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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cookin’ My Ass Off and Lovin’ It!!



It seems like we just did this little blog yesterday and HERE WE ARE a WEEK LATER!! At the risk of sounding like Anastasia Steele, “Holy Crap!” I have had such a FUN week in terms of cookin’ ! So here you go! I don’t have much of an ass (although I've been told I can BE one) but what I do have is gone…cooked completely OFF!!

Y’all know I’m a Yoga devotee, having re-engaged a practice that stagnated for a few years. This past Saturday, July 26, the high-end yoga clothing Lululemon folks held a trunk show at JoyFlow Yoga in Ridgeland. I offered to make sone snacky stuffs and wound up making several dozen vegan cookies of varying type as well as a big bowl of ‘Jerk Roasted Chickpeas’.  The supreme compliment came when one person took one of the ‘Little Kiki’s’ (crème filled oatmeal cookies) to someone who swore, “this cannot be vegan”. Made my day! Barely had time to set all the goodies up before Ana (one of the instructors) took us through a blistering flow series for about 75-90 minutes. There was not a dry molecule on any of us…loved it, felt strong (tired strong) and happy to be able to do it, well, MOST of it.
Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies from Chloe Coscarelli

'Little Kiki's'

Yoga Cookies from Chloe Coscarelli

Jerk Roasted Chickpeas

Next up, putting on my thinking/plotting cap to take vegan food to a weekend festival in north MS (Water Valley to be exact; Big Solid’s home town). We both knew that the likelihood of finding vegan fare was pretty remote. So, the leap from ‘what can I fix for myself’ to ‘what can I fix for EVERYBODY’ wasn’t much of a stretch. Our host called to ask what he should buy and what was available which was too sweet of him. I gave him some suggestions when he INSISTED that he find something (e.g., almond milk, some veggie salads) but also told him that it would be my pleasure to bring some things that we could all sample. The compromise was reached.

With a new purpose, the cooking began. Y’all know I rely HEAVILY on Chef Skye Michael  for many of the plant-based meat replacements. Since this is the south, sausages rule so that was an easy decision.  Spent the day on Monday preparing a double recipe of The Gentle Chef’s Andouille and Italian sausages.  Made with Vital Wheat Gluten as the base, these sausages are awesome. I KNOW they are not the real thing but damn, they are fine. So, now we have an abundance of sausages for folks to sample (or to bring home and freeze if noses are turned up).  (http://thegentlechef.com/)


    
Freshly Steamed Andouille Sausages from The Gentle Chef

Freshly steamed Italian Sausages from The Gentle Chef



Yesterday (Wednesday 7/29) was spent baking bread to take. Two loaves of pumpernickel and one loaf of the Sandwich loaf found on another favorite site, Vegan Richa.  Actually, we’ve already sampled the sandwich bread, so it will more than likely be mostly gone by the time we pack the car on Thursday. Guess we’ll leave enough for the house-sitter to have while she’s here.

I also made two batches of cookie dough to keep in the ‘frig all night and bake today as I have a bunch of other stuff to do today.  Made the ‘Little Kiki’s’ dough/crème filling and the Espresso Chocolate Chip dough.

Popped out of bed early this morning with baking COOKIES on my mind!! Fixed breakfast for the girls (not an uneventful process), then for Big Solid (breakfast sausage, egg whites and toast) and me (chopped tomatoes, toast and jalapeno/cilantro hummus).  Following that, the ovens were pre-heated and the doughs removed from the outside ‘frig. Baked the Little Kiki’s first without a hitch. BUT, when I pulled the Espresso Chocolate Chip dough out, it had frozen (stupid outside refrigerator)…so I am letting it soften/defrost. Turned off the ovens, covered the dough and will get busy with other things.

We ordered three pounds of Whole Foods TO DIE FOR “Chicken Fried Tofu” to take for folks to sample…we figure if it’s fried, they’ll eat it without question. That will be picked up at 2:30 today.

