Friday, October 24, 2014

Cookin’ with Granny

My younger grandchild, Sara Powell, turned 9 a couple of weeks ago…her birthday was on the day celebrated as Columbus Day (Oct. 13). Her Mom asked her what she wanted to do on her day and her request was “to go cook with Kiki” (that’s me). So that’s what we did!! And we had SUCH a GREAT TIME!! We  made two kinds of cookies, two cakes, and pumpernickel bread….all vegan and all fun. What a total JOY she was to have in the kitchen…and yep, we made some mistakes but we didn’t care. In the end, everything turned out just fine; might not have been as pretty as we would have liked, but tasted great.  It was a pleasure to share time, knowledge and experience with her. She asked LOTS of questions about being vegan, which was really cool. I think at 9 she’s not gonna jump into being vegan right away but my suspicion is that when she gets older, she just may give it a go.

See what we did!!

On the left, Sara Powell is doing a great job of lining the pans with sliced apples for the first of two Italian Apple Cakes and on the right is a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  The cakes were ALMOST a disaster as we (meaning forgetful Kiki) forgot a pretty important ingredient (baking soda) while the taste was great, the cakes actually turned out looking more like a pancake than a cake. The chocolate chip cookies were awesome.

Above left were our first effort of the day...two gorgeous loaves of pumpernickel bread.  Sara Powell said, "I'm gonna look at this break tonight when we eat supper and say, 'I MADE this!'" That statement alone made my whole day!! She has such an energy to cook that I know she'll be a great cook. On the right, SP filling the "Little Kiki's" with good stuffs.

Blog Name Change
You can see that we have changed the name of our little blog from “To V or Not To V” to “The Elf in the Kitchen”. It’s easier to say and remember, actually. So spread the word and enjoy. We’ve been away for a couple of weeks but hope to get back into the weekly routine soon.

Stuffs We Tried This Week
I’ve been trying to expand our repertoire of meal selections and weed out those we can live without and those we just went nuts over.

 Two of the BEST dishes we had during the week were these.  On the left is an AWESOME taco recipe from Rhea Parson's The "V" Word--a Portobello Mushroom, Artichoke Heart and Sun-dried Tomato Taco. We used some new cheese we found at Whole Foods but will not use it again. It wasn't that great and way expensive, so we will go back to our standby of Daiya brand cheddar-esque cheese shreds.  The dish on the right is a fabulous Mediterranean tofu scramble, complete with broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, onion and seasoned with tumeric, black salt and a new siracha powder I found. YUMMY!!

ARF Bakin’
Every Wednesday (when I’m not laid up from falling and busting my rear or other catastrophes), I try to go out to the Animal Rescue Fund of MS to walk and commune with some of the over 300 dogs that are at the shelter.  In addition, it’s fun to take some vegan baked goods for folks to sample and occasionally throw in supper for the two folks who have dedicated their lives to saving/rescuing/rehabbing and loving all of the animals there (Elizabeth and Charles Jackson).  As many of you know, ARF/MS is a no kill shelter that grew out of a need to place abandoned/neglected pets following hurricane Katrina. Operating on a shoestring budget, they try to place and adopt out animals to loving and safe homes. The shelter staff works hard to keep the animals fed, watered, cleaned and in a safe/sanitary environment…and believe me, it’s very hard work. So, it just seems right to do something kind back.  This week we took some chocolate chip and some pear/walnut/raisin mini-muffins; and the Mediterranean tofu scramble for supper. 

 Chocolate chip mini-cupcakes ready to cool off and take to the good folks at ARF. 

Last blog, we posted about an all vegan bake sale to be held on October 25....well, we postponed the date until spring. So many of the organizers had so many irons in the fire for the holiday season, we thought it prudent to delay a bit and present middle MS with a KNOCKED-OUT VEGAN BAKE SALE around Easter. Our celebrity chefs are still on board and eager to display their vegan baking expertise.

