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Archive for the ‘Food Stories’ Category

Is coming to my blog in November! I’m so excited to participate for my third year. I’ve been a vegan since high school – I wanted to do something for the planet, later after two of my grandparents died of cardiovascular disease, I knew I was also eating vegan for my health.

I’m considering the prompts and also have a tendency to crave vegan mac and cheese but make a different version eery time- always noodles witha “creamy” sauce. I’m considering a month of experiments in vegan mac and cheese evolving  from more traditional elbows with bright orange colored sauce to shells with a white “cheddar” like sauce to the vast shape world of pasta combined with creamy craving satisfying sauces based on chickpeas, cashews, pumpkin etc…

Let me know what you think in comments below. Would you like to see a month of mac and non dairy cheese?

  

Footnote: In keeping up with the memes- my Vegan MoFo blog will be Mac and “Gary” aka (vegan cheese).

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Thanks to Laura Brown at Two Writing Teachers for inviting me to participate in the Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge. Since this is a food blog I will try to keep it on topic. 

But I need to start with teeth.

I’ve always been very conscious of teeth. My teeth, my mom’s teeth, other people’s teeth. Disclosing tablets were a thing in my family growing up: little red tablets that dissolve when you chew them and highlight the plaque on your teeth. 

After chewing the iron tasting pill, I would then proceed to brush as much of the disclosing tablet color (think red-pink) and plaque off my teeth, but the final check came from mom. It didn’t matter that I brushed my teeth for the full two minute egg timer, where the sand in the hourglass trickled down as I brushed, mom would always come in for a second look. Which usually involved her brushing more vigorously on my back teeth and reminding me how important it was to get all the plaque off everywhere.

“Oh-aye! I ot ieth!” I would say: because, in my house, toothbrush-in-the-mouth is my mom’s second language. She would hand me back my Big Bird tooth brush because I said, “Okay! I got it!”

As I got older, I made my own lunch; “Okay, I got it!”

Mom has always been a certifiable health nut. Much to my smooth peanut butter loving spouse’s chagrin, I learned to pour all the separated oil off the top of any natural peanut butter jar, (“What happened to the peanut butter? It’s so dry!?”) and then I’d use only a very thin spread of jam on whole wheat bread with hard crunchy wheatberries. I picked the berries out like most kids pull off crusts. I always packed carrots or apples, and swished with water to get the food out of my teeth after eating. This dental hygiene routine was difficult since four spigot water choices at the playground, included terrible choices for dental health. 

The power of kid imagination designated the following flavor choices: coffee, tea, soda pop, or pee. The trouble was the selection could be listed either from left to right, or right to left. So the middle two fountains received all the use. We were “safe” with either soda pop or tea. Our teeth would not have been.

When my little brother, Leif turned two years old, he learned how to turn the doorknob to downstairs. He proceeded to fall to the bottom of the wooden staircase arriving at the downstairs door to mom’s bedroom in a heap. He screamed and his screams echoed up the stairwell, out the half door. We both came running. Mom and I crouched down beside him. He looked a mess and howled even worse. Snot coming out of his nose and blood all over his face. Mom ran him up to the kitchen sink, and inspected his face. She turned to me, “He lost his tooth. Go get his tooth.”

I ran downstairs hearing my brother’s cries and searched the floor for a baby tooth that had fallen out. I couldn’t find anything except a long white thing. That couldn’t be a tooth could it? I brought it upstairs,”I couldn’t find his tooth, but I found this.” 

“That’s it!” she said, grabbed it and shoved it into my brother’s open mouth before he could blink.

Apparently a tooth can reattach if found quickly, unwashed and reinserted. It turns out, the long tapering thing, that was the root. The baby tooth reattached, yet remained a dull grey until it fell out naturally. At least he could bite his food and chew.

“He has gum disease and needs to floss,” mom once said of a guy who wanted to date me. I notice teeth now too, coffee and tea stains, cavities from too much soda pop. My brother became an orthodontist and he sees overbites and underbites, crossbites and veneers. 

I got used to the crunch of wheatberries in bread. I still try to pour off the oil, but my spouse usually gets to the jar of peanut butter first, and stirs it in. I spread jam thin and am grateful to have healthy teeth. For eating. See? I brought it back to food.

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Mom and her sister are here, both from warmer climates, muttering about how cold it is here in Northern California. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Fransisco,” Mark Twain said of our weather too, so they are in good company. 

I root around in the pantry for something to satisfy mom’s request for a “hot breakfast cereal is too cold do you have any oatmeal?” She says without stopping as I turn over the Bob’s Red Mill cornmeal package I’ve pulled from beside the flours.

Mom is mostly gluten free, so I say, “Muffins?”

