Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Tale of Sourdough Redemption: Reviving a Moldy Starter

My starter in recovery with its favorite book for comfort, Peter Berley's Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

I'm the kind of person who plans her next day as she lays in bed the night before, then rehashes the plan when she wakes up the next morning. Last night, I fell asleep to visions of sourdough fairies, since I had decided to make my preferred whole wheat sourdough bread that takes about a day and a half to complete. I was going to get the bread started, clean the apartment, learn some music, copy some music and do who knows what else.

The whole plan was derailed from step one, however, when I took out my sourdough starter only to find it had grown a layer of mold.
"Freddy III!" I exclaimed, "What are we going to do?"
I was shocked. I was devastated. Okay, so maybe I hadn't been the best sourdough mom, neglecting my starter so long it got moldy. I didn't mean to; he just never told me he was in trouble! I don't make bread every week, but I love having the possibility waiting there for me. We always had a sourdough starter in my childhood house. Freddy the First lived there, happy to make us pancakes, crusty breads and baguettes. After we made something, it was often my job-- nay, privilege-- to feed him  I loved the yeasty smell and the messy glop sloshing around I mixed in flour and water. Then came the bubbles as he grew! Freddy the First never got mold.

But his grandstarter did. After a moment of mourning, wondering if we had reached the end, I turned to the internet. Lo, there was hope! This site showed me the way. Now Freddy is in recovery, and it's not certain that he'll make it. He is bubbling, though, and it gives me hope.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Grandmother's Crazy Cake: One-Pan Vegan Chocolate Cake

I am so excited to give you one of my grandmother's recipes as is! Her "Crazy Cake" contains no animal products, and it only dirties one pan. It is also fluffy and delicious. What more could a baker want?

As July winds down and we have more of this year's summer BBQs behind us than ahead, I find myself reflecting on how nice it is to have summer get-togethers. The holidays are the time we more traditionally think about reuniting with loved ones, but those are so few and precious that we don't get to see everyone. The weather can be so unpredictable, and many times a holiday is about sheltering in place with one faction of our family.

Summer, on the other hand, is practically a word meaning "much more time to do things." Sure, we fill that time up pretty quickly, especially as adults; but there seem to be more possibilities shining in with the summer sun. The days are longer, the weather is more forgiving for travel, and the sunshine allows us to gather more people into backyards than we could ever fit into houses.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending one such backyard gathering of a community I have been part of for over a decade now. It was wonderful to see old friends and to even make new ones. Sure, vegans attending omnivore BBQs cannot always expect much for food (though the hosts at this event do always provide some delicious plant-based fare); but the food isn't really the point. Sometimes it's nice to fill up one's plate and giggle about what so-and-so's baby just did rather than discuss the food. It's also good to see people in person, even if Facebook tells us their every move. We see their faces and their expressions, hear their laughs and (ever more commonly in my life) hold their babies. I am very grateful for summer and for my friends who take the effort to bring friends together.

So, to friends, BBQs, veggie burgers and, of course, to cake!

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Vegan's Ultimate Veggie Burger

A recent New York Times article proposes to have made the "Ultimate Veggie Burger," one that satisfies a craving for "the hamburger experience (soft bun, chewy protein, lots of spicy condiments)" and mimics the texture of meat burgers. This article inspired me to cook up some burgers at home, but rather than try to veganize this dairy-filled recipe, I pondered a little on what I even want from a veggie burger. 

The author is certainly entitled to her view that the goal of a veggie burger's existence is to be meat-like, and I am always pleased to find omnivores who enjoy veg fare. However, I do find it interesting that my favorite veggie burgers flout the narrow expectation of an existence of mimicry.

Sure, most of today's veggie burgers come from a modern vegetarian movement to replace meat products; but I like to connect their history further back. I see them as descendants of ancient chickpea balls sent from above straight to the Promised Land. Falafel, yes,  gloriously spiced, crisp and soft falafel is the fore-parent of our bean burgers.

The dishes exist separately today, but falafel and my ultimate burger share a few characteristics, like a mashed bean texture and cleanly spiced flavor. I also like my veggie burgers to display their components proudly, giving them a varied texture. Onions, beans and seeds all remain somewhat recognizable, both visually and in flavor.

I'm sure preferences regarding the meat-like/ none-meat-like divide differ among all dietary circles -- vegans, vegetarians, omnivores, everyone coming from a different place. As a life-long veg*n, I have zero cravings for meat-like burgers. In fact, they sometimes scare me away with their fleshy appearances. That being said, I will always cross the divide rather than suffer through a bad none-meat-like burger, as I'm sure my meat-like-loving friends would do when confronted with an over-cooked "meaty" monstrosity.

