Bless Yer Heart

This post is dedicated to the memory of Carol Ann, a beloved friend whose life was taken many many years too early. Carol Ann lived in a very small town in North Carolina. Although I didn’t get to spend much time with her, I knew her to be a special person, full of love, kindness, and generosity. And although she had never left the south before, she was excited to embark on adventures. She came to California for an adventure – to San Francisco, no less – and was open to everything. She took on all new experiences with a smile.

When I first met her, in her own habitat, so to speak, she was warm and funny. And had no problem mocking the vegan food I was about to feed her. I had prepared vegan paella. I’m guessing she had never had non-vegan paella. She loved it. And I told her about the oatmeal I’d been making for my family for close to twenty years. She didn’t like oatmeal – I don’t know how that’s possible – but she liked how “healthy” this sounded, and the fact that she could make a big batch of it at the beginning of the week, and take servings of it to work. So I gave her the recipe, and she loved it, and ate it all the time.

If you make this, you’ll get lots of benefits in addition to the main one, which is that it tastes so good. You already know that plain old oatmeal is good for you, but this comes with two extra whole grains. And if you intend to make it regularly, chances are it’ll add at least one whole grain to your pantry, bulgur, which is quick cooking and delicious. You’re welcome!

So when you’ve reheated a bowl of this in the office microwave, making your co-workers drool from the cinnamony smell of home-cooking, think of Carol Ann, twinkle in her eye, smiling.

Best oatmeal ever

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup bulgur
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/4 cup raisins (golden is extra yummy)
  • 1 heaping tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp molasses, optional

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 qt of water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium and add the oats and bulgur. While whisking constantly, stream in the cornmeal until completely mixed in. Thinly slice the banana into the pot, add the raisins, cinnamon, salt, and molasses, if using. Mix well, turn the heat to medium low, and simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Cover the pot, remove from the heat, and let sit for 7 more minutes. Serve with (home-made) brown sugar or maple syrup, some toasted chopped nuts of your choice, and some dried blueberries like Daniel Tiger.

Makes 3 – 4 servings

The best things in life are cake

Pardon me for waxing philosophical here, but as a lady of a certain age, I have come to realize that one does not escape one’s ancestry.  Life is beautiful and rich when you embrace your past and cut your own path with your people at your back.  For me, that means this coffee cake.  When I took my first bite, I felt like I was 80 years old.  In a good way.  You get yourself a steaming cup of coffee or black tea (okay, or rooiboos – whatever your pleasure), you kick your feet up (everyone has to do it once in a while), you schnuggle under the afghan your grandmother crocheted you, and you eat a nice piece of cake.  Revel, rejoice in the simplicity of it.
I suppose first, you must make the coffee cake.  Fortunately, this one is quite simple.
(Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe for Polish babka)
Ashkenazic coffee cake
  • 1/2 cup vanilla almond milk, lukewarm (microwave for 45 seconds if cold from the fridge)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce, heated in the microwave for about 30 seconds
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine stick (I prefer Nucoa for baking)
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup white or golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup currants

Syrup

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple juice

Icing

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp vanilla almond milk

Place the cake ingredients, except for the fruit, in the bowl of a standing mixer or in a large bowl and mix until the ingredients are well combined.  If using a standing mixer or hand beater, mix on medium for about 2 minutes.  Add the fruit, and mix on low until combined.  Cover your bowl, and let the cake batter rest for an hour.  Don’t worry, it’s really fermenting more than rising or anything else.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and then pour the batter into a bundt pan sprayed with cooking spray, cover, and let rest for 30 more minutes.  Uncover, and bake for 30 minutes until a thermometer reads 190 degrees or until it’s light on top and golden on the sides.

While the babka is baking, put the syrup ingredients into a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Whisk occasionally until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is clear.  Set aside.

Remove the cake from the oven, gently poke it with a fork all over, then pour the syrup over the cake.  It may seem like a lot, but it’s what makes this cake so moist!  After about 20 minutes, loosen the cake from the pan, and carefully turn it out onto a plate.

Place the icing ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Once the cake is completely cooled, drizzle the icing over the top.

The genius of the Mediterranean

I love the food of the Mediterranean. I lived in France for a year – in the Loire Valley, but I prefer the food of Provence. I’ve never been to Italy or Greece, except in my fantasies, but I have been to Spain and Portugal and Israel and Argentina…cultures that emphasize fresh, delicious, in-season produce in their cooking. Cultures that melt tomatoes in olive oil, that brilliantly combine garlic and lemon parts to make miraculous, simple un-sauces, where perfect olives of infinite variety are tapas…

In all of these places, veganism would seem preposterous to most people. Why would you willingly cut out whole categories of food? No matter. I’m grateful for the inspiration. Grateful for the history and tradition and invention.

And so, voila, my homage to the Mediterranean.

I should note that when my 5-year-old tasted this, she said, unsolicited, “You should definitely serve this to your clients. Definitely.” I also think this would make a super yummy pizza topping. And a little secret: the broccoli and tomatoes were left over from a crudite tray. Ew – refrigerated tomatoes. But in this dish, delicious!!

Mediterranean pasta

  • 1 tbsp + 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, broken into small pieces
  • 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4-5 fat garlic-stuffed olives (or Greek-cured or kalamata), sliced
  • Juice and zest of half of a lemon (I used a Meyer)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 lb whole wheat penne
  • 1/2 cup almond meal

Put a large covered saucepan of water to boil over high heat. Once boiling, cook the pasta (add salt!) until al dente, and then drain. Meanwhile, heat a large cast iron pan over a bit over medium heat and add the tbsp of oil, and then, one it’s shimmering, add the shallots and broccoli. Saute for 3 or 4 minutes, then add the tomatoes, garlic, and oregano. Coax the tomatoes into melting by poking them with a sharp knife. Add the rest of the oil, the chickpeas, olives, lemon zest and juice, and salt to taste. Let simmer and melt while the pasta cooks.

Heat a small cast iron pan over medium heat, and add the almond meal. Toast, stirring often, for about ten minutes until well toasted but not burned.

Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a drizzle of olive oil if you like. Sprinkle each serving with almond meal, and serve.