marinara, broccoli rabe in olive oil and garlic, white beans and calamata olives. Mmmmm... DEEEElish! Take a look:

It is now confirmed> a gluten-free vegan CAN eat dinner at an Italian restaurant in New Haven. YAY!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cold pasteurized = Irradiation

There's something to be said about euphemisms. . . They're part of our culture. They're polite ways of expressing often difficult subjects. Oh, and also, sometimes they're blatantly deceptive.

Take for example this new label created by the FDA: cold pasteurized. Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn't it? I think that's the point. Normally, when we think of pasteurization, we think "milk" and "Louis Pasteur" and that process he invented to kill bacteria and make drinking milk "safe." (all of which I think is mass propaganda masquerading as food safety anyway, but that's beside the point) While I choose not to drink milk for other reasons, those who do consume it are lead to believe that this process makes it safe to drink.

Now, what would you think if you were told your milk was irradiated? Quite different, huh. That word conjures up all sorts of negative connotations, like x-rays and mutation and cancer. And rightly so. Even the federal government doesn't know quite what irradiation does to food, and yet the FDA has approved its use on dried herbs, spice mixes and processed foods.

According to the World Health Organization (1991), "the genuine effect of processing food by ionizing radiation relates to damages to the DNA, the basic genetic information for life. . . Spoilage-causing micro-organisms cannot continue their activities. . . Plants cannot continue the natural ripening or aging process."

Sounds to me like an attempt to control the Laws of Nature.

Now I suppose you could just avoid all products labeled cold pasteurized, right? Well, that's easier said than done. You see, the government does not require companies to label their products as such. And, even when companies do so voluntarily, they use this pretty little leafy icon:

If I saw that, it would make me want to buy a jar of 10-month old dried basil that had been zapped by ionizing radiation, not avoid it. The problem gets messier. How do you label spinach? You see, the FDA has recently approved the use of cold pasteurization (irradiation, remember) on fresh spinach and lettuce. Even if it's organic. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Now how would you label a leafy green?!! You can't. And there's no way of knowing whether or not your produce has been effected by this new policy.

If you're like me, you'll avoid all those 99 cent bottled herbs at CVS, as well as anything frozen, packaged or canned, and start growing your own greens. Oh, and also, write to your congressperson to let them know, too.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

California coming home


I just returned from a trip to sunny California - San Francisco to be exact. Even though it's been about 15 years since my last visit, something about it still feels like home. . . maybe it's the sunshine, the crisp ocean breezes, the early morning mist, the fog that rises up over the Bay, the rocky, windy coastal highway, and the way strangers engage in conversation at the moment you're seeking conversation instead of being intrusive. Somehow, you feel less alone.

I've heard it said many times that "it's the light." The way the West Coast sun shines on things gives a different impression -- almost a glow -- in the way a person who is in love has a face that just beams brightly. San Francisco is a city in love, eager to share its joy with anyone who wants to belong.

The first four days of my visit were spent lodging along Fisherman's Wharf at the Fort Mason hostel. I know, I know... a hostel... "Aren't those just for young people?" "Don't you have to be a member?" "Aren't the rooms horrendous?" Well, no, not exactly. Technically, they're budget accommodations for those who travel. You get a bed, linens, breakfast every morning and free use of the kitchen to make your own meals if you choose. Sure, you share your room with 3-4 other people and the bathroom and showers are down the hall, but how can you beat $26 a night in San Francisco??! It's kinda like returning to the dorm days of college, only minus the keg parties and self-absorbed cliques. Even families with young kids make a go of it, and everyone respects each other's space and privacy, so it's a pretty nice arrangement. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that the social aspects made traveling solo feel less lonely. Check out the view of the Wharf from outside the back entrance:

Later in the week I ventured to the hostel at Union Square, which was quite a different experience. Instead of the ocean sounds of seagulls and foghorns to lull me awake each morning, there were busses and cars and "street people" and the light of a parking garage across the street to kept me awake all night. Ah, that's excitement for you. Nonetheless, considering the Hilton shared the same corner as my lowly hotel, I felt I got another bargain. All their guests walked out onto the same street every day as I did.

Once I get all of my photos uploaded and cropped, I'll have more to Blog about. . . the restaurants, Slow Food Nation conference, Slow Food Rocks concert, Green Gulch and SF Zen Center, Muir Woods, Sausalito, Muir Beach, the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park. . . (sigh. . . ).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Canoe, Can you?