Today (10/24), we had the honor of being a guest on a SuperTalk MS (97.3 FM) on the Gallo Show, featuring Paul Gallo. We were asked by Dr. Phillip Ley and his wife Linda Allen to participate on the show to discuss the Breast Cancer Walk being held here tomorrow. While the content mostly dealt with the importance of early detection and treatment, yearly mammograms and self-examination, we also got a chance to talk about the impact being vegan has had on my life and health. Now, we want to cook for the kind folks at SuperTalk MS and share with them the delights of vegan cooking. Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Well, this week’s blog may not impact those of you who live in a galaxy far, far away but it may stimulate an idea or two.  For the past few weeks, we have been working with the Animal Rescue Fund of MS (ARF/MS) on a fund-raising event. It has the rather cryptic working title of A.B.S.L.N.O.  WTF? you ask yourself.

Almond cookies!
Yep, we are putting together an all vegan bake sale consisting of both savory (breads and such) and sweet (cookies, cakes and such). We are doing this for a couple of reasons…first and foremost, to raise a bit of ‘bread’ (ha!) for the good works that this NO KILL-ALL KINDNESS shelter does AND to raise awareness of just how GOOD vegan foods can be. Since EVERYBODY likes cookies and bread stuffs, we thought that a bake sale (like no other) would be a good place to start. Most people have the notion that being vegan means giving up all the great food in the world and living an ascetic lifestyle of denial and ‘food poverty’. Nothing could be further from the truth, although I will say that there are challenges and an occasional mental lapse into “I could eat a prime rib the size of Texas”.

And vegans range from wannabe to militant with all of the degrees in between.  There are
Whoopee pies!
folks who do not get terribly upset if a molecule of casein (an ingredient found in animal milks) goes down their unsuspecting throat or they find out too late that an ingredient (such as an egg wash) was omitted from a label and some egg was ingested. AND THEN…there are folks who are aghast if a person wears leather or eats honey (bees are indeed animals). We hope to have items at A.B.S.L.N.O. that will appeal to everyone!! Vegans and non-vegans alike. We are not there to proselytize but to offer quality baked goods that are plant-based.

Scattered throughout this weeks blog are pictures of some of the items that will be for sale!!
We will have a Celebrity Chefs Table with baked goods donated by some of the area restaurants chefs.  We are excited at their support and hope that they will challenge themselves to create some really cool vegan items. 

Now, if this goes over well and we are pretty excited about it, we will certainly have another one and possibly expand the items to more than just baked. There are as many opportunities to share the wealth of vegan goodness than just baked stuffs, so stay tuned. We will take pictures on the day of the sale and most definitely blog it.  The kind folks at Renaissance on Colony Parkway have donated a terrific space for us to ply our wares and have been most helpful with suggestions, support and participation. We also want to thank the merchants of Renaissance on Colony Parkway for their participation in the form of donations, items to sell and assisting with publicity. For those of you who are not familiar, Renaissance on Colony Parkway is a beautiful, upscale outdoor mall in Ridgeland MS and hosts many premier events throughout the year.

Hot Mexican Chocolate!
Vegan Milanos and more!!
I turned 68 (HOLY CRAP!!) this week and therefore got to eat out a couple of times.  Had a lovely dinner at City Grille in Madison on Saturday with a fabulous creation by Chef Zack—so fabulous, I inhaled it before taking a picture. Just think several types of mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes and his fabulous knack for a delicious sauce.
And Anjou in Ridgeland where they have a standard item on their menu that is easily veganized.

I am also recovering from a pretty nasty fall (I now know why old people don’t want to fall) so didn’t do much in the way of cooking/baking until earlier this week. We’d make a pretty significant dent in our plant based sausages, so Monday, I made 12 Andouille sausages and Tuesday (yesterday) 12 brats! They freeze great and should last us a month or so.

Sausages fresh from the steamer!

The recipes for these sausages can be found via The Gentle Chef in his fabulous cookbook called, oddly enough, The Gentle Chef Cookbook. I use Chef Skye-Michael’s recipes SO MUCH.  Chef Skye-Michael had an interesting post on his site today about plant based foods that replicate or are alternatives to meats and other non-vegan items. It sorta goes along with our discussion earlier in this blog about the variation in vegans from lax to militant. He gave me permission to post it, so here you go:
I occasionally receive criticisms for promoting meat and egg "imitations", so again I feel it's time to address this issue.

Yes, my recipes focus heavily upon meat and egg imitations (or as I prefer to call them, "alternatives"), and of course there's a percentage of the vegan population who, for their own reasons, shun any foods that resemble meat and eggs (oddly enough, I seldom find that these same people object to milk and cheese alternatives, which I find a bit hypocritical since the dairy industry is just as cruel and exploitative, if not more so than the meat industry).

