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.

Chickpea of the sea

This post is dedicated to non-vegans who might be looking for something a little different to add to their lunch routine. I’m almost embarrassed to post it, because it’s hardly a recipe and there are plenty of recipes like it out there, but it just might not have occurred to some of you that you can make this.

I’ve heard from a surprising number of vegans that we all miss the same thing: tuna salad. So, this is a great alternative – mercury and cholesterol (not to mention cruelty) free – that tastes great. It does the trick for me, when I’m craving something like tuna or egg salad. The optional seaweed gives the salad a slightly fishy flavor (like tuna, duh), and is a good excuse to snack on roasted seaweed, a food that is both super duper good for you and completely addictive!

Chickpea salad

  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tsp relish
  • 1 tsp mustard (I like brown or Dijon)
  • 1 tsp Maldon or other coarse salt
  • 2 or 3 small sheets roasted seaweed snack, shredded (optional)

Drain the chickpeas very well and put them in a bowl. Mash them with a potato masher until well mashed, and no whole beans remain. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well with a fork, mashing and mixing as you would with tuna. Eat on whole wheat toast or with crackers. Add a tomato slice, some lettuce, pickles, avocado, or whatever you would eat on a tuna or egg salad sandwich!

The old New World

In my dreams, I live in Oaxaca, Mexico. I cook alongside my neighbor mamas with our earthen pots set over communal fires, roasting chilies and cacao beans for grinding…. I can feel the coarse chocolate between my fingers, smell the smoky warmth of ancho chiles, and taste a big pot of something dark and delicious simmering all day over hot coals. Our children play in the fields, boots muddy from nibbling tomatoes off the vine. And for a snack, we serve them pupusas with refried beans and marinated tofu.

Perhaps not. It’s my dream.

Pupusas with refried beans and marinated tofu

Marinated tofu

  • Olive oil
  • Zest and juice of a good lime
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest of half an orange
  • 2 tbsp chile powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 lb tofu, sliced into steaks (1/2″ thick and 2×3″ wide/long)

Pupusas

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 15-oz can pintos, drained and rinsed
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt to taste

Place the marinade ingredients and tofu in a large zip-top bag, seal, and toss from one hand to the other to distribute the marinade evenly over the tofu. Let marinate for about an hour, tossing every once in a while.

Meanwhile, place the masa, warm water, and salt in a large bowl, mixing first with a wooden spoon, then kneading with your hands for a minute or two. It should be soft, pliable, and not at all sticky. Cover with a damp dish towel and let sit for 10 minutes.

While the dough sits, heat a small cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the peanut oil and the onion, and fry for about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and stir until fragrant, about thirty seconds. Add the pintos, and stir until the beans are coated in onions and oil. Mash the mixture with a potato masher until well mashed and no whole beans remain. Add more oil if the mixture isn’t creamy enough. Taste for salt, turn off the heat.

Divide the dough into 8 balls, and poke a well in the middle of each ball. Add about a tsp of refried beans to the well, cover the beans with the surrounding dough, then pat between your hands to flatten the pupusas into about a 1/4″ thick disk. Place the raw pupusas on a sheet of wax paper.

Heat a large cast iron pan over slightly hotter than medium heat (medium-high was too high on my stove). Add about a tbsp of oil for frying the pupusas. You just want a thin coat, not a pool. Fry on each side for 2 or 3 minutes.

When you’re done with the pupusas, turn the pan up a little more, and add about a 1/4 cup of oil. Fry the tofu steaks for about 5 minutes per side, until they’re crispy golden. Sprinkle with a little salt.

To serve, top a pupusa with more refried beans and a tofu steak. Eat with your hands standing over your earthen pot.

Heaven Scent

They say your memory is strongly connected to your sense of smell. I don’t know what that means in terms of your brain, but I think for many people – especially for food lovers – it’s absolutely true that a particular smell can bring back a memory you didn’t even realize you had, until you’re there, in the moment, carried to a far away time or a far away place.

For some reason, every time I walk into the Whole Foods in Oakland, I am transported to my mother’s kitchen, where my step-father – who had cerebral palsy, and couldn’t stand for too long without getting very uncomfortable, so rarely cooked – would be standing at the stove making booze dogs. Barbecue sauce, a LOT of Black Velvet whiskey, and kosher hot dogs sliced into bite-size pieces. They were amazingly, absurdly delicious, and had such a distinct smell. And something they make in their kitchen at that particular Whole Foods smells exactly like them. And I haven’t smelled that booze dog smell in my mother’s kitchen in decades, but you better believe I know it when I smell it.

Another smell I’ve never smelled anywhere but at its source, is the fragrant potatoey scent of roasted potatoes made by my first host mother in France. I lived in the Loire Valley for about a year 25 years ago, but the smell of ma chere Gazou’s roasting potatoes is one of my top five favorites (guessing, I’ve never actually counted). Sadly, I have no idea how she made them, other than with some magic. I’ve roasted potatoes many many MANY times, and they always taste and smell great, but not like Gazou’s. Well, at least until today.

Country-style French roasted potatoes

  • 12 red-skinned potatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the potato chunks. Drizzle the olive oil on, rub the oregano between your hands, and sprinkle on, add the lemon zest, and salt, and toss the potatoes with your hands until well coated. Roast for 45 minutes or so, tossing after 20 minutes. They should be crisp.

