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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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My breakfast this morning was about as healthful — and delicious — as it gets. I bet I got two servings of fruit and two servings of whole grains. I just can’t get over oatmeal!

In my previous life at a desk job, I ate oatmeal every weekday. I had my little pint-sized Mason jar that I’d keep at my desk and a bag of thick rolled oats in the desk drawer. Every day it was two-thirds of a jar of oats, some turbinado sugar, and enough hot water just to cover it. Put the cap on, let sit for a few minutes, et voila! Chewy, warm, tasty oatmeal.

Oatmeal still serves me as perhaps the quickest, easiest breakfast I can muster. I’ve also been stirring in a spoonful of yogurt lately, for extra creaminess and probiotic action. Today, though, was special. I added a chopped-up pear, and things went to another level. These pears from the farmers’ market are SO sweet and the perfect texture. And what a good, easy way to kick up oatmeal! I bet it would be easy enough to chop them up the night before and take them in a plastic container, then add them at work. Yummers.

In conclusion: Dear pears, I love you.

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I’ll admit, I’ve been sucky on the breakfast front lately. I’m a picky breakfast eater — I don’t like anything sweet or cold, and it has to be sturdy. I’ve been eating a lot of oatmeal (thick rolled oats + boiling water + sugar), but I’m also easily bored. I decided to take back breakfast this morning.

A big cup of tea and my favorite vegan breakfast — and actually sitting down and deciding to make a meal of it, instead of eating in my lap while on my laptop.

In my brain I’m all about valuing eating. Food is important! Put away the internet and sit down at a table! I’m pretty good at dinner since the boy and I have been eating meals I make at home regularly, but the rest of the day’s meals get tossed away. I know it’s even worse with an 8-5, or if you’re a student. Breakfast becomes a hassle, pitting your body’s needs against time. And time kind of wins usually.

But today breakfast won. With my favorite, quick and easy vegan breakfast. Here’s what you do (taken from one of the How It All Vegan books).

– Leftover rice and tofu into a pan with some olive oil and soy sauce
– Bread gets toasty
– Toasty bread receives Vegenaise treatment
– Soy saucy rice and tofus go onto lubricated bread
– All gets topped with ketchup

Kind of weird, but really fast and tasty. And man, talk about stick to your ribs! I was full full full after two pieces.

Now, of course, I’m imagining out-the-door versions. Rolled in some lavash bread maybe?

But for now, I’m going to stick to my sit down breakfast. I think I owe it to myself.

(Books are a nutritious part of this balanced breakfast. I’ve discovered the library, can you tell…?)

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Alright! For the Love of Guava tagged me to showcase my vegan freezer. This is interesting, since I’m housesitting right now, so my freezer isn’t actually mine. However, I’ve been slowly taking over, and here’s what it looks like:

The meat is definitely not mine, so it gets an X. I’ve been doing a decent amount of freezing things when they’re in season so that I can enjoy them when they’re not. There’s a good amount of tomato sauce and some apple pies my friend and I made, as well as some shell beans. And tofu, since it gets better when frozen!

And the door! Whenever I make rice, I make a lot and freeze it in smaller quantities for use later. Also had some oatmeal pancakes leftover.

Sorry it’s not more interesting! I don’t know that I know the requisite 5 vegan bloggers, but if you’re reading this, and you’re doing Vegan MoFo and haven’t gotten this yet, steal it! Cupcake Punk, I don’t think I’ve seen it on your blog yet…

Who saw Project Runway last night? Yay Leanne! I was really rooting for her — I loved her collection, the way she used a simple color palette to showcase her architectural designs. I made some vegan sugar cookies for our Project Runway Finale party last night. I tried to make them look like pincushions, which is totally the idea of my friend (check her out: Tatiana Supports the Arts).

I veganized a Martha Stewart recipe (here). For the best vegan egg substitute, I’ve had luck with this combination in baking:
– 1/2 tsp baking soda
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 2 Tbsp flour
– 3 Tbsp water
Mix together in a separate bowl — will get frothy. Equals one egg.

The frosting is just powdered sugar (2 c) with 7-ish tsp of soy milk. Plus all the red food dye I could muster. The frosting worked perfectly! Nice and thin — I’m not a huge fan of super thick frosting. And it dried in time for Runway fun!

For more Project Runway fun, check out Walking the Vegan Line’s Project Runway cupcakes. And, if you’re not into it yet, Project Rungay is my favorite way to relive my favorite Project Runway episodes.

