Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The ELF in the Kitchen

HEY Y'all!! Welcome to the Wednesday, August 13th edition of ToV or NOT ToV!

One of the hallmarks of this little blog is that I do NOT develop recipes or otherwise create much of anything. BUT, I do enjoy trying so many of the differing vegan dishes, both savory and sweet that are available from such great vegan sites as you’ll see highlighted along the way.  Being vegan doesn’t mean that you start from scratch with everything…it means that you get challenged with finding plant based foods and recipes that are appealing, nutritious, healthy (well, most of the time) and not so labor intensive or ingredient laden as to be not worth the effort or a disincentive.

Saturday night (8/9), we went to La Finestra with some good friends. As usual, THE Chef Ramsey had a really lovely vegan entrée for me. The atmosphere was a bit more energetic than when we were there before, so we will take extra caution to schedule our reservations a bit earlier and avoid the crowd/noise.

As presented!

As Eaten!!

What a busy week!! I am taking advantage of Big Solid’s absence for a while to play in the kitchen and not be figurin’ out what to fix for supper. I made up a double recipe of an Ethiopian cabbage dish, threw in some Andouille sausages and will eat on that all week. Had it twice yesterday, as a matter of fact. Still plenty left.  By the way, the original recipe calls for sliced carrots BUT in my last and final summer CSA from Amorphous Gardens, there were butternut squashes…so I substituted. Hey, they are orange, so it worked. The recipe for this lovely and spicy dish can be found at the Vegan Richa site

Ethiopian spices cooking and marrying flavors. Smells SO GOOD!

Finished dish..should last me all week!

So, following our fun weekend in Water Valley last weekend, another big weekend looms ahead! This weekend is our Yoga Mala at the local yoga studio where I practice three times a week. And, I am making the food stuffs for the Après Mala gathering…cookies and other stuffs that I can think of.  AND, I need to take some cookies out to ARF/MS tomorrow(Wednesday)…those folks work so hard to take care of abused, abandoned and neglected animals…it’s just a little somethin’ somethin’.

Sunday 8/10, I made pumpernickel…we were PLUMB out o’ bread. So, to preserve my marriage, I whipped some up. The recipe says it’s for one loaf, but I always get two nice ones out of it.  I have started preparing all the dry ingredients and putting them in a plastic bag so they are ready. All I have to do then is throw together the wet stuff/yeast and go for it. Sure does make things easier. 
Pumpernickel straight from the oven

I have also noticed that I’m going through King Arthur flours (all-purpose, white whole wheat, bread) at a fairly rapid pace. Sunday night we blew the idea of eating at home and went to Kathryn’s Steak House. We’d gone to Whole Foods earlier in the day for some jalapeno cilantro hummus (that stuff is like crack) and found some CHICKEN FRIED TOFU on the hot bar. That’s our favorite and, as you can see, NOT AT ALL like the special order Chicken Fried Tofu I got from them to take to Water Valley (and yes, we have been in touch). Not only that, Jerk Tofu was also on the hot bar, so we loaded up. I used that for my Kathryn’s meal (along with my usual salad). Big Solid had the grilled chicken, primarily so he could bring one breast home for the girls (the girls bein’ our four rescue puplets). 

My special order....

On the Hot Bar

Monday 8/11, Big Solid took off for some work up in the Delta…those of you who are NOT from Miss’ippi don’t know that the Delta refers to a vast region of the state where the MS River dumped a eon’s worth of great silt back a bazillion years ago and that silt (called Dundee silt) turned out to be some of the fertile-est stuff on earth. It is also known as the Land o’ Cotton…so there is beauty and misery all rolled up into the land. It’s like no place on earth.