“Oh, good then we can turn on the oven…”

“…and the heater when everyone is upstairs, otherwise we cook them.” Even though heat rises, our house has two climates: upstairs frozen tundra and downstairs scorching desert.

I’m scanning the ingredients and making mental calculations; eggs, yogurt, brown sugar, soy flour, how can I replace those? Mom is off soy too, at the moment. I have a plan. Not gluten free, but warm and very tasty served with nut butter or jam.

I bake as an experiment, using the recipe as “guidelines,” for quantities of liquid, sweetening and binders to replace eggs. Sometimes it works, oftentimes not so much. Today it did.

  I give you Outrageous Apricot Muffins thanks to the thermostat and my oddly stocked pantry. Fortunately, I doubled the recipe so it makes 2 dozen muffins. We finished the first dozen this morning.

Dry ingredients- combine well in a large bowl.

2/3 cup medium grind organic cornmeal 

2/3 cup garbanzo flour (replacing soy flour)

1/2 cup toasted wheatgerm 

1 cup organic whole wheat flour 

1 cup organic white flour 

1 cup ground raw hazelnuts (pulse chop in blender or Cuisinart)

1 cup ground raw pecans

1 cup organic raisins

1 package (about 1 cup) Trader Joe’s frozen semi dried apricots, chopped roughly into 1-3 centimeter pieces 

2 teaspoons of baking soda 

Liquid ingredients- mix together in a quart sized measuring cup or bowl.

1 cup vanilla almond milk (I like Trader Joe’s refrigerated brand)

1 small container of coconut vanilla non dairy yogurt (about 1 cup)

1 cup of honey or agave

2/3 cup of canola oil

Juice and grated zest from one large orange

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 

2 tablespoons chia seeds (to replace the egg, you can also use the same quantity of ground flaxseed)

1/2 cup unsweetened organic applesauce 

2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

Gently combine wet and dry ingredients, fill paper lined muffin tins with a generous 1/2 cup of batter. Bake in a preheated 350degree F oven for 25 minutes. An inserted toothpick should come out clean.

  

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  Facing the window over the kitchen sink watching the white peach tree leaves rustle, there were two directions someone with a mastery of the clank and bang of cooking could go: left to the nook with curved built-in bench and table; or right to the formal white table clothed length of seating for many more. As a kid, I bumped elbows with Jill and her little brother, Greg, at the bench as we jostled through our breakfast. Joyce plunking down some hot spectacular egg preparation that wasn’t my standard scrambled or slightly burnt frog-in-the-hole – Joyce’s eggs arrived poached or soft boiled with plenty of salt. Then, before you could blink we’d be on our way out the door to her dad’s car, which smelled of tan newness. 

This bustle of being felt new. Early to school, scrubbed, punctual and polished: these ways didn’t exist in our house: one mom could only do so much. I didn’t miss the snarled hair struggle and tight precise pigtails that escaped from the list of things that were important after my father left. I might have missed a poached egg or unburnt toast. I made my own lunches, fixed my own hair. My own homework remained a mess. Unless, I was staying at Jill’s house, where the whirl of wife/mother, father daughter and brother made me feel like I had just been dropped among the exotic white angelfish they had in a tank in the den/TV room/library; so much swirled around me I hadn’t seen before- a black piano, carpeted stairs (perfect for sliding down in sleeping bags), windows with a view to the ocean, Jill’s room in another wing, red orange betadine instead of hydrogen peroxide (because “my dad is an ER doctor,” Jill explains), and Scope mouthwash we always had ACT (because “my mom is a dental hygienist”). There were other prominent things, a letter that looked like pi carved by the door, a menorah and photographs of people in black and white: years later I would learn were Joyce’s family, the ones that were lost/ died in the Holocaust. 

It is 2016, and I have been invited to my first Passover seder. Funny that it is my first at forty-three, even though at three I picked the one and only Jewish preschool eschewing the three options which brought me to clinging tears. Tuvia pulled me in with art and song, Shalom and hush little baby nap time. And my friend Jill. Whose mom, Joyce, became my mom’s best friend for the next thirty five years. 

Even though I taught in a school district that was predominantly Jewish, have cousins and Jewish relatives, the bar and bat mitzvah celebrations were the only celebrations I really knew/were invited to. Mom always sewed herself a new dress. I always loved the dancing and watched entranced as cousins, friends and second cousins either stumbled or flew through the Hebrew verses on to becoming an adult. Mom threw me a sweet sixteen pool party, to mark my transition to an adult; I don’t feel I have grown up yet. 