It really feels like summer lately, with the hot sunny days followed by afternoon thunderstorms. And there's nothing I like more than to get out to the water to cool off on those balmy afternoons. Whether it's the ocean or a lake, or even a stream that I can wade in, something about flowing water is so peaceful that troubles seem to just drift away...


One of my favorite water past-times is canoeing. Many, many years ago I was escorted on my first canoe trip by my ex-husband while we were still dating. (I think canoes really are the best way to bond.) Our vessel was a beatup and borrowed metal hulk of a thing, but it was clean inside and it floated. For a 6-pack of beer, his friend let us take it out on the lake for a day and even helped hitch it to the roof of George's Ford Fairmont with some rope and a few towels to protect that fine mottled grey paintjob. I knew nothing of paddling, so this first excursion was an opportunity to enjoy the scenery, do some birdwatching (hello, heron!) and get a sunburn. Ah, the joys of youth.


Here it is nearly 20 years later, and I found myself bookended in the hull of another canoe, also paddleless and still enjoying the scenery. We spotted several egrets, ospreys, willets and herring gulls, one of which nearly dropped its fishy lunch into our lap. The current was strong after two days of steady rain as we meandered unassisted under two overpasses and into a swirl of whirlpools and waves. I think the fact that it was high tide as we started down the Branford River towards the beach and returned up river amidst a receding tide had something to do with the adventure that followed.


We couldn't make it back. Yeah, I know. Pretty lame. We did put in a valiant effort, but the little waterfalls we effortlessly rode down suddenly became Indiana Jones quests to ride back up. So we had to get out three times and walk the canoe to safer waters. The first bridge had a nice little path alongside the river, as if others had followed a similar course. The next one was a little more rocky as we upset a roosting pigeon and slipped on the slimy rocks getting out. The third time proved fatal to my left flip-flop which got sucked into ankle-deep quicksand-like mud and refused to release itself from my foot. A struggle ensued. Alas, my flip-flop lost. But we're survivors. And it was still pretty fun.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What's growin' on?


Eary this spring I took a training class at Community TV in Hamden to learn how to use a digital camera and editing equipment in order to produce a show for public access tv. I had high hopes of doing a cooking show since everyone keeps telling me I should do one (peer pressure, ya know). Then I started digging in the garden, and became a little distracted...


That cooking show idea is on hiatus while I tend to my Chapelseed garden. I seeded my tiny plot back in April with radish, broccoli rabe, snow peas, snap peas, nasturtiums, tomatoes, stringbeans and basil. If you scroll down a bit, you can see how things looked way back then, a mere 3 months ago. The radish have now been harvested and eaten. The broccoli rabe was enjoyed for a couple meals until it bolted. I've picked an armload of snap peas and the snow peas will be sauteed in a stirfry tonight. I was even lucky enough to have adopted a patch of asparagus from a previous tenant.
Now, the nasturtiums have taken over, spilling past the borders and into my neighbor's plot, though we agree it's nice having their bright and cheerful presence while we water. And the bees love them. The flowers also make a pretty, peppery addition to salads.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Giant


There's a lot to be said about two-wheel locomotion. Mostly, I'm glad to be back in the saddle again.

About a month ago I had the misfortune of getting my bike stolen literally right before my eyes (well... almost). I thought the safety of my garage would be enough to foil the average petty thief, but alas, my landlady left her side wide open a few nights in a row and that must have been enough of an inticement for the criminal element to swoop in. When I walked around my car that morning something seemed amiss. "What the...??" Had someone moved my bike? (yeah, that was my brilliant initial conclusion.) Then it finally sunk in: OOHH, I get it, someone stole my bike! Well that sucks. Instead of riding to the garden I walked there, through the park, past a drug-fueled tete-a-tete, picking up the pace whilst humming a happy little ditty to myself in order not to fall into despair. I made it there in 15 minutes, but it just wasn't the same. So my mission for the past few weeks had been to get some new wheels.

I purchased my green Trek Antelope mountain bike in 1992 with the aid of my husband at the time. I knew nothing about bikes so he picked it out for me, being that he was a cyclist and could take it apart and put it back together while I tied my hair in a poneytail. I liked it, though. It was chunky and sharp, and made me feel invincible riding it through the park. I was looking forward to trips to and from the Chapelseed garden this summer, so I was crushed to discover it missing about a month ago. All that changed last week when I took some new bikes for a spin at the Amity Bike Shop in Woodbridge.