As soon as Big Solid was out the door, I headed for the grocery—yep, bought lots of flour and yeast and things like that to tide my cooking soul over for a few more days. Even the torrential downpour did not deter…

Got home, wrapped my elf/self in an apron, plugged in my audio book and away we went. Had a couple of cook-tus interruptus with picking some sick pups up from the vet but pretty soon, we were back in action. Made Little Kiki’s dough for bakin’ later. Then we got busy with some savory stuff for eatin’ while Big Solid is gone. We spent a glorious time makin’ cauliflower Alfredo sauce from the Oh She Glows cook book and a fabulous Roasted Eggplant Pesto from Susan Voisin’s Fat Free Vegan,using eggplant and basil from my very own back yard. Then we fixed a nice toddy and plotted recipes to fix for the rest of the week.  Links to Oh She Glow and Fat Free Vegan: 


You can see by all the recipes taped to my cabinets that we have a lot of cookin' planned.
This is just one wall...there is another. Check out that ancient blender!

Tuesday (8/12) I baked the Little Kiki’s to take to ARF/MS on Wednesday and will make the creme fillin’ after yoga.  Baked two small loaves of a really nice white sandwich bread from Vegan Richa’s site. 
Very small sandwich loaf...cuts down on those huge sandwiches!
This bread is easy to make and it toasts beautifully. My pictures certainly don’t look like hers, but I did split the one loaf into two just to see what would happen. Next time, I’ll stick with one loaf and hope it looks as pretty as the pictures on her site. 

For supper Tuesday night (8/12), I tried BOTH the Cauliflower Alfredo AND the Roasted Eggplant Pesto (see above for links).  Absolutely delicious.  Used the spaghetti squash that I’d baked a couple of nights ago and separated into two small portions. I liked both of them equally for sure. It’s so nice to have such a decadent tasting meal that is so low in fat and calories.  My goodness, the REAL Alfredo sauce is so rich in fat as is pesto but these recipes allow you great taste, plant based and very little fat, if any. So, I could eat up and not feel guilty.

SOO—that brings us up to speed and today--Wednesday 8/13/14. Finished preparing the Little Kiki’s (oatmeal creme pies), had some great Peet’s Coffee with So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer and am gearing up for another day of bein’ the ELF in the Kitchen!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

You CAN Go Home Again

And there is NO BETTER example than the Watermelon Carnival in Big Solid’s home town of Water Valley, Miss'ippi.  This little bitty town has exploded onto the MS (and national too I might add) scene in a big way over the past few years, transforming itself from a dying railroad and manufacturing town to an art and tourist attraction that has been cited in the New York Times, USA Today and Southern Living.

Held on the first weekend in August (usually the hottest damn weekend of the year with 95+ degree heat and humidity so high you need gills and flippers to breathe and walk), the Watermelon Carnival serves as a homecoming for all the Water Vallians who live elsewhere or who just want a chance to ‘fix a cobbler or some chicken and dumplin’s to take to a pot luck’. There are arts/crafts set up in the park, funnel cakes, chicken on a stick, cotton candy, the Biggest Watermelon contest and all of the things that go with Hometown Americana celebrating itself.

It is also the gathering for Big Solid of all his classmates from Water Valley High School…class years don’t really matter since everybody grew up together. But the class of ’61 is especially close and they travel from far and near to get there.  This weekend, there were no less than 10 of us hosted by Eddie and Pat Ray in their lovely 1908 home that has more rooms than you can count. We were everywhere…air mattresses, couches, beds…there were people draped all over. When we arrived on Thursday afternoon, folks had already arrived from Washington State and Florida ready to tell some of the same old stories that never seem to get stale. Sittin' on the screened in porch and tellin' tales...
Big Solid and John relaxin'
Our hosts gave us a rundown of the menus for supper on Thursday (steak and baked potatoes), Friday (baked ham, potato salad and baked beans)  and Saturday (ribs and who needs other stuff).  Eddie had called to ask what he needed to add so a vegan could eat in comfort and style with the rest of them; see, I TOLD you he was a spectacular host. He bought all kinds of salads, hummus and almond milk so I would not starve.  I had also prepared a lot of food to bring as well, so I KNEW we’d be fine.
Dining time has arrived!