I am not sure what it means to be an adult exactly, but Joyce came close to my ideal of one. She earned a PhD, once the kids were out of high school, after she divorced Jill’s dad. She became a LMFT and worked out of a house she bought herself one block from the ocean. She hosted amazing holiday feasts for Thanksgiving and helped my mother see me for me. Then, they took out half her uterus and half of her stomach and looked into clinical trials for her cancer was genetic. She continued to work and I was not, so she hired me. I helped her clear up her client files and organize her recipe folders. This small act of offering me a job, helped remind me of my worth and ability to work/ offer service. I could not change her diagnosis, but I could do this thing, set up a system for organizing her files, pitch countless folders into the dumpster/shredder, try to make some sense of four drawers of recipes. 

I was in the habit of taking a folder or two home, cleaning up the clippings and returning then to the drawer. I took the Passover folder home and before I finished, she died. She and Jill had already put her best/favorite recipes into a cookbook, so there was no need to keep all that stuff, Jill said. I threw everything out, folders and frayed pages torn from newspapers and magazines some shiny with color others tan and smudged with age. I kept the Passover folder, I couldn’t throw it away because on the reverse it showed repurposing from her Opus, Thanksgiving. 

I knew what Thanksgiving meant to Joyce and my mom, we often spent the holiday with Jill’s family, no longer an unfamiliar fish tank but a swirl of love, loudness, acceptance and singing, ma vie en rose, exes and uncles, best friends, delicious food. The thorn was her death, a loss that isn’t covered in the lists of meals made, menus carefully cursed and collected in the folder: passover 2002, 2004,2005, names of people just on the periphery of my knowing like the people in the black and white photographs, and looping handwriting. Who was there and what we ate, seemed to be all the history remaining. 

I read the names turned the brown and brittle stapled clippings over, noting the shift to modern and a new twist on an ancient tradition. I pulled two recipes for Passover, one matzoh crackers covered with chocolate, dried fruit and nuts, another for chocolate dipped strawberries, I have been asked to bring asparagus, I will make a vegan hollandaise with a dash of horseradish. I contemplate the spices and prunes that flavor a roast, and wonder how I might veganize it. Modern? Contemporary? Passover with a new twist on ancient tradition?

I will find a yellow tablet, list the names and what we ate hearing the echoes of Joyce’s voice in the kitchen between two tables, rooms left saltless without her presence.

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Vegan road trip.

Every day is a vegan road trip- I usually have Justin’s peanut butter packets, some apples, nuts or dried fruit and, if I am lucky, a pomegranate Izze soda rolling around under the seat.

Vegan Strawberry Shortcake

Vegan Strawberry Shortcake

I have gone glamping and made vegan chili, vegan tofu kabobs, my version of Strawberry Shortcake is biscuits with strawberries and cashew cream, I have brought fancy salads with hearts of palm or sun dried tomatoes, or fancy olives. I am partial to vegan eggless tofu salad sandwiches with cornichons. (Spell check suggests I change the tiny pickles to unicorns).

I think good music, a car full of friends, pillows, sun shades, stops at cool vegan eats, photos, laughter and fun make a vegan road trip delicious. Tire changing know how comes in handy.

Salad with French olives and hearts of palm.

Salad with French olives and hearts of palm.

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Burritos or Tacos? Where do you stand on this important issue?

What about the Tostada?

I love a good burrito. I cannot claim to have eaten a burrito a day as my friend, Joe, did throughout graduate school. I can claim to satisfy huge burrito cravings after long mountain bike rides. Fortunately, my mountain bike buddy, Erick also loves a good burrito, albeit a bit hotter and more omnivorous.

What works what doesn’t (my rankings for the burrito joints both sides of the Santa Cruz Mountains)

  1. Andale in Los Gatos has a delicious veggie burrito with a scrumptious side salad.
  2. Planet Fresh has so many options: wet burritos, brown rice, whole wheat tortillas, etc. in Santa Cruz
  3. Una Mas in Campbell has a nice variety of fresh salsas and a well stuffed burrito.
  4. Los Gallos in Scotts Valley has grilled serrano peppers and horchata and jamaica very traditional.
  5. We do not like Taqueria Vallarta at all, and will take Chipotle instead.

That’s it. Our burrito picks for our place.

My mom always orders a tostada on a steamed corn tortilla with beans, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, rice and avocado.

This is the healthiest option. Plenty of greens, low fat and packed with flavor- after she pours the table salsa over her entire salad.

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Share your favorite cuisine.

The latest MoFo challenge has me flipping through cookbooks and pining for 35 thin, spiral bound Time Life International Cookbooks my mother received as a wedding gift. Because of the beautiful photographs, I judged these books by their covers: the white and green French fondant chicken, the sunshine seafood paella from Spain, the minimalist Japanese bento box. Occasionally, I peeked into the books for techniques and flavors to veganize a meat based recipe. Eventually, the books went the way of the other things that disappear with a big move.