The Espresso Chocolate Chip cookie dough has softened enough to bake and now we have a few dozen sinfully delicious cookies to add to the WV Vegan extravaganza.  We will most definitely take pictures and share the results with y’all next week.
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THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SPIDEY-NURSE

Spidey-Nurse herownself
Day 15...all's well and good, except the day I decided it was better to go along and get along than to stick to my (harm-none) guns. Having "Linner" at a large California chain seemed a safe bet, until they came back, minutes before bringing our food and said, "You just don't want the Mexican cheese on top, right? Cause the Jack is already mixed in and we can't serve it without the cream sauce." What?? But not wanting to make a scene at the restaurant that just accommodated us and our two dogs in their outdoor seating or tick off my omnivorous (and starving husband), I said, "sure, don't worry about it." Cramps all night...but "cheese is good for you" right??

SO! Other than my poor choices one day, the 15 day trek has been relatively smooth despite crazy work schedules. I must admit I did invest in a week of vegan food delivery service (www.veginout.com) to make sure I had no reason to stray, but honestly, I still have half of it in the fridge. It is awesome, I highly recommend it especially if you are busy, single and can afford it ($160/week outside LA).
Right now, the recipe is...
  • Breakfast: My workday breakfast is unsweetened (store-bought) raw juice/smoothie, almond milk and RAW protein. On the weekend, I played around with vegan sausage sandwiches. I was worried about our favorite breakfast place (where we go EVERY Sunday) but turns out they have a BLT with avocado on wheat that is simply awesome with the bacon in a To-Go box for my furry children!
  • Lunch: Been packing up a green salad with the vegan soups sent from VeginOut (usually pretty bean-protein heavy) and I'm set for the day with an apple for a snack.
  • Dinner: This is always a wide spectrum of options in our house and my most trying time. If we eat in, there are veggies, beans and faux-chicken to keep the munchies away, but eating out with a drink or two...sigh, the challenge remains and carbs prevail.
My "yes!" moment of the week was tonight. I played golf with some friends after work and then there was a party at one of the girl's houses. "You don't need to bring anything" was ringing in my ears as I pulled off into a supermarket parking lot to ensure I didn't arrive at the party empty handed. This ended up being a moment of sheer brilliance as there was NOT ONE VEGAN ITEM ON THE TABLE until the salad came out later. My hummus and pita chips were a big hit (the first thing empty) and it and a big green salad were more than enough to let me blend in, but stay true to who I want to be.

I don't have any great wisdom to share with anyone this week except Stay True to Yourself and Cheese is Evil.  AHIMSA
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An additional site that needs to be mentioned this week as excellent resources for vegan recipes and information. There are some great recipes and ideas from this site...check IT OUT:

The Minimalist Baker  http://minimalistbaker.com/

And there we have yet another fun-filled week of cooking and stuffs like that. I am sure that after this weekend of food frenzies in Water Valley, I will find my ass has returned.  Until next week, when you have a chance to be kind or do something kind, take it because you won't get that one again and there's just no tellin' what an impact you may make.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Where Did the Week Go?!



Hi y’all—I’m here to tell you that this week has gone by so fast, it’s pretty scary. It’s like yesterday, I was 30 and today I’m getting damn close to 68!! That bein’ said, I want to make sure that the next years are the healthiest I have…

Since we publish this little blog on Wednesday, that’s the day that begins ‘bloggy idea’ week.  Wednesday evenings are our ‘burger’ nights. We may have a Simple Truth burger (vegan) OR this week we had a portabello burger with a recipe from Oh She Glows cookbook by Angela Liddon. Always have oven fries as well, so it’s not a very creative meal but it certainly fills a niche for us. BTW, not only is Oh She GLows a GREAT cookbook, the blog/site is also terrific. Check it out. http://ohsheglows.com/



This week we’ve eaten out (or should I say dined) twice. We ALWAYS eat out on Friday night…not only is it ‘date night’ but also it’s just a holdover from celebrating the end of the work week that we have chosen to hang onto.  And, we almost always eat out Friday nights at Kathryn’s Steakhouse in Ridgeland.  http://www.kathrynssteaks.com/ This week, we decided to try a new place in Gluckstadt even though the menu did not look particularly vegan-friendly.  I was prepared to take some of my own ‘stuff’ and get a salad or a baked potato.  So, even leaving early, when we got there, the parking lot of full. We are so noise aversive, the idea of a big crowd so early was an immediate deterrent but we were gonna give it a go. HOWEVER, as we were turning in, we noticed a guy standing on the deck/porch who all of a sudden blew his nose over the side without the benefit of a handkerchief—we did not even stop the car; just made a u-turn out and headed to our standby, Kathryn’s. Since we eat early, the crowd had not started to build and we had our ‘Cheers’ experience. I had a salad with my Boca crumbles over it and Big Solid had grilled chicken.