Thursday night, along with the steaks, baked potatoes, and salad, I cooked up some of my vegan sausages for folks to taste. Some folks were adventuresome and some were not…howsomever, those who did try them, LOVED them, especially the Andouille (it’s really spicy). So a big SHOUT OUT to The Gentle Chef (yet again) for putting together a recipe that really works for a plant based ‘meat’.
Friday night steak dinner with some sausages on the side

Of course, the biggest vegan hit was the “Little Kiki’s” Oatmeal Pies…these go fast.
Little Kiki Creme Pies
Friday night, I opted for the Chicken Fried Tofu we’d gotten from Whole Foods instead of the baked ham (although that ham sure did look good). Eddie’s great vegan salad selection also came in handy instead of the potato salad with mayo…he found a great quinoa salad and a fava bean salad. I did not go hungry. In fact, I forgot to take pictures I was so busy eating. As for the Chicken Fried Tofu---no takers on sampling that. And, it’s just as well. This particular batch did not have the seasoning OR the crust that we’ve found at Whole Foods before.

The B.T.C Old-Fashioned Grocery

This place is a miracle on Main Street…Alexe and Kagan Van Beuren made a commitment to Water Valley a few years back by buying and renovating an aging historical building on Main Street. They worked like crazy to bring an idea to town as well…Be The Change and The B.T.C Old-Fashioned Grocery was born.
Yup and YUP!!
The idea of providing fresh, local produce and and goods (such as milk and other dairy) and freshly baked breads harkened back to the day of the ‘green grocer’ where you could walk to town and buy ‘good food’.  Well, The B.T. C. Old-Fashioned Grocery took root in the hearts and stomachs of the good people of Water Valley and the support grew. 

Dixie Grimes provided a welcomed culinary expertise to a town that was hungry (pardon the pun) for new, interesting and innovative dishes. You need only to look at the picture of the Friday special to notice that.  Someone remarked after reading it, “Who’d-a thought you’d get mussels in Water Valley?” 
Friday Special...MUSSELS!
We had decided that NO TRIP TO WATER VALLEY is complete without at least one dining experience at the Red Apron Café (located at the rear of The B.T.C Old-Fashioned Grocery), so we opted for an early lunch there on Friday. I wandered down there from the Ray’s home (it’s like around the block) to see what options a vegan might have. I met Alexe and she showed me several items from the menu board that could be veganized quite easily, so I was set. 
Vegan Wrap at BTC
 My cohorts, including our wonderful host, drifted in about 11:15. Eddie Ray actually has a sandwich on the menu board named after him—“Handsome Eddie”. I had the “Hotel Trusty”—a whole wheat wrap with BTC made tomato jam (holy cow was that good!), chilled asparagus spears, cracked black pepper, sliced pears, leaf lettuce, and pickled onions. The ‘true’ Trusty also has chopped egg and mayo but that was eliminated to make my wrap vegan. AND IT WAS DELICIOUS!! There’s also a serve yo’self iced tea and coffee counter with sweet/unsweet tea that you drink from Mason jars.

I HAD to have a copy of their newly published cookbook, signed of course AND both Alexe and Dixie were kind enough to let me have a photo taken with them. I have perused Dixie’s recipes and the excellent narratives by Alexe which include a great deal of history of Water Valley.  It’s a lovely work and full of the heart, soul and creative thinking that has made The B.T. C. Old Fashioned Grocery such an important part of the Water Valley revival. 
A thorn between two roses....
I will slightly disagree with one statement in the book…early on, Alexe says “The B.T.C did not revive Water Valley. Instead, Water Valley revived us.” It would seem that this energy and revival is a two way street and continues to offer folks like Alexe, Dixie, the wonderful folks at the new Yalobusha Brewing company and all who have taken a chance to open small businesses a chance to live the dream. It doesn’t get much better than that.