Maintaining a vegan diet is easy for individuals who have an aversion to animal-based foods. It’s not going to be easy, however, for individuals who enjoy those flavors and textures. The reality is we live in a meat-centric society and many of us grew up on a diet of meat, eggs and dairy. This addiction to animal-based foods is woven into every fiber of our culture. It takes time to rewire our brains into accepting change, especially for those who perhaps never cared for vegetables and “health food” in the first place. More than likely, if you offer bean curd and pea shoots to die-hard carnivores at a football tailgate party, you’re not going to elicit a positive response.

My goal then, is to create foods which will sway the greatest number of people over to compassionate cooking and dining. People thrive on familiarity and if that familiarity can be satisfied, then there is a greater chance of success with this transition.

Both of my current cookbooks and my upcoming cookbook are geared towards replicating dishes that many of us grew up with: foods that are familiar and represent tradition - foods that evoke a feeling of nostalgia. Chikun seitan, for example, is seasoned appropriately to replace chicken in traditional dishes that call for chicken, and the same applies to beaf seitan. These plant-based meats not only provide a psychological trigger, but they're necessary from a culinary perspective in combining the right flavor and texture combinations. Wine would be a very similar comparison - some wines pair better with certain types of food. Even if animal foods had never been consumed by anyone, we would still be shaping and naming our plant proteins for the sake of variety, so we simply shape and name them according to what we're familiar with.

And for the record, I really despise the term "fake meat". There is nothing fake about plant-based proteins; seitan and textured soy protein are foods in their own right. Although plant proteins can imitate some meat-like textures, they do not imitate skin, bones, tendons, blood nor the fear and pain that accompanies the slaughter of an animal.

And so where should we draw the line? Should we abstain from tofu because it resembles egg whites? Do we reject mushrooms because they have an earthy flavor and a chewy texture that can be described as "meaty"? Do we shun a lentil and rice patty because it vaguely resembles a beef hamburger; or avoid soy milk because it resembles dairy milk? To what extreme do we need to go to prove how "evolved" and how vegan we are? I have no desire to ever eat real meat again - it's the combinations of seasonings and sauces that I crave. It's the satisfaction of eating something I can sink my teeth into; hearty foods that fill me up and stick to my ribs; foods that remind of holiday traditions or cookouts or camping trips with friends and family in the Summertime.

As vegans we're very passionate about our ethical beliefs in regards to animals. But meat, egg and dairy replacements are not harming animals; and although there may be some uncanny similarities in names, flavors and textures, there is no cruelty involved. Enjoying these foods does not imply that we actually crave the real thing.

So in closing, if these foods still do not appeal to you, that's fine. Every individual is unique. But it's important to understand that many other vegans can tell the difference in their own minds between a seasoned cutlet of gluten and an actual breast of chicken. The bottom line is, not every form of vegan cuisine is going to please everyone and if you don't care for it, you don't have to eat it. But please, don't criticize it. Thank you.
 And that’s a wrap for this week…make that a vegan wrap. Til next week, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life.
The Elf

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Class of ’64..50 Years Later..SERIOUSLY??

OMG—it’s hard to BELIEVE that all these old people were in my class at Trousdale County High School/Hartsville, TN. But time cares for no man (and even LESS for a woman) and here we were, gathered after 50 years of livin’, lovin’ fussin’, fightin’, marryin’, unmarryin’, procreatin’, grand-procreatin’ and puttin’ on airs.
Class of '64! We are a great lookin' group! Can you find The Elf?
So off Big Solid and I went to the lovely foothills of middle Tennessee. Fortunately, I laid some vegan groundwork prior to our departure so the trip would not only be filled with fun reminiscing but also meet my need to eat. This endeavor only added credence to the theory that if you make plans, call ahead to ascertain vegan options and politely offer to contribute your own food if it’s OK.  Remember that not EVERYONE understands what a vegan is so questions and suggestions should be fielded with aplomb. For example, when talking to a restaurant about the vegan options on their menu, the young woman said, “Well, we have appetizers and some salads. You can have some fried cheese.” It was a teaching moment.