Saturday night, we headed for another of our local haunts where I KNOW I can get a vegan entrée without calling ahead…Anjou. How nice it is to have that option! As usual for a spur of the moment dining selection, I had the Anjou plate which is spaghetti squash with a delicious marinara/kalamata olive sauce. http://www.anjourestaurant.net/



Sunday is a fasting day…now, really…we don’t completely fast. We just lower our intake of food dramatically. Nothing but a protein smoothie and a small evening meal (less than 500 calories). It certainly does reduce the stress of ‘what to fix for dinner’ as we usually have some combination of beans (or lentils)/brown rice and a tomato salad. Sunday was also a bread baking day…we have gotten so used to the dark and delicious pumpernickel, we’ve pretty much stopped buying store-bought ‘balloon’ bread. I finally wised up and have prepared several plastic baggies with the dry ingredients already made up, so all I have to do is throw in the wet, mix, knead, let rise a couple of times and bake. Piece of cake—or, well, bread. 
Nothin' says lovin' like pumpernickel from the oven!

Monday gave me an opportunity to try something from one of my favorite vegan blogs, Vegan Richa by Richa Hingle.  We LOVE LOVE LOVE Ethiopian food; the one Ethiopian restaurant attempt here did not make it and frankly, the food was not that great nor was the service. The next best thing, then, is to try to make it at home. This recipe, Ethiopian Cabbage, Potatoes and Carrots (Atakilt Wat) looked so good, so we gave it a go. IT WAS DELICIOUS, low calorie and pretty easy to prepare (fix). To make sure we got additional protein, I cubed some organic flax tempeh and sautéed it with some Hot Madras Curry powder. Her site can be accessed at http://www.veganricha.com/
 
Atakilt Wat/Ethiopian Cabbage

Flax tempeh dusted with Hot Madras Curry Powder

Tuesday was fasting day and also a cookie baking day. Am saving the cookies for a whole ‘nuther blog because, frankly, I’m havin’ the time of my life makin’ cookies! Since we don’t eat them that much, it’s fun to give them away. It was also CSA day and I got my usual great crate of vegetable bounty from Amorphous Gardens…I think we only have a couple more weeks in this summer’s share (mini-sob). Falls shares are open (meaning you don’t buy a whole season’s worth but can purchase on a first come/first served basis) and will probably begin in late September.  That got me to thinking about planting a fall garden of greens, cauliflower, broccoli and kale and, of course, some fall tomatoes.

So, that brings us to today—Wednesday July 23. And so we begin again to think of things to tell you next Wednesday. BUT WAIT!! We have a NEW FEATURE!!
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THE ADVENTURES OF SPIDEY-NURSE!!
(OK, this bears some ‘splainin’).  Remember (or not) in an early blog, we mentioned our inspiration for becoming vegetarian in the first place (see blog of May 28 titled “Counting Calories or Not, section titled It’s All Her Fault).  Shannon Hall, AKA Spidey-Nurse, was my colleague at the Long Term Care Institute for many years and we found ourselves joined at the hip on many a working week. Since the Long Term Care Institute is a group of the finest people on EARTH, it stands to reason lasting friendships would evolve. Shannon is a special friend indeed and we have had many a laugh, cry, rant, martini, and superb dining experiences together. And just because we have gone in different directions over the past few years does not mean that the connection is lost…au contraire! Shannon lost over 80 lbs in our waning days at LTCI (she took another position and I retired) but we have stayed close. Over the past few years as career moves are made, the weight that had been lost found its way back. So now, Shannon is determined to get back on track.  I invited her to take a leap of faith and contribute her journey as part of this blog. First, to help her focus on keeping the path clear and second to offer folks a first-hand account of the challenges and successes she is having. She was my hero then and she’s my hero now. And so it begins…from Shannon in her own special way:

Hello...I am Spidey-nurse. Don't say it....I can hear you, "Spidey-Nurse...really?"  But yes...I am Spidey nurse. Empowered by the bite of a bastard spider who crept in my room AND made it back out, I've adopted AHIMSA ("Do No Harm") as a way of life.