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The farmstand this week brought some winter squash. You can imagine my excitement! I’ve decided this is the winter I learn to prepare winter squash, so I snatched some of these babies up. First on the chopping block: delicata squash.

First of all, if you’re looking for economical food, winter squash has got to be it. This one weighed a little over a pound, and at $1/lb right now, that means that a good amount of food for two people was about $1.50 total, plus tiny amounts of sugar and stuff. Of course, one can’t live on squash alone, but I might try…

Squash friend needed seeds removed. Cutting winter squash can be a challenge. Get out your biggest sharpest knife and proceed cautiously. After much thinking, I figured out the best and safest way to cut the elusive squash. First I cut in half the circle way (so now two half as long pieces).

Then I cut the squash lengthwise, giving me four pieces that were open and half as long as the original squash.

Then I grabbed a trusty spoon with a sturdy handle to scoop out the seeds. I’ve done this with less sturdy spoons. They bent. As you can see from the above picture, the membrane inside the squash is not as moist as that inside a pumpkin — the seeds are also more compact in the drier insides.

And save those seeds! You’re going to use them.

I cut the squash into 1″ wide or so half-moons. After doing that, I got on to what ended up being my favorite part of the meal: caramelizing the seeds. I melted 1 Tbsp of margarine in a pan and put the seeds in on low-ish heat. Move them around constantly so they don’t stick or get burnt! After 2-3 minutes, add 1/2 Tbsp of brown sugar. Keep ’em moving for about 5 minutes or until brownish and caramelized. So good.

After the seeds have been removed from the pan and set aside for later, the squash goes into the pan, gets drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then 1/2 cup of water goes into the pan. Cover, and let cook for 15+ minutes or until you can stab quite easily with a fork. The texture will be really smooth and soft. Watch them at the end — the bottoms of mine got a little overdone, I think partially from the leftover sugar in the pan.

Remove to a plate and cover with seeds.

Yummers! I love that the shape of the squash is retained — and delicata is the only winter squash whose skin is edible, so you get that lovely color too. This was way more delicious than I expected. The seeds were sweet and toasty, and the squash had a really smooth texture and wonderful flavor, all by itself. I ate mine quite happily.

This was the right amount of squash for two people. You could, of course, make it for more by using more squash! This recipe came from my UCSC CSA cookbook — I feel like it was such a simple way of making it that it’s okay to reproduce here.

And hey, I also made some totally non-vegan Snickerdoodles from a family recipe. I’m pretty proud of how they turned out, but I guess that’s what happens with a good recipe!

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Last night, I had a date. A date with an eggplant.

Eggplant and I have had a touch-and-go relationship. Well, actually, there’s never been much touching. Maybe a one-night stand at my favorite Sri Lankan restaurant where they actually know how to prepare eggplant. Usually, though, my relationship with eggplant consists of me finding it in mediocre grilled vegetable sandwiches that are the only thing on the menu I can eat. The eggplant is always squishy.

So I tried last night to make amends with eggplant and cook something delicious. Here was my game plan: fried polenta, broiled eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted Anaheim pepper, balsamic onions. Pretty much everything I read recommended some combination of eggplant-tomato-pepper. Makes sense, as they’re all in season around the same time.

By the way, did you know eggplant is a berry? And in the same family as tomatoes? Never woulda guessed.

Anyway, the players:
– Balsamic onions: Slice an onion (I used red) into rings and saute over medium-low heat in olive oil until translucent and wiggly. Move to a bowl and cover in balsamic vinegar. Allow to steep until you’re ready to use them.
– Roasted pepper: I roasted my Anaheim pepper directly over the stove flame. I’m not sure I like setting things kind-of on fire in my kitchen. However, it worked well.

– Sun-dried tomatoes: Reconstituted in olive oil, which I then used to brush on the eggplant.
– Eggplant: Sliced into 1/2″ circles and salted for quite a while — an hour? more? Broiled for 5-ish minutes each side as in this recipe.
– Polenta: Pre-made polenta roll (will try to make my own soon), sliced into 1/2″ circles and pan-fried in olive oil.

The results?

Really good! The polenta had a little bit of a crust and lent a sweetness to the dish’s foundation. The eggplant was not squishy and had remarkable flavor — I think I’ll peel it next time, as the skins got a little tough. The tomatoes were just a little tangy and chewy, providing a nice complement to the roasted pepper. The balsamic onions, though, were what really tied the dish together, picking up on the tanginess of the tomatoes while making the polenta and eggplant more interesting.

I am so making this again. I really surprised myself!

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