We were most definitely prepared with a cooler FULL of stuffs…vegan pimento cheese, tomato and cucumber salad, avocados, vegan Andouille sausages (for the reunion meal), non-dairy creamer, Boca crumbles (always a good salad topping), vegan Parmesan cheese, and Daiya vegan cheese shreds (for baked potatoes). Of course, the trick to carrying all these wonderful vegan options it to actually REMEMBER to take them with you to the restaurant or eating establishment instead of leaving them in the hotel ‘frig.

We decided to take the lazy route to Nashville and avoid the traffic of the big cities (Memphis/Nashville) or Birmingham and drove up the lovely Natchez Trace Parkway. And it was indeed lovely for about the first 6 hours…neither one of us had ever been on the AL/TN portions of the Trace and the topography, scenery was just beautiful. As was the fauna…we saw lots of deer and a bazillion wild turkeys. HOWSOMEVER, bein’ as we are senior citizens, our rear-ends got increasingly achy so by the time we were approaching Nashville, desperation to get the end point of the trip in Lebanon TN increased exponentially. I’ll spare you the gory details of getting off the Trace at the wrong place and the testy conversations that followed.

Our first dining experience, once we made it thankfully to Lebanon and the Hampton Inn, was a conveniently located Outback Steakhouse within walking distance. Perfect as we were NOT getting back in the car. We met my cousin and her husband there; I had a baked potato with broccoli and my cheese. Was so hungry, I didn’t even THINK to take a picture of it but I suspect you can conjure up an image. Big Solid had grilled salmon and a Manhattan. Sandra Lynn and Jerry split an appetizer (crab stuffed mushrooms) as they’d eaten a while back. It had been several years since we’d seen each other, so we had fun visitin’ and makin’ plans for our big meal together the next night.

Breakfast at the Hampton is doable vegan wise if you choose the oatmeal. Otherwise, it’s very limited. So, I had toast with avocado and tomato/cucumber salad. The non-dairy creamer is a life-saver on the road as almost NOBODY carried non-dairy milks.
From that cooler! Breakfast!

We drove over to my home town of Hartsville TN later that day to just sort of soak up the memories of my grandparents, their lovely home (which was actually a funeral home and they lived upstairs), to visit my Mama’s grave (some of Daddy’s ashes were sprinkled over her years ago so they’d be together).  We naturally plotted the trip to arrive at lunch time so we could visit and eat at Dillehay’s Café…an institution in Hartsville for many many years. If you EVER want a great home cooked country meal, Dillehay’s is about as good as it gets. My brother always makes it his first stop when he visits. That being said, there was nothing on the buffet line that I could have…including the vegetables which were cooked either with meat or with butter. The slaw had salad dressing in it…but you know what, I DIDN’T CARE. It was so nice to be there, see folks I’d not seen in many years and watch Big Solid eat and ENJOY THE HELL OUT OF a piece of friend chicken, cornbread and slaw.  I had a glass of tea—thoroughly fun.
Dillehay's home cooked FOOD!!

Since I was pretty hungry, we found a newly opened Mexican restaurant on the square, Hartsville Taco Factory—what a FIND!! I got them to veganize a Veggie Quesadilla (no cheese and no sour cream) and HOLY JUMPING BEAN BATMAN…it was OUTSTANDING. It was also HUGE!!
Vegan Quesadilla
Hartsville TN is a very small town of about 2000 folks; there is no stoplight in town. It was taken down a few years back when deemed not necessary; a 4-way stop would work just fine. That’s how much traffic in the downtown area has slowed down. As a former tobacco production/auction center, the decline in the growth of tobacco and the economic downturn has had a significant impact on the area. Most of the stores that I knew as a kid are no longer there but the square looks good and the new Mexican place shows that there is still an active dining population. I was going to include a picture of my grandparents’ home (one of my most beloved places EVER) but it is now so run down, I just could not even bring myself to photograph it. It is occupied and the folks who live there have dozens of old/junk cars lining the street and in the yard (at least an old RV in the yard). There are piles of old building materials stacked on the front porch where my cousin and I spent many a night swinging on the porch swing and listening for my Grandfather’s feet shuffling loudly up the walkway from his nightly trip to town to buy some Bull of the Woods chewing tobacco. Instead, I show you a picture of how I remember it as painted by my Daddy several years ago.
'Papa's House OR Throp and Oakley Funeral Home...est. 1852