Spidey-Nurse AKA Shannon
I am a fallen-away-vegan-vegetarian who ran out of excuses. I went vegetarian 5 years ago and have never looked back, but my yearlong attempt at veganism was defeated by work travel, life in the south and Midwest roots. Now? I LIVE in Tree Hugger Central (otherwise known as Silicon Valley) and all my excuses have dried up and blown off the coast.

My sidekick (and sometimes superhero) Janne wanted me to jump into her blog and share the trials and tribulations of working life as a vegan so I said, "What the hell? There aren't any more spiders are there?" and here I am. I am 8 days in to my return to a gentler life and I feel more balanced, have fewer cravings and can look my dogs in the eye. Don't think it hasn't been hard, but sometimes the details are too ridiculous to share. The end game?  I still went out with my girlfriends after work today; we still ordered the same thing at the same wine bar we always go to. But tonight, I added hummus to the order and thoroughly enjoyed little breads and homemade crackers with chickpeas and olives instead of cheese. I don't feel empty...I'm not sad I missed out on the cheese...I feel at peace.
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On a final note for this post, we want to give a HUGE SHOUT OUT to our own MS Vegan Blogger, Susan Voisin who has Fat Free Vegan blog and is also very accessible via her FaceBook page by the same name  http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/.

Recently, one of the country's largest HMOs (Health Maintenance Organization), Kaiser Permanente, issued a statement supporting the benefits of a plant based diet and cited Susan’s blog as one of note in their pamphlet http://buff.ly/1nj5eVu. And here is the link to their site which includes a video of the benefits of a plant based eating regimen.


Y'all have a great week. Be kind to each other and PLANT ONE ON!!
 



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The “V” List




La Finestra and THE Chef Ramsey

Once a month, we go out for dinner with our BFFs Mary Evelyn and Jesse Dees and once a month we go through the same ritual…”WHERE DO WE GO THIS TIME?” Since I’m the kink in things, being vegan, the discussion typically starts with “Where can YOU get vegan options that are not ‘we can throw some sides together for you’?  The other big issue for us is NOISE…if a restaurant is so loud we can’t converse with our friends, we don’t go back but that’s a whole ‘nuther story.

That being said, over the past couple of years, the restaurant community in metropolitan Jackson area (including Ridgeland and Madison) has begun to embrace and respond to those of us who choose to be plant based in our eating. AND, we have been quick to acknowledge those restaurants for sure…

We try to stay pretty varied in our selections but the list is a bit narrow. We have a tendency to go to the same places where we KNOW what is available.  This month’s selection opportunities proved to be no different from our typical discussion until the suggestion was made to try La Finestra.  We had heard really good things about this restaurant from friends (e.g., “It’s the closest thing to Tuscany you can find here”) but were leery of the Italian penchant for pasta, cheese and veal dishes, not exactly a vegan’s dream. But, we decided to try it.  So, I called to make reservations and asked what options were available for a vegan. Boy, right off the bat, I knew we’d made a good choice…the person I spoke with responded with enthusiasm and excitement, saying, “we have several vegetarian and vegan customers and are happy to prepare something for you”.  OK—so now I’m excited. 

THE Chef Ramsey and me
We are early diners, so arrived at our reservation time of 6:00 p.m. We have found that to avoid the dreaded noise factor, earlier works best. I think we were the first folks of the evening to show up and Chef Ramsey actually greeted us.  He asked who the vegan was so I ‘fessed up. Chef said he would get us seated and then return to talk about what options were on the table (no pun intended). So, the host seated us and while we waited for our BFFs, Chef Ramsey came over, pulled up a chair and proceeded to outline ideas. I was already SOLD…I have NEVER had a chef take such personal interest to the point of sitting down, face to face and telling me how much he enjoyed the challenge of preparing vegan cuisine. Right off the bat, he said that his pasta dishes were out as all of their pasta is made on site and does contain eggs. BUT, I was actually glad of that…although I like pasta, it is calorie intense (for me anyway) and I would much prefer a more creative approach to an entrée—which is EXACTLY what I got.