Now, I am happy to share with you my adaptation of a wonderful burger from one of my favorite vegan cookbooks, The Oh She Glows Cookbook

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Grandmother's Oatmeal Sugar Cookies, Veganized

I don't know if I have mentioned it on this blog, but the grandmother whose recipes I have been veganizing isn't one I ever met on this plane. She passed away a few years before I was born and much too soon. Stories of her have filled my life, though. She was like an excited little bird, according to my mother, flitting here and there with an energy that was impossible to contain within her tiny frame. We have bracelets of hers that, even as a child, I could not fit onto my wrists. She had an apron that said, "Never trust a skinny cook," the extra joke being that she was both skinny and not to be trusted. She was a beautiful mix of ethnicities, growing up in a time when being different was never allowed. I hope I have some of her wit and vigor and maybe a little of her artistic sensibilities. I will never know her in person, but I can see her handwriting on the little recipe cards my mother keeps in her recipe box, and I can follow her instructions from a time gone by.

Today, I present to you vegan oatmeal sugar cookies. When I started making these cookies, I wondered why I would bother veganizing something I'm sure can be found all over the internet. For reasons seen above, I did it anyway. The result was not just satisfaction for the soul. These cookies are lighter than the average oatmeal cookie. They have a nutty flavor, and they melt easily in one's mouth. This is not just another vegan oatmeal cookie recipe; it's my grandmother's and mine.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Nut-Free Vegan Nachos

I write today from the lovely state of Maine, where I am visiting my parents. We are a family who cooks together-- always have been, always will be. We love to try new recipes and new takes on old ones. It's where I get my taste for experimenting in the kitchen. I am very grateful for their complete support of my veganism even as they remain omnivorous. There is nothing they won't try making or eating, and the notion of vegan cheese, vegan scrambles or other vegan "replacements" does not bother them one bit.

Today, we decided to try our hands at vegan nachos. My mother has a tree nut allergy, so we steered clear of the nut-based cheese. Thankfully, I found this Cashew-less Vegan Queso, and I will tell you, it's delicious. Other than finding the cheese, I was really just on assembly duty-- my mother was the craftswoman. Almost everything was cooked by her before I arrived. I won't complain about that deal! So, from my mother's kitchen to yours,

Nut-Free Vegan Nachos

Tortilla chips
Cashew-less Vegan Queso from the Minimalist Baker
Pico de gallo from
Refried beans from (leave out the bacon but follow everything else)
Avocado, sliced
Black olives
Hot pepper, sliced

1. Assemble to your liking.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Vegan Peanut Butter Cups

My favorite candy has always been peanut butter cups. Always, as in, since the dawn of my candy-eating life. When I was a small child, my favorite television show was The Gummy Bears (that one I have grown out of). I loved both peanut butter cups and The Gummy Bears so much that I decided they must be connected, the logic being that all good must come from the same source. Thus, I jettisoned the name of Reese and christened peanut butter cups, Gummy Bear Candy.

My special name for the beauteous concoction of peanut butter and chocolate was, of course, made complicated by the fact there exists in this world a much less chocolatey and rather less melty sugar snack to which most people refer as gummy bears. One day, I was noticeably perturbed and my parents no less embarrassed when visitors from across the country presented me with what they thought was my favorite candy and what I thought was bear-shaped sealant.

To avoid confusion, I am not calling my recent convection anything to do with bears-- gummy, sticky, bouncy or otherwise. Reese, though, does not get his due either because he chooses to make his treats with animal products and who knows what other chemicals besides. Therefore, I present, Vegan Peanut Butter Cups, plain and simple.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Vegan Chocolate-Ginger Brownies

Say what you will about Martha Stewart. She did bad things, she did her time, and there is still something creepy about her empire. But her empire also produces really amazing recipes. When I went vegan, there were plenty of baking books I chucked; there was just no reason to keep generic non-vegan recipes when I could buy tried and true vegan ones that are just as good, if not better.

Martha's books are special, though. I knew I had to keep them. Besides containing creative recipes, I find her approach to baking both similar to my own and easy to veganize. I used to halve the amount of eggs in most cookie recipes, instead adding more sugar. I found Martha already did this. Now, with fewer eggs comes easier substitution. Her recipes also lean on the moist side, so apple sauce fits right into the makeup of her cookies.

Here, I have veganized her Chocolate-Ginger Brownies in honor of my friend, Ginger's birthday. They came out moist, flavorful and delicate. Be careful handling them-- if you can stave off eating them all before they are served.

