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Posts Tagged ‘vegetables’

I’ve been reminded the past few weeks why Spring may be my favorite season, and I need only one word for it: asparagus.

I’ve been pining or asparagus season since, oh, November or so. Granted, this is California, so I could theoretically get asparagus anytime I want, but it’s usually conventionally grown and from Mexico or Chile. With a vegetable that’s technically a young shoot and is best when it’s fresh, there’s no way this stuff is going to cut it.

When I spied local, fresh asparagus at my farmers’ market three weeks ago, my jaw literally dropped. I’ve been buying a pound of it every week since, which I usually consume singlehandedly in two sittings.

roast-asparagus

The above is one of my more successful asparagus endeavors: roast asparagus (with salt and pepper), a poached egg, and a miso butter sauce on the side. Dipping the asparagus in the egg yolk was great, and the miso butter — get this vegans — tasted exactly like parmesan cheese. As one who’s been eschewing dairy lately, this discovery made my evening. (Miso butter recipe here, I used margarine: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/19/dining/193crex.html)

However, pan-roasting asparagus turned out to be the best option. Even better than roasting. I made a giant plate of it for me and my sweetie; prep was little more than cutting the asparagus spears into bite-ish-sized piece and sauteeing in olive oil over medium-high heat for five minutes, then cutting the heat to low for the last five. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and you have a meal fit for a king. Or queen. Or whatever royalty you want to be.

We’ve also started enjoying our CSA share — our second pick-up is tomorrow. Our CSA seems to favor a really wide variety of vegetables. Last week, it was parsnips, which I’d never had. We discovered that we really like parsnips. Veggie prep this week has been roasting them — a mix of a parsnip, some carrots, a beet, red onion, some fennel root, coated with olive oil and put in a pan with about a cup of veggie broth. Roasty at 350F for an hour; dress with mixture of (2 T soy sauce + 1 T balsamic vinegar), salt, pepper, some cayenne, fresh herbs (we had parsley). We found feta to be a nice addition as well. Also good with brown rice. Pretty much any root veggies would do well in this way of preparing, which I found in my CSA cookbook. Note to veggie lovers out there: CSA cookbooks are great, if you can get your hands on them.

roasted-root-vegetables

Here’s to Spring and all of the adventures it brings.

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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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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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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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I was wandering outside today, and guess what I found hiding in the rosebushes?

What IS that? Is it trying to camouflage itself, or does it just have a special affinity for flowers and bad metaphors?

…okay, you’ve got me. I knit a uterus.

A friend of mine is having some uterine trouble, so I did the obvious thing and knit her a uterus. Isn’t that what all of you would have done? I’m sending it in a care package to help her on her way. The pattern is from Knitty, and can be found here. I knit this on size 7 dpns with worsted weight yarn, so it came out a little smaller — actually close to the size of a real uterus!

And hey, for you Vegan MoFos out there, I have a cookbook recommendation:

I bought Farmer John’s Cookbook recently on a quest for more veggie-focused cookbooks. While I’m a fan of fake cheese and fake meat, I’ve been working on shifting my vegetarian diet to something that’s actually focused on, you know, vegetables. This cookbook does just that, with a bunch of recipes for almost every vegetable you could imagine (although not artichokes!), arranged by season. It’s full of pictures and anecdotes from the farm, as well as some slightly eccentric commentary from Farmer John. Maybe best of all, this cookbook in particular focuses on seasonal eating, so recipes for early spring produce won’t have you buying tomatoes from who knows where in the middle of February.

I’ve been realizing that the best vegetable cookbooks are those with less glossiness, less pictures, and more text. They appear boring at first, but end up being a wealth of information on how to buy, store, and prepare vegetables — more of a how to cook vegetables guide than anything else.

Tonight? I try to tackle eggplant. I will let you know if I survive. Eggplant and I have a tumultuous past.

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Alarm clock goes off. 6 AM on a Saturday. Gross. I flop out of bed and manage to grab a hoodie and my keys through the fog of slumber. There are a few cats meandering the streets, but that’s about it. It’s early. It’s dark. I’m tired.

But I’m happy. Or I will be. Early Saturday morning can only mean one thing: I’m working the farmers’ market again!

This is a real tea towel that we had around, so we hung it up today. Love it. I feel almost as happy as they look. After some coffee and an apple.