Everyone else settled on salads/soup and entrees and we enjoyed cocktails as we waited; good cocktails at that. Entrees ranged from chicken (Big Solid) to Mary Evelyn’s shrimp (and we aren’t talking shrimp sized shrimp, we’re talkin’ BIG shrimp oxymoron that it is) and Jesse’s veal dish. Our server, Seth, was attentive, prompt and knowledgeable about the restaurant offerings.

Insalata Estiva
So, my salad was called Insalata Estiva and consisted of living lettuce, blackberries, orange wheels, ground cherries, radishes, lemon cucumber, and a lovely, light orange vinaigrette.  I dove into it so quickly that I forgot to take a picture as it was served.
 
My entrée was a grilled Golden Lantern squash (like a squash steak), grilled romaine, fried Japanese eggplant, fried carrot tops, plated with splashes of chive oil, smoked paprika oil and a great taste enhancer, lemon ash. Chef Ramsey explained that lemon ash is the lemon pith/peel (whatever is not used) that is roasted til it’s charred and then ground into ash. Used sparingly, it delivers a lovely lemony smell and hint. It was YUMMY!
Entree--it was delicious!! And beautifully presented.

 Needless to say, we enjoyed our first dinner at La Finestra and know with certainty that it won’t by our last. By the time we left the restaurant, having no room for the lovely sounding desserts (besides, I had homemade dairy free chocolate coconut ice cream waiting at home), the restaurant was full. It was so nice to see folks coming to downtown Jackson (the corner of E. Amite and Congress, across from the Governor's Mansion)…such is the draw of good food and good service. http://www.eatlafinestra.com/

So we add La Finestra to The “V” List as a go to place. I look forward to more creative endeavors by Chef Ramsey.  La Finestra is now in the rotation with Anjou (Chef Daryl always hits a home run), Bravo! (ditto Chef Matt) and Capitol Grill (Chef Lance). We hope The "V" List will continue to grow. Those of you who read this blog who are local, please let us know of your faves as well.

One thing I would like to throw on the table is the exploration of dishes that use seitan, tofu, and/or tempeh as entrée potentials.  I invite folks to look at the menus of two of my most favorite restaurants, Laughing Seed http://laughingseed.jackofthewood.com/  and Plant http://plantisfood.com/ both in Asheville NC.


This ‘n That stuffs
We were sad to see that the 7 course dinner event planned for Monday July 14th at Bravo! spearheaded by Chef Matt Mabry was canceled. Unfortunately, not everyone was aware of the cancellation.  Maybe next time, a more formal response will be necessary to make sure that there are a) enough patrons to make it happen and b) provide a structure for enhanced communication in the event things change.

The consensus of those I’ve spoken with seems to point to the price of the dinner.  Even with acknowledging the enormous amount of work and creativity that would be involved in putting this event on, the price of $68 per person (and that did not include wine/beer pairings) was just a bit hefty and probably was the key factor in the lack of response.  That in no way impacts the weekly Vegan Thursday night dinners which continue to be quite successful.
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One of the best overall sites we’ve found in a long time is called One Green Planet.  It a kind of clearinghouse of information and resources, vegan recipes and links to cool vegan sites.  They have a daily newsletter that you can sign up for and I almost always find something fun, entertaining or interesting to read OR a recipe that looks phenomenal.

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On a final note for this posting, you know—there is some phenomenon in the universe that
CSA bounty
assures that IF you learn a new word, such as oxymoron or tautology, it’s a pretty good bet that you will hear that word used within 24 hours (yes, even tautology).  Not sure how that particular magic occurs, but it does. Well, the same applies to food stuffs!! For a few weeks now, we’ve been getting ground cherries from Jonathan Picarsic at Amorphous Gardens and they are delicious; we eat them like popcorn. Never had seen or heard of them before this summer. So, at La Finestra the other night, what should appear in my salad but GROUND CHERRIES!! See—magical forces at work. Turns out that Chef Ramsey buys the ground cherries from Jonathan…
 
Have a very special week. Eat healthy and try one meal as a vegan.