And happy birthday, Ginger!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jason's Soul Vegan Peanut Butter and Banana Ice Cream

My man, Jason, eats both peanut butter and bananas like it's his only chance at survival. He eats them separately, together, for breakfast, for snack, every day. I've seen him dash across the street to a separate store to buy a banana when they weren't available at the cafe at which we were eating. So, when I discovered a vegan ice cream could be made simply from combining bananas and peanut butter, I knew I had to try making it. Once I tasted this dish's simple beauty, I found it worthy to be named in Jason's honor.

The simplicity of the concept is as mind numbing as hanging out with frozen bananas. Just puree pieces of frozen banana, add other ingredients and eat. I suggest freezing your banana bits on a flat surface, apart, which I did not do. They will puree faster, and you won't need to take a large knife to the contents of your food processor.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Veggie Sandwich with Cannellini Dill Spread

I made this cannellini dill dip a few months ago, as a Mediterranean- style bridge to help my beau with his return to Boston from Italy. Served alongside pita chips, carrot sticks and marinated mushrooms, it was intended to be light so we might enjoy a hearty serving of pie afterward. The dip was so delicious and filling, though, our bellies only had room for tiny taste of dessert in the end. It was so good, in fact, that just the other day, my companion mentioned he was still thinking about it.

The idea of that dip planted once again in my mind, I thought of it immediately when I wanted a nice spread for a simple sandwich. The dill in the dip-turned-spread provides a nice complement to the raw veggies in the sandwich, giving everything a fresh, crisp, clean feel.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Grandmother's Gooey Lemon Bars, Veganized

These lemon bars are not anything I had growing up. They were in my grandmother's recipe box, and I decided to see what I could do about them. The whole box is a time capsule of what Americans were eating in the 1950's, and these bars are no exception. Simple and nutritionally void, these bars represent a lot of American food at the time. 

I imagine them being served as an afternoon snack during the summer, along with ice tea. My version isn't quite as elegant as I would like, but I suspect they are true to the original. I perhaps shouldn't have expected elegance from a dish that requires mixing with one's hands.

Boston-Area Vegan-Friendly Restaurants

Not Boston, nor a restaurant. Just pretty and in New England.

In my previous post on going vegan, I touched upon the idea of finding vegan-friendly restaurants. Again, to me a place is vegan-friendly if its staff knows what vegan is and can provide appropriate dishes.

As a Boston-area vegan, I have my own preferences for places to eat, and I thought I would share them.

Veggie Galaxy-- Best restaurant ever, by far. The bakery is completely vegan and completely delicious. My birthday cake came from there this past year. The diner is vegetarian, but everything can be made vegan --omelets, waffles, pancakes, onion rings, sandwiches. Just go there. Omnivores like it, too.

O2 Vegan Cafe-- I do yoga here, too, and helped set up the place, so I'm very proud to recommend it. Go there, get the seitan slam and thank me later. Or you can get the spicy monkey smoothie. You'll still thank me.

True Bistro -- Completely vegan restaurant. It's delicious, if a little pricier and farther out. I go here a few times a year as it's on the fancier side. They also have a nut-free menu, so anyone allergic to eating tree nuts knows what is safe. They serve weekend brunch and dinner.

Clover -- Vegetarian fast food with vegan offerings. Get the falafel platter and call it a day.

Walnut Grille -- Vegetarian restaurant in Newton. It's worth the trip if you're in the area. I've only had brunch there, but I would be satisfied if that's all they served. They're vegan omelets are fresh and yummy. The decor is very cute, and the prices are reasonable.

My Thai Vegan Cafe -- Asian-inspired vegan restaurant in Chinatown. It's been a while since I have gone there, but I liked it and it's all vegan.

Dosa N' Curry -- Awesome vegetarian Indian restaurant. All the vegan dishes are marked, and they are all good. Don't plan on going for a run after hitting up this place.

Ole -- Mexican restaurant that knows what vegan means and offers a specifically vegan dish. Also, their guacamole is to die for. I had my birthday here last year, and it was a hit.

The Yard House -- They are surprisingly accommodating to all dietary restrictions. The manager came out himself to tell me what exactly was vegan. The food isn't stellar, but it's a great option for a group setting with people who insist on American fare.

Bronwyn -- Trendy German restaurant with, of all things, a delicious vegan dish. It was important to them that they provide one, and they were quite creative in keeping it in line with the German fare. There's only one, so don't expect choices; but you can always linger over the beer menu.

Helmand -- Afghani restaurant with a vegetarian platter they will make vegan for you if you ask.

Amsterdam Falafel -- So good. The pita bread isn't vegan, so get a falafel salad. You choose which toppings to put on, like tahini, baba ganoush, vegetables. It's messy and wonderful.

Asmara -- Vegans are pretty safe with Eritrean or Ethiopian fare, but I am pointing out this one because I remember them being knowledgeable about what is vegan. Bring friends, get a platter and enjoy eating with your hands. The flavor combinations are to die for.

