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Archive for October, 2008

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Taking Back the Plate: A Manifesto in Favor of Playing With Food

I come to you tonight, my friends, with a proposition: play with your food. There are a number of reasons why I urge you to play with your food, beyond the fact that it is really fun.

It seems as though any kind of conscientious eating — like being vegan or vegetarian, or eating locally — can seem like a heavy task. It’s easy to get caught up in what is or is not vegan/vegetarian/local/la la la, and eating becomes a drag. I know a few vegans whose relationship with food seems to be a perpetual struggle or their cross to bear — they bemoan everything they can’t eat, and their focus on what is not vegan usually plays out as them being really condescending towards others who are not as detail-oriented or who choose to eat differently. I say to you: is this enjoying your food?

Resolution: In the face of a society that spends as little time and money as possible on their food: take back your plate! rediscover the fun of eating! play with your food!

Ok, silly proclamations aside, here’s what’s up:
I’ve started trying to cultivate this playful method of interacting with my food. My experience with vegan cooking, at its best, has been all about this fun approach to food. It’s kind of like, “Wow, these beets are really pretty. How do I want to play with that?” Or something like, “Hmmm, I know I like avocado on toast, and I know I like nutritional yeast on toast. What if I did them both at the same time??!” I’d say the best thing to come out of my vegan kitchen was the advent of Yam Cornbread. More on that later…

Sadly, at its worst, it was all about not being able to make anything because I didn’t have the right ingredients, or hours of time, and oh my god what kind of sugar will not make me a bad vegan? Thinking about those times now, I feel like this: eating is nourishing. Eating should be an act of giving to your body, of taking time to make something and sit down and enjoy the act of eating. It should not be an act of penance or sacrifice or boredom. And yes, I have nights where I want the easiest thing possible. I’d argue on those nights it’s more fun to get some Amy’s Mac n Soy Cheeze, instead of laboring for something my heart isn’t really in.

Some of this is motivated by feeling weighed down by Vegan MoFo in the face of starting a new job. The truth is (don’t judge me!): I’m not vegan… I was, and I’m not anymore, but I see great merit in meals that leave out the meat and dairy. Most of my cookbooks are vegan for precisely that reason: so I can make a vegetable, and eat a vegetable, instead of a bunch of cheese with a tiny bit of crappy broccoli. But, you know, after a day of cramming lots of knowledge into every little place in my skull, the idea of coming home and trying to cook impressive vegan food seems daunting; coupling that with photographing and blogging definitely intimidates me.

And then I remember, wait, food is awesome. Food is totally fun. And hell yes I’m allowed to arrange it in pretty ways before I cook it — and make something easy (roasted vegetables), but make it work for me by eating it with a GIANT AVOCADO:

Are you getting how big this is? Now THAT is an avocado.

I guess in all of this I’m giving myself permission to have fun with the food preparation and eating process. I want to encourage you, too, towards that — especially a few days away from the end of Vegan MoFo and heading into Halloween and Thanksgiving (US)!

Go forth and play with your food. Now.

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Starting my new job today (!!!), so a quick post full of quick vegan noms.

Fast and easy vegan breakfast, take 3-ish:

How to: Fry up some potatoes in olive oil. After flipping (once brown on one side), add soyrizo. Fry a little more. Nom. Swoon.

Quick vegan dinner in October:

Souuuuuup. Minestrone soup. Ok, ready? Set?
– Pan. Olive oil. Onions + garlic. Saute (no burning!) until slightly wiggly.
– Add carrots, celery, potatoes, other harder veggies of your choosing. Saute a little more.
– Add pasta, chopped kale/cabbage, small can of crushed tomatoes (with liquid), veggie stock to more than cover. Also add salt, pepper, Italian seasoning. Simmer for a while — until pasta is cooked.
– Again, nom.

Easy like… something that’s really easy, like… slipping on a banana peel. Or, considering I’ve never done that, someting easier. Like sleeping in on the weekend. Only tastier.

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I’m drowning in greens. No, seriously.

I might be keeping them in my laundry room. There's no more room in the fridge!

I might be keeping them in my laundry room. There's no more room in the fridge!

I came home with a LOT of greens from the farmers’ market. I already had some beet greens and one bunch of golden chard (I couldn’t resist, and it was one dollar). Then at the market on Saturday I bought two bunches of kale (russian and some other kind) and two bunches of rainbow chard, all from a vendor who has the smallest most tender greens. But then my partner in crime at the stand told me to see another farmer down the way for greens as the market was closing. He gave me six bunches of greens — four kale (one curly, two lactino, one russian purple), and two rainbow chard. That’s a total of ten bunches of greens.

Naturally, I’m looking for a way to get through them. Some of the daintier chard became a breakfasty thing yesterday morning. One beautiful bundle of the smaller-leafed kale was destined last night for colcannon. Colcannon, I learned today, is a traditional Irish dish (some say the traditional Irish dish), meant for serving on Halloween. How appropriate! It is made with a combination of potatoes, onion or leeks, and cabbage or kale. Differing sources will tell you that cabbage or kale are the more correct green. Considering that kale is a relative of cabbage, I say it’s all good.

Here’s how I made colcannon — a delicious, healthy comfort food.