Channeling Nana

I love making soup. First of all, for some reason, it’s nearly always a hit with my kids, which means they EAT. Secondly, there is simply nothing better than a bowl of soup and a hunk of home-baked bread. But this soup, this soup is the soup my great-grandmothers made. And probably your great-grandmothers, too, regardless of where they lived, maybe flavored differently…or maybe not. There is nothing fancy or pretentious about this soup. It is hearty and delicious. That is all.

Split pea soup (with optional hot dogs)

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 or 5 shallots, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 cups yellow or green split peas
  • 2 quarts veg stock
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 5 vegan hot dogs, sliced (optional)

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, shallots, garlic, carrots, and celery, and saute until softened and fragrant, about ten to fifteen minutes, stirring often. Add the split peas and veg stock, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for an hour or so, until the split peas are soft and fairly melty. Add the peas and hot dogs, if using, and heat through. Serve with (vegan) buttered and salted bread.

And thank your great-grandmothers.

Dude. Tropical home-made ice cream.

Dude. I rule. Husband had a class tonight, so after a long day of cooking for my client, shuttling to and from appointments, I was feeding the kids solo. In between roasting the broccoli and messing up the millet, I made ICE CREAM.

Tropical ice cream

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen pineapple chunks
  • 4 medjool dates
  • 1 can coconut cream or coconut milk (just shy of 2 cups)
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (plus a little to equal 3 cups of liquid)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

Put all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour the puree into your ice cream maker and process per manufacturer’s instructions.

It will be soft serve. It will be delicious.

How I learned to stop worrying and buy asparagus

I’m from California’s San Joaquin Valley. Growing seasons, orchards, farms as far as the eye can see…this is my homeland. I generally know when different crops are in season, and as much as I might have a taste for grapes in January, I won’t buy them on principle. I’m heartily committed to buying local whenever I can, and I can’t bring myself to reward grocers for selling out-of-season produce that had to travel thousands of miles to get to me. Corn, figs, grapes, TOMATOES: summer. Apples, persimmons, pomegranates: fall. Oranges: winter.

My problem is that the produce I always thought came in the springtime, the vegetables that ARE spring to me – artichokes and asparagus – have been showing up in the fall. I don’t get it. And they’re cheap. And they’re gorgeous. And they’re from the places they’re supposed to be from in California. Well, I’ve given in, and have bought asparagus the last couple of weeks. Today, I turned it into a creamy soup that warmed me on a particularly blustery fall day, but also reminded me of the blossoms and puffy white clouds of spring. (And it’s low fat. No oil added!)

Cream of asparagus soup

  • 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 2″ pieces
  • 4 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 red-skinned potatoes, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated turmeric
  • 4 cups veg stock
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then add the asparagus and the shallots, spray with cooking spray, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast for about ten minutes.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the potatoes, garlic, and turmeric (1/2 tsp dried turmeric if you can’t get fresh). Stir regularly, and saute for about 3 minutes. Add the veg stock, cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sunflower seeds and the roasted vegetables, and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place half the soup into a blender and puree until very smooth. Remove to a bowl, and puree the other half. Stir the soup to combine, and then add the lemon juice and zest. Heat if necessary, and add parsley.

Repurposed scraps (aka, lunch!)

My kids had eaten, and despite having gone grocery shopping yesterday, I have nothing in my fridge. I don’t want another sandwich, because I had peanut butter and banana on toast for breakfast. I’m bored. What’s for lunch?

Well, more than making everything from scratch most of the time, I’m also a huge fan of repurposing left-overs and scrounging scraps together to make something yummy and healthy in no time flat. The key for this concoction is that I had a cooked grain waiting to be used in my freezer. Without that, I would’ve had to resort to a tortilla or bread. Another important factor is knowing how truly variable this so-called recipe is. Today, I had a sausage, a red bell pepper, and 3 scallions in the fridge, and turmeric barley in my freezer. You could do this with any kind of onion (and/or garlic), most any kind of vegetable (e.g., summer squash, green beans, shredded cabbage, broccoli/cauliflower/Brussels sprouts, even handfuls of spinach or a few kale or chard leaves), any source of (vegan, ahem) protein (beans, cubed tofu, whatever),  a grain, and SIMPLE flavoring. Did you hear that, Mom? Keep it simple. I made a sort of Mediterranean dish, but you could swap out the za’atar and balsamic for some cumin and oregano and a splash of red wine vinegar or lime juice, and call it Mexican, or a pinch of curry and ginger, and call it Indian. Simple. This is a kind of stir-fry, but I don’t always want a Chinese flavored stir-fry. So, here you go. My afternoon masterpiece.

Mediterranean sausage over turmeric barley

  • Frozen cooked turmeric barley
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 vegan Italian sausage, quartered lengthwise and chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp za’atar
  • Kosher salt to taste

Defrost and heat the barley in the microwave, about five minutes. Heat a medium cast iron pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil, then add the sausage until starting to turn golden. Add the bell pepper until softened, then add the scallions. Let cook for another minute, then add the balsamic, za’atar, and the salt. Serve over barley. Enjoy!

Serves one in about 10 minutes’ time.