Author, Barbara Kingsolver says America has “no apparent food culture” save Mc Donalds and Thanksgiving, but I think the embrace-every-food-culture-sheltered-on-our-shores sums us up. Recently Africa and Slovenia and Croatia come to mind as under-represented food flavor cuisines. Africa for the peanuty spicy, oven baked bread, all hands in one dish sharing generosity; and Slovenia and Croatia for the fresh from the garden, savory soups, decadent desserts and handmade pastas.

I am also thinking a lot about refugees. When I was in school, reading Cry the Beloved CountryStill Life with Rice and The Kite Runner, I learned about the violence between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes in Rwanda from a man who had witnessed the refugee camps first hand: the orphans and the widows, the suffering and diaspora. I remember his frustration that the horrors were mostly unknown to people in the United States. I remember feeling quite callous and uninformed about the whole thing myself. He made a Rwandan dinner and told me the story. A dish from his childhood, made vegan for me, flavored less spicy for my wimpy tongue. A delicious savory peanut sauce served with rice and vegetables. He talked with tears in his eyes about an orphan girl he could not forget.

Food transports us.

I pay more attention now to slips and wisps of refugee stories in the news. I am looking for the African peanut recipe and will post it here when I find it. As a nod to the continent, I flipped through Marcus Samuelsson’s Discovery of A Continent: foods, flavors and inspirations from Africa omnivore cookbook. I listen to the stories of Croatia’s welcome to refugees and frown at their neighbors closed borders. I am made aware of the isolating refugee (Syria and Nigeria) experience again through Yermi Brenner’s writing for Aljazeera, “Refugees Cook Their Way Into Integration” and would like my food today to honor cuisines people clutch, in order to feel something of fled homes.

I revisited my saves and stashes from a summer spent in Croatia and Slovenia: dried crimini mushrooms, spicy pasta, dried beans. And a cookie press I bought in Slovenia with the delightful description: “for self-confident cookies.” Today, I will make some of these.

American cuisine embraces the cultures that find refuge on our shores, it is time to welcome some more.

Vegetable Samosas (Inspired by Marcus Samuelsson’s African recipe)

Puff pastry dough cut into 4 by 4 inch squares

Filling:

2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion sliced

2 small red potatoes cubed

1 Tablespoon curry powder

2 cloved minced garlic

1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup water

1 lime, juice of

Saute onions and garlic until translucent about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, curry, carrots, garlic, cook for 10 minutes. Add cauliflower, coconut milk and water, simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, mash with a fork for a chunky puree. Bake in a 425 degree F oven until the puff pastry is golden brown. Serve hot.

What is more welcoming than tea and cookies? Traditions such as sweet mint tea served with Qa’b el-ghazal can be comforting and welcoming for any visitor.

I am confident I can make these cookies my self.

I am confident I can make these cookies my self.

Qa’b el-ghazal (horns of the doe or cornes de gazelle) is a crescent shaped pastry with almond and sugar. I found recipes for these written in French including a “jaune d’oeuf” which is not vegan. And the 1000 and One website directions, including some fun directions like mix “le tout” [the all] with “les mains” [the hands]. The pictures are worth the price of admission- Samuelsson said the cookies were complex, he wasn’t kidding. He included a simpler Chinese style Almond Cookie recipe in his book. I am making a version of my own for the cookie press with a couple adaptations: pepper and chocolate style, too. Stay tuned. So here is what happened, I thought, what if I combined the spices and the almonds with the chocolate cookie dough. The result is a cookie combination inspired by Croatian Pepper Cookies, Chinese and African Almond Cookies and Chocolate biscotti.

Chocolate, Almond, Pepper Cookies

2 sticks or one cup of vegan butter

2 squares or 30 grams of unsweetened baking chocolate

1/2 cup date sugar or brown sugar if you prefer the cookies more sweet

1/2 cup roasted almonds, ground

1/2 cup of brown rice syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla, plus 1 teaspoon of almond extract, if a strong almond marzipan-like flavor is desired

2 2/3 cup of unbleached white flour

1-2 teaspoons each: ground cinnamon, cloves and black pepper

In a food processor, grind the almonds, add date sugar and half of the vegan butter. Melt the chocolate squares and the remainder of the butter, until the chocolate is just melted, the butter can still be semi soft. Add the chocolate butter mixture to the food processor, add extract/s, sweetener and spices. Add flour 1/3 cup at a time to process until the dough pulls from the sides of the processor and forms a ball. Remove the dough, press into a log shape, wrap with foil or plastic wrap and set in the freezer to chill for 20-30 minutes.

Remove the chilled dough, working quickly with clean hands, roll the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Flatten slightly, then using plastic wrap between the cookie press and the dough, press the design into the cookies. Bake in a 320 degree F. oven fro 25-30 minutes until the smell makes your mouth water.

Slovenian cookie press with heart symbol.

Slovenian cookie press with heart symbol.

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