You need:
– Potatoes (I used one big one and four little ones), chopped into 1″ cubes
– One medium leek, cut into 1/2″ pieces
– One bunch kale, stems trimmed and cut into 1″ strips
– Milk of your choice, 1/2 – 1 cup
– Margarine or butter-like substance of your choice
– Salt and pepper

Start by boiling the potatoes in salted water. These take the longest. Then move on to the leeks (wash well!), which are sauteed in olive oil on medium heat until soft. The kale gets cooked (see how to cook kale) — do this last, as greens get cool very quickly and only take 5-7 minutes.

Once potatoes are fork-pierceable, drain water and transfer to bowl. Add leeks and 1/2 – 1 cup of milk. Mash. I like some chunks in there (and I leave the potato skins on anyway). Season liberally with salt and pepper. Create a crater, into which you put the (drained) kale. Top with a pat of butter-like substance. Curl up and carb out.

This is dirt-cheap and takes under an hour. Making kale tonight illustrated to me what a difference good produce makes in meal preparation — the kale I got was made of very young leaves, which cooked quickly and were tender and not bitter at all. If you’re looking for how to cook kale to make it taste good and so that it isn’t bitter, get ye to a farmers’ market! Get good kale! Your efforts will be rewarded.

Also, a reminder of why we wash our vegetables:

Go forth and celebrate the coming of Halloween with some colcannon!

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Dinner last night was very pretty. Witness:

I decided to roast some vegetables in the oven. What you see is a mix of:
– Brussels sprouts
– Torpedo onion
– Carrots
– Red and gold beets
– Sweet potatoes (white and orange-ish)

Roasting vegetables is so easy and really quick! All you need to know about how to roast vegetables is:
– Cut them into roughly even pieces for even cooking. Sturdier things (like beets) can be a little smaller so they’ll cook more quickly.
– Coat liberally with olive oil. According to Alton Brown, this keeps moisture in the veggies and helps them not burn.
– Season as desired (salt, pepper, whatever) and toss in the oven for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Veggies are done when easily pierced with a fork.

In addition to being pretty and rainbow-colored, oven roasted vegetables are also delicious. As the boy said last night, “How are mine already gone? I tried to eat them slowly!”

We also had artichokes with dinner. I love artichokes and should have been eating more while they’re in season! Each of them was a buck a piece at the farmers’ market. Soooooo good.

How to cook/make artichokes:
– Trip 1/2″ off top and pointy things with scissors
– Trim stem
– Toss in a pot of boiling water for 30-40 minutes. Done when bottom is easily pierced with fork.

These are good with melted margarine/butter, but also with some soy sauce and/or lemon juice. I think artichokes might be my favorite food.

Go forth and eat vegetables!

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Phew! So I made granola a few days ago. Every recipe I found was “oats, nuts, seeds, la la la mix of oil and sugar and toasty-toast!”

It came out alright. No clumping action though — I think next time I need more oil/sugar. I used brown sugar in the interest of making it vegan. I may try honey next time. The flavor’s really good. Just unfortunate that the coconut smell (I used coconut oil) gave me a migraine.

Also, I introduce my new favorite way of eating: bowl. In a bowl. I made a bunch of quinoa last night and some of the perfect tofu. My new plan is to (on the weekend from now on) make a bunch of grains and tofu and sauces on the weekend. Then, during the week, toss a mix of it in a bowl with some freshly cooked veggies and greens. Instant meal! No boredom! Yay!

Man I love quinoa. Super fast cooking and awesome source of protein. I made a mix of white and red quinoa last night. I just throw a bunch of it in a pot with a massive amount of water and boil it like pasta. When it tastes/feels done, I drain the water. It’s just that easy.

So last night was quinoa, tofu, chard, some red onions, and tahini sauce. Yummers! It was a nice sturdy meal and made me feel like I was getting a lot of protein.

Grains for the future: brown rice, more quinoa, teff (never had it), millet maybe? I’m trying to branch out with my grains. Also, try my hand at polenta.
Protein for the future: tofu made different ways, chickpeas, other beans…
Sauces for the future: miso-tahini, peanut, Caesar

I’d love recommendations for bowl eating!

Now to the non-vegan portion of this post. I made yogurt! I’d like to try it with soy in the future, but I got a little freaked out by the requirement of agar. I used whole milk from a local dairy (135 miles away). The dairy actually seems really cool and ethical: Straus Family Creamery.

I made the shift away from vegan a few years ago, out of health/time issues. Lately my food priorities have been with local food — I feel better about consuming small amounts of conscientious dairy that comes locally, instead of the processed corn/soy fake meat I was eating. Anyway! Sometimes I feel like I still have to justify not being vegan anymore.

So! I made yogurt. It turned out pretty awesome, and it was really easy. It was mostly a lot of passive time letting it incubate.

I really encourage you to try making your own yogurt. I made 2 pints of yogurt, which was $2.50 worth of milk. The milk came in a glass jar that the dairy takes back, and I made the yogurt in glass jars, so no plastic containers. Probably the cheapest most eco-friendly yogurt possible!

These are some great links I found for yogurt-related fun:
Making Your Own Yogurt
Yogurt on 101 Cookbooks
A cool-looking yogurt-based restaurant in Palo Alto

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Well, I made granola today, which was great, but the smell of it cooking gave me a kind-of migraine. Yuck!

Anyway, fun-filled update on granola tomorrow.

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