One Year In: My Advice On Going Vegan

As I've said before, I am about one year into my vegan journey. My lifestyle change manifesto was posted on my opera singer website because that's where I was blogging at the time. Now that I have a little experience under my belt, but not too much that I don't remember the transition, I want to give my tips on how to take the plunge.

Note, my plunge was a smaller jump than some because I have lived my whole life as a vegetarian. I have no idea what it's like to give up bacon or buttered cod because I've never tasted those things and have never wanted to do so. On the other hand, I did have the experience of taking control of my food choices for the first time. My vegetarianism previously had been of necessity due to bodily intolerance. Although I was sympathetic to the cause, I used my inability to eat meat as an excuse when people asked questions about it; it made them more comfortable. As a vegan by choice, I stand by all my reasons.

So, without further ado,
Amanda's Tips for Going Vegan

1. Have a reason.

I thought about becoming vegan for years before I actually did. It seemed hard. It seemed impractical. It seemed unnecessary. Hard and impractical are easier to handle once you have made up your mind that it is necessary. Though I should state veganism is neither hard nor impractical, the transition seems so from the edge of the cliff.

For me, the driving point was that cage-free eggs aren't really made by happy chickens. I read articles like this one that put doubts in my head about the line between lip service and reality. Do your research. Explore PETA's site. Whatever your personal issue is (animal treatment, the environment, health), find out more until your mind is satisfied. If something smells rotten in a lot of industries, it probably is. Allow yourself to stop eating rotten food.

2. Give yourself time to transition, but clean out your pantry in one fell swoop.

I decided to go vegan upon waking up one morning in the beginning of June. The night before, I had a conversation with my beau about all my doubts regarding the treatment of farm animals. By dawn, I was convinced. I was also suddenly a vegan about to go on a trip to the other coast and who had a good amount of dairy in her pantry.

I went on my trip without telling my companions about the recent change. I wanted to come to terms with it myself before going public. I tried my best, but ended up eating some animal products. Traveling as a vegan is an advanced skill, and it's okay not to be at that level yet. One trick I did learn: When in California, substitute avocado for cheese---always. If you see it in another dish, they don't have a problem putting it in yours.

As for my pantry, I tried just using up the foods with animal products, but that system didn't work. For one, my mind had already decided eggs and dairy milk were gross, so I didn't want to use any of it. Secondly, it dragged out the process. I wanted to own my new lifestyle, and I was hindered by things I had bought in the past. My advice: Give away all the non-vegan food and start fresh.

3. Gather recipes.

This is the fun part. Follow vegan boards, like mine, on Pinterest. Buy or borrow cookbooks. There are some great vegan ones out there. Here are some of my favorites:

Plenty of vegetarian cookbooks have vegan recipes or vegan options for a lot of their recipes. I highly recommend:

The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen is an especially wonderful book for making delicious meals from scratch. I have learned techniques, like blanching vegetables, as well as recipes.

Once you have more recipes collected than you could make in a lifetime, being vegan won't seem so hard.

4. Have a headline-length reason for being vegan-- for explaining to others.

The reasons aren't obvious to omnivores, and a lot of people are not impressed with a shrug or a vague answer. Some will become defensive when you tell them of your new choice, and they will want to poke holes in all of your reasons for it. They don't care that it's new and you're still trying to figure it out.

For these people, just come up with a one-sentence statement. "I don't like the way animals are treated." Even a small phrase works. "For the environment." From there, you can tell if your companion genuinely wants to know more or if they just want to be judgmental. The conversation often ends there, but if it doesn't, talk to those who are genuinely interested; walk away from those who aren't. My headline is, "For ethical, environmental and health reasons." Most people are satisfied with that.

5. Check out vegan-friendly restaurants in your area, and download the Happy Cow app for travel.

To me, a vegan-friendly restaurant is anywhere they know what vegan means. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are obvious starting points, but you will want to have some omnivorous restaurants in your back pocket for steering large groups into going someplace you can eat.

In addition to Happy Cow, Yelp can be useful if you do a search for "vegan" in the reviews. Here are my Boston-Area recommendations.

6. Enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Easy Bruschetta on Frenchbread Crostini

At his annual studio recitals, my voice teacher likes everyone to bring some food to share along with their vocal talents. This year, the recital fell on the same weekend as a performance of Die Fledermaus in which I was singing. Along with having my normal church gig that morning, I simply did not have time slave in the kitchen that day. Luckily, so many dishes are better marinated. I assembled everything in a bowl the day before and only had to worry about bringing it all with me when I left in the morning. 

This recipe is the what-I-had-on-and-or-found-at-the-market version of this one at Vegan In the Freezer, with the additional instructions of the crostini.