Today was a great day at the farmers’ market. We had insanely sweet Gala apples, lots of our organic dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes (our main focus), giant Walla Walla onions easily six inches in diameter, and some beautiful purple bell peppers and Anaheim peppers:

Will someone get on it and make me some sock yarn in those colors? I love all the purple we ended up having today at the stand; between the bell peppers, our cabbage, the red Italian Torpedo onions, and our purple flowers, I’m in color heaven.

So, as I was saying, it was a great day to be selling at the farmers’ market. The sun came out about 7:30, and there were a lot of happy people walking around, looking for the last remnants of summer’s stone fruit, getting serious about beets (so many beautiful beet greens!), buying up summer squash and zucchini flowers… the vendor two stalls down brought his mandolin, so we even had lovely tunes intermittently throughout the day.

One of the best parts about the market is the kids. One kid came up to the stand with his mom, who was buying tomatoes. He told me and my co-worker we “looked funny with our aprons on.” “Oh?” I asked, “And what do we look like?” He thought a bit, and responded, “Tomatoheads!”

You know, there are worse things to be.

Check out these conjoined tomatoes! We usually snag the funny-looking tomatoes and put them on display near our scale. I thought these were just too cute, being joined at the stem and all.

I’m always impressed by how red our tomatoes are. And part of the reason they taste SO GOOD (and why any fresh tomato will taste way better than conventional tomatoes) is because they’re allowed to ripen on the plant. According to my hero Alton Brown of Good Eats (from whom I get much of my food knowledge), industrial tomatoes — those sold in big grocery stores, even if they are organic — are picked when they’re just starting to blush. They’re then put in a room with chemicals that make them redden. Now, they may get red… but their ripening, or sugar development, stops the moment they’re picked. They may get prettier, but they’ll never get tastier.

And that’s why tomatoes from your garden or local farmer are downright yummier — because they’re actually ripe. I thought I didn’t like tomatoes until this summer. What I realized was I do like tomatoes. Real tomatoes.

Speaking of tomatoes… and tea towels:

I’m not going to get into details right now, but I will tell you that the stains are from tomatoes, and that this probably saved us half a roll of paper towels today! Stay tuned for total crafty and veggie dorkiness.

P.S. Obtained new Mason-Dixon book. Overcome with sudden urge to add to my kitchen cotton yarn stash. Predict I will not be able to resist the appeal of more knit objects in my kitchen.

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I’m of the opinion that it’s important to give you, my reader, some kind of history (or genealogy, if you will) of why I’m vegetarian.

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 13 years old. It started from a pretty typical adolescent headspace, centering around coming into an awareness that eating meat meant actually eating another critter. So, at 13, I decided to become vegetarian, largely out of a desire not to eat animals, but with a vague idea that it was “good for the environment.” I stayed vegetarian through my adolescence, which really meant just not eating anything that has meat in it. You know, potato chips, sometimes a veggie burrito or a quesadilla, everything but the meat at dinner, and lots of fake bacon (yum).

Sometime around my junior year of high school, I became aware of the complexities of the meat industrial system, and how simply cutting out meat didn’t necessarily mean I was saving the animals I hoped to spare with my diet. Turns out that purchasing and consuming dairy and eggs frequently contributes to the problematic relationship humans have with the food they eat — from the mistreatment of animals to the money still going towards the meat industry. I decided at that point that going vegan would do more to resist the eating structures I found problematic. At this point, my diet became a political stance.

As a vegan, sometimes I’d do really well and cook incredible food for myself. I learned to eat a lot of foods that varied from the standard fare I was raised on (rice, chicken, broccoli) and really broadened my dietary horizons. Somewhere in college I found myself with not enough hours in the day, and had a difficult time staying well-nourished. I was tired a lot and found I had issues keeping my blood sugar stable — I would be super irritable and feel faint not long after eating a meal. I decided to supplement my diet with some dairy and eggs and see how that felt. At some point, this became the healthiest way for me to eat and I “came out” as a lapsed vegan.

Post-college, I took it upon myself to heal my relationship with food. College left me in a state where I was eating mostly pre-packaged, frozen, or processed foods. My partner pointed out that I ate a lot of fake meat, but not much else. It was totally true! I started really focusing on what I ate. It took a whole year and a lot of taste adjustment to get to a healthy eating place — moving towards a more organic, whole foods, local diet, and being really conscientious not just of what I eat but where my food comes from.

At this point in my life, I feel really good about what I eat and calling myself a vegetarian. I think I finally enjoy eating food that is good for me, and I’m at a place where I can be conscientious about where that food comes from. I’ve come to the belief that food is such a huge part of our lives and deserves more credit and time that it gets. Plus, I’ve discovered that nectarines are really, really tasty…

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