My budget was limited: basically, I have none. So I was looking on Craigslist for something cheap I could pay cash for, figuring maybe a Yale student might have something decent they're willing to part with at the end of the semester. My hopes fell short - I rode a couple that needed tune-ups or were just plain icky. And then my Economic Stimulus Check arrived in the mail (thank you, George Bush, though I still hate you). $398 - just enough for a bike and a new helmet, with about $10 left over.

I chose the Giant Cypress hybrid - a nice little road bike with fatter tires that make it suitable for rides on hiking trails and paths through the woods, which is about as adventurous as I get. It's blue and it makes me happy. And compared to what I'm used to, it's speedy, too. I like those grip shifters which make it so much easier to ride. I never knew which gear I was in before. So, in a way, whoever stole my bike propelled me into the modern age with this new contraption. All is well again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Candle 79 & Babycakes


This weekend I had the pleasure of exploring two vegan hotspots in New York City. We began our journey at Candle 79, the spiffy uptown cousin of Candle Cafe. The meal opened with a delightful little amous bouche of avocado and tomato mole on sesame rice cracker. I could've dipped an entire bag of those chips into the kitchen's guacamole bowl, but I restrained myself to just the one. The flavors were incredible, perfectly melding savory with sweet, and creamy with crunchy.


It was tough to decide on an appetizer. I always try to go with seasonal, and I look for unusual combinations of ingredients that I might not ordinarily consider putting together on my own. My first inclination was to go with the grilled asparagus with blue cornmeal crusted onion rings, arugula pesto and red pepper coulis, but then the waitress read the specials for the day, which included an app of fiddlehead ferns, wild mushrooms, baby asparagus, wilted spinach and cauliflower puree. How could we not give that a try? Needless to say, it was fabulous. You can only get fresh fiddleheads a couple weeks of the year, and these were perfectly young, tender and sweet, not the often soapy taste you get from the supermarket kind that are past their prime. The rich creaminess of the cauliflower sauce enhanced the delicate flavors of the steamed veggies.

The entrees were equally difficult to select from. We were aided by an article in this month's Vegetarian Times which featured top recipes from vegetarian restaurants across the country. Coincidentally, they picked one from Candle 79: the seitan picatta. It's a customer favorite, so we figured we'd give it a try. I picked the Morroccan chick pea cakes with spring vegetables, coconut curry and apricot chutney. Bother were delicious (though we must confess our preference for the humble chick pea cakes - it was a gorgeous electric green and orange presentation and the spicy flavors melded beautifully with the sweet chutney).

Dessert was equally challenging. My first inclination was to avoid the typical chocolate default and opt for something fruity. We made a compromise and ordered one from each category. The seasonal special was a lovely little strawberry rhubarb tart with triple cream ice cream - a winner. We also sampled the brownie sundae which was adorned with fresh strawberries and bananas and a chocolate chipotle sauce. YUM! What an incredible meal. And I don't want to forget the rich and creamy drink that could've been a light meal on its own: coconut, avocado, pear, agave syrup and mint frappe. mmmm...


The next day we headed down to Babycakes to pick up breakfast and some snackies for the train trip home. This is an all vegan bakery near Chinatown. It was cool to see the many Fallun Gong practitioners on our walk there, and there was also an Asian American parade with hundreds of people marching down Mott Street. This was my first visit, so I didn't know what to expect, but I was happy to find a place selling gluten-free vegan baked goods (not that I need them...). We shared a sticky bun and blueberry buckle for breakfast, then packed up a slice of banana chocolate chip bread, lemon cupcake and chocolate cupcake for the ride. It was a challenge resisting the temptation to inhale everything all at once. I was happy that my non-veg companion was delighted with his iced coffee and sticky bun, and we were both pleasantly surprised by the tender texture and light sweetness of the blueberry cake. My attempts at gluten-free baking always turn out dense and grainy. I guess I just don't know the secret yet. Needless to say, I'll have to do some experimenting this summer when it's blueberry season.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Superfoods, Healing Foods



Last week I had the priviledge to teach a workshop at the Mercy Center for staff members from the Yale Children's Medical Center. The location is gorgeous - right on the ocean in Madison with a sprawling campus landscaped with lush greenery and blooming shrubs and perennials. Even with the rain, it was a pleasure to be there. And what a great group of women! They were there for their staff retreat and wanted to do something special to de-stress from a hectic work environment. I was happy to help by providing a customized lecture and cooking demonstration about foods that heal. The menu for the morning included Gingered Vegetable Saute with Baked Tofu, Curried Chickpea and Quinoa Pilaf and an amazingly decadent nearly raw Chocolate Mousse with Nut Crust and Fresh Strawberries (you'd never guess that the secret ingredient was avocados!). I hope they had as much fun as I did.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Thali, too - Now OPEN!!