Friday evening, we went to a lovely restaurant in Lebanon TN that is housed on the grounds once occupied by the famous Castle Heights Military Academy (1902-1986).  The restaurant was Sonny’s on Castle Heights and was in an old home. The city of Lebanon has done a marvelous job of preserving that whole campus and many/most of the beautiful old buildings that housed staff and students (including Duane and Greg Allman of you-know-who). 
Great Old Castle Heights Main Building
Sonny's On Castle Heights
Serving primarily Italian food, I called them a week in advance to discuss vegan options and to arrange for a little birthday surprise for Big Solid. They were MOST accommodating and also included advice to be sure to meet James, the most famous bartender in the area. Apparently James has a following all his own, garnered from the past 44 years of mixology. So, six of us (my cousin and her husband, their older son and his wife and Big Solid and the Elf) were seated on a sun porch with views of the campus. That in itself brought back memories of seeing the cadets marching and parading back in the day.
James and The Elf

My meal was lovely…a regular small salad with a nice blood orange vinaigrette. I DID remember to bring my Vegan Parmesan. My entrée was a grilled vegetable pasta with a very light olive oil and balsamic sauce. The pasta was gluten-free (they had assured me that all their pastas were egg free, so I thought I’d try the GF) and it was a bit on the tough side. But the flavors of the vegetables and sauce was lovely.

Big Solid’s chicken piccata was not particularly to his liking but he soldiered on (pun intended).  The wait between courses was a bit long as the restaurant began to fill up and it appeared that our server was over-whelmed (we sat down at 5:30 and left at 8:20) Everyone else seemed to love their meals. Big Solid was served their signature Italian Almond Cake for his birthday surprise while others had another signature Italian dessert, Tiramisu. I enjoyed the desserts vicariously.

The big day was on us before we knew it. Spent some time in the exercise room (had to look slim and trim) and visited Sandra Lynn and Jerry (my cousin and husband) for a while. It was so nice to sit out on their front porch with a cool breeze blowing and just talking about everything—that’s an always connection, isn’t it? Got back to the room, gussied up and headed out. Along the way, we visited some more old friends in Cottontown TN and gradually made our way to the Cherokee Steak House for the BIG DO!!
I had talked with the staff at the restaurant and was cleared to bring my own vegan stuffs (Andouille sausages/plant-based of course). The turnout was great and I saw people I had not seen in, well, 50 years. I told Big Solid, who was a SAINT for coming with me in lieu of the fact that he was missing the MS STATE/LSU game AND it was his BIRTHDAY, he would just have to introduce himself in case I found myself staring at a fellow classmate like they had two noses. The meals were served and I got my sausages (after a slight snafu that was quickly remedied) along with a nice BIG pile of steamed broccoli. The baked potato that I ordered never made it to the table but that was fine…I had plenty to eat. We watched some slides of ourselves at a much younger time in our lives; laughed, giggled, winced, and groaned through it. After all was done, we excused ourselves and returned to the hotel…did catch the last quarter of the MSU/LSU game and HOLY COW what an ending.

So thanks for the attention to this modestly vegan focused and heavily reunion/old times centered blog. I wish someone with some real energy and drive would do to Hartsville what the B.T. C. Grocery has done for Water Valley MS (see blog post of 8/6/14 “You CAN Go Home Again"). Hartsville has some great people and a great history. Wouldn’t it be awesome to generate that into growth and prosperity?
The 1964 Yellow Jacket women's basketball team. We were awesome!

Spidey-Nurse is knee deep in IMPORTANT NURSE WORK and will get back to us next go ‘round.

I am working on a new feature we are calling “The Venerable Vegan” and I am soliciting your participation, if you please.  It would be fun to see/read the stories of old farts like me who did not become vegan until later in life. So, IF you did not jump into the VEGAN lifestyle until you were eligible for AARP (50 years young) AND would like to share how you came to that decision, it would be SO COOL!! Would love to hear not only how you decided but the impact it has made on your life/health, the challenges you’ve face, your go-to places/recipes/resources and any other pertinent information as well as a picture. Before and after pics are also encouraged, if you have them. It is NOT a forum for selling anything, for advancing a political agenda, for railing at the universe about a cause or issue, or personal gain. It is strictly sharing how becoming vegan rather late in life has made a difference for you. Let’s have fun with this. Please contact me at if you are interested.

Til next week, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life.
The Elf