Ever since moving to New Haven in November, 2006, I've made a point to sample all the chat, chana masala and saag I can find from the many fabulous Indian restaurants within minutes of my apartment. I was in heaven when I discovered Thali on Orange Street. Their delectable dahl and rich and delicious chat are enough for a full meal, but they'll also accommodate us vegans with an off-menu order of coconut curry (just ask). I couldn't believe my eyes when I read recently that the owner of Thali would be opening a vegetarian-only version of the restaurant down on Broadway, tucked into that little corridor next to the Yale Bookstore. You can't see it from the street, but it's there - trust me. As of May 7, Thali, too is now Officially OPEN!! Please go and support them!


It was a warm, breezy evening last night, the perfect weather for outdoor dining. We decided to take a stroll by Thali to see if they were open and were pleased to find a gorgeous and bustling little patio set up with tables and big red umbrellas, so we happily took a cozy table for two. We started the meal with a fantastic masala dosa appetizer; eaten alone, it would have been a hearty meal. We fought each other for the last crumb, it was so yummy. The huge rolled up crepe arrives on an elegant silver tray with 3 pretty little vessels of accompanying sauces. I wasn't sure about the coconut chutney which may have been made with yogurt, but the sambal was a delicious tomato based spiced stew that was hearty and warm. There was also an accompaniment of chili oil with fried Indian spices that was hot, but not too hot. They have an interesting little concept going here: rice and noodle bar. You start with a base of either basmati rice or rice vermicelli ($5), add on some vegetables of choice ($2 each), and any of 5 sauces. We tried the Manchurian (which I'd highly recommend) which had garlic, onion, chili pepper and cilantro, that was actually more subtle and flavorful than you'd imagine, and the Sesame Peanut, which was good, however I detected no sesame or peanut and I'm wondering if I got what I ordered. Considering this was only the second night they were open, I allowed some leeway in working out the kinks. Our server was not very familiar with the menu and needed to bring the general manager over to our table to answer a few questions about dairy in dishes. He assured us there was no dairy used in the rice, noodles or the accompanying sauces. The rest of the menu is filled with creative interpretations of standard northern and southern Indian cuisine and I'm already dying to make a return visit to give them a try. They also have Take Out!! This is a fantastic little addition to New Haven's already plentiful dining scene, but it stands out for its affordability, creativity and pleasant atmosphere. I know where I'll be spending my summer...

From the garden



I love a good spring rain. Particularly on days after planting. The birds are happy, the plants are happy, and all that makes me happy, too. It's Week #3 at my Chapelseed community garden and already the fruits of my labor have been realized. Snap peas, snow peas, radishes, broccoli rabe, broccoli and nasturtiums are all popping out. I just transplanted some basil, and in another week I'll add a few tomato companions. If I can manage to squeeze in a couple mounds of Italian zucchini in my little 6' x 10' plot, I will be doing that, too.


The place already looks beautiful, and it's so nice to be serenaded by mockingbirds while laboring away in the warm sunshine. Today is a day of rest as plants soak up the moisture and grow big and strong.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cancer Project Update


On April 12 I hosted a house party for The Cancer Project to support the wonderful work they do. This organization is an arm of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine which is headed by Dr. Neal Barnard. I attended their free vegetarian cooking class over the winter and learned quite a bit. Even though I've been a chef for over 5 years and a vegan for nearly 12, it's always good to hear the latest research about vegan nutrition. I'd highly recommend the class to anyone, experienced or not, who would like to learn how eating the right foods can boost your immune system and help defend against disease.


Twenty-two people crammed into my little apartment to hear a conference call by Dr. Barnard and a presentation by Wendy Lewis, one of the Cancer Project's cooking instructors. I hope all who attended had a great time and will spread the word about this organization. I'm pleased to report that thanks to everyone's generosity, we raised over $500 to support The Cancer Project's work. For anyone who was not able to attend, please visit their website to learn more and consider making a donation.

New Blog

I'm excited to be launching my shiny new blog powered by Blogspot. This one's proving to be a little easier to navigate and post pictures, links and lists, so I hope to have lots more to share with you in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, you can view my former blog here.